Sunday, August 27, 2017

Six years doesn't seem like a lot of time

My niece recently went off to college. It's kind of a big deal in our extended family because Blondie was the first-born grandchild, niece, etc. She's currently a freshman at Penn State (more specifically, she's in the honors college - we're all very proud of that). My sister has three other kids at home to drive her insane take care of but I know she misses her college kid desperately. I cried right along with her when she had to leave her daughter in the dorms and turn around and head back home.

Having my niece head off to college got me thinking . . . I only have six years before my kid leaves, too! I am pretty sure that she'll go to an in-state school (unless some college in New Hampshire throws a bajillion dollars at her or something), so she probably won't be more than a few hours away. But, still. I know she wants to study music but I may encourage her to choose a minor in something else. As talented as she is, the pool of talent is quite large and I don't want her living in a van down by the river. A few weeks ago, I stopped to have a drink at a local bar. A small bluegrass band was playing. They were so talented and yet, there were only around eight people in the bar listening to them. It's gotta be hard to make a living that way. I once heard a talented folk artist sing a song with the lyric "there's no stage too small." That's true, of course, but rents must be paid and all that jazz.

I feel like there is so much to teach my kid before she leaves for college. I keep meaning to teach her how to do laundry. How to mince garlic and peel potatoes. How to level a teaspoon when baking. How to make yeast rolls. What bra to wear with what type of clothing. How to merge into traffic properly (I can assure you that her father can't teach her this one). How to balance a checkbook. Why white leggings should not be worn (and probably shouldn't exist). There is much to know.

I think I've mostly been focused on sending a decent human being into the world but I should probably start working on those other parental obligations, too. Last week she surprised me by grabbing one of my cookbooks and making (vegan) french toast muffins. They were perfect! Yesterday she tried to make snickerdoodles for church and I don't know what went wrong, but something definitely went very, very wrong. I assured her that I've ruined more than a few batches of cookies along the way. Maybe some lessons simply must be learned the hard way. It's kind of like taking a little bite of baking chocolate because your eyes have not convinced your brain that it really is not edible in its original form. But, everyone tries it and everyone learns.

I took her to the middle school for registration last week. She received her schedule and had her photo taken for her student ID card. She dismissed the photo almost immediately. "I look like I have a spray tan!" she wailed. I saw something different. If you compare her sixth grade ID photo and her seventh grade photo, it's easy to notice some differences. The girl in the new photo has the confidence of a young woman who has already tackled her first year of middle school. She's a girl who has learned a few things about mean girls in the cafeteria and teachers who are not messing around. She's a girl who makes friends easily and sometimes loses them, too. She knows she has talent but remembers not to get too cocky. She knows that others are talented, too, and that she has to work hard.

School starts next week. I know I'll have to replace that school ID at least once (at five bucks a pop). As always, I'll tell her that I'm adding it to her tab.






Friday, August 25, 2017

August was good except for the whole nazi thing

Our little clan recently returned from a week at the beach. It takes about 18 hours to get to my dad and stepmom's condo in Ocean City, but we had six glorious days of sun and sand before we had to turn around and head back. A co-worker let me borrow his toll thingie (that's the technical term) and let me just say that this was a game changer. I think it cut at least an hour off our trip. The mister and I didn't have to waste time fighting over where the toll ticket was, how many quarters we needed, etc. We just sailed right through. My co-worker will just let me know how much we owe him. Easy-squeezy. We've now ordered our own toll thingie. We can't believe we've lived without one for so long. We've been driving cross-country at least once a year for 22 years.

We didn't drive straight through on this trip, of course. We left our house on Friday the 11th and stayed at a hotel that night. We finished the drive on Saturday the 11th. When it was my husband's turn to drive, I checked the news app on my phone. My heart broke over the events happening in Charlottesville that day. I don't think of myself as a naive person, but I honestly didn't think that many boneheads would turn out for a show of "white pride." It makes me sick to my stomach.

From what I've read, the overlord of the neanderthals told them to dress nicely for this event.  I guess the effect worked because now I am legitimately scared that neo-Nazi buffoons and/or white supremacists are everywhere - selling me appliances at Best Buy and sitting next to me at the movie theater. Gross.

As tragic as the events in Charlottesville were, I raise my glass to the "we won't let hate win" people who came out to protest the alt-right people. Thank goodness for the people who speak up.

As I understand it, the special white people planned the protest because of the upcoming removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville. Here are my thoughts on that: if something upsets a group of people for good reason, maybe it's just fine for it to go. I attended Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. I never thought twice about the name. (In my defense, I was just a teenager and was mostly concerned with getting a ride to the mall.) There is a movement underway to change the name of the school. Fine with me. As a child, I thought the confederate flag was, essentially, a symbol of southern pride and not of oppression of minorities. However, it seems that I was wrong about that, and that's great. I don't mind being wrong about things. I'd rather be on the right side of history in the long run.

Anyway, back to the beach. We did a couple of things this year that we hadn't done in the past. We booked ourselves on a speed boat tour.  It was a lot of fun. The boat zooms down the coast and then the captain stops when he spots some dolphins. I didn't get any great photos of the dolphins, but it was pretty darned exciting to be near them. I've always been fascinated by the ocean, which is why I initially set out to be a marine biologist oh-so-many years ago. I wanted to learn more about what's in there. I guess humans have done our level best to make sure the answer is: mostly, our garbage. But, I digress.

We also took a tour boat to Assateague Island. You may have heard of Assateague (Maryland side) and its sister Chincoteague Island (Virginia side).  The island is known mainly for its wild ponies. We did get to see one! My bestie and her family drove down from New Jersey so they joined us on the boat tour as well. Her youngest son (my Godson) is not a fan of boats, as it turned out.  He was a pretty good sport, though.

Something new that I tried this year: yoga on the beach! My middle sister and her family were in town for the first two days that we were there, and she joined me for yoga on Sunday. It's definitely a different sensation. The sand shifts under your mat so you don't feel as grounded, but some poses (such as balance poses) are a little bit easier in the sand. And of course, there is nothing like being in savasana and hearing the waves crashing on the shore. I went back for another class on Wednesday. I would have gone to another class after that but my kid gave me a cold mid-week and I didn't want to leave snot all over my yoga mat. I also rented a bike one morning and cruised up and down the boardwalk. I'd never done that before either.

Let's see . . . what else?  We did some back to school shopping because Maryland was having a tax-free week. We ate Thrasher's fries. I also went back to the boardwalk on the last day to get one some fries just for myself - no sharing. What I usually do is to put vinegar on them (don't worry - this is a thing) and then my husband and daughter don't want them. We played games at Marty's Playland. We rode rides at the amusement park. We drove go-karts, of course. We toured a Spanish galleon (tall ship that was visiting). We celebrated my dad's birthday with a too-large ice cream cake that I think he is still working on.

So, now that I've taken two vacations in a row, I'll be at work for the next 50+ weeks in a row. Here's to next summer!













Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Here's to 20 more



We made it back from our anniversary trip to Orlando. Pro tip: it's hot there.  It's so hot that I wore shorts every day. Normally, I would not subject the general public to my legs but apparently I am getting to the "let it all hang out" stage of my life.

Our vacation technically started on Friday the 21st. P dropped the dogs off for boarding while I took our kid to the airport. She flew to DC to hang out with my middle sister and her family. Since the airport is a couple hours from home, we booked a hotel room. Our flight was scheduled for the next day. I didn't want to fly out the same day as our daughter - it just seemed too risky. If her flight had been delayed or canceled, we wouldn't have been able to catch our flight. (Can you imagine us catching our flight anyway and yelling, "Okay, good luck with everything!" as we headed to the gate?)

Fortunately, everything went as planned. The kid caught her flight on Friday and we caught ours on Saturday. We had some time to kill on Saturday morning so I found a place that sells vegan doughnuts. My obvious excitement over the doughnuts seemed to elicit a look of pity from the cashier. We still had time to kill after that. I suggested that we could just spend the rest of the morning petting a dog who was also hanging out in the doughnut shop. The dog was like, "Hells yeah!" We did give him a few pat-pats before heading out and driving to the airport.

We arrived in Orlando Saturday afternoon after an uneventful flight. The palm trees are the best welcoming committee ever. They remind me of summer vacations in Myrtle Beach when I was a kid.

We grabbed our suitcases and headed for the rental car counter. We had our pick from any mid-size car in Row 2 - so wondrous! We chose a nondescript Nissan and drove towards a resort area (just outside Orlando) called Champions Gate, which sounded super fancy. Our friends from Minnesota had arrived a few hours before we did, so we met them at Red Robin for food and drinks. The four of us would be spending the week together. Our friends were celebrating their 20th anniversary, too. They were married a month after we were. P and I offer them marital advice from time to time since we do have the extra four weeks under our belts.

On our first night in Florida, we went on an airboat tour. It was a blast - in a few different ways. We flew across Lake Tohopekaliga, propelled by a gigantic fan. The tour guide sported a headlamp. He could see alligator eyes shining back at him from amazing distances. He would then slow down so that we could get a closer look. Some of the alligators swam away. Some dove under the water (I imagined them saying, "The 9 o'clock tour is the worst!"). Some actually charged the boat. We were given goggle to wear so that bugs wouldn't assault our eyeballs as we flew across the swampy lake. It was definitely an experience.

We spent the next three days at Universal, rising early each day to arrive at each park just as it opened (which is basically the only way to get on the Harry Potter rides that are so popular). We started with Universal Studios, then Islands of Adventure, and then Volcano Bay (the new water park at Universal). It may have seemed odd to some that we didn't bring any children but hey, we didn't feel guilty at all. The four of us had been planning the trip for a couple of years. Sherri served as our master planner and map reader, guiding us to key attractions each day.

We spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Disney. We started with Animal Kingdom, then Epcot, then Hollywood Studios (which is my favorite). The new ride at Animal Kingdom is the Avatar virtual reality ride. The line was super long even though we got there right when the park opened. P and I decided to pass on riding it since the line was so long and I'm not supposed to bake in the sun for hours. It was extra hot that day. We found a gift shop and looked for a souvenir for our kid. We basked in the air conditioning. "Is it okay if we just stay in here all day?" I asked the cashier. I was only half-kidding. I love rides but on this trip, I also looked for as many shows as I could find. There is a Monster Make-up Show at Universal that was hilarious - check it out if you get a chance.

Later in the day on our visit to Animal Kingdom, the Avatar line was a bit shorter so we ended up riding that ride after all. I had to admit that it was truly amazing. By that point, I had grown a bit wary of virtual reality rides (all of the newer rides use virtual reality). Or at least my stomach was starting to distrust them. However, a lot of those rides were very jerky and the Avatar one was smooth. You really felt like you were gliding on the back of a Banshee. It was amazing. I was impressed with the way Universal and Disney take advantage of technology - even right down to little things like showing how many parking spaces are available in each row of the parking garage at Disney Springs (which is an entertainment district open to anyone - you don't have to pay to get in).

Thursday at Epcot was also a lot of fun. It was a low-key day for us. We walked around in the shops in Norway, Italy, etc. In the afternoon, we ended up in the basement in Mexico for margaritas. They keep it almost pitch-black down there. Drinking margaritas in the dark, you could almost forget what time it is, the fact that you have a job, etc.

Friday was probably my favorite day. I just love Hollywood Studios. I know that the Tower of Terror and the Rock-n-Roller Coaster are older rides, but I just love them. I also picked up some souvenirs for me and the kid - they have some great gift shops at Hollywood Studios.

After spending three days at Universal (my first visit to Universal) and three days at Disney (my second visit to Disney), I can't help but draw some comparisons. Overall, Universal is more visually interesting. The Dr. Seuss area of Universal Studios really blew me away. Same with the Simpsons area. The Harry Potter stuff is amazing. You can see the castle from miles away. I think a lot of people would probably rate the thrill rides at Universal as being newer and better than at Disney.

Universal is pretty great but I definitely preferred Disney. I know that "cast members" at Disney are required to be nice to the guests but I like it, dammit! I started to get on the wrong car at one of the rides and the Disney chick said, "Oops! This one, Princess!" I'm 47 (and a half) and I don't get called princess very often. I also think Disney does a better job of entertaining people while they are waiting. We attended a "Music of Pixar" show (with a live orchestra) and the green army men from Toy Story entertained the crowd before the show. They put one audience member in time-out because he was looking at his phone instead of following their orders. Random side note: kids like to get autographs from the characters they meet in the parks. The green army men sign their names like this: Green Army Man.  I thought that was pretty funny.

Both parks do a great job of getting you to part with your money. However, Disney seems to find a way to do it that doesn't leave you feeling annoyed. Universal is clearly more focused on pure profit. When you buy a soda, the cups have a little code on the bottom. The soda machine reads that code and prevents you from using the cup for a refill.  Part of me was like, "You suck, Universal" and part of me was like, "That's genius." While I am not usually one to try to get a free refill, I also know that when a company charges you $6.00 for a soda, the actual soda only costs them a few cents. So, even if you refill your cup, they are still doing a-okay in the profit department. At Disney, I saw a cast member give a kid a free dessert because it was his birthday. I feel like Universal would have shaken that kid down for cash first.

Disney gives out pins if it's your birthday, anniversary, first visit, etc. My friend Sherri got all of us "Happily Ever After" pins to wear in the parks. A cast member had written "20 'ears!" on them. People were congratulating us left and right, which was fun.  On Friday, Sherri and I went to Hollywood Studios by ourselves so that the boys could sleep in and join us later. She and I wore our pins anyway.  The lady selling frozen lemonade congratulated us on our union. It seemed easiest just to say, "Thanks!"

You may be wondering if I found anything to eat at the parks. I will say that Disney is more vegan-friendly. At Epcot, we ate lunch at the Liberty Inn and I almost cried when the cashier told me that I could choose from three different dishes. I did have to do some research ahead of time, though. I had a hard time finding food at Animal Kingdom (I did end up finding falafel later in the day after I was already in a bad mood about finding nothing but hummus for lunch). I learned that I needed to do more research ahead of time and was more prepared when we went to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Also, I found a Facebook page called Veg Disney on which people will just list everything a vegan/vegetarian can eat at Disney. I wish I'd discovered that a little bit sooner! At Volcano Bay (Universal), our friends rented a cabana for our little group (which was amazing because that way I could stay out of the sun when I wasn't on a ride). We even had our own server, who made sure I got a vegan lunch. So, props to Universal for that.

When Saturday rolled around, it was time to check out of the townhouse in which we'd been staying. The four of us decided to go to the City Walk at Universal to catch an IMAX movie (we saw Dunkirk). After that, we parted ways. Their flight was leaving quite a bit earlier than ours and they still wanted to do some souvenir shopping.

P wanted to check out a couple of comic book shops, so I dutifully drove him to two different ones. He didn't like the first one, but he was ready to stay all day in the second one. I killed as much time as I could in a nearby Marshalls, but eventually I had to pry him out of there so that we could get some lunch. I scouted out a place called Market on South. This joint made all of my dreams come true. Vegan food galore! The mister ordered a burrito and I had two chili dogs with a side of cajun boiled peanuts. There was also a bakery so we ate lunch and then went back to the counter to partake of the baked goods. I had a massive doughnut with sprinkles. When I left, I had food on my shirt and I didn't even care.

We still had some time to kill before our flight. P asked the cashier at the restaurant for recommendations. He started talking about a lake with lots of shops, bars, etc. I told my husband that unless Orlando stores that lake indoors, we were not going. I was just tired of sweating at that point. Instead, we headed to the Orlando Science Center. On the way there, I turned a corner and saw some rainbow flags out of the corner of my eye. It was the Pulse Night Club, where 49 people were gunned down a year ago. I decided to turn the car around to stop. It seemed too important not to stop and honor those who died there. I couldn't believe that I stumbled upon the building like that. Had I know that there was a memorial there, I would have sought it out. The building itself is fenced off. There are tall vinyl canvases covering the fencing. From what I could tell, artists had been invited to add to the canvases but the general public had chimed in, too. There were 49 potted plants (succulents) lined up along the fence. There were photos of the dead, along with messages of hope and despair. Just standing there was very sobering. I felt like crying. I don't know what the plans are for that building, but it would be a great place to (permanently) honor diversity, loss, and love.

Our final stop before the airport was the science center. We were definitely the only people there without children. We had fun, though. We played with the exhibits and built some stuff. There was a show starting at 5:00 in the dome theater, so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be a laser show. Basically, pictures flashed across the screen while popular songs played. It went on and on and on. It was profoundly lame. Every time a song would end, some kid in the audience would ask "Is it over YET?" People would leave after each song until the theater was half empty. P and I were falling asleep. Eventually, we started amusing ourselves by pointing out any laser image that even remotely resembled a penis. Then we laughed a bit too loudly. I'm glad that he and I got to spend so much time together last week. I don't mind telling you that we hadn't really been clicking all that well for the past six months or so. It was good to reconnect, I think.

Our flight left Orlando at 10:30 Saturday night (35 minutes late). We got a hotel for the night and then picked up the kid the next day, when her flight arrived from DC. Speaking of the kid . . . I didn't feel guilty about going on vacation without her (we have a family vacation coming up next week), but I did decide to take her to Disney for Christmas 2018. It'll be her Christmas gift.











Friday, July 14, 2017

Another one bites the dust

The Boy has been given his pink slip. Apparently my daughter cut him loose right after the school year ended. She is not allowed to have a boyfriend, of course. She is only 12. However, it is normal and natural for her to show interest in boys so I don't have a problem with her interacting with them. Whole relationships are carried out via text message these days. It seems pretty harmless for the most part. I check her phone periodically just to make sure the texts aren't actually coming from some 50-year-old pervert from Albuquerque.

This is the third boy who has been sent packing since September. I can only imagine how her love life will play out when she gets to high school.  The halls will be littered with broken-heart emojis.  Speaking of which, the most recent boy was listed in her phone with his given name plus some gooey emojis (hearts, etc.) Now, his name is just his name. He's probably lucky that she let him keep that.

The first boy (from back in September) fell out of favor because he's too nerdy and awkward, I think. He lives in our neighborhood. He would walk his Rottweiler past our house, the kid's little sister following along behind on a tricycle or big wheel. I kind of miss those days because my daughter also walked our dogs so that she could walk past the boy's house. Now she doesn't bother. The dogs could really use the exercise, though.

The second boy came along later in the fall. I don't think I ever met him. I know that he was short like my kid is. From what I can gather, he was simply too needy.  Too many texts, too much attention. Apparently, the poor lad cried in class when my daughter cut him loose.

The third boy was my favorite. He's funny and polite. He came to her birthday party and showed up at our house a few times. I even took both of them to our local amusement park one Sunday afternoon. I felt pretty cool sitting on the rollercoaster by myself while middle-school love was blooming in the front car. The two of them Face-timed so much that it sometimes seemed like he lived with us. I pondered the merits of charging him rent. He even came to our anniversary party back in May. He wore nice pants and a vest to the party, which earned him at least a thousand points in my book. He's diabetic so I would sometimes tuck his testing kit into my purse so that he wouldn't have to carry it around. He once told my daughter, "Your mom is funny." She disagreed and rolled her eyes.

I'm not sure exactly what he did wrong but maybe it was just one Face-time call too many. She wouldn't give me a lot of details but I think she just felt overwhelmed with the attention.

"So, um, can I still talk to him?" I asked her recently.

She rolled her eyes. "Mom! Seriously?"

I felt a little defensive. "What?! I liked him."

She said she still texts him periodically. "Tell him I miss him," I say. She just rolls her eyes.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

15 Knope

My daughter and I participated in a local cycling event for charity today. Participants could choose from multiple distances ranging from 15K to 100 miles. We chose the short, family-friendly one. Last year, we finished the event but she complained relentlessly the whole time because her bike didn't have gears. She couldn't adjust the resistance on hills and such.

I fixed this issue by buying her a brand new bicycle for Christmas. The new bike has 18 speeds. That's about 17 more than she had before. I figured we'd be all set for this year's bike tour.  I warned her to practice ahead of time since the gear-shifting bit was new to her.

This morning, I hauled her out of bed at 6:30 so that we could be out of the house at 7:30.  I loaded the bikes onto my bike rack and we drove to the starting point for the bike tour. As we prepared to set off, everything seemed fine. We applied sunblock and checked in with the organizers. We mounted our bikes and started the route.  The event features staggered start times so that there aren't hundreds of bikes crowding the streets all at once. We pedaled out of the parking lot and turned the corner.

That's right about when the complaining started. "Mom, wait."  I pulled over every few yards to wait for her, even though I wasn't going very fast at all. I could hear the incessant clicking as she changed gears over and over.

"Just find one that works and stick with it," I advised. I added: "Didn't you practice like I suggested?"

"No, because it's been raining so much." I could still hear the whining on top of the clicking of the gear shift.

That's when I started to go from annoyed to borderline furious.

"Really? It has rained every single day between Christmas and now?"  Last time I checked, we don't live in the rainforest. If we had received the amount of rainfall she seemed to be describing, our bikes would have rusted in place months ago. And for the record, yesterday was the quintessential perfect summer day and the sun didn't go down until after 8:30. It would have been, you know, the perfect night to ride a bike.

This went on for several miles. Whine, click, grind. I tried to keep riding and assumed she'd figure it out and stop complaining. "This is too hard!" she would wail.

Meanwhile, grandmothers and children of all ages were blowing past us. "Good morning!" each one would call out cheerfully. It wasn't a race but still, this was getting a bit ridiculous. An aid van stopped to ask if we were okay.

I did try to give her some suggestions. The trouble is that this is something that only the rider can really "feel." I tried to explain that it shouldn't be overly hard or overly easy to pedal. She should feel a little resistance but not so much that she couldn't pedal. I tried to show her how my gears were set.  Nothing was working.

We made it to the rest stop at the five-mile mark. She wanted her dad to come and get her.  I called him and told him where she was. She plopped down in the grass with a cup of Gatorade and a chunk of bagel.  I don't know if this makes me a terrible mother but yes, I got back on my bike and kept riding. And you know what? It was pretty awesome. It was a perfect morning - cool but not overly so. A breeze but no wind.

I crossed the finish line and then sat down to eat an orange, wondering just exactly how bad my hair looked after I pulled off my helmet. I felt less annoyed by then.

Needless to say, I will be doing the event alone next summer. I'm annoyed with myself for losing patience with my daughter. I'm also annoyed with how easily she gave up. Is this a side effect of the "everyone gets a trophy" generation? I was not at all surprised at her lack of preparedness for this event, but I was surprised at how unwilling she was just to power through it and get to the finish line. Part of me wonders if this is my bad parenting at work. Have I not said "no" often enough or something?

When I got home (her dad did pick her up and bring her and her bike home), I was met with a teary-eyed middle schooler who apologized for ruining what should have been a fun event. I accepted her apology but yeah, I'm still doing it solo next year.

This photo was taken before everything went to shit.



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Lamest milestone ever

I finally did it! No, not the murders I'm always threatening to commit. I got my first pedicure.

I have mentioned my reluctance to get a pedicure in the past. I always just felt very weird about it.  I had planned to get my (finger) nails done on Tuesday afternoon so I decided that maybe I should go ahead and get my toes done, too. It's summertime so my toes are spending more time on public view, as it were.

I normally keep blue or black nail polish on my toes.  I do this in direct protest of all the times my mother said, "Blue fingernails?  You look like you're in heart failure!" when I was a teenager. I decided I'd better take the polish off before going to the nail place. I had a hard time getting all of the blue stuff off so I still ended up looking like I, um, have heart disease. You win, Mom.

The nail place wasn't too busy so I ended up in the pedicure chair right away. I was assigned to a nice motherly lady who spoke very little English. She had dark hair that was pulled back into a ponytail. "This is my first pedicure!" I told her. She gave me an open-mouthed smile as if I'd said something pretty funny.

I watched her face closely as she examined my feet. I do take decent care of my feet so I felt pretty confident that compared to the gross stuff she's probably seen, mine weren't too bad. She didn't seem terribly alarmed by them as far as I could tell. Before I knew it, she was soaking my feet in the swirling water,  fishing them out to apply various potions and exfoliants, and then dunking them again. She even massaged my calves, which was also a first for me. I didn't want to be rude and stare at my phone the whole time, so I just watched the TV that was hanging on the wall. It was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday (that just happened to be a holiday), so the good news is that I have the full scoop if I do need a personal injury lawyer at some point.

After at least a half hour of the dunking/exfoliating/moisturizing, the lady wrapped my feet in hot towels and then patted them. I smiled at her. She had mouthed the word "hot" before applying the towels. I sure wish I could have learned more about her, like where she's from originally and whether or not she has nightmares about some of the feet she's seen.  At the end, she painted my toes in the color I'd chosen (NOT blue or green).  She wiped off my flip-flops and installed them on my feet.

"Thank you very much," I said. She smiled.

I finished my visit to the salon with a quick repair to one of my fingernails and a coat of the same pink nail polish I'd chosen for my toes. As I walked back through the salon, I saw the pedicure woman watching cat videos on her phone. They're hilarious in any language, amiright? When I paid, I left a very significant tip in hopes that most of it would go to that nice lady (she didn't wear a nametag - otherwise I'd definitely call her something other than "that nice lady.")  I guess I just didn't want to be yet another white chick sitting in the pedicure chair with a petite Asian lady crouched in front of me. And yet, I guess I was. I don't know how to reconcile that.

I have to confess that my feet felt pretty great when I left. And they certainly looked better than they do when I attempt a pedicure on myself.  Will I go again?  I don't know. Maybe. Probably not.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Before I get too embarrassing . . .

I stood in the aisle near the girls' clothing section at Old Navy, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. An upbeat song was playing through the store's speaker system. I picked up the pace a bit and added a little bounce, bending my knees as I moved back and forth. My purse swung from my shoulder. A look of horror appeared on my daughter's face. "Oh, Mom! No!" she hissed.

Unable to resist, I added a head bob for good measure. Before I had time to add any snaps or claps, my daughter flung her arms around me in an attempt to restrict my movement. "I love you - please stop!" she said, her her check pressed against my tee shirt-clad shoulder. She was desperate now.

"Okay," I replied. I was afraid she might have a seizure out of pure embarrassment.

Here's the thing, though. There was no one around. We basically had Old Navy to ourselves. If a tree falls in a forest and no 12-year-old girls are around to hear it, is it still embarrassing? Yes. Yes, it is.

The Old Navy visit occurred during a road trip that my kid and I took over the weekend. We stopped there on the way home in order to take a quick break before finishing the drive. We'd left home the day before and embarked on our little adventure. We stopped for dinner Friday night and then headed to a hotel that I'd booked (about two hours from our home). We swam and played in the pool almost as soon as we arrived (per the written contract drafted and ratified by hotel-dwelling kids all over the world). My daughter had packed three swim suits for our one-night stay. She must have studied at Diane D's Packing School, owned and operated by my mother. Motto: "You just never know." I have carried my mom's luggage and let me just assure you that she is a pro.

The next morning, I hauled Miss Crabbypants out of bed so that we could go out to breakfast. The hotel had breakfast available but I wanted to seek out a restaurant that serves items that are specifically vegan. After she plowed through a massive pancake with copious amounts of syrup, Her Highness seemed less crabby. I had an amazing tofu scramble with potatoes on the side.

After breakfast, we headed downtown for a huge farmers' market and street fair. It was so much fun. We both enjoyed the street performers - we saw acts ranging from a capella groups to full-blown marching bands. I stopped at a jewelry vendor bought a really cool necklace - I think I'll get a lot of wear out of it. On the way back to our car, we stopped in a shop that sells bath products. They have a lot of interesting/unusual items. I took my mom there on one of her visits. It's been a running joke between us ever since - the people who work there are so hip that they can't help, I guess. I have been in there dozens of times and not once has anyone ever greeted me or offered to tell me about some of the products. At this point, it's so ludicrous that I'd probably keel over if someone did greet me.

Our next stop was the real reason for our journey. I had booked us for a barn tour at a farm sanctuary. We couldn't wait! The tour was as amazing as we'd hoped. An outgoing, animated tour guide named Tera told us stories about each of the animals we saw: from Mister the goose who doesn't like women to Winnie the market pig who fell off the slaughterhouse truck when she was just a wee lass (she weighs about the same as a Smart Car now, I think). The last animals on the tour were a pair of donkeys and a miniature horse. This horse was shorter than my Boxers! The donkeys have a companion - a sheep named Joanie. We were repeatedly told to "Ignore Joanie. Don't even look at her."  I guess Joanie's kind of a twat towards you if you're not a donkey.

We bought tee shirts on our way out in order to support the cause. I wish there was a farm sanctuary near our house - I'd happily volunteer. I think we may make this sanctuary an annual trip - that is, until I get so embarrassing that it's not even possible to travel with me. I was sitting next to my daughter at breakfast yesterday as she returned a text from The Boy. "Can't talk now. Having fun with my mom." God only knows how she would have responded if I hadn't been sitting there.

Before  heading home, we stopped at a bakery that sells vegan cupcakes. We decided to split a drink as we ate our treats.  The bottle we had selected contained some sort of carbonated lime drink. My God - what an abomination. I gave the kid some money and sent her back to the beverage cooler to choose something less offensive (root beer).  After a quick trip through Trader Joe's, we finally headed back to our car. A black cat flung himself onto the sidewalk in front of us and required us to rub his belly before we could pass. It's times like these that really make me miss having a kitty.

We finally hit the road, stopping only at Old Navy on the long ride home. Other than my transgression at the outlet mall, I think I behaved pretty well.  I'll be sure to work on my choreography before our next shopping trip.











Friday, June 16, 2017

Artsy-Fartsy Project

I can share this now that my niece has seen the final product. My sister had an amazing idea for a graduation gift for my niece. Pinterest may have offered inspiration - I'm not sure.

She sent everyone in our extended family a 4x4 canvas to decorate. The idea is for the graduate to hang the whole grid in her dorm room at Penn State. It's a very cool gift and I may be tempted to play copycat when my kid graduates in 2023.

Have you ever had an idea in your head and then your creation turns out almost exactly like you'd pictured it? I do not consider myself to be artistic by any stretch of the imagination. However, I thought I had a pretty cool idea for "my" canvas. I dragged my kid to Michael's and wandered around for what I can only describe as a "very long time." My kid and my husband also decorated canvases. A painted hers and wrote "Follow your dreams." It turned out great. The Mister cut up a comic book and pasted the pictures all over the canvas. I helped out only slightly by applying Mod Podge to seal it.

First, I painted the top half of the canvas yellow. Then I applied some tiny star stickers. Using masking tape, I cut tiny strips of tape to make one of the stars look like a shooting star. I painted the top half of the canvas black. Once that dried, I picked off the star stickers and masking tape very carefully.

Next, I painted the bottom half green and created a hill in the middle. The next hurdle was to create a small replica of my niece. I actually spent a lot of time stalking her Facebook page to find a standing photo of her that I could use as an outline. She refused to cooperate, which was super effing annoying (just kidding, Blondie!). I ended up finding a tiny paper doll on shutterstock and used that for the body. I cut out some floral ribbon to make a tiny little sundress. My niece wears floral sundresses pretty regularly so I was hoping it would work.

The next challenge was the hair. I had picked up some blondish embroidery floss at Michael's. I fashioned it into a ponytail and glued it to the head. I had purchased some ribbon for the ponytail but the ribbon was too thick. So, I improvised with some blue thread. 

I did have a couple glasses of wine while working on my creation, but I was really happy with how it turned out.

So there you have it - my Blondie wishing on a shooting star. I was excited to play a little part in this gift, as we send this talented young woman out into the world. If you see a mom sitting in a white Suburban, parked just outside Penn State's campus, crying her eyes out . . . that's my sister. Go easy on her.







Monday, May 29, 2017

Recent Goings-On

The Mister and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on Wednesday (we've actually been together for 25 years - the five-year lag is a result of him having very slow reflexes). Guess how we celebrated? We went to the optometrist. I'd nagged him to make the appointment and I don't think he thought about the date when he called. I accompanied him to his appointment because I knew he'd tell the doctor that he is "fine" and "doesn't need anything."  I strongly believed that the boy needed bifocals. I knew this because I'd already passed through the intersection of Age and Nearsightedness myself.  He reads a lot and typically takes off his glasses to read. He keeps leaving them around the house and Grover chewed the earpiece on one side. My husband just said, "It's fine. No one can see it behind my ear."  Because his near vision seemed to be growing worse, I knew he was headed for ye olde bi-focals.

Our optometrist, Dr. K, did seem to wonder why my husband had brought his supervisor along for a routine eye exam. "I'm here to help him choose his new glasses," I said. Because my husband had successfully avoided eye exams for four years, the doctor decided that he needed to dilate his eyes to make sure his eyeballs are healthy. Better him than me. The last (well, only) time I had my eyes dilated, the nausea was so bad that I had to be driven home and I went straight to bed. I feel woozy just thinking about it. Blech.

After the dilating drops were in, we decided to look at frames quickly while he could still see well enough to take a gander at them.  An optician handed us a bunch of pairs for my guy to try. He shrugged at each one so I chose the ones that I liked best. Then I left to race home and get the kid to guitar lessons on time (we had taken separate vehicles). I can't wait to see my handsome guy in his new glasses.

We did celebrate our anniversary in a more festive way, too.  Last Saturday, we hosted a party at my church.  My middle sister and her four kids were in town, so it was extra special to have some of my family members there.  We had drinks and cake and freshly-made guacamole (made by my niece). It was a lot of fun.

The final (and arguably most expensive) celebration will happen in July, when we head to Florida for a week of sun and roller coasters. We are shipping our kid off to Virginia to hang out with relatives. I know she will have a blast doing fun stuff with her cousins.

Speaking of those cousins, here are a few photos from last week's visit. My sister and niece ran a half-marathon while they were here (I loped along at the 5K that was part of the same event).










Sunday, May 28, 2017

Thanks for the memories, Paul

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know how I look forward to our annual cabin-by-the-lake trip. We typically go each August and it's one of the biggest highlights of our year.  We hike, we swim, we relax. The cabin belongs to my friend Paul.

Back in 2000, I worked with Paul at a technology company. He was a sub-contractor and stopped in regularly to drop off his timesheets. He and I were chatting one time that year and I mentioned that I had rented a cabin for an upcoming vacation. "Just use my cabin!" he said. That wasn't really an option because I'd already paid for the other cabin. However, I remembered his generous offer and when 2001 rolled around, I asked if we could borrow it that summer.

"Of course!" he said. "Go up and have a great time."  He gave me directions and we made plans to head up there for a little R&R that summer.  His directions turned out to be critical because the cabin is on privately-owned land inside a national forest. The path to the cabin includes miles of dirt roads and few landmarks. We had a heck of a time finding it that first year.  We took a wrong turn and drove up on a man camping alone in a tent. Fortunately, he didn't shoot us or anything. My husband and I still joke about that poor guy.

Once we found the joint, we fell in love - with the lake, the forest, and the whole area. The lake is four hours from our home but it was worth every minute on the road. My husband and I felt so fortunate that Paul let us use his cabin. I had offered money (that year and every year after) but he would not accept it.

That first year, we learned just how soul-satisfying it is to step out onto the deck and see the lake shining through the pine trees. We listened for the loons, which we never failed to hear. At night, we stared up at the stars, amazed to be so far from civilization that no other light was visible. Humming birds came to the feeder that hung on the deck. If I listened closely in the early morning before anyone else woke up, I could hear the beating of their wings.

Every spring, I would tentatively ask Paul if we could borrow the cabin. "Sure thing, kiddo," he would say. One year, we didn't ask to use the cabin.  We had planned a trip to Texas and plus, I was always cognizant of not wanting to cross the line between enjoying Paul's generosity and expecting it. Later that year, Paul called me. "Hey, why didn't you go up to the cabin this year?" he asked. I think he truly just loved having families enjoying the cabin. Once A was born in 2005, we couldn't wait to take her to the lake. In fact, her first visit to the cabin occurred when she was just a few months old.

Since Paul would never accept any money for the use of the cabin, we made our own small contributions to it. Whenever I'd go "into town" I'd pick up food storage containers or other things that the cabin seemed to need. On our last visit, I installed a new shower head. One year my youngest sister joined us at the cabin and purchased a blender just in case any future visitors might also be in need of a margarita. When we left, we always cleaned the cabin as thoroughly as we could. The joint was rustic and there were always dead bugs in the windowsills.  One year my dogs found a dead mouse behind the couch. The rustic nature of the cabin was part of what we loved.

Paul and his brothers built the cabin themselves, which made it that much more special. There was a photo of them on the mantle of the fireplace. The harsh winters "up north" did a number on the cabin, so Paul was forever painting the deck or making other repairs.

Over the years, we made so many amazing memories at the cabin. My husband I still laugh about the time our daughter fell in the lake. My husband jumped into the shallow water after her, his phone still in his pocket. Sometimes friends or family would join us at the lake. The cabin wasn't spacious but we were happy to squeeze in some extra people so that we could all enjoy the crisp air and the amazing view. We received hundreds of mosquito bites and at least a couple of ticks in our annual visits to the cabin. Countless fish were caught and tossed back in. We ate S'mores and drank lots of adult beverages. We played games (the cabin had no TV and no internet, of course, which was also part of its appeal) and read books. We took afternoon naps while waiting for the cooler evening air to drift in. After sundown, which watched bats streak across the night sky.

Recently, I had a dream in which Paul told me that he bought new furniture for the cabin. It was powder blue and looked very expensive. In the dream, I was wondering what on earth he was thinking (cabin furniture usually consists of cast-offs from other dwellings - the main goal is "sturdy" and "doesn't stain easily"). I left him a voicemail recently and was going to tell him about the dream when he called back.

Instead, one of his sons called me after hearing my voicemail. "My dad died this week," he said. I couldn't believe it. Paul was 77 but in my mind he hadn't changed in the 17 years I'd known him. He was involved in pee-wee ice hockey and so many other things - he was very active. When I hadn't heard back from him, I guessed that he might be in Germany. Paul originally went to Germany for a work assignment but made so many friends that he kept going back just to visit them.  He had a lot of friends and I felt fortunate to know him. I remember that he used to wear a pin that said something like, "Men against violence against women." He was just a cool cat.

"Okay, kiddo," he would always say to me.

"Paul, I'm 47!" I would reply, laughing.

I would like Paul's children and other family members to know just how much Paul's kindness meant to me over the years. After our visits to the cabin, I would often send him photos in the mail - of my daughter in the rowboat or my husband fishing off the rocks. I know he liked knowing that friends and family were creating memories in that place that he built.

We'll find other cabins on other lakes for future vacations, of course. And I'm sure we'll have a great time. But, I'll never forget the generosity and kindness of the man who allowed our family to make a million priceless memories. Rest in peace, Paul.

With love from Kiddo.










Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Being selfless is for the birds

Is it wrong to plan a trip out of town - alone - for Mother's Day? How about when you're a mother? I am seriously thinking of doing this next year. A little overnight stay somewhere. I'll pack a bottle of wine and a good book to read. Maybe I'll get crazy and book a massage for myself.

Mother's Day is tough for me every year. I don't know why I get so upset, but I have a minor breakdown every May when this particular holiday rolls around. Maybe it's the price I pay for being an adoptive mom, feeling like I never quite measure up on the momscale. My poor husband seems to know he's going to botch it and probably wishes I would go away for the weekend. This year, our daughter went camping Saturday night. She returned home Sunday afternoon. I am 99.9% sure that she'd had no inkling it was Mother's Day until she heard someone mention it. Later, while I was walking one of the dogs, she signed a card that her dad thrust in front of her and left it for me on the kitchen counter. She spent the rest of the day in her bedroom. I spent the rest of the day washing the smells-like-campfire clothes she brought back from her camping trip. I have to confess that I miss the goofy Mother's Day art projects that she made for me when she was little. I wouldn't mind having a paper plate with some rigatoni glued on it in the shape of the letters M O M.

My husband did get me some gifts. They came from the Pick-n-Save across the street: wine, flowers, and an iTunes gift card. Also, he bought me a Kermit. While I was at a meeting a couple of weeks ago, a stuffed Kermit (the kind with bendy arms and legs) fell off of a shelf in the office/guest room. The dogs chewed it up. On his watch. So, he ordered a replacement for that on eBay.

The gifts were nice. I have no complaints. What I really wanted, though, was for the day to feel different from all the other days. My days, it seems, are an endless cycle of work-cleaning-cooking-laundry. Wash, rinse, repeat. But mothers are supposed to be selfless, right? I'm not supposed to wish for something different.

A lighting fixture in our bedroom is not working properly. It's an electrical issue and God knows we can't hire an electrician. I decided to buy a floor lamp for my side of the bed so that I can, you know, see. I picked it up at Home Depot on my way home from church on Sunday. I dragged the box into the bedroom and proceeded to put the lamp together. You can probably picture what it looks like - a light fixture atop a heavy metal pole.  Pretty standard stuff. As I was looking down at the instruction sheet, the dogs ran through the room and somehow stepped on the cord, causing the pole to crash into my skull.  It hurt like I don't know what.  My husband heard me yelp and came to pull the dogs out of the room so that I could continue. It seemed like a good time for a husband-type person to say, "Hey, I'll finish putting it together. Besides, it's Mother's Day - you should be relaxing!" Honestly, that's all I really wanted . . . just to hear things like, "What can I do to help you?" or "What would you like to do today?" I wanted some sort of acknowledgement of the fact that the people in my home have clean clothes in their closets and two clean toilets in which to poop.

My expectations, I know, are too high. I know the issue lies with me and not with them. I also know that I need to say off Facebook on Mother's Day. I see all of these other moms being treated to breakfast in bed and having all of their favorite things delivered to them - from Starbucks to jewelry. And then I think, "I didn't get any special treatment - it must be a side effect of me being a terrible mother." And so on it goes. I end up feeling depressed and annoyed.  I really need to do something different next year. Maybe I will.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What do you mean, you don't want to hear about my feet?

When my plantar fasciitis was at its worst about two years ago, I did a lot of googling in attempt to figure out how I should proceed. I watched countless videos, perused medical websites, and joined a Facebook group started by fellow sufferers. I visited my podiatrist again and again. I was desperate for help.

So, just in case some other middle-aged chick is googling the same stuff I googled and happens upon my blog, I thought I should provide a bit of information about what worked for me. I am now pain-free.

First off, let me say that plantar fasciitis is no joke. Unless you live in the 17th century and are a member of some royal family who gets carried around and doesn't have to walk . . . you probably have to walk. PF makes every step a nightmare. When my pain first started, I thought maybe I had just overdone it at the gym.  I was hitting the elliptical a lot at that point. You know how it goes.  You get into your mid-40s and when something starts to hurt, the initial thought is, "Oh, I guess this will just always hurt now." You don't know what is fixable and what isn't.

I spoke with a yoga teacher at my gym and described my pain to her.  The pain was primarily in the arch of my foot, close to the heel. She confirmed that it was probably plantar fasciitis. This theory was later confirmed by my podiatrist. In addition, my body reacted to the strained fascia by laying down some extra bone on my heel, AKA "bone spurs." It looks super sexy on an x-ray, let me tell you.

So began an odyssey lasting over a year. As PF sufferers will tell you, the worst time of day is first thing in the morning. At night, we all naturally sleep with our feet somewhat extended (like a ballerina). This shortens the fascia alongside the bottom of the foot. This is why that first step is so brutal - the connective tissue on the sole is pulled taut as soon as the foot hits the floor, and that's very owie. For most people, the pain subsides somewhat after walking around for a bit.

I proceeded to try a bunch of stuff that I read about on the interwebs.

Here are the things that ultimately did not work:

1. Rolling my feet on a frozen water bottle. I did this for months. All I got was cold feet.
2. Wearing a special boot at night . The idea of the boot is that it holds the foot in a flexed position, thereby denying the fascia a chance to bunch up. My right foot was always worse so I just bought one boot (it wasn't cheap) and tried that foot. I slept with the boot on for a few nights. Mostly what I accomplished was to kick myself in the left leg with my right leg and wake up thinking, "WTF?!" every few minutes.
3. Getting cortisone injections. I did this twice, on my right foot both times. It did help to numb the pain for a day or two, but the injection itself hurts like a sumbitch and, in my opinion, isn't worth it.
4. Wearing crocs. My podiatrist recommended that I get some Crocs slides and wear them around he house. I did that for months. It didn't help. Crocs don't offer proper arch support and don't hold the leg and foot in proper alignment. And my God were they ugly.
5. Inserts in my existing shoes. My podiatrist recommended some standard orthotics inserts.  They did help somewhat, but not fully.
6. Arch support bands.  You can find these at most drug stores. They did feel kinda good (it's basically a band that wraps around your foot and provides some cushion to the sole), but I don't have any evidence suggesting that they fixed anything.
7. Standing on a step and letting my heels hang over the edge, thereby stretching my feet.

I should add that I did not invest in custom-made orthotics. I know a lot of people do go that route with some success.  Some people also have surgery to correct PF, but the idea of operating on my feet seemed unappealing at best.

What did work:

1. Investing in shoes with built-in orthotics.  I know that there are several brands that offer built-in orthotics. I invested in several pairs of Vionic shoes. Fortunately for me, they do offer several styles that are not leather. I learned that there are two main features that PF sufferers need to care about when it comes to shoes: arch support and heel cup. I bought some flip-flips, worky-type shoes that I can wear to the office, and some tennis shoes.  (Asics also makes some styles that are good for PF).
2. Babying my feet. I am almost never barefoot. At this point, it actually feels weird when I am barefoot. When I am at home, I am either wearing my Vionic flip-flops or my Vionic slippers. I had a setback last summer after I walked barefoot on the beach while visiting my dad in Ocean City. It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .
3. Losing some weight. I guess this one is just common sense but if your feet hurt, it's probably better to have slight less weight smashing them into the ground (if possible).  However, I will also say that I have talked to other people at my gym who are struggling with PF and they were not even a little bit overweight. 

After six months or so without pain, I have now been able to ease back into some "normal" (AKA "cuter") shoes. However, I still make sure that the insole is cushioned (the bone spurs are still there, of course) and that I switch into my flip-flops or slippers when I get home.

The other tactic I use is to roll my feet on a golf ball almost every day. I keep a golf ball in my bathroom and roll my feet while I am getting ready for work. I really try to work the ball into any tender spots so that I can keep an eye on the situation in case it starts to get sucky again.

After wearing the Vionic shoes consistently for many months, I started to notice that I did not have any pain. Now, I will say that it can take a few wearings to get used to these shoes. In fact, the company suggests wearing them only for short periods of time in the beginning. The arch is very exaggerated and feels weird at first. In my case it was worth it to work through the initial weirdness of how they feel.

I think my main annoyance with this whole saga is that my podiatrist did not recommend Vionic shoes (or even some similar brand). PF is very common with middle-aged women so I think it was just like, "Oh, here's another one" and then they handed me a pre-printed list of the orthotic inserts.

I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from wearing cheap flip-flops or flats with no arch support. A lifetime of failing to care for my feet left me limping and in severe pain. I'm a lot more careful now. I even give myself foot massages while I'm watching TV (my family doesn't offer to do it, if you can believe that). I yelled at my dog Grover for stepping on my foot when he came bounding in from the back yard this morning. Doesn't that jerk know what I've been through?

Expensive but effective flippity-flops

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

12 (subtitle: just 365 days to go until I have a teenager in my house)

My baby, my goober, my curly girlie . . . is 12 today.  :::sniffle snifle:::

In the photo below, she is wearing a necklace that was given to her by a BOY! (I know, right?!)

In addition to hosting a birthday party for her and her friends (at an indoor trampoline park), her dad and I got her a ukulele, some new earbuds that she can step on, break, and then hide under her bed, some new sandals, and a birthday shirt. (And by "her dad and I," I mean that I bought her some stuff and then told him what I bought). Gifts have been trickling in from other family members, too.

It's been fun (and a little bit heartrending) to watch my baby girl growing into a young woman. In just six short years she'll be headed off to college. Ack! She both exasperates me and fills me with joy - pretty much on the daily. We are a typical mother-daughter pair, I suppose. We laugh at jokes together and then two minutes later I am yelling at her because she left food in her room (and is rolling her eyes in response). All par for the course, I suppose.  The other day she told me she was buying pizza for lunch at school.  I looked at the online lunch account and learned that she bought ice cream.  Two of them, in fact.  And no pizza. Why do kids bother to lie? They are SO bad at it!

Despite all the hijinks and questionable decision-making, I am so proud of my kiddo.  She has the typical amount of middle school angst, but she has such a good heart. She's the best hugger in the hemisphere. I love watching her musical talent develop, too.  She is taking lessons for the guitar and is learning the keyboard and ukulele on her own. She sings in two choirs and grabs a solo any chance she gets.

Happy 12th birthday to my sassy, doesn't-get-up-on-time, homework assignment-losing, shower singing, beautiful baby girl. I love you with everything I am.