Throwback Thursday: from angel to witch and everything in between

Okay, I can’t resist. Halloween brings out my nostalgic side, and looking through old photos makes me all misty. Plus also I’m so hopped up on sugar, everything seems super shiny and amazing. So I’m sharing these.

Nine Halloweens and counting.

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Angel Ella. Or, as I called her, Ange-ELLA. Get it? *cough.sorry*

Carving the pumpkin FROM THE BOTTOM.

Pumpkin guts are nasty, no matter from where you scoop ’em.

Tinkerbell. Or… TinkerbELLA???

Oh! Those teeth!

Tiger girl.
Or perhaps… TigerELL… Never mind.

She’s the same size as the pumpkin!
Well, the big pumpkin, anyway. Not the one in her hand. That’s just weird.

Fall fairies.
They’d worn the tutus in their aunt and uncle’s wedding a few weeks prior, so poof! Fall fairies it was.

See? I love me some pumpkins.
And we always open up the garage for the neighborhood. With booze.

Photo shoot with a “cute cat” (who’s being a little suggestive with the pumpkins) and a witch, version 1.0.

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Looking slightly more disheveled – and giddy – on actual Halloween night.

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The year that Ella eschewed ALL COSTUMES because they itched.
Thank God for skeleton pajamas and fun hair accessories.

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10.31 ready to trick or treat
‘Twas a bit colder on Halloween eve… Poor Minnie’s in a turtleneck…

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Some singing girl from some famous movie, and Maleficent (aka Witch 2.0), from ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
First time ever, I sewed both girls’ costumes (not Ella’s hat, though).
Last time, too. I don’t sew. No, really.

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Ado Annie (okay, she was a cowgirl, but I’m calling her Ado Annie) and a Winter Fairy.
With a broken foot.

Unexpectedly needing a wheelchair on Halloween? TOTALLY GETS YOU BONUS CANDY.

Okay, they’re not “throwbacks,” but I’ll include these anyway…

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The size of the garage display has grown.
So has the number of pumpkins we decorated and carved. More on that later.

halloween 2013
Presenting… the Ice Witch and a Candy Corn Fairy Princess.

And… As long as we’re talking throwbacks – here are some REAL throwbacks…

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Yep, me on the left and my forever BFF, Kiki, on the right.
Circa 1978. Gotta love the yarn “wig.”

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Circa 1982.
Yet again with the witch thing. Now I know where Ella gets it.
Not sure if my brother was officially the Lone Ranger, or just a cowboy, but we rocked the Unicef collection boxes.

Cut out the butt, save the world

This isn’t really a post. I mean, it’s a post. But it’s not saying anything.
Well, it’s saying something, but it’s not really telling a story.

What I mean to say is, this is just another post to link to my Pinterest page, because there is something incredibly important that I need to share with the world and it is this:

Carve your pumpkins by cutting a hole in the bottom, not by removing the top.

Phew. I feel better already.

But seriously, people. It’s a well-known statistical fact* that 98.43% of people cut a hole in the top of their pumpkin, scoop out the insides, carve their squash into a fabulous jack-o-lantern, and then fit the missing top piece back in, like a little pumpkin puzzle hat. That’s all well and good, except for a few very important things:

  • carved pumpkins tend to shrink a bit, including the top puzzle piece, which often becomes smaller than the original opening and slides right back inside
  • the cutting lines on the top can interfere with the creation you’re making, especially if you want to carve anything near the stem
  • you practically sacrifice a finger every time you have to reach inside and light the candle (unless you’re using a battery-operated one, but where’s the fun in that?)
  • when you go to move the pumpkins, you risk knocking over the candle, resulting in singed squash; it’s really difficult for kids to rearrange your awesome Halloween display

* I invented this fact.

Way back when we first began carving pumpkins with our kiddos, I’d read a tip in a magazine (yes, an actual magazine – a publication that I could touch physically, not just read on a screen) that said carving out the BOTTOM of the pumpkin — just removing a square — is way easier. So we tried it… and we’re officially converts. Because it’s 765 times better, that’s why.

See, it’s very simple.

You just tip the pumpkin butt-up and carve a square or rectangle in the bottom (or, really, whatever shape you’d like – I promise not to tell).
No, I don’t normally hold the knife so strangely, but it’s hard to take a photo of oneself holding a knife properly when you need your right hand to both operate the camera and grab the handle.

Voila! Remove the bottom! No need to save it — you won’t be stuffing it back in there. We’ll leave that to Fifty Shades, thanks very much.
Another fun fact: without the bottom piece, the finished jack-o-lantern is much lighter than it would have been had you cut off the top and then put it back on, which means your little minions can cart around their own pumpkins. Winning!

But wait! Isn’t it difficult to remove the seeds and stuff with the pointy stem still on?
Nope. Exhibit A:
Seeds in the strainer were being saved for snacking later.
After they’d been baked. Promise.

But wait! Isn’t it harder to carve the pumpkin with the pointy stem still on?
Nope. Exhibits B, C, D, and E:
Annie‘s not prematurely graying; her hair had been colored a la candy corn earlier in the day. Duh.

Which also explains why she chose to make a candy corn pumpkin.
Yes, she really carved the whole darn thing herself. Even the shading part. ‘Cause she rocks.

Ella originally wanted a snowflake, to go along with her ice witch theme, but she – mercifully – gave up on that and decided to go with a witch hat.

 Yep. she carved her own pumpkin, too. ‘Cause she also rocks.

So… After they’re carved, if your offspring can’t quite decide where they’d like to put the jack-o-lanterns and want to try out 482 different locations before you pull out every one of your hairs, your kids can just carry the pumpkins around all by themselves, holding onto the stem if it’s really strong?
Sure can. No candle-spillage worries necessary.

Don’t we just make a happy little threesome.

But what about the candle and stuff? Where do you put it if the pumpkin’s got a hole for a butt?
That’s the best part. You just set the candle down wherever you want it (or use the battery-operated kind if you’re afraid of fire), light it, and then set the pumpkin over it. No burned fingers necessary!

Bonus: you can carve as close to the top of the stem as you want, because you don’t have to avoid the cut-out top. And also, there’s no weirdo light emanating from the creases of the puzzle piece. Instead, moody Halloween lighting comes from the bottoms of the pumpkins, which is oh-so-cool.

Ta da.

So there you have it, world.
Carve your pumpkins from the bottom.
You’re welcome.

It might not solve the healthcare crisis or end strife in the Middle East, but it will make your Halloween oh so much more awesome.

Or at least save you a few crumbled-in, singed pumpkins.

Fifty Shades Meets Third Grade

Ella has always had a bit of a difficult time deciding what to be for Halloween. Whereas Annie can just jump onto the first idea that pops into her head, Ella prefers to take her time and weigh her options very, very carefully (not unlike when I took them to the dollar store). Over the summer, the girls talked about being a team, with Ella being a baker and Annie being the oven with a cake inside of it. Cute, cheap, and clever, until Ella decided that she would “feel stupid” walking around for the school’s Halloween parade wearing a chef’s hat.

Because it’s one thing to enjoy being a baker while begging for candy under the cover of darkness, but it’s quite another to actually have people see you in broad daylight. Such is your dilemma when you’re eight.

Next, Ella was determined to be Missy Franklin, the highly-decorated Olympic swimmer from the 2012 games. Having become fully immersed in the world of the swim team, she and one of her best friends thought it would be grand to strut around the school parade in their bathing suits and swim goggles and caps (with a weather-appropriate warm-up suit for cover, naturally), gold medals dangling from necks. I was all for it, considering that we already had the accoutrements, and I thought it was pretty cool that she wanted be a kick-ass female role model for Halloween. When Ella was informed, however, that she wouldn’t actually be trick-or-treating with said friend — and would have to go solo as Missy — she dismissed that idea, too.

Because it’s one thing to waltz around the school parking lot in your Sharks swim suit with your BFF at your side, but it’s quite another to actually wear lycra all by yourself on Halloween night. Such is your dilemma when you’re eight.

At last, Ella arrived on her (final) costume of choice: an ice witch.
Because of course.

What is an ice witch? SO GLAD YOU ASKED. Well, to begin with, it’s a witch – but not just any witch. See, Ella has been a witch of various iterations on at least two previous Halloweens, so she certainly didn’t want to just repeat that this year. Nor – naturally – could she incorporate any elements of her previous costumes into this year’s outfit.

Which makes sense, because an ice witch – or, at least, Ella’s vision of an ice witch – doesn’t just slap on any old black dress and pointy hat and call it a day. No, an ice witch’s dress has a black top (long-sleeved) and a jagged bottom. But not regular jagged — irregular jagged, with asymmetrical triangles pointed downward and then sticking out just so. It is also not just a single layer – no simply cutting a piece black fabric into triangular points – but is multi-tiered, with each triangle layered on top of another. But staggered. It must fall below the knee, but not all the way to her calf, and not just touching her knee. Below it. Slightly. The jagged points, below.

And then we’d attach icicles to it and it would magically transform itself into an ice witch costume. DUH.

We scoured every corner of the internet for such a dress, Googling every combination of words I could think of. Child’s witch costume. Long-sleeved black dress. Jagged witch costume. Layered witch dress. Raggedy black dress. Black pointy witch dress. Long-sleeved black witch dress with jagged tiered triangles at the bottom.


The internet was empty. THE ENTIRE INTERNET WAS EMPTY. Such a dress simply did not exist, and there was just no way that I could make one. To say that Ella took the news well would be sarcasm outright lying. Many tears were shed; many feet were stomped and many doors were slammed. Perhaps we could find a skirt and then pair it with a black top? What about a regular witch costume that we could jazz up? Maybe an ice witch just isn’t in the cards this year? No, no, NO. She swore angrily through her tears that I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand her vision. Why was this so complicated??

To be honest, I didn’t know. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t find the perfect dress for an ice witch, but I couldn’t. We searched for WEEKS – in and out of stores and online – and could find absolutely NOTHING that met the description. It simply didn’t exist. She was heartbroken, and although I was exhausted, I was pretty bummed to see her so sad.

And then, completely by happenstance while I was scrolling, blurry-eyed, through a page of Google images of possible (wrong) dresses, I spotted one that looked somewhat similar to Ella’s vision… so I clicked on it… And found myself in a world I didn’t even know existed.

The world of the Gothic Lolita dresses.

What? You’re unfamiliar with the Gothic Lolita culture? LET ME INTRODUCE YOU.

According to the Wiki page, “Lolita is a fashion subculture originating in Japan that is based on Victorian-era clothing…” It is not, so says Wiki, an attempt to dress sexually to attract older men (as the “Lolita” name might suggest), but really the opposite — a rebellion against over-sexualization, where the wearers revert back to more modest styles that make them feel empowered.

Like these Wikipedia folks.
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Um, right.

The “Gothic Lolita” style combines Lolita clothing with, you know, Goth (albeit generally without the pale-faced makeup and dark lips and eyes). Colloquially, it’s also called GothLoli. OBVIOUSLY.

There are even entire websites dedicated to teaching people how to properly be Gothic Lolitas. THIS IS A VERY REAL THING, y’all.

So, okay. I get that the entire point of this subculture is to dress more modestly, to cover oneself up quite dramatically, and to be “elegant” and “innocent” rather than “sexy.” And a lot of the dresses that appeared in my search did, indeed, support these claims.

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 Like this one. Full coverage, FTW!

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Or this Victorian delight
But don’t you think the sleeves would get dirty while you ate? Could you really ride a bike wearing this? Or update your Facebook status? Perhaps it’s a bit impractical… 

Others… not so much.

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“Devil inspired” indeed.
SO EXACTLY how I envisioned my third-grader in the Halloween parade.

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How do you say “Hit Me Baby, One More Time”
in Japanese?

I’m not sure that this is what Nabokov envisioned, but do they resemble nymphettes or what?!

Because I wasn’t particularly interested in the Gothic Lolita subculture as much as I was in simply finding a damn black dress with a jagged bottom, I wasn’t exactly poring over sites filled with historical references and images of exceptionally modestly-clad Japanese schoolgirls. Indeed, the American sites seem to focus as much on the literary Lolita references as the fashion Lolita references, filling my computer screen with images that eerily resembled the ones I discovered while trying to find out just exactly what was going on in Fifty Shades of Grey.

I had to erase my computer cache at least three times and also maybe say a few novenas. And I’m not even Catholic.

At long last, I found this dress on Amazon – one matched Ella’s description as closely as possible – and placed the order, texting an immediate apology and explanation to Nick (who, because we share an Amazon account — Prime, of course, holla! —  would receive confirmation of the order on his cell phone).

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So, okay, it doesn’t have long sleeves, but the skirt is oh-so-jagged.
Not pictured: the black fingerless lace gloves that came with the dress, like Madonna would have worn in her Gothic Lolita days.

Nick was really pleased to learn that such an “elegant” and “innocent” item would be arriving in the mail. For our eight year-old. Because nothing says “innocent” more than something that is CALLING ITSELF INNOCENT. And also has fingerless black lace gloves.

Nick was even more pleased to discover that the above dress was being shipped from China, and was not slated to arrive until November 7th. Which, for those of you playing along at home, is a full week after Halloween.

And so I decided that we’d return the original dress when it finally arrived, and quickly ordered a second Gothic Lolita dress, this time from California.

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Again, no long sleeves… but the jagged skirt i
s just perfectionno?

The second dress was able to be rush-shipped, and arrived last Thursday. The first dress – the one from China that was scheduled to arrive on November 7th – arrived on Friday.

Meaning that we are currently the owners of not one but TWO Gothic Lolita dresses.

Ella decided that she preferred the second dress – it fit her a little better (it’s amazing how corset strings can really cinch you in!), and because the lacy halter top is capable of being untied (“innocent”!!), it also is easy to take on and off. (No worries, though; she’s wearing a black shirt underneath, because an ice witch costume absolutely requires long black sleeves, COME ON, MOM. How I ever obtained a Masters Degree is beyond her.)

There were still more tears when it was discovered that the plastic icicles we’d ordered on Amazon were only about 1.5″ long, rather than the dagger-like 6″ Ella had envisioned… But when I finally found some longer icicles at Michaels and Ella realized that she could drape the shorter icicles from her earrings to create the illusion of dangly earrings (something she’s not allowed to wear yet), she was officially in ice witch heaven.

ice witch1
To the right is her ice wand and her ice witch hat, complete with icicle garland hanging off the brim. Annie commented that, because the hat contains a large square buckle, it looks a bit like something a Pilgrim would wear. Personally, I think that the dangling icicles give it a slight sombrero feel, but whatever. It’s art, people.

The (properly long) icicles were easily attached to the bottom of the “elegant” dress with some black thread, and Ella cut a length of the icicle garland and glued the ends together to create an icicle necklace. Those, along with the icy earrings, icicle hat, her wand, some sparkly black leggings, and a pair of black heels that I’d never normally allow her to wear out of the house (unless she was in a Nabakov production) have completed her look. She IS an ice witch, y’all. Just like she’d said.

ice witch2
Yes, the top of the dress stretches out nicely. It breathes beautifully. We do strive for comfort around here.

With the icicles sewn to the bottom of the dress, it looks a bit less Nymphette and a bit more Gothic Elf, which has helped Nick (and me) breathe a sigh of relief. The other dress is back in its packaging, awaiting a return trip to China.

In the meantime, I half expect every knock at the door to be from CPS. If the German Chancellor can be monitored, who knows who’s seen my computer searches.
November 1st cannot come soon enough.

Honesty is apparently not the best policy





Annie’s final soccer game is tomorrow. This is our family’s first foray into the world of soccer, and I’d been a bit ambivalent about being a Soccer Mom, but all in all, it’s been a really good experience.

annie soccer online
Photo brazenly stolen from my sister-in-law’s Facebook page.

Annie has loved everything about this season, from practices filled with being pirates and superheroes and princesses (the coaches came up with really fabulous games to get the girls interested in the drills) to having family come and watch during the games. Plus also, the snacks handed out after each Saturday game don’t hurt.

ech of 52 after annie's first game online
Post-game beer. We start ’em young around here.

Her coaches have been absolutely out of this world, handling squealing (I’d accidentally written “squalling” – which is also accurate) first graders with grace, humor, and endless patience. They were also clearly in tune with the personalities of giggling, distracted, hands-on six year-olds, because a few weeks into the season, we heard one of the coaches offer the following keep-it-real instructions: “Remember our One Rule? No picking up the other players off the ground!”

YES. This. Stop picking each other up. You do not need to profess your love for your teammate by ferrying her across the field. Please put her down.

Annie was similarly frank in her post-game interviews.

“You really think it was a good game?? I think maybe that they scored, like, ten more goals than we did.”
“Why didn’t I take off the jersey? Because I decided not to listen.”
“I like scoring, but I think I’m better at trying to stop the goals. It makes me REALLY REALLY mad when they try to score. Maybe I should work on that.”
“That other girl is SO GOOD. I think she could be in Abby Wambach’s family. I wish she were on my team. And I also kind of wish she’d just stop playing.”
“Whenever they ask for other players to come in, I want to do it every time because I just love playing so much! Except for the days when I’m tired. Or in a bad mood. Then I don’t want to play at all.”

It’s really a shame that this candidness disappears in the world of professional sports. Sure, from time to time, you’ll find a player or a coach who really tells it like it is, but by and large, they seem so scripted when they speak, it’s as though they’ve been rehearsing their soundbites in the locker rooms before the games. (Then again, maybe they have. And it’s also probably preferable to butt-grabbing.)

As I got ready this morning, Nick had the bedroom TV tuned to the hockey network, and I was again reminded of how utterly outrageous sports interviewing is. The interviews on game day are where the level of absurdity is taken to new heights, with the reporters asking the most asinine questions possible – questions that are practically rhetorical – and forcing the players to give the least-informative, most watered-down answers imaginable.

As a pitcher, tell me what went through your mind when that ball went over the wall and he scored that home run.
Sometimes, that happens. You just gotta pitch the game. I made a mistake, and he made me pay for it.

What do you need to do during the second half to turn this game around?
We have to play harder, stop their offense, and up our defense.

Here we are, with you coming this close to being the victors, if only you guys had been able to make that field goal. We really thought you had it! What happened?
We played hard and went at it to the end, and I guess it just went wide. They’re a great team with a great coach, and we nearly had ’em.

You’re up three goals to one. How do you think you can pull out the win in the third period?
We need to just keep at it and stop them from scoring, and I think we’ll have it.

You looked a little sloppy in the final minutes of the game. How did you feel when you missed that three-pointer?
You know, man, I was disappointed, but sometimes you make the shots and sometimes you miss. I just thank the Lord every day for the opportunity to play, and I figure next time that one’s mine.

It looks like they really outplayed you today. Did you expect that going in?
We knew that they were strong, and they’ve played really well on the road. But we’ve got a great group of guys here who give it their all each and every game, so we’re going to move forward and not let this stop us.

Really?? Is this the best you can come up with? Your entire job is to interview people, to extract answers, to give insight, and these are the questions you’re asking? The mid- and post-game interviews are more obtuse than political speeches. They could easily give presidential debates a run for their money.

Just once, I’d love to see the players give some first-grade soccer-style answers. Sure, the television censors would get paid overtime, but it would be worth it for sheer entertainment value.

As a pitcher, tell me what went through your mind when that ball went over the wall and he scored that home run.
I was like, awwww shit. That is not good. Just had to hang it out there over the plate like a douchebag, and he smashed the hell out of it. Between me an’ you, I think he’s been doin’ a little Lance Armstrong, but don’t quote me on that.

What do you need to do during the second half to turn this game around?
Basically, we have to stop sucking. If everyone here would just get their damn heads in the game and out of whatever the hell is going on off the field – I don’t care if you just had a baby or you’re thinking about those Roma gypsy kids or what – maybe we’d stand a chance. We need to PASS and we need to SCORE and we need a tight end whose fingers can actually hold onto the ball. 

Here we are, with you coming this close to being the victors, if only you guys had been able to make that field goal. We really thought you had it! What happened?
What happened? We lost. We missed. He tried to kick a field goal and he failed. What do you mean ‘what happened‘? What do you think happened? Were you watching when the ball didn’t go through the posts? Did you see how we didn’t score? That’s what happened.

You’re up three goals to one. How do you think you can pull out the win in the third period?
Well, it’s really pretty simple. Since the high scorer is the winner in hockey, if we continue to have more goals than they do, we’ll win. Obviously, what we’re doing so far is working, ’cause as you just said, we’re up by two goals. I think we can pull out the win by not letting them score more goals than we do. You writing this down?

You looked a little sloppy in the final minutes of the game. How did you feel when you missed that three-pointer?
How do you think I felt? Betrayed. Bewildered.
No, man. I felt like crap. You’re damn right I was sloppy. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, you know, and I’ve been running on Red Bull and Five Hour Energy all day, and I thought maybe the adrenaline would keep me in it till the end, but I crashed – I mean, like, DOG TIRED, man – and as soon as that ball went into the air, I knew. I am totally taking an Ambien tonight.

It looks like they really outplayed you today. Did you expect that going in?
Hell yes we expected it. They’ve dominated everyone they’ve encountered; I actually had a nightmare about them, a for-real nightmare where they were dressed like zombies and we’d all forgotten our pants and my third-grade gym teacher was there… Anyway, they’re 8-1 and we were 2-6 coming into today. We suck this year. I could really use a beer.

I understand that the players probably have it written in their contracts not to say stuff like this, but man, I wish we could hear it straight. Or, in the absence of that, I wish that the reporters would stop asking questions to which there are no good answers. What are they going to do to win? They’re going to try really hard. How do they feel after a loss? Like crap. THIS IS NOT COMPLICATED.

I guess if I want honesty, I’ll have to rely on Annie’s post-game reflections. So long as she can remember the One Rule and leave everyone on the ground, I’m sure her final game of the season will be a good one.

10.01 evening soccerEvening practices meant rainbow skies.
And plenty of time for gossiping with the other loner moms soccer moms. 

Throwback Thursday: It’s the time of the season

Fall is my favorite season. The color just explodes from the branches, and the heat -unnecessary for so many months – smells so very good coming out of the vents. (Side note: why do people resist turning on the heat or using their air conditioning?? What’s with the odd sense of pride behind It got down to 58 in the living room and Little Rodney had to put on three sweaters, but we still didn’t cave and turn on the heat! ? Admittedly I could be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that heat and air conditioning were invented to help make us comfortable. Same way I’ll turn on the A/C the instant I begin to sweat, once we get out of bed in the morning and wonder if we’ll make it to the bathroom without developing frostbite, it’s time to warm things up. That whole Spartan thing doesn’t really work for me.

Come to think of it, history kind of failed the Spartans, too. THERE IS NO SHAME IN TURNING ON THE HEAT, people. Go ahead. Press that button. It will all be okay.)octobersweetie

Fall means the return of fires after dinner and leaf piles big enough to dive in (even if you’re nearing forty. Not that I’d know). Starbucks takes mercy on us and brings back Pumpkin Spice lattes and the greatest potable creation of all time, the Salted Caramel Mocha.  I collect pumpkins the way some people collect stamps (do people still collect stamps? If not, this is a really poor metaphor; let’s just say that a dozen pumpkins are simply not enough), and fall allows me to indulge my collection. Entire Pinterest pages are devoted to possible carving creations, and the time searching for those pins is not wasted, my friends.


Apples always taste better when they’ve come straight from the orchard. Especially if they’re from the trees in our own yard and you’re one of our dogs; then, the apples are downright irresistible.

Fall brings Halloween, which means the start of decoration season. The girls now squeal with delight when the enormous bins are brought up from the basement. I swear, I did not ask them to do this; they simply love decorating as much as I do. Actually, it can get a little scary: they remember exactly where the jack-o-lantern candlesticks go, and if I even consider changing the location of the little “The Witch is In” placard, they will cut me.


The first true frosts are upon us (ours was last night), creating spiderwebs of icy delight in the mornings, and making it no longer necessary to don rain boots in order to protect gym sneakers on the walk to school.
first frost annie

We know that the chilly temperatures mean Thanksgiving will soon be upon us, and then December, the most highly anticipated month of them all.
annie driveway

Fall brings cinnamon and cider. It brings pumpkin donuts and the hint of snowflakes. It brings crafts and leaf collecting. It brings cocoa and cookies. It brings baseball playoffs and football weekends. It brings new gloves and hats and warming up the car in the mornings. It brings wonder. It brings promise. It brings hope.


It also brings a crapload of candy. THE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS ARE MINE.
All mine.

When Nick was out of town, I’d pass the evenings by interviewing the girls. And having a glass of wine. But not at the same time… usually.
Ella’s two years and ten months here. No, she wasn’t hoarse. Her voice was just that awesome.

The Great Divide*

I smell absolutely terrible – a combination of secondhand cigarette and pot smoke, un-showered neighbors, sweat, and any number of illicit drugs. It’s on my skin, in my hair, and seeped deep within my clothing; despite it being midnight, there’s no way I can go to bed without showering tonight.

In case you hadn’t guessed, Nick and I just returned home from a Phish show.

This may surprise you, what with my Disney lovin’ and the Harry Potter reading and the Looney Tunes birthday and my Starbucks addiction, given that the stereotypical Phan (yeah, I went there) wears clothing that may not have been washed in days (nor may they have bathed themselves), smokes enough illegal substances to fail every drug test for the next three years, and writhes about during the show as if speaking in tongues, but it’s true. Further, this was not my first time seeing Phish, nor was I coerced into attending. In fact, it wasn’t my fourth or even my tenth time seeing them, but somewhere between my dozenth and twentieth concert (I lost track along the way). To keep it real, I hadn’t seen them play since we last Denver twelve years ago, so that’s been a pretty long hiatus, but make no mistake about it: I love me some Phish.

I hadn’t even heard of Phish when I entered college in the fall of 1993, but my roommate’s brother was into them – and she, by extension – so she had brought a few of their CDs to our dorm. Additionally, among Nick’s a cappella group’s repertoire was Phish’s “Bouncing Around the Room”, so I, somewhat quietly, but firmly, became acquainted with the band.

As freshman year went on, my acquaintance progressed past the Oh yeah, they’re cool stage and into the OH MY GOD THIS IS THE GREATEST BAND EVER IN EXISTENCE stage. Their songs – with their kooky, often nonsensical lyrics and their long, occasional rambling jam sessions – just grabbed me in a way that no other band’s music had. And, like so many ever-impressionable teenagers, I decided that liking the band meant more than just listening: it meant living Phish. Breathing Phish. Becoming one with Phish.

phish tix1
One of the – if not the very – first times Phish played MSG.
The heavens opened and angels sang. Amen.

Undoubtedly to my parents’ utter confusion, once I came home that summer, I sought out shops that sold Phish-like paraphernalia (also called “Head Shops” – in those days, anyway – because of the large Grateful Dead-themed and associated material). I’d enter through the beaded curtain that substituted for a door and be hit with the near-visible wall of fragrant patchouli burning from at least half a dozen incense holders. I ran my fingers, awed, through the flowing tie-dyed skirts and gazed with rapture at the posters of peace signs and dancing bears. I was only too happy to slap down my babysitting money for several different kinds of incense burners (one of which was a tie-dyed turtle made of Fimo), even though I knew that burning the incense at home would give my parents a headache, so it would have to wait until I was back in my dorm room the following fall. (‘Cause there is nothing more fabulous than a ten-by-ten foot room overflowing with the scent of White Sage and Fire Earth.)

phish stuff
The tie-died incense turtle has long since disappeared, but I did find these in the basement. Why I never actually adhered them to anything is a mystery. Ah, youth.

I became the proud owner of scores of tie-died t-shirts, absurdly thick and hairy sweaters made from, like, wool from humanely-fed alpacas (which itched like hell but sure looked nice and earthy), and one pair of Tevas that were practically glued to my feet. (In fairness, the Tevas had come a few years earlier when I went to camp, because they made great canoe-tripping shoes, but they came into even heavier rotation after my Phish infatuation began).

us phish tevas
Nick joined me on my Teva-wearing devotion. What else do you wear with your button-down polo for the plane trip back home after visiting your girlfriend, from whom you’d been unbearably apart for at least three weeks?

The summer of ’94 also marked my introduction to toe rings (purchased at the aforementioned Head shop), a fad which I was told by numerous older folks I would soon grow tired of… but my toe ring remains on my foot to this day. That may be because, at this point, it would require the Jaws of Life to remove it, but whatever.

phish toe ring
Fall, 1994 foot selfie. LOOK AT ME, SO AHEAD OF THE GAME.
Taken to show off my friends’ and my recently acquired toe rings, but which also nicely shows my dramatic Teva tan. ANYTHING FOR THE MUSIC, people.

Right around that summer, Phish really began to make it big. They’d gained a growing (but highly devoted) following prior to then, but their mass popularity really took off around 1993. As such, there were no shortage of Phish shows for me to attend, and two of my best friends and I made the pilgrimage to our first one that July. I don’t remember much about it, except that I wore a tie dyed shirt and Tevas (duh), the show itself took place in some farm-like setting (we had to walk for what seemed like miles to get there) with an expansive lawn (I believe the venue is now defunct), that we thought we’d died and gone to heaven actually hearing Phish – live! – for the first time, and that we were greatly annoyed with the many sobriety checkpoints on the way home.

They were understandable, of course – more drugs were traded at that show than at a pharmaceutical convention – but that part just never appealed to me. Although I was Phish fan, I wasn’t ever into “the lifestyle.” No smoking. No getting high. I bathed regularly. I happily saw as many shows as I could, but I never “followed” the band, living out of my car or in a tent or maybe renting a cheap motel room, as many Phish groupies did.

phish tix

My adoration of the band was definitely Phish Light, in a Phanilow kind of way, but that was okay with me. I wasn’t into them because it was fun to get stoned, or because dreadlocks were a nice way of communing with the earth, but because of their music. I think many Phish fans are into the music – with the whole pseudo Deadhead scene appealing to them as well – because it speaks to them. It transcends. It is AWESOME, man. But Phish pulled out all of my geek music stops. I loved the contrapuntal solo lines that were traded amongst Trey (guitar) and Page (keyboards). Fishman’s (drums) intricate rhythms were fascinating, and Mike could turn the bass into a lead instrument, rather than a chord-keeper.

Each of them was deeply musically gifted – genuinely terrific at their instruments – and that virtuosity showed in their playing (even if their singing has always left something – okay, a lot – to be desired). “Jams” – which are what many fans find so “moving” – moved me, not because of the interesting wall of sound, but because the band members actually went somewhere. They’d find a musical idea and run with it, teasing with hints of melodies from familiar pop and classical songs, weaving through unrelated key changes before eventually arriving at the climax. I can absolutely understand why some people don’t like Phish – why their musical style just isn’t for them – but I will argue endlessly with anyone who attempts to assert that the members of Phish don’t have musical talent. And I will win.

Who really got me was Page on the keyboards. He brought a wealth of classical, jazz, blues, and bluegrass knowledge – and skill – to the table, and holy crap, as a pianist it is just awe-inspiring listening to him pull everything out of his bag of tricks. He’s damn good at what he does – easily rivaling pop pianists like Billy Joel or Elton John or Lady Gaga (yes, she’s a kick-ass piano player; check it out sometime) – and listening to him play was simply fantastic. I couldn’t wait for more.

One of Page’s solos from tonight’s show. He’s basically just being a goober and showing off, but he’s still stupendous.

My Phish-loving didn’t stop at the concerts, though. Even though I didn’t follow “the lifestyle,” the band and the music permeated my existence. I bought and traded entire shows – illegally obtained (in those days) – from music “dealers.” Looking back, I have absolutely no recollection of how I did so, given Al Gore hadn’t released the internet yet, but padded manilla envelopes containing cassettes (yes, cassettes) would routinely arrive in my college mailbox.

phish tapes
I got rid of many of them a long time ago, but these remain.
Can’t play them, because we don’t have a cassette player. But hey. Semantics.

I remember introducing the little girls I was nannying that summer – ages 5 and 10 – to some of the band’s more pop-friendly songs, a move that was slightly controversial because their father edited a classical CD magazine (I’d actually been hired in part because of my own – classical – music background, and a portion of my job involved helping out with the magazine’s distribution). Having gone with the family to several concerts at the Met and Lincoln Center, I knew that the little ones were not too familiar with other styles of music beyond classical and jazz… and I sought to remedy that by playing Phish in the car whenever we went places. Apparently, it made an impression on them, because I recently found these letters, sent to me by the girls:

phish letter from M2

phish letter from M
For the uninitiated, the circled words are actually lyrics to the Phish song “Contact.”

That summer show was the first of oodles, many of which occurred before we’d left college. We continued to attend shows after we moved to Colorado, but something had changed. The band just didn’t seem to be coming together anymore. Their “jams” were longer and more meandering, seemingly without an end or a point. The shows just weren’t as good as they’d been, and so once we moved back to New York in 2001, we took a break from Phish. We weren’t the only ones to notice this change; the band actually took a break from each other from 2004-2009, so we weren’t missing much anyway.

Even once they were back together, Nick and I didn’t have much of a desire to see them. For one thing, we’d already been there, done that, more than a dozen times. For another, quite frankly, we were worried that they wouldn’t sound very good, and shelling out big bucks to hear one of your favorite bands bite it just isn’t any fun. We also had, you know, kids, which made skipping off to a concert a bit more difficult.

But even more than that, we just didn’t know if we could do it. Although I still wear the toe ring, the itchy wool sweaters and tie-died shirts were donated to Goodwill long ago (so sorry, bargain shoppers). The Tevas eventually fell apart, and while I’ve got a bit of an obsession with scented candles, incense would just make me cough. And laugh. At myself. And how oh so very into Phish I had been all those many years ago.

When Nick learned that Phish would be coming to Rochester – for, we learned, the first time in fourteen years – we pondered whether or not we’d like to go. He’d heard that their playing was reminiscent of their earlier days, more musical, less wandering, more solid. That sounded promising, but still, we hesitated… Even if the performances were amazing, did we really want to brave the throngs of would-be hippies and Birkenstocks? Were we just too old, too stodgy, too boring to enjoy ourselves?
In the end, we decided, what the hell. Let’s pull off the Soccer Mom shirt and give it a whirl.

soccer mom
I mean that literally; my mother had sent me this and I’d worn it to Annie’s soccer game, removing it just prior to hopping in the car for the show.

As we approached the arena, it was clear that my Soccer Mom hesitations had been dead on. There were enough tie-dyed shirts to have stretched from here to the moon, and enough marijuana (in every conceivable form) to have kept the cops busy for weeks, had they decided to attempt to bust even a quarter of the people using it. (Then again, the cops were probably too busy busting up the people who left the used nitrous oxide tanks underneath the bridge by the arena. In the words of my children, I do believe those people made a very sad choice.)

Because of the large number of underage attendees – as well as those who just needed to start the show off already hammered – people were consuming copious quantities of alcohol before entering the arena, almost all of it in red Solo cups. (Did someone from the Solo company hand these out? Is this just how its done now? What happened to flasks and bottles of Boones?) Which, fine. If you want to have a drink – or five – before the show, have at it. In your red cup. But it was difficult to even enter the arena because of the number of discarded Solo cups and beer cans and iced tea bottles littering the sidewalk immediately outside of the doors. Right next to the (empty) garbage cans. Come on, people! I don’t care what beverages you’ve consumed, but surely your parents taught you how to properly throw away your garbage! Were you raised in a barn? Do you not see the irony of people who pride themselves on “saving the earth” and “communing with nature” dumping their trash all over the ground?

As we passed through “security” (said with heavy air quotes because pretty much anything except crossbows and AK-47s were allowed into this show), I actually debated apologizing to the woman examining my bag. I’m so sorry about all of the trash. And the smell. And the number of people who will pass out before the show is over. They were taught better, I’m sure! I’m a Soccer Mom! I know these things!

The lines for the beer easily trumped those at every other concert I’ve been to, clearly indicating that the majority of concert-goers were planning to drink their dinner alongside their ganja. As we made our way through the crowd, I actually got to giggling – out loud – when I remembered that our dinner had been gluten-free Autumn Chicken Pot Pie, eaten with Annie and Ella in the kitchen while we waited for the babysitter to come. Oh, Tevas. Were you really a lifetime ago?!

phish tix2
One of the last shows we saw. I definitely wore my Tevas.

The show had open seating, and the masses had crowded down to the floor of the arena to be as close to the band as possible, as well as enjoy the camaraderie of the undulating revelers. It was hot, it was packed wall-to-wall with people who hadn’t showered in a while, and the whole place was strewn with trash and garbage. Basically, it looked like the Super Dome after Katrina, except without the catastrophe that preceded it. Nick and I wanted to sit in a more secluded spot, as removed from the frenzied throngs as possible. In fact, the whole barefoot, stumbling, touchy-feely crowd was beginning to make me feel so out of place, I decided that I’d better take a couple of Xanax post haste so I could stop being such a judge-y Mc-judgerson and get on with enjoying the show. The irony of popping prescription drugs to better handle people high on illegal substances is not lost on me.

Given my love of Page, we opted to sit in the section right behind the keyboards, so I could see him play. To get there, however, meant crossing the entirety of the venue, and doing so was molasses slow. Everyone was moving as though weighted down or underwater, inching ever-so-forward, while simultaneously managing to touch every single person they passed – not out of some kind of sinister desire, but because they were together, man, and doesn’t everyone just need a hug? Considering that I practically slapped the hands of women who attempted to touch my pregnant belly, being stroked by stinky, teetering strangers was exactly how I’d hoped to spend part of my evening.

Perhaps it seems rude of me to keep mentioning the collective stank, but it really was hard to ignore. In addition to the ever-present fog of pot and cigarette smoke, many of the attendees seemed to have… not bathed… for quite awhile. And I’m not just saying this because of their unkempt hair, but rather because of the actual dirt on their clothing and faces. Plus, you know, they… smelled. As we crept across the arena to our seats, we spent most of the trek behind a tall, broad-chested gentleman with long, wavy hair, wearing a woven poncho emblazoned with the Grateful Dead dancing bears that smelled like it had been washed not with Tide but an actual vat of patchouli. Because of the extreme closeness of the concert-goers, more than once I found my nose literally pressed into his back, just below his cascading hair, and I began to have flashbacks of my tie-dyed Fimo turtle. Nick commented that at least this gentleman’s size shielded us from the more outgoing attendees. I felt like we were following Hagrid to his hut.

By the time we arrived in the seats behind the keyboards, the smell was threatening to overwhelm me – not from marijuana, but from cigarettes. I don’t remember when exactly it happened, but sometime after restaurants and bars banned smoking, I became all but completely intolerant to it, physically. The only time I’m really surrounded by cigarette smoke is on the rare occasions I’m in a casino, and every time – within minutes – my throat begins to ache and my voice comes out sounding not like me but a very hoarse frog. After croaking a few sentences to Nick, I realized I needed some (slightly cleaner) air, so I headed out to the concourse to grab something to eat and drink. The only alcoholic option was beer, and I might have joined the mobs and considered getting one had it not, you know, contained gluten. Since I was already fairly full – on Autumn Chicken Pot Pie, thank you very much – I decided to really live it up, and returned to our seats with Twizzlers, a bag of peanuts, a Diet Coke, and a water.


By the time I sat back down, the Xanax had kicked in, and I began to look at the electrified crowd through slightly different, less judgmental eyes. The early twenty-somethings, I could relate to. I remembered. I knew what it was like to live, sleep, and breathe this band, to buy clothes and bumper stickers that made you feel like you fit in, to attend a concert and feel yourself come alive. To be honest, I couldn’t quite relate to the forty-somethings who were still wearing their tie-dyes and Birkenstocks (Nick was particularly perplexed by these folks), but just because our lives have taken us from beer and incense to pot pie and babysitters doesn’t mean that anyone else is doing it wrong. Just different. And maybe a little smelly.

Right before the band came onstage, it dawned on me: we’d seen our first Phish shows before many of these kiddos were even born. (Insert actual incredulous gasp.) And, for some of them, this was their first show. Maybe they’d just gotten to know the band – maybe they’d just become aware of the Phish universe, to have found THE GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME – and they were practically vibrating with excitement at seeing their heroes in the flesh. That feeling? I’ll never forget it.

And then the band arrived.

10.22 phish live

So, okay, Page had balded significantly. Mike looked a little like Egon from Ghostbusters. Fishman had lost his crazy mop of hair but was still sporting a dress. Trey looked similar to himself from a dozen years ago, although his bangs blowing in the wind from the fan onstage gave him a goofy, beachy appearance. Older, yes. Kinda like Nick and me.

But all in all? The same riveting, talented, fan-freakin’-tastic band I’d fallen in love with back in 1994. It was awesome, man.

Trey reaching the apex on “Maze”. My favorite part? The guy behind me who yells with awed satisfaction when the song finally settles down again.

There were still a few things I found… confusing. Many of the lighting cues included the use of black light, and although I didn’t get the black light memo, many of the floor-crowd did, and were dressed in clothing that lit up when the black lights went on. A ridiculous number of glow sticks had been brought into the arena (or perhaps they’d been purchased there?) and, at seemingly random times, would be tossed wildly amongst the fans, or even toward the stage. The Soccer Mom in me was quite perturbed – but you could hurt the equipment! Who’s going to clean up all of these glow sticks when they’re all over the stage?! – but the band didn’t seem to care, so I let my annoyance go. In fact, as some glow stick-filled balloons bounced our way, I commented to Nick that we should bring them home because the girls would love them. He muttered something about “not knowing what’s touched those” and suggested that we create some glowing balloons for Halloween instead.

Okay, Soccer Dad. Sounds good.

Reminding us once more just how strongly we were fish out of water, we had to leave early to make it home in time to relieve the babysitter. On the way out, we noticed that the Rochester police were out in force, clearly bracing for the onslaught of over-indulged concert-goers who would be soon to exit. Ambulances lined the side streets, outnumbered only by taxis. Come to think of it, Nick and I didn’t even know that so many taxis existed in the entire city of Rochester. Whether they’d be hired by choice or at the strong “suggestion” of the police, we weren’t sure, but they must have known they’d have a guaranteed fare after this show.

In the end, I was damn glad we went. Yes, I felt older and stodgier than I had in ages, but I was also reminded of how much I like our lives now. I wouldn’t go back to my Tevas and Berkenstocks for anything; plus, I have the toe ring, in case I need a reminder. And Phish was everything I’d hoped they’d be; I remembered exactly why I’d fallen for them in the first place. It was truly a privilege to hear them again.

On the way out, I couldn’t resist buying a t-shirt, and was quite pleased to discover they had a cute purple one in a women’s cut.


After I got it home, it dawned on me that the girls will definitely recognize it, because I bought a shirt very much like it back in 1994.

us phish 1994

That shirt has held up remarkably well, and is still being worn. Weekly, in fact. Because it’s Annie’s school art smock.

My nineteen year-old, tie-dye-wearing self would be so proud.

*Yes, the title is taken from the lyrics from the Phish song “Wedge”.
And also, this was written last night, but wasn’t published today, in the name of honesty, amen.

An apple a day belongs in the disposal

When Annie came rushing downstairs last Friday morning, panic in her voice, I knew immediately what had happened. “Mama! Mama! You’ve got to come quick! This is bad, really bad!”

I accompanied her upstairs and my fears were confirmed: the toilet was clogged and darn near close to overflowing. This might not seem like the sort of thing that one routinely fears when her six year-old comes running down the stairs, and that’s true, but I had two very important reasons for my suspicions: first, Annie had been singing in the bathroom for an awfully long time prior to her frantic outburst, and second, the night before, Ella had flushed an apple down the toilet.

Child spending twenty minutes on the john + large piece of fruit = clog. Let me tell you, this is the very most awesome way to start a four-day weekend.

I grabbed the plunger and got busy (“What are you doing THAT for, Mom??”), narrowly managing to avoid the flood, but not successfully removing the entire clog. At first, Annie was all about helping, until she realized that there was, like, brown stuff floating all over the place. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her move so fast.

Nick wanted me to call a plumber immediately, but I resisted. For one, I’m not a huge fan of spending money unless it’s necessary, or unless it’s on Pumpkin Spice Lattes — which are, in fact, necessary, so I rest my case. For another, although I don’t look it, I can actually be fairly handy – so long as I’ve got my buddy Google around – and have managed to repair several household items that have otherwise “broken” (the disposal, the washing machine), so I figured I could remedy the situation fairly quickly.

After all, it was just an apple. Biodegradable. Organic. Surely this was do-able.

I plunged and I snaked. I poured more dish detergent down the toilet than I’ve used on our dishes in the past six months. I carried pans of hot water up and down the stairs like I was part of a Civil War hospital reenactment. I added baking soda and vinegar and waited overnight for the organic, biodegradable apple to break down enough for it to be flushed away. I plunged some more.

The kids had been instructed not to use the toilet while I was “fixing” it, and on the bright side, between the detergent and the baking soda and the snaking, the loo had never been cleaner. On the dark side, four days later, it was still clogged. On Tuesday, I called the plumber.

He arrived several hours later and listened to my tale of woe with a chuckle, then proceeded to feed his enormous snake through the pipe (OMG, that sounds like the worst, least kinky metaphor ever) while he jauntily told me about some of the other crazy items he’d been called to fish out of toilets. Matchbox cars. A mouse trap with a mouse inside. A water bottle. Lids to fruit cups, which acted as perfect drain seals.

After a good 10 minutes of snaking and flushing, there was some improvement, but the toilet still wasn’t functioning properly. The plumber seemed perplexed; his auger was easily tunneling through the pipe, and was merrily churning away, but each time he retracted it, there was no evidence of a clog. More perplexing, he flushed bowlful after bowlful of toilet paper down (a wise move, given that all four of us have the propensity to really use the toilet, if you know what I mean), hoping to fully plug things up so he could locate the clog… but each time the paper would get sucked away.

On the one hand, progress had been made and toilet could be used again. On the other hand, there remained a burbling sound as the bowl refilled, and the water level wouldn’t quite return to normal, indicating that a clog likely still existed. Perhaps it could clear out on its own… or perhaps it would back up the next time one of us spent twenty minutes singing to ourselves while on the commode. (This happens more often than you might think.)

Hence, we found ourselves at the big question: should we call it a day and hope that things worked out for the best, or should the plumber pull the toilet from its foundation to check the pipe for a clog? (‘Cause if the toilet was pulled and nothing was in there, wouldn’t that have been a waste of time and money?! Being a homeowner rocks.)

And we have a winner!

Side note: your bathroom suddenly looks very strange when your toilet is removed and placed on its back.
Second side note: it was washing day, so the bathroom was entirely devoid of any towels or bath mats, making it look like some odd kind of showroom. And also leaving us with no place to wipe our wet hands. Fantastic.

It took him only a moment before he called me around to take a look. And there, sitting right at the base of the pipe, was the apple – or most of it, anyway – looking just like it had fallen off the tree, except for the perfectly round, auger-shaped hole in its side. Less than five minutes later, the toilet was back in place (minus the apple), and the plumber was on his way. His bill will be on its way presently, too, I assume.

Most expensive apple ever.

You may have noticed that, despite Ella’s flushing the apple down the can, I didn’t say that I was frustrated with her. That’s because I wasn’t upset with her. (I know. I’m amazing with narratives.)

Oh, I was upset, all right… but not with Ella. She had only been acting on someone else’s instructions when she flushed the apple down the toilet. More specifically, my instructions.

See, she’d come home from swimming and had been ravenous (having eaten her dinner several hours earlier and then kicked and paddled and dived for an hour), so I’d given her an apple. She ate about a quarter of it before realizing that she was more tired than hungry, and proceeded to deposit it in my bedroom trashcan. I knew for sure I didn’t want an apple hanging out in my waste basket (aside from it being a terrific dog lure, it would also attract fruit flies, which are maybe #1 on my list of Things That I Abhor, right next to packing peanuts and superfine glitter), but I also knew that Ella wouldn’t want to trudge back downstairs and throw it away in the kitchen.

Then I remembered something Nick had told me ages ago as I’d walked past the bathroom to throw out a half-eaten bowl of soup: I could just flush it down the toilet. When I’d balked, he assured me that it was no different than the rest of the crap (hahaha) that went down the potty on a regular basis. Fair enough.

And so I made the highly logical connection between a liquid bowl of soup and a completely solid apple, and told Ella to please remove the fruit from the garbage and flush it down the toilet. She obliged. Let’s hear it for following directions!

When I explained all of this to the plumber, I might have maybe kinda sorta left out that part.

When I explained all of this to Nick, however, I might have kinda maybe sorta told him the truth. And I might maybe kinda sorta never live it down.

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus got really, really lost

Last week, while Ella was at swimming and Nick was out of town, I sat down with Annie and had her show me her school papers from the day. We always do this, but it’s rare that she gets such one-on-one time; usually, she’s vying with her sister for attention or she’s munching on a snack or a friend has come over to play.

Because of the Columbus Day holiday, the kids had four days off of school, and Annie had brought home a plethora of Columbus-related materials. Thinking back on my own Columbus education, I remember, of course, learning the ever-famous couplet, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!” I’m also certain that we were taught that Columbus really did “discover” America, and that the people he encountered were savage Indian types (I’m not even sure that the term “Native Americans” existed back then – at least, not in my school books).

I was interested to see if Annie was learning the same, um, skewed version of history that I’d been taught, or if things had changed in the last thirty-plus years, so I asked her a few questions – who Columbus was, what he was doing, you know, the basics. When she said, “He sailed across the ocean and found a new place. Well… new to him, anyway…” I knew that the narrative had shifted. Let’s hear it for history!

It soon became clear, however, that although she had the outline correct, she didn’t really understand where Columbus had gone on his journey. To her delight, I got out the globe, and we pored over it for the next thirty minutes.

Columbus began here, in Spain, and he wanted to go here, to India.

“But I thought Columbus was from Italy. Like Buddy on Cake Boss.”columbus globe1

He was. But he was sailing for Queen Isabella from Spain. He was working for her.

“Like Daddy works for his boss and you work for us?”

Uh, Mama is the boss of this here house, but sure. Isabella was his boss. So anyway, he was trying to get to India, right?

“Right. Why did he want to go to India again?”

Well, there were things that the people in Europe wanted that could only be found in places like India. Spices and stuff like that.

“They wanted to go to India for spices? Why couldn’t they just go to Wegmans?”

‘Cause Wegmans wasn’t invented yet. There weren’t even cars. Spices had to travel by foot, or by horse, or by boat.

“But the trip by boat was really, reeeeeally long. Like, longer than it takes to get to Grandma’s or even Disney World.”

columbus globe2

Exactly. All the way around Africa. See how far it is?

“WOW. That would take at least ten or eight hours.”

At least. But do you feel these things?

columbus globe3

“It’s all bumpy!”

Right. Why do you suppose that is?

“Because our globe is broken?”

Um, nope.

“Because the world is bumpy?”

Closer. They’re actually mountains.


Yep. Big ones. Huge.

“How big?”

Bigger than the ones near Denver.

“OH MY GOSH. THAT’S SO HIGH. I couldn’t even climb them.”

Not without a lot of help. Or Sherpas. They’re called the Himalayas. Anyway… So the mountains weren’t exactly easy to go across, especially not carrying bags of spices.

“They wanted BAGS of spices? Not just little shakers, but BAGS?”

They did. They had a spice problem. But it was really tough to bring the spices across the mountains. There were also these people, the Turks, who didn’t want people like Columbus crossing their land…



“What, is their country TURKEY or something?”

Actually, it is…


Awesome. An entire country is now funny. Moving on… Columbus wanted to find a new way to India.

columbus globe4

“Oh, right! He wanted to sail across the ocean. He thought it would be faster.”

You’ve got it! And do you know what’s really crazy? Some people thought he might not make it, because they thought the world was flat.

“Flat? What do you mean, the world was flat?”

I mean that some people didn’t realize that the earth was round. They thought it was flat… like a book. Like a flat map.


It is now, but remember, people hadn’t traveled very far back then. No internet… no Google… no airplanes…

“But they thought it was FLAT???”

Some folks did. And they were afraid that Columbus would fall off the edge of the earth and die.


I’m right here. You don’t need to shout.

“Sorry. But that’s just crazy! At least Columbus was smart enough to know that he wouldn’t fall off.”

He was, that’s true. But maybe he made a big mistake, too.

“He did? Like what?”

Well, remember where he was trying to reach? India, right? So he goes out sailing, headed off to where he thinks India is… and he lands. Here.

columbus globe5

“That’s nowhere NEAR India!”

I know! But he thought he’d made it all the way to India.


Again, I’m right here.


Columbus didn’t even know that all of this land existed, though, so he thought he WAS in India. It was warm, like India. There were different kinds of foods, like India. And there were brown-skinned people, like in India, so he thought he’d landed in India.

“That is one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard.”

And since he thought he was in India, what did he call the people he met here?



“So, wait. We call the people who were here first Indians because Columbus got lost and got it wrong?”

Well, when you put it that way…

“So basically we get a day off of school because this guy sailed his boat to the wrong place and made a huge mistake.”

That’s one way of looking at it.

“COOL!” with daddy
Hi, Daddy! Mommy and I are talking about Columbus. He got it ALL wrong!

Ready to Lead, Ready to Follow, Never Quit… Especially while Ghosting

I am writing this from the couch. With a glass of wine. While sitting on an ice pack. After having already taken two Tylenol. All because we tried to covertly spread a little joy to the neighborhood.

Note to self: we need more ice packs.

You see, it all began in October 2007, only a few months after we moved here. We’d come from a perfectly nice area about an hour outside of New York City, just a stone’s throw from the Metro North line, a lovely spot, really, except we didn’t have a neighborhood, per se. We had neighbors, and they were friendly and welcoming, but only a few houses nearby had young families. There were almost never any children ringing doorbells, nor roaming the sidewalks, nor leaving their scooters for you to trip over on the sidewalk, nor shouting joyfully from their backyards – not because it was a bad place, but because there just weren’t many young families. We had no idea what a true “neighborhood” felt like.

And then we moved here.

When we first met the neighbors in our cul-de-sac, we were told three things: that there was an annual block party coming up in a month, that our neighbors across the circle put on a really impressive Christmas display (with lights so bright, the next-door neighbors’ son actually switched bedrooms during the holiday season), and that, because our front yard has a slight upward slope to it, our driveway was home plate. Which meant that, not only were there boatloads of kids near the area, they were actually using our yard to play baseball. ROCK. ON.

When the doorbell rang that fateful October evening, I was a bit perplexed (despite living in a super kid-friendly neighborhood, we weren’t exactly in the habit of receiving after-dinner guests), but didn’t think much of it. When I opened the door to discover no one there, nor any hooligans cackling in the distance, I was officially stymied (ding dong ditch is infinitely funnier when you have to run, giggling, for your lives, y’all). Then, I noticed the two little plastic pumpkins on the doormat – each filled with Halloween trinkets that were perfect for toddler Ella and baby Annie – along with a drawing of a ghost and a note.

We’d officially been Ghosted.

You bet your sweet patootie we put that ghost on our door.

Okay. I know that for some of you – many of you? – this would be akin to having the mark of the plague drawn on your door. Having to actually participate in neighborhood tomfoolery – and within a specific time frame, no less! Plus spending money! And going all covert-op-crazy! – is asking waaaaay too much. Black Death would officially have descended.

But for me? Being Ghosted felt like having someone drop off steaming mugs of Starbucks on my doorstep, alongside puppies and unicorns, and then asking me which I’d like more right now, the massage or the pedicure. Given by Johnny Depp.

In other words, being Ghosted was like meeting Jesus (or what I imagine that would be like), and I could not wait to share the good news. As I drove to Target the next day (for the Halloween loot! The Ghosting loot!! Stickers and candy and pencils, oh my!), I noticed – for the first time – just how many houses in our neighboring streets had Phantom Ghosts attached to their doors. The Ghosting had spread so far and wide, it was actually difficult to find a house full of children who had yet to hear the good news. Happiness was being passed out around the neighborhood, one secret mission at a time. A little Halloween pay it forward.

And to think we’d moved here without me even having seen the house (true story). Hot damn, how we lucked out! I was giddy.

As the next few Halloweens passed and the girls grew older, they began to anticipate the Phantom Ghost’s arrival with ever-increasing glee. I began to gather goodies preemptively so that we could sneak about the neighborhood as soon as the buck had been passed our way. Each Ghosting night was filled with a mixture of wicked delight and abject terror, lest our honorees spy us dropping off the bounty. On one such occasion, as we crouched behind a large pine tree after ringing the bell and running like heck, the neighbors’ large and extremely exuberant Golden Retriever slipped out of the door as soon as they’d opened it. Not only can bees and dogs smell fear, they can also smell cowering Ghosters, and I had to swiftly pick up both Annie and Ella and kick at the panting, jubilant hound who was all too happy to tell his owners that here they are! I’ve found them! before I limped with the girls back to the car. Another year, Annie neglected to inform me that she had to use the bathroom before we left, and between her Ghosting anxiety and her desire to not miss a minute of the action, she opted to pee right on her carseat. Ah, well. That’s why they invented washing machines. There was only one more house, anyway. The Ghost must go on.

The Phantom Ghost graced our doorstep for four delicious years… until two years ago, mere days before Halloween, when we realized that he’d yet to appear. Cruising the neighborhood, I discovered that no houses bore the tell-tale Ghost on their doors, and it finally became clear: whoever had been the Ghost starter had opted out. Whether they moved away or simply outgrew the antics (or got tired of buying random crap from the Target dollar bins), I don’t know, but the end result was the same: the Phantom Ghost didn’t show.


And so I made the only sensible move I could: I Ghosted us. Having saved the little poem from previous years (okay, let’s be honest: I’d long ago re-typed it, because there were a couple of small grammatical errors in the original), it was easy enough to drop trinkets off at our door and feign ignorance when the girls heard the doorbell. From there, we went Ghosting as usual, and as the Phantoms appeared throughout the neighborhood. And children’s choirs sang and Johnny Depp smiled and all was well with the world.

Neighborhood togetherness, one Halloween pencil at a time.

Last year, rather than wait until it was nearly Halloween to see if the original Phantom Ghost starters would get the ball rolling, I decided to take it upon myself to be the official Ghosting initiator. The girls were all too keen to oblige, and we took off through the blackened streets, approaching each house like the SEALS from Zero Dark Thirty.

See, Ghosting is not for the faint of heart. First, you have to sneak up to the doorstep like a ninja, careful not to alert the occupants of your approach. Secondly, you have to drop off the bags with the agility of a Stealth Bomber, making sure not to make a sound and set a dog barking before you’ve had a chance to make your escape. Third, you have to ring the doorbell… and wait to be sure it’s actually gone off (because, unless you’re a traveling salesman or selling popcorn or on your Mission trip, you might be unaware that loads of people have for-show-only doorbells). If the doorbell fails to emit any sound, you then have to summon your courage and knock on the door hard enough to let them know you’re there – which basically means banging with enough force to karate-chop a block of wood – but with lightning speed, so you can zip out of there before anyone actually comes to the door. And finally, you have to make your getaway, running to the pre-determined safe zone with speeds usually reserved for Usain Bolt or people being chased by knife-weilding murderers.

Like I said: Navy SEALS. Just like that.

Ella and Annie had chosen tonight to start the annual Ghosting ritual, but they’d decided to change one detail: instead of driving from house to house, we’d bike around the neighborhood. I was game because, while faster, driving hadn’t exactly worked in our favor. A) We had to drive with the lights off, so as not to draw attention to ourselves, B) driving without lights is a bit like driving blindfolded [not that I’d know], C) we had to turn off the inside car lights so as not to give ourselves away when we opened the doors and climbed inside, which always resulted in frantic, hissed admonishments that no one could find their seat belts, and D) it was kind of a losing effort anyway because our neighbors recognized our car. Plus also, see above, E) Annie peeing in her carseat. So we happily strapped head-lamps to the handlebars and were on our way.

Stealth. Silent. Deadly.

Except… turns out, I must have skimped on the SEAL training this year. Without a car to hide behind, we chose to park the bikes a few houses down the street from our targets and find another spot to conceal us. Most of the time, our bikes were the chosen spot, with us figuring that no one would be on the lookout for marauding hooligans on bikes at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday. At one house, however, I failed to make it to the bikes on time – the door had opened and the owners were looking out – so the only possible solution was to throw myself to the ground. And by “throw myself to the ground,” I mean instantly and violently throw my entire body flat onto the ground. Like avoiding a land mine. Or sliding into third. ‘Cept that there was no third, there was only ground, and I’ve still got dirt on my palms three hours later.

The girls found this particularly hilarious. I hope they find it equally hilarious when I short-sheet their beds tomorrow.

Also, there’s the running. Evading detection requires fleeing like banshees from the doorsteps to the safe spot, and then collapsing in a heaving, out-of-breath heap until the door has been safely closed again. Because the bikes were parked a considerable distance from our intended recipients, tonight’s missions required a ridiculous amount of not only running, but flat-out sprinting.

There’s a reason I was terrible at track in high school, and it wasn’t just because the shorts gave me a wedgie. I don’t sprint. Or, at least, I shouldn’t sprint… because this body just isn’t meant to move like that. Not even to avoid being spotted by the enemy.

Bike helmets make awesome disguises.

Once we’d Ghosted our final house, I managed to ride home, but the moment I stepped off the bike, I knew that the sprinting had been a terrible mistake. (Okay, I already knew that sprinting had been a terrible mistake, but the dismount confirmed it. The throwing myself to the ground probably didn’t help, either.) I have pulled not one but both hamstrings, tweaked something in my lower back, and can’t feel my legs from my knees up.

Was it worth it? You bet your (sore, sprained, aching) butt, it was. WE WILL NEVER QUIT* IN SPREADING HALLOWEEN JOY, PEOPLE. Pay it forward. RIGHT NOW.

The Tylenol seems to be doing some good; the wine, even more good. The ice pack has made me numb, but I already couldn’t feel anything, so the verdict’s out on that one. Tomorrow, I’m going to be paying a visit to my chiropractor to see if there’s anything he can do about this little sprinting mishap of mine.

Good thing the reason for my visit isn’t completely and utterly embarrassing or anything.

I’ll just tell him it was a combat injury. But I’ll keep it vague; when you’ve got a covert op going on, it’s better not to share too many details.

* for the record, I think SEALS are some of the most awesome, bad-ass, incredible, awe-inspiring, strong, and inspiring individuals, anywhere, ever. I am profoundly grateful for all they do for our country, and could not admire them more. Not even if they looked like Johnny Depp.

Wingardium LeviOsa (not LevioSA)

When Ella finished the first Harry Potter book, she swore she was done with the series. As a parent who is always spot-on with my analyses of my children’s decisions, I agreed that she was, indeed, finished for a while, having been thoroughly terrified by the ending of The Sorcerer’s Stone. (And, really, with the bad guy appearing as a tiny gremlin on the back of someone’s head, who could blame her?)

Which meant that, naturally, she’d come home the next day halfway through the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which she’d checked out from her school’s library. Because, apparently, she is every bit as hooked on Harry and the gang as Nick and I are. And also, apparently, because the two copies of the book we we have at home aren’t enough.

Whereas we’d read much of the first book together at home, she decided that it was somehow easier and less scary to read by herself at school. I was a bit dubious; book two is longer than the first, containing more complex sentence structures, nuances, and themes, and although Ella slogged through each chapter with little difficulty, I wasn’t sure how much she was truly understanding.

So I would occasionally quiz her (casually, you know, like we were just having normal Harry Potter conversation, ’cause isn’t that how everyone spends their evenings?) to see if she actually comprehended the plot. What is the Whomping Willow? Who’s been Petrified lately? Why do they care what’s in the Chamber of Secrets? Each time, her answers were totally good, so I finally just let it go, satisfied that she was well and truly getting it, and if not, she could always go back and re-read the book again. Or five times again. *ahem*

Although she understood the storyline just fine, her pronunciation of names and places was… interesting. (I ignored any mispronunciation of spells and magic words, because even I admit that I’m not 100% sure if Animagus has a soft or hard G. And yes, if you’re a Potter-file, you’ll know that Animagi don’t appear until the third book. It was just the first example off the top of my head. I am shamed.)

For one, she was completely bewildered when I read the chapter about the Heir of Slytherin. “Why do you keep saying AIR, Mommy? I don’t even know what that means!” Because, naturally, she had thought Hermione and the crew were researching the HAIR of Slytherin. Understandable. And quite damn funny.

Ginny Weasley was briefly “Guinea” Weasley, until Ella agreed that “Jinny” just sounded better. Poor house-elf Dobby, however, was so ingrained in Ella’s head as DOOBY that right until the final chapter, I could not convince her to change it.

As I read the last few pages aloud (she likes to read everything but the “scary stuff” by herself), I kept pronouncing Dobby’s name correctly, and Ella would admonish me, then I’d read it the “right” way again, and she’d grow agitated. As I sighed at her impertinence, she paused, then said, “You know, Mom, you’re not so perfect with this yourself.”

Um, say what?

Before I could proclaim my Harry Potter genius, she continued, “You told me that you read this book to your fifth grade class, right?” 

True, but…

“And you’d never seen the name Hermione before…”

Oh crap.

“… so you spent the ENTIRE BOOK calling her HERMY-OWN instead of HER-MY-OH-NEE.”


In my defense, this was back in 1999, well before the movies had come out. The internet was in its younger days and it never occurred to me to look for other Harry Potter fans or fan sites – I don’t know if any even existed – and most of my adult friends hadn’t read the book yet.

ALSO IN MY DEFENSE I cannot be the only person to have thought this because does everyone not remember how, in The Goblet of Fire, Hermione goes to the Yule Ball with Viktor and there is this exchange:

Hermione was now teaching Krum to say her name properly; he kept calling her “Hermy-own.”

“Her-my-oh-nee,” she said slowly and clearly.


“Close enough,” she said…

And, okay, yes, I’m a typical American and was unfamiliar with the Anglophilian (I made up, go with it) moniker Hermione… so I just pronounced it how it looked. In front of the entire fifth grade class. To whom I was supposed to be teaching English and Language Arts. For the entire book, I called her Hermy-own. And since that was the last time we ever discussed Harry Potter, I never had the chance to correct myself. Heck, they may still be calling her Hermy-own today.

To my former Crowne Pointe kiddos: reeeeeally sorry ’bout that.

So, touché, kid. Dooby it is. But when you meet Fleur Delacour, you’re on your own.