The Tick Life

In coastal communities, they live The Salt Life. Pick-up trucks drive around with bumper stickers proclaiming their allegiance to the ocean. But in rural Vermont and thousands of towns across the country, we live The Tick Life.

The Tick Life is not one I’ve chosen. It’s a life which has chosen me. My dog is covered in ticks. My lawn is covered in ticks. My friends are covered in ticks. My rocky-road ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles is ruined with one “sprinkle” which actually moves. (BLECH.) Sometimes I think there are more ticks in the woods of New England than there are grains of sand.

When it comes to bugs, I have my preferences. I’ll gently encourage a spider to crawl on a PEOPLE magazine cover and escort him outside. I’ll let the ant live in the corner of the bathroom. And I have no issue with a buzzing bumblebee. But I have no compassion for ticks. If given the opportunity, I’ll flush them down the toilet and then flush again, just to get my point across.

Luckily, I haven’t had a bite yet, but perhaps it’s because I’m obsessed with checking myself.  I’m also obsessed with checking others. (Brad Paisley might think “I Want To Check You For Ticks” is a romantic ballad, but if I’m looking at that dark mole on your neck for a second too long, it’s only because I’m making sure it doesn’t have legs.) In my household, we compulsively shower and check each other’s scalps, armpits and ankles. We wear light colored clothing on hikes, and cover our long hair with baseball caps and scarfs. We flick dirt off each others’ arms just to quadruple check that freckles are just freckles.

Someday, I hope to live the Maple Life or the Morel Life or the Mountain Life. Someday, I hope that the life I live will be glamorous enough to flaunt on a truck bumper. But for now, I’m stuck with ticks. I’m stuck checking and rechecking. I’m stuck flushing and re-flushing. And I’m stuck with the rainbow sprinkles, for fear of the walking chocolate ones.

Untitled

Advice for All of Us

There’s a ton of advice for the Class of 2020. But here’s some advice we can all use:

Touch your toes while you can, so you can.

If someone you love cooked, baked or re-heated it for you, eat it without hesitation.

Shop conservatively, tip liberally.

Choose to make something. Anything. Make a pinwheel. Make a lasagna. Make a paper football. Then, keep trying to make it better.

Say “yes” or say “no” loudly when it matters.

Save every card from your grandmother.

Be kind to people who can’t do anything for you.

Don’t ever pretend to be stupid.

Drink more water than anything else.

Chew with your mouth closed. Listen with your ears open.

Give in to indulgences, but not enough to allow them to become routine.

Stop for the lemonade stand.

Call a loved one more often than you call for take-out.

Spend more money on dental care than make-up. (Lipstick can’t help a rotten smile.)

R.S.V.P., regardless of response.

Don’t let your second language be swearing.

Celebrate the people you love with more than a social media post.

Stick with the person who calls back immediately.

Learn the name of both the person who writes your checks and vacuums your office.

Wear out your library card.

Love the heck out of someone, something, or somewhere.

And eat the darn birthday cake.

Shrooms, Ramps, and Snakes… Oh My!

In my ten years of foraging, I’ve collected two morel mushrooms, six ramps, and zero fiddleheads. And yet I talk about the hunt as if I were Hemingway.

The truth is that I don’t even need to find something to enjoy looking for it. I know that the odds are good that pirate treasure isn’t washed up under my parent’s Florida condo. But if I never metal detected the premises, I’d never know if the lost doubloon from the sunken Saint Somewhere was waiting to be found under my mother’s aloe plant.

Here in Vermont, learning how to forage is almost a requirement. Chances are, I’ll never have to survive on the wild weeds in my backyard. But if a neighbor was to learn I’d passed up a morel, I’d be chased from the town.

Of course, I’ve done my homework. I know that morels are hollow, ramps have purple veins, and fiddleheads can only be harvested before they unfurl. (Hence why I haven’t collected fiddleheads since they are always past their prime.) I know not to eat anything until I triple check with Mr. Google. And I know to always carry a bag for the goods, since ramps will stink up a pocket.

What I don’t know is where to find these edibles. Friends give me advice. Websites give me ideas. But as hard as I look, my forage ventures are usually futile.

I have found all sorts of other things I didn’t want to find. Plastic trash bags. Rusty nails. Garter snakes. (I hate snakes more than I hate the Connecticut Turnpike… which is a lot.) But when I do find a woodland treasure, however, I scream louder than a Price is Right contestant. For me, locating a ramp is much more thrilling than winning a microwave on television. It proves that I’m not completely useless. It suggests I’d survive an extra hour in the woods before dying of starvation. It confirms my competence as a forager in the eyes of my neighbors.

I love a treasure hunt. And perhaps someday I’ll find that gold mine of morels, that Spanish doubloon, that missing striped sock in the drier. But for now, the thrill is in the search. And when it comes to hunting and gathering,  I’m much more successful at the farmer’s market.

 

 

Fleece is Fashion

I wear fleece the way that celebrities wear fur. (Faux fur, hopefully.)

Sometimes, I drape it over my body. Sometimes, it lines my jackets. Sometimes, it pops out in unexpected places. Sometimes it keeps me warm over my party dresses.

Yet, most designers agree that fleece is not fashion. But sensible New Englanders who pump their own gas in bitter temperatures don’t care what designers think. They know that fleece is the fabric of our lives.

My town of Norwich, Vermont, in particular, should be renamed Fleece Country, USA. Even the most fashionable of townies still rock their designer jeans with a fabulous fleece coat on a Saturday night. My neighbors have fleeces for every season. (Fleece pull-overs for a late night summer bonfire? Absolutely. A fleece layer underneath a spring raincoat? Definitely. Fleece-lined pants for winter walks? Without a doubt. Fleece coats for fall apple picking?  We’ve got red or green options.) Yes, in Norwich, fleece goes with everything and can go to anything. In Norwich, the fleece jacket is basically the little black dress.

Since it’s March, I’m relying on my many fleece jackets to get me through mud season. They line my closets in various colors, shapes and sizes. (I collect fleece jackets the way others collect shoes.) I’ll wear them with jeans and skirts and running shorts and dresses. They will accentuate none of my body parts, but they will keep me comfortable, flexible, and on the move.

And in my opinion, anything that keeps me on the move, can be machine washed, and can survive mud season is HIGHLY fashionable. Supermodels can keep their fur, but I’ll keep my fleece.

photocredit: focusonstyle.com

Funeral for a Friend

I needed glitter. I didn’t want to be a California Raisin, a Ninja Turtle, or a Cabbage Patch Kid. (These costumes were all the rage when I was in elementary school.) Instead, my costume had to have shimmer and shine. And since my dancing school costumes were chock full of glitter, I decided to be a tap dancer-five years in a row. And since my sister liked anything I liked, she, too, was a dancer.

In my New Jersey town, the schoolkids would trick-or-treat on the residential streets near the lake. My mother would drive us to a friend’s home where we would gather with all the raisins, turtles and chubby faced dolls. We would collect candy from decorated homes and then conduct the Great Halloween Trade. After the rules were established (THREE Hershey’s kisses for every ONE Reese’s peanut butter cup), we would barter with each other until we were content with our cornucopia of candy.  We would pack up our bags and head home on a sugar high.

But, the big scare happened AFTER trick or treating.

As my mother pulled our car into our long, backwoods, driveway, we would start to hear the music. The screeching organ notes actually sounded like dying heartbeats.

As we approached the house, the music would get louder and we would notice the darkness. The lights had been turned off. There were no candles burning. There was no glow from the television. Just pure blackness…with the front door wide open.

“You go first, Mom,” we would whisper, trembling.

Mom would walk slowly toward the front door as we gripped to her legs. Our pale white knuckles squeezed her thighs tightly as glitter from our costumes rubbed off on her jeans.

At the door, the music would be deafening.  “The dirge of death,” as we would later call the tune. The song would echo through our haunted house, causing bone-tingling fear. There were pipes and organs and creepy wind sounds.

“Go ahead, kids,” my mom would say as she held back. “I’m sure I just left the radio on.”

Our tiny tap-shoe feet would slowly step through the front door.

“BOO!”

Gasps and screams would follow.

After our hearts resumed beating, Dad would step from behind the front door, and smile.  “Gotcha,” he would say nonchalantly as he turned on the lights.

“Da-ad,” we would roll our eyes, never admitting our fear.

Every year of my childhood, my father blasted Elton John’s Funeral For A Friend to scare us on Halloween. And every year, it worked. We didn’t know it was an Elton John song. We only knew that the sound of those beginning organ notes scared the glitter out of us.

It never got old for my father to scare us. And although one would think that we would have learned our lesson the first time around (or at least the second or third),  there was always that chance that a ghost-monster-vampire actually was in our house. And so the tradition continued, year after year until we outgrew trick or treating. And to this day, it’s one of my fondest holiday memories.

I have a one year old son now. And he’s too young to scare on Halloween. But when he turns six or seven, I have a feeling that Funeral for a Friend might just make a comeback.

 

What I Eat In A Day

img_4758.jpg

People Magazine has a new feature showcasing what celebrities (primarily skinny women) eat in a day. Inspired, here’s my take:

WHAT I EAT IN A DAY

Two bites off of both ends of a pre-mashed banana

Several floor Cheerios (most* of which abide by the five second rule)

An entire roll of breath mints

Three mouthfuls from a baby food pouch of broccoli and peas

One small cup of coffee mixed in an oversized travel mug with two cups of whole milk and a sugar packet (from the bottom of my purse)

A two year old granola bar from the glove compartment

Seventy two flavored seltzer waters (or at least four)

The crusts of a grilled cheese sandwich

One Arrowroot baby cookie (which, by the way, are delicious)

Two slices of mushroom pizza. Three bites warm. Seventeen bites cold after dealing with toddler tantrum.

One generous glass of red wine

And a mega-multivitamin. Of course.

 

 

The Fourth Grade Bookshelf

 

The librarian pushed down on the book with her ink-stained, silver stamp. It printed a blurred date on the library card: “October 21.” At the age of eight, I didn’t have many dates I needed to remember. Mom’s birthday. Christmas. And now, October 21st.

“Rich Mitch” was certainly not high-brow literature. But it was a book on the fourth grade bookshelf. And I was only in the third grade. So, that book was a treasure.

Thankfully, the librarian didn’t notice the illicit selection. After all, I was pretty stealth in my pursuit. That afternoon, after exhausting the books on the third grade bookshelf, I had snuck around to the fourth grade bookshelf and grabbed the first thick book I could find with my chubby fingers. It was a thrilling feeling. A deliciously naughty feeling. An incredibly confident feeling.

I read “Rich Mitch” three times before October 21st. I read it during recess. I read it during the commute to dancing school. I read it on Saturday mornings in my bed under a pile of patchwork quilts. “Rich Mitch” certainly had big words and long paragraphs, but I devoured each sentence bite by bite.

On October 21st, I returned the book. I decided to forego the “library book drop slot” since it seemed too heartless. Instead, I said my goodbye and physically handed “Rich Mitch” to the librarian.

“Wasn’t this book on the fourth grade bookshelf?” the librarian asked me. She walked away with a forgiving smile before I could even give her an answer.

For the rest of the year, the librarian turned her head as not to notice when I drifted toward the decadent fourth grade shelf.

It was our little, wonderful, secret.

Rack Friday

img_1456

My closet

On Black Friday, I clean out my closets. While others are out shopping, I’m swapping out my closet rack.

It’s probably not a good idea to try on clothes after the largest calorie consumption day of the year. (Plus, this year, I still have baby weight to lose with a two month old newborn.)  But I try on dresses, sweaters, shirts and pants for every season, making piles for to keep, donate or trash. This year, I’m donating at least a dozen items which have barely been worn. (One particular violet-colored Banana Republic wrap dress is in perfect condition and will certainly be a hot commodity at our local thrift store.)

Plus, there’s no better time to clear out the racks then when family is around. My sister is the perfect person to tell me to stash or trash a pair of jeans. She also goes home with a bag of items of her own choosing. (This year, she scored a cozy gray wool cardigan which I’m already scheming to get back.)

Yes, “Rack Friday” is a time for me to shop my closet. I’m reminded of the things that I’ve forgotten. (Lilly Pulitzer flamingo pink bathing suit cover up-whoop whoop!) I’m energized by the things that I can donate. (Kate Spade little black purse!)  And I’m thankful for the clothes on my back (and rack).

I’ll have plenty of time to shop for the holidays. But Rack Friday is a time to open a bottle of wine and make room for a new year. And with family around, there guarantees to be a few laughs. (“You STILL have your middle school cheerleading practice t-shirt?”)

Remember, if you haven’t worn it in over a year, it promises to give another great cheer.  Happy Rack Friday, everyone!

 

 

 

What You Do

My father doesn’t need to chop his own firewood. He has a sixty-five year old body, with aches and pains and strains. He can afford to have someone else chop down the wood. Yet, every November, he walks into the woods, returning hours later with truckloads of stackable wood. When I ask him why he chops his own wood, he responds with four words: “It’s what I do.”

Those four words stick with me. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a reason for our actions. It seems that we all have something that we do without motive. We do it whether anyone is watching. We do it whether or not we can afford not to do it. We do it without an excuse.

And sometimes true intimacy means recognizing (and living with) the things our loved ones do. The little things we do for no apparent reason define our character. We will be remembered for the things that we do, whether or not we realize that we’re doing them. Perhaps we hum while we gargle. Perhaps we spin our wedding rings when we get nervous. Perhaps we eat the broth of the soup before we touch the noodles. Sometimes these things are major, other times, minor. Yet, recognizing these things in each other allows a closeness only achieved with time and attention.

For example, my mother is clueless to one thing which makes her memorable to loved ones. My mother ALWAYS brings a bag of assorted drinks and reading material on trips. Whether it’s a long or short trip, she’ll always pack a bag of iced tea bottles and random magazines. Even if she’s just driving down the street, she pack a Snapple iced tea and a Good Housekeeping magazine. She doesn’t realize that we notice, but it’s what she does, and it’s what we remember.

My husband saves bugs. He doesn’t talk about it often but he’ll bring a spider outside after cupping it in the kitchen. He’ll find a warm place for an ant during a February snowstorm. He’ll even dismiss a mosquito through a window before swatting it down. (For one whole week, we couldn’t use the upstairs sink because he knew a spider was making it a temporary home in the drain.) Saving insects is in his DNA.  He won’t think twice about eating a cheeseburger, but he won’t let you hurt the fly circling it.

Even my dog Mabel has an ingrained behavior. She brings her plush rooster toy to the top of our stairwell every evening after dinner. She can be counted on like clockwork. There are no treats involved in this behavior, nor any human attention. Whether we’re watching or not, it’s what she does.

And for me?  I have lots of habits. I only eat cereal in mugs. I’m superstitious about turning off my Ipod only after a positive lyric. (I’ll literally run another tenth of a mile until Blake Shelton says something happy.) And, I can’t go to sleep unless my hair is in a top ponytail. But the one thing I can’t NOT do is write.

It’s what I do.

 

Why I Invite Strangers To Guess My Baby’s Gender

img_0080

“Let me check you out from behind.” She heads toward my backside. “Ah, yes, a little extra on the rump. It’s definitely a girl.”

I’m expecting my first child next week. My husband and I do not know the baby’s gender. But apparently, everyone else knows.

Unfortunately, most of their theories are based upon where I have or have not gained weight. When you’re not expecting, strangers would never comment on the chubbiness of your back. But, apparently, when you’re pregnant, you’re fair game for surveillance.  Friends, family and strangers inspect me like a piece of meat, looking for bulges.

“You’ve gained weight in your face. It’s a girl.”
“It’s all in your tummy. It’s a boy.”
“Your ankles look large. It’s a girl.”

My husband and I decided NOT to find out the gender of our baby for multiple reasons. Sure, as many unknowing parents explain behind a sugary-sweet smile, “it’s one of the only good surprises left in the world.” But we also aren’t finding out because it doesn’t really matter to us. My parents already have grandkids of both genders. We have boxes of hand-me-downs in both blue and pink. We’re ready for tractors or tutus. And we can imagine either little John or little Jane being the love of our lives. (I’ll also admit that my sister warned me that labor could be so painful that the surprise of the gender might be the only way to keep pushing!)

But the most surprising outcome of not knowing our baby’s gender is the fun we’ve had in allowing people to guess. It’s incredibly entertaining to allow folks to share their theories, and in fact, I invite their opinions. A friend of mine, who boasts that he’s predicted the gender of the last ten babies in his neighborhood, is convinced it’s a girl because of the glow of my skin. My sister, who has three kids of her own, insists that it’s a girl because I painted my bathroom pink before I knew I was pregnant. A manicurist at the Dallas Fort Worth airport told me that the lines on my hand predict a boy. (She took the premonition further, also noting that my baby boy will grow up to be a professor.) And of course, I’ve heard many renditions of boy versus girl, depending on whether my belly looks like a watermelon (male) or a basketball (female). Depending on which way I’m facing, my belly looks like BOTH.

People hang wedding rings near my belly. They consult Chinese birthing calendars. They ask me about my sleeping position. And, one person even asked me to pee in a cup of Drain-O. (I put my foot down on that one.) I’m a human experiment and personally, I think it’s quite fun.

In fact, for a few weeks, I got wrapped up in the fun of prediction theories as well. After hearing from a friend with multiple children that all of her kids’ genders were predicted by her dreams, I decided to pay a little more attention to my sleep. For a month, I drank a glass of warm milk and hit the pillow, waiting for a dream of my daughter or son. However, I mostly dreamed of being invited onstage at a John Mayer concert, singing a duet, and then realizing that I’m only wearing my underwear. (But that’s a whole other psychoanalysis.)

Yet, even after all of the dreams and rings and watermelons and basketballs, I still have a theory. I think I’m having a boy. My husband thinks I’m having a girl. And neither of us have any reason for our belief but gut instinct.

One of us is right. One of us is wrong. And your guess is as good as anyone’s. But sometime in the next few days, the mystery will be solved. And it will have the perfect outcome.

September 15, 2016

Storyland

IMG_3500

If there’s one thing that my nephew was NOT going to do at Storyland, it was walk the plank.

For a hot day, we had done well at the kiddie amusement park. My two nephews, ages four and six, had not had a meltdown on the line for the Polar Coaster. They didn’t complain about the kiddie-sized ice cream cone even though they had eyed the jumbo sized sundae bar. They didn’t lose their lunch on the magic tea-cups. All in all, things were going along swimmingly. Until, that is, we boarded the Buccaneer.

When I was little, my family would go to Wild West City, the cowboy themed-amusement  park near my home in Northern New Jersey.  We loved the games and rides, but there was one particular attraction that both petrified and thrilled me: the train ride.  During the infamous train ride, there was a “hold-up” by some not-so-friendly cowboys who would tease the conductor.  It was a rite of passage for every four-year old in our county to wet their pants… and then want to go on the ride again.

Now, as I sat next to my four year old nephew on the Buccaneer pirate ride, I was reminded of the thrill of fear. The Buccaneer was an innocent enough-looking ship that puttered around a natural cove on the outskirts of the park. Little did my nephew know, though, that the Pirate Captain would become the character he most loved to hate.

As we boarded the ship, the Pirate Captain instructed the kids on board that they would be responsible for rowing the boat on a nearby crank handle. (Clearly, the kiddos didn’t hear the roar of the ship’s engine since they were so focused on the Pirate Captain’s orders.) “If any matey stops rowing their crank, they’ll walk the plank,” he arghed from the stern.  The fear popped through my nephew’s eyes as he started rowing ferociously. Sweat poured from his brow and sunscreen dripped down to his chin as his pale arms pushed as hard as possible in ninety-degree heat.

“You can take a break,” I whispered to him. I pointed to some of the older kids who had stopped cranking their handles and were simply enjoying the ride. But he looked at me like I was insane. He rowed harder and harder as we made our way through plunging cannonballs and other pirate surprises.

In that ten minute ride, I believe my nephew could have qualified for the crew team at the Rio Olympics. He rowed non-stop until the moment we reached the dock. The poor kid was so beat as we exited the boat that we had to go sit near a sprinkler and take a rest.  I was worried about him until he muttered the five words that every aunt loves to hear…

Can we do it again?

I was proud of that little pirate.

July 18, 2016

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Butter

1917942_148544350708_7606869_n

I recently went to a seafood restaurant which had one rule: no butter.

Everyone had to eat their clams and lobster and oysters without the oozy deliciousness of our favorite dairy product. The restaurant wanted us to appreciate the saltiness of the seafood for what it was. It was an exercise in back-to-basics at the request of the hand serving the food.

Typically, I’d get annoyed by these types of restaurants. They always seemed snooty, like the steak house which refused to give you ketchup. If there’s one thing to know about me, I am not a snooty eater. (I smother my rib eye in ketchup,  much to the disgust of my husband who prefers naked meat.)

So, the no-butter rule irked me. I rolled my eyes and vowed to ask for cocktail sauce or something else they’d disapprove. But, when the butter-less crab legs arrived and I took my first bite, something amazing happened. I loved them. I licked my fingers clean not to taste the last drippings of butter, but rather to savor the salty deliciousness of crab.

I’m not giving up ketchup on my hot dogs at the ballpark this summer. But perhaps I’ll try a few favorite foods without all the razzle-dazzle of condiments. Perhaps I’ll skip the salt and pepper on my corn on the cob.  Perhaps I’ll skip the bleu cheese dressing on my fried chicken sandwich. Perhaps I’ll eat a naked hamburger.

I hate to admit that the no-butter rule changed the way I’ll eat crab forever. But this time, the customer was not always right.

 

 

Reunion

I had an amazing outfit for my fifteenth year college reunion last weekend. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to wear it.

I had attended my fifth, which was a blur of alcohol and lobster bakes, as well as my tenth, which was centered around the child care tent. Yet, I had a prior engagement which kept me from the ol’ campus last Saturday.

All night, I wondered what was happening on Mayflower Hill. And I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t miss my twentieth.

When you’re young, you don’t go to reunions to see your friends.You go to see the people who were your acquaintances (i.e. the hot guy from chem lab, the know-it-all on the field hockey team, the valedictorian-turned-Vegas showgirl). Yet, as you get older, you don’t remember the acquaintances, so you go to remember your friends. You go to drink copious amounts of wine with your old roommates while explaining to their husbands the little things that you remember. You go to remember the smell of your ex (a blend of peppermint gum and Ivory soap), who still carries Tic-Tacs in his pocket. You go to hold on to the things that have been slipping away.

I spent a week at my parents’ home earlier this month, cleaning out my childhood bedroom. I uncovered all of my old yearbooks from middle school, high school and college, and grabbed one at random to flip through before bed. It was my 1996 junior year of high school yearbook, covered in smudged signatures making predictions which would be proved wrong. (“Never forget Smack-N-Cheese!”  I forgot. But I’m sure it was unforgettable at the time). I read the yearbook from cover to cover, slowly reintroducing myself to a tribe of faces who were the wallpaper of my teenage years.

In high school, we looked toward the future with the same desperation that today we use to cling to the past. We wanted to be prettier. Now, we wish we were that pretty. We wanted to have a family. Now, we miss our parents and grandparents who attended our soccer games. We were filled with angst to be something more. Now, we are filled with regret for not becoming more.

For some of us, those years might have been golden. For others, the worst of our lives. Yet, for all of us, time rolled by. We lost classmates to war. We lost classmates to drugs. We lost classmates to tragedy. And we lost many of our memories.

And that’s why we attend reunions every so many years.To eat buffet dinners and clink glasses and wear nametags as we make our best effort to remember. And to wear a darn good outfit.

 

 

For everyone with TRY in their hearts

A few weeks ago, I received a short email from a stranger in Vermont who hates my blog. He called me an embarrassment to the state and asked me not to advertise my “Vermontness.” He didn’t give any specific criticism. Instead, he just insisted that my writing is terrible. (He misspelled two of the words in the email. But who am I to judge?) I didn’t respond because I didn’t have the words.

Yet, I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t crushed. His email really got under my skin. I didn’t understand why this man would even bother to email me. Was I really an embarrassment to Vermont?  Why wouldn’t he just ignore my blog if he hated it?  Did he really have to email me and ruin my day? I lost sleep that evening tossing and turning over his words.

It took some time to regain my confidence. But, after a few decent sleep cycles, I realized that I couldn’t let him destroy my love of writing for many reasons:

  1. I never claimed to be Shakespeare.
  2. I’m not charging money for him (or anyone) to read my blog.
  3. I’m not hurting anyone.
  4. FOR GOSH SAKE, I’M SIMPLY TRYING TO DO SOMETHING I LOVE.

I can take criticism. But I don’t appreciate meanies. When it comes to this silly little blog, I can’t apologize for something that makes me so darn happy. (I officially give you permission to ignore this blog forever if you hate it.)

I don’t have to succeed. I don’t have to fail. I just have to try my best. After all, try in my heart is more powerful than hate on your tongue.

 

 

So plush!

 

Nothing says “Don’t Mess With Me” like carrying an oversized Tweety Bird around the Jersey Shore boardwalk. Everyone at the fair knows that you are the best stinkin’ water balloon- fillin’ watergun slinger around.

Yes, jumbo plus animals are the “must-have” items of any carnival. How else will strangers know that you climbed that tipsy-turvy rope ladder and rang that darn bell if you’re not carrying a pink gorilla around your neck?

When I was younger, all I wanted to do was win an oversized Scooby Doo from a carnival game on the Jersey Shore boardwalk. I’d spend dollar after dollar trying to throw a ring on a bottle, or land a frog on a lily pad, or knock the bottles from the shelf, just to win ol’ Scooby.

Thank goodness I never won. I’m not sure what I would have done with Scooby.

The truth is that Scooby only has value on the boardwalk. The second I would try to leave with the ol’ pup, I’d have problems. (How do you fit those things in your car?  Can you dry-clean the fried dough and mildew smell out of the fabric? Where exactly do you put him in your home to keep from being considered an absolute creep? ) Let’s be honest,  nobody should feel comfortable in an adult bedroom with a Scooby Doo in the corner.

Online, people clearly try to re-sell their prizes. Yet, considering so many of them are available, I would assume sales are slow. Plus, a consumer could always buy a new “Rasta Banana” for a pretty cheap cost instead of purchasing a used model. (The 49 inch plush “Rasta Banana” sells for $24.oo from a wholesale carnival company. It’s little brother, the 24 inch banana sells for $8.00.I’m not an expert on the Jamaican banana market but these prices seem cheaper than the wallets of dough folks hand over on the boardwalk.) It seems as if winning these prizes can sometimes be easier than getting rid of them.

I can’t help but believe that most of these characters end up in the trash a few days after they’re brought home. The poor Hello Kittys and Nemo fish and South Park characters are most likely abandoned only days after they are adopted.

Yet, on the boardwalk, plush toys reign supreme. And you, Mr. Watergun Champion, have your rasta banana proof to prove it.

Image: pixshark.com

 

 

In Awe

I took a walk in the woods this morning. I take walks in the woods nearly every morning.  Usually, I’m only concentrating on two things: waiting for my dog, Mabel, to poop… and debating whether or not I need to take a morning shower. But this morning, as Mabel circled her favorite drop-off spots, I realized something monumental. This particular April morning, the woods were the prettiest they had been all year.

Now, I’m not talking glam-pretty like mid-October in all its glory of orange and reds. Nor am I talking about December pretty with a fresh coat of snow, all Currier-and Ivesy. I’m talking about nature at its most natural. Nature at the moment when it slowly wakes from winter slumber but isn’t quite ready to get out of bed. Nature when, just like a lover at daybreak, it can’t hide what it is really is, filled with both roots and stumps and blooms and nakedness. Nature at its most vulnerable, but also filled with hope.

This morning, the woods were quiet, clean and (almost) ready to take on the duties of renewed growth. The mud had dried, but the weeds hadn’t unearthed. The lilacs hadn’t yet formed their buds but the moss was squishy under my feet. The chicks of spring hadn’t quite flown their nests, but the pond peepers were sounding the alarm for all fauna. But best of all, the woods, even the deep woods, were still bug-less. For a moment, I stood next to my poop-less dog, just appreciating the fact that I was not being eaten by winged blood-suckers.

And, in those woods this morning, I decided that this might be my favorite time of the year. I don’t need to mow the grass nor shovel the driveway. It’s too early to be in the garden but too late to be huddled around the wood stove. I sleep with the windows opened but the air conditioner off. I’m not sunburned nor frostbitten. Vermont is still and simple and serene and spectacular.

And then it hit me.Today is Earth Day. A day to hug trees and plant flowers and recycle our toilet paper rolls into weird crafts which would appall any thinking human. And while I’m the first to admit that the words “Earth Day” inflect guilt as someone who still chooses plastic over paper, I couldn’t help but have a moment of pure “Holy-Mackerel-Mother Nature-Is-A-Darn-Good-Exterior-Decorator.” Clearly, the lady has some talent.

After Mabel went about her business, I took a few extra steps in the wrong direction before walking back home. It was too special of a morning to rush. I wanted to listen to a few more fading peepers and relish in the bouncy soil below my feet. I wanted to feel the hope in the air and bask in the bugless, mudless, snowless, landscape around me.

When I returned to the house, I decided not to take a shower… in honor of the Mother, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scratch, Write, and Sniff

 

When I was in grade school, a girl in my class introduced me to scratch and sniff markers. My mind was blown by strawberry-smelling ink.

For the next five years, our entire elementary class sniffed chemicals from tubes during art class. And at some point, we all tasted the chemicals as well, since it was impossible NOT to lick the green apple marker to see if it tasted like a Jolly Rancher. (For the record, it did not.)

Our teacher thought it was a terrific way to get us to color. And frankly, she was right. We would have colored a crossword puzzle if it meant sniffing our “bubble gum” pink markers. (It was ironic that we weren’t even allowed to chew bubble gum as first graders, which made that darn pink marker even more alluring. They might as well have given us a tobacco marker.)

In theory, scratch and sniff markers were a great idea. However, I’m sure that allowing students to sniff markers all day was not exactly the best idea for our brain development. And, using the markers could be confusing when you were distracted by your olfactory sense. Was it okay to color a tomato picture with the apple-smelling red marker? Should the blue boat really smell like blueberries? And did we really want to use the stinky black licorice marker in our favorite Hello Kitty coloring book?

Yet, those scratch and sniff markers will always have a place in my heart. (Let’s pray that they don’t have a place in my lungs.) They colored my world and taught me the love of art. I looked forward to creating something (anything) that my parents could hang on the fridge.

To this day, when I get a whiff of bubble gum in the checkout line of the supermarket, my mind drifts back to that pretty pink marker.

Been There

ry%3D400
I’m fortunate enough to have a day job which requires copious amounts of travel. And even when I’m not working, I love cashing in my frequent flier miles for adventures in exotic places with my family.  Some of my favorite places to visit have been South Africa, Norway, and…believe it or not, St. Paul, Minnesota. However, I’ve been disappointed by other locations. (I love Tennessee, but I didn’t love Graceland. Sorry, Elvis.)

And after all this travel, there are places I recommend visiting, and others that I recommend “google visiting.” (Google visiting allows you to virtually explore the location  without having to pack your bag.)

And while I’m sure folks will disagree with some of my recommendations, I can’t help but share my thoughts. (Please don’t take offense at my list if the Coca Cola Factory has employed seven generations of your ancestors. Clearly, I’m just a silly Vermonter who doesn’t know anything.)

Places to Visit
1. The Na Pali Coast, Kauai
– Jurassic Park, in real life.
2. Times Square, NYC– The block that never sleeps.
3. Redwood Forest, OR–  Even the tall feel small.
4. The Great Wall of China–  Goodness, gracious, Great Wall of China!
5. Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro– Go for the hot beaches, stay for the hotter men’s volleyball.
6. National Space Museum, D.C.,- Up, up and away!
7. Pearl Harbor, Honolulu– Take the ferry, then hug a veteran.
8. Pebble Beach, CA–  The premiere gated community, which happens to be ungated.
9. Stonehenge, UK–  Really, how did they do it?
10. Raffles Hotel Bar, Singapore– You’ll feel like an international spy.

Places to “Google Visit”
1. The Mall of America, MN– Fun if you need shoes and frozen yogurt. Not fun otherwise.
2. Niagara Falls, NY–  Imagine sitting in traffic only to witness a long ice bucket challenge.
3. The Coca Cola Factory, GA–  Diabetes, anyone?
4. The Liberty Bell, PA– It’s history…cracked.
5. The Bronx Zoo, NY– Giraffes in the Bronx will never make sense.
6. Salem, MA–  Don’t you want to sleep at night?
7. Big Ben, London– I love London, but you can see big clocks at Pottery Barn.
8. Lincoln Memorial, D.C. – I know, I know, but I can also just flip over a penny.
9. Sea World, FL – Rent a snorkel and head to the beach instead.
10. Yankee Candle Village, MA–  It smells like your grandma’s house.

Taking It Down A Notch

A few weeks ago, I blew out my left eye. My doctor said I had high blood pressure in my eyeball, caused by stress, which forced a cell behind my retina to explode. Everything was blurry, and I was in shock. And when Doc told me that I needed to de-stress, I became stressed.

Everyone I know is stressed. Everyone is wondering where the time goes while they’re running around wasting it. Everyone is “crazy busy” running to the thing, and then getting to the next thing, and cooking the thing to bring to the thing.  We’re all out of our minds.

And yet, I’ve been told to take it down a notch. But I don’t want to take it down a notch. I like being a princess of productivity. Yet, I realize, for my own health, I have to cool it.

After all, I’m too young and unimportant to be popping out eyeballs. Nobody’s life depends on me. Nobody in my immediate family is in pain. My bills are being paid, and my mouth is being fed.  Everything is okay.  If my office plants die and I forget a friend’s birthday, life will go on.

But it’s awfully hard to let go of that “go-go-go-and then go some more” drive.  So, I’m committing to small changes. Instead of running my typically four miles at the gym, I’m walking two on an incline. Instead of leaving my laptop on until 9:00pm, it’s powered down no later than 8:00pm. Instead of walking my dog for 45 minutes at lunch every day, I’m allowing other people to take care of her.

And to be honest, I feel a little lazy. I should be writing more. I could be sweating more. I should, I could, I want, I will.  The phrase drums through my head whenever I’m feeling less productive.

And yet, to slow things down, I simply tell myself that I am. I am getting exercise. I am treating my dog well. I am writing great things. (After all, It doesn’t matter if I’m running four miles a day or walking two. I’m still doing thirty minutes of cardio a day, which deserves a pat on the back.)

Yes, I’m taking it down a notch this winter. And by doing so, I remembering how good it can be to exhale. I’m spending more time enjoying the view from where I already am, and less time climbing the unending ladder. And frankly, my vision has never been more clear.

Chipmunk Hotel

I put one chunk of tomato-basil bread into the small nook in the dead ash tree.  Then, I reach on my tippy toes to place another chunk into another nook.  I continued to circle the tree, filling other nooks with bread pieces.  When every nook is filled, I move forward with my hike, leaving nothing more than an accidental trail of crumbs from the bread bag, as if I were Hansel and Gretel.

This time of year, I get a kick out of leaving bread in the woods for wild animals. Silly, perhaps, but there’s something Cinderella-esque about imaging a bunch of robins and squirrels delighting in a thumb-sized buffet.  (That is, until you realize Cinderella is an orphan who is abused by her stepmother, but that’s another story.)

So, on the weekend, I put on my snow boots. I wrap my chilled ears in a wool hat. And I call for Mabel, my canine companion (who loves eating stray crumbs). We disappear into the forest, following the snow tracks of tiny critters.

It’s quiet in the woods. The only sound in my backyard is the occasional creaking of an old spruce, and the pitter-pat of Mabel’s paws. It’s peaceful and pretty and downright lovely. I’ll spend an hour trekking up the mountain, looking for tree stumps (taller than  Mabel’s reach) to leave the end of a bread loaf for a lucky chipmunk. I’ll peek into a hole under a dead tree to drop a few slices for a hungry squirrel.  And then, of course, I’ll seek out the perfectly wood-pecked dead tree for the ultimate room-service.

The menu changes, of course. Today, it was failed pretzels which never really rose in my oven.  Last week, it was Panera sandwich bread.  A few weeks ago, it was a moldy loaf of whole wheat.

But I find my customers to be fairly open to new cuisines. They’ve never sent back an order.

Photocredit: wunderground.com bkade

Carla von Trapp Hunter

I met Carla when she was a student in rural New Hampshire. Yes, she has a famous name. Yes, she’s a heck of an athlete. Yes, she’s a lot of fun. But most of all, she loves a small town. 

Carla von Trapp Hunter

carla

What was your first job, and what did you learn?  My first job was working the sales floor at a specialty food shop in Stowe, VT. I learned how important friendly and knowledgeable customer service is. I also learned how challenging it can be to deliver it while being treated the way people often are in such roles. Pretty humbling experience.

Where is your favorite vacation spot? The north shore of Kauai. There’s such magic everywhere on that island, but the waters off of the north shore offer incredible snorkeling, and the beaches are prime for strolling and looking for shells.

What’s a necessary indulgence? Iced coffee and Cara-Mallows from Daily Chocolate. I justify them as being high in antioxidants.

If you’re in a department store, which section/thing do you gravitate towards?  The nearest exit. I actually find department stores completely overwhelming and avoid them as much as possible.

Your first celebrity crush?  If John Smith in Pocahontas doesn’t quite count, I’d have to say Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet. Seventh grade flashbacks, anyone?

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?  Fondue at an on-mountain restaurant named Cloud Nine in Aspen, Colorado. I don’t think it was food itself, but rather the overall experience. Hard to top the spectacular views from Aspen Highlands or the enhanced efficacy of champagne at that altitude. The combined effect was quite spellbinding.

Something most people don’t know about you? I still try to avoid standing on the floor alongside the edges of my bed out of fear of monsters lurking below.

What would people be surprised to find out about your daily routine? I prefer to sleep with my bedroom window opened a crack, regardless of the season.

How do you order your eggs? Scrambled or sunny-side up are my usual go-to’s.

Who was the first concert you saw live?  How was it?  Shania Twain. She was an amazing performer. It was late elementary school and I remember feeling pretty enthralled by the whole experience. Much to my parents chagrin, her ballads definitely expanded my shower-singing repertoire.

What’s one thing you know for sure? How little I know in the greater scheme of things.

 

The Ugly Season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  The last day of November! New Englanders officially don’t have to shave until spring!*

Jealous, Floridians?  Envious Californians?  You can have your San Diego, but don’t take my Schenectady.  Schenectady and I won’t see the sun until April!  Whoop whoop!

Yes, any last ditch hope of wearing three quarter length skirts and high boots is over!  No inch of skin can go uncovered until Easter. It’s time for stockings, thick, wool stockings, which drape three inches lower than our nether regions (and who put up a fight every time we use the lavatory).  C’mon ladies, who doesn’t want to pay twelve dollars for a single pair of tights which are guaranteed to develop a gaping hole after one wear?

And it’s also time to exchange our adorable ballet flats for snow boots. Those adorable boots that look SO good in the store?  Nope, they won’t do. We need traction. Suction-cup traction for those slippery sidewalks. We need thick, ugly, big-laced boots to trudge around the snow, ice, sleet, and freezing rain.  The uglier, the better!

Yep, it’s time for our most hideous clothing! Fleece-lined pants and down-stuffed vests and long johns and hat-head caps. Get them out of our mothball-smelling sweater chests, and onto our dry, itchy skin!  It’s time to get ugly and comfortable. See you later, necks and wrists! Farewell knees and ankles! Adios, razors and shaving cream!

It’s officially the ugly season! And my turtlenecks and I are going to have a heck of a winter.

* I, for one, still shave.  But then again, you’ll never know if I don’t.

 

Preview Review

This past weekend, I went to see Spectre with a group of family and friends.  Bond, James, Bond was perfectly entertaining… however, before the movie even started, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. (And it wasn’t the expired Swedish Fish. Although I don’t think Swedish Fish ever really expire.)

Spectre is rated PG-13, primarily for violence. Yet, the previews before Spectre were unbelievably graphic and disgusting. In particular, a preview for the Ryan Reynolds movie, Deadpool, was particularly vulgar. Someone at the theater clearly had mistakenly mixed up the previews, and had shown the R-rated previews at a PG-13 rated movie.  It was a mistake that haunted me for the next two days.

I usually start out my complaints about R rated material with “I’m sorry to be a prude, but…” but the truth is that I’m not sorry to be a prude, especially when it is SO unexpected. If I were viewing any stupid Seth Rogan movie, I would expect juvenile, disgusting, and typically less-than-funny sex and swear-induced profanity.  But this was Bond, James, Bond.  While there’s plenty of violence in a Bond movie, there’s no explicit gore.  While there are lots of sexy women, they keep their clothes on.  And the bottom line is that a Bond movie is a movie that I can watch with my family.

Call me a prude, but sometimes you just want a movie you can watch without blushing.

What Your Holiday Card Says About You

1319_53724355708_154_n

“Perfect Family Portrait”- We’re pretending like the twins always wear matching cashmere sweaters and keep their fingers out of their nostrils.

“Fabulous Vacation Photo”Jack cashed in our retirement fund to go to Costa Rica, and gosh darn it, we want you to know.

Baby Announcement/Christmas Greeting–  Get ready for intimate sonogram pictures on facebook for the next six months.

Marriage Announcement/Christmas Greeting – It’s not too late to send a gift.

Cat/Dog Dressed Up Like Rudolph PhotoI’m single.

Seven Page, Glossy Shine, Family Album CardLOOK! AT! US! No really, LOOK AT US!

Unsigned, pre-printed foil-stamped cards- You didn’t really think I had time for writing cards, did you?

“Peace on Earth” Card- Our gingerbread cookies are vegan.

Cards Accompanied By A Family Letter Update- Aunt Gladys has the measles. Jim was laid off. Terry flunked out of State U. Joy to the World!

UNICEF Christmas CardsWe’re judging your Black Friday spending habits.

“Happy New Year”- We’re perpetually late to parties.

The E- Card- You’re not worth the stamp.

Trick, Treat, and Carry On

Personally, I don’t like dressing up for Halloween. The stress of finding a costume to look like a California Raisin overwhelms me.  And I can’t stand all of those seasonal pop-up Halloween costume stores which infest our mini-malls. But there is one thing I love about Halloween: trick or treaters.

In a day when we barely let our kids go to school without being accompanied by a trio of nannies, peer mediators, and life coaches, I love that we still let our kids roam dark streets at night on Halloween. They knock on the doors at the homes of people whom we don’t even say hello to on the sidewalk. For one night a year, we let our kindergartners roam the neighborhood, dressed up like creatures of the night, just to demand candy from strangers.

It’s such a strange, strange custom for such a protective country. It seems like we have done our best to rid our kids of anything remotely fun, and yet, Halloween still rules. These days, we can’t even bring cupcakes to school unless they are gluten-free, nut-free, calorie-free, and vegan. Yet, we’ll let little Jack dress up like a zombie and eat that candy apple that weird Mr. Huston cooked. It’s bizarre, really. Yet, it is wonderful.

I fear the day that Halloween is considered too dangerous. I hope that all kids and neighborhoods take the appropriate steps to keep Halloween safe for all, so that this particular holiday never becomes a relic of the past.  (Put the glow sticks on, kiddos, and keep your parents at a safe distance!)

After all, it would be sad if my grandkids never knew the satisfaction of being just a little bit scared of the house with the howling gravestones in the front yard.  And, it would be tragic if my nephews didn’t know the joy of dressing up with friends to create the entire Gilligan’s Island crew. I hope that when I’m an 85 year old woman, I can still enjoy a parade of kiddos dressed up like ducks and ninjas and princesses, and scare the heck out of them with an eerie soundtrack of howling wolves coming from the inside of a goblin-carved pumpkin. Boo-yeah!

Long live trick or treating. And long live that one house which gives away WHOLE Snickers bars. Bless you, Thirteen Oak Street. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about your generosity with sugar. I still think you’re pretty darn howl-tastic!

 

The First Snow

We had our first real snow flurry last week. And when people experience the first snow of the year, they have one of two reactions:

“YYYYYYYYYYYYYYESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!” (This is the same reaction my nephew has over his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle birthday cake.)

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”  (This is the reaction I have when the lady in the window seat needs to use the restroom for the fifth time during our redeye flight.)

For me, the first snow always brings a moment of excitement, and I’ll admit, I’m usually in the prior category. That is, until I look down and notice the calendar.

In Vermont, the first snow usually flies in October.  And snow doesn’t belong in October. The ski areas aren’t open. It’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas. It’s not cool to need a Halloween costume which goes with snow boots.

But, I wouldn’t be human if I couldn’t appreciate the beauty of the first dotted sky of the year. There’s joy in those few moments of big flakes which melt when they hit the overgrown grass.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. But certainly not a white Halloween.  And so, I’ll scream on the inside with joy at the first snowflakes of the year.  And then, I’ll hope the next flurry waits until the stockings are hung.  I’m not ready to shovel my porch for trick or treaters.

Guilty Pennies

I’m a terrible person. I keep the pennies I receive from those charity mailings which   are trying to save the world’s people/planet/penguins. I know that the pennies are supposed to guilt me into sending a big check to the Save the Spotted West Nebraskan Cougar fund, but I find the scheme so aggravating that I don’t respond.

I feel awful for a nanosecond until l remind myself that I’m a person who regularly gives to charity.  And those glued pennies which clink in my mailbox every day will all eventually go back to a good cause -albeit probably not the charity which gave them to me in the first place.  (By the way, how many of these mailed pennies do you think are tossed in the trash every year?)

I certainly sympathize with non-profits, trying to raise money for their cause.  And for a while, my ASPCA address labels were a welcome gift in my mailbox.  But these days, it seems that I get all sorts of “stuff” from these charities, from notepads to holiday cards to posters of chimpanzees.  (What, exactly, was I supposed to do with this poster?  I’m still not sure, but I turned into it wrapping paper for my nephew.)  I don’t want/need any of this stuff, but I understand that the Save the Spotted West Nebraskan Cougar charities are only trying to get my attention.

But perhaps a better way to get someone’s attention is to air a sad commercial, complete with Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of an Angel” ballad.  Oh wait…

Let’s just all agree to keep the pennies in the charity cycle…and wherever they land, they land.  Guilt dissolved, as long as the pennies don’t end up in your ice cream fund.

 

Being There

It’s rare that I insist that you read something.  (I hate being bossed around unless someone is FORCING me to have another piece of Key Lime Pie!)

However, this column from Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) has influenced my thinking every day this month.

You can’t win the contest without entering, and entering again, and entering again…

gallery-1440173878-county-fairphotocredit: goodhousekeeping.com

GOOD PEOPLE (and not those unmentionable jerks)

There’s a lady out there who didn’t play nice with me today. And, it could have ruined my day. I could have let her get the best of me.

But I’m not going to let her. Want to know why? Because she’s a jerk.  And we can’t let jerks rule the world.

There are too many good folks who are willing to hold the door open, willing to give you the extra penny you’re missing, willing to write a complimentary note to your boss, willing to let you take the last seat on the bus, willing to make a difference… to let the jerks get all of the limelight.

So, instead of complaining about that not-so-lovely lady, I’m going to turn it around and talk about the good people.

Here is a list of good people:

Kid’s Baseball Catch Saves Toddler
Math Teachers Matter
Boy helps blind deer find food every morning.
University President takes pay cut to pay others
Run, Run, Runner
The Unstoppable Book Author
And my recent favorite… a train conductor worth noting.

Animal Crossing

Last week, I was driving on a fairly busy New Jersey road when the traffic slowed to a halt.  However, as we started slowly moving, the reason for the hold-up brought a smile to my face. A flock of geese (complete with a line of goslings) were making their way across the street. The Police K-9 unit stopped both sides of oncoming traffic while they waited for the geese to cross the road safely to a nearby pond.

I’m happy to be held up in traffic for the safety of webbed ones. In fact, I’m happy to be held up in traffic for the sake of any animal. (On rainy nights, I slow to 5 mph in my driveway just to avoid the bullfrogs from my frontyard marsh.) Yet, we all know that roadkill happens. And when it does, it breaks my heart. (This comes from someone who sheds a tear when I step on a slug during an early morning run.)

But, recently, a family member shared some brilliant advice about roadkill (if there is such a thing). He told me that people should pay a fee to an animal shelter when they accidentally take an animal’s life. When someone hits a mouse with his Chevy Equinox, he needs to pay up.  When someone can’t swerve to miss a frog, she needs to open her wallet to the ASPCA. Whether it is death by car, lawn mower, bicycle, or foot, it all adds up to a donation.

Roadkill will always break my heart.  But giving a donation in lieu of an accident is  certainly a silver lining.

 

 

 

Electric Youth

I’m a fan of Tay Sway. She seems like a talented enough young woman with a decent head on her shoulders. Yet, in my eyes, she’ll never be Debbie Gibson.

To this day, I know every Debbie Gibson lyric by heart. Even the last word to the last song on the B-side of her first album.  (Between the Lines was actually one of her better songs, in my opinion.) To say that I was a fan was an understatement.  I wanted to be Debbie. I wore black felt hats to look like Debbie. I even bought her “Electric Youth” perfume, which resembled a battery-powered deodorant stick.

The first (and only) time I saw Debbie in concert at Madison Square Garden, I was speechless.  From the nose-bleed section, Debbie was as itty-bitty as a crumb.  But it was her. And her voice was echoing directly from her lips to my ears.  Somehow, she knew how I felt about boys and life and youth and love. And to this day, it was still the most memorable concert of my life.  (With John Mayer as a close second, and Color Me Badd in dead last.)

It’s easy to make light of today’s tween pop music or simply shake it off.  (See what I did there?)  But the truth is that each of these young performers is shaping lives (for better or worse) for only a few short critical years. I stopped listening to Debbie as soon as I became old enough to hang out with boys who listened to Dave Matthews. I replaced my Debbie tapes with Dave CDs. I threw away my felt hats. And our relationship came to an end.

But deep down, her songs still fill my heart in ways that sometimes surprise me. I’d be lying to say that “Out of the Blue” isn’t the most played song on my Ipod. And when I’m in the shower, I’ve been known to belt out a few of her lyrics I can’t believe I still remember. Yep, Debbie Gibson’s music is tattooed on my soul forever. While most folks today are shaking it off, I’m still shaking your love.

 

 

This film has been rated Animal Friendly. Viewer discretion unnecessary.

Last year, my husband and I went to the movies to see an action/thriller flick starring the late James Gandolfini entitled The Drop. I knew it was going to be violent. And I knew that there were going to be moments when I had to close my eyes.

However, before buying a ticket and committing to the movie, I asked the ticket salesman the question I always ask before seeing a movie. “Is there any violence against animals in the film?”

He looked at me with a smug smile. “It’s a violent movie, ma’am.”

First of all, he called me ma’am, which annoyed me since I was wearing my Forever 21 wrap sweater which should have made me look fifteen years younger than I am. (And certainly not old enough to be a ma’am.)

Second, he didn’t understand the question. I took a deep breath. “Yes, I know it is a violent movie, but I would like to know if there is violence against animals.”

“There’s an abused dog who has a happy ending.”

“Do you actually witness the abuse?”

“I don’t really remember, ma’am,” he said, both disinterested and impatient.

At this point, I could sense the folks behind me getting perturbed. My husband stepped up to the counter to appease the situation. He leaned into the ticket salesman. “Listen, I really want to see this movie tonight, but my wife’s not going to be able to handle dog violence. So, if you could just try to remember the scene, you can whisper it to me, and I’ll make sure she takes a bathroom break during that part of the movie.”

The ticket salesman rolled his eyes and spoke in a quick, monotone voice. “You don’t see any on-screen abuse, okay?”

I smiled happily. “Thank you. Two tickets, please.”

I think Television Parental Guidelines should include “F” to stand for “Fido Abuse.” Although there is a rating for violence (V), it doesn’t tell you specifically what type of violence that you might have to endure. While I’m already numb to human-on-human contact on the big screen (which is a WHOLE other sad column in itself), I can’t handle animal cruelty in the movies or television. Even cartoon movies with tragic animal mother deaths (i.e. Bambi and ALL Disney movies) make me weep.

Heck, I don’t even like to see animals die in movies, even when it is a pleasant, end-of life, storyline. (Forget, Marley and Me.) Basically, I can’t handle a movie unless the pet pooch lives a long happy life… full of treats and L.L. Bean flannel, monogrammed, dogbeds.

Come to think if it, there are other ratings I would also like to see in the Television Parental Guidelines.

“W” – excessive Will Ferrell nudity

“C” –  Cliffhanger endings beyond frustration

“H” –  Health-related outbreaks which will give you hypochondria

“B” – Brooklyn Decker swimsuit cameos which cause guilt about eating Peanut M&Ms with your buttered popcorn.

I’m all for surprises in movies as long as they don’t include animal cruelty, Inception-esque frustration, or excessive supermodels in swimsuits. As far as I’m concerned, warnings about the aforementioned events would help me keep my sanity in the movie theater.

Put as many karate chops as you want on screen. Just keep them away from that Shitzu.

The Love We Live

IMG_7985

Love is cooking each half of the flank steak to a different tenderness.
Love is having a side of the bed.
Love is deciding who deals with the garter snake, and who deals with bathroom spiders.
Love is compromising with 2% milk.
Love is shower-less road trips and toothpaste-free nights.
Love is choosing seats 42A and B next to the airplane bathroom, just to sit together.
Love is sharing the big popcorn.
Love is clearing the hair out of the shower drain without being asked.
Love is sleeping with cold feet because someone is hogging the comforter.
Love is agreeing to never shop at that store again.
Love is screaming until you make up.
Love is sitting through “Casino Royale” over and over and over again because it’s the only movie you agree upon.
Love is picking up the phone to say you’re running late.
Love is agreeing to like Jon Oliver a little more than Conan O’Brien but not as much as Aziz Ansari.
Love is having a system for the dishes.
Love is knowing when to just let it go.
Love is recognizing the one look which means: “I can’t believe what she just said but I’m going to pretend everything is normal until you and I can gossip on our way home.”
Love is really not noticing the few extra pounds.
Love is not having to worry about flirty waitresses or hunky pool boys.
Love is having a library of kisses with special meanings.
Love is allowing the other to take the ice cream bite with the most chocolate chip cookie dough chunks.
Love is finding silver linings in laughable hospital food.
Love is holding hands when nobody is looking.
Love is what we live… sun-up, sun-down, Sundays to Saturdays, around and upside down and back around again.
Love was, love is, and love will be.

P.S.  Love is leaving your name off this post, because you wouldn’t want it here. xoxo

 

Unexpected Item in Bagging Area!

By Rebecca Munsterer Sabky

Last night, after eating Triscuits for dinner for the second night in a row, I decided to go on a grocery run. I closed the fridge, put on my “fancy” sweatpants, and left the house. After an hour of perusing the various types of shredded wheat cereals, I had a sufficient cart of edibles for the week.

As I pushed my cart towards the exit of the store, I was faced with the soccer mom’s conundrum. Do I take my fifteen items (give or take an item or two) to the Ten Items or Less checkout, or do I wait on the massive line for the regular check out?  As a seemingly law-abiding citizen (I won’t admit otherwise), I decided to not violate the Ten Items or Less code. Instead, I decided to attempt the greatest game in the history of the 21st century:  Check! Your! Self! Out!

For those of you new to this particular game show, the object is simple. Scan your items and place them in a shopping bag  without needing the assistance of a grocery clerk.  Sounds easy, right?  Wrong!  Check! Your! Self! Out! is a sly combination of Jeopardy and Press Your Luck. 

The contestant must first successfully locate and scan the UPC code on a particular item. Then, the item must be placed in a plastic grocery bag on a scale which is programmed to predetermine the weight of that project.  Once a bag is full, the contestant must remove the bag from the scale without aggravating the system.

I’ve been a contestant on this show for about five years now. But, I’ve yet to win. Yesterday, I once again gave it my best shot.

First, I picked items which were easy to scan.The box of cereal with the clear UPC code on the bottom. The bar of soap. The instant rice box. So far, so good. The items matched their predetermined weight on the scale. Once they were safely bagged, I used a careful maneuver to remove the first full bag from the scale and back into my shopping cart.  I had survived the first round of competition. Moving on!

The second round was a bit trickier. I successfully navigated the scanning of a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream pint. (I had previously made a rookie mistake in another game when I forgot to swipe the ice crystals from the UPC code.)  I also performed scanner gymnastics to correctly align the UPC code on corner of a carton of seltzer. (Who says sweatpants at the grocery store aren’t appropriate?)  And lastly, I was able to squash a tube of moisturizer just enough as to flatten the code for the scanner without popping open the cap.  With the finesse of a pickpocket, I swiped the second bag from the scale and to my cart. Success! It was a close call, but I had made it on to the final round.

The final round of Check! Your! Self! Out! is notoriously impossible. It is the dreaded produce checkout. To win the game, I needed to successfully weigh, identify, and bag my tomatoes. I started by placing the tomatoes on the scanner for the weigh-in. The machine informed me that I was purchasing 1.23 pounds of misunderstood fruits. (You, too, thought they were a vegetables, right?) Then, I was required to identify the variety of tomatoes. My options were bountiful. There were beefsteak tomatoes.Tomatoes from the vine. Roma tomatoes. I looked at my purchased tomatoes. They were red and round and generic. In fact, they resembled all of the tomatoes on the screen.

Other customers were now lined up behind me. The ticking of my Swatch watch added to the drama of not knowing the correct answer to the tomato question. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.   I considered using a lifeline and phoning a friend.  I considered asking the audience on line.  I even considered running back to the tomato display (à la the old 90’s game show Supermarket Sweep) to identify where I first picked up these buggers.  But as my Swatch tick-tocked, I knew I needed  be a big girl and make my best guess. I closed my eyes and chose beefsteak. To my delight, the scanner accepted my answer. I was home free.

But as we all know, no good game is over until it’s over. (Vanna doesn’t change out of her ballgown until the final puzzle is solved.)  As I leaned over to place the “beefsteak” tomatoes in their appropriate grocery bag, my wallet accidentally fell out of my pocket.  It landed with a thump in the plastic bag, and the weight of the wallet jammed the machine.

Unexpected item in bagging area!!!

The lights above the checkout flashed and the customers in line sighed with disappointment. They knew I would have to wait for a supermarket clerk to come reset the machine.

I looked down at the ground with disgust. I had lost yet another round of Check! Your! Self! Out!  There would be no prize but to get out of the supermarket alive.

 

 

Musical Zucchini

1280px-Zucchini-Whole
There are zucchini all over my kitchen. They sit in glass bowls, in wooden bowls, in cupboards, and in the refrigerator. August 8 was National Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch Day (and yes, that’s a real thing) and apparently my neighbors got the best of me.

I can’t go anywhere without someone trying to give me a zucchini. I get them at work. I get them from friends. I’ve even seen folks handing them out in the gym locker room. (Luckily, they haven’t snuck any into my gym bag yet.) There’s a saying around my neck of the woods that the only reason to lock your car is to keep people from leaving zucchini.

And I’m not complaining. I like free food. And to be honest, I still haven’t been able to grow my own zucchini in my backyard garden. (Darn you, little critters!) Yet, there’s only so much grilled zucchini I can handle in a week.  So, I’ve found a creative use for the extra zucchini: giving it away.

Paying the zucchini forward might be my favorite late summer hobby. It’s like  a game of musical chairs: the last person holding the zucchini has to saute it. When a friend gives me a zucchini, I give it to a relative. When a relative gives me a zucchini, I give it to a friend.  And the bigger and more awkward the zucchini, the more fun it is to pass it along. I’m officially involved in this big ol’ zucchini brigade. And it’s a lot more fun than paying forward the oysters.

So, if you see me this summer, lock your car door. And if you decide to keep your zucchini, here’s a great recipe for crispy zucchini chips.

LIKEABLE CHARACTER= Kate Starrett

gdf

Kate and her husband Nikolai.

What’s one thing you know for sure?
I try not to wear cheap shoes, buy cheap tires, or eat junk food.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?
The Hilton in Barbados has a great beach with waves and lovely rum punch drinks served beachside.

Cocktail of choice?
A dark-n-stormy with block ice and lots of lemon.

If you’re in a department store, which section/thing do you gravitate towards?
Shoes, kitchens stuff and jeans. Very expensive jeans.

What was your first job, and what did you learn?
My first job was working at a tennis club on Nantucket as court maintenance crew. I had to get up at 5:45am and be at work at 6:30am. I was the only girl on a four person crew.  I learned that I was not a morning person.

What’s your favorite song?
You’re My First, My Last, My Everything by Barry White. It’s our wedding song.

Something most people don’t know about you?
I got married in a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas. It’s not as easy as they make it out in the movies. I wrote my vows in the bathroom of the private airport terminal, we hopped on a plane to Vegas, and when we got there- my bags didn’t show up. I was dressed in clogs, jeans and a cashmere sweater. Forty dollars and fifteen minutes later, we got married in a Kia Rio orange rental car at a chapel drive-in.

What’s your strangest pet peeve?
It gets me when people call my cell trying to sell me something and call me “sir” cause I have a deep voice.

How do you order your eggs?
Poached medium over crispy bacon on crispy toast with a ton of salt and pepper.

What would people be surprised to find out about your daily routine?
I spend countless hours perfecting my green smoothie recipe. My sons love them.

What’s the one song which will get you out on the dance floor?
Any song with a fun beat gets me dancing but my son is currently obsessed with Queen. “We Are The Champions” is demanded multiple times a day.

Finish this sentence: I’m likeable because…
I’m so not perfect and I really like that about myself. I think more people can relate to the funny, quirky, unique, do-what-works-for-you, kind of person.

Giving Credit

I rarely wear makeup, but when I do, I put eyeliner on BEFORE taking a shower. It’s a make-up trick which makes my eyes look a little more smoky, but a bit less skanky. It’s more Audrey Hepburn than Avril Lavigne, as only a faint trace of eyeliner remains after a steamy washing.

I claim to have learned this trick from an old college friend. But the truth is, I didn’t learn this trick from anyone. I made it up by myself.

I don’t know why I never own up to my own makeup tip. I have a habit of claiming “old college friends” have taught me many other things as well. But most things I credit to them are false  I invented turbinado popcorn, and the couch flip, and “rum-pum-pum-punch.” But I’ll tell you that they did.

I also have a habit of citing people who never spoke the quotes. “Like my dad always said, if they’re not worth a nickel, don’t give them a quarter.” But my father has never uttered these words. I came up with that saying.

“My mom always says that a bottle of wine makes friends, two bottles makes enemies.”  Nope, she didn’t. I did.

“My husband always says to start with a smile and the rest with follow.” Never happened. This is my motto.

It’s funny that most people steal quotes from other people. But I give them away.  Yet, I imagine I’m not alone in wrongly crediting friends. Sometimes, you just want a partner in crime for support, and when an idea is your own, it can be scary to admit it.

So, when I tell you that an old friend from college taught me this ah-mazing tip for making cocktails, just be kind.  And if you ever meet that old friend, you can give her credit.

 

 

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

dcs-health-index

The Big Red Blood Drop stood on the corner of Main and Wheelock street, waving his short arms at passing cars. It was a jillion degrees, and the poor sap in that costume must have been close to needing his own healthcare from heatstroke. As I crossed the street, the Drop waved at me.  As someone who has donated blood many times before, I figured that it was once again time to roll back my sleeves. I waved back at the Drop, and entered the blood drive.

When I entered the all purpose room-turned-makeshift hospital, I was greeted by two women who were too young to donate blood themselves. They gave me a “Kiss Me, I Gave Blood” sticker and a questionnaire to complete before going under the needle. The questionnaire was ridiculous, as always. I felt like the most boring person on Earth for not having any “Yes” answers.

No, I haven’t vacationed on “Beach #3” in Danger City, west of Reflux Island.
No, I haven’t had intimate relations with monkeys in Botswana.

No, I haven’t injected myself with cocaine or Diet Coke.
No, I haven’t traveled underseas for longer than three years.

After handing the questionnaire back, I waited. And I waited. And I waited. Then a man in need of a nose hair clipping asked me to join him for my personal history check-up. He asked me to confirm my questionnaire answers. He noted down a laundry list of countries I have traveled to in the past five years. Then finally, he took my vitals, and pricked my finger with a needle to test my iron count.

My drop of blood never dropped. I was iron-deficient. I was a blood drive failure.

I collected my belongings and plotted my escape. I quietly walked towards the exit, while an audience of do-gooders watched me from the wait room. They looked at me with knowing smiles. They probably assumed that I had spent a little too much time in Danger City.

I turned redder than my own failed blood.  As I passed the Drop on my way out, I put my head down and vowed to take iron supplements until the next drive.  I’ll make Iron Man look anemic next time around… 😉

Photocredit: http://www.dartmouth.edu

Customer Service

I rarely ever get manicures. (I have a hard time sitting still, nevermind sitting still while someone pampers me.)

But last Friday, I treated myself to a “Dutch Tulips” color on my short, garden-blistered nails. I went to a fairly non-descript nail salon, and expected a fairly straightforward mani.

My manicurist was pretty silent throughout the treatment. I could tell that her English was limited, and she seems more interested in her Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee than chatting with me. (This was A-OKAY with me since I actually enjoy a little quiet time during any sort of massage, pedicures, or manicures.) However, as she finished polishing my final pinkie, she looked up and smiled. “Have you been here before?”

“Twice last year,” I responded.

“Well, we appreciate your business.” Her comment was genuine, accompanied with a smile. “Thank you very much.”

Appreciation is appreciated. And lately, I’ve been paying a little more attention to businesses who pay attention to the customer. I don’t need a handwritten thank you, simply for buying a book. However, it’s nice to be recognized for where you spend your money.

Red Velvet Cake

Quick!  What does Red Velvet Cake actually taste like?

I don’t know either. It’s not exactly chocolatey, but It’s not vanilla-esque either.

Yet, red velvet cake has a following. Brides and fancy Southern folk go bananas for the stuff. I’ve mostly had red velvet cake at events where the hostesses want to fancy up the shindig. And it tastes fine. I don’t think it’s as good as a regular old chocolate cake, nor as savory as carrot.

My guess is that people only like red velvet cake just because cream cheese frosting tastes so darn good. The light layer of sweet, but tart, frosting on the cake is what makes it addictive. (Side note: frosting is like cleavage. A little is necessary. But a lot just ruins the taste in your mouth.) I think nine out of ten guests would eat garbage cake if it was covered in cream cheese frosting. And yet, the red velvet gets all the credit.

There are other trendy foods which people go nuts for:

1. Cucumber sandwiches: Tastes like water, expensive as gold.

2. Crab cakes: Fried mayonnaise with a dot of imitation crabmeat.

3. Mini Quesadillas: Grilled cheese’s fancier, yet less substantive stepdaughter.

4. Prosciutto-Wrapped Breadsticks: Pork products with a crunch.

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy all of the foods above. I just think it’s funny that sometimes a plain ol’ grilled cheese sandwich and a slice of chocolate cake can taste better than foods we *think* we should love. But bring on the Red Velvet Cake. It’s flavoring is so…red velvety. 😉

 

Flawed, and sorry

  • I’m sorry that I placed your dollar store present in a designer box to make it look more expensive.
  • I’m sorry that I wore bikini bottoms to work as underwear instead of doing my laundry.
  • I’m sorry that I displayed that picture in my bathroom where I personally look good, while everyone else looks awful.
  • I’m sorry that I took an extra free donut sample when the clerk turned his back.
  • I’m sorry that I actually don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, but I’m pretending like I do.
  • I’m sorry that I brought my own Swedish Fish to the movie theater.
  • I’m sorry that I left the package of marshmallows I no longer wanted in the milk/cheese aisle.
  • I’m sorry that I stopped at the drugstore to “sample” lipstick before my reunion, instead of just buying a tube.
  • I’m sorry for taking a few too many bites of the kids’ mac and cheese instead of eating the grown-up food.
  • I’m sorry for taking a dip in your town lake, even though I don’t have the correct club sticker.
  • I’m sorry that I have never contributed to a NPR pledge drive, but I listen to it religiously.
  • I’m sorry that I hide the fancy wine before you spend the night at my house.
  • I’m sorry that I was late to your party because I wanted to be.
  • I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I’ll try harder.

index

 

 

One man’s junk…

036

I found this pig platter at the Norwich Dump, ahem, transfer station. (The term transfer station makes uppity Vermonters sound more proper.)

It was an interesting find, to say the least. (The “free to a good home” pile is typically chock full of glass vases and kiddie toys. I typically don’t even bother to look at that particular section of the dump because I’m usually focused on getting rid of my own junk.) I wasn’t sure why it had two rings near the snout and tail. It technically looked like a platter, but it also looked like something you could hang at the entrance of a farm. I wasn’t sure I would ever use it to serve cheese and crackers, and certainly not any pork products. Regardless, I needed to have it.

When I got home, I hung it proudly in my kitchen above the sink. I nailed it up, and then took a few steps backward, admiring my piggy as if it were the leglamp in a Christmas Story. It looked terrific, and it really added to the casual shabby chic decor (aka, random assortment of accessories, dish towels, planters, and Simon Pearce vases) in my kitchen.

Now, all of my houseguests ask me where I got the porker. I just muster a smile and casually say, “oh, around town somewhere.”  I’m fretful of the day when someone will enter my home and realize that it’s his/her old trash. But I’m hopeful the donor might get a kick out of his/her trash as the focal point of my home. (A few years ago, a friend wore another friend’s old prom dress to a spring party after finding it at a local hand-me-down charity.  Let’s just say that there were a lot of shared giggles.)

After all, one man’s swine… is another girl’s treasure.  And this little piggy finally came home.

Sequined tops and dipping sauces

I have a closet full of sequined tops. I have sequined tank tops, and three-quarter length sequined crewnecks, and full-length sequined dresses. And many of them have never been worn. They hang like shiny treasures in my closet, tags and all.

I know I shouldn’t buy more sequined clothing, yet I am still drawn to the shimmer. While I should be shopping for black work pants (to replace the horribly unflattering ones I wear every day), I skip the trouser section and head straight for the party dresses. Twenty minutes later, I’m convincing myself that I really need the black sleeveless sequined dress, just in case I’m invited to a New Year’s Eve wedding in the tropics. Thirty minutes later, I’m walking out of the store with a dress I don’t need while wearing pants which are hemmed with masking tape.

I should return the sequined dress but I don’t. Just owning it makes me feel like it is a possibility that I could be invited to a New Year’s Eve wedding in the tropics. So, I hang it in my closet to make me believe that my life is as fabulous as the dress. (Let’s be honest, the dress is only $39.99 worth of fabulous since I’m shopping at bargain stores in the first place, and my scale of fabulous can’t rival Savile Row.)

08444_WO3300_m
Sequined dresses are just one of my obsessions. The other is a bit more embarrassing: dipping sauces.  I buy Duck Sauce. I buy Balsamic Dipping Oil. I buy Sweet Chili Sauce. I buy General Tso’s sauce, even though I have bottles of it in the cupboard at home.  (A few years ago, I went through a General Tso’s phase where I hoarded frozen vegetables and chicken breasts and ate homemade Chinese food six nights a week. My husband had to force an intervention. Now, I still buy the sauce but I don’t bother to buy the vegetables.)

It would be fine to buy these sauces if I actually used them. But they are a bit less glamorous out of the bottle. (Balsamic dipping oil is only as good as the bread you dip it in. And lately my kitchen is only stocked with Wonder Bread.) Yet, a few days later, I’m back at the dipping oils section of the grocery store debating between the pomegranate oil infusions of rosemary or lemon.

Lately, I’ve been trying to cut back on spending. But I still find myself gravitating towards the sequins and the sauces.  Deep down, I’ll always imagine myself as someone who lounges around in party dresses while dipping shrimp in pineapple-mango sauce.  But in reality, I’m just a girl in sweats who eats cereal in mugs.  But it’s hard to quit the dream.

photocredit: j.crew.com

The Real Housewives of Vermont

The Real Housewives of Vermont*

Episode One: Poppy, the flower-child housewife from Bennington, flips out at Samantha, the Connecticut import, when Samantha hints that the GMO-free labeled tofu on Poppy’s kitchen table might actually be a big box store imposter with (sigh) GMOs.

Episode Two: Fern, a fourth generation cheese maker, is insulted when Violet, the witchy snob of Lake Champlain, calls Fern’s homemade Vermont cheddar a little less sharp than other varieties. How rude!

Episode Three: Violet flips a table in anger when her husband accuses her of cheating with the plow boy. Later that episode, we learn that Violet’s husband is actually the one cheating. With whom? The plow boy!

Episode Four: Cinnamon, the playgirl of Rutland (who actually wears lipstick, which infuriates and amazes the other Vermonters), gets a little too close to Poppy’s husband at the Tunbridge Fair. Poppy storms off in her Carhartts, while the other women give Cinnamon a piece of their mind.

Episode Five: The REUNION! Cinnamon pleads that she’s just misunderstood because she wears make-up. Poppy and Samantha agree to disagree about GMOs, childhood vaccines, and the origin of the word “pumpernickel.” Violet announces a separation from her husband and a new house with a heated (not plowed) driveway. Fern celebrates the end of the season with the announcement of a brand new cheese variety: Green Mountain Gouda. Andy Cohen toasts all the women with raw Vermont cow’s milk.

*If only this show existed. Andy Cohen, call me maybe.

 

You think you know your friends…then you address them.

You think you know your friends. And then you try to address them.

Last summer, I addressed 100 wedding invitations to my family and friends. Making the list was difficult. It was hard to whittle down family and friends to a group which would fit under a tent. But it was even more difficult addressing the envelopes. Believe it or not, I had no idea what my friends’ actual names were.

I have some friends I have known since elementary school. And as far as I am concerned, I’ll always refer to them by their childhood names. But childhood friends sometimes get married, move away, and reinvent themselves.

When it was time to address wedding invitations, I started writing their names as I remembered. I began with Ms. Heather Jones. Yet, as soon as the ink dried, I remembered that Heather has a husband, David Smith and probably went by Mrs. Heather Smith. Yet, she was still using Heather Jones Smith on facebook. Was Jones Smith her full last name? Or just Smith? It was all so confusing. I ripped up the two-dollar envelope and wrote “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” I wasn’t sure if it was correct, but I hoped that Heather would be forgiving.

It got worse. Did my bridesmaid prefer to be a Dr. after receiving her PHD in biochemistry? What about the friend who may or may not have hyphenated her maiden name with her new surname? What about the gay couple who might have taken one of their surnames, but not the other? What do I do with the recently divorced woman who just changed back to her maiden name on twitter, but not at the office?  What about the couple who created a hybrid of both of their names? I didn’t even know the correct name of the clergyman marrying us. (Father or Reverend?)

As I toiled with hyphens or no hyphens, Ms. or Mrs., Fr. or Rev., I realized that the only thing to do was to make my best guess. If Mrs. Jolie Pitt was offended because I called her Ms., I still hoped that she would still stick around for a piece of wedding cake. (I felt like it would be more offensive to call her and admit I had no idea what her name was.)

And as I pondered MY new married name, I thought about all of my options. I could be Mrs. Sabky. Or I could be Ms. Munsterer. I could combine surnames with my husband to be Sabsterer, or I could hyphenate to take up as much space as possible Munsterer-Sabky. Or I could be a Madonna-esque diva (like Adele and Twiggy), and simply use my first name, Rebecca.

I realized that people can call me anything they like, as long as they call me. After the exercise in addressing wedding envelopes, I was more sympathetic to all of our changing names. Call me a friend, and I’ll still come to eat your wedding cake.

 

Skullduggery Island

IMG_2900

Be happy this isn’t Skullduggery, son.

When you were young, there was probably a place that scared the bejeezus out of you. Of course, that would be the same place that your parents would use to threaten good behavior. For many of you, it was probably the dentist, or your sister’s dancing school, or horror of horrors: summer school.

In my case, the place of pure fear was Skullduggery Island.

Skullduggery Island was a mini-golf course somewhere between Jacksonville, Florida and Miami Beach. We uncovered the monstrosity when my parents stopped at a gas station somewhere on the Florida Turnpike during a family vacation. I couldn’t tell you where it was, but I can tell you that I lived in fear of the entire Sunshine State. Forget the colorful golf balls and the water-features on the turf, Skullduggery was the stuff of nightmares.

The entrance to Skullduggery was a cave, covered in skulls and skeletons. It retrospect, I think it had a bit of a pirate theme, but as a tyke, I was so distracted by the plastic dead bodies, I didn’t notice any swashbuckling references. It looked like a CSI crime scene, covered with torsos with missing limbs and skanky looking corpses. As a six year old, I couldn’t unsee it. And my parents knew it.

They played right into my fear. “Want to play a round of golf?” my dad would ask jokingly every time we drove by the exit.

I would act like a typical, even-keeled kid. I quietly locked the door with my elbow,  stuck my nose back into the safety of my Archie comic book, and tried not to pee my pants with fear. “Not really,” I would mutter, trying to conceal my complete horror.

“Well, then, you should probably behave for the rest of the drive,” Dad would smirk at my mother. It was one of those disgusting moments that parents relish. (Like preschool graduations and first school dances.)

This went on for more years than I’ll admit publicly. Skullduggery Island closed long before I ever conquered my fear. I don’t think it attracted many mini-golfers, perhaps because, well, I don’t know… maybe it was too frightening for poor little scaredy cat children, and too cheesy for anybody with half-a-brain. (Not that I’m still bitter about the place thirty years later.)

But I behaved in that car for years because of my fear of psycho pirate skeletons who might kidnap me between putt-putts on green turf. And to this day, I still lock my door on the Florida Turnpike. Not because I’m still scared of psycho pirates. But rather, because there’s something scarier living in the Florida Everglades these days, and they also start with a “P.”

They call them pythons. Lock your car doors, kiddos. And hold in the pee until you reach Georgia.

 

The Trendiness of Backyard Chickens

This morning, I ate an egg laid by Mrs. Darth Vader. It was a beautiful pastel green egg with a healthy orange yolk which rose as the egg crackled in my frying pan. The egg certainly didn’t look like it would be associated with a nefarious Star Wars character. And yet, there was comfort in knowing that my breakfast came from a hen so well treated that she even had a name, albeit a silly one.

I usually don’t know the name of the chicken who lays my eggs. Even though I typically buy cage-free eggs, the carton never shows pictures and names of the happy producers. And although it seems trendy to raise free-range chickens in Upper Valley yards these days, I don’t plan on raising hens anytime soon. When I was growing up, my parents kept a rooster and two hens in our backyard after rescuing them from a nearby abandoned property. We built a hen house and a fence, and properly researched raising poultry. Yet, the rooster nipped at my little sister’s heels and my mother couldn’t cook enough omelets to keep up with the eggs. One short year later, we handed the chickens over to a nearby farmer with more patience and thicker skin on his feet.

So, having a colleague gift me a dozen beautiful green eggs — yes, they come naturally, not just in the imagination of Dr. Seuss — from her backyard was a real treat. She gave me the carton as a token of appreciation for helping her transition to her new job. She could have brought me flowers or taken me to lunch, but the eggs were the far more exciting treat. As I marveled at the oval beauties, she explained that her family collects eggs daily from Mrs. Darth Vader as well as her other four cluckers: Caramel, Butterscotch, Owl Face and Ghirardelli. On the top of a carton was packaging which explained that the chickens are well guarded by Penny Lane, the family’s Labrador retriever. It felt completely typical for the Upper Valley.

After all, the Upper Valley is filled with hobby farmers whose backyards are utopias of purpose and playfulness. I have friends who are beekeepers, milkmen and maple syrup boilers. I have neighbors who raise piglets and others who forage for morel mushrooms. Sure, it’s great to meet a farmer at a local farmers market who will sell you milk from his local dairy cows. But it’s even better when your best friend milks her family cow (named Holy, as in holy cow) to provide you with fresh cream with your coffee.

I look forward to the summer months when my fridge is filled not only with vegetables, but also filled with love. Pete gives me sungold tomatoes. Wynne picks me homemade grapes. Bernard gives me leafy greens. And Ben gives me berries. None of them are farmers by trade, but they all enjoy sharing the bounty of the backyard.

Me? I’m not a huge contributor to the trade. But, in the late summer, I do have stamina for picking more black raspberries than I need. I boil and sugar them down to preserves, and hand out jars to anyone within arm’s reach. It gives me great joy to have a friend coo with excitement over homemade jam from my Upper Valley backyard. And as soon as berry season arrives, I plan on giving my colleague a jar of sweetness in exchange for more green eggs.

Yes, life is good when you know where your breakfast comes from. And it’s even better when you know the name of the chicken producing your egg. And when her name is Mrs. Darth Vader? Well, that’s something to cluck about.

(As posted in the Valley News on May 31, 2015)

 

Tapas Schmapas

Tapas is the Spanish word for sucker. Or at least, that’s how tapas make me feel.

At first, I jumped on the tapas bandwagon. It was a novelty to think of communal dining in a day and age when everything is “gorge on the run.” I loved the idea of Spanish-influenced food courses over long periods of time with close friends. I appreciated the portion-control of smaller-sized items.

So, I went to dimly lit restaurants with yellow tablecloths and ordered large glasses of wine and small plates of food. Crostini with goat cheese and marinated red peppers. Chorizo-stuffed mushrooms. Ham and cheese croquettes.

However, there would be two small croquettes on the plate, and one and a half would go to the other three people at my table. I’d get a half-croquette, and I would leave the restaurant hungry.

My friends and I quickly learned to order more plates. Shrimp scampi, baked mussels, chicken skewers. By the time we had satiated our appetites, we would find the bill outrageously expensive and ourselves outlandishly “well-wined.” (Ordering extra glasses of wine was the only way to pass the time while waiting for other plates.) Eating enough to satisfy hunger seemed to cost a pretty penny with all of these tiny dishes.

If an alien landed on earth, he would wonder why tapas restaurants could charge more money for littler plates. It is a win-win for the restaurant industry: let people spend more money by ordering more expensive plates of smaller-portioned food. In any regular fine-dining restaurant, I can order a bowl of mussels for $10.99. At a tapas restaurant, I can order three mussels for $7.99. And I allow this to happen…because I’ve had four glasses of sangria.

I want to love tapas restaurants. I really do. And if you want me to meet you at your favorite tapas restaurant, I will be there with bells on.

Just know that I will have already eaten dinner. 🙂

 

You parsimonious hag! (Formerly known as %$#&^*)

I am not a prude. However, I find swearing in print lazy. If you drop a hammer on your foot, sometimes an expletive will slip out. But in writing, when you have time to ponder the value and meaning of every little word, I find swearing absolutely unnecessary.

For example, instead of calling Justin Bieber a %*%^$, you can call him a dangerous brat.

Instead of calling Kim Kardashian a %&**, you can call her an inane waste.

Instead of calling your terrible Uncle Phil a %&*&$, you could call him an intolerable highbrow.

The worst thing someone ever called me was unreliable. I’ve been called lots of swear words (both to my face and behind my back) but unreliable stung the most. It was more thoughtful than a swear word. And thoughtfulness hurts.

So the next time your drop a hammer on your thumb, feel free to swear. But if you’re trying to tell off the person who just cut you in line, at least take a moment and consider more creative language.  %$#%&* is so unimaginative.  Arrogant schmuck is so much better.

How to ALWAYS get a free Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkin

  1. Order something else. (You’re going to need something to wash down that munchkin, anyway.)
  2. While the clerk prepares your Latte/Frozen Hot Chocolate/Coolatta, gaze longingly at the donuts.
  3. Tilt your head and appear to “ponder” the flavors of munchkins. Jelly filled? Chocolate? Glazed? Decisions, decisions. 
  4. Look down and mutter to yourself (loudly enough for the clerk to hear), “Oh, I shouldn’t… I just shouldn’t.”
  5. When the clerk hands you your drink, smile and tell him, “Those munchkins look delicious.” (Turn on the charm here, folks! Eye on the prize! FREE MUNCHKIN!)
  6. Hand him a few dollars. Let him make change.
  7. Smile at the clerk as you take back your coins and say, “I could really go for one, but I wouldn’t want to trouble you for just one little munchkin.”

You can thank me later.

index

photocredit: dunkindonuts.com