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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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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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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Training & Conditioning


In a few weeks, I’m going on a big trip.  A great trip.  One that I’ve been trying to take for 20 years.  I can’t believe it’s almost here.

And while I’m beyond excited to get going, it will also be the first time I’ve left my kids for an entire week.  Although I tell myself around 7pm every night that this will not be a tough separation, the reality is that it may prove to be harder than I am anticipating.

So there’s really only one prudent thing to do:  Train and condition for this separation from my kids.

I mean, you can’t just run a marathon without preparing for it, right?  Or, as my sister would say, you can’t spend eight hours reaching across a roulette table without stretching your calves.  Same principle applies here.

With this spirit of logic and responsibility in mind, I’m heading to Manhattan tonight with a few of my good friends for a girls’ night out.  We’re going to a great restaurant that is far cooler than we are, and we’re leaving our husbands behind in the burbs for the evening to hang with the kids.  In my absence, it will be solely up to my husband to do the Saturday evening essentials.  Like position oneself strategically on the sidewalk around 7 or 8pm, while appearing to do outdoor chores, to get all the neighborhood gossip.

All women need this change in routine and scenery once in a while, and this just happens to be well-timed with my Kids Separation Preparedness Plan.  Everybody wins.  Well, except for the hipster twenty-something waiter who will roll his eyes at the lushy group of socially deprived moms seated in his section — as he wonders how the hell we scored this reservation at 8pm on a Saturday.

As this is just a baby step in my training program, I’m keeping my goals small and manageable this evening:

  • I will shower before dinner and wear clothing that has no remnants of ice pops, goldfish crackers or chocolate milk.
  • I will eat dinner without cutting anyone else’s food.
  • I will drink wine that was not brought out to my car in a case by my favorite Trader Joe’s employee.  
  • I will, when participating in catty gossip, curse freely without spelling.  As in: “I mean, what the F-U-C-K was that about?”
  • I will not listen to any music in the car that involves The Fresh Beat Band or any character created by Disney or Nick Jr.
  • I will not worry if I miss an opportunity for a life lesson when an emaciated 22 year-old in stilettos crushes my feet in an attempt to get to the bar first. {You’ll never win that race, my pretty.}
  • I will not wait on anyone.  Or rearrange food on a plate to ensure that the pasta and the ketchup ARE NOT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TOUCHING EACH OTHER. 

{Note to husband on that last point: The kids will go apoplectic if you don’t do this while I’m out.  Just FYI.}

These seem like reasonable goals, no?  I’m totally open to suggestions if you think I’ve missed anything.  Because training properly is important.

And I’m taking it very seriously.



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Dares, Goals & Guts

Project Extended Birthday continues!

My guest today is Elizabeth from Flourish in Progress.  If you’re not already reading her blog, consider this a public service announcement that your life is not as complete as you thought it was.  I have followed Elizabeth’s writing for a while, and she’s a total and complete badass.  I mean that as the highest possible compliment.  Her words are powerful, spot-on and pack such a punch.  She can make you laugh, cry and curse like a sailor equally well.  

I had the pleasure of meeting her last year at a blog conference in Boston, and she is as wonderful and entertaining in person as she is in writing.  Plus, I’ve never seen such a well-dressed, elegant woman start a pitch-perfect verbal bar fight quite like she could {it was totally justified, trust me}.  She prevailed, of course.

Her blog began as a way to chronicle her 30th birthday resolution of not shopping for a full year.  Yes, really.  Along the way, she acquired tons of followers and gave us some fabulous writing, including her not-to-be-missed Monday Dares series.  She was a BlogHer 2011 Voice of the Year and recently had her writing appear in — get this — The Huffington Post.  Which officially seals her position as one of my heroes.  

It’s such a treat to have her here — just don’t cross her in a bar.  

Thank you, Elizabeth!


I stopped making a long list of Ways I Will Vastly Improve Myself to ring in the New Year almost a decade ago. Sure, I still “commit” to one or two things at the beginning of the year, but it’s mostly because I need a quick and easy answer to spit out when those overly chipper women at afternoon pick-up ask repeatedly for a span of about three weeks in January how I plan to change my life for the better. I’d like to be honest and say the best way to boost my mood on a daily basis would probably be to stop making forced small talk with them, but who has that kind of courage? Well, maybe you do, but I’m a coward. I’m very self-aware of this flaw, but I don’t plan on changing any time soon, so I’ve learned to just put up with me.

Instead, I save all of my Self Improvement Goals for my birthday.

Some years, I can’t muster up much more than “Try really hard not to steal money from my daughter’s piggy bank because I’m too lazy to go to the ATM and I really want to eat lunch at the cash-only noodle joint.” This might not seem like such a big deal, but trust me, I wrestle with this on a weekly basis.  I have yet to pay her back a single penny. My secret hope is that she just thinks she’s an extremely bad money counter, and in fact, there were only $43 dollars in the bank instead of the $49 she thought she had when she last counted.

Other years, I mean business. My birthday is in September, so this usually happens after I’ve spent an entire summer reading self-improvement books on how to be happier or healthier or craftier or less ghetto. I’m still open to all the improvements listed. Except for the “less ghetto” part. If you took out that very integral part of my being, I’d just be an empty shell.

On my 21st birthday, I made a commitment to stop living on welfare. I was a single mom with a high school diploma and a 2-year-old. I felt trapped and I felt helpless. Actually, what I mean to say is that I felt hopeless, not helpless.

I had been stuck in a rut- moving from one temporary home to another, working menial jobs and barely scraping by. I didn’t think my life could be any other way.

As I woke up on my 21st birthday, the first words to cross my mind were “SCREW THIS.” That simple statement ignited a fire to climb out of the hole that I had dug for myself and to be the kind of person that my daughter would proudly claim as her ma.

It was slow-going at first, but that’s the thing about doing something hard. You’re unsure at first, maybe even afraid, but each step makes you feel more empowered.

My daughter recently turned 12. And I know now that all of it, every hard grimy little bit, was worth it.

Happy Birthday, Kim. I feel so fortunate that we crossed paths. If you are the picture of 40, then I can’t wait to get there.

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27 in My Head

Bad news:  It didn’t work.

My petition to change my birth year, in a last-ditch effort to avoid turning 40, has been rejected.  For no good reason.  Something about permanent, reliable records or some such nonsense.  Personally, I suspect I was blocked by my nemeses at the New Jersey DMV.

Fine, Time and Space.  You win.

As I type this, I have just under eight hours remaining in my 30s.  But don’t you worry — I intend to spend them doing some really crazy stuff.  That’s right, I’m going to not one, but two grocery stores.  And the wine store too.

I have a Cinco de Mayo birthday.  This meant nothing for the first 20 years of my life.  Then, Corona made this a big bar holiday and, well, that has worked out really well for me over the years.

But 40?  I don’t know about this.  Let me walk you through the Five Stages of Grief I’ve been dealing with recently on this issue.

Denial:  In my head, I am 27.  It is impossible that this is not also my actual age.  Who do these children belong to?  And who the hell is going to clean up after them?

Anger:  This is bullshit.  Some combination of multiple leap years and daylight savings time has robbed me of at least a few more days in my 30s.  I want them back.

Bargaining:  I will take better care of myself if I can stay 39 for a couple of more years.  I will cut back on caffeine and wine.  Well, on Mondays when the moon is full.

Depression:  How can this be?  I am half way to 80?  Maybe I will just sit here and be upset.  Oh, wait, my wine is out of reach from this spot.  I’ll move closer to it and then sit and be upset.

And finally, acceptance.  It is what it is, right?

Uh, no.  I accept this birthday by dealing with it my own way.  By extending the hell out of it and having a great time. I will get together with a bunch of friends who will graciously lie and tell me I don’t look a day over 39. And, soon, I will go on a trip that I’ve been trying to take for 20 years.  I even have some birthday gifts arriving here on the blog over the month of May — you’ll see.

I know I have everything I could want.  A great husband.  Two healthy kids.  Fabulous extended family.  Amazing friends.  A Keurig in my kitchen and a wine fridge in my basement.  It’s all good.  I’m grateful.  It’s just kind of shocking, this thing about getting a little older.  Somehow it snuck up on me, that’s all.

So I’m done sulking now.  If I have to turn 40, let it be a big, drawn out party.  And if I’ve given you an excuse to have an extra Cinco de Mayo cocktail on Saturday (or anytime in the month of May), even better.

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Time Capsule

You may recall that, a few weeks ago, I mentioned our storage pod delivery.  The one we had packed away in late 2010 in order to empty out our basement and vie for the world record in Home Renovation Delays.  I’m still waiting on the official ruling from the Guinness Book people.  I know it’s going to be close.

And when I casually mentioned this pod, I failed to confess something important.  So I’m here to do that today.

Here’s the thing.

I assumed that my husband, to whom I jokingly refer as a hoarder on a regular basis, had stuffed the pod full of his stupid crap random possessions.

Notsomuch.  It was kind of a bunch of my stupid crap.

You see, it seems I have what P calls “a nostalgia problem.”

Yeah.  I think I’m a Memento Hoarder.  A Sentimentality Archivist.  A Memorabilia Historian.

I. Kept. A. Lot. Of. Crap.

This is probably about 30% of it.

Because I’m on the verge of a very big birthday  (it’s true, I’m turning 21 — again), what better time for a little trip down Memory Lane?  One where I mock myself publicly.  You can see just what I’ve been sorting through for the past few weeks.  Which is mainly my life in photos, greeting cards and old concert tickets.  And really bad hair.

I bet you didn’t wake up knowing today was your lucky day.

So my high school yearbook was located in Hoarderpalooza.  Now, I’m not quite self-punishing or drunk enough to show you my official high school yearbook photo, but I did find this one of myself.

How about that French braid and the boxy, oversized sweater?  And how about the clear academic rigor, concentration and focus on my face?  But the real value of this photo is capturing the guy behind me in a moment when he is clearly contemplating killing off all the annoying chatty girls with bad French braids and boxy, oversized sweaters.  This is practically forensic evidence.

And I found a bunch of notes from one of my oldest friends — someone I’m still close with today.

Oh the punk rock rebels in the suburbs!  How cool we thought we were.  This, coming from a girl in a French braid.

Good news, though: I did not fall prey to the weird guy in the yearbook photo and I made it to college.

Do you see me? I’m the one drinking a beer.

I mean, it’s obvious why nobody wants to graduate and go into the real world.  Why would we ever want to leave this behind?  This entire scene seems so foreign now, although perhaps it’s not terribly dissimilar to the pre-school lottery.  Or maybe even playgroup, on a good day.

And then I found this.  I’m too afraid to open it.

Lest you think I might have been bored in high school and college, fear not — I made a career out of attending concerts at that time. And, for reasons that remain unclear, I felt compelled to save some of these tickets.  Probably so I could pin them all up on my dorm room wall.  Or find them in a box decades later and blog about them.  See — my plan fell right into place.

If you don’t know about my U2 addiction, I’ll let the ticket stubs speak for themselves.  When I say these are just the tip of the iceberg, take my word for it.  If I showed all of them to you, I’m pretty sure I would be issued a restraining order.

Now, attending these concerts meant tailgating.  Which required a suitable automobile for these purposes.  Good thing for everyone that I was driving this beauty, which comfortably seats approximately 18 college students.

Oh yes.  The 1986 Monte Carlo.  Where you could almost be in two states at once.

{It was New Jersey in the 1990s, people.  What did you expect?}

Don’t worry, though.  Life was not all concerts and parties.  I did have some significant literary aspirations along the way.

Like this.  I thought this was the funniest thing I’d ever read when I was in middle school.

{And really, if you remember Sniglets, I’ll love you forever.  Triple bonus points if you can name the show where they originated.  Come on — don’t leave me hanging out here loving Sniglets all by myself!  Anyone?  Bueller?}

But then I got all self-important in college for a few minutes and decided I would change the world.  Unfortunately, Sniglets weren’t going to get the job done.  So I started reading stuff like this.

FYI, not recommended for beach reading.  Highly recommended for insomnia. {Who would save this book?!}

And let’s wrap this up with some antiquing.  Behold the evidence of my old age.

I believe this what they called film.  For a Kodak Disc Camera.  Remember those?  I want to just go and drop this off at the local Walgreens with a straight face, and ask the 17 year-old behind the counter when my photos will be ready.

And this was called a record.  Or, a 45.  It required a little machine that spins this circle-like object around and around, while putting a funny little needle on the surface to play music.  And if you turn it over?  There’s another song!  One that is often very good but has far less sales potential.  It’s called a B-Side.  Say it with me.


Guess what?  There were bigger versions of those bizarro vinyl circles that contained multiple songs.  Sometimes you will see them for sale on iTunes. They were called albums.  Here is a sampling of my favorite childhood albums — just before I discovered Led Zeppelin IV and my hair went sky high.

So there you have it.  A {very} small yet mortifying display of the random crap I kept in boxes over the years.  And, a written admission that I surpassed my husband’s hoarding tendencies in this particular instance.  Yes, I am making it hard for any of you to believe that, in my adult life, I am actually a ruthless purger.  An anti-hoarder, if you will.  It’s true, despite my obvious weak spot for memorabilia and personal artifacts from my past.

And this was before I had kids.  Maybe I’ll get a new pod for their mementos.



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The Year That Was


Well.  I think I’ve managed to climb out from under the Christmas tornado that has taken over my house.  What a week.

I’ve been busy.  There was, of course, this.



And this.


And this. (More on this soon.)


And today, this.


Because quality control testing is important.  And it’s midnight somewhere.


And here we are, the last day of the year.  The truth is that I always get a little bluesy after Christmas is over.  As much insanity, planning and chaos is involved, I do love it — and I’m sad whenever it comes to an end.

And as 2011 winds down, I’m thinking about the ups and downs of the year and how, as usual, incredibly quickly it flew by.

2011 was the year I stopped working.  The year my kids turned four and two.  The year we began (but did not finish!) the longest basement renovation in modern American history.  The year my family vomited in multiple states up and down the east coast to mark each road trip and vacation.

But more than anything, 2011 will always be the year that I lost my dear friend Jen.  And I have spent more hours than I can count since that last day of May wondering how this happened.  On certain days, I still wonder if, in fact, it’s actually true that my healthy, magnetic 38 year-old friend of 27 years went to bed one night and didn’t wake up.

My mind has turned to Jen every day — multiple times a day — since she passed away.  I keep her picture up on my fridge, which sounds terribly unsentimental, but it’s the highest trafficked area of my house.  I’m forced to walk by it a lot.  And every time, I look at her photo and wish so much that she was here.  For her kids and for her husband and for her parents and brother.  And for all of her friends who loved her so much.

I found myself thinking of her even more during the holidays.  I played my Christmas music, baked my cookies, bought my gifts, asked for my Keurig.  And wondered, every step of the way, how her family was going to get through this season without her.

I’m not the preachy type.  But I’ll ask you for something as you think about the 2011 that was, and the new year around the corner.  Please think about my friend Jen once in a while — even if you never knew her.  Trust me, you would have loved her.  Please think about her six year-old son and her four year-old twin daughters.  Please think about her husband and her parents, who somehow carry on with so much dignity to be there for those kids.  And please think about how quickly things can change.  Because, in a million years, you never could have convinced me that we’d all live in a world without Jen’s unforgettable laughter.

You would think that I’d come out the other side of this whole thing being a better adjusted person.  Not sweating the small stuff.  Having better perspective.  Living for the moment.  All of that.  The truth is, I’m working on it.  And maybe 2012 will be the year I pull it off.  For Jen.

In the meantime, I wish you all full champagne glasses at midnight, and a wonderful year ahead.

And if someone can take the rest of these Christmas cookies off my hands, that would be great.



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Gratitude, Tradition & Pie

I am knee-deep in all kinds of goodies and food prep.  And I am wondering, honestly, how did Thanksgiving get here already?

I feel like it was just yesterday I was hatching plots to gain admission to my town pool for the summer.

And yet, here I am, helping my friends in town find a way off the Thanksgiving wait list for the highly in-demand Williams-Sonoma Gravy Starter.  {This was my first exposure to the WS Gravy Starter Scandal — it’s not pretty.  Add this to the list of reasons why I won’t be making the turkey.}

Here I am, wondering who the secret local Extreme Couponer is, because she clearly hoarded all of the heavy cream within a five mile radius.  It’s not nice to put my pies in jeopardy.

And here I am, making a tray of appetizers for tomorrow’s dinner, complete with a friendly PSA that any food item stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto is sent from Heaven {figs, in this case}.

So, with the holiday season about to unfold, I want to take a deep breath and soak it in.  I want to say I won’t get stressed out with holiday logistics and preparations.  I want to say I will remember every day to be grateful.  And I want to say I won’t eat too much pie.  But, try as I may, I’m guessing that all of these things probably won’t pan out quite as smoothly as I hope.

But I will do my very best to create new memories for my kids and show them what the holidays are about.  To remember those less fortunate and those who are missing loved ones.  To not sweat the small stuff.  To keep some perspective.

Thanksgiving headgear: Check


This weekend I’ll enjoy the small but fun details that make traditions in a family.  Like eating my mom’s famous Pumpkin Chiffon Pie and playing super-competitive/out for blood rounds of Catch Phrase, complete with a tournament bracket construct and accompanying headgear.  And I’ll think about what traditions to begin with my kids, so that they don’t forever associate Thanksgiving Week with “that time when Mom & Dad went apeshit on the general contractor.”

I’m snarky on the whole, as you may know, but I’m a sap at this time of year.  I don’t wish this season away for a moment.

So here’s to you and yours this Thanksgiving — I hope you have a holiday filled with love, tradition and good pie.

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