Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

My funny Valentines

I regard Valentine’s Day with a bemused detachment that borders on apathy.

It doesn’t make me feel any differently about my relationship status –like most days, it has moments when I wish I had a partner and moments when I’m glad I don’t. It doesn’t make me wish someone would buy me flowers; I buy them for myself every week because I like having them around. And it doesn’t impact my chocolate consumption, because I make heroic efforts to keep that consistently high. But there is one thing I look forward to every Valentine’s Day: the writing of the annual poem for the Roommates.

As regular readers know, when I was getting divorced in July of 2011, I moved in to my sister Lynne’s house and spent nine months living with my her, my brother-in-law, and their two kids, whom I affectionately dubbed the Roommates. Emily and Timothy, who were eight and six when I moved in, not only didn’t mind having their aunt as a boarder but saw it as a familial upgrade.

As an expression of my gratitude, I tried to lend a hand with the kids when I could, meeting them at the bus stop, helping with homework, or chauffeuring them to their activities, but no amount of pitching in for Emily and Timothy could come close to the support those two gave me. They helped me unpack and decorate my room, ran errands with me, and always kept me fully stocked with hugs and laughs. When I was at my lowest, they made me feel important and loved.

So when Valentine’s Day rolled around in 2012, I decided to show them some love: I wrote a goofy poem –an inside joke-laden riff on “Roses are red, violets are blue” –and taped it to the mirror in their bathroom so their day would start off with a happy surprise. A year later, I had moved into my own house but kept the tradition going, and it continues to this day.

Over time, the poems have seen a slight increase in structural, if not thematic, sophistication, migrating from “Roses are red” to limericks, to this example from 2015:

Ode to the Roommates

Roses are red (although some come in yellow),

But Cupid, he’s always a fat little fellow.

He flies through the air wearing wings, but no sneakers

Nor pants, shirts or socks, like some weird pint-sized streaker!

He shoots, a crime that would get both of you grounded

But not him. And his bow? Not so much as impounded.

Hearts are the things that he’s trying to hit

But I’m here to report that his aim, well, it’s ….(not the best).

He’s shot me a dozen times right in the gut

And arrows have left scars all over my butt.

But you’re not in his crosshairs, and I know the reason.

You are loved every day, every month, every season.

So while Cupid is out acting all totes cray-cray

Just relax, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

I decided to up my game this year and introduce the kids to a classic by writing a version of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was a great idea until I realized that poem really puts the “long” in Longfellow, so for my and the Roommates’ sanity, I abridged it. The kids know I’m a few stanzas shy of a full poem, anyway. So without further ado, and with apologies to Longfellow, I bring you “Cupid’s Ride,” featuring a guest appearance by Buddy, the family dog. Oh, and if you find parts of it sophomoric, that means I overachieved, because the kids are in middle school.

Cupid’s Ride

Listen up, Roommates, and you shall hear

Of the antics of love’s puppeteer.

On February 14th of oh-seventeen

From north to south and in between

Cupid planned to careen, zip, and veer.

 

He said to his friend, “If lonely hearts stay

At home or go on the lam tonight,

Or snapchat or just fight against tooth decay,

Shooting my arrows will set it all right:

One in the can, or two in the knee,

Then I, high above in the soft clouds will be,

Ready to strike with a dose of my charm,

Through every street all about Franklin Farm,

Breaking in to those houses that have no alarm.”

 

“Now I’m off!,” he said, his iPhone in grip,

Ready to fly and to just let it rip.

With clouds creating a bit of a haze,

He decided to leave all the mapping to Waze.

To Wildmere he went, seeking Em Bem and Tim-o

(It might have been faster to hire a limo.)

His arrows were marked: one “her” and one “him-o,”

He prayed for light traffic – love dislikes delays!

 

Meanwhile, Buddy, through backyards and street,

Wanders and watches with eager ear

Till in the silence he can’t help but hear

A blunder –someone at the garage door,

The sound of cursing, the trip of feet,

And the sound of a cap, pried free of a beer

Ready to ease down a throat, with a pour.

 

Buddy climbed up the sofa, took his perch

On its nice cushions, made of soft thread,

To the top, on which he could rest his head;

He felt ready to snooze, then to lurch,

As the sounds around that nervous him made,

Who’s there? Dad? Mom? The cleaning brigade?

Atop those luxe pillows, all fleecy and fluff,

He thought, “Uh-oh, I’ve gone far enough.”

There he paused to listen and look down

Wait, has that pillow always been brown?

Oh look! Moonlight flowing over stuff!

 

Outside, in the garage, lurked the sprite,

Cupid, that is, not the stuff you drink;

Wrapped in silence and a bad stink,

Regretting that burrito last night.

With a most ill wind, off he went,

Creeping as if from Hades sent,

Not pausing to whisper, “Mind the smell!”

Next moment, Buddy, he felt the spell

Of the place and the hour- it wasn’t right;

Would he be blamed? Just maybe he might.

Then suddenly all his thoughts were bent

On a chubby angel inches away

In the spot where Buddy liked to play,

Wearing white, bow and arrow in hand-

Did he have some sort of nude attack planned?

 

Meanwhile, impatient to take aim and shoot,

Cupid had had it with this galoot.

Right in the door then walked Tim-o and Em:

The true targets of the pudgy brute,

Who gazed on the kids and said, “Ahem.”

Then, for flair, he stamped the earth

And turned to suck in his extra girth;

They watched him whip, then watched him nae-nae,

But when he grabbed his bow, Em said, “Hey, hey,

Could you put that down? You’re making me sweat.”

He said, “OMG, this ain’t nothin’ yet.”

And lo! Near the angel and off to his right

Came a fur flash blacker than the night!

Buddy sprang to action, without snarls or grins

And grabbed the arrow, then ran out of sight

With his new toy, thinking, “Hooray, love wins!”

“Think before you speak” might be good advice, but it makes for very dull stories

We’ve all said things we wish we could take back.

One of my all-time doozies came up last night while I was having dinner with my friend, “Eric,” who’s going through a divorce. Eric and I agreed that, even when everyone involved knows divorce is the right answer, it’s still a miserable soul-grinder of an experience. Experts often liken it to a death, complete with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (though all five do not necessarily occur, nor do they happen in a particular order). That comparison has always made sense to me, I think divorce can also involve a sixth phase: decency. During the decency phase, one or both parties make a concerted effort to be cordial, if not pleasant, and to resist the urge to malign the other person. As with the other phases, this one can only last for so long, and it can be baffling.

My divorce had a decency phase. As I told Eric, it happened early and, like the marriage itself, was startlingly brief. The Lawnmower and I had separated in late July of 2011, on terms that were, how shall I say, suboptimal. But we had a house to sell together –through the For Sale By Owner process, of course, because using an agent would have inflicted an insufficient amount of real estate misery for a special occasion like divorce –and a property agreement to negotiate. If decency could help us unload the Yuppie Prison and knock out a contract, I was all in favor of it. I gave it my best shot, but aspiration proved much easier than execution.

My soon-to-be-ex-husband and I were barely two weeks into the decency phase when the Lawnmower’s birthday rolled around. This presented me with a decency dilemma: should I say something? On the one hand, we had separated and were preparing to divorce, so the etiquette gods would surely show me mercy if I chose to stay silent. On the other, I knew it was his birthday, and he knew that I knew it was his birthday. I remember the birthdays of my immediate family and significant others unassisted, and separation hadn’t erased his entry in my mental calendar. Just the opposite, in fact. As I thought about unwinding our joint life, the days that used to hold special meaning for us hovered in the front of my mind like floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Even if I managed to pop them, they’d take a while to deflate.

Since I couldn’t claim with a straight face that I’d forgotten the LM’s birthday, ignoring it could seem intentional, an insult. The decency campaign might not survive that kind of threat to its existence. I needed to keep it alive, so I decided to say something. But what?

I typed, “Happy birthday, Mark.” On my laptop screen it didn’t even look sincere. That period was fatal. Delete.

“Happy birthday, Mark!” Nope. The exclamation conveyed exuberance, which reflected either tone deafness or a very bad attempt at irony. Neither interpretation would help my cause. Maybe a greeting was a terrible idea.

My brain kept chewing on it and then, as only a lawyer brain could do, took that terrible idea and made it worse by adding a comma and a dependent clause.

“I wanted to wish you happy birthday, under the circumstances,” I typed. Before I could second-guess it, I clicked “send,” ending my internal debate. An email from the LM arrived moments later.

He’d written, “Thank you, under the circumstances.”

Eric howled with laughter when I got to the punchline. Even though that email hadn’t done me any good when I sent it five years ago, it helped Eric last night, so I was glad I brought it up. It was, after all, only the decent thing to do.

I’d have been better off sending him this, slice removed and all.

 

One isn’t a lonely number when you’re hanging with the Capital Hiking Club

As a single woman in her mid-40s, I sometimes feel like I’m in No Man’s Land on the weekends: I want to go out and do something but I lack automatic access to a companion. I was headed straight for NML this past weekend as I found myself craving a good, long hike.

Many of my friends say they love the idea of going on a long hike, but I know they can’t execute. Some are married and have kids, so they can’t swing an all-day trudge through the forest (or maybe they fear the temptation to drop the kids off in the middle of the woods without a map would be too great). Others are paired-off and usually have plans with their plus-ones. And still a third category are single but either think the outdoors aren’t all that great or have full schedules.

I’ve made so many trips to NML, I already know it’ll exhaust me before I’ve even laced up my hiking boots, so I considered going it solo. But someone who gets lost in her sister’s suburban neighborhood probably shouldn’t venture out alone in the wild, so I was left with two options: 1) defer the hike until the right company materialized; or 2) make some company materialize. When the forecast for Saturday promised a July miracle – low humidity, sunny and temps in the mid-80s – option two became a mandate.

Carrying it out required me to venture into a whole other wilderness: Meetup. The site’s for “[n]eighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something,” and a quick cruise of the D.C. area meetups proved that, at any given moment, there’s a whole lot of something going on. In what is simultaneously a testament to the diversity of options and an indictment of my navigational skills, I followed a Meetup rabbit trail that wandered from Astrology to Esperanto to Ukeleles –97 musicians and counting! — before I forcing my focus on hiking, a category that by itself offers more than 40 options.

Struggling to see the proverbial forest among all the trees, I decided to treat it like online dating and narrow it down based on apparent compatibility. The Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group and the Capital Hiking Club made the final cut. The MAHG has over 20,000 hikers in its ranks and the Capital Hiking Club over 8,000. Neither qualifies as intimate, but both had hikes scheduled for my target date, and I figured they must be doing something right to have so many members. Further inquiry revealed that only the Club had availability for its Saturday hike –a 7- or 11-miler in Jeremy’s Run in Shenandoah National Park –so my decision was made for me. (Oh, if only the online dating self-selection process worked as painlessly.)

Last Wednesday night, I signed up, paid the $23 fee. And then I started to fret. As an introvert – an outgoing introvert but an introvert nonetheless  – was I about to dive into a pool of smalltalk whose waters would drown me in moments? And these people seemed so, I don’t know, prepared. The hike leaders not only had posted a map of the hike on the Meetup page but also had gone a pre-hike hike to scout the conditions. What could I possibly have in common with people who both possessed maps and actually used them?

Will you look at this? Color-coded and everything. It's almost like they don't want to get lost.

Will you look at this? Color-coded and everything. It’s almost like they don’t want to get lost.

I found reassurance as I read about the hike on the site:

We will also have refreshments after the hike – beers $2, sodas $1, chips free.

It’s hard not to like any group that understands the importance of beer in the post-hike nutritional regimen. Then, one of the hike leaders called to say “hi” and do some basic due diligence, something the lawyer in me appreciated.

Still, when I woke up Saturday morning, I waffled. As an introvert, I sometimes find it tough to summon the energy to insert myself in a group of total strangers, even ones who like to hike. What if they were all old friends, or just a cluster of couples in disguise or, heaven forbid, “partners in crime“? I reminded myself that this outing offered the best possible scenario for an introvert: an opportunity to meet new people but with the option to break out and hike in relative solitude amid the group if I wanted to. The only forced togetherness would happen on the bus ride to and from the trailhead.

I loaded my backpack with the essentials – water and peanut M&Ms -set off for the rendezvous point at the Vienna Metro, and hoped for the best.

For the second time in six months, I hadn’t set my outing-related hopes nearly high enough. At the Vienna Metro, I fell into an easy conversation with a young woman who’d just moved here from Richmond and a guy my age who’s a local. The three of us didn’t find seats together on the bus, so I grabbed an open seat next to a man from Germany. I introduced myself and asked if he’d done any other Meetups with this group. Before long, we were sharing hiking experiences, travel stories (including my recent, yet-to-be-written-about trip to Italy with Mom), family tales, and philosophies about aging. Instead of drowning in small talk, I was enjoying a contented float in deep conversational water.

And so it went on the hike, too. The group split naturally into mini-groups that morphed over the course of the day. I walked for a time with Mitch–a kind, good-humored type and one of the two hike leaders–and then with Lorraine, a long-time Club member. She’s about my age and similarly situated socially, so we spent at least three miles talking about the ups and downs of dating as Women of Uncertain Age in D.C. After a lunch break, where the 7-mile people went one way and the 11-milers another, I fell in next to Fabi. As soon as I discovered she’s from Venezuela, ours became a bilingual hike that covered turf that ranged from politics to the economy and architecture. Before I knew it, we’d reached a clearing and saw Mitch, which meant our hike had ended.

I was almost sad about it, but a post-hike happy hour by the bus- the only place I know where you can buy a good IPA for $2 – perked me right up. Shortly thereafter, my German seatmate and I took up our previous posts and picked right up where we left off. By the time the bus pulled into the Vienna Metro, we’d talked about careers, millennials and comedy, and we hadn’t come close to running out of material.

Hiking with the Club exceeded every expectation I had. Despite the fact that they never even came close to getting lost, I think they’re my people after all. And they certainly gave me fresh cause to celebrate my independence.

 

 

 

 

You’ve Got Mail. Way too much mail.

I have a confession to make: I’m an e-mail hoarder.

Though I have little trouble unloading possessions I don’t use or need, I can’t bring myself to delete the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve exchanged in cyberspace with my loved ones. Those messages mean as much to me as actual letters, even if they take less effort to send and travel in an ethereal medium. I’ve been hanging on to them since 1996. Like a box of old photos, these e-mails capture all sorts of moments in my life, and it reassures me to know I can pull them up when I want to take a nostalgia trip.

Some of these personal exchanges live in my work e-mail in-box. It does not have unlimited storage capacity, so every now and then I get an automated love note informing me that, if I don’t start getting rid of things, I won’t be able to get anything new. (Too bad my parents didn’t think to use that logic on me and my siblings when it came to storage space in their basement.)

I got one of those automated love notes today, so I began picking through the digital pile in search of messages to dump or at least file. As I moved several messages to a folder I’ve labeled “Personal,” I couldn’t resist taking a few minutes to peruse the contents of the folder.

If “Personal” were a tangible folder whose items I’d organized chronologically, it would have a gigantic bulge right around July 30, 2011, when I left the Lawnmower. I rolled out that news slowly and usually by e-mail because the emotions associated with it –sadness, embarrassment, anxiety, shock—put me in constant jeopardy of bursting into tears. Every email I sent at that time prompted an incredible response that I saved, and as I read those notes today, they moved me again.

Most of my friends wrote to express shock and dismay and made immediate offers to show up. These two messages are a representative sample, one from a law school pal and another from one of my oldest friends:

Well please let me know the first instance you are available and I promise to be there…no matter where. Keep that chin up.  You are one of the most beautiful, intelligent, talented women I have ever known.  Just remember that.

My dear Karen, I am at a complete loss for anything approaching adequate to say.  Just know that I am so, so sorry and that I am here for you at any time and for anything you need.  I would love to see you soon.  For one thing, I’ll rest easier once I can see you in person and give you a huge hug, not that that will change a damned thing, but I really, really want you to know that I am here for you.  You name whenever is good for you, and also name what you’d like to do.  And in the meantime, call me ANYTIME you need a friendly ear.

Then I came across a note from my friend J, whom I’ve written about before. In typical J fashion, his note started from the same foundation as many of my friends, but then he made it his own. Because one of the Lawnmower’s first acts as my new husband was to ex-communicate J, one of my first acts as the Lawnmower’s soon-to-be-ex-wife was to re-communicate my pal. Fortunately for me, J was happy to pick up right where we’d left off without uttering a word of blame. J’s version of showing up for me over the course of our friendship usually meant plying me with food and booze at his condo or at a nearby restaurant. I had learned long ago to pack an overnight bag in case of overindulgence, and that preparation paid off in this case. Though the details of the evening mentioned in the note below have been lost to the ravages of time and/or Pinot Grigio, some of the constants of our friendship came through loud and clear, including a shared hatred of Tuesdays, mutual affection for the movie Airplane!, and a healthy dose of mocking.

YO-I just wanted to say, “Good Luck, we are all counting on you.”  …OK, Airplane references aside (though really, is there a better theme for a Tuesday?), it was great to see you on Saturday.  I am looking forward to getting back on a regular schedule and hopefully cooking together when schedules and inspiration allow.  BTW, I wanted to let you know that you left your rings, earrings and CD here.  I have copied the CD, am wearing the rings, and have an appointment scheduled to get my ears pierced.  …thought you should know.

Joseph and I have drifted apart over the past three years, but that note proved the truth of Victor Borge’s famous observation that “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” As I read the message, I laughed, and for at least a few minutes, I didn’t feel quite so far away.

 

Writing hangovers, embedded aunt-ing, and other excuses for a nearly post-free month

Posting every day in August left me with a writing hangover, which is one of two reasons you haven’t been seeing much from me (though I did write another piece for washingtonpost.com, so I’m gonna count that). Family travel is the other.

I spent Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and my two youngest nephews. Things have changed a lot since last summer, when I embedded for a couple of weeks at Camp Wipe Me. Baby C was an infant at the time. Now he’s 14 months old and walking with an alarming degree of both confidence and oblivion.

B is three. He continues to wow me with his expansive vocabulary—his verbal prowess really shines when he’s in the bathroom, a place from which he has delivered many a thoughtful soliloquy– his inexhaustible curiosity, and his tireless tirelessness. The Camp Wipe Me wardens manage on their own just fine, but since the job demands the negotiation skills of Henry Kissinger and the stamina of the Energizer Bunny, they always appreciate an extra set of hands.

Two weeks later, I was in Richmond, helping Mom hold down the fort at my sister Suzi’s house. (After 11 years of marriage, Suzi and her husband finally decided to take a honeymoon trip. I’m all in favor of delayed gratification, but if I’d waited so much as 11 months to go on my honeymoon, I’d have missed out on the highlight of my marriage.) The fort’s other occupants included three boys, ages 10, 15 and 16, and two portly beagle-ish hounds. In short, Mom and I were surrounded by hairy creatures who would pee anywhere if you let them. Unlike B and C, these boys had no need for an entertainer or supervisor, they just needed an Uber driver with basic cooking skills.

Based on my stints in both locations, I’ve observed a few things:

  • No matter the ages of the boys, you expend most of your energy in the same two areas: food and sleep. When it comes to food, you struggle to get the toddlers to eat enough of what’s on the table to keep them going. With teenagers, you struggle to put enough food on the table to keep them going. And you must always remember that both categories of boys will consider eating what’s on the floor. Toddlers see it as a first resort and teenagers a last, but it remains an option for both, making this the one area where the dogs can add serious value. Sleep offers another study in contrasts: with toddlers, you have to coax them to get into the bed and stay there, whereas teenagers have to be coaxed out of it.
  • Embedding with the kids is a huge privilege. Being there for the day-to-day, as opposed to a special occasion, presents a natural opportunity to gain all sorts of little insights into who they are. During a quick trip in the car, you might overhear conversations about girls they like, classes they hate, and who they follow on Instagram. When you pack their lunches, you learn about their food quirks, not to mention their sense of humor. As Mom and I were packing lunches for the teenagers on the first day of our stay, my mother, who can be as wickedly funny as she is sweet, said, “You should cut their sandwiches in the shape of hearts.” It was a diabolical idea and I loved it. Being the stellar aunt that I am, though, I decided my amusement might not be worth their long-term psychological trauma. I grabbed a tiny post-it note, wrote, “I almost cut this in the shape of a heart. You’re welcome,” and stuck it to the bags that held their sandwiches. To my and Mom’s surprise, the boys thought it was hilarious, and so did their friends. My eldest nephew, J.J., even saved the note, so I wrote a new one every day.
  • Sometimes the kids you embed with end up taking care of you. When I lived with my sister Lynne and her family during my divorce, my niece and nephew, aka the Roommates, kept a constant eye on me. My nine year-old niece joined me as I went out to buy laundry hampers and other nits I needed for my new life in her basement. Her sunny disposition converted a dreaded shopping trip to one of my favorite memories from that time. My seven year-old nephew, a kid whose gift for sarcasm kept him in constant danger of not making it to eight, showed incredible sensitivity when it came to my emotions. I tried to conceal my sadness, but my failure would reveal itself as a look of concern in his huge blue eyes or a drive-by, ostensibly random, hug. He didn’t have to understand my pain for it to be his pain. Realizing that he was suffering for me steeled my resolve to focus on the abundant good in my life instead of my misery. When I was in Richmond just a few days ago, J.J. and I landed on the topic of relationships while I was cooking dinner. I offered a bit of advice and then said, “On the other hand, what do I know? I’ve screwed up in all kinds of ways.” I expected him to say, “I know, right?” since he witnessed my marital debacle up close. Instead, he said, “That’s not how it looks to me. It seems like you always get it right.” The tear that came to my eye had nothing to do with the onions I’d just chopped and everything to do with this kid’s unwavering faith in me. He doesn’t care whether I made the wrong decision by getting married, he just knows I made the right one by leaving. It’s an honor to have that kid’s back, and to know that he’s behind me.
Luckily the Grinch and the sock monkey don't eat very much.

Fortunately, everyone in this photo is housebroken.

Having myself a merry little Christmas

The holidays can really try the patience of us single types. You can’t open a magazine or watch a TV show without some jeweler trying to convince you that nothing says “solitary” like no solitaire. But one holiday tradition people often think of as the province of couples –decorating the Christmas tree–never makes me feel conspicuous, lonely or lesser in any way.

It all starts with the hunting of the Christmas tree, a Yank family tradition. The Northern Virginia locals (and any non-local Yanks who happen to be around) pile into the car, drive out to the western edges of Loudon County, and traipse through the countryside in search of the perfect specimen. Only once in my life, in 2008 when I was dating a man 11 years my junior,  have I brought a significant other on the hunt. I haven’t ever given a moment’s thought to the fact that I’m almost always the only Yank without a plus one, probably because I’m too busy having fun with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew to notice.

I will admit to feeling my singleness for a few minutes every year when I get home with the tree, because I usually have to haul it from the car to the house. This doesn’t require brawn so much as a high tolerance for discomfort, because carrying a Christmas tree by yourself is like waltzing with a six-foot porcupine. Getting the tree into the stand is also not the easiest thing for a person to do by herself. I crouch or lay down on the floor to steady the trunk in the stand with one hand while tightening the screws that hold it in place with the other, having virtually no idea whether the tree is in there straight. I figure that out when I stand up, or when the tree falls on top of me.

But once it’s in the stand, that’s where any feelings of loneliness end, because I never decorate my tree alone. I bought my first house in the fall of 2002, and it had a great room that begged for a Christmas tree. I gave the great room what it wanted, even though I owned almost no ornaments. I invited my then-best friend Joseph over to help me decorate it. This took us two hours: 30 minutes to string up lights and hang ornaments, and 90 minutes to drink wine.

Over time, this became a tradition. As I acquired more ornaments, the length of time required to trim the tree varied, and every now and then someone else joined us, but the decorating-to-drinking ratio never changed.

In 2009, I met my future ex-husband. I was essentially living with him by the time Christmas rolled around that year, so we put up a tree together at his house. (Though my partner in decorating crime had changed, I saw no reason to change the decorating-to-drinking ratio, even if the beverage of choice was high-end champagne instead of wine of questionable vintage.)

As romantic as it was, I’d have told anyone who asked that it couldn’t hold a scented candle to the purely platonic tradition of my past. Tree-trimming at my house had centered on having fun. The Christmas tree was just a different backdrop for my and Joseph’s shenanigans. We weren’t setting out to achieve a particular aesthetic beyond finding a place of honor for my prized Spam ornament.

I divorced my husband and got a home of my own in 2012, and I’m pleased to report that my special brand of tree-trimming, single person-style, has returned to its former glory and then some. Last December found Philippa standing in my living room, holding a tangle of lights which I helped her sort out by pouring a glass of wine.

A new friend helped me decorate tonight (and for this I must apologize to my not-so-new friend, Max, who was going to help me this year). We had a great time, despite the fact that his first instinct was to conceal the Spam ornament from view. As I have every year that I’ve decorated a tree with someone besides a significant other, I’m basking not just in the glow of the tree, but in the way that it feels all the more special because the boughs aren’t weighed down with romantic meaning.

Spam: It goes great on anything.

Spam: It goes great on anything.

 

 

 

 

 

Clap along, ’cause I feel like a room without a roof

While driving home from brunch today, I had the radio tuned to a pop station and Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” came on. I know a lot of people view the song as a Williams sell-out (they have a point) and still others see it as pop dreck (they also have a point), but the music complements the lyrics perfectly, and I couldn’t help but like it the first time I heard it.

Maybe my affection for it stems from the fact that my two year-old nephew who adores it requested it nightly when I was staying at Camp Wipe Me in August. The minute one of his parents put him in the high chair and started to get his dinner together, he would ask for the song. Recognizing that the space between seating and eating for toddlers is brief but highly combustible, I defaulted to clown mode and danced around the kitchen by way of diversion. And when I say I danced, I don’t mean one of those cute little foot-shuffle/head-bob routines. I brought out the big guns: I did the swim, featuring all four strokes and occcasional deep submersion. My version of dry land backstroke required me to take exaggerated steps backwards while flailing my arms and prompted my brother to say, “Whoa, Aunt Wheat-you might hurt yourself!”  My nephew found my backstroke funny and my brother’s comment funnier, so he  felt the need to repeat it every time I took to the dance floor after that. Now I can’t hear “Happy” without picturing my favorite two-year old expressing concern that I might sustain a dance injury.

Maybe I like “Happy” because the lyrics reflect an outlook I try to have as often as possible. A good friend often tells me I’m “wired happy.”  Maybe he’s right, because when I feel down, my immediate reaction is to fight it. It’s not a learned response; it’s automatic. I exercise, play the piano, spend time with friends or go on a hike, and those techniques usually produce results. But my innate happy wiring, which I assume is just an accident of birth, took a real hit as a result of my marriage. That was the first time I encountered someone who hurt me not unintentionally (which happens in close relationships, no matter how hard both people try) but on purpose. The idea that the person who was supposed to love me most wanted to hurt me injected me with a fear I had never known. For a while, that fear made it hard for me to feel happy without looking over my shoulder.

It took some time for me to find my normal and to accept that it had been re-calibrated by the knowledge I gained from the experience I had. One of the things that experience taught me was to enjoy the happy wherever I could find it, for however long it lasted. The time I’ve spent with two year-old nephew taught me the very same lesson but in a far, far nicer classroom where these lyrics are required reading:

It might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Whenever I hear Pharrell sing those words, or my nephew attempt to, I bop along and think, “Yep, I do feel like happiness is the truth.”

 

With friends like these, who needs a publicist?

I just had dinner with my friend, LC. Having met me in the fall of 1989 when we were first years at UVA, she’s one of my favorite partners in crime and has done more than 25 years of hard time with me.

As if that weren’t testament to her lack of judgment, she’s decided that she wants to host a publication party to celebrate the release of my book, Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing. To be honest, I had no idea what a publication party even was, but once I got the sense that free booze was involved, I agreed.

LC and I decided to get together tonight to discuss dates and details, though really, she and I will seize any old excuse to hang out.

All good party planning starts this way, right?

All good party planning starts this way, right?

And it’s not as if we’re strangers to the whole party hosting business, because we’ve been throwing a huge party together since 2003. By way of explanation, I lived with her for a few months in late 2002 while I was house hunting. LC is that rare person who makes you feel so comfortable in her home that you truly live as you would in your own, which meant that I invited people over regularly to have dinner and play pool (never mind that none of the homes I had lived in featured billiards). When I left, she asked me to promise that we would keep hosting those get-togethers. I was more than happy to oblige, because I enjoyed her friends every bit as much as she enjoyed mine.

In 2003, roughly a year after I had moved into my own home, we decided to start hosting an annual holiday bash, alternating between her house and mine. We also started incorporating random traditions memorialized in song, like yule logs and wassail.

The bigger our joint party got, the more we loved it. But we hit a bit of a snag in the winter of 2011, when it was my turn to host and I was too busy getting divorced to host anything other than a pity party.  My misery aside, I really didn’t want to miss a year, so with no small amount of trepidation, one night over dinner I broached the idea of postponing our party to the summer of 2012. LC frowned ever so slightly, which did not seem to bode well.

“Well that depends. Do you have croquet wickets?” she asked. And just like that, our annual winter party became an annual-ish whenever bash. I had always been in charge of the invitation, so for that year, I wrote one that explained why we’d made a shift:

If you wondered what in the world happened to my and LC’s 9th Annual Non-denominational Non-Sectarian Bi-Partisan Equal Opportunity Holiday Extravaganza, you’re not alone. For the longest time we couldn’t find it, either.  But it finally surfaced during my recent move, in the same box as my Lake Braddock Secondary School Class of 1989 letter jacket.  Lost classics, both.  So we’re back. And we’ve added a couple non-holiday occasions that demand celebration (new house, civil status changes, etc.).

We know you missed us, except maybe for those of you who: 1) are new to the show; or 2) enjoyed the peace and quiet created by our absence. To the former, we extend a hearty “welcome!”  To the latter, you were overdue for a good tranquility shattering anyway, so quit your whining.

Since we’re a little late, we’ll tweak our traditional party menu.  LC’s famous wassail will be replaced by an adult beverage that, like its predecessor, is seasonally appropriate yet tough to spell even before you’ve consumed one too many. (Caipirinhas, anyone?)  If the weather is nice, we may stage a friendly game of croquet, bocci, or some other lawn sport that doesn’t require active participation from your cocktail hand.  As always, we’ve got food and drink covered so bring nothing beyond yourselves and your “others,” wherever they fall on the spectrum of significance. Oh, and you should probably supply your own good judgment. Heaven knows we can’t be counted on for that. Also, because we like kids, we advise against bringing yours to this gathering. You’re better off leaving them in a less traumatic environment, such as the Inner Loop.  Lastly, to preempt the inevitable questions about attire, here’s our policy: “Yes.”

Are you still with us? Hope to see you on the 9th!
Cheers,
Karen & LC

Responses began to pour in. And one of them included congratulations from one of LC’s work friends, wanting to wish the two of us well on our civil union. I immediately went back to re-read the invitation and realized that my liberal use of the pronoun “we” had taken my and LC’s relationship to a whole new level.

I can hardly wait to see what happens when she announces herself as my publicist. (And if you want details about the bash, contact me through the blog and I’ll send along the details!) dessert

 

 

 

I thought my book might end up here eventually, but so soon?

As regular readers know, I’m the third child of four and have two older sisters and a younger brother. I write about my family all the time, but never before have I written a post about my oldest sister, Suzi. There’s a very good reason for this: Suzi, like so many firstborns, is near-perfect and is, therefore, a very poor source of material. But when she generates some, as she did yesterday, she really makes it count.

The details of her sordid tale arrived in the form of an email she sent to my mother and my siblings, with a courtesy copy to me. I’m going to let her email tell the story, interrupted occasionally with commentary from me, in italics.

I read Karen’s book cover to cover in record time, so I gave it to my neighbor Carolyn to read.  She too read it in record time and brought it back to me at the bus stop this morning (by the way, she had to stop and read parts of it to her kids because she kept laughing out loud…and they wanted to know what she was laughing about).  It was cold at the bus stop today, so I was wearing Nana’s long coat.

When Carolyn gave me the book I tucked it under my arm since my hands were in my pockets.  You may not know this, but the bus stop is actually the sewer in front of our house. [As bus stops tend to be in your better neighborhoods.]

Every morning the kids and parents congregate on the sewer and wait for the various buses to come.  [Straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, isn’t it? “C’mon, kids, gather ’round the sewer and I’ll tell you a story…”] 

After the bus left, Carolyn and I were chatting when suddenly the book slipped out from under my arm, bounced on the edge of the sewer and slid right in!  Down it went just like that – we watched as if it were in slow motion, and it was gone before we could do anything about it.  We both screamed but that didn’t bring the book back.

Luckily, in Henrico County the teenagers go to school after the little kids, so J.J. was in the kitchen making his breakfast (lucky for the husband, he was at the grocery store…picking up tooth brushes since we were suddenly out of them this morning – that is a whole different story).   I begged J.J. to come outside to lift the lid off the sewer to see if my book had survived the fall.

It did!  J.J. climbed into the sewer and rescued the book from the nice, soft pile of leaves it had landed on.  I ran back inside to grab my phone to take a picture. [As any concerned parent would do when her kid’s in a sewer.] The book is now safely in the hands of one of my co-workers and I owe J.J. $10.

Now you see what I mean about Suzi setting an unattainable standard for the rest of us. With one son on the sewer, another one inside it, and an entire household with halitosis, she is a monument to maternal selflessness and good hygiene. Not only that, but she took meticulous care of my book. As a humorist, I figured my book was destined to become bathroom literature, but I never thought its trip to the pipes would be quite so direct.

 

So glad I no longer have to worry about what photo to use for my annual Christmas card.

So glad I no longer have to worry about what photo to use for my annual Christmas card.

 

Should you get back into the dating game if your heart’s not in it? Let’s ask your lungs.

Everyone knows Americans are celebrating Veterans Day today. But did you know 11/11 is also known internationally as Singles Day?

I, for one, did not, which is shameful considering I co-host a podcast about dating and relationships. According to BBC News, Singles Day happens to be the world’s biggest online shopping day of the year. This makes perfect sense, since we unattached types prefer to stay home and enjoy the company of our seven cats.

Since it is Singles Day, it’s somewhat fitting that Philippa and I have chosen to dedicate this week’s blog duel to answer a question from one of our listeners: Should you date if your heart isn’t really in it?

As a practicing lawyer, I long ago lost the ability to answer a question using with brief and clear responses such as “yes” or “no” (though that would allow me to end this blog post quickly and pop open a beer). So instead I’m going to answer this by invoking an analogy: I believe one’s fitness for dating has a fair amount in common with how one approaches physical fitness.

Are you the kind of person who just completed your third Ironman, or is ironman the term you use to describe the guy who presses clothes at the dry cleaner?

If you fall into the first category, throwing yourself into the dating pool when you don’t exactly feel like swimming will probably end up just fine. You’re used to motivating yourself to do things you don’t necessarily want to do and even exert yourself beyond ordinary discomfort by telling yourself that, when it’s over, you’ll be glad you did it. Sure it might make you flail, gasp for air, and flail madly at first, but after going through the motions for a while, it doesn’t feel so bad, and pretty soon you won’t even dread the next workout. You’ll fall into a regular cadence, enabling you to power through a bad workout, confident that a better one lies ahead.

But if you’re a dating couch potato, convincing yourself to get back in the game when your heart isn’t in it might not be the best idea. Even if you muster up the energy for the first trip to the gym, if it’s at all painful—as so many first forays are– you might be too discouraged to go back. That’s worse than not trying to begin with. If, on the other hand, you wake up one day feeling like it’s high time you got fit, then just start moving and see what happens. No matter how it goes, you’ll at least have some idea of what you are (and aren’t) missing before you return to the cozy comfort of the couch.

Regardless of which category you fall into, as they say in those Cialis commercials, make sure you’re healthy enough for this kind of activity before you return to the gym. If, for example, you just experienced the relationship equivalent of a blowing a hammy, don’t risk re-injury by going back to the gym too soon. Take a breather, let yourself heal a bit, and then ease your way back into it.

And may you have good luck with that thing you’re doing.

[And speaking of GLWTTYD, have you gotten your copy yet? If not, why not? Discuss. (And if you’re waiting for the eBook, it comes out on November 19!]