The Road Home

Yesterday I went back home.  To the town where I grew up.

The trip is not long.  It’s a mere 40 minutes by car, but it’s a lifetime in my head.

My parents moved away from my hometown after I graduated from college, so even though it’s not far, I rarely have an occasion to go back up there.

So, yesterday, when one of my high school friends invited me to stop by while he was in town visiting his parents for the week, I put my kids in the car and drove up.

The last time I went there was two years ago — for my high school reunion — with my dear friend Jen.  It was one of the last times I saw her before she died so unexpectedly.  That night, I had gone up to the reunion and straight back home, in the dark.  I had seen people from years ago but I had barely driven around the town.  It had been ages since I really took a ride through the area to take it all in.

So I wasn’t surprised to wonder if I’d remember all the roads to get there.  And I wasn’t surprised when they all came back to me.

Nostalgia can be a disarming feeling.  Head-spinning, even.  The notion of how much things change and yet still stay the same is so strange.  These places, so familiar to me.  These places, such a lifetime ago in my mind.

My car — my distinctly-mom vehicle — so different than anything I ever drove as a teenager back then.  And yet its tires, which had never touched the pavement in this town, knew the exact bends in the road, every one of them.  Dead Man’s Curve and all.  The roads that are notoriously narrow and rural and even treacherous.  The ones that my teenage mind considered no big deal when my parents worried were the same ones on which my now 40 year-old maternal mind felt cautious.

A place so rural.  So far away — at least on sight, though not at all in mileage — from the city lifestyle that my sisters and I both embraced for so many years post-hometown.  How can a place seem both so foreign and so ingrained to you?

I never appreciated its beauty at the time.  Though I loved my family, my friends and my life growing up — I wanted out.  I wanted to move away.  I wanted to see more.  And I did.  But I should have been grateful to have grown up in a place so lovely.  Because it was, it is — even if it took me years to realize it.

I drove the bendy roads yesterday from the visit to my friend’s house, over to the house where I grew up.  The house my parents built in 1984.  The house they sold amidst their divorce about a decade later.  The house I packed up with my mom and walked through for the last time — our possessions and family keepsakes all moved out — just before it changed hands.  I had been the last one to close the front door behind me and close that chapter of our lives.  And I remember how much it stung, how much it defined me, that moment.  For a long time.  Even though I was in my mid-20s and on my own, out of town — just as I had wanted all those years ago.

And on the way to my old home, I knew I would have to pass the house down the road where Jen grew up — where her parents still live.  The knot in my stomach had been building all day — not just over the nostalgia I felt for my own childhood, but for the role that Jen played in it.  These roads that we drove countless times together — to the movies, to the mall, to dance class and then — years later — in a limo headed to her wedding.  I think of Jen many, many times every day and how much I miss her.  But this was very different — to be back here, without her.

I drove past her house, past my school bus stop, and soon found myself sitting in the cul-de-sac outside my old house, craning my head to get a good look at it — up the long driveway and set back in the woods.  Yes, it had some updates, but it largely looked the same, even if I now viewed it differently.  Growing up, I thought it was too big, too showy.  But now it just looked pretty to me.  I could see the bay window over the front door that was my bedroom.  Where I had put my dance trophies in the window seat and where I was able to peer outside and see the headlights of my friends coming to pick me up.

And I was grateful, in a way that I had never felt before, that my parents had built it.

I drove over to the nearby dam as the sun was starting to set.  And I had to laugh at what came on the radio — somehow, select songs from the soundtrack of my life were playing, like a montage in the closing sequence of a movie that you don’t want to end just yet.

I parked at the dam and it was pretty much a perfect summer night with a perfect view.  My kids were getting sleepy in the back seat and I knew it was time to get going.  But I got out for just a minute to take some pictures — both with my camera and with my mind.




This place.  Just 40 minutes from where I live now.  I can go there anytime, I guess — but I rarely do.  And maybe that’s what makes it so powerful.

I had spent years just wanting to leave.  And yesterday, watching the sun go down over the dam, all I really wanted was to stay.  For just a little bit longer.


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Cover the Zeroes

My two sisters and I are all very different.  However, we have three key things in common:

1)  Political leanings

2)  A love of Motown

3) A real affection for roulette

Actually, it’s four things if you count our collective and pronounced disdain for Keanu Reeves.

But today I’d like to focus on #3.  Because on Sunday, they are taking me to Atlantic City.  It’s my 40th birthday present — how excellent is that?

{And yes, this is officially the last mention I will make of celebrating this birthday, two months after the fact.  Unless you’re my husband, in which case, there are still ten more months in The Year of 40 to celebrate.}

We love us some roulette, my sisters and me.

How did this happen, you ask?

Hmmm.  It’s hard to pinpoint.

Oh wait, it’s coming back to me now.

Something in my childhood home.

Perhaps a piece of furniture.

Could it have been:  This?

Yes, yes, it’s true.  We grew up with a roulette table in our living room.

Is our father a bookie?  No.  Just Italian.

See, my grandmother used to take a lot of trips back to Italy.  And she usually brought home some very cool things from the homeland.  Like jewelry.  Or dishes.  Or wine.  Or a nice leather bag.

Or, this one time, an Italian gaming table with four matching chairs.

They make them in Sorrento.  On the outside they simply look like your typical Italian, gaudy furniture sets.

But, no, they hide a treasure trove of gambling fun.  You remove one leaf at a time to find ornately handcrafted backgammon, black jack and poker boards.

Then.  You open up the bottom layer to find the roulette situation.

God, I love the Italians.

Look, it’s not like we sat around playing roulette as kids on Saturday mornings.  My parents used the table for parties every now and then, and we actually weren’t allowed to touch it.  But, on the eve of my spring break trip to the Bahamas in my senior year of college, my mom had three of my friends and me stay overnight at our house.  And she busted out the roulette table.  You know, to show us the ropes before we lost the shirts off our backs.  {We were all 21, if any of you are feeling litigious.}

And, there, in that Bahamian casino, my love of roulette was complete.

I guess it’s genetic among us sisters.  We love the game.  Not in a lose-your-house-kind-of-way.  We’re not high rollers, by any stretch.  In fact, we’re pretty happy to sit at any $5 table we can find and stretch out $100 for hours on end.

We like to talk strategy.  I’m not saying we’re academic about it, but there are major decisions to be made.  Like playing the inside versus the outside.  Doubling down on a winning number or vacating it.

We like to talk numbers.  I mean, everyone has their numbers.  No, I won’t tell you mine, but I hope you know to always cover the zeroes.

We like to sit back and watch the tables for a bit before committing to the one we like.

We like to decry what my uncle has dubbed The System.  For years, he had our extended family believing he had cracked the code on roulette.  It worked for a while, in small doses.  But my sisters and I, after years of experimenting with it in different iterations, have officially declared The System to be bullshit.  Or just dumb luck.

Speaking of dumb luck:  Yes, I realize that roulette has the statistically worst odds in the house.  I know that counting on a ball spinning in a wheel is absurd.

But I do love it.

So.  Wish us luck.  And if you have a favorite number, let me know.



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De Madrid al Cielo



I think I might be ready to accept the fact that my vacation is over.

It has become increasingly obvious over the last few days that the laundry and grocery shopping are not going to get done on their own.  So I suppose it’s time to put my Spanish holiday in the “this happened a million years ago” files and return to real life.

But.  Let me just say, it was a heavenly trip.

In fact, there is a popular phrase in Spain that sums it up:  De Madrid al cielo {“From Madrid to the heavens”}.

Meaning, once you see Madrid, heaven is the next best thing.  And I get that.

As I suspected, Madrid did not disappoint.  Yes, of course some things have changed in the 19 years since I lived there, but so much is just as I remembered it.

I was gone for a week.  It felt like a month and it felt like a day all at once, if that makes sense.

If you don’t mind, I think I’ll just dump a bunch of photos on you.

* * *

The trip was sort of divided into phases, which worked out really well.

Phase One:  The Good Old Days.

I flew over with my close friend Rebecca, who had studied there with me back in 1993.  We had 48 hours there together, and we walked every inch of the city — taking it all in and remembering old times.

We also met up with our Spanish friends, whom we hadn’t seen in 19 years.  These guys were so good to us when we lived there — they showed us their city and taught us how to act like Spaniards.  And they basically partied with us every night of the semester.  They were dear friends.  Rebecca and I knew what a special time that was for us, but I don’t think we ever understood how fondly they remembered it as well.

So imagine, all these years later, to be able to see them again, and to meet their wives and sons.  To hear about all they have been doing.  To see that they are still the kind, generous souls who want to make us feel at home in their city.  Their hospitality was beyond measure, and it was amazing to feel as though we could pick right back up again.

And strangely, I found my Spanish coming right back to me in conversation.  On day one, I was hesitant and intimidated.  By day three, nearly fluent.  Which I totally did not expect.  Could I pick up every word?  No.  But I had an 80/20 rule that worked out pretty well, as long as I didn’t miss a key point in that 20% gap.


Phase Two:  24 Hours in Zurich.

While the impetus for the trip was to celebrate Rebecca and me turning 40 (though she still has a precious few weeks holding onto 39), the timing also worked out spectacularly that our dear friend Alicia — also part of the original study abroad group — just had her first baby.  In Zurich.  So, what’s a little side trip?  We were already across the ocean, right?

I’d been to Zurich once before to see Alicia.  It’s a fascinating place.  Not only is it textbook-gorgeous, but, as Rebecca said, it’s like visiting the future.  Everything is super-clean and super-efficient.

The irony of this is not lost on me.

It’s always great to have the three of us together, though it happens so infrequently.  Nothing is off limits in our chats.  You know those friends?  The ones you can have TMI girl talk with at turbo-catch-up-speed?  It was that.  A little unfortunate for Alicia’s boyfriend, whom we may have traumatized.  But he was a total trooper.  We had a fabulous and much-needed 24 hours together.


Phase Three:  The Newbies Arrive.

Rebecca had to fly back to the US from Zurich, and I headed back down to Madrid just as my husband and our friends from Boston arrived for the second half of my trip.  Of the three of them, none had been to Madrid before.  So it was in my hands to show them the city and make sure they loved it as much as I do.

It’s fun to be a tourist.  To walk and wander and discover something fabulous at every corner.


To join silly bus tours.


Oh, and to stop every hour or so for food and drink.  Because it was flaming hot.  About 104 degrees.  Basically, it was the Sunscreen Olympics I’d been training for my entire life.

So I ate and drank my weight in the following:  Spanish ham.  Churros con chocolate.  Cafe con leche.  Wine.  Cheese.  Times one thousand.

And we had some culinary adventures too.  Like eels.  And sea urchin.  And blood sausage.  Delicious, every one of them.

Truly, the Spanish lifestyle is one I could embrace in earnest.  They know how to live.

{Side note:  Why has nobody made a fortune off of a proper churros franchise in the US yet?  How the hell has this not happened?}

Anyway.  My husband loved Madrid.  So did our friends.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more.  Except, maybe, to have the Euro Cup Spanish victory occur one week earlier, when we were still there.  Instead, we watched at home with Spain’s newest fans.


* * *

So now I’m back and, somehow, my kids seem to have grown six inches each and appear a year older.  It’s funny how a week will do that.

I feel somehow like I never left home, while I wash dishes and pack lunches for camp.  And at the same time,  I feel myself still clinging on to the photos in my mind of my week-long adventure.  It’s odd how a place can feel so close to you and so far away.  How real life automatically hums and buzzes back into gear while your memory holds onto what was a temporary alternate reality.  Sometimes you need those photos just to prove to yourself that it actually happened.  That you were really there not that long ago.

It’s a strange feeling, the re-entry to real life.

But, above all, I feel lucky.

Lucky to have gone.  Lucky for how well it worked out.  And truly lucky that Spain has stayed in my soul after all these years.


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Morning TV & Mr. Zero

I’m having a little problem with re-entry into the real world after my week in Spain.

Where is room service to clean up this mess?

Where is my wine with lunch?

And, for the love of all that is holy, where are the churros con chocolate for breakfast?

{On a related note, does anyone have a tarp or a drop cloth I can wear for the next few weeks?  Preferably something lightweight.  Just until I shed the 671 vacation pounds and am able to resume life with buttons at the waistline.}

But I’m not ready to post much more about my trip yet.  Because that would mean it happened in the past and it’s over.  And that can’t be.  So please indulge my denial for a day or two.

Let’s instead talk about current events.  Two in particular.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to raise a health care debate.

1)  Ann Curry: Don’t Let The Door Hit You in the Ass on the Way Out

I mean, who says Christmas only comes once a year?  Finally, I can resume watching my morning show of choice after a year-long, self-imposed exile.  I returned from vacation to find out that, at long last, the NBC News execs had come to their senses and dropped Ann.

It was like getting a pet unicorn.  Wrapped in a rainbow.

OK, now go ahead and be mad at me.  I know, I know.  Poor Ann.  

Here’s the thing: I’m not saying she’s not nice.  I bet she’s lovely to have dinner with.  And I do love her hair.  Yes, I feel sorry for her — it has to be brutally embarrassing to lose your job this way.  Except for that, um, $10 million parachute.  That might cushion the blow, if it were me.  I’m shallow like that.


I’m sorry, she was a terrible fit for the job.  I actually felt physically uncomfortable watching her.  I suspect that, over time, her bosses also felt the same way.  But instead of enduring the publicity associated with firing her, I’m somewhat convinced that they have discreetly been trying to kill her off for the past few years instead.

  • We need someone to scale an actively erupting volcano and report from its mouth:  Let’s send Ann.
  • That incoming tsunami needs someone on low-lying ground to see the impact:  Get Ann a small dinghy to report from.
  • Angelina Jolie wants to convince America she has a soul:  Ann will go visit the belly of the beast.  Or its exposed leg.

But Nine Lives Curry just kept on bouncing back and showing up for work.  And screwing up every other word on the news.  So the messy public firing eventually happened.

That’s just one theory, of course.  Call me prone to exaggeration.

And fear not, Ann Curry fans.  She will still be all over NBC.  But I can safely digest my morning coffee again, which is nice.


2)  Nora Ephron:  Say It Isn’t So

Far more sad is the news that Nora Ephron passed away.  What an amazing writer.  Silkwood.  Heartburn.  Sleepless in Seattle.

And of course, When Harry Met Sally.  It was the first movie I ever went to see more than once in the theater (four times, to be precise).  Maybe because it borrows heavily from my very favorite movie, Annie Hall.  Or maybe just because it’s so smart and continues to be one of the key romantic comedies that set the standard.

When I went to grad school for screenwriting (see: “How to set money on fire”), I tried so hard to write a decent romantic comedy.  And it’s incredibly difficult to do.  I suppose that’s why I’m sitting on my couch typing about basement renovations and pre-school.

Anyway, Nora Ephron did it exquisitely well.  And since I never miss an opportunity to swap movie quotes with other willing participants, can we just talk about When Harry Met Sally for a minute?  Here are some of my favorite lines from this movie.

  • “How long do you like to be held after sex? All night, right? See, that’s your problem. Somewhere between 30 seconds and all night is your problem.”
  • “Mr. Zero knew you were getting a divorce before you did?”
  • “Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon’s your man… but humpin’ and pumpin’ is not Sheldon’s strong suit. It’s the name. ‘Do it to me Sheldon, you’re an animal Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.’ Doesn’t work.”
  • “Eventually things move on and you don’t take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, ‘How come you never take me to the airport anymore?'”
  • “Someday, believe it or not, you’ll go 15 rounds over who’s gonna get this coffee table. This stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale COFFEE TABLE.”
  • “Six years later, you find yourself singing ‘Surrey With a Fringe on Top’ in front of Ira!”
  • “Oh but ‘Baby Fish Mouth’ is sweeping the nation.”

And, let’s not forget…

YouTube Preview Image

OK, so maybe that’s not a quote as much as the entire end of the film.  But still.  It never gets old.  {Plus, I got married in the building where they shot that scene, so I have a real weakness for it.}

So thanks, Nora Ephron, for doing what most of us could never do.


And can we all pretend that I’m still on vacation?  Thanks.


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I’m Really Going


Well, it’s almost here.  My big trip.  The one I am giving myself for that 40th birthday celebration I keep extending.

I’m off to Madrid for a week!

I can’t even believe it.

Here’s the thing:  Madrid has a special, special place in my heart.  I studied there for a semester in college and fell in love with it.

Like many others who studied abroad will tell you, I think this may have been the best time I ever had (except, of course, for meeting my husband — and having my kids — and whatever else would cause someone to be offended by omission).  I went with four other classmates and we were together all the time.  Not only because we liked each other and needed all five brains to form a Spanish paragraph, but because we shared the smallest apartment in the history of the world.  And I stand by that statement after living in New York City for 16 years.

It was a crazy and lovely time.  We learned to speak Spanish (mostly).  We attended class from time to time.  We traveled around Europe with backpacks as long as our bodies, sleeping on train station floors and staying in highly questionable youth hostels.  We wreaked havoc on various foreign cities.  The world seemed to be quite literally at our feet.

But above all, we had a love affair with Spain.

It’s a place that has just stuck with me, and I’ve been wanting to go back for 19 years.  But it never happened, for various reasons.  There were other places to go that I’d never seen before.  There were logistics.  And kids.  And work.  And bills.  And life.

But now, I’m going.  With one of my best friends, Rebecca, who was in that original study abroad group with me.

Here we are, amidst our 1993 European escapades.  Apparently, we thought that a mere scarf would make us look less American and more fashionable when standing outside the Roman Colosseum.


This time we’ll try not to look like unfashionable twins.  And we’ll shower more than we did the last time.

We’re also meeting up with two of our native Madrid friends who showed us the ropes of their great city back then.  I’ve kept in touch with them sporadically via Facebook, Twitter and {thank God} Google Translation.  So it will be fabulous to see them all these years later.

And then we will see another one of the original Study Abroad Five {aka “Somos cinco“}, who now lives in Zurich.

And my husband will come over for part of the week too.

And our good friends from Boston.

It’s a pop-up birthday party in Spain.  I feel so, so lucky.

It’s hard to know what it will be like to go back.  What I mean is that obviously it’s different to visit a place than to live in it, to know it day in and day out.  When we studied lived there, we had our daily routine, a way of life dictated by attending school.  {By “attending school,” I mean planning the next excursion over cafe con leche and churros when we should have been in class.}

But a seven-day visit, almost 20 years later, is surely going to be much more touristy in nature.  Just the highlights.  Although we will likely be found with cafe con leche and churros pretty frequently again.

In my mind’s eye, I remember how magnificent Madrid is.  Very chic and yet very traditional. I remember the Spanish sky.  I remember the food.  The coffee.  The people.  The wine.  The cheese.

I’m going.  Holy shit, I’m going.

Yes, I’ve built it all up in my head from nostalgia overload, though I highly doubt Madrid could disappoint me.

And of course, we all know that Spain is experiencing some serious economic issues right now, which is very unfortunate.  However, I am taking it as my personal challenge and responsibility to jump-start the economy through seven days of wine and cheese consumption.  Possibly with a side of shoes.  I can do it.  I know I can.  Rebecca will also be contributing substantially.

Then there is the issue of language.  My Spanish is rusty, to say the least.  I was once nearly fluent.  Now I can get by.  Kind of.  My husband does not believe me — he thinks I’m being modest.  So let’s just say he’s in for quite the surprise when I can only manage to order us a taco or direct him to the bathroom.

But, thankfully, I have been watching enough Dora and Diego with my kids to get some key Spanish skills back, though the topics at hand are somewhat limited.  For instance, I can basically name all jungle animals, which will help if I see an urban tiger roaming the streets of Madrid.  And I can also name a few landmarks, Dora-style {“Lake, cave, murky mud puddle — say it with me!”} in Spanish.  But also wine.  And cheese.  And, “Excuse me, how much for those stunning leather shoes that will look terribly out of place at pre-school drop-off?”

But I’m going.

I’ve been conditioning myself to leave my kids for a full week.  And they’ve had enough behavioral episodes recently that I feel pretty good about bidding them adios for seven days.  Of course I’ll miss them, though.

But I’m going.  My SPF 5,000,000 is packed.

I have visions of urban roaming with no real agenda.  Just some wandering, some wine, some food.  Taking it all in.  Relishing a very different place for a week.  Embracing a break from the daily grind.  Remembering a nearly perfect time in my life and being grateful to revisit it with my husband and good friends.

I doubt I’ll do a blog post while I’m there, mostly because my hands will be too sticky from the churros to type.  But, fear not, my international data plan is purchased.  So if you want to follow along, I will definitely be posting photos on Instagram and Facebook.  They will probably include various shots of cheese, and perhaps Rebecca and I revisiting our favorite spots.  And my husband’s confused face when I’ve directed him to the wrong restroom, as he finally realizes that my Spanish is que horrible after all these years.

But I’m going!

This turning 40 gig may not be so bad after all.

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Comings & Goings

Not to sound all Girl Scouty, but girlfriends are gold.  Seriously.

If you’re anything like me, you have a precious few go-to gals in your life.  You can text them with random shit like your bad parenting moments. Or the Code Red crisis of Trader Joe’s discontinuing your favorite wine.  Or your catty commentary about the local mom who is wearing a thong bikini to Mommy & Me Swim Class {because we all hate her, don’t we?}. Or you can sit with them over coffee, wine, or a wheel of brie the size of your head, and just gab away.  About nothing.  Or about life-changing things.  They are equally interchangeable.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t find these go-to gals often.  So when one of them moves away, it kind of blows.  For lack of a more elegant way of saying it.

So this week I’m standing right in front of a revolving door of these fabulous friendships.  I have to see one off while welcoming another one back.

My good friend here in town is leaving our utopian New Jersey.  Something about her husband taking a new job and they all need to live together as a family, blah, blah, blah.  Ladies of Northern Virginia, you are lucky to have her.  If you dissuade her in any way from coming back to the fine Garden State at some point, you’ll have to answer to me.  Because I will forever be looking at potential new homes for her around here that could connect to my house via underground wine cellar/tunnel. Although this may mean a modification to my renovated basement.  In the meantime, I have to convince her to go to her favorite local bar one last time.  I’m concerned that they can’t survive the revenue hit of her absence without some advance contingency planning.  And that would be bad for others who are left behind.  Like me.

As I send her off, I’m awaiting a flight from Tokyo to land.  Finally.  After five years, I get another dear friend back on US soil for good.  This fabulous friend — one I met at work back in 1998 and navigated the crazy Single in Manhattan Years with — was another casualty of the Husband Job Transfer.  She picked up and left our beloved Manhattan in 2007 — promising to be back in about three years.  She and her husband had their daughter in Japan, with no family around.  They dealt with the devastation and insanity of last year’s earthquake.  They came to visit now and then, but the question always rang out of my demanding mouth — When are you moving back?!!  {Or maybe it was more like, Enough of this shit already — just move back!}  So what if they are two years late?  They’re back!  And moving to New Jersey, no less. It must be the hard sell I gave them.  Or the location of her husband’s job.  Either one.

This revolving door is a little dizzying.  But I guess it’s a little bit of kismet — the happiness of welcoming one back will distract me from how sad I am to see the other one go.

If you’re anything like me, you are starting to think that all husbands should just work via Skype and not have to relocate their families anymore.

And if you’re anything like me, you’re always happy to have your go-to gals.  Wherever they live.


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How to Lose Your Will to Live at the DMV



You know all of those awful stereotypes about the Department of Motor Vehicles?  Unfortunately, I’m here today to report that the New Jersey DMV is, in fact, the Ninth Circle of Hell.

To appreciate the full story, I need to give you one quick bit of prelude.


1989:  I sat in the local New Jersey DMV with my mother, applying for my very first driver’s license.  Probably wearing shoulder pads. As I went to fill in my eye color as green, my mom stopped me and said, harmlessly, “I think your eyes are more hazel, aren’t they?”

“Uh, I guess.  Fine.”

And so, New Jersey recorded my eyes as hazel — something I never really agreed with and a point I continued to belabor with my mom for years to come.  Just to torture her.  It became an ongoing family joke whenever the subject of eye color arose.  And, I considered it a personal victory when, a few years later, the fine State of New York let me go on record as a green-eyed girl with my Empire State license.  It was long-deserved vindication.

Hold on to that little story for a few minutes.  You’ll need it.


Fast forward to 2010.  I’m back in the suburbs of New Jersey, after 17 years in New York.

I had to finally relinquish my last bastion of Manhattan residency and convert my New York license back to New Jersey.

I read all of the paper work.  I prepared.  I went in.


Visit #1:  Cross-Border Mystery.  Apparently, my circumstances were extraordinary and confusing to the fine employees of the DMV.

“I need to change my license from New York to New Jersey.”

“Have you ever had a New Jersey license?”

“Yes, a long time ago.”

“Under your current name?”

“No.  Under my maiden name.”

“Wait.  You mean you had a different name in New Jersey, moved out of state, got a new name in New  York and came back to New Jersey?”

“Uh, yes.  I grew up here.  Then I moved to New York.  I got married.  And now I’m back.”

“Oh.  I’m going to need to get a supervisor.”

“This has never happened before?  It doesn’t seem so unusual.  New York is 30 miles from here — you can kind of see it out the window with all those tall buildings over there.”

“Ma’am, fighting with me will get you nowhere.  I will need the address under which your last New Jersey license was issued.”

“I don’t remember.  I lived at four different New Jersey addresses and it was almost twenty years ago.”

“You don’t remember where you lived?”

“Not every address, no.  I gave you my maiden name — is it not coming up in your records?”

“It’s coming up.  But I need you to tell me the address to prove who you are.”

“I honestly don’t remember.”

“I need another supervisor.”

I left.  I couldn’t handle it another minute.  I decided to put off this whole process.

For two years.



Fast forward to today.  It was time to get this taken care of.

I re-read all of the paperwork.  I prepared.  I went in.


Visit #2:  Marriage Shock and Awe.  Wherein the Federal Government ID process means nothing to The Garden State.

Repeat all steps of Visit #1 (“Yes, I now remember the street address from 18 years ago where I lived for eight months.”)


“I need your marriage license.”

“Why?  All of my ID documents are issued under my married name.”

“We have no record of your name change in New Jersey.”

“Right, but see this passport here?  Issued by the Federal Government?  The one that allows me to fly outside of the country?  This has my legal name change processed.  See?”

“No.  I need your marriage license.”

“Your Be Prepared pamphlet — ironically named, I must say — makes zero mention of this in its extensive list of warnings about required documentation to change a state driver’s license.  Is this a new requirement?”

“I need it.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Ma’am, fighting with me will get you nowhere.”

I left.  I couldn’t handle another minute.



Fast forward 90 minutes.  I had to get this done.  This time, I brought my two year-old with me — just to make it more interesting. Also, it began to rain heavily, thereby ruining any slim chance I had of a decent license photo.  This is the real tragedy of the story.

I re-read all of the paperwork.  Again.  I prepared.  I went in.


Visit #3:  Falsifying Documentation.  Because your eyes are not only the window to your soul, but also remain on your permanent record.

Repeat all steps of visits #1 and #2 (“Yes, I remember the street address from 18 years ago where I lived for eight months,” and “Here is my original, raised seal, embossed marriage license.  The one that the Federal Government OK’d when they legally changed my name on this here passport.”)


“I’m back.  Again.”

“I see that.  But we have a problem.  Your original New Jersey license application from 1989 states that you have hazel eyes.  In today’s application, you listed your eyes as green.”


“Well, which is it, ma’am?  Hazel or green?”

“You look and tell me.  I think they are green.  But my mom thought, back in 1989 — never mind.”

“They do appear green, ma’am.  Why did you falsify them as hazel in 1989?”

“This is insanity.  I need my license.  I have provided everything you asked for and now I’m losing my patience.”

“Ma’am, fighting with me will get you nowhere.”

“So I see.  So now what?”

“Now that you have green eyes, we will have to create a whole separate identity number for you in our system, and this can cause problems.”

“Then just leave them as hazel.  I don’t care.”

“Ma’am, I can’t do that.  That would be misrepresenting your identity. Again.”

{Blinking audibly through my green/hazel/bloodshot with rage eyes}

“Please just figure it out!”

“I’m going to need a supervisor.  We’ve never dealt with a change in eye color before.”

{Supervisor arrives, concurs my eyes are, in fact, green, and agrees to miraculously issue my license.}

“Ma’am, you’re going to need to leave us your phone number.”


“In case we have any problems with putting two identity numbers in the system.  We’ll have to call you.”

“And then what?”

“We’ll let you know.”


Well, that was easy!  And painless, too!  Everyone was so pleasant!

Mostly, I’m so glad there was no inconsistency, bureaucracy or confusion involved in my application to continue driving a residential automobile.  

And I’d like to extend special thanks to my mom for almost getting my driving privileges revoked over a color hue detail {Just kidding, Mom.  Sort of.}.

But, look. You know and I know that this isn’t over.  The crazy Eye Change Mystery/Double Identity detail is going to haunt me somehow for the rest of my life.  Maybe they’ll call me to come in with a notarized Letter of Eye Color Change.  Or an essay explaining the mysterious circumstances around which I crossed state lines, got married and moved the 30 miles back across the Hudson River.  Maybe I’ll call it A Stranger in a Strange Land.

Or, more likely, I’ll end up on the No Fly List on my next trip.

“You there, with the hazel/green eyes!  Drop that passport and come with us!”

Can’t you see it?

But I can tell you this:  I would rather be incarcerated than ever, ever go back to the New Jersey DMV.  Maybe I’ll just move back to New York where my green eyes are appreciated.

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A Vomit-Free Vacation

We are back from our family vacation to Florida.  I have much to report, but let me cut right to the headline:

Nobody threw up.

It’s true!  This is epic for the residents of Fordeville.  I mean, there was a very close call during the endless descent of our return flight.  As I sat between my two green children and played Vomit Roulette with the one puke bag I could access at that moment, I may have shouted “Come on, man!  For the love of God, how long does it take to land a damn plane?  Wheels down, dammit, wheels down!”

Or something like that.  Anyway, we emerged vomit-free.  Barely.

While little else can compare to that sparkling family achievement, there were other great elements of our trip.

We stayed with my mom and stepfather for a few days, which was great.  There was a lot of swimming and hanging out.


And then we drove up to Disney World for a few nights with my in-laws.  I really do love that place.  As you can see, this is a Fordeville genetic trait.

Here’s the thing about Disney World:  My son’s favorite attraction was the monorail — which is the only item in a 50-mile radius that costs absolutely nothing.  I may have to consider a Disney edition of my Money In Flames series, wherein we could have just purchased the kid a map of the park and a pirate outfit, then put him on the monorail for three days to save large sums of cash.

But then I could not have had access to the ice cream shaped like Mickey’s head, which is a must-have.  For me, anyway.

Also, the souls of my children have been replaced by those of pirates.  Arrrrgh.  Ahoy.  Me hearties.  They are obsessed, particularly since we bought them the Disney pirate gear.

My son, 16 seconds after waking up each morning:  “Where’s me pirate hat?  Me treasure chest?  Oh, and me spy glass?”

Aaaargh, matey.

My daughter, thankfully, held off on the Disney princess mania for what is probably the last possible year — mainly because she has declared herself a Pirate Princess in a show of solidarity with her brother’s obsession.  Naturally, there is an appropriately overpriced and ill-fitting Disney Pirate Princess hat available for purchase. {Hook and spy glass sold separately.  Of course.}

People have asked me if the park was crowded and if we waited on a lot of long lines.  Here’s the thing:  My kids are young enough that they don’t know yet what they are missing.  So if a particular ride had a really long line, I just steered them in the other direction, yelling something about another ice cream shaped like Mickey’s head.  Or I busted out another pirate prop.  Selfish parenting?  Maybe.  Totally effective?  You fucking bet. There will be plenty of years when we wait on long lines because they’ll have their heart set on something.


Other highlights of Disney World:

FastPass Insanity, one of my favorite spectator sports.  This is when you see two seemingly educated adults who, in front of their children and the general Disney public, will scream at each other — even stoop to name-calling — over the family’s FastPass strategy, in an effort to avoid waiting on any lines.  Like this:

“What do you mean, you didn’t get the FastPass for Winnie the Pooh?  The wait is over an hour!  What have you been doing?  I sent you to get the FastPasses!”

“I decided we should FastPass Pirates of the Caribbean instead.”

“What?! That’s all the way over in Adventureland!  What kind of jackass are you?  We are not hitting Adventureland until tomorrow!  Today is Fantasyland!  Fantasyland, god dammit!  I told you this over breakfast.  I can’t believe you.”

“I just thought…”

“You thought what?  You thought we’d just skip Fantasyland?  And ruin the whole trip for the kids? Nice job.”


The Stroller Olympics.  For many attractions, you are required to park your stroller in a designated area, which happens to be the size of China.  Then, in an effort to streamline the parking or to just screw with the minds of parents, the Disney employees tend to relocate the strollers while you’re inside the attraction.  You think you can spot your stroller in a crowd, don’t you?  I mean, you use it every day.  You may even have a colorful toy or something attached to it for easy identification.  But let me tell you something.  Unless you have installed a time-release-activated flare gun from the base of your stroller, you will be reduced to a dizzy and disoriented parent who walks around for 20 minutes mumbling, “I thought I left it right here.”  Because “right here” looks like this.


–And let’s not forget Disney Magic.  This year, Disney Magic emerged in two distinct forms.  First, the night when our kids, in a completely unprecedented move, fell asleep at a restaurant — one in the stroller, the other laying down in the booth.  This never happens with our kids.  Ever. Less selfish parents might have called it a night.  But where those parents see defeat, we saw opportunity.  Why, yes, we will have another round of cocktails please.

Disney Magic II was seeing one of my closest friends while there — in an unplanned capacity. A friend I’ve had for 20 years.  The friend who is the godmother to my daughter.  Someone whose travel plans don’t usually fall off my radar.  About a week before we left, I was on the phone with her, making plans for a different trip later this year (more on that another time).  She made a passing reference about getting ready for Disney, which led to the quick realization that we were booked on the same days.  At the same hotel. I swear, if we tried to coordinate this, in a hundred years we would not be able to do it.  But there we were.

So it was thumbs up all around at Disney World.

But look.  A Disney vacation is tiring.  So imagine how grateful I was to my mom when she agreed to watch the kids at her Florida place so P and I could go spend a child-free night by the ocean. Not a chicken nugget nor a pirate sword in sight.


A very nice 24-hour getaway that had me ready to face the trip  home.  Plus, we had to leave the humidity of Florida before my daughter was mistaken for Nick Nolte’s mug shot.



It’s always hard to come back.  But I’m pretty excited that we seem to have brought the warm weather home with us.  Along with the swashbuckling, sword fights and treasure hunts.


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Vacation, You’ve Changed

Earlier this week, P and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary.  I’m a lucky gal — I got one of the very, very good ones.  One of the true keepers.

{No, I’m not asleep at the altar here. Just camera-shy.}

I feel like we look so young in our wedding pictures.  I’m going to go ahead and blame my kids for aging us so rapidly.  At this rate, I will soon be as unrecognizable as Nick Nolte was at the Oscars.  {Was it just me, or did he look like Kenny Rogers? It’s kind of a bad day when the Mug Shot Nick Nolte looks better than the Real Nick Nolte.}

Anyway, it was right about now, seven years ago, when we arrived here for our honeymoon.  The moment when our jaws dropped in awe.

Tahiti.  The end of the Earth.  The most magnificent place I’ve ever seen.

That’s our room in the photo.  I’d love to go back someday, but it’s never going to fucking happen highly unlikely — at least before our kids go to college.  Or even during.  Oh, but maybe after they’re done and we scrap all of our retirement savings.  OK, so that’s only, what, 19 years from now?

I mention the honeymoon not only because it’s on my mind around our anniversary, but also because there is some irony as I pack for a very different vacation — the four of us are off to Florida in a few days.  And I can’t help but think about the striking similarities in the preparation process for the two trips.  Here, have a look.


In Flight Essentials

–Tahiti Honeymoon:  A pile of mindless magazines (Us Weekly, People, Real Simple [pre-boycott], etc.).  iPod with favorite songs.  Mental list of in-flight movies to see.  Cute summer shoes to change into upon arrival.

–Fordeville Takes Florida:  iPad loaded up exclusively with various kids’ movies, shows and games.  Separate bag with Arsenal of Distractions {toys and books for kids, perhaps some tiny liquor bottles for parents}.  Full change of clothes for each of us in the event of producing (kids) or catching (parents) in-flight vomit.



–Tahiti Honeymoon:  Bikinis, nice sundresses, stylish beach wear.

–Fordeville Takes Florida:  Mom Bathing Suit {one-piece, suitable for chasing slippery small children in the water without wardrobe malfunction}, sensible hat and SPF 6,000 for a party of four.


Packing  & Prep

–Tahiti Honeymoon:   For 14 days and two of us — one large suitcase.  Total packing time:  28 minutes.  Total time to get through airport security:  43 seconds.

–Fordeville Takes Florida:  For eight days and four of us — two checked suitcases, three carry-on bags, a car seat and a stroller.  Total packing time:  1.5 days.  Total time to get through airport security:  16 minutes and one lost shoe.


Ground Transportation

–Tahiti Honeymoon:  Lovely town car sent by the resort, followed by private boat and helicopter transfer.

–Fordeville Takes Florida:  Massively crowded airport shuttle, standing room only, with post-flight-vomit kids and aforementioned luggage items.  Retrieve mini van from rental lot.  Install two car seats.


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining about going on vacation.  Once all the prep is done and we get past the inevitable Travel Vomit, I’ll be glad for the change of scenery.  It may not be the end of the Earth this time, but anyplace that sells ice cream in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head is more than OK by me.

Just don’t tell the girl in the wedding photo that I said this — she’d never believe it.






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Hibachi PTSD

Today, I regret to inform all of you that I must officially withdraw my name from consideration for Mother of the Year.

Sad but true.

The reason? No, not the profanity I use with my General Contractor (there is a loop hole clause for that, you know).  No, not the introduction of Entenmanns Chocolate Pop ‘Ems to my kids (this is a rite of passage).

No, no.  My application withdrawal shall be filed under the category of Hibachi Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, hereafter known as HPTSD.

In my quest for a fun change of scenery on the 298th third day of Winter Break, I remembered I had an unused Groupon for a hibachi place near our house.  Then I learned that it was Kids Eat Free Night.  And there was a FourSquare promotion there as well.  Extreme Couponers have nothing on my iPhone and me.

iCouponing aside, I figured my kids would marvel at the fun hibachi displays that the chefs put on.  You know, a little knife-throwing.  Some fire.  Tossing food into patrons’ mouths. It’s not unlike how we eat at home.

Plus, they have a big bar at this place.  Just saying.

I had all good intentions.  New experience for the kids.  Booze for the parents.  Fried rice for all!

What could be bad about this?

Let me count the ways…

First, never go somewhere during Kids Eat Free Night.  Ever.  I can’t believe I made such a rookie mistake.  The noise level was just beyond anything the human ear can tolerate.  My kids had their hands glued to their ears.  My kids.  Thought it was too noisy.  Oh, the irony.

Also? It turns out that the knife tossing and fire display was not entertainment as much as, shall we say, abject terror for my kids.  I won’t post a photo of them because it’s plain mean and they’ll kill me when they are old enough to read this. But I found this one of other people’s kids, which I think gives you a fair indication.


So there were my kids.  Both ears covered, while whining and cowering down at the base of their chairs.  The chef, having zero experience with either kids or humanity in general, then goes for the big guns and starts the hibachi game of “catch this piece of food in your mouth.”  Cute for those who understand.  But my kids, unfortunately, thought they were being assaulted with steaming hot shrimp and chicken.  More screaming.

“No fire!”

“Don’t throw that food at me!”

“It’s soooo loud in heeeeere!”

“Fire!  Fire!  Noooo!”

I mentioned they had a big bar, right?

And just when we felt we had managed them through this trauma — the birthday songs began.

Have you seen the hibachi approach to birthdays?  It’s usually over the top.  Here, it involved a disco light, loud music (more noise, yay!), and an employee with a big light-up hat who grabbed the guest of honor by the arms, and yelled “Banzai!” repeatedly.  The birthday boy in the restaurant seemed to enjoy this.  Most of the patrons smiled and clapped. And even yelled “Banzai!” in unison.

Not my kids — this was the last straw.  They were horrified.  They thought this boy was being attacked.

“Why is that man grabbing the boy by the arms?  He’s screaming at him!  What’s happening?  It’s so loud.  Is there going to be more fire?”

Another drink for Mom and Dad, please.

When the trauma was over, we left the place with the kids still covering their ears and asking to be carried out. When we got in the car, my son asked — no, begged us — if he behaved all the time to never, ever bring him here for his birthday.

So much for something new.

Oh, and the biggest mystery?  They didn’t like fried rice.  Clearly, I’ve done something wrong.

Happy Winter Break, folks.  Let Day 299 Four begin.  Next stop:  Indoor bouncy castle place.  Since I’m already out of the running for Mother of the Year — why not?

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