When Career Day Goes Horribly Awry

My teaching days are a veritable goldmine for ridiculousness. That one time I maybe sort of lost a colleague’s son in Manhattan, that one time the sixty year-old tour guide at Gettysburg asked me out in front of my students, the countless number of ridiculous things my seventh graders said and did, these are all fantastic stories.

And the time I had to explain why a stained dress was so important.

Career Day can be kind of boring, and so my fellow teachers and I worked really hard to get as many fascinating characters as possible to visit our students. Our population was extremely diverse, many immigrants, many students receiving free or reduced lunch, and so it was extra important to show our kids how many doors were open to them.

During the months leading up to the event, we touched base with a wide variety of professions, some parents of students, some friends of teachers. There were musicians, doctors, an architect, a sound engineer, a police officer, and even a juvenile parole officer, who hilariously knew a few of my students through their after school mishaps. We encouraged all of the speakers to bring visual aids, handouts, and multimedia presentations were also strongly encouraged.

We did not anticipate what happened next.

The day had gone pretty brilliantly – my students were behaving professionally and dare I say they were genuinely engaged and interested. Their questions were thoughtful and polite, and there were a minimal number of disruptions. The students returned from lunch for their afternoon sessions, and I sat in the back as the next presenter set up his slideshow.

Special Agent whoever he was of the FBI had a lot to teach my kids. He wasn’t so enthused to divulge the details of how one becomes an agent, however, he was completely focused on sharing image after image of….crime scenes.

To my seventh graders.

Now, these guys were not exactly innocent little tulips, most of them being experts at Grand Theft Auto and having memorized Scarface. But we teachers were paralyzed in that moment, unable to redirect the speaker who was as clueless as one can be.

And then his final slide. Boy howdy, he was proud of this one. This was the jewel in his little special agent crown – an image that had yet to be widely seen, as this was before the dawn of high-speed internet and Google Image searches.

Projected on the white board was an evidence photo of Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress.

Admittedly, the adults in the room were intrigued and probably took too long to shut off the projector because yes, it was impressive. Gross, but impressive. I definitely bragged to friends after the fact. But we were quickly snapped back to reality as the questions began. Why is her dress up there? Hey Miss, that looks like that dress you wore yesterday! Why was President Clinton in trouble? WHAT IS THAT WHITE SPOT.

I guess Special Agent man had never met a kid or been one, because he was pretty disappointed in the general reaction. And while those of us in charge tripped over all of our words conducting damage control, we telepathically communicated our regrets to one another for not requiring a preview of presentations.

That mistake would not be made again. And if nothing else, the dress did distract them from all the bloody knives and such.



Christmas, KonMari’d!

As promised, an update on the Konmari experiment.

So far, I have tackled Christmas. Here’s what I learned:

  1. It took almost no effort to reduce my bins from 4 to 2.
  2. I had a lot of glitter detritus.
  3. Several items were kept in the dark recesses of the Christmas bins out of sheer obligation and will hopefully be moving along to someone else’s home. Someone who truly enjoys them.
  4. I was pleasantly surprised to unearth some items I never typically get to and look forward to next year when I will use them, including the Spode dishes from hubs’ grandmother.
  5. An unexpected realization: I have kept certain items in those boxes for fear of forgetting.

About that last one: a related story.

There was a ziploc bag full of Christmas potpourri. Really good smelling stuff. Quality. How do I know? It still smelled wonderfully after being in there for the past TWENTY YEARS.

Yes. I had kept potpourri for twenty years. Was it magical potpourri, you ask? Well, kind of.

I bought that bag of potpourri one Christmas season at Kaufmann’s. I wonder if Kaufmann’s still exists? It was the same as Hechts, so probably not. Perhaps it’s now a Macy’s. Anyway. I remember buying that bag of potpourri, which, at the time was such a ridiculous expenditure. I was in college, and I didn’t even have the money for pizza and alcohol, so why was I blowing it on potpourri? (Technically, I wasn’t – I think I charged it. Which, that’s an entirely different story for another day. Suffice it to say, that bag of potpourri probably ended up costing me fifty bucks with interest!)

It was an impulse buy, no doubt. My roommate, Libby, and I were avoiding studying and wandering around the sad shopping center known as Fort Steuben Mall, when I caught the intoxicating scent of cinnamon. So I grabbed the smallest available bag, swiped my card, and brought it back to our tiny apartment.

I only needed about a handful of the stuff in a glass dish in order to permeate the whole of our apartment. Along with our little tree in the window, Seamus the spruce, we had ourselves a festive gathering place. I remember holing up there with a smattering of friends, staying up way past respectable bedtime, running outside in the snow together, and then warming up with spiked hot chocolate while we eventually got down to the task of studying. Even though we lived in a mining town, the stench of which is regionally famous, the thick snow blanket seemed to erase the sulfuric intensity in a blessed and rare respite.

At some point, we would all fall asleep, scattered around the apartment in sleeping bags or under blankets on the couch, and I would get up each morning before everyone else and start a pot of coffee while everyone else would slowly stir to consciousness, squinting as the sunlight reflected off the snow and through the picture window behind the Christmas tree.

Those were magical days. None of us knew the future, of course. Quite frankly, had anyone predicted that two of would be dead less than five years later, we would have all laughed at the absurdity of such a suggestion. We were merely playing at adulthood – no one had any intentions of growing up that quickly. Of course, we did just that, first when Libby and Nate had their two babies, the joy of growing up, and then even moreso when death claimed them within a year of one another.

But each time I opened my Christmas decorations, that cinnamon smell escaped and I relived that memory. Which is why I have kept such a silly thing for two decades. I realized, however, that I don’t need a ziploc of potpourri for that. (Earth-shattering, I know!) It just took me a while longer to figure out that we do not owe our memories and experiences to objects. I don’t need mashed up bits of pine cones and cinnamon sticks to transport me to that crackerbox apartment. Or a Santa figurine that doesn’t quite fit in or make me happy because I loved the person who gave it to me. I am learning that I needn’t be beholden to the secret crates of possessions we squirrel away under the stairs.

I’m better than that. We are all better than that. Our minds are far roomier than our attics and basements, and our memories far more valuable than we give them credit.


I’ve Done It Again. Carry On.

Being married to someone you met in adulthood inevitably results in funny conversations. What may have seemed completely reasonable to one spouse can strike the other as anything ranging from quirky to downright batshit crazy. Maybe your husband grew up in a different culture or religion, or maybe your wife was raised in a different country. Maybe your parents didn’t use dryer sheets. Maybe his parents were all about margarine. These things come up when you bring two people together and start a new family.

With my husband and I, typically some story from his youth strikes me as quirky, whereas my strolls down memory lane leave him bug-eyed and yes, declaring, wow, that is batshit crazy.

You’d hardly know from looking at me today, all put together and fabulous, that I had an….unconventional start. (Yes, I am being sarcastic. I am not put together and fabulous, although one of these days, I tell you, I’ll show the WORLD! just not today) Actually, sarcasm aside, we are about as normal as one gets anymore. Extended family who enjoy one another’s company, get together for holidays, that sort of boredom, as we do. So I understand my sweet hubs’ reactions.

And it’s not as though I tricked him into marrying me, thinking I was one thing (normal) when in actuality I was quite another. (trainwreck) It’s just that, when your experiences are your experiences, you tend to just think of them as what happened, not as an outsider might.

Which is how we landed on this conversation the other night, sparked by the craziness of the VanillaISIS situation in Oregon.

(I’m also partial to Bubba Haram, for what it’s worth. Alas, I digress.)

So the conversation goes something like this:

husband: These people are nuts! Like tinfoil hat crazy!

me: Yeah. They remind me of this family I knew, though. I wonder if they ever got social security numbers.

husband: (blink blink) Pardon me?

me: Social Security numbers. Their parents didn’t let them have them because they didn’t want the government to know they existed. They lived not too far from you growing up, actually. Although probably you wouldn’t have known them. They didn’t go to school, obviously. But I remember them talking about eating squirrels they killed on their land and how they would totally survive anything. They wore a lot of camo, come to think of it. Weird. I wonder how they got a phone at their house? I remember they didn’t believe in borrowing money. Actually, how’d they have a house? I never thought about this stuff when I was a kid.

husband: (eyes about to fall out of his head)

me: (nervous laughter) You didn’t know anyone like that, eh? 

husband: WTF?!

me: Right. I’ve done it again. Carry on.

So yes. When I was around 15 or so, I met a few, shall we say, unique folks. And my parents, being of the more free-range variety, and trusting that I was up to only good, never really worried about me. And I, being of the sheltered variety, didn’t realize just how whacked these friends were. To be fair, this was pre-google.

Some days, I think, I should write more of this down. Other days, I think no one would believe me. But suffice it to say, I have learned little by little that no, most people weren’t buds with anti-government conspiracists.

Then again, SOMEONE wrote Ron Swanson.




I’m Gonna Konmari the Krap Outta This

Please excuse the forced alliteration. I’m bedridden, and I have lost all sense of decorum. (edited to add: i just realized the Ks might seem an homage to *that* famous repetitive K family. it is not.)

Two days ago, on the day after Christmas, instead of enjoying the dulcet tones of my children whining about their boredom in spite of having a metric tonne of shiny new toys, I fell ill with a stomach bug that rivaled any of my four bouts of hyperemesis.

It was the literal worst. Seriously. I went to the ER, and as I sat in the lobby, utilizing one of those lovely blue plastic accordion receptacles, my fingers and legs locked up. I thought I might be having a stroke, but I guess it was the result of extreme dehydration. Impressive, even for me.

So I had a night’s vacation in the observation ward. I had to leave my little baby at home for the first time overnight without me, and she was….displeased. She refused to take a bottle and slept away her stress. I also attempted to sleep away the entire incident, which wasn’t too difficult as I was given several doses of phenergan.

But after tolerating some carrots and a baked potato, I was given my freedom. I took to my bed and haven’t left since. Which is where I have been stationed for the past 27 hours or so, visually combing through every square inch of this room with the fresh eyes of a woman who has recently read the latest religious text of the organization faithful.

the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing

I first took notice of this book on the shelves of Anthropologie, where I work a few hours per week. I was immediately attracted to the ee cummings-esque typeface, and having heard the word “konmari” tossed about, decided I would give it a quick read. After all, I’ve always been a fan of organization. When I was in high school, I actually asked for a closet organizer as a gift. That’s how much I love to organize.

Yet, I still live in a cluttered mess. Sure, a good amount of that is the fact that I have a family of 6 in a tiny home, but there must be more than that. And so I am committing to this book and this kooky Japanese lady with her weirdo methods.

Which is why as I am perched on my sick bed, impatient to kick the remnants of this nasty illness, I have mentally culled my bookshelf, my sock drawer, and the right half of the top shelf of the closet. (The left door is closed, so I can’t see what I need to ditch from that side)

Does it spark joy? If not, it’s out. Done. Gone. Kaput. Audi-5000.

My plan is to Konmari the hell out of this joint.

I’ll keep you posted. Will this be like the time I tried the Atkins diet? Hopefully not. I mean, pork rinds are straight up nasty.



This Is the Last Day of Our Acquaintance

My thirties are coming to a close, and it feels remarkably unremarkable.

I imagine I’ll wake up tomorrow, and nothing will have changed aside from the fact that I will have managed to have survived into another decade. Which is pretty swell, really. Certainly beats the alternative, as they say.

In anticipation of this birthday, I compiled a brief set of goals to meet ahead of time. Some more introspective than others, certainly, and while I accomplished several, including my renewed dedication to writing, others fell by the wayside, such as finding a decent lipstick shade.

And while I know that turning forty is a big freaking deal, I think what is stuck in my brain is how on earth I’m going to beat the awesomeness that was my thirties.


In my thirties, I became a mother. First, to my sweet baby girl who is creeping up on 10 herself, and then to three more tiny people, one boy and two more girls, who are happy and healthy and loved.

In my thirties,my husband and I bought our first home. Sure, it’s tiny, sure, it needs a metric tonne of work, but it is ours. And that is amazing. It’s terribly adult of us, don’t you think?

In my thirties, I realized a ridiculous amount about myself. I finally got comfortable in this mortal coil of mine. Through four pregnancies, I realized how much my body could withstand and was amazed by that. I stopped being paralyzed by self-consciousness. I learned how to recognize when the anxiety was talking and what tools were needed to get her to kindly eff off. I learned that whatever unkind word popped into my head didn’t necessarily need to pass my lips, no matter how justifiable my emotions may or may not be.

In my thirties, I learned my own opinions, separately from my family and friends  – while some remained the same, not all did.

I don’t suspect I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling any differently. And I would venture to guess that as far as decades go, my thirties were a lot busier than the forties are slated to be. But I have a sneaking suspicion that in ten years’ time, a new list, albeit shorter, will be composed.

Perhaps by fifty I’ll find that elusive red lipstick.

Every Little Ornament Counts

Christmas, 1984. My family was living on base in West Germany, all eight (EIGHT!) of us shoved in a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment. We were on the top floor of three, one of six apartments per stairwell, two stairwells per building. Built in World War II, the architecture was best described as, “early oppressive Stalinist utilitarian.”

Living conditions were cramped, but the youngest three of us were small and therefore not quite as affected. We had the first bedroom when you entered the apartment, a roomy retreat with a set of bunks and my single bed. There was a door into my parents’ room from ours, and as we lived on a guarded and fenced-in base with bars on the window, they probably didn’t feel at all worried that we were the first room accessible from the front door. They wouldn’t have expected any of us to escape, anyway, as we were just not that type of children.

We were, however, the type of children who loved Christmas. And that first winter overseas, we were excited to open up the boxes of ornaments we’d lugged over the Atlantic and make the apartment as close to home as possible. That Friday night, we’d secured a tree from the only lot on base, and after getting it situated in the corner of our crowded living room, had only managed a few decorations before it was time to go to bed. The rest would have to wait until morning.

Around six A.M., the sun was up and so was my brother, Joe. While his twin snored away, his six year-old self was unable to sleep and so he shook me awake. He had a plan: we would tiptoe out to the tree and finish decorating it before anyone else woke up. They would be so excited to see a fully decorated tree!

It was a lovely plan. Truly. We had the best of intentions. We envisioned all of the thanks and admiration we would inevitably receive from our parents and siblings.

But we were two of the shortest kids you’d ever seen. And when two tiny people kneel down, they can only reach their tiny arms so far onto a tree.

And when two tiny people are overloaded on Christmas joy, they overpopulate a very concentrated section of tree branches with every ornament their tiny arms can hang.

Which is right around the time that two tiny people are pinned under a falling tree.

I distinctly remember the clinking and clanking and yes, sadly, some shattering, as the ornaments went every which way, along with our cat who had been silently judging us from her perch on the back of the sofa. My parents shot out of their room and while I’m sure they were ready to murder us, the sight of us trapped under the pine tree more than likely made them unable to stop laughing. As everyone scurried to free us and salvage the ornaments that hadn’t broken, my dad realized that the tree water had poured all over the floor and seemed to be leaking through to the apartment below us. As my mom rushed to warn our downstairs neighbors, the far more refined Bradleys with their perfect two children and their lovely sportscar, I’m sure she momentarily regretted having a big family.

I usually remember the times I was punished, and they were many. But I don’t remember getting in any trouble for this particular disaster. I do believe, however, that was the last Christmas the tree trimming was put off until morning.

fallen tree


Happy Birthday, Baby Brothers!

I have exactly two memories of my biological mother: one is of listening to her bicker with my dad about needing to stop at the drugstore for pantyhose, presumably having run the ones she was wearing. The other, attempting to sit on her lap and not being able to, since she was a tiny woman and pregnant with my twin brothers.

There should be no surprise that in spite of our 3-year age gap, these two are part of my earliest memory. They have always left quite an impression!

My brothers are two of the most unique people one could ever meet – and while they look so much alike that no one ever believes they are fraternal, they are two very distinct people. That’s not to say they aren’t a lot alike, however.

When we were younger, they wowed the grownups with their abilities. Reading before three. Math problems, too. They knew all the states and their capitals. They read maps better than my mom. To this day, they both can tell you not just who won a Super Bowl of any given year, but they can tell you the scores of any game, the breakdown of points by quarter, which player scored which points, and as an added bonus, what happened in our own lives on that day. I am not even kidding. I’ve witnessed arguments between them concerning which shirt they were wearing during a game that took place in 1985.

I shall spare them the extended memory list, as it is their birthday and I don’t wish to embarrass them, but while they may exist as children in my memory, they are now grown men: each with  beautiful wives whom I not only approve of but love like sisters. Both now fathers. Both not only smarter than anyone I’ve ever known, but also wise.

Happy birthday, Adam and Joe. I love you.