Thursday, September 28, 2006

Just What I Needed

“How was your day?” he asked.

JG and I were catching up over the phone as he drove home. He’d been at school for 14 hours – classes, volleyball practice, and the bonus of Back to School Night – so it was the first time we’d really talked.

“Sucky,” I said.

I told him how the lack of an administrative assistant at work made me the default person for ordering supplies and lunch in addition to fielding voicemails and cleaning up common areas, and oh, right, doing my actual job. How trying to train a new employee resulted in a task taking three times as long as it would have taken me to do it myself, especially when he didn’t bother to read the instructions provided. How doing work outside of my normal responsibilities prevented me from meeting a deadline today, and I hate it when I can’t follow through on what I say I’ll do. How this bitterness built up to the point that I snapped at my co-workers and felt awful. How I tried to drown my sorrows in pasta before watching 4 straight hours of straight television, including three episodes of the gem that is Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. How I sat huddled on the couch with my fingers in my ears as lightning lit up the silhouettes of our trees because I hate thunder so much and I was too scared to close blinds. How glad I was to finally talk to him, even if I did cry a little and it was so late.

And then JG agreed with me that I had had a rough day, that it was ridiculous how tasks fell to me without any acknowledgement, and that it was probably one of the worst days for him to have to stay at school all day. “I owe you a big hug when I get home,” he told me. That sounded okay to me.

I feel a little better now, but I can’t wait for him to come home.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Identity Crisis

For as long as I've known him, JG has always wanted to coach a volleyball team. I missed his glory days of playing, but I've come along on my share of siblings' tournaments. This semester, at the high school where he teaches math, JG is also the head coach of the girls’ volleyball team, and I get to go watch their matches today! I’m really looking forward to it. Whenever JG mentioned coaching a team someday, I was totally on board. I had images of baking cookies, making scarves for the seniors, and schmoozing with the girls’ parents dancing in my head. I was going to be The Supercool Coach’s Wife. JG saw my head drifting into the clouds when we talked about it recently and he quickly pulled me back to earth, saying, “I think I have to tell the girls to call you Mrs. Married Last Name.”

Come again?

His logic is sound and definitely the safe way to go. The girls have to call him Coach Last Name because he teaches at their school, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense for them to use my first name. The parents can call me by my first name, but it’s not appropriate for the players, from his standpoint. Okay, fine. I get that. “But,” I protested, preparing to jump headfirst into the cliché, “…that’s your mother! Or your grandmother!”

Ah, but in the past few months, I’ve finally grown accustomed to signing that name on my credit card receipts. That’s the name I say when I introduce myself to new work contacts. It’s what shows up when people get emails from me. Don’t get me wrong, I was all about having a new name when we got married because mine was annoying in some ways, with mispronunciation at the top of the list. (I was unaware at the time that this new name was equally difficult for strangers to say and twenty times harder for me to spell over the phone.) I guess I was startled by the idea that using my first name wasn’t okay. Even when we worked with our church’s youth group and were summer camp counselors, it was fine to use first names, but I guess we’ve crossed over into Adult World, or something. Being Mrs. Married Last Name just makes me feel older, and not in a sophisticated way. It's kind of like how I nearly fell over when my grocery store cashier called me "ma'am" for the first time.

Oh, well. JG reassured me that he gets called Mr. Initial at school sometimes (due to the mispronunciation issues), so maybe that will catch on. I’ll go to the game today and take tons of pictures, and we’ll see what happens. Ultimately, I know I have to get over it. JG is going to be a teacher and a coach for a long time, and coercing the players into calling me “Mrs. Coach” just isn’t going to happen. Because that is not supercool.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A New Regime

I bought a dress online more than two years ago from Ann Taylor for several reasons: 1) I had a gift card, 2) it was on sale, and 3) I didn’t have a little black dress in my closet. When I received the dress and put it on, it was clear that it was a size too big, but my mom said that it was easily altered, so I kept it, fully intending to seek out my local seamstress and get the job done.

Cut to almost three weeks ago.

I suddenly remembered that I had to be at a wedding soon, and I intended to wear this dress, but I had never gotten it altered. I went so far as to find a seamstress’s name and number, drive to her house, and try on the dress only to find out that it didn’t need to be altered. In other words, in two years’ time, I had gone up one dress size. In the short-term, it’s not a huge deal because the dress fits. Heaven help me if it had been too small. But if I extrapolate to ten years down the road, I do not want to have gone up five dress sizes. Something clearly had to change.

I’ve taken up what I hesitate to call a routine of working out, because it’s very modest. Three days a week, I walk about a mile and a half around my neighborhood, and the other two mornings feature about 40 minutes of yoga from a set of DVDs. I do a variety of crunches, push-ups, and wall-sits, too. I’m giving myself the weekends off for now, even though I’m sure that doesn’t jive with any known fitness plans. I’ve been eating a bowl of cereal and drinking a glass of orange juice everyday, which is probably the biggest adjustment for a longtime non-breakfaster. I’m trying to drink more water, eat more fruit, get consistent sleep, and refrain from snacking. Even though I miss it, I stopped putting root beer on the shopping list, and I haven’t had dessert in quite a while.

I should mention here that I don’t own a scale, so I have no idea if I’ve lost any weight. That’s not really the goal here; instead, I want to feel like I have some semblance of stamina and I’m doing something to stay in shape. I know there will come a time when my metabolism pulls the bus cord and says, “Well, this is my stop." If I don’t have good habits already, it'll be a very unpleasant surprise, and anyone who knows me knows that I do not like surprises. At all.

So far, I’m doing well with this set-up. The variation makes it interesting enough from day to day, and I enjoy the fresh air I get on my walks. I’ve found that it has helped me focus more at work because I’ve had about an hour to be awake and alone, and I’m confident that I’m doing something that’s good for me. As demoralizing as that moment was when my black dress unexpectedly fit me, it was the wake-up call I needed. I'm glad to report that I felt pretty okay about myself in that dress this past weekend, and I’m doing to do my darndest to keep up with this routine.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bump from Behind

When I was learning how to drive, I had a minor accident involving a narrow road, the curb, and a road sign. The basic story is that I was freaked out by a giant truck in the oncoming lane and overestimated how far I should have been away from him. I also underestimated the amount of road left on my side. Alignment fixing aside, it was traumatic mostly in the guilt trip I received from my parents, and I’ve been lucky to avoid any other altercations since then.

And then today, I was rear-ended on the way to work. Everything’s fine, I’m fine – it’s not a big deal. I was on a small, country road that sort of drops onto a busier artery, and as I looked way to the left to see if anyone was coming, I was bumped from behind, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I unleashed this primitive shriek (probably reminiscent of my mother’s shrieking when I mowed across the curb at the previous accident site) and slowly edged out to the shoulder. Upon examination, my bumper seemed undamaged, with the exception of some blue paint transfer, as the CSI folks might say.

The girl in the car behind me turned her engine off and walked toward me in a turquoise Victoria’s Secret PINK sweat suit, apologizing the whole way: “I just wasn’t paying attention!” She was my age at the most and we both shifted uncomfortably as we surveyed the lack of wreckage. When the girl gave me her information, I realized that she lives in my neighborhood, and it is so strange that I was hit a half hour from my house by a person whose road I pass everyday.

I understand more why whiplash can occur so frequently, even if there is minimal or no damage during an accident. I’m not playing the whiplash card, and I’m not suing anyone, but I have to say that my neck and head feel a little funky right now. The bump to my car felt huge, and I was jostled in my seat; I can’t imagine how an actual accident feels and sounds. I was a defensive driver before today, and let’s just say that I left a lot more space between the next car and me when I pulled back onto the road.

All things considered, the car is running normally, and I got gas for $2.39/gallon, so it’s not all bad.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Wedding Lessons

This past weekend held a car trip to Connecticut, the uncomfortable experience of sharing a bed in my parents' house, and the wedding of one of my high school friends. With the cake and chocolate favors that come with the typical wedding also came these important life lessons:

  • High-heeled shoes will always sink in the mud, no matter how stable you feel on solid ground.
    I had to wear pretty shoes to the wedding, which meant heels. When dealing with an outdoor ceremony like we were, after an almost-monsoon the night before, there’s bound to be sinkage, but not just for me. The bridesmaids’ pre-chosen silver kitten heels sank ever deeper as the ceremony went on, and they were encrusted with a not-so-pretty layer of gunk for the rest of the night.

  • When you only know one side of the bridal party, the receiving line is just weird.
    It’ll even be weird if you say “congratulations” to everyone you don’t know, which is the sage advice we received from the woman in front of us. She looked to be about my mom’s age, so that sounded trustworthy. Until I actually tried it. It was so awkward shake the groom's parents' hands and say, “Congratulations!” without so much of a “I know the bride, which is why I’m invited and you don’t know me.” I compensated by making a beeline to the bride, which was as graceful as it sounds. A receiving line is like drugs – just say no.

  • Drunk people need friends, and chances are that they’ll find you.
    It was a strange thing to be at a table with people I hadn’t seen in about five years, especially when that table was roughly 18 miles from the dance floor and only half of our tablemates bothered to attend the reception. We made small talk with the other couple at the table, but then distraction came in the form of quasi-friends from high school who had had a little too much. We’ll just call them Drum and Flute from my marching band days (every introduction I made that night was, “JG, this is so-and-so, and he or she played so-and-so instrument in the band…”), and JG and I were their best friends. They told us so. Drum also told us why he didn’t want to get married: “I just have an issue with committing to a date. I’ve been living with my girlfriend for three years, but I just can’t commit to an actual day. My mom hates that.” Flute explained about her sister who is “pregnant with a 41-year-old guy. They’re married, and we don’t like him. Yeah, she’s 20.” Whoa. Nice seeing you guys, too. We'll totally keep in touch. Don't ever change.

  • If you couldn’t dance like that in high school, you still can’t.
    In one impulsive moment, I allowed myself to be dragged onto the dance floor while Usher’s “Yeah” was playing. As I dropped my wrap onto my chair, I remember thinking, “How do I dance to this?” And then I was on the dance floor, in a little circle with some girls, standing stock still. Don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoy dancing to standards with JG. But this sort of free-form thing has never been for me. I looked stiff and uncoordinated because, well, I was. It was like I had never left high school and I had an eerie sense of déjà vu. My look of discomfort prompted my bridesmaid friend to proclaim, “The worst thing about high school dances was that there was no alcohol. Then you had all your inhibitions and you could see exactly how stupid you looked!” Um, yes. That was the biggest problem with high school dances.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Typical Exchange

While eating corn on the cob…

RA: Don’t you think it’s weird that these corn holder things are always shaped like corn?
JG: … What else would they be shaped like?
RA: Mm, traffic cones! Or maybe pencils?
JG: Um.
: Come on, you do one!
JG: Golf clubs?
RA: Wouldn’t that be too whippy?
JG: I’m not playing this game anymore.

Further research has turned up an exception to the corn-shaped corn holders, but I feel like they’re kind of high on the creepy scale.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where I Was

When the events of September 11 occurred, my mom commented that I was talking about it like she and her friends did when John F. Kennedy was killed: what they were doing, where they were, how they heard about it, and how they watched the tape over and over. This is my September 11 story, perhaps not inspirational or notable, but mine.

That day, I was a freshman in college, and it was my second Tuesday of classes. I was reading for my first class in a student center when I caught the morning’s headlines from an overhead television set, and Katie Couric appeared suddenly to announce that the first tower had been hit by a plane. I couldn’t stay for the rest of the report, but soon after I arrived at class, another girl came in with the news that the second tower had been hit, but we had no idea what was going on other than that. My next course was interrupted by a female professor running in and frantically scrawling on the blackboard, “Class cancelled due to emergency in Washington, D.C.” and then racing out without a word. We looked at our elderly professor, who said calmly, “We will finish our class.” And we did.

When I returned to my dorm, my roommate and neighbors were gathered around our tiny television, watching footage replay. For the first time, I saw the planes hitting the towers, the devastating collapse, and the countless people on the ground. Then there came word of the plane crashes in Pennsylvania and D.C. I was shaken. All of the news I had missed during my three hours of classes came crashing to me in waves of deeply saddening images. The skyline of the city where I had spent every holiday since I could remember was billowing smoke where there should have been two solid, steel buildings. I couldn’t call my parents; the phone lines were so blocked up with however many calls. So we sat by the phone and watched the news for hours.

That night, I went to a vigil with several thousands of students, and the show of unity and candlelight was calming to me. I felt distinctly small and vulnerable because the collapse of the towers meant more than the failure of steel and concrete; it was the uncertainty of institutions I had assumed to be stable, even indestructible. The sheer animosity of the act was chilling, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that people on these planes faced their mortality in their coach seats while employees in their offices had no time to say goodbye. I found out later that two daughters of my parents’ friends had died that day at their jobs in the towers. They were my sister’s age.

My parents visited the following weekend because it was intended to be Freshman Parents’ Weekend. They expected to watch me in the halftime show at the football game, but it was cancelled as a sign of respect. Instead, we walked through a memorial ribbon garden set up in front of the library. Thousands of yellow ribbons, bearing messages from students, faculty, and even my parents, fluttered in the wind. Even now, the library looks somewhat empty to me without the ribbons, which have since been taken down and saved for posterity.

Five years later, I made my commute under an appropriately cloudy sky, as if everything was grieving. I will call a friend to wish her a happy birthday; she hates to bring it up in the midst of everything else going on, and people tend to forget. I’ll make dinner for JG and me. I'll watch the ceremonies and speeches. And I’ll remember where I was.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Happy Fall Weekend

I used to love the first day of school. It was the signal to start over, stock up on new supplies, and buy one or two new outfits. Most importantly, it was the start of fall – the best season! In my New England childhood, that meant jumping in piles of rust-toned leaves (and watching out for the occasional slug), eating Crockpot meals like beef stew and pot roast, and the annual farewell to my pollen-induced allergies. Hooray!

Well, my mid-Atlantic leaves are still green, and my allergies haven't quite gone away yet, but this weekend, despite the 70-degree weather and the sound of lawnmowers in the background, is when fall starts for me, and here’s why:

Today: The first University of Delaware football game
Thanks to the generosity of JG’s parents, we have season tickets to go see the University of Delaware football team, and today is the season opener against West Chester University. The game will probably be a blowout because WCU isn’t even in the same division as we are, but it’s a traditional rivalry, and it’s nice to start out the season with a win. I didn’t enjoy football at all before I met JG; as far as I was concerned, the football field was primarily for marching band practice, as I’ve implied before. When I had to give up the band in college due to schedule conflicts, JG and I took advantage of the free student section of the football games – awful seats behind the goal post – and he taught me how to watch the game. At first, I just watched the scoreboard and listened to the announcer, and honestly, from that viewpoint, you can’t tell whether the guys go 5 yards or 50. Soon, though, I began to notice that the same guy usually ran or threw, and I kept hearing the same names over the loudspeaker for completed passes or blitzes. In the weeks before UD won the Division 1-AA National Championship in 2003, JG and I were at every playoff game, even when we had to chip snow and ice off our bleacher seats, and I was as good a football fan as any. Tonight, I’m looking forward to seats on the home side (such luxury!), and I’ll be able to see my friends in the band as well as tell how far plays run. Plus, we’re bringing a sort of tailgate dinner, and there’s always a chance that we’ll run into the mascot in the parking lot!

Tomorrow: The 21st Annual Mushroom Festival
The farms in our little town in Pennsylvania produce half of the world’s mushrooms (I should note here that I love the little fungi and JG has grown to tolerate them), and there is a festival each year to celebrate our major export. It’s always the weekend after Labor Day, and it is a quintessential small town activity, except that it’s infused with mushrooms. There’s an antique car parade, a rock climbing wall for kids, animals up for adoption from the SPCA, and stalls upon stalls of free giveaways and samples from local businesses. The town closes off its main street around the square, and signs in the periphery read, “Mushroom Festival 9/9-9/10. Suggest another route.” Last year at this time, the offer that JG and I made on our house had just been accepted, so we decided to go to the festival to get a taste of what our new town would be like. We paid five bucks for parking and ambled around, checking out the old cars, watching street performers, and buying a snack of the best fried mushrooms caps we’ve ever had. We stumbled upon a used bookstore that was having its grand opening that day, and we came away with handfuls of dollar novels and random other reading material. The Mushroom Festival is special to JG and me, and I can’t wait to walk up and catch the cooking demonstrations from area chefs tomorrow afternoon. This time, I’ll bring my camera and hopefully get shots of all of the random mushroom-shaped paraphernalia that showed up last year, everything from lawn sculptures to bird houses to candle holders. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for those fried mushrooms, too.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Standing Still

Friends of ours just got engaged this week, and that was nice news to receive. JG was pretty instrumental in helping the groom-to-be with the diamond selection, and I think we’ll have a wedding to attend next spring or summer. I picked up an engagement card along with my usual gift of thank you cards, and I’m happy for them.

Can’t you tell?

No, I really am happy for them, but I feel almost envious of all of the excitement and what they have to look ahead of them. It’s not that I don’t love being married, but it was so fun to be newly-engaged. I really enjoyed going to the parties, seeing older women at the supermarket smiling when they saw my ring, browsing wedding magazines, and creating my amazing Wedding Workbook – a collection of interconnected spreadsheets that tracked addresses, gifts, thank yous, RSVPs, expenses, and schedules. But I digress.

Now that I think about it, as momentous as it was, getting engaged was the first of many life changes that occurred over that year. Let’s see… I also graduated from college, found an apartment, landed a job (whew!), got married, bought a house, and moved in. I always had something to anticipate, something to push me forward. When I finished school, I was planning the wedding; when the wedding was over, we started house-hunting. Now that we’re sort of finished, I don’t know how to handle it. When people ask me what’s new, I’m at a loss for words. I’m at the same job, the house is still standing, and I don’t foresee any drastic changes in the near future. I feel motionless when I’m used to accelerating. Is this what they call a rut?

Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe I’m easing into a time of life where things are stable so that I can do… well, I don’t know what. That’s another part of this restless discontent. What am I doing with myself? I feel oddly guilty that I’m not striving for something, like I got married and checked my ambition at the door.

I’m sure I’ll look back on this period, thinking wistfully about how much leisure time I had, and scoff that I was too young to appreciate it. The trick is to savor the stillness and lack of urgency now, I suppose. And perhaps this is a time to count my many blessings, count them one by one.

Monday, September 4, 2006


Yesterday, I embarked on a household experiment for the greater good, by which I mean the greater good of my jewelry. See, our bedroom is a humid swamp during the summer months despite the thrumming of the dehumidifier, and since this was our first summer in the house, I didn’t anticipate the toll that would take on my not very large selection of sterling silver jewelry. Let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty.

Initially, I tried what JG’s mom called a foolproof method. She told me to “line the sink with aluminum foil, put in some baking soda, and then pour hot water in.” Uh, that’s it? What quantities of all of these things? How hot is the water? Does it matter that I’m trying to de-tarnish jewelry and not silverware? I surmised from the lack of details that quantities didn’t matter too much, so I started in my own fashion. I lined a cake pan (I was wary of my jewelry in the sink) with foil, shook in some baking soda, and then added hot tap water. I followed the directions, right? Wrong. My jewelry stayed as stubbornly tarnished as before, and I had a feeling that the solution was loosing its efficacy as the water quickly cooled off. Forget this – to the source of all knowledge, the internet!

A quick look on Google and eHow turned up a whole variety of solutions. They all had the water/baking soda/aluminum combination, but all other details were all over the map, like temperature of water (hot from the tap vs. boiling), quantity of baking soda (2 tablespoons on up to “one to two cups”!), time (as little as 5 minutes or as much as a half hour), and after-cleaning treatment. Some tipsters said to wrap the silver in plastic wrap, others recommended mylar bags, and still others preached of moisture-grabbing strips. Again, I mentally protested, “What if it’s jewelry and not forks?!” No one heard my cry.

Finally, after hearing me hem and haw about the variance in these methods – seriously though, why hasn’t anyone debunked the numerous and obviously wrong methods here? – JG put a pot of water on to boil and dumped in a cup of baking soda. Well, that shut me up. I was committed. We were going for the gusto.

The white mixture started to pop and fizz all over the place, and we dumped it into my foil-lined pan. I dropped in my jewelry, trying to maximize my available space, and watched with bated breath. Sure enough, the some of the tarnish started to fall away, and I took the “watched pot” reasoning and stepped away from the somewhat smelly pan.

Fifteen minutes later, I fished out my jewelry from the baking soda cakiness, and well, it kind of worked. Some pieces were totally clean, but others were kind of patchy. The solution wasn’t very comprehensive, to say the least, but I have no idea why. Too much baking soda? Not enough time? Bah. I wiped everything off and put each piece in a plastic snack bag, in spite of the few dire warnings against doing so, and made a mental note to consult my local jeweler. Which could have saved me some time and a whole lot of baking soda.

So much for being all Mr. Wizard.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Delay Itinerary

6:20 – I meet a co-worker in the hotel lobby to grab a cup of tea and a taxi to the airport.

7:00 – We arrive at the airport and get in line to check in, fighting a bit of disorientation because the line is so long that we mistake it for the security line. We confirm with others that we’re in the right place, and check that our separate flights are on time, which they are.

7:30 – We emerge out of the security lines grappling with shoes, computer, jacket, and carry-on with time to chat before our boarding times. I check to make sure I’ve retained my boarding pass, after last time’s misplacement fiasco in the restroom (it was turned in to my gate, thankfully), and I stow it safely in my carry-on.

8:15 – My co-worker and I part ways to head to our respective gates. My flight is now listed with an hour delay, to depart at 9:45am, so I decide to go grab breakfast in the interim. An hour delay doesn’t bother me too much because I’m hopeful that the ride home will be lighter as far as traffic goes. I end up with a disappointingly tasteless orange poppy seed muffin cap, and a guilty-pleasure Entertainment Weekly (Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn were on the cover!). I leave JG a voicemail to let him know about my later arrival back home and then get to work on my muffin and magazine, staring out at the gray landscape of airport, planes, and tarmac.

8:35 – Someone triggers an alarm on an emergency door at the adjacent gate, resulting in a high-pitched, shrill noise in a continuous, piercing tone. Children shriek, older men plug their ears, and an airline representative announces on the loudspeaker that the alarm can only be turned off by the San Francisco police, and they’re on their way. She adds, “Please keep small children away fro the emergency door because … well, please just do that.”

8:50 – The police arrive to shut off the alarm. Harried travelers applaud.

9:15 – I look up from a story on Idlewild and notice on the screen in my gate that the departure time for my flight has magically and silently changed to 10:45. A woman nearby inquires at the desk and brings back news that Tropical Storm Ernesto is imminently pounding the east coast, including Philadelphia, and there’s something going on with air traffic control. We hear an announcement that the air traffic control people have restricted the number of flights that are allowed to land per hour. If the storm lets up, the quantity of flights may increase, but each airport with flights to Philadelphia will now be notified as events warrant. In short, I will be waiting here indefinitely while air traffic control decides whether we can land, with a possibility that the flight could be cancelled.

9:30 – I call my office to form the beginnings of a contingency plan and get assurance that charging a hotel room to my company card in this situation is okay, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that. JG calls me and commiserates on my delays, assuring me that he wants me to get home soon, but not at my cost of my sanity. I appreciate.

10:05 – The flight departure time changes to 11:45am, arriving after 8pm. An airline person finally announces a boarding call of 11:15am for this departure time. More applause from Gate 68.

10:07 – A more to-the-point representative announces that because of other weather issues around the country, “anyone traveling to Philadelphia will need to remain on this flight. Do not ask us to reroute you, because we cannot. I repeat, you are stuck on this flight.” Recent applause dies out in favor of indignant murmurs and cynical chuckles.

11:15 – We board the plane as planned, and I find that my whole section of the plane has been taken over by a gaelic football team from San Francisco, and sentences like, “Dude, this sucks, dude” dominate their conversation. I hunker down for the flight and start to doze off before the safety video.