We’ve been through pestilence this winter: flu, lice, Fifth disease (which I correctly diagnosed using pediatric medicine sites prior to a doctor’s visit). There were family visits that involved hosting a dozen different relatives in the space of a week between Christmas and New Years’. I served orange juice to my young niece and nephew in shot glasses while adults sipped champagne out of sleek stemware. My husband’s three-week business trip coincided with 1) Snowmaggedon 2015, 2) my Ides of March manuscript deadline, and 3) my son’s first ER trip for a broken collarbone. I even pulled a wiggly tooth that gushed blood everywhere a mere 54 hours before the designated blood-and-guts parent returned home. But the event that has finally led to a blog post after a long drought occurred this morning when I greeted a neighbor who was out walking her energetic dog at 8 am while I was elbow-deep in my own trash dumpster.

Shit gets real fast when you’re explaining that behavior.

Anyone for a  little Dumpster diving after breakfast?

Anyone for a little Dumpster diving after breakfast?

Aside: My neighbors probably didn’t bat an eye when they saw me curbside pulling dripping garbage bags from the plastic can. I’m that crazy neighbor who yells at her children to “get the hell inside NOW,” thereby scaring the sweet girl from across the street who immediately disappears into her house while my two hooligans gauge how serious I am. First, the retirees in my neighborhood live vicariously through my parenting fails. I remind them of simpler times when they had to work and parent school-aged children instead of vacationing in Mexico and Key West during February. Second, other parents of young children take solace in my presence because I make them look good. Third, childless couples conclude they’ve made wise life decisions.

In the spirit of over-sharing, I’ll confess that I was searching for a lost Kindle Fire (my son’s gateway drug). Like any saavy kid, he had the good sense to hang back in the garage to hide when he saw the neighbor lady walking her dog. I charged out there to eliminate one more possible hiding place before the trash guys arrived. I should have been inside packing lunches or listening to my daughter practice the piano. Instead, I attacked that week’s worth of garbage with the energy of someone who snorts cocaine.

Aside: Rest assured, dear readers, I do not snort cocaine. It is a metaphor. Your kids can still have play dates at my house. I have imbibed with the occasional cocktail, but always after lunchtime, except for that one time I put Bailey’s in my coffee when school was closed due to snow for the fourth consecutive morning or the time I had mimosas with a friend after putting the kids on the school bus to celebrate a special occasion that I can’t clearly remember right now.

Back to the over-sharing part: while standing outside on a humid, 30-degree morning the day before the official start of Spring, a day that weather forecasters predict may include some snow accumulation, I was mad. Mad at myself for giving a six-year-old boy a device that he really isn’t old enough to be responsible for. Mad at myself for engaging in a housecleaning blitzkrieg that amounts to stashing shit anywhere I can before the cleaning lady shows up to sterilize the place. Mad at myself for accidently wheeling the recycling bin in last week before the pick up, thereby resulting in 2 weeks’ worth of newspapers and plastics to sort through. Mad at myself because my kids are growing up with a ridiculous amount of toys when there are kids in our community who eat two of their three daily meals at school and wear clothes that I place in goodwill boxes.

Aside: Now, back to the shit part of this post.

My lovely, kind, wonderful, slightly twisted neighbor catches me dumpster diving and promptly tells me a story of someone losing a pair of eyeglasses among seven garbage bags containing freshly raked leaves. Unlike my son’s Kindle Fire, the glasses turned up in the second to last bag. I laugh and turn to resume my task, but not before she adds, “At least there isn’t poop in there.” Because it can always be worse than it is…

Aside: If you’re of the Catholic persuasion, consider praying to whichever saint finds lost shit for my son’s electronic device. The rest of you, just send good vibes and keep those misery-loves-company stories flowing.

Fare Thee Well, 2014!

For the next two weeks, our front door will be a revolving door of relatives. To prepare, I picked up a couple of items at Target:


And then there was grocery shopping:


As a rule, I won’t set foot in Costco the week of Christmas, but last week I stocked up on some bubbly and not-so-bubbly wine. It’s chilling in my wine cellar:


Aside: it might look like an ordinary garage, but it is temperature controlled to bring out the fruitiness in my beverages and guests.

The house is ready due in large part to Brother and Brother’s Helper and my friend @AlexDesignFinds:


I am sure quality family time will provide plenty of fodder for future blog posts.

Aside: I may have guests and my children sign waivers saying that anything that happens is fair game. No lawsuits. No divorce court.

If I survive, you can read about these good times here after January 5, 2015!

Aside: Just hit that “follow” button in the top right corner already. Unless you are my grandpa. Ponca, don’t hit that button or you won’t hear from me.

Virtual Getaway or Innocents Abroad (with Apologies to Mark Twain)

Recently, Hubs and I accepted family friends’ offer to keep the hooligans on the condition that we get away someplace nice. Initially, we entertained the possibility of bed and breakfasts in quaint, rural spots. I nixed that idea when I thought about the possibility of rain.

Aside: Mucking around in mud puddles is only romantic in movies.

Instead, we opted for a city getaway – more specifically, the city fifteen miles from our suburban home.

When two DC hotels that friends recommended came up at $400/night, we resorted to a different selection strategy. Hubs got out his iPhone and asked Siri for the nicest hotel within twenty miles.

Aside: This sounds like the start of a very romantic trip, doesn’t it? Somehow the universe, or at least Siri, could give us the answer for a perfect getaway.

I looked up the hotel online — 4 stars, over 9.2/10 customer rating, wine tasting hour, 1 ½ blocks from DuPont Circle Metro – and booked it.

The first glitch came when Hubs and I started packing.

Aside: Taking Metro into town sounded great. We could stroll through the quaint neighborhoods.

With this in mind, I pulled out a rolling suitcase.

What are you doing? Hubs asked.


You’re going to take that thing on Metro?


Can’t you just take a backpack?

I don’t have one.

Can you borrow your daughters?

You mean the pink and green butterflies from Pottery Barn Kids?


We’re not backpacking across Europe, you know. I can’t show up at a four-star hotel with a child’s backpack.


Suffice it to say, Hubs located a smaller rolling suitcase, which I lugged up and down escalators while trying to recover from the noxious train fumes.

We arrived at the hotel where men in uniforms greeted us and held doors. Keys in hand, we rode the elevator to the eighth floor and rolled through the halls.

“The décor’s rather masculine,” I commented as Hubs unlocked the door.

Inside the room, I studied a faux animal fur throw blanketing the foot of the king size bed with leather headboard towering above the mattress and illuminated night stands flanking it. I opened the closet, expecting white terry cloth robes, but instead found one zebra print and one leopard print robe, both size L.

Zebra or leopard, my dear?

Zebra or leopard, my dear?

“Which do you want?” I asked Hubs, thrusting the items towards him.


After a brief nap, during which Hubs watched college football with the TV on mute, we consulted our phones for dinner options. The search results overwhelmed us. Maybe we could just stroll the neighborhoods and find a good spot.

On the street, we stopped to read menus on restaurants located in quaint row house until we heard a man yelling obscenities at a Metro official.

Aside: Suddenly, it seemed like a good idea to join the wine-tasting hour in our hotel lobby and consult our phones to locate one of DuPont Circles’ famed restaurants.

Inside the lobby, there were approximately three men for every woman. Nearly everyone spoke Slavic languages.

Aside: I realized that we weren’t the average patrons for this hotel about the time it dawned on me that we were in DuPont Circle on a Saturday night with no reservations for a Zagat-rated restaurant.

We were hungry and not huge on small talk, so Hubs and I returned to the sidewalk with a new resolve to try the Indian restaurant we had passed even though we couldn’t find it on Trip Advisor.

When the server/co-owner arrived, Hubs ordered Riesling, his staple.

Aside: I selected Pinot Grigio because it paired well with my shrimp entrée and because I like to pretend that I am more sophisticated than Hubs.

The woman returned with a glass of red wine and placed it in front of Hubs. I gave him a look; he signaled me to just ignore it. When the woman left, I leaned in to state the obvious: “That’s not Riesling.”

It wasn’t, but he didn’t want to deal with the language barrier that had led to the error.

This wasn’t the getaway I had envisioned, but I couldn’t fix that, so instead, I stood up and wandered over to the six bottles of wine displayed on a counter representing the menu selections. When the server saw me, she came over.

“This one,” I said, pointing to a bottle, “He wanted this one.”

The correct glass of wine arrived, as did the ho-hum food.

Later inside our hotel room, I scoured websites for local attractions, vowing to salvage Sunday.

After brunch at a local spot, we walked past mansions displaying flags and tried to guess which country each represented until we arrived at the Woodrow Wilson House. Inside, we viewed a 15-minute film about his presidency. European statesmen credited Wilson with bringing an end to WWI and adopted his idea for the League of Nations during the Treaty of Paris. Despite his hero-status abroad, Wilson was unable to convince Congress to join the group. His greatest achievement as a statesman was rejected at home.

After the film, Hubs and I toured the house. The highlight for me was seeing the coat made of kangaroo with a wombat collar, a gift to Wilson from a European admirer. The tour guide pointed out pictures of Wilson wearing the coat and commented that no other American president had a coat quite like this one.

While I studied the coat, I tried to picture him wearing the thing to Washington events. Did Mrs. Wilson ever try to make him wear something more conventional? Maybe he, like us, was simply in the wrong place.

What’s in a Brand?

In high school, my best friend’s father gave her $15 and told her to go buy some Wrangler jeans. She was understandably horrified. At the time, Guess jeans with tapered legs and zippers at the ankle were all the rage and cost at least double what her father gave her. We recently laughed about this while we puzzled over how to raise our own children.

Aside: Our bill for cocktails at the restaurant far exceeded her jean budget.

My 10 y.o. daughter is nowhere near as fashion-conscious as I was at her age. I thank God for that. She does, however, have her quirks and foibles. Comfort drives her decisions.

Aside: She is her father’s daughter.

Comfort usually costs very little. And it would cost very little if the manufacturers of jeggings would get it right.

Aside: For those of you without daughters, let me explain that jegging are leggings (fancy word for tights without feet) + jean (or denim) material.

Last year, we acquired two pairs of the correct combo of stretch + softness. They were hand-me-downs from a friend whose older daughter is far more fashion forward than mine. I was grateful, but not adequately so….

Aside: Tears have been shed over pants in our household. My alcohol consumption depends on it.

The crisp morning air in Virginia means it is time to bust out those designer jeggings that I ordered my daughter and wash them. While she transitions from shorts to long pants, I’ll be switching from vodka tonics and margaritas to hot toddies. Let’s just agree not to talk about the price tag.



Conan demonstrating the comfort and style of jeggings.

Conan demonstrating the comfort and style of jeggings.

Things I Carried Home

Tuesday we returned from our 10-day journey to the West mostly intact. “Mostly” is the key word here.

Aside: Mostly, I held my shit together during the trip. There was that one incident when we finally arrived in a hotel room one block from Ogden City LDS Temple, and I started yelling expletives at my children as soon as the door slammed shut. They were fighting. We’d been in the car together for six hours, the rolling suitcase weighed 49.5 lbs. (my husband is a Boy Scout), and we were at day 5.

Hahn Vagabonds

Hahn Vagabonds

Unpacking our suitcases in the safety of my own home reminded me of a grad school writing assignment. The esteemed Alan Cheuse asked our class to describe a room, a person, or an object without including commentary. I’m sure there was a profound lesson in writing that I failed to grasp because I had to redo the assignment.

Aside: I’m a non-fiction writer; I thrive on navel-gazing. Also, my MFA diploma is safely on the wall, so I am I’m going to break the rules again, Alan.

Mixed in with the dirty laundry, these objects emerged: 

  • The Fault In Our Stars sounded like a quick read for a vacay, but I ended up reading by the bathroom light in the hotel room late one night and sobbing myself to sleep. My mother has congestive heart failure and pulmonary fibrosis, so a novel about a lung cancer patient probably wasn’t the best choice for this particular excursion that involved pushing Mom around in a wheelchair and changing oxygen tanks every two hours.  
  • Disposable booties from touring the Ogden City LDS Temple (disclaimer: I did not actually save these, but I wish I had because they were far more interesting than the tract I picked up during the tour). Growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon, the temple had an invisible DO NOT TRESPASS sign posted on it. Only Mormons in good standing can enter. The exception to this is during open houses for new or remodeled temples when the public can tour a temple before the consecration ceremony. Throughout my childhood, Mom did her best to convince me that these spaces were sinister. Nonetheless, I could not resist the invitation that coincided with our vacation. While I sat with my children and husband waiting for the tour to commence, I reminded myself to take deep breaths because I was good enough to be in God’s presence.
  • Receipt from Rooster Restaurant on 25th Street in Ogden, Utah. Back in the day, this particular street was associated with hookers and drug dealers; however, the downtown area has since undergone a revitalization. While walking to dinner with my best friend from high school, I passed an “adult” shop to have dinner at this hip watering hole. Utah has long boasted microbreweries and coffee shops as a certain counter-cultural badge of honor. Spending two hours with my wonderful friend provided so many chances to laugh and reflect on my rich life is as a mother, wife, and writer. The two vodka tonics also helped, which brings me to the item that should have come home in my suitcase:
  • Bottles of @FiveWivesVodka I’ll admit that I only ordered that brand for bragging rights, but damn if it wasn’t tasty. I’ve been lighting up twitter with my praises for the distillery in Ogden, Utah in hopes they’ll send me a case (or at least a bottle). A bottle could help relax the back spasms that started the morning after we returned home when I reached into the suitcases to sort dirty laundry.

#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.”

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.