Back to Zion

I’m out and about collecting material for future essays and blog posts. This involves a trip to the home where I grew up in Ogden, Utah…or at least the parts of it that are still standing.

Aside: My kids think they’re going to visit their grandma, but really we’re on an archeological dig to unearth my high school yearbooks and other incriminating material.

I have tickets to tour the Ogden City LDS Temple on Friday morning. IMAG0894While I’m busy, please check out Heather B. Armstrong’s (@dooce) piece When in Utah. She captures so many aspects of life in the Beehive State.

Aside: She also has at least 1.5 million twitter followers and makes a six-figure salary as a mommyblogger…not that I’m jealous or anything. She apparently isn’t afraid to offend her grandfather who follows her blog. (Hello, Grandpa. Thanks for the follow!)  

Aside to the Aside: Heather, in case you’re reading this, I need a literary agent for my memoir manuscript. Help a fellow Gentile out!

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#TBT Puppy Love

Aside: It’s #TBT. My husband and I recently celebrated 19 years of wedded bliss, which made me reflect on our life together. According to Hallmark’s website, wood is the traditional gift for a 5th wedding anniversary. We took a slightly different road….

My husband and I felt prepared for puppy parenthood. Neither of us had previously owed a large-breed dog, nor did we know anyone with a Golden Retriever; nonetheless, we had fallen in love. Every anniversary up to that point, we had given each other cards with fuzzy, blond puppies – a short of promissory note for our future plans. By our fifth anniversary, we finally owned a house with a backyard – the time had come to take the next step. If we didn’t screw up a dog too badly, we reasoned, we’d be ready for kids in a couple of years.

Aside: No need for a cheeky aside here for those readers who have had dogs and/or kids. For those readers who haven’t, all I can say is it’s not the same at all.

Scouring the classifieds one morning, I reported, “They want $600 for a pure bred.”

“Wow, that much?” Pete remarked.

I located the “Golden Retriever mix” listings. Over the phone, the breeder touted her puppies as a marvel of genetic engineering: a black, male Labradoodle coupled with a female Golden Retriever.

“She has two male puppies that look just like Goldens,” I said, trying to sell Pete on driving out to see them.

“They sound like mutts,” he scoffed.

“They’re only $300,” I pleaded. “Besides, I told her we’d be there tonight.”

Aside: One secret to our happy marriage is that Pete humors me 95% of the time.

While Pete drove, I studied the labyrinth of country roads labeled with numbers on a Virginia map. At some point, I announced that we were lost.

Aside: GPS devises have saved our marriage on several occasions in more recent years.

Since we didn’t have a cell phone (it was 2000), Pete located a pay phone outside a decrepit roller skating rink and parked. Picking up the receiver, I dialed the number and placed it near my ear. Nothing.

Aside: I briefly considered returning to the car and making Pete go inside, but I am the one who takes care of these interactions. Besides, I needed to save face. The guilty need to correct errors may also be one of our secrets for marriage.

The painted cinder block walls and smell of sweaty socks wafting from the skate rental counter transported me back to fifth grade. A large, hairy, old man leaned on the lower half of a Dutch door. I informed him that the phone didn’t seem to work.

“Are you makin’ a long distance call or something?” the man eyed me.

“No, it’s a 703 number.”

“Lady, 703 is for Washington, D.C. This here’s 540 area code,” he announced as though we were in California rather than 50 miles outside of our nation’s capital.

I inhaled slowly thinking about how 703 actually belonged to Fairfax County, not D.C. Rather than pointing this out, I switched tactics, “Do you know where 255 Road is?”

“Sure. That’s way up past Dinosaurland and the Texaco station.”

I thanked him and returned to the car. Following a subsequent stop at a payphone that accepted 703 numbers, we found the breeder’s farm.

Aside: Marriage, like writing, requires frequent revisions. It’s pretty much trial and error.

When we arrived, an adult Golden Retriever herded puppies out of our path. One hyper, golden male crouched underneath Pete while his curly-haired, black sister gave me her belly to rub. Once we homed in on these two, the breeder instructed her husband to send the competition back to the kennel.

The female was obviously more submissive, but we had our hearts set on the golden fur. We chose the male despite the fact that we had witnessed him eating horse poop earlier.

Aside: We were smitten. We love a challenge. Enough said.

While Pete held the puppy, I wrote out the check, signed the sales agreement, and listened to all the vaccine information.

“He will probably have worms and fleas,” the breeder warned.

It was too late to be put off by this. He was ours, worms and all.

During the car ride home, I sat in the backseat stroking our puppy. Without my help navigating, Pete found the way home. Once we arrived, I remembered that we hadn’t read any of the chapters on puppy care.

Aside: It’s tempting to draw conclusions from this pattern of being lost, gaining clarity (or at least deluding ourselves into thinking we knew what we were doing), and becoming lost again. Marriage, like writing, isn’t that tidy though.

Henri (pronounced “ornery” when we wanted to be pretentious) kept us company for 11 of our 19 years as a couple. For the first two of those years, we patched drywall and wood trim around the house. Despite our failure to train Henri to heel during walks, we brought home a human baby girl to add to our brood. The dog was perfectly fine until we introduced a second child into the mix. At that point, he developed skin problems and began surfing the counters for bread products. He may have been allergic to our son.

Living up to his name

Living up to his name

Aside: Pete and I once agreed that there were about six good years during Henri’s life span, excluding the first two and the last three.

When it came time to say our goodbyes, we were sad. We loved our dog, but we loved each other and our kids more, which is why we don’t have any plans for a dog in the near future. Perhaps we’ll feel differently 19 years from now when we are empty-nesters, contemplating what to do with ourselves while our children make their way in the world.

Aside: Sometimes in a marriage, you have to know when to say “Mercy.”

Busy Signal

Aside: I’ve put 200 miles on my car this week chauffeuring kids to camps. In my spare time, I’ve been revising my memoir manuscript and shopping antiques with alexandradesignfinds.com. Yesterday my blog post deadline came and went. Trust me when I say that I’m collecting material for future posts, but for now, I’m exhausted. My blog stats and comments tell me that I’m trending with the retired women who know and love me, as well as with random people from Brazil, Ghana, and Italy who stumble upon this site using God-only-knows-what search terms. While it seems a little early in Off the Page’s life for this, I’m falling back on “Best of the Blog” in hopes that my readers will have some time to catch up on their job: namely reading, liking, and sharing my posts, so that I can become a famous writer whose inbox spills over with offers by literary agents for representation. Get to work, people!

Of Paint and Writing

Big Cheese

SUP?!?!

Under Our Canopy

If You Loan a Writer a Car…

phone

 

Party Like It’s 1999

My birthday, which fell on a Saturday this year, started off in the nicest possible way with funny cards from my kids and husband over breakfast. Once we finished eating, I became a taskmaster, handing out assignments to prepare for the birthday party we were hosting that afternoon with family friends.

THWUNK! was not the sound I expected to hear when I sent my husband outside to sweep off the front porch. From inside, I saw the ladder against the tree. Confused, I ran out the storm door, saying “what the….”

Aside: Pete insists that I used swear words. I have no such recollection, but must admit that it would be entirely out of character for me to curb my tongue at such a moment.

While we stared at the large tree limb in our front yard, Pete said, “That was a little bigger than I thought.”

Aside: We joke that I am spatially inept. Twice, I’ve convinced Pete to purchase items with the reassurance that they’d fit in the car. For the record, both the propane grill and the plastic lawn chairs did fit after we unpacked the box and disassembled them.

Because he knows me well, my husband was not happy to see me at that particular moment. “Blog Post?!?” he muttered.

Aside: Saturdays are ripe for material. If you don’t want to be “material” for my ramblings, you ought to avoid me. I post on Thursdays, obsessively check my blog stats for two days, and realize that I my next self-imposed deadlines is coming.

When I offered to help, Pete hesitated before accepting. The kids got in on the action. Forty-five minutes later, we had four lawn bags full of leaves and branches stacked neatly at the curb. It was not how I had imagined spending my morning.

Aside: Did I mention that it was my birthday? Some girls get manis and pedis on their birthdays; I chop firewood.

Moping about the turn of events, I attacked the weeds that surrounded our azalea bushes near the front walk and thought back to my birthday fifteen years earlier. Pete and I had moved to Virginia in July 1999 for his first job out of grad school; his start date fell on my birthday. To make matters worse, our furniture was scheduled to arrive that day. I spent my 27th birthday in a vacant apartment located 2,000 miles away from family and friends, jumping up to look out the front window every time I heard a large truck. When Pete came home, the furniture had not arrived. He took me to dinner, and then we slept on the floor for the fifth night in a row.

Aside: Congratulations on hanging in through that bummer of a story, dear reader. I promise not to end on a bad note because posts, like Disney movies, need happy endings.

Wallowing in self-pity, I moved onto the side of my house and pulled more weeds until a sharp pain shot through one finger. My expletive caught the attention of a man walking his dog down our street. By the time he circled back up our cul de sac (and crossed to the opposite side of the street), I was attempting to clean out two small cuts.

I spent the rest of the morning cleaning and cooking (and by cooking, I mean transferring baked potato salad from the Wegman’s container to my own Corning ware). Between chores, I read birthday wishes on Facebook and texts from family and friends. Many of my friends are people I didn’t know fifteen years ago. I’ve made them while teaching at Chantilly High for four years, raising a puppy who grew into a geriatric dog and died two years ago, completing an MFA program in writing at George Mason University, attending Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Reston, and sitting poolside at Lake Audubon during swim seasons. I have two kids who are old enough to do chores and mostly take care of their own hygiene. My husband loves me and doesn’t mind that I refer to him as my Sugar Daddy. The last fifteen years have been good to me. I’m forty-two!

Aside: What that means is that I can plan my own birthday celebration, get away with cursing while weeding my garden, and feed my guests whatever I want. I’ve earned my gray hairs, jowls, muffin top, and bingo wings (thanks, Kate Coveney Hood, for that terminology).

Our friends arrived with flowers, gifts, and birthday cake. We partied like it was 1999.

Aside: Except for the 27-year-old body.

Happy Pioneer or Pie-N-Beer Day, Utah!

When I realized that my self-imposed blog post deadline fell on July 24, I had to pay homage to Pioneer Day, or, as the Gentiles call it, “Pie-N-Beer Day.”

Aside: Saints = Latter-Day Saints (LDS) or Mormons; Gentiles = non-Mormons. My mother claims that Utah is the only place where a Jew can be considered a Gentile. This title lumped a lot of us together: Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’i, ski bums….

July 24 is a lightning rod of sorts for Utahans. My mother used to lament that it’s a bigger holiday than 4th of July. Although I haven’t lived in the state for over 15 years, the date is still seared in my brain. I spent much of my young adulthood rebelling against a celebration of someone else’s ancestors trekking across the country. One year I marked the date by consummating a relationship. In 1997, I worked in a gift shop inside This is the Place State Park where 50,000 people converged to greet a throng of Saints who were re-enacting the historic arrival of Brigham Young’s crew. The bonnet-clad crowd consisted of 45 horseback riders and 380 walkers with 61 wagons and 9 handcarts. While customers bought commemorative Christmas ornaments in the shape of handcarts, I celebrating the occasion with the purchase of a souvenir shot glass that pictured the Salt Lake City LDS Temple.

Aside: If this religious/cultural war intrigues you, consider finding me a literary agent and publisher so you can read my memoir Outside the Temple Doors.

After I left the state, some Gentiles came up with the great idea to dub July 24 “Pie-N-Beer Day.” Consuming a slice of pizza pie and a cold beer on that day is akin to giving Mormons the middle finger.

A week before this auspicious state holiday an ad popped up on Facebook with a personalized shirt for me to purchase. It read, “Just a Utah Girl in a Virginia World.” What is a “Utah Girl?” Is the implication that I like a slower paced life and wide-open spaces? Or is it that I constantly fight against what I perceive as the dominant culture? In any case, it’s clear that the overall sentiment is that I don’t quite fit in. Which is true, but I’d never wear a shirt advertising that fact.

Aside: If you ask my close friends, they would probably say that they love my snarkiness. They’ve become my friends in response to my rather abrasive taglines: “I’m from Utah, but I’m not Mormon” or “I’m a stay-at-home mom, but I don’t do the PTA thing” or “I belong to a Christian church, but I’d never vote for a candidate from the Christian right.”

In a month, I will set foot back in the Beehive State to visit family and friends. I’ll bring my two kids and husband along. We have tickets to tour the newly renovated Ogden City LDS Temple. While living in Virginia, I’ve developed friendships with some really lovely people who happen to be Mormon. For me, being a Utah girl living in a Virginia world means that I will have to weigh my clothing options carefully and curb my salty mouth because I now care about offending some really wonderful friends. With my kids in tow, I’ll try to instill a respect for diversity in our world.

Aside: Rest assured, dear reader, that after the tour I’ll have a beer while eating some pizza pie; perhaps, I’ll raise a glass of Polygamy Porter or Latter-Day Stout to the founders of the great state. After all, you can take the girl out of Utah, but you can’t take Utah out of the girl.

polygamy-porter

 

If You Loan a Writer a Car….

It’s 90 degrees in Virginia with at least 80% humidity. I know this because the air conditioning in my car crapped out the week I volunteered to serve as a shuttle bus operator for my son and his friend. They’re heading to Camp Invention, and I am in charge of pick up (PU) during the hottest part of the day.

Aside: If you have kids, you should definitely check out Camp Invention. The kids take shit apart (and by shit, I mean the electronics lurking in your basement that no longer work) and design new machines out of junk in your recycle bins. If you’re lucky, your kid won’t be able to bring any of these creations home at the end of the week.

Hauling two sweaty 6 year-old boys around on Monday motivates me to schedule the oil change that’s 3,000 miles overdue and to ask the car dealership to add Freon. Because it’s 90 degrees with 80% humidity, the other million people who live in my county have the same idea. The soonest appointment is Friday. I can drop off my car Thursday and pick up a loaner car with A/C in time for afternoon PU at camp.

Except that they’re out of loaner cars an hour before PU.

Fast forward to me sitting in a hot car with my charges while phoning the dealership, which is only three miles from the PU site. They have one! I rush to the dealership without breaking any traffic laws, hustle the boys out of the hot car with their backpacks and booster seats, and herd them into the office. After four days of riding around without A/C, we are all eager for bone-chilling air. Paperwork, key exchange, gathering of belongings, and we walk to our new ride.

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“Blue” turns out to be neon blue. The 4” letters emblazoned on the rear window that spell out the dealership name don’t faze me. Nor does the compact size. We are about to have A/C. I shove (or rather gently secure) the boys in the backseat and open the driver’s door. “Ew yuck,” I hear before the heat and the smell overtake me. “Just wait, I’ll get the A/C on,” I say.

Aside: I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country and pride myself in trying to be moderate in my consumer habits. My SUV is nine years old. It has crumbs and stains galore, but this loaner car has just grossed out two sweaty 6 y.o. boys.

I can barely see out the back window because it is so small. What I can see is obscured by white letters. The side mirrors have some funky second smaller mirrors on them that disorient me every time I change lanes. Still, having a car, even a loaner car, is a privilege. There are homeless people sleeping behind my church, for God’s sake.

My resolve cracks Friday afternoon at PU when I receive the call from the dealership. It isn’t the estimate ($1,600 for a new air compressor); it’s the prospect of keeping the loaner car for an entire weekend. My SUV is the swim meet car, the one that can haul a 12’ canopy, 4 lawn chairs, a cooler of snacks, and towels. It still has greasy handprints where my son touched the exterior and interior after applying sunscreen.

We could make it work. The glitch is that I previously offered to drive into DC with a woman I barely know who is rungs higher on the career ladder than I. She has a book and a respectable journalism career. Hell, we’re not even on the same ladder.

Aside: This is not like the time I wound up driving Dave Eggers to an event at Fall for the Book because my friend, the festival organizer, walked into a parking garage arm that was descending, got a mild concussion, and asked me to fill in. This is a true, first-world crisis.

Luckily, I am able to weasel out of driving, but accept her offer for a ride. “I can just meet you at your house,” I say. Which sounds like a good idea until I’m about a mile from her house. The homes get bigger, and the lawns more expansive. Holy shit, I’m on her street searching for numbers in a clown car. Her house stands at the top of the cul de sac. I start looking for places to park/hide my car. Except there are no other cars on the street because these houses have three-freaking-car garages and sizable driveways.

I park in the shade and trek up the driveway. The garage magically opens. My writing acquaintance emerges to greet me. Inside the garage, a Tesla sits connected to the charging station.

Aside: Let me be clear, I’ve seen expensive cars when taking my children to play dates with school friends. Porsche, Escalade…but this is a Tesla. True, it’s not a Bentley or a Lamborghini, but hot damn.  

While this Tesla-owning writer runs back into the house to retrieve the keys to the Lexus SUV parked next to it, I text another writer friend. Only my phone’s autocorrect indicates that the car is a “Trespass.” Now she thinks I’m about to commit a crime. Covert texting ensues to clarify.

Aside: This car situation mirrors my own feelings of insecurity about attending an event with fellow writers, many younger with more publications than I.

The trip into the city, the exchanging of business cards, and the pleasant conversation with my new writing friend go well. I soak up her advice and remind myself that she is older and wiser….

When we near her house, my new friend spots my neon blue, clown car. “Oh, that’s you,” she says, parking her Lexus SUV beside it to let me out. I drive away thinking how glad I am that my sunscreen-streaked, crumb-infested vehicle is back at the dealership, far away from the Tesla. I can’t wait to get it back.

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