Friday, December 18, 2015

Merry Christmas, My Little Snowflakes

The Christmas holiday season just isn't complete without Ray and I's Christmas video. And this year, we're global! (Our neighbor Alex is from Australia.)

There was clamoring for the video (two people ask me about it; that is clamoring in my book), and finally wait is over.

And remember, kids, no means no.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Ho Ho Ho

We are ready for Santa. He will know us by the glow of electric sex in the window. 


Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Superb Splendor

Conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Venus. Photo: Demotix via.

A few months ago one my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings*, arrived with a very rare treat: The only surviving letter that Willa Cather wrote to her long-time partner, Edith Lewis.

I read My Ántonia many years ago and have been a fan of Cather since. And Maria Popova's post reminded me why.

The letter is written at 4:30 pm on October 5, 1936, as Cather watches a Jupiter and Venus conjunction. It's a love letter to Edith, to the cosmos and to the magnificence of life and wonder.

"One hour from now, out of your window, I shall see a sight unparalleled — Jupiter and Venus both shining in the golden-rosy sky and both in the West; she not very far above the horizon, and he about mid-way between the zenith and the silvery lady planet. From 5:30 to 6:30 they are of a superb splendor — deepening in color every second, in a still-daylight-sky guiltless of other stars, the moon not up and the sun gone down behind Gap-mountain; those two alone in the whole vault of heaven. It lasts so about an hour (did last night). Then the Lady, so silvery still, slips down into the clear rose colored glow to be near the departed sun, and imperial Jupiter hangs there alone. He goes down about 8:30. Surely it reminds one of Dante’s “eternal wheels”. I can’t but believe that all that majesty and all that beauty, those fated and unfailing appearances and exits, are something more than mathematics and horrible temperatures. If they are not, then we are the only wonderful things — because we can wonder."

I can see Willa dressed to receive the planets in the white silk suit, without a wrinkle, that Edith packed for her. You can read the entire letter here 

I share it today because tomorrow, look up in the eastern sky about an hour before sunrise and you will see Jupiter and Venus together at their closest conjunction this season. Mars and Mercury will also be there. You have until October 29, but the best day for all the planetary splendor will be tomorrow.  

To Willa and Edith.

 *If you don't subscribe/read Brain Pickings, you should. It's a daily blog/weekly newsletter of art and literature; poetry and journalism; and philosophy and science for the curious. Maria Popova does a splendid job of curating and finding things to get lost in. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Once Upon A Time - On First Jobs, Leaving Home and Writing for Work

My first job out of college was as a reporter for the Northern Virginia Daily, a small, family-owned newspaper with big ambitions. It covered five counties of the Shenandoah Valley and had several little bureaus throughout Virginia.

It paid pretty well for a first job and we got all the overtime we wanted. Most of the reporters and designers were about my age, and I was 22 at the time. We were mostly all young, on first jobs and were transplants to the area. Which meant that we often spent our evenings and weekends hanging out together because, well, we were all we really had.

I made a lot friends there that I still have to this day.

My pal Andy, who was the only person I knew in Virginia when I arrived. We had worked together at the Ball State Daily News. (I felt very Holden Caulfield in my red cap with the earflaps.)

Where I Lived

The weather when I first arrived in the summer of 1998 seemed extreme. It was either ungodly hot or violently stormy. On breaks from designing newspaper pages — I spent the first few months at the Northern Virginia Daily designing (it was a small ship; I reported during the day, designed pages at night) — I would sit outside the office in Strasburg on the little porch at the side of the building and inhale big lungfuls of the pine trees that separated the newspaper's office from the neighbor's house. It smelled clean and fresh and outdoorsy.

I remember it mostly always being nighttime, because that's when newspaper pages get designed —  between 4 pm. and 2 am.

I lived on Jackson Street above the Title Division in Front Royal, Virginia. My coverage area wasn't Front Royal, but I wanted to live there because it was one of the "bigger" cities of our coverage area with 13,000 people, which was still the smallest town I'd ever lived in.

My mom and dad at the Main Street gazebo in Front Royal, Virginia. Summer 1997.  

My apartment was rumored to have been a former dentist's office, the dentist being the late husband of my elderly landlady. I believed this to be true, as there was a large florescent light recessed into my living room ceiling. I never turned it on because the light from it was so hideous.

Across the street was a small church, painted white with green trim. Every Sunday the African American congregation of the church came together dressed to the hilt — the women in large Sunday hats, the men in suits and ties — and congregated in the squat, concrete block building. It looked like it had been transported in time from 1950.

On Sunday mornings I'd hear the choir singing. There were some weekend revivals when I felt a wave of forgiveness flash over my apartment. 

The little church that was a block from my apartment, still painted white and green.

An Education 

My bedroom in the apartment above the Title Division. I had taken the Matisse "print" hanging on the wall from a book I had.

Virginia was an odd place to me. Remember, I lived on Jackson Street, which intersected with Stonewall Street just a few blocks east. The locals called me a Yankee because I am from Indiana.

In addition to covering town councils, court, education, police and fire, I spent a fair amount of my professional hours covering battlefield associations. The Shenandoah Valley is pocked with Civil War battlefields, and every lawn where a Confederate soldier stood and every tree with a bullet hole or round still in it was ferociously protected from development.

I sat in many a Battlefield Preservation Commission meeting and listened to folks passionately discuss why things should or should not be built on old battlefields.

That little paper with its wide-ranging coverage, dedicated editors and passion for journalism was great training. I learned to be resourceful and to make friends with the retired old timers of the valley. I found secretaries to be excellent allies and endlessly resourceful, and I relished giving the people I wrote about their 15 minutes of fame.

I filed my first Freedom of Information Act requests, and I racked up plenty of billable hours with the newspaper's attorney figuring out how we could get information from government agencies who didn't want to give it us.

My desk at the Northern Virginia Daily. 

The Northern Virginia Daily was small, with about 15,000 circulation at the time, but it took journalism and it's role in the community very seriously. There were no scared cows, advertisers or otherwise.

By the time I left I could easily file three stories in a day, and write most of them within 30 minutes or so. This led me to where I am today — the world's fastest typist.

I spent most of my free time, which wasn't much usually — it turns out the reason they paid overtime was because we worked so much it — hanging out with my colleagues, polishing my resume, drinking beer on weekends and having dinner at the Main Street Mill, a little restaurant and bar up the street from my apartment. I ate many a dinner in that little place, and I loved it.

On workdays and too many evenings when I needed something quick, I ordered a turkey sub from the Italian pizza joint in the strip mall up the street from my apartment. I called in the same order every time and felt sheepish going in there because I ate there so much.

Sometimes I'd call in a slice of pizza instead of my usual, just so they wouldn't know it was "me." 

Northern Virginia

My new friends and I spent weekends exploring the Caverns of the area, visiting monuments in DC, which is just 60 miles away, and climbing up Woodstock Tower to see the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River. (It seems like we climbed up an electric tower to see the vantage, but that can't be right.) When people came to visit me I took them to the vistas on the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park.

Some of the seven bends of the Shenandoah River.

The tower to see the bends. It does sort of look like a transmission tower.

On the drive to work each day I was surrounded by mountains. On one side, the Blue Ridge, on the other, the Ridge and Valley Appalachians. They were old, worn down mountains, covered in trees. The Blue Ridge to the east and the Ridge and Valley Appalachians to the west.

Driving in to Front Royal off of Route 66 you go across a long bridge that spans a meadow, and it seems to me now there was always round hay bales dotting the horizon. It also always seems to me now that the sun was always setting on them, but that's probably because I always got home in the evening when the sun was setting when I switched from design to full-time reporting.

I think if I were driving over that bridge today I could find my way to Jackson Street again. (Turn left at the first major light in town.) But then again, I don't know if it's true anymore that I could find my old apartment. The routes and streets that once connected in my mind and created the map of the place is mostly gone. The circuits don't connect anymore. I'd probably have to look at a map to find that old apartment/former dentist's office on Jackson Street above the Title Division, but maybe not. Maybe it would all reconnect if I was driving those streets again. 

Friends For Life

Four years after I left Virginia word got around that I was having chemo and radiation. I received cards and care packages and phone calls from many of those people, and they knew me barely for a year, four years earlier. I was long gone from Virginia by then, but I still heard from most all of them.

Over fifteen years later and I am Facebook friends with most of the folks I knew from back then, and I still consider them all good friends. I check in with them on social media and see that their kids are growing up to look just like them, and occasionally one of them will post a comment to remind me of an event or memory we all shared.

All such good memories.

Me then, along with my first editor (on the left), and a fellow reporter.

Everywhere But Back

It was a great little place for a first job, but it was a long way from home. I moved to Virginia right after graduating from college, and I had lived in Indiana all my life.

Toward the end of my time in Virginia, I spent a lot of energy trying to get out of there and a lot of time worrying where I would land next. After a year and two months, I got a job at another newspaper, this time in Ohio.

I've been to Paris, to London, to Spain... down the Eastern Seaboard and back across to California and up to Seattle. I've driven countless times back home to Indiana from Cincinnati, but I've yet to go back to that little town where I first lived completely on my own.

Thanks to Google street view, I can revisit all these old places. The meadow with the hay bales is still there coming into town, though some vinyl houses have sprung up on the outskirts. The pizza place is there still in the strip mall, and still painted white and green is the church where I'd hear the singing choir drift into my bedroom window on warm Sunday mornings.

My old brick apartment building is still there but it looks like the Title Division has been replaced by a Sheriff's Office. I don't imagine they allow apartments for rent above there anymore.

The squat little brick building where I lived, continuing to bake in the sun.

It's funny that Google captured my old apartment in full sun, baking the brick and concrete, because that is exactly how I remember it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Staycation All I Ever Wanted

My staycation mostly looked like this.

In between Nashville and our long weekend at Norris Lake, I had three days of vacation at home.  

I believe in the parlance of the time this is called a Staycation, meaning: Kicking back and relaxing somewhere near your home and sleeping in your own bed at night. In a word, magical. 

Should a future culture or alien population wonder what people did for staycation fun in 2015, I took copious notes on my three-day, at-home, recreational bender.

Ate lunch, plucked the dead petunias, weeded the flower box, petted the kitties, ordered a new coloring book, went to the pool, took a scooter ride, sat on the front porch swing.
Summary: As my dad would say, I don't get any rest.


Took shoes to the cobbler, drank an iced latte, went to Pilates, got a mani-pedi, got a massage. (I had to, pedicures make me anxious). My new coloring book arrived (!!!). Sat on the front porch swing. 

Summary: Massages are wonderful. So is Amazon Prime. 

Walked to get a haircut, walked to get a sandwich from Carl's Deli, walked home. Colored a picture in my new "World Traveler" coloring book. (Don't judge, it's relaxing and meditative.) Started laundry and dinner. Sat on the front porch swing.
Summary: I am a domestic and arty goddess!

Thus ended my note taking and my staycation. I can't remember what I made for dinner but it was probably perfectly delicious while being simple, creative and nutritious. (It was probably frozen cheese tortellini.)

Some staycationers will recommend being "a tourist in your own city,” and that is great. 

But I’d challenge everyone to take that a step further and be a tourist in your own home. If you play your cards right, you won't even have to leave your yard... Best vacation ever.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nashville: In Photos

Up until the long July 4th weekend, neither Ray nor I had ever been to Nashville. (Crazy. Like the Willie Nelson song, rendered perfectly by Patsy Cline.)

We hit Music City with tickets to see Morrissey at Ryman along with a long list of things we wanted to see and do - The Nashville Cats Dylan and Cash exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, Jack White's studio and record store, the strip of honky tonks on Broadway. (Mostly I just liked saying honky tonks.)

Though Morrissey could perhaps be nominated for artist least likely to find a home in Nashville, seeing him at Ryman was phenomenal. His voice was as smooth as it was when I first discovered him in high school (be still my angsty teen-age heart) and the acoustics at Ryman really are what everyone says they are - spectacular.

The show was tremendous. We loved every second of it. 

And at the end he ripped his shirt off and threw it into the crowd. We were maybe 15 rows back. No fair.

That night we hit the Broadway strip of bars and restaurants. I was surprised at how touristy it was. I don't know why, I guess it makes sense, but I was expecting it to be a more authentic Nashville of hungry, up-and-coming musicians looking to make names for themselves. But there were a few spots on the strip that were less touristy.

Regardless, there was a lot to see and a lot going on, like in this photo of me with three of my new best friends... and those girls sobbing in the left of the frame.

Even cowgirls get the blues, ok, y'all?

I'm pretty hard core with my drinks too. Water is not for the weak of heart.

We spent the next morning at the Country Music Hall of Fame, mostly because I wanted to check out the Dylan and Cash exhibit. It was ok. Nothing to write a country and western song about.

I did enjoy this quote from Bob on his comrade though.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is mostly a bunch of sequined performance outfits from myriad country stars. It's not all that interesting unless you like that sort of thing. It certainly doesn't capture the heart and soul of a good ol' heartbreaker or good timin' tune.

The museum did have that sweet angel Dolly Parton's hand-written lyrics to Jolene though.

The museum would go a long way to guide visitors through country music hall of fame with, well, actual music, instead of outfits. The message would be more true.

But in another part of the Country Music Hall of Fame building is Hatch Show Print, the letterpress poster shop that's been in Nashville since 1879, creating, carving and inking posters one at a time since then. It's pretty remarkable.

Between me being a type/design lover and Ray being a woodworker (many of the letters and designs are carved into wood before inking), we were in heaven.

If you want to see what a modern day letterpress inker looks like, look no further. This is me after inking my poster. After the tour they give you a Hatch Show Print flyer to ink. It pretty fun and was definitely a highlight of Nashville for us.

Hatch Show Print also has a cat on the premises. He's orange. He was sleeping in a chair when we were there, probably because he had a hard day of guarding the old equipment and knocking wood letters off shelves.

Before we headed out of town we hit up Third Man Records, Jack White's recording label, studio and record store.

You probably already know this part because you've already bought our single, but Ray and I recorded a 45 while we were there. It's huge in Europe and about to take Japan.

For $15 you can slip into the recording booth (it was about the size of a phone booth), and lay down some tracks. I snuck around behind Ray's back to buy us a recording session thinking Ray would be super pumped about it. (He likes to sing in the car, so I assumed he'd be pretty pumped to capture that on a 45.)

Instead he was like, "What? What am I supposed to sing? I don't want to."

Not exactly the excited reaction I had anticipated. No matter. We decided to do a duet instead and sang "Friends in Low Places," since that is the only song we both know the words to and it's a pretty fun karaoke country jam.

I figured Jack White would come out from behind a closed door somewhere and ask us if we have a record deal or maybe see if we wanted to jam with him in the studio, but never came out. He's probably on tour. I'm sure when he gets back he'll hear our record and give us a call. (Call me, Jack, I love you.)

Here's our record. If you come over to our house I'll play it over and over again for you. I know you are excited.

Listening pleasure of our record, naturally.

Our final night we went to the Grand Ole Opry. Meh. It's definitely old but not very grand. And it's way out in the 'burbs and shares a parking lot with a big mall. I thought it'd be this rollicking good time of myriad country singers - banjos! fiddles! harmonicas! maybe some hay! Nope. It was pretty much a snoozefest.

That's about it from Nashville. I'd recommend the Ryman, Hatch Show Print, Third Man Records and a night or two on Broadway. If I were you I'd skip the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry and instead spend that time at Layla's Bluegrass Inn.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When In Doubt

Be the Golden Retriever.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Shock and Awe

Tomcat looks like he just saw a ghost. But what he is actually reacting to is The Corrections.

He can't believe what a terrible book it is.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summa Summa Summa-time

Porch sitting has commenced in earnest.

Next up for summer 2015:
• Grill-outs and the Mt. Adams pool
• Picnics and scooter rides
• Helmet sundaes and crunch coat
• Nashville and Norris Lake
• Iced-tea and lemonade, together 
Time to sit back and unwind

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Constantly (Angry) Gardener

Ray sowing tomato plants in our enormous garden.

It's easy to buy pricey tomatoes - just go to the Hyde Park Farmer’s Market, where a pound of bruised tomatoes is more expensive than a Jeff Ruby’s dry-aged steak. 

But to grow expensive tomatoes, that takes skill.

Fortunately, Ray and I got ‘em. We have consistently grown the most expensive tomatoes in Hamilton County going on two years. Let us show you how it's done.

First, get some $4.99 tomato plants from Home Depot.

We prefer Home Depot over Lowe’s because the Wendy's is right there, so you can get a spicy chicken sandwich and a large Diet Coke on your way. And you're going to need that sustenance because shopping at Home Depot takes like nine hours, even if you're just going for some tomato plants.

Second, over-buy. Get all of the tomatoes!  

We usually buy 5-7 tomato plants; I have no idea why since our garden is about the size of a dining room table.

So take a guess at how big your garden is and buy triple the tomatoes that will actually fit into it. You want make sure that when they start to get big, they take over the entire plot, then the yard, then the neighbor's yard.

Third, notice that your green tomatoes are being eaten.

Realize too late that the squirrels and chipmunks are gorging themselves on your fruit. Be sure to realize this a) when the plants are gigantic and b) when half of your ripening tomatoes have been eaten or left with hunks out of them on the fence. (Squirrels are really proud of this and will leave your half-eaten tomatoes on the property line fence for you to admire their work.)

Fourth, scour the internet for weird pest control suggestions. Buy all the pest control!

Nothing is too strange or too expensive to try for your new war on squirrels and chipmunks. Buy loads of cinnamon, wolf urine and horrific smelling pest spray to keep the animals out. When that fails (it will), buy some talismans from a shaman and try that. (Specifically, bags and bags of peanuts. Maybe if you leave out gobs of peanuts in the shell for them to eat they will choose that over your tomatoes.) (They won't; they'll eat both.)

Fifth, search for fencing.

Now that the plants are enormous and there is no easy way to install a fence, definitely start looking for fencing. Search the Internet for "easy solutions."

When that fails (it will), go back to Home Depot and buy a bunch of garden/landscape aluminum fencing at $20 a panel. Wrestle with your 12 panels of fencing until they are (relatively) connected together (with zip ties) and fencing in the (dining table-sized) garden.

Stand back and admire your ingenuity in the face of overgrown plants, uneven ground and impossible fencing. Spending an entire Saturday afternoon in the heat of July to protect your tomatoes is going to be so worth it.  

Sixth, realize the fence doesn’t work.

As you are sitting on the deck drinking coffee one morning, notice another half-eaten, ripening tomato on your steps. Take back all those thoughts of you being an ingenious fence engineer as you realize that the squirrels can walk right through your elaborate fencing.

Go back to Home Depot for plastic fencing to line the inside of the aluminum fencing. Get the biggest roll of this stuff they have. Sure, your garden is small, but those squirrels are crafty and THIS IS WAR.

Make sure to get the kind of plastic fencing that cuts your hands when you maneuver it or try to reach for a tomato anywhere near it.

Use the entire roll to line the fence of your tiny garden. Next, use another big sheet of it to create a top. Use zip ties to lock the 'roof' on. When you run out of zip ties, use the spool of wire ties you found in the junk drawer... Because you are not freaking going back to Home Depot.

Seventh, realize you can no longer really access your tomatoes.

Hooray, you see a red ripened tomato that is ready for eating. (!!!!!) Now turn that excitement into disappointment when you realize that you've made it only slightly more difficult for the squirrels but nearly impossible for humans to access the tomatoes. No matter. When your hand gets cut on the plastic fencing and zip tied roof, proudly consider it a hard-fought battle wound.

Eighth, harvest your bounty!

We estimate that our "bounty" was about four tomatoes in 2014, which cost us about $200 a tomato, roughly.

Ninth, become fully aware of your failure.

Slowly realize what a bargain those $5 tomatoes were at the Hyde Park Farmer’s Market.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Vile Weed

The surest way to get poison ivy is to claim you are immune to it. Put that hubris out for the fates to hear and you will be promptly rewarded.

And for my money, it just can't happen at a better time than when you're going to be in a wedding, with a knee-length bridesmaids dress.

About a month ago, Ray and I went to the art open house at Brazee Street studios where we had to park out in a field. I was literally moseying through weeds, bragging that I'd never gotten poison ivy in my entire life because I am one of those special, blessed human beings who are immune to it.

Except, I didn't even realize I had parked in poison ivy. I was just making conversation about how special and immune I am.

So special. So immune. 

I'm also 98 percent certain I closed a few stalks of it in my car door. Ray and I thought it was funny that leaves we're dangling out of the bottom of my door while I was driving around.

Ha ha ha.

So funny. So dangly.

The first signs were innocuous enough - a welt across my ankle that didn't itch or turn red. Until it did.

At first it wasn't that bad.

No big deal. Just a few spots. I can still walk around in public like this.
Then it got severe. 

Turns out, I'm not immune.

The best part was that I'd wake up several times in the night overcome with itching. The second best part was the cankle it gave me.

Have you no mercy, poison ivy?! A cankle?

It was pure misery for weeks. I'm pretty sure poison ivy is an advanced interrogation technique for enemy's of the state.

But here's the thing that really blew my mind: If you get poison ivy and have to have a steroid shot, it will be in the butt. I thought after adolescence shots were upgraded to the arm. Nope. When the nurse told me to "pull your pants down and lean over the table," I thought she was joking.

It's truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Here Comes Auntie Gina

How are you supposed to choose one tutu? Trick question, you can't.

Despite my pleas for Ray to go back in time and have us a baby with a previous girlfriend so that we can be weekend parents, he has not been able to make this happen.

But nearly the next best thing has happened: Rachel is having another baby. And according to the sonogram, we're she's having a girl! The days of being the super close-by, super cool auntie is finally coming true for me.

I'd been on the edge of my seat for months waiting to find out what kind of baby it was going to be. (And I made no secret that I was gunning for a girl to fulfill my auntie dreams.) I even had the sonogram appointment in my reminders. 

It's a girl, I do WIN!

After I found out I immediately started planning the baby shower and shopping for baby sized tutus and leg warmers. Rachel, however, has refused my baby shower vision because, she says, a) this is her third child and b) she already has a lot of girl baby stuff 'from friends.'

From friends? Friends?

'Who wants their old stuff,' I lamented to Ray. 'But she refuses to let me throw her a shower.'

'I don't think she really gets to decide that,' Ray said. (Which is why I love him.)

And I couldn't agree more. 1) I The baby deserves her own party and 2) my soon-to-be God child deserves way better than hand-me-downs.

Oh! Speaking of, I've appointed myself God parent. When I told Rachel I'd make and excellent God parent - especially for a girl, no pressure, we can formalize details later - she said that her kids do not have God parents. So I was literally forced to appoint myself. (No big deal.)

And since I am self-appointing things, maybe the shower could be for me? As a God parent, I could throw it for myself and register for things for the baby would want from me. Would that be weird? I don't really think so but I know some people are uptight about things like showers for self-appointed God parents.

I had to stop texting Rachel about all this - When will she be born? What is your due date? Gina is a good name for a baby who is going to have me as a God parent. What kind of cake should I order for her shower? Do you think she'd like a yellow playhouse for my yard, or a white one? - because I suspected that I was being annoying.

I've since channeled all of my energy toward creating the baby's social media handles and first Tumblr. It goes without saying she's going to be really into scooters, owls, Bob Dylan, cats, blocks, tree climbing, dance, sea life, animals of all types, Polaroids, typography, rebellion and books.

Just like her Auntie Gina.

While I've stepped back outwardly - I've refrained from asking Rachel if I can be there for the delivery (so far) - internally I am still bursting with excitement and pride. And in my own home I feel safe expressing this enthusiasm by asking Ray to make the baby various wood toys - bikes, blocks, cars, rocking animals, very small chairs.

Do you think she'd like her own very tiny adirondack chair? Hey Ray, can we convert the garden shed into a playhouse? Don't you think flower boxes would look really cute on the playhouse? While you're in the basement, could you make a wooden train set for the baby?

And have you SEEN the clothes and accessories for infant girls lately?! I am danger to society right now, clicking this, clicking that, running through the baby aisle at Target throwing tulle skirts into my cart and picking out pacifiers with mustaches attached to them.

How can you chose from all this amazing stuff?! You can't, people. You can't.

She's not coming until late summer so that gives me some time to finalize her Amazon Wish List.

For her shower.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

How To Lose A Foul Ball

The first (and probably) only time I'll hold a foul ball.
I've been struck by lightning, ridden a zamboni and last spring at a Reds game, a got a foul ball.

Basically, I am on fire.

I had gotten us baller seats to celebrate Ray's birthday. It was to be a night of close-up baseball, stadium food and fireworks. Ray was already enjoying a gigantic basket of fries early in the game when a high-foul pop-up came into our section. I nudged him. 'Yo, life-threatening ball ricocheting into our section, look alive.'

He glanced up and promptly returned to his fries. A few rows behind us what looked to be about 10 dudes starting clamoring for the ball, grabbing and pulling and pretty much knocking each other out for it.

The ball bounced up a row up, then another and then the people next to me started grabbing for it.

That's when the ball rolled beneath my seat.

It was as if fate herself had gently placed the ball in section 115, Row W, seat 15. I snatched it from under my seat and proclaimed "I GOT IT!"

I couldn't believe it. A major league foul ball, in my grip. Gotten fair and square. I beamed. Three dudes a few rows ahead of me turned and scowled out of jealousy. I beamed directly at them.

I leaned over to Ray to note how amazing it was, how this ball just landed right here for us, and how cool. We couldn't believe it.

We started to wonder whose bat it came off of. In all the excitement, we weren't sure, but we could figure out.

That's when the woman a few seats down asked if she could take my picture with it. Sure! I held up my trophy as she snapped my photo and then she said, "If I ever caught a ball, I would give it to a kid."

My smile faded.


I briefly considered my obligation here. Am I supposed to start looking for needy kids in section 115? The needier the better? But what if I want to keep it, can I do that? What if I want to give it to a kid I know? Or my dad, a lifelong Reds fan?

I've been a Red's fan my entire life, thanks to my dad, who is also a life-long Reds fan. My dad took me to my first game when I was 8 at Riverfront Stadium to watch Johnny Bench catch his last game at Johnny Bench Night. I got a Red's pennant with Johnny Bench's photo on it.

Pack your bags, you're going on a guilt trip

A few minutes after the woman snapped my photo Ray said, "You should give it to the kids behind us."

I stopped beaming.

I didn't want to give it to the kids behind us. I was excited. No one ever gets foul balls at baseballs games and it wasn't as if I took it from the kids or like they were even trying to get it. I think they were playing on their iPad or something.

Besides, I knew he only said it because that woman had said it.

"What are we going to do with it," he asked.

What are they going to do with it, I wondered.

I looked at the ball and admired the scuff mark left by the bat. I envisioned writing the date on it, our seats, who's bat it came off of and who pitched it. I was going to tell my dad how awesome it was; he was going to be so pumped to hear this story. I thought maybe I'd give it to him for Father's Day.

But between Ray and the woman, I felt like there was some rule that I was supposed to give it to a kid. That I wasn't allowed to keep it, or that keeping it made me a jerk when there were kids in the stadium.

So I had Ray take my photo with it so I'd at least have evidence it happened before I gave it away.
Ray snapped the photo and I turned to the dad behind us and asked him if he'd like to give the ball to one of his kids.

He looked at it like it had the plague on it.

"Uhh, I guess," he said, and just stared at me.

Ingrate, I thought. So I turned to his son directly behind me and asked if he'd like to have the ball.

The kid just looked at me like, "Uhh, whatever stranger lady giving me some random baseball."

They couldn't have cared less about that ball, but it was too late. I had handed it to the kid. He didn't thank me. His dad didn't thank me. I think they only took it to be nice. Which is what I get for succumbing to peer pressure.

I immediately regretted it.

It was as if the ball lost its magic as soon as I claimed it. It went from being a ball I got at a Reds game to a ball some random lady handed to them 10 minutes later. I don't think they even knew it was a foul ball.

Misery loves company

The next day I called my dad to tell him the story. Misery loves company and I knew he'd be as miserable about it was I was.

He went from incredulous: 'YOU GAVE IT AWAY?! YOU GAVE IT AWAY?' To quiet resignation: 'I can't believe you gave it away...'

We were beside ourselves. I told him I'd forgive him if he gave me up for adoption.

'What you should have done is told Ray to have some more fries and keep his mouth shut.'

'Yeah, he and that lady both should have kept their mouths shut," I said.

It felt good to have someone on my side, someone who thought giving it away was as dumb as I did. (Even though I was the dumb one.)

My dad then explained his decision tree on worthy and unworthy kids to give a foul ball to.

'Now, if me and the kid were both going after it and I got it, sure, I'd have given it to him and been happy to do it. But I can't believe this... What'd that kid behind you have to do with anything? He wans't even going for the ball! I'll tell you what, if I ever catch a baseball at a Major League baseball game like that, nobody's getting my ball. And if that kid is healthy and can walk, he's definitely not getting it. I've never even held a Major League ball!"

I cracked up laughing. Basically, if you are a kid who can walk without crutches or a wheelchair, you are not getting my dad's imaginary foul ball.

Ray tried to make me feel better by telling me that the kid's dad was a jerk and that the kid was probably going to be really excited to have the ball when he got home. He'll probably take it to school to show his friends, Ray said.

He's probably home schooled, I snarked. 

Well, It's a Good Story (Sort of)

It's been nearly a year since this happened and it's always entertaining to hear the mixed reactions from people about it. Mostly people feel sorry for me and console me by noting it was good deed. Others just think I'm a moron.

Why do kids automatically get the ball? Screw those kids!

Deadspin offers this chart to determining if you deserve a foul ball, which I see their point. But this Dodgers fan's post called Please Let My Dad Keep His Foul Ball is my favorite. He hopes that his old dad will one day get a foul ball while also fearing that the surrounding crowd will angrily make his dad give it to a kid.

I am still seething at myself for giving away that baseball. It was stupid. I regret it. So if I ever get another one, which is likely never, I'm keeping it and I don't care what squalling kid is around me to complain about it. And then I'm going to give it to my dad, because there is no way that a kid, even a kid I know, but especially a stranger's kid, would be more excited to have it.


Epilogue: It's good to know people who know people... A friend of mine who works for the Reds was able to get me a ball for my dad for Father's Day, so at least he could hold a Major League Baseball. It doesn't have the scuff of a bat on it, but it is an authentic ball that COULD have been someone's foul ball, or home run, or Grand Slam. (Giving this ball it's own imaginary future has been half the fun.)

My dad keeps it on his desk in a plastic baggie... "so it won't get dusty," he says.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Birthday Girl

It's easy to forget you are getting older while you're in Paris. The city forces you to walk everywhere, to take the subway, to linger over breakfast, to pay attention. You can't dwell on birthday wishes or what you've done (or not) with your life when you're absorbed with living it.

And isn't that the best thing about traveling? You sort of forget who you are for a while because you are busy leading a life that you don't normally live - sitting in outdoor cafés in strange cities, attempting to communicate in a language you don't speak, getting to know neighborhoods outside of your own.

Rodin's The Thinker at the Rodin Museé.The Rodin Museé is this quiet, museum oasis of sculpture away from the fray.

We started the day of October 17 at an outdoor table at Café Charlot in Marais to watch the Parisian world go by.

It doesn't seem to matter what you're doing in France, you're having bread while doing it.

Having coffee?  
How about some bread?!
Zipping through traffic on your scooter while talking on your cell?  
Why not add some bread to that!
Shopping along the street?  
Here, eat some bread.
Watching half-naked women can-can at Crazy Horse?
You know what pairs well with nudity? A baguette.

I am fully supportive of this because truly the bread is unmatched. It is so delicious it is its own meal.

The 'only' thing I asked for for my birthday was to have a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. Miraculously, it was 75º and sunny that day. 

We got sandwiches from the bakery a few blocks from our hotel – along with chocolate croissants – and picked up cheese and crackers from a convenience store in the Champs de Mars subway stop. (It was basically the French version of 7-11 inside the subway. We fancy.) And I brought a towel with us from the hotel room to use as our picnic blanket.

With our bag full of sandwiches, cheese, croissants and the hotel towel, we headed to the Eiffel Tower.

The weather was so perfect it looks fake. If this were Instagram I'd hashtag it #nofilter.

Picnic blanket or hotel bath towel? You can't even tell the difference.

From there we went back to the Ponts des Arts lock bridge, which we discovered by accident on our first trip Paris three years ago.

It looks terrible. The locks are a blight on the bridge now with so many that parts of the railings are breaking from the weight of them.

Unsightly, like locusts tourists have descended upon it.

This is what the bridge looked like when we were there three years ago.

We were happy to just take a photo and not add to the destruction.

Lock bridge selfie. If you squint, you can see the Eiffel Tower.

Before we left for Europe Ray gave me the Eiffel Tower Tiffany charm necklace as a reminder of our trip. It was perfect.

If you are going to turn 40, the only reasonable way to do so is in Paris with your love after coffee and a baguette for breakfast. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Apropos Of Nothing

I sent Ray a text this afternoon complaining about Ernest Hemingway.

We weren't having a conversation about Hemingway and we hadn't recently had any conversations about Hemingway. I just happened to became irritated with him while I was eating my lunch. I imagine a lot of people probably feel this way, likely Ray too, so sent him a text so he wouldn't think he was alone with these feelings.

This is how many of our conversations begin... in the middle. Books, Hollywood D-listers, outfits, blood sugar levels at home improvement centers - all great conversation starters.

A few recent examples:

Me: The real love story was Levin and Kitty.
Ray: Who?
Me: Levin and Kitty. Sure, Anna and Vronksy get the headlines, but I think it depends on when you read the book. If you read the book when you're younger, say in your 20s, you think Anna and Vronksy are fated but star-crossed, like Romeo and Juliet. But that isn't true. The interesting story is really about Kitty and Levin and how they struggle, suffer, forgive.
Ray: Didn't you finish that book two years ago?

Me: Oh my god, I almost died. I just ate an entire bag of Bugles and a Reece's Cup in the checkout line. Where were you?!
Ray: By the paint.
Me: My blood sugar was so low that I was shaking. I abandoned the plants in the garden center so I could get to the snacks in the check-out line quicker.
Ray: What happened to the plants?
Me: Did you hear what I just said? I said I had to eat Bugles because I ALMOST DIED.

Me: What do you think of these shoes with this?
Ray: They look good.
Me: I don't know… they look kinda weird. I'm just not feeling the color. Does it look like I'm going to a fancy funeral?
Ray: I guess...
Me: I knew it.

Me: If you cheat on me with some skank in Canada, I will throw all of your stuff onto the lawn and light it on fire.
Ray: What? What skank in Canada?
Me: Dean McDermott cheated on Tori Spelling in Canada while he was filming some crappy TV show or something.
Ray: Don't worry, I'm not even going to Canada this year.

Me: Does my belly look poochy in this?
Ray: Poochy? No.
Me: I feel kinda bloated, like I'm going to explode, and like this shirt is clinging to my gigantic poochy belly, you know what I mean?
Ray: There is nothing I can say that will be good at this point.

Me: I was never a big fan of Tiger Woods, but ever since his big scandal broke and he got his tooth knocked out and started sucking at golf, I have to say, he's much more interesting.
Ray: Why?
Me: He was so boring before, at least now there is evidence there is blood coursing through his veins. Dirty, washed-up blood, but blood none-the-less.

Me: Why don't teenagers moon people anymore? I remember when I was kid, getting mooned by a gaggle of teenagers in a station wagon was a legitimate possibility.
Ray: We should moon people.
Me: YES. Pale butts in car windows for everyone! My brother was a notorious mooner. I remember he mooned my mom in the kitchen once. It might have been the best thing to happen to me as a kid.
Ray: People wouldn't know what to make of my juicy booty.
Me: They are not ready for your jelly.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Singing and Swearing

In between the whirring of the drill in the basement, I can hear Ray singing along to My Sharona.

'My motor run.'
'Come a little closer, huh.'
'My, my, my, WOO!'

He is building built-in bookcases for the office, which I requested so that we can remove the bookcase from our bedroom. Having nearly 300 books stuffed into your house without built-ins takes up a lot of room. Somehow our three-story house is barely big enough for Ray, me, the cats and my 300 book friends.

The built-ins are on the heels of my sawhorse desk that he built me for Christmas. Unfortunately for him, my wish list for Santa isn't as simple as ordering from Amazon. I asked him to create me a sawhorse desk with an old door we had. This was the result.

What you can't see on my shirt is that the cat is a DJ. He is wearing headphones and scratching vinyl.

As usual, it's perfect. The next step is to create an attic library around the desk so we can move some more books around.

My real goal in all of this is so that one day, when the reporter from the New York Times Magazine comes to profile me at my home for my amazing invention/Great American Novel/scientific discovery/ability to eat frozen pizza every night for a year, our house can be described as "book-lined."

It's also my not-so-subtle way of justifying my book buying habit – look at all this storage space we have now! – and keeping Ray flush with woodworking projects so he can justify his tool buying habit. I am such a good wife.

Right after My Sharona ended I heard: "Damn it. That's not gonna work!"

With all these bookcases to be built, there is no shortage of time he can spend singing and swearing at things in the basement. Ray is a lucky man. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Ray got a MAJOR award for Christmas. It looks Italian.