Best Audiobooks for Long Drives With Teens

It’s graduation season, so in preparation for my final journey eight hours south to the big state university my two oldest children have attended over the last five years, I downloaded a couple of audiobooks to help make the time hurtling down a major interstate pass as quickly as humanly possible.

Over those years of driving down for orientations, football games and settling kids in for fall semesters, we’ve listened to a number of excellent books but it’s been a challenge trying to find something that appealed to every passenger in the car.

Okay, let’s be real. When I first started visiting the school about six years ago, I picked stories that interested just me, as I’d come to terms with the fact that I would be the only one listening. I had three teenagers, after all (and one very cute 7yo).

I knew that all of the teenagers along for the ride would be reclining in the back of our SUV, thoroughly ensconced in whatever loud music was blaring from their white headphones. As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, the children would slip into their own worlds and spend the following eight hours intermittently napping and taking Snapchats of themselves — framed by whatever geotag we were passing through — while some misogynistic lyrics blasted into their young ears. (Okay, there probably wasn’t Snapchat six years ago but you get what I mean).

51ySC5A5-NL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_So I listened to Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken which, at about 8 hours long, was perfect for one leg of the trip. Not only was the story of overcoming insurmountable challenges incredibly inspiring but I also learned a lot about the Pacific theater part of World War 2, in particular Japan’s deadly attacks in China. Like, who knew?



61sHQfg18hL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_For an ensuing trip, I decided to really go for it and downloaded the second Girl With the Dragon Tattoo book (The Girl Who Played With Fire), which clocked in at 18.5 hours. This is when I discovered that some books are better to read than listen to. Number One, I do not have the attention span for all of that storytelling and it was so long I had to finish listening upon my return while driving to soccer and making dinner. And Number Two, while all those Swedish names of people and places were easy to differentiate while reading, you could tell by sight who or where the reference was, but listening was a whole different story. I couldn’t discern a Blomvkist from a Lundagatan and I have been known to speak the Swedish language.

413XudZK0tL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_Eventually, through some kind of miracle, the kids started listening along as we drove. We all enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and while she totally embraces the “F” word, which probably wasn’t the most appropriate language for my elementary school child, I loved her kind of Smart, Girl Power message and figured that would outweigh some of the naughtier language. And honestly, that’s probably what kept the kiddies listening, thinking they were kind of getting away with something.

And our love for Tina set us down the road to listening to a bunch of humor audiobooks on long drives up and down the Eastern Seaboard. We loved Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please and Jim Gaffigan’s Fat Dad. We listened to both Mindy Kahling books and Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. Of course, Nora Ephron helped us pass the time during one trip with her essays from I Feel Bad About My Neck. And I discovered Mike Birbiglia listening to This American Life and downloaded his poignant and hilarious album Sleepwalk With Me. We seriously laughed our asses off.

41dfXsZcQDL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_We listened to some kid/teen-centric books as well. My little guy and I enjoyed Wonder driving down to move his sister into her new apartment one August and my two daughters and I adored Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Elenor & Park. Maybe a little too much.

But listening to books during long drives was not a novel (get it?) idea for my children. When they were young, I was always popping in a cassette – and later a CD – for us to listen to while driving. We loved Roald Dahl’s Magic Finger and Fantastic Mr. Fox and thrilled to Shel Silverstein’s slightly creepy, thoroughly wacky readings of his poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

One of my favorite family stories is the time we were all heading out on a long drive home from skiing and I popped in Mary Pope Osborne’s child-friendly version of The Odyssey, which was greeted by groans from the back seat. My oldest was probably around 12 or 13 and was way too grown up and cool to be subjected to his mother’s campaign to create lifelong readers in her children.

He grumbled and eventually settled down to hear about Odysseus’ struggles with wooden horses and one-eyed giants and as the first disc ended, I heard, “Wait, that’s it?” from that too-cool-for-school son in the back seat. Too old, indeed.

That same son – who, at 23, is an avid reader and counts East of Eden, which he read last summer while commuting, as one of his favorite books – was my travel companion for this weekend’s graduation festivities, so I kept him in mind as I perused iTunes to download stuff to listen to and kind of think I killed it.

tumblr_mav95sJmYi1rg9ssco1_250Driving down, my son, 19yo daughter and I listened to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – clocking in at 6 hours – and then couldn’t stop referencing the story throughout graduation weekend. We joked about the lovable yet often frustrating main character who has Asperger’s and mimicked the British-isms sprinkled throughout the story. I think the rest of our family, who was not in our car, was kind of annoyed by our going on about the story but yesterday, the graduate started reading it and I might encourage my youngest to do the same. Great story.

41diKbNSQSL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_For something completely different, our drive home was filled with the beautiful and profound thoughts on what makes a life worth living in the gorgeous memoir When Breath Becomes Air. An excellent contemplation of life and death written by a 36yo neurosurgeon before he succumbed to lung cancer and about 5 and-a-half hours long. Lovely.

My son and I listened to the end of Paul Kalanithi’s beautiful words and quickly followed up with a Game of Thrones podcast chaser to finish out our trip, thus balancing the heaviness of the memoir with the airy ponderings on the fate of Winterfell.

I will miss having a reason to trap my children with me for such large chunks of time and getting to listen to stories together. More than the stories – though I do love them – it’s the shared experiences I’ve enjoyed so much over the years. The inside jokes. The references to pet rats and dead dogs and sisters for sale.

However I will never miss I-81 or stopping to use sketchy restrooms in the middle of nowhere. Some experiences are best left in the past.

When I’m not driving up and down the East Coast, I write about being a mom to grown, and almost grown, kids. Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. 

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Younger Moms: Don’t Be Too Nice to Your Kids

check out timeTo all my younger mommy friends, I am sorry to report the following: it never ends.

I know. Take a deep breath and let me explain.

When you had your first baby, you managed the terror of what you were about to take on by reassuring yourself that it was merely an 18-year commitment. All you needed to do was keep that little chick alive until the end of high school and then you could release him into the wild and return to more pressing matters, like reading books and your long-neglected husband. You told yourself that some day, that baby would leave for college and that would be the end of that.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Brace yourselves, mommies, because I have some shocking news: THEY. COME. HOME.

A lot of them, anyway. A few do make their own nests after graduation but for the most part, the baby chicks – who are no longer babies and not nearly as cute as they were 18 years earlier – come back to the proverbial roost.

And these now-grown, college-educated children are expecting – nay, demanding – the same services they received in middle school. Like nightly dinners and a well-stocked pantry.

But these grown babies would also like to continue the co-ed lifestyle post-graduation. They get annoyed when you ask them to alert you should they not be returning home after a night out partying. Should they stumble home from said party, they also think nothing of raiding your well-stocked pantry in the wee hours and leaving a trail of Tostito crumbs in their drunken wake. They’d like to have their proverbial cake and scatter its crumbs all over the floor as they eat it, too.

And you think to yourself – not for the first time – as you stand in the middle of your kitchen surveying the carnage, “Why are they still here?”

Didn’t we already have our emotional “Good-Bye and Good-Luck” moment?

Younger mommies, it’s not too late for you to rewrite this all-too-familiar script. There’s still time for you to head off this raw deal in parenting and prevent your little chicks from assuming they are entitled to the many services you’ve provided throughout their lifetimes. Or perhaps, you should rethink providing all those services in the first place. Encourage them to make their own meals and clean up after themselves. Baby steps.

Don’t be too nice to your children, I might suggest.

And I would really like to continue offering this sage advice – like maybe you should consider getting out now and joining the Witness Protection Program — but I’ve got Tostito crumbs that need to be swept.

When I’m not sweeping and making dinners I write about being a mom to grown, and almost grown, kids. Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. 

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Hey Sexy

7d2bb7a51210e9e6257b75357ab7af62We used to joke that while his dad was teaching his two brothers how to fix things, my ex-husband was out throwing rocks and setting fires . In all likelihood, he was probably running around being sporty while his siblings watched their dad fix stuff and put things back together in his tidy basement workshop, but it was more fun to infer otherwise.

The result was while my former brothers-in-law could build and fix all sorts of stuff, my ex didn’t always have the skills to match his enthusiasm for repair. One time, I believe I am not making this up, he got zapped trying to fix a lamp and singed his eyebrows. Like, he could smell the burning hair.

We joked about that for a long time.

But we would laugh about his mishaps because it just wasn’t who he was. He was a great athlete who wasn’t really interested in the way things worked. But somehow, maybe through the kind of osmosis that occurs when you grow up in a house with people who care about that stuff, he was handy enough to manage basic things around the house.

He could hang shelves and pictures and there was nothing the man couldn’t carry. He even single-handedly fenced the backyard of our first house in an attempt to contain the crazy mutt I’d given to him right after he graduated from college (an insane gesture for which I would like to apologize publicly). His methods weren’t always orthodox, but he could usually figure out how to get a job done. He was like the Macgyver of household repairs.

We hired plumbers or electricians for the bigger repairs but mostly, my first husband took care of all the other stuff around the house. He mowed the lawn and raked the leaves. He cleaned the gutters. He hung shelves and drawers in all our closets.

It was nice.

Today, I pretty much outsource all of those chores. I pay someone to mow my lawn and clean my gutters. My younger daughter showed a talent for hanging things a few years ago and there is nothing she can’t put up on a wall using the cordless screwdriver and level I bought her. She replaced a high school friend of mine who used to come over and hang mirrors and pictures for me after my husband and I split. That pal also painted stripes on my daughters’ bedroom walls and glued my kitchen stools back together when they began to fall apart a few years ago.

I’ve also found a couple of handymen who I’ve paid to hang smoke detectors and paint my deck. And finally, there are the poor, unsuspecting husbands of friends who have also helped me out over the years; the ones who’ve had to come over to start a generator or fix a leak under my sink.

Recently, I needed help hanging a fire extinguisher in my old kitchen as part of the smoke and fire inspection I need to pass to sell my house. I mentioned the dilemma at knitting and a gal pal immediately said she’d send her husband over to get the job done.

And honestly, while I really hate being so needy, I’m also tired of paying someone else to do these jobs. And I like to think that I can do just about anything myself. I’ve stepped up over the years and figured out how to shovel myself out of a blizzard and scoop up the dead things that crop up in my pool a few times a season. But if you’ve ever seen me hammer a nail into the wall, you’d also encourage me to hire someone to help out when drills are required for a job. I bring a reckless and imprecise approach to nailing things to the wall.

So I quickly took my girlfriend up on her offer and a few days later, she and her husband showed up to hang my fire extinguisher. Her hubby even had to run back to their house when it was discovered screws were not included with the thing. He also suggested a much better place to hang it than where I initially thought it should go. They were gracious about the whole operation and the fire inspector agreed a few days later and I put that part of the house sale behind me.

I dropped a bottle of wine off at their house not long after to thank them for helping a sister out. It was late afternoon when I left the wrapped bottle on their front porch and because I hadn’t attached any kind of note, I sent her a text so she’d know it was from me.

“Hey sexy … just left a treat on your porch, hopefully just in time for happy hour. So thankful to have friends like you with handy hubbies … xo”

On a side note: I am big on starting texts with openers like the aforementioned “Hey sexy.” “Hey sexy pants,” is another popular one. I also like a good “Hello gorgeous” or “What’s up fabulous,” so, you get the point. I like saying crazy things to my girlfriends. I can’t help it. They bring it out in me.

So, I thought it was weird that I never heard back from her but I’m not always the best message-responder either so figured she was living her life rather than checking her phone a zillion times a day. And then she called me the next morning laughing and told me what happened.

Apparently, they were having cloud issues at her house – you know, that mysterious virtual place to store data – and she never received the text, nor did she see the bottle of wine until she came back from the gym the following day. She brought it in and showed her husband and wondered aloud who might have left it there.

“I know who it’s from,” he said, and told her how a text had cropped up on his iPad from an unknown number that began “Hey sexy.”

“You made his day,” my girlfriend laughed when she told me the story. But as he read on, her husband found out the text – which landed on his iPad rather than her iPhone due to the confusing workings of the cloud – was just his wife’s weird friend and not some mystery admirer.

I can be a messy/haphazard texter, sending unfinished messages and sometimes to the wrong recipient. I actually do that a lot. I was texting with my 18yo daughter yesterday about a podcast I was listening to with our hero Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec’s April Ludgate) and inadvertently posted the text “weapon of choice? Poison, hello” on a thread I was on with a bunch of my Little Moms. Interestingly, no one commented on my weird interjection.

So take care when texting. Make sure you’re calling the right people “sexy.” And if you screw up, pray your girlfriend has a great sense of humor.

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Would You Like to See My Ektorp?

The Ektorp out of the box.

The Ektorp out of the box.

This winter, on top of pulling up stakes and moving from my old house and renovating my new one, I also learned how to speak a new language.

It’s called “IKEA.”

In fact, I’ve become quite fluent.

I know how to say “Liatorp” and “Malm.” I’ve mastered a few pronunciations of “Hemnes” but struggled a bit with “Beddinge.” But “Ektorp” was a breeze.

We ended up needing to buy a bunch of furniture when we moved into our new house because our old stuff was just too big. This 1929 Tudor has smaller rooms than our former 1969 Colonial and thus requires furniture with smaller profiles. It is neither sectional- nor footboard-friendly.

Enter the Swedes. They know how to streamline furniture. You just have to put it most of it together.

So I made an initial trip to the closest IKEA in January about 45 minutes up the NJ Turnpike on an exploratory mission. My girlfriend and I took a lot of pictures and notes of things we thought would work in the new place.

In March, my two younger kids and I returned and bought a bunch of things to stuff in a car and then we scheduled the really big stuff — like the Ektorp sofa — to be delivered a few days later. We bought the sofa, my 13yo son’s bedroom furniture (bed, dresser, desk), a futon for my older guy and a dresser for him to keep his clothes/hold the TV in the basement, and a really cool chair for my new office. We also got my little guy some really cool stainless steel shelves and giant wave picture to hang in his new room. And we ate meatballs and watched the planes takeoff and land at nearby Newark Airport because, like, when in IKEA.

I’d bought a bed from IKEA for my younger daughter for her 16th birthday a few years ago, which she put together herself over the course of three days, but hadn’t been back to the monolith since. But that daughter was home from school for spring break and chomping at the bit to assemble furniture. Can you imagine?

She barricaded herself in a room and slowly put together all of our new furniture. About a day into it she came to me crying that her hands hurt from all the screwing so I benevolently bought her a power screwdriver at Home Depot the next day. The only item she didn’t get to was my office chair, which required precisely 4 screws to be fastened, and took me about 2 days to complete. The guy who hung the subway tile in my kitchen watched as I struggled one afternoon and when he came back the next morning to grout, laughed, “You’re still fighting with that thing?”

Overall, I am thrilled with my IKEA purchases. I mean, I don’t need fancy. I like things that look good and are priced right (which is why I am obsessed with Target). And I know IKEA stuff can last because the table and chairs my first husband and I bought right after we were married for our apartment in Hoboken followed us with four children to three houses over about 15 years.

Apparently, you get into trouble with IKEA stuff  when you take one of their pieces apart — like a platform bed — and then try to put it back together again. Not a great idea.

But luckily, as I am never moving again, this will not be an issue. My Malm and my Ektorp will be standing long after I’m gone. But if they’re not, I’m going to need to find someone to put the new stuff together for me.



Behold, the Ektorp!



Malm platform bed with two big drawers underneath …


The rug is also IKEA.



Hemnes desk and 5-drawer dresser …



Ekby Mossby stainless steel shelves: I told him to go on and find something that spoke to him. “That speaks to you?” I asked when he showed me the monkey and he shook his head in the affirmative. “Interesting,” I answered.

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Dr. Amy

amy3I don’t know about you, but I embrace self-diagnosis, generally with no medical evidence for backing accompanied by a dire prognosis for good measure.

During various pregnancies – and thanks to the very helpful What to Expect When You’re Expecting tome – I was certain I’d developed a kidney infection, gestational diabetes and placenta previa when it turns out, it was just really bad gas.

For a while, I was fairly certain that a pain under my right ear was cancer and not the result of tightly clenching my jaw throughout much of my day (teenagers, anyone?).

And the pain I felt in my left knee every time I ran had me convinced I had torn my meniscus somewhere along a wooded trail. But when I stopped running, the pain magically went away.

And then there’s the pain in my feet. My big toes in particular.

It’s been there for years, this weird irritation in, like, my big toe knuckle. The one that connects the toe to the rest of the foot. And every once in a while in more recent years, the pain would really flare up, causing me to limp around when I woke up, and then eventually subside.

Then, about two years ago, we had the Summer of Amy. Remember that? When I went out – hard – about 10 nights in a row and it involved a lot of dancing and teetering around in high heels?

Well, it seems after that stint, my feet have never quite been the same. Like, last summer I officially swore off flip flops and started wearing Birkenstocks instead. And I don’t think I could shoehorn my hooves into a high heeled pump if you offered me money. My feet just don’t bend that way any more. Lunging is also a thing of the past (the exercise type of lunging and not, like, lunging for a glass of wine or the last piece of pizza).

So, I’d had my secret diagnosis for what was ailing me, the cause I was convinced was causing my pain. I just kind of kept it to myself. But then my younger sister told me she was having similar issues that a doctor diagnosed as some long, complicatedly-named issue. So, I decided to go with that. Much less embarassing.

Fast forward to this past fall and I’m sitting outside by a fire having drinks with an old college friend and trading ailments. I tried to pronounce this multi-syllabic foot condition from which I’d been suffering and she laughed in my face. “You’ve got the gout,’ she barked and we both started laughing our heads off, me only because I was a little drunk. In reality, I was freaked out because here was another person giving a voice to the condition I was both convinced and terrified I had: gout. Like Ben Franklin. Like, I might as well just go out and fly my own kite and electrocute myself.

I was convinced that my daily alcohol intake – because that’s just where I am right now in my life – had caused the joints of my toes to start to swell and I was just weeks away from needing a cane and wearing round wire-rimmed glasses and pantaloons.

So I was managing. Shuffling along in my Birkenstock slippers and sensible flats. And then my mom started needling me to get my feet checked by an actual doctor. Someone with a medical degree and not just, like, a router and access to WebMD.

She and my younger sister (another one with foot issues) had started seeing a foot doctor down by them and my mom couldn’t stop talking about her (this is how my mother gets when she really likes something). And then, one day last week, I finally got around to calling and lo-and-behold the doctor had an opening the next day.

Like most people, I don’t think my feet are particularly attractive. I don’t really like them being the center of attention. But there I was in an exam room with my tootsies propped up front-and-center on a chair. The doctor – who is 5 years younger than I am, which is a whole other blog post – came in and I joked about how ugly my feet were and then told her my secret diagnosis.

“I’ve got the gout,” I blurted, and she looked down and shook her head while gently cupping my feet in her hands and said, “I can assure you, this is not gout.”

She took some xrays to confirm what she thought my problem was and explained that the pain was being caused by degenerative arthritis stemming from a condition called hallux rigidus. The very sexy Stiff Big Toe.


Really, this is the only way I’d allow any of you to see my feet. Especially on the Internet.

The good news is that this is not an unusual circumstance for an almost-50-year-old-gal to find herself in. According to the doctor, she sees it a lot. The bad news is that it’s only going to get worse. Unless I opt for some type of surgery, it’s pretty much all about managing the pain, which can be done through things like buying certain types of sneakers, getting some orthotics made, and cortisone shots.

She told me that if I wanted, she could give me the shots right then and there and I started to sweat. On the one hand, I really wanted my feet to stop hurting so fucking much and on the other, I was scared. I really, really hate shots, and if any of you have had any in your face lately (ladies of a certain age you know that I am talking to you and you know just what I’m saying), you know that it’s a friggin’ nightmare. Like, I’d rather straight up have a baby.

But I pulled up my big girl panties and told her to go for it and then did legit Lamaze breathing while she pumped 3ccs of whatever it was into my feet that burned like hell. Talk about a hot flash.

But you know what? It worked. Immediately, my big toes felt infinitely better and later that night – don’t tell the doctor – I even wore high heels.

And since then, I don’t feel like I need to hobble out of bed in the morning, however my one attempt at lunging the other day reminded me that it’s not like my feet went back in a time capsule 20 years. Like, the damage has been done.

So, now you know all about my Granny Feet. And that I don’t have gout. Seriously, I should use this blog as a dating website because I’m sure the picture I’m painting of myself is hard to resist.

And I’d spend more time worrying about all of that if I didn’t have some research to do about my declining eyesight. I’m pretty sure it’s glaucoma.

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Public Apology


To the Good Samaritan who helped my 13yo pick up a case of Costco water bottles (because I cannot be satisfied with the paltry 32-pack at a grocery store and need the warehouse-sized 40 bottles) off Branch Avenue around rush hour last night:

I’m sorry I’m an idiot. That I was in such a rush to get my son to lacrosse practice and get back home in time to get picked up by my girlfriend to go out to dinner, that I forgot to close the back of my car. That when I discovered the kid we were picking up to carpool was stuck at a track meet and no longer needed a ride, I sped out of the driveway without pushing the little button inside my car to automatically close the back door. I had popped open the door in a preemptive measure to get my carpooler in the car as quickly as possible. I’d hoped he’d throw his gear in the back and jump in.

And it wasn’t until I was racing down one of the main arteries through town towards the practice field at the high school that I noticed the interior lights overhead were still on. “That’s weird,” I thought, and then thought, “Shit.”

It was then I regretted not bringing in the giant 40-pack of waters after a trip to Costco on Monday. But it was raining. And I’d already carried in about 100 pounds of milk and paper towels. And, I mean, what’s the point in having two sons if not to get them to haul giant packages of water to the basement? And I don’t know if it’s because I instinctively hit the brakes when this clicked in my brain or if those waters were destined to hit the pavement but in an instant, I saw in my rearview mirror the familiar blue-labeled bottles bouncing and rolling across the road behind me.

And honestly, my initial instinct when I pulled over and saw the debris scattered on this very busy thoroughfare that was thankfully deserted at that moment as a train had pulled into the station, bringing traffic to a halt (which is funny because I can’t tell you how many times in the last 20 years I’ve cursed goddamn NJ Transit for the very same inconvenience that had now ironically become a strange blessing). And I was dressed for dinner and wearing snug fitting pants and heels. And earlier in the day I’d gotten a cortisone shot in each of my big toes to relieve the arthritis that has of late relegated me to a life of Birkenstocks and Vans. I just didn’t want to add to the spectacle of the water bottles in the street by teetering around in tight pants and my fancy new heels (Clarks, but still).

But how could I just leave? How would that work? Would oncoming traffic simply drive over the bottles? Would the town’s DPW have to come out and clean it up? And how long would that take? Would I be guiltily driving by the bottles for the next few weeks? When a deer was hit not far from my old house, its carcass sat on the side of the road – that my children had to walk past on the way to school – for days before someone authorized for that type of disposal came and hauled it away. And would the local police deduce I was the drop-and-run litterer and come knocking on my door to arrest me?

I worried about all of the fallout from the literal fallout from my car and in an instant you were there, scooping the bottles off the road. I don’t know where you came from, maybe you were in the middle of a run, but you ran across the street and started to clean up my mess. And in an instant, my son was out there, too, grabbing as many bottles as he could and throwing them in the back of my car.

I thought about making a joke about being a crazy, menopausal woman rushing around as you threw bottles into the back of my truck but you didn’t really seem open to jokes. And I really did contemplate coming out to help but, I mean, the shots and the heels. But the two of you made quick work of it and in no time, as traffic slowly drove around our little circus, the bottles were off the road and you resumed whatever it was you were doing before you made the decision to help.

So, I just want to thank you for that. For coming to the rescue of some crazy white lady rushing around in her high heels strapped to her arthritic feet while all that plastic – talk about a carbon footprint – spilled out of her SUV. I hope something good happened to you later that night. I hope the universe, impressed by your goodness, paid it forward towards you in some really awesome way. And I also hope that when you recounted the incident later that night, maybe to your wife or girlfriend, that you were kind. That I didn’t come off as too much of an asshole. And finally, if I did, I hope you’ll accept my apology. I’m sorry I’m an idiot.

Humbly … Amy

Okay, maybe I’m a bit of a jerk. But still, it’s funny.  Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. 

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I’m From Jersey

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I learned firsthand that New Jersey, and its denizens, were a joke. Like, even my new roommate who hailed from Baltimore — BALTIMORE! — sneered at any mention of the Garden State.

Apparently, it was an embarassing place to live.

Even when we gather now as legit grown ups, there’s always some put down of my home state by my college friends and sometimes the person throwing the insult actually grew up in New Jersey. We went to high school together but after college she moved outside D.C. so I guess there’s a statute of limitations imposed on Jersey. You can disavow yourself of any relation to the state as long as you skeedaddle before you have to start paying taxes.

For a while, I dreamt of getting the hell out of Jersey, too. There’s just so many assumptions made about those of us who live here by those who don’t and for a long time, I really cared what other folks thought. I hated having the taint of Jersey on my skin.

I had a big interview for a PR job at Gucci years ago in Manhattan and the elegant Italian woman conducting the test-a-tete was astounded I grew up in the Garden State. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” she observed, and this was long before Snooki and the Housewives gave the rest of the world the impression that we awl tawked liyk dis and ran around drunk pulling each other’s hair. I mean, I gave that shit up after college.

Following my divorce, I dreamt about moving with my youngest child to the city when the older three kids graduated from college. But as time went on, it became clear that my situation was not that cut-and-dry. It turns out, just because your child completes his or her’s higher education does not necessarily mean they’re relocating. Sometimes they’re still living in your basement despite a diploma.

So when I was looking to downsize a bit I realized a 2-bedroom apartment was really not going to work and I quietly wondered how long I would be trapped in the wilds of New Jersey.

But it was a conversation I had this fall with another college pal that helped me see that my thinking was twisted. She and her husband had relocated to Long Island and she said it was hard to make friends because she commutes to work every day and didn’t have kids in the school system to help forge those local connections.

“It’s nice that you’re a part of a community,” she said to me, and I was like, “What is my fucking problem?”

I have everything I need right here. My family. My friends. A lovely town. I’ve also got the beach, pork roll, proper pizza and bagels, Bruce Springsteen and a cool new national park  that’s got an Alexander Hamilton bent and I mean, who’s cooler than that fly founding father these days?

This is where I live. It’s where I’ve raised my four children. Practically my whole family is a quick drive away and I’ve come to appreciate the real Jersey part of Jersey. The Goombas. The accents. The Turnpike. That opening sequence of the Sopranos? You better believe you’ve got yourself a gun baby. Bada bing!

It’s all part of the charm of the state. It’s what gives it its color. The same can be said for where you live, too. Whether you hail from Long Island or Boston or Savannah or Minnesota.  Or even Baltimore. I don’t want us all to be the same. Shiny and hoity-toity. Let’s celebrate our differences and not make assumptions.

And on Sunday nights in the summer, there’s no place on Earth I’d rather be than dancing to Rosalita and being in love with a Jersey girl surrounded by friends in a crowded bar about a block away from the beach because, it turns out, down the shore everything’s alright.

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Carpe Diem

IMG_1417Today I am thinking about how complicated life can be. And short. And confusing.

You think you have all the time in the world to make things right. To tell people how much they meant to you. How much you loved them.

But that’s not how it works and I am reminded once again there’s no time to right all the wrongs and settle all the scores. Giving that big monologue you’ve been composing in your head when you’re awake in the middle of countless nights and you can’t settle your thoughts — you’re spinning back in time to long ago arguments and college and wedding days — just might not pan out. All that waiting for the right moment — when the moon and the planets and the stars align — might have all have been for naught. That window might just snap shut.

Instead, let the people you love know how much they mean to you every day. Tell them. Show them. Bake them a cake.

Life is messy and complicated and it is so easy to take the path of least of resistance. To avoid yucky situations. To tell yourself you’ve got all the time in the world.

Because you don’t.

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Ignorance is Bliss

IMG_1340To celebrate my newly-renovated bathroom in the house I bought this winter, my mom presented me with one of those super-duper magnifying mirrors to sit on the pretty quartz counter where I can pull up a stool and examine my face to my heart’s content.


In my old bathroom, I had a big rectangular mirror I’d bought at Costco hung above the vanity. Screwed into the wall over to the left was a smaller mirror that swung out on an arm and you could flip the round mirror between regular strength and the other side that provided a more magnified view of oneself.

I bought the smaller mirror a few years ago when I determined I couldn’t really see specific things on my face that required grooming, like errant brows and pimples. At the time, I chalked it up to the inferior craftsmanship of the Costco mirror but in reality, I couldn’t see myself as clearly as I used to because my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, much like abs.

So I began to rely on that smaller side mirror for grooming but, honestly, my routine is not very complicated, especially when it comes to wearing makeup. I don’t really get involved with anything other than lip stuff unless I’m, like, going on a date or something. Honestly, I can’t stand the idea of taking eye makeup off and I’m also just not super-handy in the makeup department. Much like hair braiding and doing splits, I am deficient in those most feminine of skills.

All this being said to explain that as I am not applying mascara or rouge on a regular basis, I did not find myself really examining myself in that smaller mirror. The big Costco deal was just fine for putting on deodorant and rubbing lotion onto my elbows.

I also outsource my waxing needs, which eliminates another reason for heavy examination. Every few weeks I visit one of my favorite “browistas” who somehow shape the, like, three eyebrow hairs I have left into something resembling an arch and then rip the mustache off over my lip for good measure.

While I was paying for my waxing a few months ago, I picked up this little mini-razor that was displayed on the counter after all the girls who worked there were raving about all the hairy bits on their bodies they used the razor on – their arms and their faces, to name a few. What the hell? I thought.

I went home and went to work on the fuzz covering my right cheek and jawbone. I began scraping and holy shit, it was like I’d uncovered a small kitten on my face. Who knew all that peach fuzz, which I’ve noticed every now and again since I was, like, a little kid, would have added up like that? Of course, it was kinda satisfying, too, so I continued down my neck and up along my chin. I moved over to start working on the left side but the lighting in my bathroom above the vanity only illuminated the right side of my face so I did a little scraping on the left but couldn’t really see much accumulation and then decide I just didn’t have as much fur on one side than the other side of my face.

But a trip back to my browista a few weeks later confirmed the fuzz on my face was not relegated to just the right side. “You should use one of the mirrors in your car,” my brow girl suggested. “You’ll really be able to see your whole face in the daylight.” So, apologies to anyone who had to witness me half-shaved for those few weeks.

But honestly, I was just screwing around. I’m not really worried that the fuzz on my face is horrifying those forced to look at me. I mean, our whole bodies are covered in hair and even though I spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to keep a lot of that hair at bay, I can live with a fuzzy face. It was just fun to scrape up all that fur. And a cheek is a lot easier to work with than an arm. I have no interest in getting involved in removing all extremity hair and luckily, my Irish heritage is on my side in that respect.

So, even though I have not been a great mirror examiner in the past, when we moved into our new house in the beginning of March, our only mirror was a little old medicine cabinet in the hallway bath upstairs that requires really good eyesight to  see things. I could identify my teeth for brushing and hair for combing, but not much else. I’m lucky though in that I am definitely a glass-is-half-full kind of person. Unless otherwise notified, I tend to assume that everything is hunky-dory.

Ignorance really can be bliss.

I even found myself in a condo on vacation recently with an equally-bad mirror situation. But it was just me and my 13yo son – who has a hard enough time looking up from his iPhone, much less look at me – so I wasn’t too worried about what I looked like. We’d gone down to Hilton Head with our neighbors and enjoyed low-key week of sitting on the beach and riding bikes that didn’t really require any gussying up. I was shooting for presentable, at best.

When we got back from our spring break, I picked up the mirror my mom had bought me and eagerly took it out of its box, placed in on my counter and pulled the stool up close to take a gander. It’s the kind of mirror that magically lights up when it senses you in front of it and as the light bathed my face, I was horrified at what I saw.

It was ALL. SO. BIG.

The pores. The wrinkles. The eyebrows that had grown down to my lids. Even my earlobes looked crazy.

The whole thing gave me pause. On the one hand, it’s good to know what you’re dealing with. It’s nice to keep things in check. And on the other hand … I don’t know. Has it really improved my quality of life knowing I can literally see through the holes punched through my earlobes when I was in second grade that have supported four decades’ worth of dangly earrings and slowly stretched? If anything, it has alarmed the poop out of me.

But the mirror is not going anywhere. For one thing, I can actually see my eyelashes and putting on mascara isn’t the nightmare it used to be. And also, nose hair.

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That’s What Friends Are For

Little Mommies to the rescue!!

Where would I be without friends like the Little Mommies??

In the end, for as much as I’d thought packing up our house to move would be a team effort – I mean, what’s the point of having four kids if not to use as manual labor – the bulk of boxing 13 years of our lives turned out to be a one-man operation. Or should I say, one-woman?

Sure, the four kids did pack up their own bedrooms, which was interesting as each child employed strategies for moving that reflected his or her personality. The two girls were all business — leaving behind neat stacks of cardboard boxes and empty closets when they returned to school for spring semester — while my oldest son waited until close to moving day and then paid his younger brother to help him pack. And that youngest child, who at 13 still struggles with putting his dirty basketball shorts in the hamper each night, had a closet full of clothes on the day the movers arrived but had also carefully labeled boxes he actually had packed – filled with his stash of wooden swords and golden Mickey Mouse ears in homage of Star Wars’ c3pO – as “Sentimentals” and “Sentimentals 2.”


Sentimental items rated not one but two boxes for my 13yo.

And I do not wish to neglect mentioning that my oldest daughter drove eight hours home the weekend before the move with her roommate and spent two full days packing the remainder of our kitchen, color coding all boxes with bright duct tape that correlated to the rooms they were to be stored in the new house and creating a master list noting the contents of each box (so I know that Box #43 contains our crockpot and mulling ball, labeled PINK to head to the living room, and Box #5 – with a GREEN piece of tape indicating it was to go to the office – is labeled Holy Box, which contains a crucifix I received as a wedding gift 25 years ago that I don’t quite know what to do with along with a holy water font) . It’s amazing what can happen when two extremely Type A women are handed clipboards. There was no stopping them.

My younger girl got trapped with me one Saturday during the holidays down in our crawlspace as we weeded through a sea of Rubbermaid boxes filled with Halloween decorations – giant rubber hands on spikes and Styrofoam tombstones – and 20-year-old collection of my oldest son’s Brio Thomas the Tank Engine set (why, hello Percy and Henry), trying to determine where all of it was to go. By the end of the day the basement was filled with piles to be sold (an old Target trestle table and oodles of Skylander figures), thrown out (sorry K’NEX) or dragged to the new house for sentimental purposes (my youngest child is not the only sentimental person in the house and so I decided I could not part with the iron beds my daughters slept on when they were young).

So, the kids did do their part but the majority of figuring out what to do with a lifetime of stuff fell on me. And I mean, I guess that just makes sense and honestly, I don’t know if things would have been much different if I was still married. When we moved 13 years earlier, I was seven months pregnant with our fourth child and don’t really remember my then-husband doing much of the packing and unpacking. He was off at work while I weeded through old onesies and a mountain of American Girl merchandise determining what was coming along.

I thought my strategy for this move seemed at first quite brilliant: as we were planning on staying in our old house for a month after we closed on the new house, I reasoned the kids and I could slowly move all the boxes into the new place while they were home over winter break and then I’d hire movers to handle the big furniture. But, as you may have heard, the best laid plans are often shot to shit during the execution of such and, alas, our closing was delayed for weeks and my strong daughters returned to school in January without moving nary a box.


One of the things that held me back for a long time from ending my marriage was the prospect of being alone. I worried I’d never find someone else. That I’d end up by myself surrounded by stacks of books and cats. And for the most part, so far that’s kinda what’s happened. I mean, the books are all in boxes now and I only have one cat, but it’s been about seven years since my ex-husband moved out and I haven’t really found anyone to share my life with. I guess you could say that in a way, my worst fears have been realized.

Yet strangely, I’ve never felt less alone.

Since my divorce, I’ve made some really wonderful friends and deepened friendships that already existed. One reason might be that I have more time for friends. I don’t have to worry about making a partner jealous of time spent with others. But I think what separates my friendships now versus when I was married is that these relationships are much more authentic than before. I am much more honest – whether through my writing or in person – about things in my life being frankly less-than-perfect. There’s a lot less bullshit now.

Had it not been for the strong group of friends who surrounded and supported me during my divorce – who called me on their way to work each morning or ran by my side through the woods along icy trails and listened to me spill out the latest atrocity or let me lie on their couch and cry while feeding me tea and wine – I don’t know if I’d have come out the other end with my wits about me. I don’t know how strong I would have ended up becoming.

“The middle years are the loneliest period of life,” I heard reported the other day on my radio while listening to a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” The piece on how essential friendships are in midlife shared that “friends are key to our survival not only emotionally but biologically.”

Amen to that.

The segment continued, “Those with a network of friends live longer, recover faster from cancer and even preserve their memories better than those with few or no friends.”

I’m not so sure about the memory part – because I am lucky I remember to put on underwear lately which I totally attribute to old age – but am certain they should have added divorce to that list of life’s challenges made just a little easier by having a strong network of friends.


My movers were scheduled to come on a Thursday in mid-February and at the beginning of that week, an army of mommies arrived on a cold, wet snowy morning to move boxes to my new house. This is the group of friends I have taken to referring to, with great affection, as my “Little Mommies.” They’re the girls whose oldest kids are my youngest child’s age and with whom I sit on the beach in the summer and drink margaritas and watch our boys bob for hours in the ocean atop their boogie boards as we discuss pressing issues like Botox and our periods.

That morning their army of minivans and SUVs pulled up and the Little Moms piled out and started hauling my belongings to the new house. In a couple of hours they’d moved a majority of the boxes that had filled most of the den and deposited them in their color-coded areas in my new place.

“Looks like the cavalry is here,” I overheard one of the electricians working in my new kitchen say to a coworker as he watched about 10 women unloading boxes and lamps from the line of vehicles parked in front of the house.

The Cavalry has arrived.

The Cavalry has arrived.

On Tuesday, my friend Janine came over in the morning and helped me remove swinging lamps from the walls and pack up all the Fios cable boxes and wrapped the cords so efficiently that I tasked her with making all the cords in the house neat and tidy. My friend Dan, the famous Girl Whisperer, came over in the afternoon and he and my oldest son – who’d taken the day off from work to finish packing – hauled some larger items over to the new house in his pickup. He helped find a new home for my big, round table I use for parties and six folding chairs and tried valiantly to help me get a set of wire shelves down the stairs to use in the basement (we failed).

On Wednesday, The Knitters arrived with coffee and donuts instead of needles and yarn and pretty much moved everything else that wasn’t nailed down. That morning, instead of sitting around someone’s kitchen table gabbing and eating yogurt and granola and pretending to knit while talking about life – as we have two Wednesdays a month for the last 6 or 7 years – The Knitters opted to pack table lamps and flat-screen televisions into their cars and carry them into my new house.

Listen, I know it’s kinda trite to say that it takes the proverbial village to do anything nowadays but, man, it really did take a small community of people to help get us out of our old house and into the new one. Friends who just showed up, sometimes unannounced and sometimes bearing donuts, to lend a hand.

And then the movers came on Thursday and I kind of fell apart.

That morning, four very large men arrived at my door that morning and started taking apart beds and wrapping side tables in plastic and every time I resumed packing up my bathroom – all the Band Aids and hair ties and dental floss – I’d hear one of them yell, “Amy!” and suddenly, I felt very alone and overwhelmed by the entire undertaking. Even though I’d had SO MUCH HELP in the days leading up to the move, there were still SO many last minute things that needed to happen to make a clean exit from the place we called home for 13 years. Our stuff just oozed into every corner of the place. There was still a giant, red lacrosse net in the backyard and my bathroom drawers were filled with a decade’s-worth of Laura Mercier products and Q-tips and – just when I thought the kitchen was empty – I discovered the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes.

But it was my youngest child’s room that really did me in. That pushed me over that teary-eyed ledge I’d been teetering on for days into full-sob mode. Ugly cry galore.

Thirteen years earlier I’d moved in and painted the smallest of our four bedrooms yellow to welcome my fourth baby. I’d bought new bumpers for the old white crib used by all of my babies and put the old glider – that I’d gotten as a gift from my husband for my 26th birthday right before the birth of our first child – in a corner of the room. It’s where I spent many nights nursing that baby while the rest of the house slept and rocked him to sleep, feeling the pressure of his tiny head on my shoulder.

That baby, that room, that house. They were everything I’d wanted in my mid-30s. I wanted all of the trimmings of a certain kind of life and thought that those were the ingredients for happiness. I pinned a lot of hopes and dreams on the family that I’d created and moving out of that house was the final nail in the coffin of those dreams. It was time to officially close that chapter of my life.

And that’s when the sob that had been simmering in my chest for days burbled up my throat and came out as a gasp that echoed in the empty room.

“AMY!” yelled one of the men from downstairs, and that’s when I knew I needed help. I couldn’t do it alone. At that moment, I needed someone to hold my hand.

And in no time, two dear friends arrived and started packing up all my shoes and cleaning the crumbs out of the bottom of my toaster oven. They accompanied me to the new house later as the movers began cramming all the big stuff into the rooms already filled with the boxes moved earlier in the week. As many of my best-laid plans began to fall apart – the furniture I was going to use for my youngest son was way too big for his new room and those iron beds I couldn’t part with a few months earlier needed to find a home in my storage-challenged new home – my friends helped me make quick decisions and then move on.


I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself since my marriage ended. I’ve had to figure out how to dispose of dead critters in my pool and shovel snow from my driveway. I comfortably navigate gatherings of couples as a single person and even sailed around Greece on my own. And it was just me standing alongside the man I’d married almost 20 years before in front of a judge on a hot day in July when we ended our marriage for good.

It’s good to know you can handle things on your own. To know you are capable of tackling whatever life throws your way. But it’s also good to know that you have a couple of people quietly cheering for you from the sidelines and will be at your side in a flash should the need arise.

I think a lot of my strength has come from knowing I have people in my life who I can count on. Folks who have my back. And probably, that’s what I really needed all along. I didn’t need someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with or be my de facto plus-one. What I really needed was someone who was on my side.

What I really needed, it turns out, was a friend.

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