Wait. I Thought Breast Was Best.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that all the combined “experts” out there telling us to do this and and not do that are suffering from an extreme case of Jon Snow.

They know nothing. 

I say this because it’s recently come to my attention that when it comes to feeding your baby, breast may not necessarily be best. If I had a dollar for all the feedings I had to endure with an infant latched onto my sore breast, sending pain like my nipples were being electrocuted shooting through my body, then I’d at least be able to buy those cute Frye boots I’ve been eyeing this fall.

Don’t get me wrong — I was a maniac about breastfeeding my four children. And aside from its supposed health benefits — like a reduction in the risk of asthma, ear infections and respiratory issues — it also fit into my plan of being the PERFECT MOTHER. My strategy of doing everything right for my babies and thus raising exceptionally smart, well-adjusted, equally-perfect children who were forever bonded to me.


I am here to report that in the end, my children are no smarter, healthier or better-adjusted than yours. In fact, they turned out much like their mother, which is to say, pretty average. I mean, if you ask my kids they’d tell you that I think I’m all that and a bag of chips and I don’t think that’s a terrible way to go through life. I kind of like myself.  And secretly, I think my children are pretty terrific, too.

But if we were to analyze data and compare my children to those who were bottle fed as babies, I’m pretty sure maybe some in one pool might have suffered from a few more ear infections while scoring higher on IQ tests and vice versa.

In other words, I believe I was sold a bill of goods.

Nursing all four of my kids also helped create the dynamic in which they also became mostly my problem. I’m not saying their dad never got up in the middle of the night with them, but when you’re the primary source of food then the onus is kinda on you to be the one to feed your kid all the time. It also meant that I couldn’t just hand the baby off to its grandma or another willing soul to be fed a bottle when the opportunity arose. I had to go hide in a bedroom while everyone watched football on Thanksgiving or in a locker at the beach to feed my kid.

My youngest sister had a baby recently (I know, I am so lucky) and I’ve yet to see her feed that kid. Every time I’ve been there it’s been our mom feeding him, and — after 8 kids — she knows a thing or two about feeding babies. I was shocked when I had my own baby and he cried all the time (all. the.time.) because I never remembered any of my younger siblings crying (I’m the oldest). Like, ever. In truth, my mom is the master of getting as much formula as possible into a 10-pound vessel so that in about two weeks, that kid is sleeping through the night. My kids took about three or four months to make it to that stage, which sounds like nothing now but when you are up with a pooping crybaby for 90-something nights in a row, you start to think dark thoughts.

And now, it turns out that all that effort I put into shielding my babies from drinking the poisonous formula and instead imbibe on my golden milk; the approximately 400 nights watching QVC at 3 a.m. with an infant nodding off at my breast; the horror of watching my postpartum knockers expand to the size of an exotic dancer’s and become hard as rocks not to mention the smaller, secondary breasts that developed under my armpits from errant milk glands; enduring the pain that must be akin to what it feels like to have someone douse your breasts in gasoline and set them on fire when a newborn latches onto your cracked and scabbed nipples; all of that, apparently, was for nothing because now the experts have determined that the benefits are “modest” at best.

And that is bullshit.

But here’s what I need to remind myself, that there were some nice parts, too. There was something quite soothing about nursing your baby once you got past that totally terrible beginning stage and had nowhere else to be. And when that surge of oxytocin kicked in and that warm feeling radiated throughout my body, that my friends was better than any glass of Kendal Jackson. And there was something pretty cool about looking down at my baby nursing and knowing that I was sustaining her. That my body was producing milk, I mean, that’s crazy and powerful and in the end I wound up with four healthy kids so I should just be grateful.

It also helped me learn how to be an expert multi-tasker who, by the fourth child, could nurse that baby while cooking ground beef for Hamburger Helper for the older kids. (Does anyone see the irony here of insisting on breastfeeding my kids and then feeding them a bowl of sodium?)

But I’m glad I kept the crazy to a minimum and only focused my perfect-mommy mania on the breastfeeding. Making my own baby food and homeschooling were also temptations for a while.

Glad I opted for chicken nuggets and public education because being perfect only gets you so far.

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That Time I Was a Superhero

tumblr_nvkej4BaHk1uybpe6o1_400About two weeks ago, I went downstairs to inspect my oldest son’s bathroom in our basement, terrifying in and of itself, and discovered a giant spider on the wall over the sink.

Ideally, I would have paused to take a photo of the monster to share it on social media so you could really get a sense of the beast’s size. His girth.

But my reaction to dealing with the giant-legged creature was akin to how I’d like to think I’d respond if I encountered someone with a limb trapped in a combine or a leg stuck under a car tire. That is, I’d recognize the urgency of the situation and move swiftly and calmly to address the issue.

I already knew I could keep my wits about me in emergency situations. I mean, I did have four children and nothing screams emergency like getting a baby out of your you-know-what.

But one gives birth is in a controlled environment, in theory anyway.

I have proved that when it’s between me and imminent disaster, I can rise to the occasion and keep tragedy at bay.

When my two oldest children were young – we’re talking about 3 and 4 – we got around town in a bright red minivan. I actually loved that thing; it was one of those Pontiac deals with the pointy front that looked like a Dustbuster, remember?

Anyway, one day we stopped at one of my girlfriend’s house and I ran up to the door just to hand her something. But she had two little ones the same ages as my guys and back then we were probably pretty starved for real grown up conversation, so the mom and I got to talking. And the two of us could talk a lot. Like, suck all the oxygen out of the room.

I’d left the car in her driveway running and the two kids strapped in their car seats when I ran up to the door so I assumed they were contained as we stood on my friend’s front step and chatted. And then, after about ten minutes, I noticed my minivan begin to back out of the driveway.

Apparently, because it did not look as if his mother was ever going to get her ass back in the car, my 4yo son had unbuckled himself from his booster, marched to the front of the vehicle and put it into reverse.

So, here was the even bigger dilemma: apparently somebody at Pontiac thought it would be a great idea to program the doors to lock when the vehicle was put into gear.

I quickly ran to the moving van, which was indeed locked, and saw the looks on the kids’ faces as they slowly backed down the driveway towards the street. They looked surprised for one thing and my son seemed rooted in the space between the two front seats, kinda shocked by what he had literally just put into motion.

This was not the first time I’d encountered the downside of the car’s auto lock function. I’d locked my keys inside enough times that I’d finally gone out and purchased one of those magnetic boxes in which you can hide a spare key in the wheel well.

As the van backed down the driveway, I calmly reached under the well and pulled the box out. I slid the key out and –even though inside my head there were a thousand voices screaming, “HOLY SHIT YOUR 4 YEAR OLD IS DRIVING YOUR MINIVAN!!!” – my hand remained steady as I fit the key into the lock. I gave it a quick turn and pulled open the door, jumped in and put my foot on the brake.

“I’m driving, mom,” my son told me as I pressed my forehead to the steering wheel.

Of course, now it’s one of my favorite bad-mom stories but as the time, I couldn’t believe I kept my shit together to pull the key off the moving car and open the door. But sometimes you do what you gotta do, like eliminate a giant spider from your wall because if you don’t do it, you might find him on the ceiling over your bed next week.

So I calmly ran back upstairs, grabbed the Dyson vacuum out of the hall closet and brought it downstairs. I quickly plugged it in and pulled out the extension-thing you use for stairs and high places. I placed the nozzle on top of the spider and then – PFFFT – he disappeared into the depths of the vacuum’s clear plastic canister.

This is actually not the first time I’ve had to go all SEAL Team 6 on a bug in my house. A few years ago there was a giant-ass cricket spider thing (I call them “spickets”) on the basement stairs, which I sucked up into the same vacuum. The problem was that then I could see him inside the canister and ALIVE. I didn’t vacuum for weeks.

Now I can see by the amount of cat hair in the canister that it really needs to be dumped but I am terrified the spider’s still alive. That I’ll go to dump it into the kitchen trash can and he’ll jump out and attack me. But I can’t bring myself to look. I’m afraid he’s burrowed under all that cat hair biding his time.

I’ll let you know what happens but if you’d like to come over and dump it out for me, I promise I’ll be there for you if you ever need to be ejected from a moving vehicle.

Way less scary than spiders.

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Back to the Future

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Here’s my wish for mankind: That when the zombie apocalypse has come to a close and the aliens land and try to figure out what the fuck just happened here on Earth, they don’t crack open the little safe on the floor of my closet and start reading my cache of journals for clues.

It will not make us look good as a species.

I spent the weekend reading the collection of notebooks from the beginning, when I started writing in earnest early each morning about a decade ago, and I am here to report that my musings are insufferable. Like, I want to go back in time and punch myself.

Here’s how best to sum what I’ve read so far up: I am insane. I say this because, as my therapist Jennifer likes to point out, the very definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting different results.

There’s a lot of hand wringing over things I continue to worry about a good nine years later:

Seriously, if you read any post I’ve written in the last week in the notebook I use as a journal, at least three of those topics have come up. Jesus.

Obviously, something needs to change.

Another interesting observation is that for all the very, very serious shit happening in my life around that time (the second half of 2007) – I mean, my marriage was going down in flames – I make very little mention of certain critical events. I go on an on about driving the children all over creation and wondering whether or not my marriage will ever work, but gloss over some major episodes that precipitated the divorce.

And interestingly, I fail to write anything in the weeks leading up to and including the triathlon I competed in that September that kind of marked the start of the change that would take place inside me. When I discovered how satisfying it was to really to commit to something and that if I (a person who does not really like to get wet, swim or offer myself up to sharks like a bowl of chips) could swim a half mile in the ocean, I could do pretty much anything.

Including get a divorce.

Instead, I write about the frittata I’m bringing to a baby shower and the banana muffins my daughter and I baked and agonize over how to decorate our den. Whether or not I should buy a leather chair.

It’s like I’m going down on the Titanic and worried about what to wear to get into the lifeboat.

One of the fun things about reading journals from so long ago is that I already know what’s going to happen. It’s like watching “Fear the Walking Dead” and knowing that that nice high school principal staggering around the hallways isn’t just running a high fever. “Shoot him in the head!” you want to scream. That’s how I feel reading some of the things I wrote. “Just get a divorce already!” I want to yell. “He’s never going to treat you with respect and neither will your children if you stay!”

But we won’t even separate until near the end of 2008 so I guess I’m going to have to put up with reading a lot more wishy-washy bullshit until that happens.

But when it does happen, the divorce marks the start of me making more well-informed major life decisions. Up until that point, most of the pivotal moves I made in my life were kinda done on the fly. Or without much real thought other than some stubborn determination to complete the rosy picture of my life I wanted the world to see. Four-bedroom colonial. Four kids. Big SUV. Happy, happy, happy.

I’m not a great decision maker to begin with. Just ask my mom. It makes her nuts how long it takes me to do the simplest thing. But I like to mull things over. I want to do things the right way. I want things to be perfect. Often to the point of paralysis. While some of life’s determining factors were decided in an instant, often with alcohol involved. I can’t tell you how long it took for me to pull the trigger and buy the pricey Maclaren stroller I lusted over for my fourth child or order the sweet iron beds for my two daughters from The Land of Nod (my youngest girl was still in a crib at four), but I quickly agreed to a knee jerk marriage proposal even though my fiancée-to-be was scheduled to go on a date that very same evening. With another woman.

I know. I’d like to smack me, too.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t start recording all this drivel years earlier. That it took me so long to just start writing, even if a lot of it is inane, Dear Diary-kind of stuff. I wish I’d done a better job documenting how I felt when I first became a mother or going back even further, when I became a wife.

I know memory can be a slippery thing. I remember when the kids were young as some of the happiest times of my life, all those trips to the library for storytime and going on bear hunts around the neighborhood. But according to the journal from 2007, my youngest child drove me bonkers when he was a preschooler. So who knows? Maybe the other kids did, too. Maybe there’s a whole lot of romanticizing and demonizing of the past that transforms how we remember things. And even though I seem to be glossing over some serious issues in my life back in 2007, at least the journals provide a window into who I was back then. A person with pretty low self esteem who had long ago lost her voice. Someone who was desperately trying to hold together this picture-perfect life she had created.

I like knowing that as much as things have not changed all that much — the wine, the struggles I have with certain people — not everything has stayed the same. I don’t eat Doritos any more and now I have a much lower tolerance for bullshit behavior.

All I really know is that if I’m still wondering at the end of my 50s if I’ll ever lose 10 pounds or write that book, I am going to figure out how to go back in time and smack myself.

Of that I have no doubt.

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Newfoundland: Not Your Average Ladycation

The view hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland.

The view hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I was reminded recently why I love to travel. Why I need to travel.

I returned last week from a four-day jaunt to Newfoundland with three other women and yes, I know, you’re not the only one who thinks this is an odd choice for a girls’ getaway. Why not Vegas or South Beach, you’re wondering.

Imagine the locals’ reaction when they learned the Girls From Jersey, as we came to be called, travelled to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for a vacation. It ain’t no Napa.

And initially, I thought it was a little weird, too.

The occasion was a close friend’s 50th birthday and she determined we should all head north. Like, really far north. But she proceeded to do all the research and make all of the reservations and I am a baby and deep down love being told what to do so happily agreed to join her. The four of us also happen to travel really well together. There isn’t a diva in the group and we’re all pretty flexible. Some of us like to adhere to rules more than others, but that causes amusement rather than irritation among the group. At least it does for me.

The birthday girl’s logic, when she later explained how she chose our destination, made perfect sense. She said beach getaways and wine tours were lovely, but she wanted a little more excitement. Something out-of-the-box.

“I wanted an adventure,” she told me.

And that’s what we got.

I’ve spent a lot of time since my return extolling the virtues of Newfoundland in particular and Canada in general and have been encouraging everyone to make plans to go today. And you really should because soon, you will not be alone. An expansion project in the works will double the size of the airport in St. John’s, the island’s largest city on its easternmost point, by 2020 to accommodate the approximately 2 million tourists expected to visit Newfoundland. You’ll thank me later.

On the three-hour flight home, my travel companions and I decided that what made Newfoundland so special was a combination of three outstanding features.

Hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Hiking up towards Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The Scenery

 I don’t want to spend too much time giving you the history of the island or describing its geography. Let’s just say that initially, I assumed it was off the coast of Maine only to discover, right before I left, that it is significantly more north than Maine and way east. Like, we visited Cape Spear – just south of St. John’s – to take selfies standing at the easternmost point of North America. Keep going from there and eventually you hit Ireland (in fact many Newfoundlanders speak with an Irish accent and there’s a vibrant Irish music scene). Newfoundland is right under Labrador, where you’ll find arctic tundra and icebergs float by in the spring. And the combined population of the two regions, which comprise one Canadian province, is a little over 500,000. FOR BOTH. Just to put it in perspective, in 2014 there were 8.9 million people living in New Jersey.

The coastal views are stunning. Rocky shores. Picture-perfect lighthouses. The clear, dark Atlantic Ocean crashing against steep cliffs. It’s like walking through a postcard.

During the late spring and summer you can see whales who journey north to feed on the water’s abundant krill and icebergs float south from great glaciers in the north. Our visit was on the tail end of all that excitement but we did get to see a lot of puffins on a boat tour out of Bays Bulls and two bald eagles soaring through the sky. We also saw a giant mola mola or ocean sunfish eyeing us as he floated atop the waves until he dove down and sank out of view.

When we weren’t stomping around hiking trails and old fishing villages, we also enjoyed the sights of St. John’s colorfully-painted “jellybean” buildings and the interiors of a fair share of Irish bars.

And I’d be remiss if I did not mention the scent of the sea — and not the Jersey Shore low tide odor — but the ancient, salty blast that hit us as we descended from Signal Hill into the old fishing village Quidi Vidi. It was accompanied by a blast of cold air that cooled us down after a sweaty hike to the top and reminded us how everything about Newfoundland was unpredictable. We were constantly surprised during our stay.

Finally, we rented a charming house in the city’s Outer Battery section just steps away from Signal Hill that offered sweeping views of the city’s busy harbor. Beautiful spot to cozy up on the couch in our pjs to sip coffee and watch the fog roll in each morning and to drink a glass of wine and see the harbor lights twinkle in the background before dinner. But I mostly loved falling asleep each night with my head next to an open window and listening to the sound of the water hitting the rocky shore nearby and the moan of a lighthouse in the distance. We were sorry to say good-bye.

Our brunch here at Mallard Cottage included breakfast pizza and a smoked blueberry old fashioned.

Our brunch here at Mallard Cottage included breakfast pizza and a smoked blueberry old fashioned.

The Food and Drink Scene

 Would you believe that one of Canada’s top-rated restaurant – I repeat:  top-rated  – is right in downtown St. John’s? Prior to our trip, that little fun fact left me dubious about Canadian food in general. I mean, how good could the food be if the best place is on some random, barren island, I thought?

And so, to all of the good people of Canada, I’d like to apologize for my ingnorance. If Newfoundland is any indication, you people are eating like kings. At least compared to the food and drink found in my neck of the woods.

Some standouts:

  • I know it’s not very ladylike, but I am an enthusiastic carnivore. I dig meat. So I found myself drawn a few times on the trip to menu items that included bone marrow as a type of condiment. I spread it onto my hanger steak at Chinched and ordered the cheeseburger with house-cured bacon at The Social House where they slathered the marrow onto their homemade buns. Both dishes came with thin, salty frites, which also might have contributed to the beauty of these meals.
  • I’ve never been a huge oyster enthusiast. I think the only time I’d ever eaten them was when my first husband and I went to New Orleans with another couple to get away from all our babies and toddlers and kind of drank our way through the city as an escape one weekend years ago. I believe oysters were involved. And lots of beer. But since then I’ve stayed away from them. I mean, who’d want to put that weird grey stuff in their mouth? But a plate of them arrived at our table at Chinched on Saturday night on a bed of ice and once I heard they were from Prince Edward Island – right around the corner – I knew I just had to try them. I squeezed some lemon juice and plunked a dollop of the sweet and slightly spicy mignonette on top and tipped the cold shell to my lips and let the whole gloopy mass slip inside my mouth. And then BAM. It was like taking a sip of the sea, all cold and briny. Totally magic. It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever tasted and we ended up eating oysters everywhere we went because when in Rome, brother, eat the oysters.
  • Have you seen my veggetti? I actually don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here but love to talk about it ad nauseum to people who have to put up with me in real life. And although it sounds very dirty and scandalous, I use my veggetti to do awesome things with squash and zuchinni. Wait. Stop. Now you’re getting weird. It’s a spiralizer that turns veggies into long spaghetti-like strips you can sauté. Someone got their hands on one at Chinched and used it on a potato that was then wrapped around a big fluffy piece of cod and the whole thing is fried, I suppose, to make it a yummy crunchy coating around the fish. Divine.
  • When they are not coming up with amazing things to do with cod and marrow, Newfoundland restauranteurs are also concocting amazing cocktails to drink. I have a thing for Old Fashioneds and sampled them all over St. John’s during our stay but the standouts had to be the classic rendition at the bar at Blue on Water and the smoked blueberry variety I sipped at Mallard Cottage with my brunch on Sunday. Heaven. My partners in crime would tell you that they enjoyed the cilantro margaritas at Chinched and the El Camino at Adelaide Oyster House  (please enjoy with one of their fish tacos which I could eat every night of my life).
Getting "screeched in" at Christian's and becoming honorary Newfoundlanders.

Getting “screeched in” at Christian’s and becoming honorary Newfoundlanders.

The People

There are plenty of beautiful places to travel in this world. And plenty of destinations where you’ll find outstanding food and drink. But the reason you should visit Newfoundland is for the people. They behave the way we are supposed to behave as humans. They are polite. They are considerate. They are kind. They are curious. They are knowledgeable. Time and again we had encounters with the locals that left us shaking our heads and marvelling how certain things would never fly where we live. I’m taking about:

  • The woman working behind the counter at a remote post office where we stopped to buy postcard stamps and ask where to find a hiking trail, who let me use the bathroom in back. Actually, she let all four of us use the restroom and I’m pretty sure in the United States, that would be considered a federal offense.
  • A gentleman we started talking to at a local liquor store walked us to the walk-in beer cooler in the back to help us pick some interesting brews to bring back to our house and it was only after we parted ways that we realized he didn’t work there but was only an extremely helpful fellow customer.
  • The security guard at a museum/cultural center called The Rooms travelled with us from room to room and explained how historical events influenced much of the artwork on display, giving us a mini lesson in Newfoundland history. His knowledge completely enriched our experience.
  • The women working at the museum gift store not only took the time to tell us how to get to said liquor store but Googled what time it closed.
  • Taxis not only showed up for early morning pick ups scheduled after very late night drop offs but drivers were a font of information for places to go and things to do and also happy to let you walk off with their map. In fact, they insisted.
  • The TSA agents at the St. John’s Airport greeted us with a friendly “bon jour” and when one of our travel party members was unable to access her boarding pass via the Internet, a very helpful agent showed her how to take a screenshot on her iPhone to avoid a similar situation in the future.

I’ve joked in the past that friendly people make me nervous but honestly, after a few days in Newfoundland, I was sorry to return to a decidedly less kinder and gentler place to live. Where oncoming traffic doesn’t stop to let you pull out of a parking lot and TSA agents don’t bark at you to take off your jacket.

On our last night we ate dinner at a hot new restaurant on Water Street called The Social House. We sat at a high top table and slurped our final plates of oysters and chatted with our charming young server named Jordan. He told us he’d grown up in Sweden and moved back to Newfoundland – where his dad was from – a few years earlier and was finishing his last year at university. The 21-year-old talked about his internship in broadcasting and thoughts about breaking into sales and we asked him where — with all those plans — he thought he’d wind up after graduation.

“Right here,” he said, spreading his arms. “We have everything we need right here.”

And so they do. I’m glad I got to experience it for myself.

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Friday Faves: Book Addict

This is so not funny.

This is so not funny.

Hello, my name is Amy and I am a book-aholic.

You guys, I have a problem. Some people gamble. Some can’t stop buying shoes.

I am addicted to books. I love to buy them. I don’t necessary always read them. Or at least finish them. But I have a lot of them.

They sit in piles on my desk and my nightstand. They are stacked in my den and there’s even a few shelves of them sitting in my garage.

And I don’t just buy them for myself. I tend to buy tons of them for my kids, too. And when I was married, I’d often buy them for my then-husband in hopes he might open one up and read alongside me. When he had knee surgery I figured he’d have so much time on his hands lying around he’d definitely pick up “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” or one of the other five books I had gone out and bought for the occasion. Instead he sat on the couch for about 45 minutes after returning from surgery until he got antsy and went out to clean dog poop up in the yard.

There was a reason why his knees were shot. He was not one to sit around.

Over the last few months I’ve purchased a bunch of books either for my Kindle or an easy one-click order on Amazon Prime or at the nearby Barnes & Noble and recently from my favorite book shop around the corner. And while I wish I gave all my business to the local bookstore, it’s like I’m a junkie and just need a quick-fix when it comes to my book habit. I need to score them as quickly as possible once the urge comes in.

Really, if I just concentrated on reading the many unread books I already own, I would probably save half my annual income. Well, that might be an exaggeration. That would only happen if I stopped buying wine, too.

Here’s what I’ve bought either for myself or one of my sons since about May:

  • The Grapes of Wrath: I bought TWO copies of this. One for my Kindle, which I’m about six percent through, and a paper version for my oldest child after he finished East of Eden and was looking for something to read next.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: So of course, while I was at B&N buying Steinbeck’s classic, I also picked up a few others I thought my son might like, including this one — one of my all-time favorites — which I believe I read when I was also just home after graduating from college. It makes me want to go back and read all those John Irving books I loved.
  • Master and Commander: Another one for oldest guy. I remember how much my dad loved this Patrick O’Brien historical series about the British Navy and thought my son might, too.
  • A Window Opens: The author, Elizabeth Egan, is coming to our local bookstore next month so I stopped in the other day and picked up a copy to read in advance. LOVED. She’s the former book editor at Self who left to work for Amazon and the novel seems a thinly-veiled account of her experience trying to balance being the mom/wife/daughter/friend she wants to be with a ferocious corporate culture. Smart. Well-written. Funny. Love her and can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.
  • Good Mourning: Whilst at the local bookstore, I also picked this up after a rave review from one of the owners with whom I chatted while she rang me up. This is a memoir of a woman who was the event planner at THE funeral home in Manhattan. The place where anyone who’s anyone is laid to rest including Joan Rivers and Heath Ledger. I’ve read a few pages and it’s funny and engaging and who doesn’t want to know some of those secrets?
  • Getting to 30: A Paren’t Guide to the 20-Something Years: I bought What to Expect When You’re Expecting the second I discovered (perfect word) I was pregnant with my first child and it became my handbook during that and the subsequent two pregnancies (by my last they had invented this thing called the Internet so I didn’t need What to Expect to self-diagnose placenta previa or kidney failure any more). Over the years I turned to Dr. Spock, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, Between Parent & Teenager, Odd Girl Out, Queen Bees & Wannabes and many, many more tomes for advice on how to raise my children. So why should this new stages we’ve entered — the post college period — go without a book as well? Good overview of the “emerging adult” and reminder of what a difficult time it is.
  • I Am a SEAL Team-Six Warrior: Memoirs of an American Soldier: It is my intention to get my little guy to read more this school year. Like, more than what his friends post on Instagram. That kind of more. So I’ve been looking for something he is REALLY interested in. And I found it in this. The subject matter totally suits his “God bless America/Young Republican” personality and he even read it while we sat waiting forever in the doctor’s office last night, so that is a great sign. I only hope he’s half the reader his brother (and older sister, I might add) are.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: What? We never owned this one? Of course we do. The older kids read it and I even read it aloud not once but TWICE to various sets of children. But somehow, it the great house decluttering of ’15, it got swept into a donate pile and given away. I know. It makes me a little queasy, too. But my little guy and I decided we were going to read this one together, not out loud but more like a book club and then hopefully we’ll go through the rest of the series in much the same way. I know. Rainbows and unicorns. I’ll keep you posted on how this fantasy plays out.

On a completely different note, I cannot let the import of this date go unnoticed and want to send my love to everyone today. Not just the many people directly affected by the terrible events of 14 years ago who lost so, so much on that day. My heart breaks every time I think about all the men and women who are no longer with us. That level of loss is unimaginable and I don’t pretend to know how it feels.

So today is a day of rememberance, and I want to remember not just all the lives that were lost. I also want to remember how the tragedy brought us all together as a country and reminded us how much we loved living here and our fellow Americans. Despite all of our many, many differences, I want to remember that underneath it all, our hearts all look the same. We’re all struggling. We’re all doing the best we can. Let’s try to remember that today.


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Perfect Dinner to Cure the End-of-Summer Blues

Credit: marthastewart.com

Credit: marthastewart.com  http://www.marthastewart.com/978784/one-pan-pasta

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’m over this summer. It’s like, enough already. If summer was a person, I’d tell her that she’s been very nice and all and provided us – at least here along the coast of New Jersey – with some pretty gorgeous weather but it’s time to say adieu. It’s been a lovely few months to sit in the sand and swim in the ocean or lounge around reading. But now, it is time for Mrs. Summer to leave. She’s overstayed her welcome.

In fact, that is truly the case. I learned while watching my favorite TV showCBS Sunday Morning – this week that when Memorial Day (the final Monday in May) occurs at its earliest (this past Mat 25) Labor Day occurs at its latest (Sept. 7 this year). The official summer season quite literally could not be one day longer.

One of the biggest problems for me with summer is that I flounder in unstructured settings. Of course, for someone who’s been home raising her children for the last 20-something years while attempting a freelance writing career, this is a challenging predicament. I struggle with time management. I also probably had too many children to begin with. Because when I’m also responsible for managing other people’s time on top of my own, I’m pretty fucked. That’s why I always signed my kids up for swim team and tennis lessons when they were young and insisted on summer jobs as they got older. Schedules are totally my friend.

Nowadays, the only person’s schedule I really need to manage is my 12yo son’s. He went to sleepaway camp for a week and mostly ran around the neighborhood and swam in the ocean with our neighbors for much of the summer.

Highly unstructured.

But now the neighbors have gone back to Hong Kong and my son spends his days trying to organize pickup games of soccer or watching YouTube videos on his iPhone and has yet to finish his mandatory summer reading to start seventh grade.

In other words, he needs to go to school before I murder him.

But I always feel a tad anxious at the end of every August. A bit of malaise inevitably sets in as I count the hours before the first day of school. Very little inspires me in that long slog towards Labor Day.

Which is why I kind of surprised myself the other day in my ho-hum state by whipping up this – really and truly – delicious pasta dinner. In my all-or-nothing approach to life, generally I’m not trying new things in late summer. I’m grilling hot dogs and heating chicken nuggets for my people and waiting for the first day of school to really wow them with anything resembling a proper meal.

And as for the “pasta” part, okay, right, I know. I’m really not supposed to be eating pasta. Apparently, according to someone who feels he can say these things to me, it makes me “blow up.” Fine. Yes. Sure. Whatever. As far as I’m concerned, at the end of the summer, all bets are off. The countless margaritas and pita chips I’ve consumed on the beach this summer have not helped matters.

But this dinner was so easy – you kind of just put everything into a straight-sided sauté pan and boil away – and produced such a creamy bowl of wonderful comfort on an endless end-of-summer night, it was worth wearing elastic pants the following day (truth be told, I’m often running around in workout clothes most days anyway).

I improvised slightly (shocking, for those who know me and my dedication to rule following) and browned the chicken sausage that we love from Sickles (we’re also hot for Whole Foods’ spicy variety) in the pan before adding the rest of the ingredients. I also used bow tie pasta instead of spaghetti and found it took a lot longer than nine minutes to boil the whole thing down. I dug up an article that offered other ways to improvise upon the original version and pinned both of them to my “Things I Like to Make” Pinterest board to keep in on hand.

For those of you not on Pinterest, I have to say that I’ve come to rely upon it as my own personal recipe box and refer often to that board where I’ve pinned the meals we tend to eat again and again. It’s more convenient than the jumble of recipes ripped from magazines and newspapers (remember newspapers?) and print outs from the Internet I stuffed in a binder for years. It’s worth exploring.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I need to figure out what I’m doing today before my son wakes up and I take his iPhone away.

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Doors Open. Doors Close.

photo-1419658776233-a6a982d3ebaeFile this one under: “Sometimes when one door closes, another one opens.

Or: “Doors open and close all the time.”

It’s been strange here, this first full week of no other ladies living in my house. There’s been no one for me to tell that I’m fat (that terrible female pastime in which I often partake which drives my daughters batty). I had no one to help me put on eyeshadow when I went out last weekend; and no one here is interested in sitting around at night after dinner on the couch and watching a few episodes of “New Girl.”

The boys and I did, however, share an interesting moment a few nights ago that was quite nice. An evening that showed me that even though the girls have temporarily moved on, all is not lost. All is different, for sure, but not lost.

The boys — 22 and 12 — cleaned up after we finished the completely uninspired, yet totally devoured, meal of pasta (don’t tell them it was the Trader Joe’s quinoa-variety) with a jar of vodka sauce, bagged salad with croutons and Jersey tomatoes and a loaf of semolina bread I picked up at the Italian market in town that they slathered with the Kerrygold butter I have about 7 pounds of from Costco in my frig. And then, one by one, the three of us made our way outside and sat on one of the chairs scattered around my pool and began to read.

If you had spent every night for a good dozen years of your life squashed in between little bodies on a twin bed reading about wild things and engines that could and little boys falling down wells, this is pretty much one of the pinnacles of your parenting career. It’s that moment you realize that at least one of your parenting initiatives totally stuck.

And not to get all braggy (but I totally am), my older guy was reading The Grapes of Wrath after quickly ploughing through East of Eden earlier this summer.

So we all sat in silence and read as the sky above us began to darken. I’m pretty sure my little guy farted at one point but nowadays, that’s less and less a rarity. Farts tend to happen a lot with boys and they are always met with laughter and a look on the farter’s face akin to Will Ferrell’s after his “Did you hear that?” burp in “Elf.”

As the mosquitos began their nightly feast and the air turned cool, we slowly made our way back into the house, one by one, and retired to our respective rooms.

We’d probably only been outside reading together for about an hour – tops – but I savored those 60 minutes. I slowed the pace I’d set tearing through the book I’d been reading to relish the moment. I gave myself an internal pinch and resisted the urge to put down my book and stare at them while they read. They hate when I do that, the children. The staring makes them nervous.

But I wanted to burn the image deep into my memory reserve. I wanted to have it on hand so I can pull it up and remember it with great clarity the next time I am certain that I have failed as a parent. The inevitable moment when I’m sure I’ve let one of them down. I’ll take a deep breath and pull the memory up and turn it every which way in the light and remember the ease and stillness and perfection of sitting outside on a cool summer night and reading alongside my sons.

And then I’ll slowly exhale.

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Friday Faves (or ‘What’s That Smell?’)

Soy-Candle-Composite-Lit615If you’ve been out of the country or locked in a closet or somehow not tapped into the Worldwide Bloodstream (see video below), you might not be aware that I recently put my house on the market. It’s been a challenging process — clearing out all our clutter, sprucing the place up and keeping it clean all the time. I also picked an interesting time to undertake this endeavor with all four children home for the summer and about 13 pounds of sand that makes its way onto the mudroom floor every day, courtesy of my 12yo son’s bathing suit.

But by far the biggest challenge I’ve faced these last few weeks is keeping the place smelling fresh and not like a fraternity house. The last thing I want is a prospective buyer to walk through the front door and get a big whiff of freshly cooked porkroll or the dump someone just took in the powder room. So I’ve instilled some basic rules for the children, like NO COOKING and NO POOPING DOWNSTAIRS.

These edicts have been met with varying success.

The other preventative measure I took was loading up on products that might mask the stink of adolescent boy that sometimes hangs in the air here. The stink of teen spirit.

I am a firm believer that sometimes, more is more, and thus use the products liberally, often and simultaneously.

  • The number one thing I am totally obsessed with are these candles — in particular the beach sage flavor but I also love the apple slice variety upstairs in my bathroom — that I used to load up on at Target until I saw they started carrying them at our nearby Harmon. I really think you are going to thank me.
  • When my neighbors pulled up stakes and moved to Hong Kong last year, I made out like a bandit when — in an effort to get all of their stuff out of the house for renters to move in — they just started dropping bags of things off at my door. Trader Joe’s chips. Band Aids. Cotton balls. Good stuff. One of the items buried in one of the bags was this room freshener spray from Alex & Ani. I mean, who knew they sold that stuff there too but apparently they do. When I know someone is coming to check out the house, I start running from room to room squirting the stuff into the air.
  • When I went to Hong Kong last spring (seriously), we made our way to the Captain’s Bar for cocktails one Friday night and it was swanky, to say the least. In fact, as soon as we stepped into the hotel we were enveloped in this citrusy, floral scent that they apparently pump through the place through a diffuser and it smells divine. So when my girlfriend came home to New Jersey for the summer, she brought me a bottle of the spray, which I also run around squirting throughout the house when things are smelling a little stale. Now if someone would just make me a proper Old Fashioned, it would be like being back at the Captain’s Bar.
  • Speaking of bars and drinking in general, I’d like to suggest what you adopt as your go-to summer drink before it’s too late. It’s a Mexican Mule and you get yourself someone ginger beer (like the type they sell at Trader Joe’s) and mix in your favorite tequila and perhaps some seltzer/club soda to lighten it just a bit. I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed a few of these this summer. And speaking of tequila, life has gotten much easier for my Hong Kong pal who used to spike her tequila by letting it marinate in a mason jar with a couple of jalepeno peppers to spice up her famous margaritas. But we recently discovered at our favorite local bottle shop that some evil genius has invented already bottled spicy tequila and it is delish.
  • Finally, I had some time on my hands this week and revisited Broad City, which I binged on while sick this winter. I can’t even. And this clip in particular totally nails what it’s like living with Millenials who stop mid-conversation to stare at their phone and start to laugh. Annoying.

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Finding the Courage to Sell My House

This week I posted the following on Facebook:

Making the leap.

Making the leap.

It’s been a move months in the making. Actually, compared to the other three major real estate transactions I’ve participated in, this go round was not a knee-jerk reaction precipitated by a pregnancy and raging hormones. I seemed to have made many big decisions in my 20s and 30s based on my heart and not on my head. I jumped right in and hoped for the best.

But this time, I wanted to take a more logical approach to buying and selling a home. I didn’t want my heart to get anywhere near the situation. Selling my current home is somewhat financial — I mean, two college tuitions suck — but mostly just a practical move. My kids are getting older and I don’t require all the space we needed so desperately a dozen years ago.

My parents separated the summer I turned 12 and the following year my mom got remarried and we pulled up stakes and moved an hour away. It was like the rug had been pulled out from under me and I never wanted my children to feel the same way. When I first got divorced it was critical to me that the kids’ lives weren’t turned upside down any more than was necessary. It was bad enough that their parents had to split up, I didn’t want them to have to move on top of that.

And that’s pretty much how I operated until a few months ago when I said something about moving to one of the kids and she was like, “What took you so long?”

As I mentioned in the Facebook post, I’ll miss a lot of the amenities around here, specifically my kitchen that still brings me great joy. I still come down to it every morning and can’t believe it’s mine. It makes all that counter wiping and taco cooking that I do a little less terrible.

Of course it would be easier just to stay put and hope for the best. But I’ve been down that road before and learned that as painful as change can be, it’s where you find the place you need to be rather than where you thought you were supposed to be.

Does that make sense?

But it took me a little bit to finally make the leap and put the sign up front. It seems sometimes, in the absence of hormones or an impending newborn, I have a hard time figuring out what to do. I’m afraid to dive off that ledge and do something that scares me.

But this week I did. I took a deep breath and jumped.

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I Went to a Nicki Minaj Concert. Legit.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 7.55.09 AMRecently, I’ve met up with two friends-of-friends on separate occasions who read my blog and both have remarked over the course of conversation that it was weird that they knew so much about me. One of them asked me if I also thought it was weird and I’ve gotta admit that I am pretty okay with relative strangers knowing about my divorce and my cat and the time my top almost came off at the beach.

One of the benefits of writing about my life and sharing it in a super-public forum is that it helps people put me in some context when we meet. I’ve already done the groundwork of telling you what I think you need to know about me and it then frees me up to ask a lot of questions. Having a public, one-sided conversation about myself also really jibes well with my raging megalomania. It also helps cut down on having to fill people in on what I’ve been up to. Whenever I get together with my college pals and we invariably go around the table to get the update on everyone’s kids and lives, they get to skip right over me. I start to tell them a story about something and they’re like, “Yup. Read about it. Next.”

Another interesting byproduct of this blog is that as the result of something I’ve written, I have been invited to attend a bunch of concerts. In fact, I’ve been invited to see four shows so far, two of which were dates (I sometimes joke that my blog also doubles as a low-cost dating site). But by the third round of hearing Stevie Nicks sing “Landslide,” I started to wonder whether there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

I really need to start aiming higher and writing about my dream to return to Paris or Rome. Or own a Cartier bracelet.

When I wrote recently about how I briefly thought about channeling Nicki Minaj and parlaying one of her songs into my theme song — a la Ally McBeal — a woman I knew reached out and asked if I wanted to go with her to Nicki’s upcoming concert at a nearby arts center.

“What the hell?” I thought and happily accepted after I ran it past my 18yo who had bought tickets months earlier for the show and had secured a ride home from her college four hours away to attend.

Here were her thoughts (I’m the one in the blue bubble):

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 7.56.15 AM

No really, tell me how you really feel.

I assured her I would not be trying to hang out with her and her gang and really wanted to know very little about whatever shenanigans they had planned. All I knew was that my friend was bringing her 15yo daughter and a pal who would go off to their spots on the lawn and we would have legit seats inside the amphitheater.

I saw Rihanna a couple of years ago with about 10 other women in Atlantic City. We made a whole night of it and booked a few rooms at the now-defunct Revel and by the time she came on the stage at about 10 p.m., we had hit the perfect level of sobriety with which a mob of suburban moms should see RiRi which is to say we were all pretty bombed.

I had really expected a show on the level of what I’d read a Beyonce or Pink show would be, with elaborate sets and dance routines to accompany the singing. But I was sober enough to realize that Rihanna’s show consisted mostly of a lot of backup singers and dancers running around in sparkly costumes and grabbing their crotches. But I was surprised at how many songs of hers I actually knew and had forgotten how many of her tunes were hits I’d heard over and over on the radio. And because I have a teenage daughter, later I would come to love a lot of the songs from the album that Rihanna tour was promoting, which we’ve listened to a lot driving to and from various college campuses. I mean, “What Now” and “Get It Over With” are great songs.

So I went into Nicki Minaj with similar expectations. I figured I’d know a bunch of her songs from the radio and with a little bit of wine, the rest would be fun to listen to. At this stage of the game, I’ve let go of the anxiety I felt when my children were younger and I insisted we listen to Radio Disney-version of popular songs that helped weed out naughty lyrics and notions pushed on Top 40 stations like touching yourself and “S&M.” Nowadays I drive around in a car with the kids and request my daughter play Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch” and we “hooty-hoo” and sing along.

Honestly, I don’t know a lot about Nicki Minaj. Like, she was cute in her role as Cameron Diaz’s secretary in “The Other Woman” and I saw on Facebook that she just had a fight on Twitter with Taylor Swift. And she has that number called “Boss Ass Bitch,” which was kind of the genesis of an essay I wrote and was inspired by until I listened to it and discovered it’s just a lot of rapping with insanely bad language and ideas (lots of p**** this and n***** that). Like, yikes.

And you guys know I like my curse words.

It turns out, Nicki Minaj’s ENTIRE lexicon consists of this type of song. I don’t even know if you can call them “songs” per se. It’s really just a lot of bad words strung together. But interestingly enough, even though I had no idea what these songs were, every other person in the entire arena did and rapped along with her. It was fascinating. I guess it’s like knowing all the words to “Thunder Road” or “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”

Here’s a not-very-good clip courtesy of my 18yo:

A few other observations: Probably the biggest was that my friend and I were the oldest people in the stadium by about three decades. Legit. I noticed a handful of audience members sitting nearby who were obviously parents and not just really old Nicki Minaj fans. And much like Rihanna’s show, the choreography was fairly lackluster and consisted of a lot of gyrating and crotch grabbing. An attempt at sexy dancing that came off instead as some second-rate soft porn. I couldn’t really tell because my eyesight’s not what it used to be but by squinting at the giant video monitors it seemed that the backup dancers’ shiny gold outfits they wore to writhe around on the floor during “Anaconda” included zippers along their crotch seams. Talk about sexy.

So here’s what I worry about: What is Nicki Minaj modeling for my children? Is all her filthy-talk and see-through costumes (she does have an impressive backside) misogynistic or empowering? Here is a sample of lyrics from “Boss Ass Bitch”:

I said, rule #1 to be a boss ass bitch:

Never let a clown n**** try to play you

If he play you, then rule #2:

F*** his best friends, then make ’em yes-men

Or have I joined generations of parents who have fretted over the music their kids were listening to and declaring it the downfall of civilization? The Beatles and Elvis Presley seem positively quaint compared to the stuff on the radio today. The friend who so generously invited me to the show thought Nicki was amazing and had no issues with the content. So maybe I’m just becoming a fuddy-duddy in my old age, but my inner feminist struggles with whether or not she and her fans have been sold a bill of goods. I do, however, support her intentions:

If nothing else, the evening provided an interesting glimpse into what my kids are listening to when they’ve got their headphones on in the car. And it ain’t Radio Disney.

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