Period Presents

quotes

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” ― Rudyard Kipling

I try to stay away from those braggy “my husband is so awesome” types of posts, because I know they’re insufferably annoying. Typically, I only indulge when Tony is off in California for weeks on end without me, because I feel like if I have to suffer through living without him, the least the rest of you can do is indulge me in my mushy ramblings about how dreamy he is.

But we’re going to California at the end of this week, and I’ll be coming back a couple of weeks before he does, so I guess I’m already in gushy romantic mode again. And I have to tell you about this one snuggly thing he does. Hopefully, this will not be TMI. I promise it has nothing to do with sex, if that’s what you’re worried about, but this post does have to do somewhat with my period.

Now, I’m not one of those women who has periods so bad she has to take industrial-strength painkillers and curl up in the fetal position in bed for a week every month (my sincerest condolences if that is you). In fact, as long as we’re doing TMI, I have pretty light periods, that usually last 3-4 days from start to finish, with a day or so of moderate cramping and maybe a bit of a headache at the beginning. I don’t think I complain unduly about my period, but maybe I do.

In any case, several months ago, out of the blue, Tony came up with an idea to make my period a time of celebration. He proposed that each month during my period he would give me a full-body massage, make me liver (to keep my iron levels up), and give me a “period present.” Of course I agreed to the proposition. What was not to love about it? Who minds a little bit (or a lot) of extra pampering, especially at that time of the month? And plus, it fit in well with my determination for my daughter to grow up feeling positive about her body and her period.

I confess that I was secretly skeptical that his plan would last more than a month or two. After all, it’s a lot of work to do all that stuff, and it’s not even something I asked him to do. But he’s been doing it all every month, without fail, ever since that first month. He makes a mean liver and onions, even if the kids do complain about having to eat it. He’s an amazing masseuse. In fact, he got a massage table a few months ago, which makes it even more heavenly. And he somehow manages to come up with a new, thoughtful gift every month.

The gifts range from the romantic and traditional (jewelry) to the more pointed and personal (a twelve-pack of tweezers, since I have a habit I can’t seem to break of losing them/leaving them all over the house). But this month he went above and beyond thoughtful gift-giving, and presented me with this:

IDQXeS

In case you’re perplexed, yes, that is a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Be still, my heart. I was one of those kids who habitually read things like dictionaries and encyclopedias in linear fashion just for fun. But my favorite recreational reference book as a kid was Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The quotes in this book introduced me to a number of authors, whose books I subsequently read, always with a little thrill of pleasure when I happened upon the original quote. But Bartlett’s Quotations also gave me intimate and tantalizing glimpses into history, since many of the quotations in the book were things people actually said at dinner parties or during Parliament debates or on the eve of battle. There’s often a sketch of the context in the footnotes, to set the scene for the reader. I used to go through the book, page by page, and write my favorite quotes on 3×5 cards, which I kept in a file box, organized by subject. Nerdy, I know. But so much fun.

If you’re my Facebook friend (aka denizen of my global village), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve recently taken my addiction to quotations public, and post a regular quote-of-the-day (and if you’re not my Facebook friend, I would love to be yours, if you’ll have me). I think of those quotes as a constantly evolving poetic expression of my philosophy of life, expressed in more beautiful words than I could come up with, by people far wiser than myself. As Oscar Wilde said, “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” You might think it would be hard to come up with new quotes every day (although I’ll confess here that I typically use life skills I’ve learned at my marketing job to schedule a month’s worth of quotes all at once). It is hard. But so satisfying.

Lately I’ve been much enamored of the Quote section in Goodreads, which can be searched by topic, author, or keyword. The only problem with Goodreads is that anyone can add quotes. So I usually have to wade through dozens of quotes by people like Cassandra Clare and John Green before I even get to Montaigne or Whitman. To say nothing about the fact that not everyone is, shall we say, meticulous about avoiding misquotations. I’m pretty good at telling by feel if a quote is legit (and being especially wary of things supposedly said by Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain), but I also make liberal use of Google and wikiquotes’ misquotations page.

lincoln

So I’m quite thrilled to have my very own copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to provide me with flawlessly attributed quotes from the time of the Ancient Greeks all the way up to . . . I’m not sure when. I think the introduction mentioned something about the moon landing, but I haven’t made it to the end of the book yet. It’s already filling up with tiny post-it notes marking my favorite passages.

So to end this post on an appropriately gushy note, thanks, Honey Bunny, for a gift that is thoughtful on so many levels. And thanks for being my lover, partner, and favorite person ever.

“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.” ― Edith Wharton

photo credit

The Lonely Weeks

Tennant

Tony and the Bobbles have been in California for three weeks. I could have been blogging all this time, I suppose, but it would probably have been three weeks worth of this, so it’s probably better that I didn’t. How’s it been going? Yeah. Not really that well.

I love my children, and have had momentary stabs of missing them, but I’ve been perfectly fine chatting with them a few times and getting regular reports that they are happy and greatly enjoying their stay. If it makes me a bad mother that I don’t miss them too terribly much, then I am a bad mother.

The way I feel about Tony being gone is completely different. It’s a persistent ache that never goes away. It’s a dark room I can see out of the corner of my eye all the time, and have to constantly talk myself out of going into and banging the walls and screaming.

I could say that I didn’t really think it would be this bad, but I’d be lying. I knew it would, because we did this last year too. I hate not being with him. I hate not running my hands through his hair, and not kissing him goodbye in the mornings, and not talking to him for hours about nothing at all. Most of all, I hate not sleeping with him. And by sleeping with him, I mean sleeping with him. I hate not doing other things in bed with him too, but it’s literally the sleeping that unhinges me.

I’m used to eight hours of sleeping snuggled up to him every single night. Not doing that is kind of like deciding I don’t need to breathe or eat this week. When I get in bed, I can feel every atom of my body asking me where he is and yearning to reach out to him. I have my 12-foot body pillow, five other assorted pillows, and the shirt he wore the day before he left all piled around me, but it doesn’t really help. Every night I sleep a little less, and lie in bed awake, wanting him, a little longer.

It’s not that I sit at home all day just missing him. I go to work every day, and several hours of church functions on the weekends.  I have a new gig editing a great book. I’ve been to more dinners and activities with friends in these few weeks than I normally go to in months. But it’s been rough.

I’ve tried some coping mechanisms. Mostly I’ve done the same coping mechanisms over and over and over:

  • Trolled Goodreads for dozens of quotes on love and loneliness and posted them daily on my Facebook wall.
  • Let the house get messy.
  • Read melodramatic YA novels.
  • Cleaned the house.
  • Listened to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” dozens of times. In a row.
  • Made cookies.
  • Watched 59 episodes of Doctor Who. Yes, 59. So far.

And yeah, the Doctor Who thing is kind of becoming an obsession. Because this abandoned-by-my-lover situation makes me revert to a teenage emotional state. And a teenage emotional state and spending my nights all alone with David Tennant . . . well you can guess where that leads.

dr who

We Got Our Christmas Letter Out Before Christmas This Year!

Barely.

Special Note: I know that a lot of you are also on our mailing list (I mean email, of course; you didn’t think we were organized enough to actually mail something out, did you?). I apologize for the duplication and will eventually be able to bring myself to forgive you if our letter is not interesting enough to read twice. For those who are not on our email list of people who like us and would like to be (if such exist), it is not because we don’t love you. Give me your email, and I will add you.

Dear Friends, Family and other Special People,

It’s been one of those years where nothing happens. No moving, no international adventures, no exotic new pets, literally nothing, people. You know when you’re actually considering mentioning the fact that you’ve instituted a weekly family sushi night in your Christmas letter that it’s been a truly, madly, deeply boring year.

Still, we’ll see what we can dredge up other than the fact that we’re all still alive, and (yes) still living in Florida. Although it was already news last year that we were setting a record for longest time living in one place since we got married. That means that by now we’ve been living in Florida for about five decades in Familia years. During that time, we’ve managed to make it to three out of four Disney World theme parks, thanks to the kind intervention of the Grandparents, who took us to the Magic Kingdom when they came out for Axa’s baptism in February. It was a lovely baptism, and Axa is now officially Mormon. We’re not sure how our little girl grew up so fast.

Early in the year, we added two darling little sugar glider girls to our family, which now consists of as many sugar gliders as people. Following the Lord of the Rings theme, we named them Galadriel and Nimrodel, appropriately shortened to Gala and Nim, to match their diminutive stature. And really, they only answer reliably to the same name as our other sugar gliders: “do you want a yummy?”

Axa and Raj both started Irish Dance (think Riverdance), and participated in their first Feis (Irish Dance competition), garnering medals, experience, and confidence. We made it out of Florida briefly in July for a Familia Family reunion in Angel’s Camp, California, where we participated in such exciting activities as blackberry picking, water fights with the cousins, and exploring a cave discovered by gold-diggers.

Sarah recently landed a job as Marketing Coordinator for a small company in Palm Coast, and spends most of her time these days immersed in website design, SEO, and blogging (but not on her personal blog, alas!). Yes, I know you were dying to ask: the sugar gliders do go to work with her almost every day. Tony has achieved the level of Domestic God as a stay-at-home dad with a laundry, meal, and cleaning schedule that puts his predecessor to shame. So yeah, we’ve pretty much attained the coveted status of Typical Suburban Family.

Goals for next year: move to Europe, and get a puppy. In that order.
We hope you’ve had a wonderful year, and wish you all the best in the coming new year. Let us know what you’ve been up to lately, and if you want to escape the winter weather, our guest room is always open!

Love,

Sarah, Tony, Axa & Raj

(+ Merry, Pippin, Gala & Nim)
P.S. Yes, I know the photo formatting is really wonky, but fixing it would probably cause the subject line of this post to become untrue.

 

Thanksgiving Menu – Florida (Take Two)

pumpkin cheesecake

Believe it or not, real life besides books has been going on too. Last week the CEO at the company where I work said he was not opening the office on Friday, so everyone would be “working from home” (his quotation marks, not mine). I was pretty excited to have a whole Thanksgiving weekend with the family.

Our Thanksgiving menu for this year was a little less ambitious than last year’s Thanksgiving menu, considering the fact that I work full time and Tony, while he is more organized than I ever was about everyday meals, has no interest in presiding over an elaborate, three-day cooking project. So yes, instead of, for instance, making my own graham crackers for graham cracker crust (true story), I consented to comb the cookie aisle for something premade with a minimum of objectionable ingredients. Among other things.

Instead of putting things in order of consumption, like last year, I’ve decided to put them in the order that we made them.

This year, I offered to let each member of the family be in charge of a dish. Axa quickly claimed the pie. She made her Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake with some help from me. Unfortunately, it turned out she was somewhat more interesting in licking bowls, spoons, beaters, and any other sugar-coated cooking implement than she actually was in making pies. She still did a great job, but it took somewhere between three and four times as long as I had anticipated. As always, she made sure to save a little of everything to make a tiny pie too.

I always like to try a new cranberry sauce recipe, and this year I went really adventurous with Cranberry Orange Chutney with Cumin, Fennel, and Mustard Seeds. It smelled like I was making exotic Indian food, and I momentarily wished I had thought a little more about how everything would harmonize, and perhaps done a tandoori turkey. I didn’t end up liking the result very much, but Tony loved it, and has eaten it as jam on toast for the past week.

Raj ambitiously claimed responsibility for our Thanksgiving turkey! On Wednesday night, with Tony’s help, he brined the turkey as the first step to Herb Roasted Turkey with Apple Cider Gravy. On Thursday morning, we rubbed the turkey all over in herb butter, stuffed it loosely with apples and onions, and popped it in the oven. I was privately skeptical that brining it was worth the extra work, but it turned out absolutely delicious–moist and flavorful all the way through, even though we never get around to buying an oven thermometer, and ended up overcooking it, as usual.

To keep the turkey company in the oven, Tony made our usual roasted winter vegetables, our longest-running Thanksgiving recipe. They were delicious, especially with the new additions of beets, parsnips, and sweet dumpling squash.

Since Axa and Raj don’t like stuffing and detest mushrooms, Tony and I decided to go whole hog and make Leek and Wild Mushroom Stuffing. The only alteration I made to the recipe was substituting in sourdough bread, which we loved last year in the apple and Italian sausage stuffing. We ended up cooking the stuffing outside the turkey for once, since we were warned by epicurious that roasting stuffing in a brined turkey would make it too salty.

We finished it all off with the Barbara Parker’s rolls (The rolls my mom always makes for Thanksgiving, named after a friend who brought them to her after she’d had a baby), and I am now wondering why I ever departed from her recipe.  They were light and fluffy and delicious, so I was happy the recipe makes two entire 9×13 pans. We still finished them off in just a couple of days.

Dinner was delicious, and it was so much fun to make it all together as a family.

photo credit

 

The Working Life

Tony and the kids popped in to my work on Thursday, and Tony of course had to document the moment, like every other significant and insignificant moment of our life, for inclusion on the family website. So here is actual photographic evidence of my industrious ways:

And in fact, I’ve been at my job for a month now, and Tony and the children have been back for the past two weeks, which seems long enough to state some preliminary observations about how things are going.

The short answer is, I am happier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults than I did when I was at home with them all day. My emotional resources are magically magnified by being away from home during the work-day doing something interesting and creative, and I am much better able to deal with the inevitable complications and setbacks of life.

And it is so nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Worrying about money all the time and freaking out when we had an unexpected car problem or other non-budgeted expense was not an easy way to live. Life is a little more hectic, and we don’t see quite as much of one another as we did, but for us right now, it is worth the trade-off.

If you’re wondering why all of this is a revelation to me, here’s the reason: I grew up in a home where SAHM-hood was the expected and ideal destination for a girl. My mom quit her job when she was pregnant with her oldest child (me), and for my entire childhood, I don’t remember her ever working, except to give piano lessons for a couple of hours a week. My parents viewed it as a religious imperative for a woman to devote all (or at least the vast majority of) her time and talents to raising her children.

I remember a long conversation with my dad out in the garden one day about how I didn’t think it was fair that I could go to college and study something I loved, but I wasn’t supposed to ever use it in a job I loved. He didn’t really have a response.

Looking back, I’m kind of amazed that I never even questioned the SAHM ideal. But at my house, getting a university degree was for personal enrichment and a backup financial plan, just in case the unthinkable (divorce, death, extended singleness, etc.) deprived me of a husband who could support me. Actually planning to have a career (and taking steps toward that goal) was verboten.

So about a year after Tony and I got married, I got pregnant with Axa. And a month or so before I was due, I quit my job, as I had always planned I would.

Nine years later, I have a somewhat different take on things. For one thing, I’ve experienced the economic reality of having only one spouse with career options during an economic downturn. It was hard, for us and for so many other people I know.

A few months after we moved to Florida, I had a conversation with a woman who had been a SAHM for the past sixteen or seventeen years. She was desperately trying to find employment to supplement her husband’s income, but couldn’t even get a job at the movie theater sweeping popcorn off the floor, because she didn’t have a college degree. We both agreed that we wished we hadn’t been taught to turn our backs on professional life when we got married and had children.

Fortunately, I’ve developed some valuable skills along the way in marketing, writing, editing, and web development. I feel incredibly lucky that in a still-difficult economy I was able to find a well-paying job that not only utilizes my skills but is a good fit for my personality and work style. Even though I never planned to have a career.

My parents were great parents, and they came out of a different time, both culturally and economically. Their choices worked well for their family, and I had a wonderful childhood, so I am not trying to denigrate how they set up their life or what they taught me. But from my experience and the experience of many other women I have met and compared stories with, here are a few things I’ve decided I will teach my daughter (and my son!)

  1. A Bachelor’s degree is NOT a backup financial plan. No matter what your degree is in, trying to get a job years later when you’ve acquired no experience in the meantime is difficult at best. In my case, I’ve developed some great skills and even put them to work on an entrepreneurial, freelance and hobby basis. It just kind of happened, even though I always planned to be and thought of myself as a SAHM. But if I had it to do over again, I would consciously and deliberately develop a career, even if it was part-time.
  2. The more you get paid per hour, the fewer hours you have to work. After Tony and I got married, I looked around for work in Provo, Utah, where Tony was going to school. It’s a town full of degreed women putting their husbands through school on secretarial jobs, and I was no exception. I had a great boss, and I enjoyed working at a firm specializing in immigration law where I could get to know people from all over the world, but I made $9.00 an hour. I’m sure I could have gotten a higher-paying job if I had done some career planning rather than just getting a BA with no plan whatsoever for a career. And maybe if I had been making more I would have felt it was worth it to continue part-time or from home after I had my baby. I am encouraging both my son and my daughter to plan and educate themselves for a reasonably lucrative career  so that whether they work part-time or full-time they can maximize time with their family.
  3. Balancing work and family is important for women AND men. Women are often encouraged to go into nursing, teaching, or other “flexible” careers that are viewed as compatible with having children. However, flex-time and working at least partially from home are commonplace now in many career fields. There’s a very important caveat, though: the more educated, experienced, and senior you are, the more likely you are to be able to negotiate a flexible arrangement. This goes for men too. Both mothers and fathers are important in the lives of their children, and there is no reason a man needs to settle for a demanding job that barely lets him see his family just because he’s a man. I encourage both my daughter and my son to plan for a future life where they and their spouses work together to find the best way to schedule their work, family time, and other responsibilities. When both spouses have at least the potential to get good jobs, there are so many more options.
  4. PLAN for a fulfilling career. Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe your spouse will be able to single-handedly support your family for the duration of your life, maybe s/he won’t.  Maybe you’ll find full-time stay-at-home-parenthood the most fulfilling way of spending your time ever, maybe you won’t. Whatever happens in your personal life (and whenever it happens), you cannot lose if you plan ahead for a good education and an enjoyable career that will give you the money to support yourself and your potential family. You can always quit your job if it makes sense, scale back, or find a better fit in your field. It is so much harder to wait until you really need the money and have to take whatever job is available for someone with little experience and an outdated education. And so sad to realize that if only you had planned better, you could have a well-paying job in a field that interests you rather than minimum wage at two jobs you hate but were the only thing you could find.

Nobody can predict the future, and although I hope my children will have happy, productive, fulfilling lives, no amount of advice I give them will guarantee that. Still, I feel like what I can do for them is to teach them to prepare and plan carefully, keeping open as many options as possible. And tell them that for both girls and boys,  a fulfilling professional life is a worthy, attainable, and incredibly important goal.

Home Alone

Yes, I’ve been home alone, childless and husbandless for exactly two weeks now. During our almost ten-year marriage, Tony and I have been apart for a couple of days on a handful of occasions. But this is the first time we’ve tried it for an extended period of time. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since this is the first time I’d be the one without the children.

I kind of thought it might be fun to try out, since I have never lived alone before in my entire life. Literally. I lived at home, and then I went to college and had roommates, and then I went on a study abroad to Syria and had more roommates (and we had a safety rule that we could never go out alone), and then I went on a mission and had a companion (and even more stringent rules that we always had to be together). And then I got married.

I love my life, and I certainly can’t say I haven’t traveled or done adventurous stuff after having gotten married (relatively) young, because Tony and I went right on doing that after we got married, and dragged our kids along too. But I look at my single friends sometimes and wonder what their lives are like. Specifically, what it’s like to come home to your house and find everything eerily as you left it, and nobody there to greet you (except the pets).

I don’t at all pretend to now understand what it’s like to be single, since I do have a husband and children, and speak to them over the telephone or video chat daily at least. But it was interesting and different to be alone doing all the mundane, everyday tasks of life. All those house chores that we have divided up fell exclusively to me (although minus the ones that involve children, so I think I actually came up on top there, aside from my battles with the lawn).

When my brakes started making a weird noise, I kind of panicked. Who would pick me up from the auto shop? Turns out the auto shop had a complimentary shuttle service in the person of a very chatty elderly man named Max who spends all day long chauffeuring people around Palm Coast in a leisurely, friendly way. In fact, the man he was dropping off after he dropped me off at work had a list of errands Max had cheerfully acquiesced to take him on.

Then there was the time (it was the very day I flew home to Florida by myself) I locked myself in the garage. It was easy enough to get out of the garage by opening the garage door, but how was I going to get back into the house? There was nobody inside to let me in, and nobody outside with his own house key to let me in when he came home. I eventually recalled that I’d left the bedroom door that goes onto the screened-in-porch open. The door to the outside world from the screened-in-porch happened to be unlocked too, so I was saved.

When I told Tony about the incident, he reminded me of the spare key he’d carefully hidden outside before he left. Am I this pathetic of a person when left to my own devices? Or is it just that I’ve unconsciously adapted to being part of a twosome?

To say nothing of the fact that even with my 12-foot body pillow taking up more of the bed than Tony does, I couldn’t help feeling alone and unsnuggled at night. When I went to pick up some DVD’s from the library to make the house seem less empty and silent, I made the mistake of getting romantic comedies that only made me feel lonelier. Switching them out for action movies helped, although not much.

You know the things you picture you could do if you just had a weekend to yourself? Well, I couldn’t remember any of them, or I didn’t feel much like doing them. This is my third solo weekend, and I am tired of having a weekend to myself.

I know multiple married people who have done the long-distance relationship thing for a summer, or just coming home on weekends, and it worked for them. I am pretty sure it would not work for me. I like having my people around. I like to hug them and go places with them and watch movies together. I do NOT like coming home to an empty house or waking up in an empty (besides me and my body pillow) bed.

Here’s to Monday night at 11:15 p.m. when I pick them up from the airport and get my normal, hectic, happy family life back.

photo credit

California, Here I Come

This week I find myself unexpectedly in California, which is all kinds of wonderful. We have a family reunion next week, so I was planning on coming out for that, but Tony and the children were going to come out and spend a whole month here while I stayed at home in Florida starting my new job.

I was perfectly happy with the arrangement, and even looking forward to starting work with zero at-home distractions (as well as getting some welcome “me” time). But I was even happier when my boss called at 4 p.m. last Wednesday and suggested that instead of starting the week before my vacation, I could start the week after, since he’d have people out for the long 4th of July holiday anyway.

Tony and the children were scheduled to leave at 9:25 a.m. on the 4th of July. It was the afternoon before when I got the call from my boss, and they were just putting the finishing touches on their packing.

It was pretty late notice, but Tony decided to call the airline and see if I could get my flight changed and leave with them the next morning. I’ve had too much experience with airline customer service to be more than slightly optimistic, but I figured we had nothing to lose.

At least this time we were dealing with Southwest, and not the infamous Ryanair. The first phone call, though, went as expected. Yes, we could change the flight, but it would cost us 40,000 points. Since Tony’s parents only had 20-something thousand in their account, it would use up all their points and then cost an extra $400 to change my flight. Not promising. However, Tony obtained another phone number for a more important customer service person, and called that too.

We had found a flight online that left later that day and cost the same number of points as the original ticket, so theoretically it is possible that we could have changed it online ourselves (although I’m not sure what the rules are for flights that are leaving in less than 24 hours). It was an online only fare, so it wasn’t really the province of customer service at all. But Tony’s mom, who had purchased the tickets to begin with, was at church girl’s camp on a week-long internet and cell-phone sabbatical. And Tony’s dad was on his monthly work rotation halfway around the world in China. So there was really no way to get into their account and change the tickets, short of charity from some sympathetic Southwest customer service representative.

Which fortunately Tony found. After repeating the entire story to the representative at the second phone number, he asked if I could possibly get my flight changed to the one leaving later that day, so I could at least arrive the same day as everyone else, rather than a week later as originally scheduled. The representative said he would put me on the same flight if there was room (there was) and do it all for free with nary a transfer fee or anything, since he didn’t want to take any points out of the account without asking the actual account holders. He even checked me in to the flight.

So I’m thinking that Southwest wins the airline customer service award of the year. Although I left out a few crucial items in my harried last-minute packing, we had uneventful flights. And they served us peanuts, cookies, crackers AND pretzels. AND they let us check two bags each for free (or would have, if we had wanted to lug along that many bags). What domestic airline even does that kind of stuff anymore? Hurrah for Southwest.

We’re having a great time out here in California. I’ve already eaten countless cherry tomatoes out of my parents’ overflowing garden. The kids have been to the Jelly Belly Factory with Grammy, and we’ve spent an evening in Uncle John’s legendary movie room with Megamind. And although strawberry season was over a month or two ago in Florida, in California it is still in full swing.

Lest we be well on our way to having more fun than anyone should rightfully have on a summer vacation, Tony and I did come down with strep throat the day we got here, and Raj was diagnosed with pinkeye a few days later. There are times when Grandpa being a doctor is an an incredibly convenient thing. A few rounds of antibiotics later, and we are all feeling better.

So until further notice, we’ll just be California dreamin’.

photo credit

In Which I Immediately Crash Our New Car

Tony’s already broken this story on Facebook, which I guess is appropriate, since he’s kind of the hero, and I’m kind of the villain. And our car is kind of the victim.

About a month ago, we were in the market for a new car. “New” as in “new to us.” Since, as you know, Craigslist is our preferred place to get stuff we can’t get for free, Tony spent a good several days checking out the used car market in Orlando. Our basic criteria were that it be under $2500, run reliably, and not be a gas guzzler.

Really, is that too much to ask? Apparently, mostly yes. It seems that we were not the only people in Orlando in search of a cheap commuter car. In fact, demand seemed to be seriously overtaking supply. We kept looking at cars that were either over 200,000 miles, ripped to shreds inside, or reeking of cigarette smoke. Or all three.

One day as he was browsing through cars yet again, it occurred to Tony that there were quite a few relatively inexpensive PT Cruisers, and that they tended to be newer, in better shape and with lower mileage than the bottom of the line sedans we had been looking at. We went out and looked at a few, and had a great time test driving. In fact, with its retro feel and appearance (even more so inside than out) driving a PT Cruiser is like being in an old movie. We liked it.

And then a few days later, we found THE CAR. It was a powder blue 2007 PT Cruiser listed for half the blue book price.

As soon as it popped up on Craigslist (late on a Friday evening), Tony texted the owner and fixed a time to see it the next morning. We arrived at his small auto dealership south of Orlando first thing on Saturday morning. He turned out to be a German who exports American-made cars to buyers in Germany. I guess nobody there wanted a PT Cruiser, so he needed to get rid of it quickly to make room for new arrivals.

It was our best Craigslist coup in at least a month. We bought it on the spot, and happily drove it home.

A few days later I was going 65 on the highway when the car suddenly started to bump violently. Incredibly, it was a familiar feeling to me. Several years ago when I was eight months pregnant with Raj, the wheel of our Mazda fell off the car (also on the highway during rush hour).

In what must be one of the most surreal moments of my life, I watched my wheel go rolling down I-15 all by itself. Of course it managed to roll under the most expensive car that happened to be driving by, a tiny yellow sports car. Fortunately, we were all unhurt. Unfortunately, the loss of a wheel totaled our car.

So when I felt that familiar bumping, I knew to pull right off onto the shoulder. I was happy that this time I was neither eight months pregnant nor toting a toddler in the back seat. I wasn’t so happy that our tire had exploded and torn the bumper and left headlight completely off the car.

I didn’t even have to try to decide whether I could change a tire or not. The Florida highway patrol has some special vehicle assistance people who I guess drive up and down changing tires all day. It took him all of three minutes to change my tire and send me on my way. Yes, I cried, but not until I was telling my mom the story later that day.

So, our lovely new car was reduced to this:

Sad times. Very sad times. And given that we are the type of people who hunt around for used car deals on Craigslist, we’re also the type of people who don’t have hundreds (or thousands) of dollars lying around to get a new bumper installed.

And this is where I indulge in some of the conjugal bragging that Tony and I usually agree to eschew because it’s so incredibly annoying to listen to people coo about the awesomeness of their spouses. But I really can’t help myself.

He fixed our bumper. All by himself. Well O.K., with a little help.

In fact, take another quick look at the very first photo, which is actually post-reconstruction. And tell me Tony hasn’t missed his calling in life as an auto body repairman.

Here’s a closeup of the scientific precision of his repair job.

So, it’s a bit of a Frankencar. But I think it’s adorable, and has so much character. And as a friend reminded me, that’s exactly what they would have done in Tunisia (or any number of other developing countries): fix anything, any way. So hurrah for our new car, my handy husband, and me surviving yet another car tire incident without a scratch.

Raj’s First Birthday Party

It’s been quite a while since I planned my last kid birthday party. In fact, the first and only birthday party we’ve ever done was for Axa’s first birthday. It was quite a gala affair, complete with multiple party games, sugar-free carrot cake, and even real scrapbook-style homemade invitations. Since then, we haven’t really done birthday parties, partially because we’ve been slow-traveling all over the world and things have been crazy, and partially because I’m just not one of those Pinterest moms. We usually go somewhere special as a family to celebrate a birthday, like SeaWorld or the Zoo, and I make cake and the birthday child’s requested meal, and then we open presents as a family.

But this year, well, we’ve been in Florida  a whole year and a half almost, so I guess you could consider us settled in. And Raj decided he really wanted a birthday party.  So here is actual pictorial evidence that we invited over multiple people to help us celebrate Raj’s sixth birthday.

Tony and I still weren’t up for a work-intensive party, but Axa and Raj were happy to make the invitations themselves, along with some lovely party decorations. And in a stroke of genius, we decided to have the party at our community pool, thus eliminating any potential mess at our house, as well as the necessity for planning any other games and activities. The weather obliged by not raining, thundering, or hurricane-ing, but it was cloudy enough that we had the pool to ourselves. And no, of COURSE that’s not my daughter committing the cardinal sin of running at the pool.

After an hour or so splashing around together, we called everyone out of the pool so Raj could open his presents.

There was cake too, upon which I predictably spent all the energy I didn’t spend on the rest of the party. I used this delectable recipe for Decadent Whole Wheat Chocolate Cake, and not only was it delicious, but it didn’t even fall when I took it out of the oven. I am not a really awesome cake baker, so I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I followed some online advice I found to freeze the cake overnight, which did indeed make it easier to frost, as well as keeping it nicely moist. So I unexpectedly had no problems with the cake part of the cake. Fortunately. Because I wasted a pint of heavy cream and an hour on two batches of caramel glaze that ended up more like caramel ooblek and rock caramel respectively. Actually, I suppose it wasn’t really wasted, since nobody in this family turns up their nose at caramel in any consistency.

Still, the fact was that smooth, rich, creamy caramel glaze was not happening for this cake. This was not an entirely unexpected result, since I recall eyeing the perfect caramel in the Smitten Kitchen recipe dubiously when Raj singled it out as his birthday desire. So I had a backup plan, in the form of the honey cream cheese frosting that is my stand-by. Serendipitously, today was also the day we picked up a huge bag of fresh blueberries from our church food co-op, so I had something interesting to put on the cake. And the blueberries did go rather nicely with the cream cheese frosting.

A good time was had by all, especially Raj, and neither the planning nor the clean-up caused any nervous break-downs for his parents, so I’m thinking we can call this party a success. Happy birthday Raj, and many happy returns of the day!

Meanwhile, Back at the Castle

One of our less brilliantly successful forays into attachment parenting was The Family Bed. When Axa was born, we had a queen-sized mattress on box springs on the floor. Unfortunately, it was Tony’s old bed from when he was growing up, and he still had his old habit of sleeping diagonally on it. That technically still left half of the space on the bed open, but it was not very usable space, since it was bisected by him. I got my revenge when I was pregnant, because I slept on the wall side and rolled my very pregnant body right over him every time I needed to go to the bathroom (which at eight months pregnant was pretty often).

OK, I realize that this is going in a TMI direction. The point is, by the time we added in a baby who was a very active sleeper, that queen-sized bed was feeling pretty small. We toughed it out for nine sleep-deprived months before finally making her a little bed on the floor next to ours, and then kicking ourselves and our bed completely out of our apartment’s lone bedroom when she turned one. Yes, it was awkward seating our dinner guests on the edge of our bed and pulling the table up to them, but it was worth it for the sleep. (At least it was for us. I’m not sure about the dinner guests.)

When Raj came along two years later, we already knew that one queen-sized bed was far too small for three people. So we went overboard in the other direction. We bought a California king-sized sleigh bed and a matching crib. We adjusted the crib until the mattress was exactly the same height as the bed, carefully filled in the small gap between, and bungeed the two together. It looked a little strange, and it took up most of the room in our bedroom, but the sleeping space was vast. Of course, Raj turned out to be a much easier sleeper than Axa (and much less addicted to the all-night milk bar). But it was pretty fun to have such a gigantic bed.

When Raj was ready to sleep on his own, we converted the crib into a toddler bed, and that’s where he’s slept up till now.

He loved his little bed. But at the age of 5 and 11/12ths, he could barely even stretch out in it. So we began the search for a new one. Since there were no beds handy on the curb, we went for the next best thing: craigslist. $85 and 24 hours later, Raj could be found in his bedroom, busily erecting his new, twin-sized bed.

It took a good two hours of hard labor,

And assistance from Axa and Dad (not pictured),

But by bedtime, the new bed was fully assembled and functional. And possibly the most awesome bed on the planet. I give to you: Raj’s castle!

Yes, it’s pink, and I absolutely love that Raj didn’t even comment on the color. He just picked it out of all the available beds on cragslist and said he wanted it. So he’s dealt a heavy blow to the stifling monochromacity of gendered marketing and become king of the castle all in one day. Not bad at all.