Halloween Bingo! Drink!

Halloween has changed since I was growing up. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, you had two choices for your costume: something that you put together quickly at home (likely with the help of your mom) or something that you picked up at the drug store on the way home from the bank, after you got the lollipop which you ate while sprawled completely across the backseat of the paneled station wagon (unless you were in the “way back” and were just sliding around as your mom took the turns extra-wide to give you more momentum with which to smack, giggling, into the sides of the car).

If it was the former, it likely involved a paper bag, some string, and some makeup – and maybe your mom even broke out the sewing machine. If it was the latter, it a) had a full-face mask that smelled terrible and attached with a stretchy string behind your head with eye slits barely wide enough to see out of that made you look like super creepy even if you were something totally benign like Holly Hobby, and b) had a “costume” that was made out of a single enormous piece of weirdly flame-retardant plastic (you can still smell that plastic, right?) and slipped over your entire body and also tied in the back.

Your costume options were, obviously, wide open, but tended to fall into one of three categories: something popular/current (Strawberry Shortcake, Smurf, G.I. Joe), something timeless/classic (firefighter, cop, cowboy, doctor/nurse, ghost, vampire), or something just a bit outside of the mainstream (mailbox – that would be my brother, Christmas tree – that would be me; these were homemade, of course… by our mom…). You took your Unicef box with you and a plastic bag or a pillowcase and, by God, you trick-or-treated — up and down streets, ringing the doorbells, gathering the candy, with your parent standing back and you doing the legwork, groaning whenever someone gave you an apple or a pencil and complaining that the change in your Unicef box was too heavy.

And when you got home, you ate that candy! You sorted it and counted it and, except for that year or two when there was some odd news story about something being stuck into the candy (pins? I honestly don’t remember) so your dad made you float the candy in a bowl of water (to see if there were any telltale holes from pin insertion, I guess), you ate it. You took your glow-sticks and your flashlights and your parents gave you the talk about not being a moron and running in front of cars. You learned how properly say “Trick or treat!” and “Thank you!” and how to avoid roving bands of teenagers who were out with silly string and eggs. It was wild, but man, it was fun.

These days, it’s a much more managed affair, from the costumes to the trick-or-treating to the candy consumption. Our house is far from immune. The girls begin looking for their costumes months in advance, scouring catalogs and the internet. Once they’ve decided, they then scour the internet for ideas on how to make their costumes even more fabulous. We shop in person and order things online. I have an entire Pinterest page devoted to Halloween and happily spent an hour last night making the girls’ Halloween-themed lunches (I know, it’s insane, but it made me smile). It’s become a freakin’ off-Broadway production.

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Practicing for Annie’s Medusa and Ella’s Bellatrix.

When it’s time to trick-or-treat, children are accompanied by parents, often right at their sides (instead of, say, at the base of the driveway). We are warned to be vigilant and extra-cautious and to look out for predators (even though, statistically, kids are safer on Halloween; they’re also safe in general, but that’s another story for another time…). Kids grab candy and race off without a thank-you, and then that candy is examined and categorized and rationed. I know that, at my house, the girls are not allowed to have a free-for-all; they eat their couple of pieces of candy, save some for the coming weeks to be eaten as dessert, and either donate the rest to needy kids (there’s a candy drive at their school) or save it to decorate our Christmas gingerbread houses.

Halloween 2014 is WORK, y’all.

Thankfully, in our neighborhood, the actual trick-or-treating really does feel like it did when I was a kid. As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a wonderfully kid-friendly area with parents who do not hover, with neighbors who trust one another, with kids who play outside unattended and run gleefully from yard to yard. This means that, on Halloween night, once kids hit middle school (or so), they’re on their own, walking in groups from house to house – and being polite about it. Parents do accompany their younger children, but they hang back in packs, allowing the kiddos to do the trick-or-treating.

Oh. And they drink.

Sometimes, it’s coffee. Tonight, it may be hot cider or hot chocolate because gross, cold, rainy weather is predicted (NOT COOL, MOTHER NATURE). But more often than not, the parents are walking around with flasks or spiked cider or beers in their hands and more in their pockets (one in each jacket front pocket, to be precise). It makes for a far more festive Halloween. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT.

Last year, for the first time, I was the one to stay behind and hand out the candy. I’d grown a bit tired of following the girls around; it had become rather the same each year, and frankly, a bit boring, so I thought I’d give candy passing-out a try. We do our garage up each year for Halloween and hand out donuts, cider, etc. (and we offer hard liquor for adults; this year, we’re creating a cider sangria – do come by) so it was really a lot of fun to just kick back in the cozy warmth and watch as the kids came by. Still, there were times when, frankly I got bored… when there weren’t any trick-or-treaters for a stretch, when the same costumes came by again and again, when I got a little tired of saying, “Take two!”

Surely there has to be a way to spice this up.

And so, to that end, I have created Halloween Bingo! Because Halloween is a family affair, it is meant as a family-friendly game; you need not drink alcohol in order to play it, and your kids are welcome to join in. You can also play it whether you’re the parent taking the kids around or the one doling out the goods. Halloween Bingo is for everybody!
(Side note: the items in Halloween Bingo aren’t necessarily cringe-worthy or bad – we’ve got some going on at our own house! They’re simply things you might see this year.)

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(Click on it to see it bigger and clearer.)

If you are drinking, there are some additional rules* to be followed:

  • Drink every time you see someone dressed as Elsa. (I know, “Let it Go” and the long white hair and the blue dress and all, but really, Anna is the much more fun sister. Why are there not more Annas??)
  • Drink every time you hear another parent say, “Don’t forget to say ‘Thank you!'”
    Drink twice if that parent is you.
  • Drink every time you hear someone say, “What are you dressed as this year?”

* Most important drinking rule: don’t be an idiot. Drink responsibly, especially when costumed children are running around.

Beyond that, it’s just straight up Bingo.

Some basics: As always, Bingo is five in a row. If you get Bingo, you need to call it out loudly – “BINGO, SUCKERS!!” – and the other players owe you a piece of candy. Once someone has Bingo, continued playing is encouraged; each subsequent Bingo should be treated the same. (If you’re drinking, take a drink for each square you mark.)

You can also adjust this and play Four Corners Bingo, Outside Edge Bingo, Plus Sign Bingo. If you do, you need to create your own shout-out and prizes; my time is limited here, people, because I’ve got a garage to decorate. (If you’re drinking, drink twice for each weirdo Bingo you get.)

If you manage to complete the entire card, you are clearly the Bingo Master. Shout out, “I AM THE BINGO MASTER!” and do an awesome dance move. Bonus points for The Worm. (If you’re drinking and you complete the card, finish your drink. And then get another.)

By doing this, I am fairly certain that Halloween will be completely un-boring. And delicious. And maybe also a bit competitive, which makes it more exciting because now my girls can argue about something more than just candy.

Happy Halloween!




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don’t forget to say thank you

what are you this year

Getting Even

The other day, the girls asked me to print out a photo that had been saved on my computer. As they gathered ’round the screen (today’s version of the campfire or the Victrola), they laughed out loud (that’s not an exaggeration) when they discovered that the photo – taken last week – was kept in a file titled “current 2013”. I fully understood their amusement; here it is, merely two months from twenty-FIFteen, and I’m not only using a folder named for last year, I’ve further delineated the file as “current.”

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If it had been a mistake, if I’d put the photos in the wrong folder, we could have chuckled at my error and moved along. But it was not. Here’s how my photo sorting process goes: I take digital photos and upload them to my computer, where they are sorted automatically into folders by the date on which they were taken. Because many of the photos are taken with my “good” camera, they are very large, which makes for high quality images but doesn’t work so well when I want to put them onto various websites – they take forever to load and they take up a ton of space.

Hence, I go through the photos and edit them, which occasionally means actually playing with brightness and contrast and lighting and erasing double chins and smoothing wrinkles and even moving heads from one photo to the next, but far more often means simply saving the photos at a smaller size in a temporary folder marked “current” and then moving them into their permanent folders (“March 2014”, “Back To School”) later on. It used to be that my “current” folder was, indeed, current – I’d edit photos within a few weeks of taking them, move them on shortly thereafter, and would stay relatively on top of things. The “current 2010” folder would be deleted once 2011 arrived, and so on.

And then I fell behind. Waaaay behind. I’m still using the “current 2013” folder because, you guessed it… I haven’t finished going through the photos from the 2013 calendar year, so I never moved onto a 2014 folder. Back in March, I said that I was approximately two weeks from “lapping” myself in photos. Well, my friends, I far surpassed that estimation, because as of today, the photos that need editing going back to… hold on, let me check… May 10, 2013. Nearly EIGHTEEN MONTHS AGO. I hardly even recognize the people in those pictures; Annie had, like, six more teeth then that she does now.

That’s not to say that I haven’t looked at, nor edited, any of the photos I’ve taken in a year and a half; obviously, I have, because you’ve seen them. I edit what’s most important to me and what’s needed for various deadlines. But as far as being “caught up” on photo editing? Not so much. To be honest, at this point, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be. Perhaps I should just look into a new photo storage plan and be done with it – yay, all caught up!

When I think about it, the whole picture debacle is really just a tangible (digital?) example of life in general. Just today, I was listening to other folks at the Y talking about how they’re trying to “get ahead.” They’re anticipating what’s coming up next week, next month, whatever, and are trying to get a jump on things so that, I don’t know, they feel better about stuff maybe? I get that, I really do. I always make the girls’ lunches (when they don’t make them themselves, holla!) the night before because the mere thought of doing it in the morning makes me break out into a sweat. I ask family members for their Christmas wish lists in early November because I prefer to be done shopping by Thanksgiving. We save money and have 529 plans for the girls and all that, because, yes, it helps to be one step ahead.

But sometimes? Sometimes you just can’t. I mean, sure, there are times when you choose not to pack for that trip because you still have three days before the plane leaves and you’d rather watch Game of Thrones. Procrastination is a fabulous motivator, after all. There are other times, though, when you’re truly only able to do what needs to be done right now, today – when you’re able to tread water and carry on a conversation with the lifeguard and maybe inch forward, but you cannot even begin to think about forging ahead.

Then, just when you’re starting to get the hang of things and keep your head from getting wet, life is, you know, life and throws all these ridiculous balls in the pool that you have to bat around or keep afloat. Sometimes, it’s disruptive enough – a death, an illness, a bout of depression, a job loss, something big – that you just have to get out of the pool altogether and take a knee (I know I’m mixing sports metaphors here; there’s a reason why my dad said I had the best “practice swing” on the fifth-grade softball team). Other times, it’s not that huge, but it’s disruptive nonetheless… the firewood that gets delivered mid-week and is situated in exactly the spot where the trick-or-treaters will be walking between your lawn and your neighbors’ so you absolutely have to get it moved right now even though you had a million other things on your to-do list…

… or a dog who has had trouble with what you thought was heatstroke but now could be something having to do with his heart, so he has to wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours (which makes him quite grumpy) and is really no big deal but you do have to watch him whenever he’s outside and record all of his activity, which is easy but just takes a little time, you know?

So you can tread and you can keep your head above water – most of the time – but forward progress is just not happening. In fact, you begin to realize that not only is it pretty much impossible to “get ahead,” it’s also damned near impossible to “get caught up.” Getting “caught up” implies that, if we accomplish everything we’ve currently got on our life roster, we can take a breather because – ta da! – finished! But it doesn’t work like that because the list never ends; it’s not like a school course where once you’ve completed the work and taken the tests (which you hoped were essays because you tend to be just a wee bit long-winded and can sometimes talk your way into a good grade), you can rest easy because it’s over. No, this life syllabus keeps adding and changing and getting torn up and started again. Frankly, I’m finding that trying to get “ahead” or even to get “caught up” are making me kind of crazy.

Maybe, instead, we need to focus on simply trying to get “even” – to do what we need to do when we need to do it and not worry so much about the rest. When we get even, we might feel more balanced, because we’re not trying to reach so far in either direction. Perhaps, if we just get even, we can stop giving ourselves so much flack about all that we haven’t accomplished yet or working ourselves into the ground to stay one step ahead of the game. Maybe, if we get even, we can enjoy the process a little bit more.

I don’t know – it’s just an idea, one that I’m not exactly putting into practice yet, just talking through. I’m certainly not suggesting that we shouldn’t try, nor that we should just give up. It doesn’t need to be cut and dried, either. I mean, if you enjoy trying to get ahead – the way I enjoy buying Christmas presents early – then it seems like a good thing. And sometimes, it’s a prudent thing; far better to replace the roof before it starts leaking, you know? Likewise, if you set specific goals and check ’em all off and feel totally “caught up” and then want to kick back and revel in that delicious accomplishment, rock on with your bad self. If it’s working, then it’s working.

But if it’s making you miserable and crazy, if you feel like you’ll never be caught up or ahead, if it feels like you’re just constantly treading water… then I think it’s time to get even.  To get balanced. To get some sleep. To get a grip, for real. To get caught up with friends. To get a latte. To get laid. To get to the gym. To get to a movie. To get a hug. To get your feet on the ground.

And then to get moving again when you can, even if it’s just inching forward.
I mean, so long as you can find the photos when your kids ask for them, does it really matter where and how they’re stored?

(Side note: if you need me next week, I’ll be busy sorting and saving my pictures. If I find any good ones, I promise to share.)

This picture is blurry and poorly lit and has nothing to do with anything but it was taken at a haunted hayride a few days ago and we all had a good time and, damn it, we were happy.




So You Think You Can’t Dance?? Try It!

Over Columbus Day weekend, we had the incredible privilege of attending Nick’s sister’s wedding. We were thrilled to be in Minnesota to celebrate with Emi and her new husband, Matt. It was autumnally beautiful – great weather, lovely temperatures – with warmth and pure joy emanating from absolutely every corner.

The invitation said that the wedding was to begin at 6 p.m. and would be followed by the reception, cocktails, and dinner, with “awkward but enthusiastic dancing” (their wording – how fabulous is that??) to last from 9:00 p.m. until 1 a.m. (which, for the uninitiated, is 2 a.m. EST; I’m not good with The Math but I do time zones quite well). I assumed that Ella and Annie would ace their roles as flower girls (or junior bridesmaids; they insisted they were the latter), that they’d enjoy the party, but that they would start to fade relatively shortly after that. As such, we’d scheduled a babysitter to meet them at our hotel room so that Nick and I could drink without guilt really let loose and celebrate with everyone. I had no idea how I would manage to stay upright until what felt like 2 a.m., but by God I was bound and determined to try.

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Taken sometime after midnight, mostly upright.

I’m not usually much for dancing. I have dragged myself into a dance club (is that what they’re called? Would “club” suffice, or does that not imply dancing?) at the insistence of others exactly twice in my life, and each time I avoided the dance floor as much as possible. It’s not that I’m a terrible dancer… well, okay. I’m a terrible dancer. But it’s more that I typically just don’t have a whole lot of fun dancing. Watching people dance, on the other hand, is something I genuinely love, so I figured that I’d spend much of Emi and Matt’s reception observing from afar, joining in only when it seemed to be bridesmaid-duty necessary.

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The girls, on the other hand, hopped on the dance floor as soon as possible – which, in this case, happened to be during Emi and Matt’s first dance. Ella’s elation and Annie’s twerk-ish expression make me smile.

I hadn’t had opportunity to cut too much of a rug prior to the girls retiring for the night, so once I returned from dropping Annie and Ella off at the hotel, I screwed up my courage and decided that I would make my obligatory appearance on the dance floor. When that dance was over, I thought I’d subtly slip away to one of the nearby tables to rest up and giggle at the other people shakin’ their groove thangs. Instead, I found myself not wanting to leave. It was fun! Nay, it was hilarious! There was laughter! There was exuberance! I was making a complete fool of myself and, for some reason, I did not care one whit! (Part of the reason may have been alcohol, but that’s just a guess.)

After my four-hour frenzy on the dance floor, both participating and carefully observing others, I feel that I am now somewhat of a dancing expert. Or, at least an expert in Almost-40-something White Girl Dance Moves.* In case you have not found yourself on the dance floor in quite some time, or in case you are not an Almost-40-something White Girl, allow me to more fully explain the crackerjack moves that are, apparently, all the rage these days.**

* Given that I am an almost-40-something white girl, I feel that I can make this ridiculous statement. Yes, it’s an obvious over-generalization and is meant to be absurd. Carry on.
** “These days” = at Emi and Matt’s wedding. Which clearly means they are absolutely true for everyone, everywhere. Carry on again.

Because I’ve seen only a few of the photos from Emi and Matt’s shindig with people actually dancing, I cannot provide you with much visual evidence. Knowing that it wouldn’t be much fun to see reenactments of me attempting these steps, I asked Annie and Ella for help and they graciously volunteered to be my models, knowing that I would post the photos here (which is yet another reason why having children was a good idea). And so, I present to you…

Dance Moves That Are All The Rage These Days, At Least If You’re An Almost-40-something White Girl (aka Me) Dancing At A Wedding

0) The Circle

I’ve started with ‘0’ because, as everyone knows, it is illegal for any wedding reception dancing to take place without at least some of the participants first forming a circle. The Circle is an effective tool for being able to dance oneself while simultaneously keeping an eye on the other dancers, especially if someone elects to start a move that is best when copied. The Circle is critical for when one must break out one’s most bodacious moves in the center of said circle (say, for example, The Worm… in your bridesmaid dress… across the reception-hall floor. OH YES, IT HAPPENED). The Circle is also useful for creating a space across which one may strut when one simply must stand next to another dancer at right that very moment. Which brings us to the actual dance moves, starting with…

1) The Squat

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This is the most essential of all the moves, as it is the building block for everything else. You are not attempting to do a full-on squat like you would at CrossFit or during that horrible fitness test in gym class, but rather a half-squat where your knees are just slightly bent and your pelvis is tucked back. For this move to be authentic, you should step side-to-side between both feet as though you are keeping time or are about to start the Funky Chicken.  Be sure to really dig into your heels so you can grind them into the floor later for support.

2. The “Hey Girl!”
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This one is a cinch. While performing The Squat, simply raise one hand in the air to salute a fellow dancer – most likely female – across the circle from you. You may point at her, you may wave your hand in the air, you may hail, you may fist pump – so long as only one hand is in the air and you maintain The Squat, you have affected the “Hey Girl!” properly.

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As mentioned, I haven’t yet seen many dance photos from the wedding – but if ever there were an absolutely perfect Almost-40-something White Girl dance example, THIS IS IT.
First, we have formed The Circle (it’s a messy circle, but it’s there). If you look carefully, you will see an additional dance circle in the corner of the photo, just beyond the gentleman in the pinkish shirt.
You will note that one of Emi’s other bridesmaids, K (in the silver sweater and rockin’ blonde hair) and I (yes, I’m wearing a lei; don’t ask) are really feeling The Squat.
Finally, please note that our dear friend H is performing the “Hey Girl!” to K and me, with her right index finger pointed righteously upward.

3. The Power Squat
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Sadly, there are times when the delicacy of The Squat will simply not suffice; you must feel that music and get even lower to the ground. This is where the Power Squat comes in handy. (Note that this is different from how you will get down to the ground when the “a little bit softer now” part of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” is played and everyone flattens themselves onto the dance floor; the Power Squat is far more rhythmic and athletic, obviously.) For added effect, you may do mini fist pumps while in the Power Squat.

4. The Squat Driver
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Part of what makes The Squat such a fantastic building block is that, while in it, you can perform additional classic moves – the Swim, the Sprinkler, the Cabbage Patch, etc. In this case, Annie has incorporated the Bus Driver (complete with mini stank-face, which is totally necessary while performing the Squat Driver in a circle so that you can properly entice the people across the Circle from you).

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It’s a little difficult to see here (unless you have x-ray vision and can see through H’s arm), but I do believe I’m executing a lovely version of the Squat Driver in this photo… 

5. The Phantom Lighter
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Okay, so no one uses lighters anymore at concerts, instead replacing them with cell phones, but the concept is the same: you wave that arm overhead, left to right and back again. While dancing, no cell phone is necessary (although it may certainly be present) and your hand may be empty, but you can still thrust that arm into the air and move it to and fro. Don’t forget to keep your Squat intact; abandoning the Squat is grounds for immediate disqualification (or at least being elected as the person who needs to go get the next round).

6. The Grabwedding dance10

For this, you will need at least two people (more are certainly possible). While still performing The Squat, reach out and clasp the hand (or hands – go on, double up) of a nearby dancer. The Grab is best executed when you look your partner square in the eye and make a stank face. This is not meant to be an elaborately choreographed routine; it is merely to gain physical contact with another dancer. Be careful not to lean back too far, nor to rely solely on the person whose hand you are grasping to hold you up; wedding reception dancers are notoriously unbalanced and depending on anyone for support is a risky proposition.

7. The Shoulder Press
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When you need to get close to another dancer (trust me, you will) and back-to-back moves are unsatisfactory because you cannot see your partner’s face (see also: unbalanced), the Shoulder Press comes in handy. This way, you can continue to perform The Squat (duh) while cozying up to someone else and looking them in the eye. Bonus points for smiling, nodding, and awww yeah eyebrow raising. This move can be carried on for several moments, then can easily segue into the Grab or the Spoon (see below). Or you could decide to separate and rejoin the rest of the dance circle, giving a quick “Hey Girl!” to one of the dancers across the Circle from you; the possibilities are endless.

8. The Spoon
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Sometimes, you’ve just got to get close – I mean really close – to your fellow dancers, and the Shoulder Press simply isn’t cutting it. Enter: the Spoon. The beauty of the Spoon is its simplicity – all you need to do is come up from behind, join your dancing buddy in The Squat, and make your presence known. Nothing complicated or intricate. No need for introductions. In fact, apparently you don’t even need to have met the other person before performing the Spoon. (I’m convinced that, while being Spooned at the reception, I was touched in places that had previously only been seen by my husband, children, or mother – by somebody to whom I hadn’t even been introduced.) You can also perform the Spoon with someone with whom you’re intimately acquainted.
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Look carefully: H’s husband [pinkish shirt] is in the process of starting the Spoon as H performs the “Hey Girl!”).

There are many (many) more moves, of course, but these nine (don’t forget The Circle) should get you through several hours of very happy boogie-ing down. Dancers in situations like these enjoy a shared experience, where everyone loves everybody else, much like communes or cults. While you are dancing, it is beautiful and wonderful; only after you successfully pull yourself away and look back do you realize the slightly bizarre and potentially questionable relationships you had with everyone involved.

The best part about these moves is that they require no formal training and can be performed by absolutely anyone. You need not be an Almost-40-something White Girl, nor attending a wedding, and you certainly don’t need to have even one iota of rhythm or natural dance ability. What you do need is the desire to have a boatload of fun, the willingness to make an absolute ass out of yourself, and a lot of stamina.

(Be forewarned: if you decide to wear your heels for the entire four hours that you are dancing – especially if you do not normally wear shoes with any sort of heel at all – your feet will really not appreciate it.)

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High heels? Nope. But after dancing ALL NIGHT LONG, anything other than slippers was pretty much torture.

As an added bonus, dancing like this is tremendous exercise. Turns out, maintaining The Squat for such an extended period of time puts a surprising amount of strain on your quads. Unless you’re an ultra-marathoner or the stunt double for The Hulk, you’ll likely awaken the following morning to discover that you can hardly walk and your entire body below your armpits will ache for a minimum of three days… which makes these Almost-40-something White Girl Moves both a cardio workout and a strength workout.

Fun, laughter, incredible memories, and you can scratch Going To The Gym off your calendar?? Sign me UP!

Two-and-a-half weeks post-reception, I’m no longer in pain (save for the agony caused by the emotional humiliation). Looking back on that night, I can’t quite believe it was me out there – but I’m damn glad I decided not to be an observer. Yeah, when the rest of the photos appear (there were an awful lot of people taking an awful lot of pictures), my quads may grumble all over again, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be giggling.

In the meantime, I have these sweet new moves to practice. After all, I am an expert now; that reputation was hard-earned and I’m not about to let it go any time soon.

Mixed Emotions

When I received the voicemail from CCI about Jambi, it didn’t even cross my mind that something was amiss. By contrast, it was wholly shocking a year and a half ago when we got a call only eleven days (!!) after Langston had been turned in. We’d been sure he was going to do well in Advanced Training – he was such a pleaser, so smart, so loving. We hadn’t anticipated that it would be the loving part of his personality that would get him dismissed; indeed, he adored and missed us so much, he became crazily anxious not being with us (and, um, got into a fight with another dog and then bit the trainer who stepped in to intervene – oopsies!). It was clear that Lang was meant to be our forever dog and we welcomed him home with open arms.

With Jambi, it was different. We felt in our bones that she was a good egg, that she was cut out for the life of a service dog. Her exceedingly calm demeanor and unflappable nature, her cuddliness and sweetness, her intelligence and desire to please; this dog was going places, damn it! And so when the call came yesterday, it never occurred to me that Jambi had been released – it was far too early for her to have been placed (she wasn’t slated for graduation until February), but surely nothing was wrong.

As I reached the part in the voicemail where our puppy program manager said she had “great news” to tell us immediately, I turned to the girls and told them that I was all but certain that I knew what the news was: Jambi had been selected as a breeder. An hour later, my suspicions were confirmed.

Up until now, I’ve only mentioned that CCI puppies face one of two possibilities: to be released from the program (which the vast majority are because perfection is a very difficult standard) and become someone’s pet, or to graduate and become a working dog in some capacity – a hearing dog, a service dog, an assistance dog, a therapy dog, etc. There is, however, a third possibility. A very small number of pups are selected as CCI breeders, taken out of Advanced Training, and sent off to California, near CCI’s headquarters, to begin a life of leisure (and humping) with a volunteer breeder/caretaker family.

In order to ensure that the dogs are properly and safely bred, that they’re well cared for, and that certain genetic characteristics are passed on from dog to dog, CCI breeds all of its own puppies – Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, or crosses of the two. I’ve been saying for over a year now to anyone who would listen (or at least who I thought might be even mildly interested) that I thought it was highly likely that our Beast would be chosen as a breeder. Not only did she have a terrific personality, one I thought CCI might like to, you know, pass along, she was also small for a Lab – something helpful when you’re navigating tight spaces, trying to fit under airplane seats, squeezing onto subway cars, etc. Plus, she’s gorgeous.

7.24.14 out and about

Jambi’s most recent progress report reiterated what a fantastic dog she is – attentive, quick, calm, super smart, not easily distractible, not fearful, highly motivated. She was doing incredibly well in Advanced Training, easily well enough to have gone on and graduated… so well, in fact, that they decided that there should be more dogs like Jambi.

Having suspected that this would be her fate long ago, I wasn’t shocked to hear the news. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel conflicted. See, we really really wanted her to become a service dog. That’s what makes it all worth it – the training, the pooping in the middle of stores, the heartbreak of growing close to her only to return her. The idea that Jambi could someday change someone’s life makes it all worthwhile.

If she can’t, however – if she’s just not cut out for it – then flunking out didn’t seem to be the end of the world, especially since we’d planned on her going to live with my sister-in-law (and new brother-in-law; more on that soon). She would be in a loving home! She would be with people who would continue with her solid training foundation! We could still see her! These did not seem like such bad options.

To have neither feels a bit… hard. Jambi didn’t quite make it. She’s not coming back. We’ll probably never see her again, ever. Sure, she’ll be with a new, doting family – but will they appreciate her adorable grunting noises the way we did? Will they love the velvety feel of her perfectly cold, wet nose? Will they know that she lives for ice cubes and will come running the moment she hears one jostling about in the freezer?

And then there’s the whole breeding thing; it just seems so impersonal. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am with a guy she’s never even met, whose butt she’s only just begun to sniff – what if she doesn’t like it, this mating thing? And then when she’s pregnant (but she’s so young!) and uncomfortable and has squalling puppies all around her, pawing at her and nipping – what if she doesn’t really enjoy being a mom?

It’s not easy when your babies grow up and fly the coop and get knocked up all within the space of a few months!

With our first CCI dog, Diamond, I actively hoped against her becoming a breeder; it wasn’t helping enough; it felt like all of the time and effort and love we’d put in would go to waste. I preferred that she flunk out than become a breeder. This time around, I no longer held those views. Maybe it was having worked with CCI longer and seeing how important all of the dogs are, maybe it was seeing two of our pups get released, or perhaps it was because I’ve had the feeling for so long that Jambi would be selected as a breeder. Whatever it was, I wasn’t hoping she wouldn’t be bred, so receiving the news wasn’t the punch in the gut it would have been a few years ago.

And, when you think about it, being chosen as a breeder is actually a pretty fantastic thing. CCI hopes that Jambi will have 5 or so litters, which amounts to 40 or so puppies. It is essentially impossible that none of those puppies will go on to become service dogs, and far more likely that several – maybe even a dozen – of them will. That means a whole lot more people’s lives will be forever changed for the better than if Jambi had become a service dog herself. (And they’ll be damned cute, too.)

playground pup

If changing lives is why we raise CCI pups, it seems that we’ve hit the jackpot with this one.

Nevertheless, it’s still hard. Even though we know that this is a wonderful thing, a true honor, it’s still not what we’d originally hoped would happen, and changing emotions on a dime isn’t really my strong suit. (Unless I happen to be watching a good Budweiser commercial, in which case I can go from smiling to sobbing in a matter of seconds.) Knowing that we won’t get to see her again hurts. Wondering how she’ll take to being an incubator is tough.

But I’m going to look on the bright side. With luck, her new breeder/caretaker family will be amenable to connecting with us through digital media so we can watch her grow, be a part of her pregnancies, and ooooh and ahhhh over her new puppies. My mother-in-law pointed out that Jambi’s exceedingly sweet and adoring nature means she’ll probably be a tremendous mama. And, if we play our cards right, down the road we should be able to raise one of Jambi’s puppies as our next CCI dog — which is pretty freakin’ incredible.

And so, to Jambi… We knew you were destined for great things, Beast! We miss you so much, but this is such awesome news; you’ll be amazing and will bring such joy into so many other lives. And if we ever make it out near you in California, I expect an uncontrollable full-body wiggle as a greeting, deal? Deal.

jambi and the girls


Settling In

It’s now been three weeks since we got Fenwick, our fourth CCI puppy, and I daresay things feel distinctly different than when I last posted about him. He’s becoming a true member of our household and raising him is turning out to be relatively easy*.

* I realized I just jinxed myself. Universe, please have pity on me.

Upon further reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several reasons why the adjustment to having another puppy around has gone more smoothly this time. To wit, in no particular order:

1) I’m no longer feeling detached, nor keeping my distance. Once I realized that’s what I’d been doing, I decided to knock it off. He’s not Jambi and that’s okay; he’s his own self and that self is pretty fantastic.

2) This face. All day, every day.
fenwick at the vet

3) He still has puppy breath. (And very sharp teeth.)

4) He lets us know when he needs to do his business and then almost always waits until he’s outside to actually do it. THIS IS HUGE, people. Langston had a habit of asking to be let out, peeing like crazy, and then peeing again the instant he got back into the house or was put in his kennel. (Our CCI program manager actually had to ask us not to bathe him so often because it was bad for his skin, so we resorted to hosing him off a couple of times a day.) Jambi went through a lovely stage where she would poop in her kennel at night and not let us know; I’d “discover” it when I’d awaken to use the bathroom and would be overpowered by the stench. So, Fenwick asking to go out and then doing his business outside? GENIUS.

5) Speaking of genius… he’s smart. He totally knows his name, responds to the “sit” and “here!” and “Let’s go!” commands, and has mastered the art of sitting, waiting, and then being given the “okay” command before he eats his meals. He also walks on a leash quite nicely now; we’ve managed to make it a whole ten minutes up the street before he gives up and needs to be carried.

6) He’s a total imp. He knows the “here” command but will purposely dart away from me if he’d rather play outside. He pulls the girls’ swim towels off of their drying spots, drags them around the kitchen, and then lies down in the middle of them. If you’re not watching very closely, he’ll slip out of any open gate or door to follow you. He’s a twerp.
fenwick and the stick Dragging a stick that’s three times his size because he is a COMPLETE GOOFBALL.

7) He talks. I don’t mean that he barks or is just plain noisy (although both of those are true), but that he vocalizes often and it sounds just like a human being – but not in a creepy, disembodied way. More in an adorable, “OMG, he sounds like a cross between an Ewok and a Wookiee!” kind of way. (Yeah, yeah, I know that those are technically not human… but they were voiced by humans. Point for me.)

8) I’ll deny I ever said this, but he just might be sleeping through the night. You didn’t hear it here. Nope.

9) Langston has changed his tune and has decided that Fenwick is a pretty fabulous playmate. Lang brings toys over to play with him, gets all dog-mouthy with him, and gleefully flings him across the floor when enough is enough. He’s even willingly sharing his bed and not trying to curl into a tight ball in the corner so he doesn’t have to touch Fenwick. OH HAPPY DAY.
fenwick and lang are buddies

And perhaps the biggest reason why raising this puppy is easier (so far) than the previous three puppies…

10) Ella and Annie help. THIS IS A GAME CHANGER, Y’ALL. With our first CCI pup, Diamond, they were really too young to do anything besides avoid becoming chew toys. With Langston and Jambi, they wanted to help, but were either too little to be too effective (the pups were too heavy to carry, they couldn’t reach the food) or got bored ten seconds into working on “down” and would walk away, leaving the puppies chewing on couch cushions in the living room.

This time, not only are they capable of pitching in, they actually want to participate. Feeding the puppy? Not a problem. Letting him out, even on short notice (“He’s about to have an accident! Go go GO!”), and then watching him so he doesn’t get into trouble? Done. Patiently working with him on learning his name? Okay, so maybe they weren’t patient, but they definitely offered assistance. Knowing how to handle it without falling apart when Fenwick nips at their toes or chews on the hems of their bathrobes? You bet.

The other day, Ella decided that the puppy was getting a bit stinky, so she gave him a bath – in the shower, by herself – and then toweled him off and brought him back downstairs. Yeah, she mixed his dirty, hairy towel in with hers, but she hung them both up so I consider it a total win. Heck, one time, Annie even cleaned up after Fenwick when he peed inside… and then sprayed the floor with disinfectant. As you can see, this is all kinds of awesome.


So, to sum up, if you want to raise a puppy and have the experience be particularly excellent, I highly recommend that you a) get a really cute dog, b) get a smart dog that makes you feel like a super-competent trainer, c) get a dog with personality so you can laugh it off when they try to chew through the handle of your new rake, and d) above all else, have a seven and nine year-old on hand to assist you with all of your puppy-raising needs.

Except for getting up in the middle of the night and picking up poop. Those are still on you. At least this adorable face will make it more bearable.fenwick 11 weeks
Oh. Mah. Gah.

There is no WE in Girl Scouts

Like most parents, I openly support my girls in their chosen extracurricular activities. I cheer them on at swim meets and soccer games; I clap enthusiastically at recitals and performances ; I turn over their latest pottery camp creations in my hands, commenting on texture and color and shape and how the pieces seem to have multiplied like rabbits. When Ella announced that she had been elected to her school’s student council (Nick and I hadn’t even been aware that she was running), I applauded her determination and go-get-‘em attitude, promising that I would pick her up at the end of meetings. If our girls are into it, we’re into it – or, at least, into them being into it.

(This is all within reason, of course. If either girl requests to do an activity that is somehow outrageous – joining the Let’s Ban Chocolate club, for example – or that completely doesn’t fit into our schedule or that we really, really don’t approve of, we’ll have to reexamine things. For now, though, everything’s cool.)

Supporting them in doing their activities means just that: they’re the ones doing things; I’m the one on the sidelines. While they’re standing on the blocks in their caps and goggles, I’m watching – poised, ready, nervous – but I’m not getting into that water unless I can be magically transported to an infinity pool in Jamaica. I’ll whoop wildly for a great goal and hide my eyes after a blown save, but I’m not running around on that field with them unless I’m being chased. We are not doing chorus; Ella is. We do not attend aerial arts camp; they do. This seems like a simple enough concept.

When it comes to Girl Scouts, however, all bets are off. I’ve already talked about how I’m a slacker mom when it comes to Scouting – the one who drops her daughter off at meetings but doesn’t stay; the one who accompanies her on clean-up hikes (and gamely picks up trash) but steps back so Annie can roast marshmallows on her own; the one who safety-pins the badges onto her vest because sewing is way beyond my commitment level. Annie enjoys it, and I’m happy for her that she does. But let’s be clear: Annie is the Girl Scout, not I.

Perhaps I’m missing a crucial Girl Scout gene, having never been a Girl Scout myself, but I seem to be one of the few moms who feels this way (save for the other slacker moms in Annie’s troop; thank God we have each other. And wine). I knew we were off to another uncomfortable year of Scouting at the very first event we attended, only a week after school began. It was advertised as a visit to the Rochester airport and sounded quite promising – a tour of the facility, checking out a plane and the cockpit, talking to pilots. It was understood that moms were expected to accompany their daughters, and I was pleased to do so – to observe Annie as she participated, to help herd her and the rest of her troop where they needed to be.

Yes, Annie’s in her pjs – the older girls were spending the night camped out on the airport conference room floor but the young’uns had to leave early, THANK GOD oh well.

In large part, the visit delivered: we were, indeed, taken through the airport, with the girls giggling through the security checkpoint as one of the guards – clearly tickled at being able to take a break from looking for dangerous materials, and clearly taken with the girls’ enthusiasm – high-fived everyone as we went through the metal detector, including all of the parents. As we prepared to take a tour of the most recently-landed aircraft, we were greeted by the plane’s crew, including a female captain (who identified herself as a pilot) who essentially told the girls that they could do any damn thing they set their minds to, including flying planes. It was pretty rad.

This captain hopped right off her plane and gave a wonderfully inspiring little speech to the girls. It was quite impressive.

The girls explored the (empty) cabin, buckling seatbelts and examining tray tables, lifting the window shades up and down as though doing aerobics, and spending an uncommonly long time in the cockpit – longer than I’ve ever been allowed, certainly.

Good grief, there were so many dials in there!


Some of the airport’s firefighters met us at the terminal, bringing their gear and stickers for each girl and giving us demonstration of how they put on all their equipment while they told us some rather fascinating tidbits about airport emergency crews. (Did you have any idea that each airport has its own designated fire crew that lives on the premises in a station house that is required, by federal law, to be located so that the trucks can reach anywhere on airport property within three minutes? See; fascinating.) All of that was well and good, and I was actually kind of glad that I’d accompanied Annie on this little fieldtrip.



When not touring the facility or hearing from employees, there was a lot of downtime, however, and the other troop leader(s) wanted to fill that downtime by singing Girl Scout songs. I can get behind this, as both a music teacher (hello) and the parent of a child who does not appreciate hanging around with nothing to do. Singing is fun! Singing is inclusive! Singing requires active participation, which means that fewer kids get bored! Yay, singing!

But the Scout leaders did not just want the Girl Scouts to sing; no, they wanted everyone to sing – including the parents of the Girl Scouts – and when we did not stand from our chairs and join in the jubilant chorus of “Hermy the Wormie,” we were called out.

Now. I’m all about singing. I loooove me some singing, even crazy group-style. I love ridiculous camp songs and have even taught my own girls the camp songs from my childhood, smiling like an idiot every time we burst into the one about the farmer and the maiden and their laundry. When I go to the sing-along showing of Grease, you can bet your ass that I’ll be belting out “Summer Lovin’” because that’s my jam. I will out-harmonize any of y’all on a holiday caroling expedition, even one with the Girl Scouts. So it’s not about the singing.

It’s about this being Annie’s activity, one to which I feel no particular attachment aside from taking pleasure out of her liking it. If it were a parent/kid kind of thing, if we signed up together as a mommy/daughter team, I would be all over it. But we did not. Only Annie’s name was on the registration form. Only Annie’s vaccination records were required for participation (I, on the other hand, could be rabid and they wouldn’t know).

In this here house, the resident Girl Scout is even in charge of ironing on her own badges. With some minor supervision, just for safety’s sake, of course.


I fully understand that some parental participation in her troop is not only helpful but necessary. There are the logistics, of course – attaching badges to vests and procuring snacks and providing transportation to and from the activities. There is also the simple fact that Annie’s troop has only one leader and so we, as parents, have each volunteered to run at least one meeting; I’m totally down with that and will be Googling like mad to make sure that whatever activity I’m in charge of is all kinds of fabulous.

But when the moms got together at the parent meeting, I couldn’t help but notice the use of the word “we” in describing all of the things that would take place this year. “We’ll sell cookies!” “We’ll learn how to make healthy snacks!” “We’ll earn these badges!” And I didn’t want to be a spoilsport, but I kept thinking, “This had better be the royal we, because ‘we’ are not Girl Scouts.” Is that not why we have troop leaders (thank God for troop leaders)– to actually do the activities with these girls??

It’s all just a bit much. Case in point: the badges. Y’all, there is a Girl Scout badge for absolutely everything under the sun. The badge booklet was more than an inch thick – like a college textbook – and contained over THREE THOUSAND different patches. THREE. THOUSAND!! Fed the homeless? There’s a badge for that. Provided relief to hurricane victims? Hurricane relief badge right here. Knit a sweater? Knitting badge! I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a badge for keeping the apps on your smartphone updated.

Annie’s first Brownie badge… lest you thought I was kidding…


I know that families these days are strapped for time and it’s The Thing to devote hours and hours of your attention to your sons’ and daughters’ interests. There is now some societal expectation that one must be really into your kids’ activities in order to be a good parent. Moms and dads join their children on playdates well past the age where their supervision is necessary. Parents get into physical altercations at ballgames because they become so overinvested in what’s happening on the field. Their dance competition is your competition. It’s crazy-making.


If you want to become a Girl Scout troop leader, I applaud you. Nay, I salute and revere you, because my kiddo enjoys this activity and, by golly, she needs awesome people to run it – people who are genuinely invested, interested, and really dig singing about Hermy the Wormie. Dedicated, enthusiastic, and fun Girl Scout troop leaders are a wonderful thing.


Likewise, if you are the parent of a Girl Scout and you find yourself with a burning desire to build a teepee alongside your daughter, visit the animal shelter, or learn how to make a papier mache hat – and your daughter doesn’t mind you tagging along – then go ahead and join her. Rock on with your bad mom/daughter duo.


Don’t worry, I’ll still see you occasionally – at the beginning and end of troop meetings, at the monthly activity I’m running (it’ll be incredible, I promise), accompanying Annie and her fellow troop members when they drop off clothing to underprivileged kiddos or ring the bell at the mall. I hope you won’t think I’m rude when I allow Annie to dole out the hand-me-downs or ring the Salvation Army bell rather than rushing in to do so myself; it’s just that I’ve already had the opportunity to see how such kindness can change people’s lives and I really want Annie to have that chance without me hovering over her and influencing her experience.


I mean, after all, how can Annie rightfully claim her Helping Others badge if I’ve done half of the helping? No, this is for her to navigate, to enjoy, to learn from; I will accompany and support her, but we are not doing the Girl Scouts.


Unless one of those 3,000 badges happens to be for mixed drinks or wine tasting or a Moms Night Out. In that case, bring that catalog a little closer, please.

While ironing on her badges, Annie was dismayed to discover that she had misplaced one of the numbers for her troop (after having opened the baggie in which they’d been kept, the baggie she’d been told not to open). I actually think it’s kind of the perfect representation of our Girl Scout experience at this point.

Lucky Thirteen

Thirteen years ago today, Nick and I were married and – if I may be so bold – our wedding was pretty freakin’ awesome. I’ve already written here several times about what it means to be married, about how our relationships has grown and changed over the years, about Nick himself and who he is. So today, as promised, I want to talk about our wedding itself and why it still makes me smile after all these years.

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I have no idea why we’re laughing, but it pretty accurately sums up the tenor of the evening.

If I got married today, I’d be all over Pinterest – Ooooh, let’s serve those at the reception! These are fabulous invitations! Who knew you could do that with a ball of twine and some feathers?!  When Nick and I were planning our wedding, there was no Pinterest. The internet, although definitely part of our lives, was not the place to go to get information and ideas about your upcoming nuptials. The sources that were available – gen-you-wine old-fashioned books and magazines – provided us with bunch of ideas, a few of which we adapted, but mostly we were on our own.

Which suited us fine, because we knew only three things for sure about our wedding: we really wanted to get married to one another, so that was, you know, kind of the focal point; we wanted our guests to have a kick-ass good time; and we wanted the wedding to really represent who we were. Meaning it would be musical, fun, geeky, loud, joy-filled, a little different, and enormous portions of delicious food would be plentiful.

Knowing that the musical aspects of the wedding were really important to us, we got started early by arranging two songs to be sung a cappella (see: geeky), recording the different parts and burning them onto CDs (again, not so easy to just email the files; and also again: geeky), and mailing the CDs to our extremely good-natured and supportive friends – members of the a cappella groups Nick and I had been part of in college – who’d agreed to sing with us over the course of the weekend. To their credit, every single one of ’em learned those parts; when we got together to rehearse for the first time (less than an hour before performing), it was like turning on a stereo.us wedding11
I Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” by Smash Mouth, what else?

For the rehearsal dinner itself, which was hosted by Nick’s family, we decided to bring a little Minnesota flare into our New York festivities. Nick’s mom and aunts hand-dyed the tablecloths and created the table centerpieces themselves, using preserved local Minnesota flowers and cattails and then shipping the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle all the way out to the Big Apple. It felt homey and warm and special and I was so grateful to them for putting so much effort and love into every detail. Nick’s dad created a slideshow of photos of Nick growing up, while my mom created a video of photos of me growing up, and the whole night felt like the perfect combination of his family and mine.

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That there would be the hand-dyed tablecloth and really cool Minnesota flowers.

Naturally, there was singing. We sang a cappella with our friends – a mix of old songs (including an old-school ditty called “Daddy” whose lyrics begin, “Daddy, let me stay up late… for tomorrow is my wedding date…” I know!) and the ones that Nick and I had arranged. Nick performed on his guitar, I sang with my forever BFF, Kiki, and Nick and I did a few songs together, welcoming everyone into this crazy world of ours.

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The morning of big day dawned cloudy and rainy, but the skies had cleared by the time the festivities began. I’d asked my singing pals to join me and my bridal party just prior to entering the church so that we could sing “Going to the Chapel” (in harmony, duh).

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Going to the chapel… literally.

The wedding ceremony itself was lovely and vibrant, nodding to tradition while turning things on their ends. Although we got married in a church, I refused to walk down the aisle to the organ because I think organs sound like something out of a horror movie (and yes, I was a music major and studied Bach and all that jazz [pun intended!] and I still can’t stand the organ; hey, you like what you like), instead choosing Offenbach’s “Barcarolle” from The Tales of Hoffman (after falling in love with it in the movie Life is Beautiful) for the processional and Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” (yes, the march, like you’d hear on the Fourth of July) for the recessional.

At the reception, we wanted everyone to have an absolute blast, to dance and eat themselves silly and enjoy the hell out of the whole affair (in part because, c’mon, how often are we going to do this? and in part because of the timing of the event). To begin, we had our first dance; nowadays, I’d be scouring YouTube for fun and charming First Dance Videos, but then, YouTube wasn’t even a blink in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye (I know he didn’t invent YouTube – Google tells me that it was created by three former PayPal employees – but it’s the first name I came up with, so there) – so it was just up to us to come up with something a little unusual. Ultimately, we decided to add a bit of whimsy to the dance (“The Way You Look Tonight”, a longtime favorite of ours) and incorporate a “choreographed” section complete with pat-a-cake clapping and doing “the swim”; it was very dignified.

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What? You didn’t rock ’50s and ’60s hand motions during your first dance? Pity.

Since this was, we figured, our one shot at sharing a bit of ourselves with this collection of charming guests who made their way across the country to join us, we wanted to include some of our favorite family traditions – including Christmas crackers (you know, the kind with exploding snaps at each end that are filled with a paper crown, a small slip of paper containing a joke or bit of trivia, and an itty bitty toy), which my family has opened at special dinners since I was a kid. Except that any old Christmas crackers wouldn’t do, so we – along with my mom – spent hours upon hours filling empty crackers with music-themed items: piano erasers, quarter note pins, and the like.

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The crackers, ready to go at at the tables…

us wedding3 Naturally, we put the crowns on as soon as we opened the crackers. Duh.

Our love of music was woven into all areas of the reception. Our band had told us they’d learn one song of our choosing – and so we chose a relative unknown, “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” by Hurricane Smith, because it was one of my grandfather’s favorite songs and we used to listen to it while roasting marshmallows at the bonfires along the lake; we invited our entire families to join us for the dance. Our seating cards were written on music staves, sending people to a table not named by number but by a place that was important to Nick and me (Denver, Disney World, Canandaigua…).

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My cousin, looking to figure out which table he was at. (Hint: he was with us.)

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Dramatic reenactment; you get the idea.

Our a cappella friends joined us once more for a performance. Our wedding favors were CDs featuring our favorite songs. And, of course, there was the whole sing-a-song-with-the-word-‘love’-in-it thing, which turned out to be one of the best aspects of the entire day.

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We oh-so-cleverly did a mashup of Lyle Lovett’s “She’s No Lady (She’s My Wife)” and the George Gershwin classic, “Boy! What Love Has Done To Me!” (as sung by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald). #MusicGeeks
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Yep, our buddy B is still wearing his crown. Because he rocks.

In short, everything was just as we’d hoped it would be; we had the perfect wedding (for us). I realize that not everyone can say that their wedding was everything they wanted, and that ours was makes me tremendously grateful. (Grateful, as well, to my – and Nick’s – parents, who never played the role of overbearing in-laws, instead deferring all important decisions to us so that the day could go exactly as we’d imagined.)

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The first few shots were staged – no actual plunging – but then we really did jump in at the end, which scared the heck out of my stepdad, who was taking the photos.

We wanted the food and drinks to be abundant and delicious; it was. We wanted the band to play songs that everyone would get up and dance to; they did. We wanted people to come together to sing and be silly; they did. We wanted autumn to be fully incorporated into the wedding – the decor, the food, the colors, the flowers (I believe that I’d asked for the reception locale to be “dripping with flowers,” a statement that, in hindsight, might have been just a bit overboard – but, gee, they sure were pretty!); it was.

We wanted to share our love of our home states with our guests; we did. We hoped they would join us in celebrating some of our families’ most cherished traditions; they did. We tried to ensure that music, and its importance to us, was felt at every turn; I believe that it was. We wanted everyone to feel welcome and happy, to be able to relax and just kick back and enjoy themselves, to know how grateful we were that they were there; I think they did.

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Laughing about something different this time; yes, Nick is wearing his crown, and yes, I’ve got a yellow plastic treble clef pinned to my wedding dress.

Even now, thirteen years later, people who attended our wedding tell us that it was one of the best weddings they’ve ever been to. Although that’s certainly a kind and flattering sentiment, I believe that it wasn’t so much the wedding itself that was memorable; it was that, for one day, we put ourselves wholly out there: this is who we are. We love music. We love our families. We adore our friends. We live for good food and laughter. Traditions matter. Levity is a must. Humor is essential. Laughter is the best. We really, really dig one another’s company. We believe in fun. And we are so, so glad that you’re joining us.

Our wedding wasn’t a one-off celebration that marked a complete departure from our personalities; it well and truly started our lives together because it was a representation of who we are as individuals and as a couple. Today, we’re still living by those values, right down to the geeky a cappella love and the continued use of Christmas crackers.

I feel so thankful – and lucky – that our marriage started off the way it did, with a wedding that was everything we’d dreamed of. I’m even more thankful – and feel even luckier – that our marriage itself is only somewhat like what I’d imagined; actually, it’s better.

Happy baker’s dozen anniversary, Nick! Here’s to dozens more – and to more laughter, more singing, and more cake and wine.

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I’m Bringing Boredom Back

In 2014, children rarely have the opportunity to become bored. There are, of course, the timeless classics that have entertained kids for millennia – being outside, playing games, building elaborate villages with Barbies or Legos (okay, so maybe they weren’t doing that hundreds of years ago, but you know what I mean). There are also oodles of technology-filled pastimes, from low-tech marvels like TV and music-listening to ever-updating apps and video games and things that I’m not even remotely hip enough to know about. We can talk ourselves in circles about how much technology is good versus how much is bad, how infrequently children play outside; how over-scheduled their lives are; I’m not even going to attempt to enter into those debates. I will say, however, that all of these things do mean that children almost never have the chance to be bored – they can just fire up the computer, trade Pokeman cards, or set the DVR to record a program that can be watched at any time of the day or night, no more “Oh, I guess I’ll have to wait until it’s on…” or, heaven help us, sitting through commercials.

After observing said never-bored children when they’ve been faced with the slightest bit of change-in-routine adversity, I feel that I can confidently say that boredom is a good thing.

We need to bring back boredom.

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Case in point: after returning Jambi for Advanced Training, we began our drive home via ferry from Long Island to Connecticut. Allow me to paint the scene… A three-deck ship traversing Long Island Sound, cutting majestically through the water at the bow and leaving a frothy white wake at the stern. A gorgeous summer day, sunny but not too warm, salt air breeze billowing around us. Crashing, soaring waves ahead, as though caused by the strongest imaginable current (in fact, they marked where the Sound meets the Atlantic, and they were, indeed, caused by monstrous currents). Sailboats and fishing vessels and motorboats zipping in and out of our line of sight, which extended down the sweeping coast of extreme eastern Long Island, over to the Connecticut shoreline, and all the way out to sea. Rentable binoculars that swiveled in all directions, with which you could see every detail of the passing boats, buildings, and landscape. A formidable-looking building on a formidable-but-beautiful-looking island (which, we learned upon Googling, was Plum Island, home of mysterious government research). A charming lighthouse, promising safety and salvation. Birds cruising overhead, hundreds of passengers with bags and snacks and stories to be imagined, shipboard rooms to be explored and visited.

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Plum Island is actually right perty.

In other words, essentially the perfect setting for a wickedly entertaining action/travel/ adventure movie, complete with intrigue and mystique and mysteriously deep bodies of water…
… and yet, my girls? Bored. BORED TO DEATH.

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Look! A lighthouse!

Although we had a car full of books and drawing supplies and the like, they opted not to bring any of said items with them onto the decks. Likewise, Nick and I forbade them from using their iPads, citing a) that there was no need, as we’d only be onboard for a little over an hour and we tend to reserve electronics for longer journeys, b) they had us and their grandparents to converse and hang out with, and c) we are on a ship traveling over water and past lighthouses with the Atlantic Ocean at our fingertips and how can you find nothing to do omg??

Believe it or not, they – in fact – found nothing to do. Nothing at all for the entire sixty-plus minutes we were on that beautiful, lovely, exciting, godforsaken ferry. Well, I should rephrase that; nothing at all except complaining about how they were so bored and that there was nothing to do.

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House-lighthouse thing near the Connecticut shoreline.

I had assumed that such behavior was not unique to my children but didn’t have an opportunity to put my assumption to the test until yesterday when I volunteered as one of the playground monitors at the girls’ elementary school. Although there was no precipitation during recess itself, it and rained earlier in the day, covering everything with a fine layer of water drops and puddles. The official (i.e. paid) playground monitors attempted to dry off the equipment, but their towels were doing little good; after seeing several first graders slip off the monkey bars and slide – not in the good way – down the climbing walls, the principal decided that it was simply too wet to allow the students to actually play on the playground, so recess was then limited to playing on the blacktop or swings. (Why the kiddos couldn’t play on the fields was a mystery to me; concern over slipping on the wet grass seemed overblown at best; concern over wet sneakers seemed even sillier. Given that our school is not prone to overreacting or helicoptering, however, and generally allows kids to be kids, I decided to give the principal the benefit of the doubt and just go along with the no playing on the grass thing.)

Because there are only six (or eight? I can’t remember) swings, the majority of the students found themselves on or near the blacktop for the duration of recess. It should be noted that the blacktop is an area the is entirely devoid of anything to do, a vast wasteland of asphalt… except for the basket ball hoops on each end (and the requisite basketballs to toss into such hoops), the marked-off four-square courts (and the requisite balls with which to play), the hopscotch boards, the life-sized tic-tac-toe boards, a brick wall replete with drawings, benches upon which to sit, etc. Oh! And did I mention that the children were not required to stand atop the blacktop alone but could bring all of their friends with them?

To be fair, some of the kids entertained themselves all recess long. There were basketball free-throws and impromptu games of Red Rover and marauding bands of children who stalked the corners of the blacktop and gossiped to their hearts’ content. But, by far, the two-word phrase I heard uttered more than any other was, “I’m bored!” or it’s four-word cousin, “This is so boring!” 

Now, I’m hardly the paragon of childhood self-entertainment. It’s long been noted that I used to come downstairs as a kid and ask my mom, “What fun thing do you have planned for me today?” I, like virtually all children, uttered the B word more times than I’d like to count, until my mom actually forbade me from using it. But I did know how to go outside and entertain myself – not with dolls, not with toys, but simply by being and using my imagination. Some of my happiest memories  as a kid revolve around the forts that my brother and I created beneath and within the branches of enormous trees, or the “king chairs” that we dug into snowbanks at the top of our driveway.

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This photo is basically only for show… She was interested in this for approximately 24 seconds.

Today, it’s different. Kids are used to being constantly entertained, to having little – or no – downtime in which to unwind and actually have to devise ways to keep themselves occupied and busy. They go from school to home (almost never by walking) to homework (often scripted) to sports (run by an adult to tells them what to do) to enrichment classes (also run by an adult) to music lessons (taught by grown-ups with an agenda) to dinner to bed. Their “free time” is filled with play, yes – but, left to their own devices, that play would almost always include Minecraft or shows on the Disney Channel or the latest unbeatable level on Candy Crush. Their days are so very structured, with very few opportunities to even consider the art of making something out of (what seems like) nothing.

It makes sense, then – sadly – that neither my girls nor many of the hundreds of kids on that playground were able to occupy themselves with their simple surroundings. They were unable to see that, actually, there was so much to do. They could examine the passing ships and make up stories about where they came from and where they were going. They could look for colonies of ants that were making their homes along the blacktop’s edge. They could count the stairs between the decks or the strides necessary to traverse the blacktop diagonally. They could time themselves (by, like, counting out loud instead of using an app or a watch) to see how quickly they could cross the area in front of them backwards and sideways. They could pick blades of grass and try to whistle with them or braid them together. They could invent tales of espionage and action, elaborate fantasies of why they needed to cross the Sound via ferry instead of driving through Manhattan and up the Connecticut shore. They could stretch. They could do jumping jacks. They could see how long they could stand on one leg or only their tippy tip toes. They could talk to their friends or parents or grandparents – not about anything specific; just talking. They could look up at the sky and search for shapes in the clouds. They could look up at the sky for no other reason than that the sky is not the earth and it is far away and a special kind of magic. They could breathe in deliciously fresh air and appreciate not being stuck indoors all day long.

But mostly? They don’t. They’re just bored.

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Can you tell how appreciative she is?

I know; some of this comes with age. It’s not just a child-of-2014 deficit. But this generation of kids is more scheduled and structured than any we’ve seen before, with more time spent on screens than we could ever have imagined when we were their age, and as a result, they are used to having someone else provide their entertainment – which means they don’t have any idea what to do with themselves when they don’t have something (specific) to do.

Which is crappy because being able to distract oneself when stuck in an undesirable situation is a pretty damned important skill. We’ve all had those dreaded moments at the doctor’s office – or, God forbid, the DMV – when we realize the magazines are from 2011 and we have to preserve the little battery life that remains on our cellphones because we’ll need Google Maps to help us get to the pharmacy (because paper maps? Please) and suddenly terror strikes as we stare thirty minutes of dead air straight in the face. We’ve had those moments waiting in the line that is 397 times longer than the ride itself and we’ve given our phones to our oldest child so that she can take photos of her father trying his hand at whack-a-mole and there’s not even so much as a stray coupon or Advil label to read in our purses or backpacks. THE HORROR.

Truth is, life involves a lot of waiting around, and if you have no ability to occupy yourself unless you’ve got a handheld electronic device within reach or a copy of Us Weekly, it’s not gonna be pretty. Moreover, we’re not going to get very far – I’m talking big picture here, like as a species – if we don’t have people coming up with new ideas and inventions. To do that, imagination and free-thinking is needed, stat. I’m pretty sure that young Benjamin Franklin was roaming his backyard, just biding his time with his kite, as a storm approached and suddenly something sparked his imagination (see what I did there?). If he’d spent every waking moment shuttling between soccer practice and orchestra and besting the next level of the Star Wars version of Angry Birds, he might never have examined his glasses more closely and decided to create bifocals.

As a kid, I think that boredom is pretty much par for the course (as an adult, I honestly don’t understand how anyone over the age of 20 can be bored; there is so much to do in any given day, having nothing to do would be such a wonderful luxury – I can assure you that I’d fill it with mindless blather that would keep me very, very happy). But we’re not doing our children any good by providing them with entertainment 24/7 (yes, this comes from the mom with a Summer Fun List who hates endless stretches of nothing). I bet even Thomas Edison was bored from time to time, which is a good thing because without the ideas that were generated during his downtime, we’d be way behind schedule and might still be listening to “All About That Bass” on 8-track.

I don’t think it’s possible to fully teach kids how to divert their attention. We can help, we can provide suggestions, but in the end, the only way that kids learn how to occupy their time and use their imaginations is to actually do it. And the way to allow them that opportunity means allowing for more downtime – and for more time to be bored. The best way to learn how to beat boredom is to face it enough that you know how to kick its butt.

So, I hereby propose that we bring back boredom. Go on – get outside and play. No, you don’t need to bring the baseball and the bat with you. Just leave the bikes behind. That’s right, you can just be outside with nothing to do – until you create or discover something to do.

Nick and I are really not the hovering type of parents; our girls have a lot of freedom and leeway to learn, to create, to make their own mistakes, to develop confidence and competence. Still, they lack the ability to easily distract themselves without a device or some toys, so we’ve already begun implementing this new philosophy at home, providing stretches of time when we “make” them run along with no crutches to lean on. Ella and Annie don’t yet seem to view this in a positive light, especially when they tell me that they’re bored and I gleefully – and genuinely – chime back, “That’s awesome!”

Someday, when they’re adults, I hope they’ll appreciate the ability to entertain themselves. Especially if we still have the DMV.