Monday, November 29, 2010

Guess Which One


One of these boys has been drafting a Christmas list all weekend. It includes---but is certainly not limited to---the following items:
  • Porsche 911 all-black racing car
  • The best Pokémon card in the world
  • Infinity real dollars 
  • A remote control helicopter with a camera
  • A catapult
  • Spy cameras
  • A real butler
  • A real guard
  • A massaging chair
  • A real cheeseburger restaurant
I like all the emphasis on "real" in this list. Because this list is truly based in reality. 

Okay, time's up. Did you figure out who's list it is?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One Thankful Memory

Rather than flood you with a list of all my grateful minutiae (one of which is actually the word minutiae, I love to say it), I want to share a thankful memory. It came to me over the weekend and it keeps driving around my thoughts, tripping my tear ducts and making me appear to well up in emotion at completely random moments. Like during toilet paper commercials.

The memory is of my sister Leslie's little red Honda. It was old and inconsistent and sort of the anti-luxury vehicle, but I loved that car. It was cool in its own hatchback way. It didn't have a formal clutch but you did have to shift it from first to second, which I adored. I once referred to it as a semi-automatic and got an unintended big laugh. The car eventually earned the name DAMMIT!, for such was it called. (It had a knack for dying. In intersections.)

But the thing about the red Honda, the thing I'm thankful for, is the memory of seeing it pull up to my middle school at the end of the school day, my big sister Leslie behind the wheel. She picked me up and drove me away, sparing me a two mile walk and time to ruminate over another miserable day. She was a teenager with a boyfriend and girlfriends all of her own regular teenage minutiae (so thankful for that word!) and yet, she showed up again and again and again. Just to be nice. It was a little thing that meant a lot.

Did I ever thank you, Leslie? Thank you. To borrow a phrase from my 14-year-old self, Seriously, like, for reals.

This memory bubbled to the surface after discussing a blog post I came across last week. (If you were the one who shared it with me, thank you!) It gave me a lot to think about. If you have a minute, check it out.

And while we're on the subject, I'm also thankful for you, kindly blog readers. You are nice to me again and again and again. It's a little thing that means a lot. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and eat right up to the delicate border between Blissfully Full and Mournfully Overstuffed. You deserve it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ten Minutes of Random

  • Been a while since I went random on you.
  • I kind of stopped the random thing as soon as I sensed it was trendy.
  • Trendy-ness confounds me.
  • I am equally drawn to it and repelled by it.
  • Like that weird, thick space between two magnets with the same charge.
  • Remember when the movie Titanic came out?
  • That was really trendy.
  • I didn't see it for about three years.
  • Because I'm principled like that.
  • What was I proving and to whom?
  • Dunno.
  • Anyway, here I am, back and spouting random thoughts.
  • Like this one: I had an enormous zit on my lip yesterday.
  • It was Titanic in scope.
  • I tried to ignore it.
  • Ignoring it is recommended by Seventeen magazine.
  • As well as four out of five dentists.
  • I ignored it until 2:00 p.m.
  • Then I performed home surgery on it.
  • My eyes were watering, it hurt so bad.
  • It was like giving birth through a tiny pore on the edge of my lip.
  • I wished for an epidural.
  • Or a lipidural.
  • I also wished for lyposuction.
  • Because you might as well wish for a couple of things at once.
  • Just in case there are some 2-for-1 wishing specials.
  • Wish update: not granted. 
  • None of the above.
  • In other news, I can't get enough of Food Network.
  • Especially this time of year.
  • I've watched approximately 144 Thanksgiving meals prepared in the last two weeks.
  • It fulfills me in a way that is difficult to describe.
  • I'm afraid, though, that when Thanksgiving rolls around, I'll only be in the mood for tacos.
  • But I don't care.
  • I'm going to watch more Food Network.
  • Because I'm risky like that.
  • One last thought.
  • I've been sipping a 5-hour energy drink all day.
  • How does the math work on that?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Family That Saves Together

Since losing most of my job a couple of weeks ago, we've been fully engaged in Operation Tight Belt around here.  I have to tell you, it's pretty amazing how much money we've been able to save by doing just a few simple things, such as:
  • turning off lights 
  • lowering the thermostat a bit
  • wearing clothes more than once 
  • eating at home
  • letting the dog clean the dishes
  • charging the neighbor kids to use our bathroom
  • panhandling
  • shoplifting
  • extortion
  • blackmail
  • knocking over convenience stores
I'm happy to say that we've really grown together as a family, and you simply can't put a price on that.

(Seriously, though, things are okay here. A great big thank you to everyone who has reached out with support and networking. I am blessed with the world's best friends and family. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Good things are to come.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Common Mistake


Max: I thought up another joke for when I'm a Canadian.

Me: I think you mean comedian.

Max: Gahhh! I keep getting those confused.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cathedrals? You Want Cathedrals?

Ryan asked me why I took a trip to Europe and all I've been sharing are pictures of cars, mustards, and luggage. It's all about the story, I told him. Those are the stories that came out first.

But if you want a story about cathedrals, I can give you one.

We saw a lot of cathedrals. We saw cathedrals that were buried underground, under the city, under a new modern world.


We saw other cathedrals that were grand and foreboding and bustling with tourists.



There were some that were famous because of people who worshipped there (namely, a young Pope John Paul II).


There were some that looked like castles.


And some that were solitary, quiet and chill.


There was plenty of hauntingly beautiful stained glass.


And plenty of beautifully haunting sculpture and art.


There were cathedrals to lose yourself in.


And there were some to set you straight. (Well, at least your watch.)


Here is the thing about cathedrals---I can't help but think about the building of them. I can barely imagine the blueprints, the finding and preparing of materials, the back-breaking labor to create them. I look at the arches and steeples, practically on their tippy toes as they reach for heaven, and the thought crosses my mind that they might be trying too hard. (Bless their hearts.) I want to say Hey, Cathedral, you're coming on a bit too strong. Take it down a notch. You don't have to kill yourself, throwing up every ornate idea that ever crossed your mind. God is just as into minimalism. (I think.)

Then I realize that I have judged, something God himself advises against, and I feel sort of bad.

The truth is, cathedrals don't do it for me. In all honesty, the most spiritual moment I felt inside any one of these buildings was when I looked at this.


The picture doesn't do it justice, but I promise it was spectacular. Yes, the window itself was jaw-dropping, but it was all the fuzzy reflections on the wall that stopped me, stirred something inside. The colors were brilliant and ethereal, real yet not real in the very same moment. In retrospect, maybe that's what I missed. Maybe that's the whole entire point. Maybe the purpose of a cathedral is not about building something beautiful for God, but about building something that lets us see God's beauty reflected back. I can imagine God sighing and saying, Thanks for the pretty window, but let me show you what I can do.

I don't know. That kind of makes God seem like a one-upper, but maybe you get what I mean.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Things We Carried


Please tell me you've seen Joe Versus The Volcano. It's a fine piece of cinema and the most adorable example of the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan chemistry we all used to know and love. If you've seen it, you'll understand why I had to take a photo of this trunk in the window of Louis Vuitton in Vienna. Joe was going to jump in a volcano, and therefore needed good luggage. In fact, (SPOILER ALERT FOR A MOVIE FROM 1990!) the luggage eventually saves Joe's life.

Our luggage, on the other hand, nearly killed us on our trip. You know how people say you should pack light when you travel, especially overseas? It turns out that they were not only serious about that, but completely accurate. Lugging around your stuff, even stuff you love, sucks like a Hoover. When I packed a couple of extra shirts in my bag, they weighed only a fraction of an ounce. By the time I'd transferred them on and off two airplanes, two trains, two taxis and one bus, they weighed 23 pounds. Each.

Before he packed his bags, Ryan downloaded travel guru Rick Steve's recommended packing list. It basically said to bring two shirts, one jacket, a pair of pants and a toothbrush. Oh, and some clean underwear if you're into that sort of thing. Ryan puzzled over the list for a few minutes, then tossed it over his shoulder and said, "That guy's an idiot."

Oh, Rick Steves. We repent and grovel and request thy forgiveness.

Ryan realized pretty quickly of his mistake and tried to warn me, since I was joining him later, but the thing about life is that you really can't avoid some of the big mistakes just because people wiser and more experienced than you tell you in exact, step-by-step detail how to avoid them.

Dear Self of Early October, CURSE YOU AND YOUR AMPLE VARIETY OF WELL COORDINATED OUTFITS! Auf Wiedersehen, Mid-October Self.

To add insult to injury (or backache to arm ache), I picked up some fragile souvenirs that were made out of ceramic and (apparently) lead. That tube of mustard I blogged about? It weighs 108 pounds. The bags just kept getting heavier and heavier. And with every heave and ho, we smacked our foreheads with more and more resentment.

The next time around, we will be so wise. We will print out a new Rick Steves packing list and we will hold it lovingly in our arms. We will study it and honor it and follow it with the exactness. And when we are tempted to put that extra t-shirt into our tiny suitcase, the one that is begging to be worn overseas and immortalized in vacation photos, we will say to that extra t-shirt, "Go jump in a volcano."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mustard as a Souvenir

Not only do I prefer their cars, but I prefer Europe's cutting edge mustards, too.  I picked up a few varieties as a souvenir. I've been putting mustard on pizza, pretzels, fingertips---and on Sunday, I used some in the most amazing butternut squash sauce for our pasta.


(I like how the one that looks like a tube of toothpaste, don't you?) I know I should be pacing myself, but I've got the fever. Mustard fever. And the only cure for it is more mustard.

P.S. Want the pasta sauce recipe?

Butternut Sauce

1 butternut squash, cut into two-inch cubes (I bought the pre-cut ones at Costco)
1 can chicken broth
3 cloves of minced garlic
olive oil
3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of brown or dijon mustard 
4 tablespoons brown sugar

Put squash in an oven-safe pot or crock pot and drizzle it with olive oil, then add salt and pepper. Dump all the other ingredients in and stir together, then roast in a 250-degree oven (or the low setting on the crock pot) for at least 4 hours, or until the squash is completely mushy and the house smells good. Use a hand blender (zhuzher) or regular blender to blend it all together, making it creamy in texture. Serve over pasta (or add another can or two of chicken broth and eat it as a soup).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Czech It Out


In our household, it's all about the cars. My boys are in and out of obsession with car makes, models, and other interesting specs like speed, horsepower, and how many houses one could purchase to equal the cost of one. Luxury sports cars are an especially popular subject, and given the option, I'm sure our boys would choose homelessness if given the chance to have a fine set of wheels in exchange.

If I had to guess, this sweet little Maserati is the probably the equivalent of a nice three-bedroom house with a two-car garage, plus a town home or two. We spotted it in Prague and had to take some souvenir photos of it for the boys. They were almost as giddy about it as they were about the giant tube of mentos we brought them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Day Alone, Plus the Most Romantic Thing Ever Said to Me


In Warsaw, I spent most of one day by myself while Ryan taught. It was fun and quiet, like solitude can be. I felt so adventurous flying solo with only a couple of poorly pronounced Polish words in my pocket. I wandered in and out of shops, walked up and down the streets, and even took my lone self to lunch at a tiny café where I ordered a mile-high chicken sandwich and a tiny bottle of "Coke Light."

The sandwich was so grand, I took out my camera and documented it because there was no one across the table from me to appreciate its ginormousness. I deconstructed it with a knife and a fork, eating it in awkward pieces and wishing I had ordered the spaghetti instead.

After lunch, I wandered more. I people-watched and listened to my iPod. It was strange to have the soundtrack of my regular, suburban life playing in my ears in this foreign place. I almost turned it off, but then decided to keep it on in hopes that the next time I heard those songs they would remind me of Warsaw.

There was only one real task on my agenda and that was to find the street vendor with the oil paintings. We'd picked out a favorite two days before and tried to give the man a low-ball offer, being the savvy travelers that we are. (Smirk.) He counter-offered, but only for a little less. Our counter-counter-offer was to walk away and tell him we'd think about it. He let us walk away, which led me to believe that we'd reached the lowest price.

I left my art buying until the end of the afternoon. I found the little side street where he set up shop and reminded him of our last negotiated price. He smiled as he put the painting in an old Hugo Boss plastic bag and exchanged it for my money, tipping his hat as I walked away to meet up with Ryan.

The statue in the square was our meeting place, but it was crowded with a bunch of teenagers, so I found a spot nearby where I could wait and watch for Ryan. He spotted me before I found him. He gave a nod and then grinned as I walked toward him.

"What?" I asked, smiling back.
"I would pick you out of a crowd," he said and pulled me close.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Remedy is the Experience


Want to know the remedy for seeing too many gorgeous, ornate structures in Vienna? Visit the Hundertwassen Museum and home of modern artist Freidensreich Hundertwassen. Quirky, funky, abstract, and completely sincere, I loved wandering in his little world for a while. Even the floors aren't straight, but hilly wandering paths of brick. So cool.

His art and design made me think of someone else I know. One time my Max was looking out over the New York City skyline and sighed. "Why do all the lines have to be straight?" he wondered.

In the museum there is a quote by the artist: "The straight line is godless."

Seems like the hard questions are always answered in art.

(P.S. In personal news, I lost a big part of my job this week. Keep your fingers crossed for me in my new job search! Thank ya kindly.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So American


When we were abroad (we love that line around our house, especially said in a snooty, self-absorbed, aristocratic tone), we frequently felt stupid.

Miscommunications because of our mono-lingual state were aplenty. There was the time our friend Tim thought he was ordering one ice cream cone, but was actually ordering one teeny tiny scoop of ice cream. Or the time Ryan was yelled at by the grocery checker because he needed to purchase a plastic bag for his items and had to figure it out via charades. Or the many occasions our friend Kristin apologized, "I'm sorry, I don't speak English," when what she meant was, "I'm sorry, I only speak English."

Communication in Europe was simplified by the fact that 83% of everyone we came in contact with knew English. And, yes, you can argue that English is the language of business and commerce and the future and that's why everybody learns it, etcetera, etcetera. BUT. It is extremely humbling to walk around in a foreign land, looking for rough translations of recognizable words, and trusting that if you can't figure them out, a random teenage passerby can likely help you out. You can't help but realize that while he spent his youth learning a small handful of languages, you spent your youth trying to save the princess at the end of Mario Brothers.  I'll say it now and I'll say it again, it is invaluable to spend some time as a minority.

Never in my life have I wanted to learn or speak another language. My two years of French in middle school consisted of the same five worksheets and the same five episodes of French in Action, the french equivalent of Sesame Street. I passed both years with flying colors and without even the ability to order soup du jour at a restaurant. And I was completely okay with that.

However, as I wandered around Warsaw, Vienna, and Prague, I was overwhelmed with the urge to know another language. I wanted to be able to communicate, to tell the man that he dropped his paper, to  overhear what the girls at the tram station were complaining about, to ask the old woman in the square where to find the best loaf of bread.

Since I didn't know another language, I felt myself offering the far lesser next best thing, a bad French and/or Italian accent. In a crowd, I'd find myself uttering, "Eskoosee, eskoosee," or sometimes, "par-doan, par-doan." Other times, we'd be wandering a cobble stoned street and I'd unknowingly be mouthing "shockolot" over and over again.

Forget the fact that we visited neither France nor Italy. There is no reasonable explanation for this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Like Kenny Rogers, For Example


Ryan: Do you like my beard?

Me: I really like your beard.

Ryan: I'm thinking about keeping it, but I'm not sure exactly how to maintain it.

Me: You need a beard mentor.

Ryan: I do. I really do.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Snap, Crackle, Pop!


In Vienna, at an evening concert, during a cello solo, I figured out my entire life. I sat in the beautiful, nearly-full hall and let the music wash over me. Earlier in the concert, I had been a little transfixed on the giant chandelier in the middle of the room. I had a great view of it from our spot on the front row of the cheap seat section. During some of the especially boisterous songs, the chandelier swayed a little and turned. I realized that it must be the sound waves moving it and I was self-pleased to have noticed such a clever detail.

I guess the sound waves were moving me too, because my thoughts started turning and turning, and as the cellist performed, I began to see everything with stunning clarity. Everything that has been bothering me about myself, my world, my circle of family and loved ones, was unraveled and untangled from my thoughts, released from my heartache, and completely solved. The ones that have no solution, and therefore don't require my personal worry regime, were released to fly away. Everything was going to be fine, I realized. Within myself. Without myself.

The cellist continued. He looked as if he were performing open heart surgery on his instrument, he was so thorough and delicate and ambitious. And my heart, the one that has felt torn and heavy for months, finally seemed to be weightless and whole again. It was amazing.

And then.

There was a sound. A crackle.

Then quiet.

Then another crackle.

It came from behind. I looked over my shoulder to see a blondish, twenty-something woman digging in her giant handbag. Craaaackle. Crackle. CRACKLY-CRACKLY-CRACKLE-CRACK! I had to wonder---did she not know that we were sitting in a concert? And furthermore, that I was in the middle of figuring out my entire life?

It was the sound of stiff paper bags that I figured were holding individual Viennese pastries or brownies or other delicious sustenance. Now, I'm sympathetic to the spontaneous need for a snack, especially when it involves Viennese pastries, so I decided to forgive and forget.

But then.

Crackly crack crack crackle crackle CRACKLE crack cracklecracklecracklecrackle.

I looked over my shoulder again. I watched her remove a handful of little paper bags from her purse. And what she started pulling out from them was not an assortment of petit fours, or even a delicious frankfurter, but a bunch of cheap, wooden toys to play with and show off to her friend, crackly, crackly, crackling all the while. I was aghast, which is the Viennese translation of the American English word "pissed."

In the meantime, the brilliant cellist at the opposite end of the hall, played and played while tiny beads of sweat formed on his brow. And the handbag hedonist kept crackling her stupid paper bags. It was like dueling banjos, except for the lack of banjos.

I decided to pull out the Glare. Yeah, that's right, the Glare. Some of you probably didn't even know that I have a Glare, but that is because I use it with great discretion, only in moments of true need. (Because I am generally a non-confrontational pansy.) However, I summoned the Glare, affixed it to my face, and peered into the black soul of the woman with the cheap toys who was ruining the song, the concert, and also my entire life.

Crackly crack crack crackle crackle. Crackle CRACKLE crackly crackly crack.

Within twenty seconds, the Glare had done its work. She looked up, her eyes met mine, and she read my face. She looked down and within a quick crackle or two she was silent.

The Glare had done its work. I put it away as the cellist crescendoed into the final measures of the song. I tried to settle back into my Zen-like state. I tried to review all the beautiful truths I had discovered. I tried to remember all that I had moments before figured out.

But I couldn't. Everything was a tangle again. The song ended, the crowd erupted into applause, and the chandelier turned and swayed. My mind was still searching as one truth bobbed up to the surface, perfectly clear and brilliant. It was: This is what you get for buying the cheap seats.
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