You Can Take the People Out of New York…


Back in The Dark Ages, when we old folks got our information and jokes via email — and not through social networking sites that the Brothers Winklevii were litigating over — there were a couple of old standbys that continued to circulate over our lightning-fast dial-up connections.

There were the alarmist urban myths {like the tales of kidney harvesting rings}.  The dubious computer virus warnings.  And of course, the Richard Gere gerbil tale.

And then there were the jokes.  For some reason, I remember seeing many variations of the old “You Know You’re From {Fill in Your State/City/Region Here} When…”

I received the New York City and New Jersey versions many, many times.  We can cover NJ another day, because it probably does warrant a closer look.  As for New York, these were always a few of my favorites.

You know you’re a New Yorker when:

  • You think Central Park is nature.
  • You haven’t heard the sound of true absolute silence since the 80s, and when you did, it terrified you.
  • You pay more each month to park your car than most people in the U.S. pay in rent.
  • You consider eye contact an act of overt aggression.

These are all true.  Please don’t ask me what I paid to rent a monthly parking space because I don’t like to weep on my keyboard.  And as for eye contact, I am still getting used to it in the suburbs.  You can imagine the cold sweat I broke into when several families on our block welcomed us here with baked goods and the bounty from their gardens.  In person.  At our front door.  Unannounced.

I had 911 on speed dial.  But, it turns out, they are all lovely non-felons who were just being super-nice and not looking to kill me.  Who knew?

But back to the New York list, because I actually do have a point.

This is the item on the list that always got me.  Because I don’t think it could be any more specific and accurate:

You know you’re a New Yorker when you can get into a four-hour argument about how to get from Columbus Circle to Battery Park at 3:30 on the Friday before a long weekend, but can’t find Wisconsin on a map.

{No offense to the fine people of Wisconsin.}

With that last tidbit in mind, let me tell you about what happens when you put five former New Yorkers, all of whom are now suburbanites, around a dinner table to discuss the new school year just before it begins…

It all started with the normal chit-chat about whose kids were going to which schools and in which grades this year.  I casually mentioned that I wondered how I was going to accomplish two drop-offs at two different schools within a ten-minute space. I think I said something about trial and error and then looked for my wine refill.

But it was too late.  The collective wheels at the table were spinning.  The Recessive Manhattanite Gene had been activated.

Slowly but surely.

“You have to go to the pre-school first.  BUT you have to be first — absolutely first — on the car drop-off line.  That means getting there at least ten minutes early.  Otherwise, you are hosed because you’ll be stuck there for 20 minutes. So, be first to drop off there and then do the kindergarten drop-off.  Oh, but don’t get there more than ten minutes early because they will turn you away and you’ll have to circle the block — and then you”ll lose your spot by the time you get back.”

Hm.  All good points.  Except for the part where I have to be precisely ten minutes early.  And first on line.  File under:  Two things that never happen and, if were to occur simultaneously, may cause the universe to implode.

Where is the waiter with the wine?

But then, a counterpoint across the table.

“No, no.  I don’t think that’s the way to go.  Do you know how bad the traffic is in the center of town at 12:30?  No.  You have to do the kindergarten drop-off first — get there early — and then head over to the pre-school.”

There’s that “get there early” crap again.

“OK, maybe.  But only  if you take the back roads and avoid the major choke points in town.  It will take longer, so just leave earlier.”

Oh my God.  According to my mental calculations, I think I’m now leaving at 7am for afternoon kindergarten and pre-school.

I seriously don’t understand how the waiter doesn’t see the mental bubble over my head that is verbally assaulting him for forgetting the wine.

“And remember that, for the kindergarten drop-off, it’s really hard to park there.  You might have to circle for a spot.”

For the first and last time in my life, the thought of home schooling fleeted through my mind.  Yes, yes, I can just keep them at home and school them myself.  Oh, there’s the waiter!  Where the hell has this guy been?

“Wait, wait, don’t forget that the high school lets the kids out for lunch around that time.  They’re everywhere.  They will screw up everything.”

After some wine intake and deliberation — which included the thought of moving to Europe, where all the kids ride their bikes to school beginning at age two — I thanked my friends for their well-informed and logical approaches.  I promised to take their suggestions under advisement and try it both ways.

And then, I added, ever so casually, “Oh — I almost forgot — after the school drop-offs,  I have to be at my work out class by 12:45.”

“Not the one — “

“Yes, on the other side of town.  12:45 sharp.  With time to park.”

The waiter sees the glances around the table and handles the refills proactively.

Utter silence for a moment at the table.  It was like I just hit them with Operation Shock & Awe.

This was followed by a range of emotions.


There was anger.



And disbelief.




And defeat.




And so we went back to discussing other things.  Like the wine and the food.  And how empty the restaurant was for 10pm.  And how we have gotten used to living in the suburbs now — but some traits of being city dwellers will not go quietly.

As for my school drop-off clusterfuck?  They were right.  All of them.  It’s pretty much impossible.

Mostly because I have yet to be early for any part of it.




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Money in Flames: Parking Edition


I’m thinking of starting a series here called How to Set Money On Fire.  Maybe I will. Because, sometimes — regrettably — my husband and I are better at this than we should be.

Don’t get me wrong.  We don’t look to waste money.  Nor are we sitting on a gold mine where these things go unnoticed.  It’s just that, at times, it would probably be faster to light money on fire than to go through the headache of how it was put to waste.  Like taking a three year-old to Disney World who only wants to ride the {free} monorail around the perimeter of the property — after we’ve already paid in limbs for park admission.

That kind of stuff.

And we have today’s example:  Commuter Parking.

You may remember past references I’ve made to the absurd wait lists here in my town.  Namely, for the town pool and for commuter parking at the train station.

We’ve conquered the pool wait list, thanks to my craftiness.  Now, the parking.

This issue directly impacts my husband, not me.  And I would be more passionate about it if I still commuted.  But, six months out, that morning routine is still fresh enough in my memory that I can offer full empathetic rage to P about where he can park his car for the privilege of boarding NJ Transit.

Here are the facts:

1)  We have been on the wait list for 18 months to get a permit for the commuter lot.  A resident permit.  In the town where we live and pay taxes.

2)  Without said permit, there are several equally unattractive options:

–Walk the mile each way from our home to the station.  Which sounds all noble/peaceful/eco-friendly/pick your adjective here.  But the truth is that we are not people who allow enough time for this in the morning.  We know our limits.  It would be a disaster.

–Arrive at the station early enough to purchase a $5 non-permit spot from a police officer who sits there every morning for this purpose.  Sounds easy enough, right?

No. Here’s why.

It’s a secret as to exactly how many spots the officer will sell each day — depending, he says, on factors like snow or construction.  Or, it seems, the mood of his sergeant — based on whether or not he had chicken pot pie the night before.  It’s that random.  One morning, 50 spots for sale.  The next, 15.  You have to factor in other variables like rain (fewer people walk, spots go quickly), day of the week (easier on Fridays, crazy on Mondays) and time of year (winter is harder than summer).  And the only way to know if the officer has anything left is if his lights are flashing (that means sold out).  Of course, you can’t see this until you’ve already sped at an illegally fast pace pulled into the lot and passed up your next option, which is the following.

–Pay $5 to park at the gas station up the street.  The one that’s between home and the train station — and to which P must backtrack after seeing the unfortunate Sold Out lights on the officer’s car.  Then you basically leave your keys with a random gas attendant, throw him $5 and sprint for the train, while waving nicely at the officer with the Sold Out lights so that he might cut you a break someday when you forget to feed the meter at Starbucks.  Hypothetically, of course.

It’s an awesome way to start the day.  Totally not stressful.

So you can imagine my husband’s joy when he received a call last week that the town had a spot available for him.

At the secondary lot.

The secondary lot?


You have to go through Parking Purgatory to get to Parking Heaven in our town.  And we’re told we should expect to spend another four to five years waiting in purgatory.

Here’s the best part:  The secondary lot is way further away than the gas station option.  And obviously further away than paying the parking cop at the train station.

There is absolutely nothing beneficial about this.  So we’ll just pass on this lot and wait for our name to come up for the main lot.  OK?

NO.  Not OK.  Presumably, the same municipal maniacs who preside over the town pool nonsense have also stated that we must take the purgatory spot to stay on the list for the main lot.

And herein lies the setting of the money on fire.

Because, again — knowing how we are and how close we cut things — the likelihood is pretty slim that my husband is going to get to the purgatory lot in time to walk over and make his train.  Especially once winter comes.  He will very likely just pull into the train station, pray that the Sold Out lights aren’t flashing on the cop car and make it easy on himself.  And I can’t blame him.  Even with that shiny new purgatory lot permit sticker in the window.

So.  We’ll be paying for the purgatory lot, which we now view as a Waiting Fee, while P also spends $5/day either with the cop or the random gas station dude.

Money.  On fire.

We’re not proud of it, but it’s the ugly truth.

Maybe he should reconsider walking.

And if you guys have any tales of Money in Flames, now would be a good time to throw them out there — just so I feel a little better.

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A User’s Guide to Welcoming Fall


“Hiii!  How was your summer?”

I hear this everywhere.  It’s the standard back-to-school or I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-while greeting.

Mine sucked.  Can I tell people that?  Too much, right?

Yeah, so I’ve been using this euphemism, with a smile: “Oh, you know, it was crazy…”  Because, otherwise, I become that weirdo who overshares in the pre-school parking lot.

{Not to be confused with the weirdo who overshares online several times a week.}

So, as my Summer of Discontent officially winds down, I should be happy to welcome a new season.  And I am.  I love fall the most.  The crisp air.  The foliage.  It’s nice not to have to worry 24/7 about acquiring an ER-level sunburn or wearing a bathing suit.

It will be a nice little reset button for me.  Just a few little transition bumps to work out first, like these:

  • Dressing the kids for school when we often have a 30+ degree temperature swing in a single day.  I found myself putting long sleeves and pants on my son the other morning — with sunscreen on his face.  He asked me if it was going to be hot or cold outside and I said, “Yes.  And don’t forget your umbrella.”
  • Surviving Parent Volunteer Season.  I feel like I am dodging people in parking lots and grocery stores all over town.  There was even a narrow escape on the treadmill at the gym, where I may or may not have faked a leg cramp.  Come, sign up to be class parent!  Or chaperone a field trip!  Or just give us some money to absolve yourself from any list. {OK by me on that last one  — I’ll buy my way out, thankyouverymuch.}
  • The return of skinny jeans.  Which, I’m sorry, get smaller each year.  And now, to add insult to injury, I am seeing — gasp — high-waisted skinny jeans.  I believe these are also known as tights.
  • The reality of how much I underestimated the in-town space/time continuum when putting our fall schedule together.  For example, that ten minute gap between drop-offs at the different pre-schools (don’t ask — long story) — no problem, I thought.  Not only was I beyond wrong, but as a result, I am now the face of Suburban Road Rage.  I will likely be arrested by Columbus Day.
  • Making substantial concessions to allow for what I call the Off-Season Fruit Budget.  When your kids like a total of five foods, and most of them happen to be summer fruits like berries or melons, now is the time when one begins to dig deep into one’s pockets for uninterrupted access to these items.  Probably because they have to be imported from Papua New Guinea or somewhere equally convenient.
  • Easing into the required adjustment period for seasonal drink allegiances.  For example, transitioning from iced to hot coffee (and perhaps thinking about those pumpkin spiced lattes, chai, etc).  And, in my case, from white wine to red.  As you may know, I have strong feelings for both my caffeine and wine, so this is not to be taken lightly.  I find it’s best not to go cold turkey on these things — sort of like a methadone approach.
  • The onset of Halloween Mania.  Things are already selling out.  It’s also time when all pre-schoolers change their minds four times a week about this year’s costume preference.  Choices will invariably include the impossible, obscure character.  This week, it’s Finn McMissile from the Cars 2 movie.  Oh, but not the standard version — that won’t do — it has to be the submarine configuration from that one scene in the movie that a certain four year-old still remembers from June.
  • Giving up the sandals and other open-toed shoes.  Boo.  Hiss.  This means socks must be located for each member of the family.  Preferably in pairs.  {Related:  Finding a good toenail polish color for autumn that no longer screams “I’m going to the town pool with my pina colada” — I mean, if we were allowed to smuggle booze in.  Because I never would if it were forbidden, you know.}

That should do it.  Once I get through these minor adjustments, I’m ready to officially let go of The Worst Summer Ever and enjoy a new season.

Did I miss anything?  Are you guys ready for fall, or are you mourning the end of summertime?

Or — worse — are you running around in high-waisted skinny jeans, chasing down parents in the grocery store to volunteer at school?





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A Cake, A Guest and A List

Happy Friday, everyone!

I am knee-deep in preparations for this Sunday, which is both Easter and my son’s fourth birthday.  For this combination of  events, I will be hosting 30 people at my house.  In full disclosure, this stresses me out and makes me an unlikeable, certifiable maniac for the other poor souls who live with me here in Fordeville. 

Adding to my stress is the seemingly minor request made by the birthday boy.  Ever attentive to specifics, he has asked for not just a dinosaur cake, but a green stegosaurus cake with red plates on its back.  Righto.  Good thing I happen to have that exact configuration handy. 

As if. 

I can cook — but I’m not what I’d call a stellar baker or cake decorator.  So, amidst the various other preparations for Sunday, I’ll be somewhere between laughing at myself and throwing a cake pan against the wall within the next 48 hours.  My money is on the latter. 

I can’t promise any photos of the final product, but let me take a moment to share two photos of what my cake will not remotely resemble.  I will also go through this exercise with my son tomorrow, just to manage his expectations.

Cake I Can’t Make #1:  This is way out of my league on so many levels.  Cole is a lucky boy to have someone create this for him.  Cole does not live here. {photo:}


Cake I Can’t Make #2:  A tad more realistic but still — repeat after me — not going to happen.  See that priceless look of joy on this child’s face?  How sweet.  If you get a final cake photo from me, it will likely include a look on my son’s face of utter confusion and resentment because his cake looks like a chihuahua.  Or a generic orb.  {photo:}


This might be a good segue to tell you about my guest post today over at Theta Mom, where I discuss my leap from corporate minion to stay at home mom.  It occurs to me that, had I made this transition years ago, I may not be in this specific state of panic over said stegosaurus cake.  Anyway.  I’m really grateful to have contributed this guest post — and if you’ve been around for a while, you know I think so highly of the Theta Mom community.  So, please, check it out.

And I can’t leave you for the weekend without updating you on the intense town pool wait list scenario.  Thanks to everyone for all of the support during this trying time (and also for the additional conniving suggestions on how to climb the list — you guys are a crafty bunch).  I’m pleased to report that I did not have to resort to many of my proposed, borderline unethical tactics to secure a spot.  It appears that enough people died, went bankrupt, moved away or suffered from abject social alienation to relinquish their memberships to my advantage.  Score.

Here’s how the big news went down.

My husband showed up in the family room waving an envelope in his hands the other night.  I was on glass number two or three of red wine after a long day of chasing down the stegosaurus cake pan.  The envelope, with its return address from the town’s Recreation Office, produced total anxiety; I swear, we both felt like it was a college admissions flashback.

Me:  “It’s so soon.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  I’m thinking good, especially after the Caddyshack Baby Ruth story I told at the pre-school bake sale to scare them off.  I had a prime audience.”

Him:  “Yeah, but the envelope is not fat.  Remember with college admissions, the fatter the envelope, the better.”

Me:  “Crap.  You might be right.  But do colleges even send letters by mail now?  It’s probably all electronic.  Did you know there’s a writing section on the SATs and now and the scoring system is different?”

Him:  “What are you talking about?”

Me:  “Why couldn’t they have the writing section when I was in high school?  I would have fared so much better.  My whole life could have been different.”

Him:  “How many glasses of wine did you have?  Open the fucking envelope.”

And then.

I love that they are so aware of the bullshit tension they’ve created, they actually positioned the letter to open exactly as I photographed it above — leading with a big, dorky Congratulations.  Like I passed some character screen (we all know that would have been dicey at best) or a written exam. 

But whatever.  I’m in.  I’m #251 no more.

Let the summer begin!  As soon as I figure out how to make this stegosaurus cake.

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Dial D for Desperate


Here’s something I may not have noticed if I hadn’t recently left my full-time job.  But you can’t get away from it around town.  It’s all the talk. 

The Annual Calls for The Town Pool Wait List.

Sadly, I’m not kidding.

There are wait lists for many things in my town.  At first, this made me feel right at home after years of living in Manhattan, where people have been known to call day care centers and secure a future spot for a child not yet conceived.  

But now this is sort of annoying here in suburbia.  Can’t there be plenty of room for all of us?

Right after we closed on our house last year, at the direction of our realtor, I promptly drove over to the Town Hall to put our name on two critical wait lists:  1) parking for the train (which I no longer need, but my husband does) and 2) membership for the town pool.

I asked the municipal employees which list I would succeed in climbing before my kids (remember, ages 3 and 1) went off to college.  They just laughed, but not in a “You’re so witty” way; it was more of a “Your guess is as good as mine” reaction.  It wasn’t encouraging. 

I have since been told that, for train parking, the average wait to get a spot in the “secondary” lot (read “highly undesirable and inconvenient”) is three years.  And then — then — maybe another year until you get to roll into Parking Nirvana every morning for the privilege of boarding NJ Transit. 

Then there’s the pool.

I knew we wouldn’t get in last summer because we got on the list too late, and I was OK with that.  I thought.  Then the temperatures soared.  Still, I figured I wasn’t missing too much — it’s just a pool, after all.

But then I noticed the military precision with which the playgrounds emptied on the weekends at the stroke of 11am — the time the pool opened.  I also started to get insider information.  Members told me all about the gorgeous renovations, the perfectly planned kid area and the  mindset of “I just couldn’t live without it all summer.” 

So I decided I needed to see this for myself.  A stake-out was in order.

I showed up one Sunday last August.  I brought the baby with me so that nobody thought I was just some pool stalker (which, of course, I totally was).  I really wasn’t even sure if they’d let me in “just to take a look.” 

But they did.  And it was sort of like the Gates of Heaven. 

Where I grew up, we didn’t have a town pool and I wasn’t expecting anything really nice — I figured it would be some kind of utilitarian-looking and dated facility with a distinct municipal decor.  Not so.  Everyone looked like they were on vacation.  At a nice resort.  That my tax dollars are subsidizing. 

This may be a slight exaggeration

I never should have gone there.  I wish I could un-see the whole thing my mind — because now I really want my damn spot.

As a natural progression, I decided to casually stalk the Recreation Office at the Town Hall to determine what, in fact, my spot was.  This strategy was met by laughter when I told my friends and neighbors.  They assured me that nobody gives out the list placement numbers.  There’s a Cone of Silence. 

Have you met me?  This wasn’t going to do.

At first, nothing.  No dice.  Nobody was talking.  It was like an Aquatics Witness Protection Program.

Then, finally, a crack in the foundation.  Either I got a newbie or someone who was experiencing a mid-afternoon sugar low that resulted in clouded judgement.  Whether she continues to be a government employee after the following breach of security remains unknown.  In fact, I don’t think she’s been heard from since.

“Uh, let’s see here.  Ah, yes, there you are.  Number 251.”

“251?  Are you kidding me?  Is that individuals or families?”


Then I really pushed my luck.

“OK.  Well, what are my chances for 2011?  I mean, how many families did you turn over last year?”

“About 300, actually.”

“Seriously?  So there’s hope?”

“I’d say so.  Now I need to get going.”

I assume that her abrupt end to our chat meant that she had been discovered by the wiretaps and was about to be confronted for her inappropriate divulgence of information.  I hope that wherever she is, she’s OK.

But back to me.


And here’s the really crappy part.  We were victims of a new system implemented last year.  In years past, there was one night a year when hopeful new members would line up at the Town Hall and it was first come, first served for a spot at the pool.  It became the stuff of legends.  Guys  — grown men with children — were out there at 1 or 2 in the morning with folding chairs, lining up for the 9am start time.  A woman I know told me her husband got there at 3am and still didn’t get a spot.  She told him not to come home.

The town has now put an end to this practice and instead instituted a straightforward, come-and-get-your-name-on-a-list-policy instead. 

See, we would have rocked the old model.  P and I, for better or worse, are well-trained tailgaters.  This gig was made for us.  Or him, I should say, because why should both of us suffer when he could go out there while I slept in our comfy bed cared for our children?  Anyway, he would have come home with a bright and shiny pool pass.

Not now. 

Now, I’m stuck at 251 and here’s how it works:  The current members have until April 15 to renew or forfeit their spot.  And then, the phone calls start going down the wait list for whatever space is left.  Always a student of process, I am dying to know if it’s one part-time senior citizen named Fran who makes 2-3 calls a day for weeks — or is it a well-oiled machine of filling that list in a day or two?  Basically, I want to know when I’m going to know.

Because, in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to increase my odds.  In doing so, I’ve considered the key factors that would cause one to forfeit one’s spot. 

  • The kids moved away (and you now want to spend the cash on a cruise)
  • Moving out of town (to a utopia where everyone can use the damn pool and park at the train station; see “Europe”)
  • Boredom/Social Alienation (you have no friends at the pool, possibly from pissing everyone off when you lined up at midnight under the old model)
  • Financial windfall (“Fuck this, I’m putting in my own pool.”)
  • Forgetfulness
  • Financial hardship
  • Death

The last three require no further explanation.  And, to be clear, I don’t wish death, injury or poverty on anyone.  But let’s consider the folks in the “I forgot to renew category” for a moment.  This is the sweet spot, I think.  If I can mount a coordinated, covert campaign of distraction over the next few days around town, I can capitalize on the forgetful souls who still have not sent in their renewals. 

I’m considering the following:

  • Starting a rumor that the Bronx Zoo Cobra is on the loose once again, last seen in our town.
  • Implementing a “tax returns only” line at the Post Office to prevent pool checks from getting in the mail.
  • Talking loudly in public about the regrettable Caddyshack-like pool incident (“This time, it wasn’t a Baby Ruth”) last summer and the resulting sanitary concerns.

And you guys worried that I wouldn’t keep busy enough after leaving Corporate America.  As if.

I mean — if you haven’t gotten your check in yet, it must not be that important to you.  And, people, I need a place to hang out with my kids this summer.  Remember, I’m a woman without a country here.  I left my job.  I need adult interaction.  And town gossip. 

But I’m not buying my bathing suit just yet.  I have to wait by the phone first and see what happens once April 15 comes and goes.

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, I’ll be at the Post Office.  You know, just hanging out.

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A Year in Suburbia


This week marks a full year since we packed up our city life and moved to the suburbs. And not only did we live to tell, but you know what?  I love it.  It’s true.

Most of the time. 

However, after 365 days in this new world, I’m here to report there are still a few things that I could do without:

  • The reliance on a car:  I miss walking all over the place.  Of course, I can walk in the suburbs — it’s permitted — but the truth is that the car is usually the more realistic option.  And along with that comes the endless in-and-out-of-the-car seats nonsense that makes me just a little more insane every day.
  • Lack of anonymity:  In the city, there wasn’t any small talk or chit-chat with strangers.  And that was fine by me.  I’m terrible with small talk.  It was perfectly acceptable to stand in your building’s lobby and stare straight ahead while waiting for the elevator.  I did have some very sweet, older widows who lived on my floor, and it was nice that they stopped to check in on me when I was very pregnant (though there was a certain “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe that I tried not to overblow) — but they stayed largely out of my business.  I’ve since had to re-learn social graces like inviting someone in when they knock on my door.  The week we moved into our house, several families stopped by with trays of  cookies and cakes to welcome us.  I have to be honest — it freaked me out a bit.  And as I reluctantly opened my door to them, all I could wonder was if I now have to bake every time someone moves into the neighborhood.
  • No quick errands:  At times, I miss the corner bodega more than I can express.  Like when I just need a can of beans to finish a recipe.  No problem — I’ll just walk to the corner and…nevermind.  Now it’s back in the car, finding parking, going through the whole big grocery store.  It  just takes longer than it’s worth.  {That’s right, I don’t have much patience.  I’m not really working on it but I will own it.}
  • New Jersey Transit and the PATH Train:  They are the 8th and 9th circles of Hell, respectively.  I never thought I could miss the NYC MTA so damn much.  It’s a well-oiled machine by comparison.
  • Suburban Starbucks:  Yes, I have a Starbucks problem.  You know it and I know it.  Now, if we’re all done judging me for my overpriced coffee habit, can we just weep in solidarity over the hoops I must jump through to secure this beverage?  Before, I walked to the corner.  Now, I drive (just a mile, but a drive nonetheless).  I circle for parking.  I pay for parking.  And I have to make small talk while waiting for my coffee.  I really think there’s a viable business model in a Starbucks Addict Premium Delivery Service.  I know I’m not alone here, or the green coffee goddess wouldn’t still be in business.
  • BYOB:  I know that, in many respects, it’s better that you have to bring your own booze to restaurants. It’s cheaper.  You get what you want.  There are many upsides.  Except when you are me (or my husband) and you never, ever remember that this is part of going out to dinner in our town.  And then what — a dry meal?  Uh, no, sir.  It’s instead this: “You run, as fast as you fucking can, to the wine store, before they close — quick!! — and I’ll find an appetizer on the menu to order for you” (translation: an appetizer of my choosing so that I can enjoy half of it).

OK, OK — I sound horrible, I know.  So let’s be nice to Suburbia — she has quite a lot to offer.  Though my love affair with her started slowly, I am now pretty enamored.  And even though New York City will always be my first geographic love — I lived in four of the five boroughs over my 16 years there, so I’m not just talking Manhattan — let’s fight fair and point out some annoyances of urban living that I really don’t miss.

  • Lack of living space:  Do me a favor.  Take your hand and open it up as far as you can.  That was about the size of my bathroom in my last apartment.  For a family of four.  And did I mention I pathologically hate clutter?  It was a battle I could not win. 
  • Circling for parking:  You could pretty much bet cash that, any Sunday night when we returned from a weekend trip with the kids, the dog and all of our stuff, it would be raining, sleeting or snowing.  So this insane dance would ensue of double parking while unloading our kids and our stuff curbside while someone ensured the car wasn’t ticketed. 
  • Being accosted by crazies:  Don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of nutters in suburbia — but they keep more to themselves.  The New York crazies really get up in your face.  It’s been awhile since an amateur preacher screamed in my face about the end of days or my sinning ways.  Or a one-armed ukulele player spit at my feet for not giving him my half-eaten soup.  I don’t miss that so much.  If I want crazy, I know plenty of people I can call.
  • Planning for higher education of a child in utero:  Pre-school lotteries and interviews — with college-sized tuition bills to match.  No thanks.  If I told you what I paid in day care costs for two children in the city…I can’t even think about it.  In fact, I had to tell the day care place that I was pregnant with my second child before most of my relatives knew — so that she could have a spot in a year.  For day care.  Not Harvard.  Not even private kindergarten.  Day care.  Anyway, I felt like I won the lottery when I was reminded that my property taxes in the suburbs cover the cost of a very good public school system.  Now I can keep up my Starbucks habit.
  • Escaped Egyptian Cobras from The Bronx Zoo:  OK, so it was just this once.  But, still — it gave me the creeps.  Who can live in fear like that?

In full disclosure, I’m still in Manhattan every day for work, so I probably haven’t had a proper chance to really mourn the death of my city life yet.  But I do get wistful about it now and then.  Central Park.  The West Village.  Delicious food at all hours.  The energy and the diversity.

And then I think about that tiny, tiny bathroom.  The windows that didn’t really close all the way.  That occasional but nasty rat running out in front of you on the street.  The navigation of the double stroller through the endless winter.  The day care tuition bill. 

So I guess what I figured out, after this year of change, is that my heart belongs to both the city and to suburbia.  But a girl can have more than one great love, right?

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The Surest Sign of Spring


I totally missed the memo in my town, but they have collectively decided that Spring is here. 

No matter that it’s 39 degrees outside.  The weather is not the deciding factor.  Nor is the calendar.

Here’s what drives the edict:  The mass release of the landscaping trucks.  It’s like a well-choreographed invasion.

This week actually marks a year since we took up life in the suburbs.  And I remember last year at this time, sitting in our new home, unpacking box #48,876.  I remember, one morning, the distinct sound of lawn machinery coming from four different directions at once.  In total precision.  I looked outside and what quickly followed was my realization that *everyone* on the block has a landscaping guy army. 

Over the next few days, as I unpacked more boxes, I saw the pattern.  The armies pulled up to the homes at 9:00 sharp, every day.  They pruned.  They plucked.  They manicured.  They planted.  They mulched.  Then they disappeared into the quiet suburban wind.  Sort of like Keyser Soze with a leaf blower.

I peered from my undressed windows — more than a little freaked out.  In the city, we had a few house plants.  Some lasted longer than others by virtue of sheer sun position and luck, but we clearly weren’t ready for prime-time suburban landscaping.

So, suffice it to say we had not secured a beautification crew for our yard.  We saw and bought the house in the dead of winter, under a foot or two of snow.  And we probably should have wondered what, exactly, would emerge as the landscaping vision upon first thaw. 

Let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty.  There was a certain overgrown, tumbleweed, Wild, Wild West quality that didn’t seem to quite fit in.

Realizing our precarious footing, we scrambled to right the wrong of our yard before we were driven out of the neighborhood by a unanimous vote of the Town Council.

Then the landscaping solicitation began, as if on cue.  It was like the Town gave them a copy of our closing documents and a photo of the lawn.  They smelled blood in the water and knew it was only a matter of time before we caved in to abject peer pressure in the form of weed wackers and wood chips. 

And they were right.  Soon, we found our guy.  He was just waiting for our call — I picture him leaning up against his truck, smoking a cigar and buffing his nails while thinking of ways to set our money on fire.  

Our guy made good and quick progress.  This was rewarded with third-party endorsements in the form of a not-so-occasional comment from a neighbor about what an improvement we’d made to the property. 

{Translation:  “We were waiting for you to fix this shit up.  If you hadn’t, we’d consider reporting you to the Town for the public beating that occurs on the second Tuesday of the month, or — worse — excluding you from our block’s Christmas Eve Luminary Spectacular.”}

Alrighty then.  Bullet dodged.  We were allowed to stay.  Just in time for winter.

I’ll tell you, it was nice to have the winter off from the Landscaping Olympics.  Sure, there were epic snow blower competitions and plenty of occasions to mock our lack of de-icing salts, but that seemed like small potatoes. 

But now it’s abundantly clear to me that I made a classic rookie mistake.  I was stupid to assume, under the heavy cloak of winter, that nobody was planning their 2011 landscape design concepts over Christmas Dinner and envisioning their thematic topiaries during the fireside chats of multiple housebound snow days.

As for us, we had used our time poorly.  We were asleep at the wheel, fat and happy in our naive view that it was still winter. 

Of course, I missed the note that Opening Day was today. It must be optimal crocus primping time.  Or mulch preparation week.  Without warning, the trucks and lawn equipment besieged the neighborhood at 9:00 this morning — as I leisurely went off to pre-school drop-off.  It was like being caught with my pants down.

And there was our guy — cigar in hand, leaning against his truck with a menacing “Come to Papa” grin at the end of our driveway, basically asking for direct access to our checking account or a vein.

Spring has sprung.  Let the invasion begin.

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The House That Al Gore Furnished


“We need another chair in the living room — it still looks kind of bare,” my husband says.

“Hand me the laptop.”

He knows better by now than to suggest we go furniture shopping in person, an exercise in futility that I have pretty much abandoned. 

God Bless the Internet, I say.

Not just because I can log on to Facebook and Twitter, buy cute clothes and all of my groceries do research and get up to speed on hard-pressing issues, but because my family now has places to sit and to eat.  Pretty things on the walls to look at.  Storage solutions galore.  Without Al Gore’s modern invention, it’s very likely that we would still be using boxes or milk crates as furniture, and our son’s pre-school craft projects as decor, a year after buying our  house.

It all started innocently enough after we moved in.  Some decorative accents from Pottery Barn or someplace  similar.  A coffee table.  Pretty bedding, some rugs.  You know, normal Internet buying activity. Nothing crazy.

The turning point for me came when I decided to replace every single light fixture in the house — no small undertaking.  But let’s be honest — I didn’t have the time nor the insurance liability policy to drag a one and three year-old into lighting stores.  There’s a special place in Hell for that kind of torture. Can you hear the sound of glass (and my nerves) shattering to pieces?

So, my keyboard and I conspired with my monitor and some URLs to find a light for every room in the house without seeing a single fixture in person.  And I had a great success rate (except for the sconces that haunt me). 

It was fabulous.  So I kept going. 

A new bedroom set for my son:  Check.  Window treatments:  Check.  The outdoor swing set: Done.

The week before Christmas, I realized we had nowhere to store all of our china that had lived in boxes for years.  And so a new hutch arrived on our doorstep.  What to do about that empty space in the living room begging for a sofa table?  Twenty minutes later, ordered and ready to ship.

I was on a roll, so I moved on to things that I had previously reserved exclusively for in-person shopping visits — items I wanted to sit on, touch, see, ensure comfort in, etc.  A couch, a chair — done and done.  My new opinion:  Sitting on furniture before you buy it is so very 1990s.  If 16 out of 18 online reviewers told me the couch was comfortable, their asses are a fine proxy for mine.  Ship it here, please.

It got a little ridiculous. 

Boxes upon boxes on the front porch.  A familiar exchange with the UPS guy.  An arched eyebrow from my husband.  My new neighbors probably thought I was running an upholstery cartel.  But, hey — it was no different than spending the money in person (yeah, I got some great shipping deals, don’t you worry).  

Hi, Frank. Want to spend Thanksgiving with us?

It was better this way.  Because let me give you a brief list of why I can’t shop with my kids effectively:

  • Something will break.
  • Somebody will cry. 
  • Somebody will be hungry or thirsty.
  • The window of opportunity to make a decision is about 17 minutes.
  • No adult can complete a thought or a sentence.

All of this leads to either giving in to a crappy purchase or leaving empty-handed.  Again.

At home, I type away.  Kids are fed, happy, entertained.  I can even have a glass of wine while spending money.  Everyone wins.

I’m considering how to take this to the next level.  With spring here, who has time to visit those pesky nurseries to pick out plants and flowers?  Google, let’s make a date and get me some landscaping.  And that basement renovation staring me down?  I might need a better monitor for that one.

Maybe you are one of those “I must see it in person” shoppers.  I respect that.  If you have small children, I am in awe of you.  I am particularly in awe of you if your house doesn’t look like this.

My fate without my keyboard

But for me, it’s a losing proposition.  So, I’d say, 95% of our new house was furnished and decorated online.  And most of it happened to work out swimmingly. 

I don’t care to discuss the other 5% right now, because my “must return” pile is an ongoing thorn in my side.

That’s for another day, and a small price to pay in the name of progress.  So, thank you, Al Gore, thank you.

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My Formerly Glamorous Life

Since we left the city for the suburbs last April, people seem to be shocked that I don’t miss it more.

It goes like this:

“You must miss the city so much!”  (head craned in sympathy)

“Nah.  I mean, there are days.  But, surprisingly, I’m really happy with the move.”

“Oh.  So, you like, uh, New Jersey?  How’s that…going?”

The truth is that I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would.  But, now and then, I do get wistful about my old life in Manhattan. 

But not always.  And not today.  Not when it’s bone cold outside.  Because it reminds me of a very stressful period in my life last winter when the morning ritual of getting two small kids to daycare in this weather pushed me to the brink of insanity. 

At that time, my husband had a new job that required him to leave before the kids woke up and to come home too late to pick them up at daycare.  And I also have a full-time job — one that expects me to be generally on time and pretty much mentally together.  So these were character-building days, folks.  If you had flashed back a year ago, this would have been my morning in Manhattan.

  • 6:15 — Tiptoe out of bed into the shower so the kids don’t wake up.  Promise God a new soup kitchen for the needy if the  baby would just sleep through the night.  Check Blackberry for work-related fires/crises that transpired overnight.
  • 6:20 — Attempt to have five minutes of peace in shower before the chaos begins.
  • 6:22:30 — Have shower interrupted by 1) two year-old announcing his arrival in the bathroom and opening shower curtain for morning conversation about Elmo, 2) six month-old crying in crib and 3) ringing Blackberry.
  • 6:30 — Retrieve Blackberry voice mail.  Check email again.  Respond to three colleagues in Japan before they go to sleep for the night.
  • 6:35 — Feed kids.  Dress them, perhaps more than once if someone spills/vomits/spits up.
  • 6:55 — Dress self, forgetting belt, jewelry or other random accessory.  Attempt to dry hair and look presentable.  Conclude this look is overrated.  Fantasize about breakfast that will surely not materialize.
  • 7:15 — Ignore red flashing light on Blackberry out of corner of eye.
  • 7:17 — Assemble the following items to cart to day care:  Bottles, diapers, jars of baby food, extra clothes (baby); lunch (toddler); various permission slips, medical forms that are long overdue.
  • 7:30 — Pack breast pump and all related accessories for work.
  • 7:35 — Wrestle toothbrush into mouth of two year-old.  Oh and self also — must brush own teeth.
  • 7:40 — Begin excruciating process of convincing two year-old to put on jacket, hat and gloves.  Bargain.  Plead. 
  • 7:50 — Ignore Blackberry. 
  • 7:55 — Strap toddler into double stroller in front of TV while wrestling baby into full bunting.
  • 8:00 — Place writhing baby into double stroller, strap everyone in.  Ensure that all day care items are stowed in bottom of stroller, breast pump on one shoulder and briefcase on the other.  Put on coat, hat and gloves even though apartment is sweltering because 1) heat is not controlled by tenants and 2) body temperature is at 101 degrees from wrestling children into stroller.
  • 8:05 — Dog!  Feed dog!  Sorry!  Keep kids in stroller, wedged against open apartment door.
  • 8:07 — Pine for coffee.  Fear looking at clock.
  • 8:10Negotiate double wide stroller into packed apartment building elevator, eliciting eye rolling and audible sighs from fellow tenants.
  • 8:15 — Stop on every floor on the way down (13 in total).  Sweat through winter coat.  Beg two year-old to stop crying about being strapped in stroller.
  • 8:17 — Arrive in lobby to find it is sleeting outside.  Again.  Find rain/snow cover thingy for the stroller buried under daycare supplies and attach it around entire perimeter of stroller while both children cry.  Consider selling soul to Satan for coffee.
  • 8:25 — Navigate snow/ice piles pushing 40 lbs of child weight in stroller.  Resent feeling of numbing ice pellets hitting face.  Panic briefly over possibility of a 9:00 conference call that may or may not have been confirmed.  Will never make it.
  • 8:30 — Realize, when strong wind comes along, that stroller cover is not properly secured and is now flapping about in the wind like a tarp.  Stop on sidewalk.  Drop all bags from shoulder and resecure stroller cover.  Answer questions about trucks, buses and police cars from two year-old.
  • 8:35 — Begin to display signs of pathological need for coffee.  Food would be nice, too.
  • 8:35:30 — Realize [any item — insert here] was left at home and decide that there is no going back. 
  • 8:35:37 — Curse out husband’s new job.  Repeat.
  • 8:40 — Manipulate double stroller through day care entryway and begin the unloading process.  First, the baby and her supplies.  Then, the toddler and his stuff.  They are in separate rooms, of course.  Chat with caregivers about necessary instructions for the day and kiss kids goodbye. 
  • 8:52 — Catch glimpse of clock.  Feel early warning signs of stroke.

  • 8:53 — Trade cursory niceties with other parents, who don’t seem to be experiencing the same type of morning.  Ponder why this is the case.
  • 8:55 — Break into sprint, carefully (watch the ice!), for the subway station.  Check Blackberry with one hand while running.  Assess just how late work arrival will be.  Pray for expeditious subway experience.
  • 9:00 — Curse out the MTA for delayed and overcrowded subway.  Repeatedly.  Question if Mayor Bloomberg *really* rides the subway every day or if his PR people are, in fact, that good.
  • 9:35 — Arrive at desk in full sweat and without coffee. 
  • 9:37 — Begin the day.  Repeat at 5pm for day care pick up.

Isn’t city life glamorous?  My life in the burbs isn’t so bad on days like today.

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Outsourcing Life

{Photo courtesy:}

Imagine what you could get done with a personal assistant. 

Just indulge me for a minute.  It has been a long week.  (Wait, it’s Monday?)

It takes very little for the wheels to fall off the wagon around here.  I know it’s because I’m maxed out and trying to do two things equally well — working and parenting.  Ditto for my husband.  The good news is that we have not failed miserably at either of those tasks (yet), but who is doing all of the household stuff in between?  Who will make Operation Fordeville hum if we don’t have the time? 

{Surely you can make the time.  Many working moms do just that.}

OK, correction:  We technically have some time, somewhere.  I guess.  But, who would you rather hang out with in your time away from the office — your kids or your to-do list? 

So, here it is — my fantasy ad to make things run more smoothly.

* * *

WANTED:  Personal Assistant for a working mom on the edge of insanity.  Must be anal rententive, list-oriented and anticipatory.  Mind reading helpful. 

Daily responsibililties will include: 

  • Serve as point person for daily interaction with contractors, repairmen and prospective vendors on various improvement and renovation projects for 100 year-old house.  Conduct related due diligence and present findings/recommendations to employer.
  • Pay household bills in timely fashion and assemble report of spending trends as they relate to family budget.  Liaise with financial planner to ensure ongoing alignment on long-term retirement goals.
  • Handle all incoming mail management, including purging of family name from unwanted lists and physical removal of junk mail to avoid recycling pile the size of small tree.
  • Run various errands, including but not limited to: dry cleaning, grocery shopping, filling prescriptions, various returns of clothing items that don’t look as good in person as they did online, purchasing seasonal items that are consistently overlooked until it’s too late (shovels, sidewalk salt, sunscreen, rakes, family holiday cards, general Christmas preparation, etc.), and, importantly, the identification and purchase of all gifts for children’s friends’ birthday parties.
  • Retrieval and management of all pre-school documenation — permission slips, medical records, monthly tuition and endless RSVPs to birthday parties (see related item on gifts above).
  • Schedule, cancel and reschedule various family medical appointments as needed.
  • Undertake all outstanding home furnishing needs, including outdoor siding color options, replacing hideous ceiling fans and tacky gold entryway sconces that came with the house and finding the right end table for living room. Take initiative to find out what window treatments are all about and which ones employer requires to stop Family Fishbowl lifestyle in full view of neighborhood.
  • Serve as face of Fordeville to neighbors Monday through Friday, baking as necessary.  Participate, appropriately, in any neighborhood gossip sessions and report back full list of names with corresponding house numbers to employer, who still knows nobody on street eight months later.  
  • Present various family vacation options to employer after thorough research and site visits.
  • Ensure that the red and white wine household reserves are kept at an appropriately stocked level at all times.
  • Maintain employer’s real-life (non-Facebook, blog or Twitter) friendships by scheduling monthly girls’ night out or related activity to preserve employer’s sanity.  Also, coordination of babysitters now and then so employer and employer’s spouse may have a civilized meal out of the house and away from all sippy cups.
  • Conduct any and all household interaction with the New Jersey DMV.  No exceptions.

Necessary Qualifications:

Must have experience dealing with very well meaning Type A-yet-coming-undone employer who clocks little to no face time at home Monday through Friday; interaction with two children under age four, even when they wipe their noses on you; total respect for full time nanny; and utter love for a middle-aged snoring pug who begs for people food (please don’t give him any, unless he makes that really sad face when he twists his head to the side).  Ability to type 180 wpm on mobile devices a must.  Knowledge of crock pots and blog design a plus.

* * *

That should do it.  OK guys — now you’ve seen my Domestic Outsourcing Wish List.  What’s on yours?

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