The last one

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

It was sunny today, hot and bright. Much like 9/11/01 and most September days since, being as it is the waning days of summer. The oyster and I went to her first music class this morning and unsurprisingly she got right into the dancing. But while the other toddlers floated like butterflies to the classical flute music, the little oyster dropped her own beat and it was Hammertime. I’m looking forward to our Thursday mornings this fall.

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

I don’t know yet how we will teach our daughter about 9/11. At two years old, this is simply another day for her and of course it should be at her ripe old age. But how do you teach someone to never forget when there’s no memory of what we’re to remember in the first place?

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

The morning radio show the husband listens to took calls about 9/11. One listener’s 6th grader has an assignment to interview someone who remembers that day. None of those children were alive when the planes went down, none of them remember the silence in the skies for days and days after, all of them know a country at war and pat-downs at the airport. How many have been to Section 60? Who can say.

“I don’t much care where” is a lazy proclamation, not a carefree anthem. When we teach our daughter about 9/11 and Section 60 and freedom and living and making a future informed–even emboldened–by the past but not crippled by it, however we do that, she won’t be able to say “I don’t much care…” because that fatalism is trumped by the vow to never forget. I care which attitude we impart, in all things, big and small.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

It matters to me which way we go. It matters to me that we walk boldly and humbly in a direction, with no guarantee of arrival but an understanding of the admonition to get moving.

“–so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

We can’t always see which way we ought to go from here. When the time comes to teach our little girl about 9/11 and remembering, I know where we want to get to: To an understanding of life in the midst of loss, love and good in moments of terror, redemption in the face of evil. These are lofty goals, I know. But we are going to walk long enough that in the big things and in the little things she understands that the billowing black smoke behind us may always stay with us in some ways but that the end of one thing makes room for something new.

never forget


In which we move ahead

Me: I’m really enjoying my book. It’s funny writing and it’s interesting to me the way they went about their boycott. <shifts A Year Without Made in China across the table>
The husband: Hmm.
Me: Actually, the husband in the book reminds me of you. But it’s annoying me that instead of going without stuff and clearing out their house, they find other ways to buy stuff they don’t need.
The husband: Hmmm.
Me: But anyway, it’s really interesting. A very entertaining read.
The husband: Hmm.
Me: Oh my gosh you’re afraid I’m going to make you do it, aren’t you?
The husband: <avoids eye contact>

* * *

There’s a Google commercial going around right now that ends with a little girl asking into the phone, while lying on the floor next to her sleeping dog, “OK, Google, do dogs dream?”

Google’s response is, “Dogs dream like humans and about similar things.” The little girl smiles and pats her sleeping dog on the head.

Dietrich is sleeping right now and isn’t available to do a final dogblog before we move ahead. I don’t know what he’s dreaming about but maybe it’s all the new puppies in the neighborhood that we meet on our walks these days; he loves them, so the husband and I try not to talk too loud about getting a second dog when Dietrich is within earshot. We wouldn’t get a second dog here in the green-ceiling condo anyway, but the time will come, before Dietrich is too much older, that we’ll add to the pack in four-legged format. Dietrich is too great a dog to not pass on his wisdom to a younger pup.

And the oyster would love a second dog, too. After she took a nose-dive off a friend’s porch last week, skinning her cheek and her nose and developing a purple knot the size of her fist, she cried for a minute and then asked for crackers and puppies. The girl bounces back pretty quick.

And speaking of kids, today was my last monthly blood draw at the ob, provided the numbers come back normal. They have been normal since March so I trust that September will be no different! That means we have the blessing of Western medicine to add to the pack in two-legged format. When I asked the husband the other week if we should go ahead when we get the go ahead or if we should wait for, hmm, I don’t know, something or…another time…or…I don’t know. His response? “I’m always up for another kid.” Good man.

When we talked about having kids before the oyster, one thing I wanted was to be debt-free. That didn’t happen before the oyster came into our lives but it happened in June and delayed though our milestone was, it was an excellent 29th birthday gift to me. Then again we weren’t actually debt-free until August when I remembered a library fine of $4.50, packed up the oyster, drove to our old neighborhood, and forked over the quarters I was saving for the library book sale at the end of the week. All in the name of financial freedom.

Dietrich is awake now and he is looking at me with his cartoon eyes, which suggests that he thinks I’m leaving something out. Oh, I think he wants me to mention his gray chin hairs. All gray. Very distinguished and handsome. He also wants me to mention that we signed up for dog food delivery from Amazon so he gets a package every month and he feels very sophisticated and urbane.

But back to the conversation with the husband at the beginning of this post. This week I finished the book A Year Without Made in China: One Family’s True Life Adventure in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni. It’s my kind of book–a personal social experiment conducted purely to see if it’s possible? Yeah, that’s me. And no, I’m not going to make the husband do it. But it fits well with the moves we’ve been making toward a more minimalist lifestyle in the last few months and the fact that I borrowed it from the library instead of buying it from Amazon is proof positive of that. Dedicating ourselves to the frugal oyster budget was a great foundation for this minimalist thing and I like making less-is-just-less-and-that’s-the-goal a permanent thing for us. 

Anyway. Dietrich thinks we should keep the Red white and new Facebook page when we close up blog-shop tomorrow and I agree. That will be helpful in staying connected while we also spend less time in front of the computer, talking on behalf of the dog. Who has his own dreams of published books and perfectly broiled salmon, if Google is to be believed. 

Running in Virginia

Or, Jumanji at 6:30 a.m.

Some back story: In May I started running, mostly to get healthy, mostly to set an example for the little oyster and future kids, a little bit to give me something to do during the day, and a little bit to lose weight.

So, in order:

  • I have definitely gotten healthy–I run an average of 3 miles a day, 6 days a week; I have lost two pants sizes; my resting heart rate is down 30 bpm; I have muscles!; and last week I ran an 8:54 mile. Oh! And I can do my whole yoga DVD without stopping, which I couldn’t do when I started working out and which I do on the day when I don’t run. GO ME.
  • I’m sure I’m setting an example for my kid(s). I want her/them to grow up assuming running moms are the norm and, planning ahead here, I would lovelovelove to do fun runs with my small fry when she/they are big enough to participate, years down the road. Which means I need to keep this up because mama is not getting younger.
  • Truth bomb: I started exercising daily in May because our mornings dragged and hustling around the block with a stroller made me feel strong and gave us something to do. But then a funny thing happened–as I got stronger and started to see results, I got bored pushing a stroller for a 40 minute speed walk and started getting up earlier to run alone before the husband left for work. So what started out as exercise to kill time has become a crucial part of my day, my well-being, and our family’s happiness because, believe it, those endorphin things are for. real.
  • And finally, yes, I wanted to be a certain weight before we went for another baby and knowing that I had at least six months of waiting on hormone levels before trying again, I figured I could lose the weight. Turns out no, and here’s how I know: 20 miles a week for three months, smaller meal portions, less sugar, and way more veggies and I’ve lost all of 6 lbs. Yep, six. And I haven’t lost–or gained!–an ounce since June. So I like to think that after that initial layer of 6 lbs. peeled itself off, my bod got serious about building muscle and toning up what’s left. And I like what’s left. The real goal was to be healthy and I mistakenly equated that with weight. But I’m a great size and a great weight and anyway, it all comes back to setting an example for my progeny; obsessing about a few pounds at the cost of maintaining a good, healthy lifestyle does no one any good.

Again, that’s all just back story. Where does Jumanji come in, you ask?

It comes in every morning at 6:30 a.m. in my quaint little northern Virginia neighborhood where I sometimes feel like I am running for my ever-loving life. I can never look behind me on a run because that’s when you run into a raptor or a tiger and get eaten alive in the movie version so no way, man. You have to understand that the wildlife I encounter–or do my best NOT to encounter–is solely responsible for all of my negative splits, and sometimes we’re talking the difference of a solid minute or more.

Last week I saw the glint of a spider web in an early commuter’s headlights. But as I got closer by the second, I also saw the spider that had made the web and to be able to spot a spider in a web in the wild from 15 feet away ten minutes before the sun comes up really says more about the size of the spider than the strength of one’s eyesight. I was slowing down and giving a wide berth until I saw that the web was spun between a large tree branch and the ground, MAKING IT TALLER THAN I AM. Also, the web was like forty-ply, a thick, plush masterpiece of arachnidal workmanship. Suddenly slowing down seemed like a fool’s errand. On my way home, I ran on the other side of the street.

Little snakes with stripes, bigger snakes without stripes, a darling little blue salamander or two (holy cow, do those things bite? must Google…), all of these creatures appear–always suddenly–on my runs. Someone even lost a white parrot in the neighborhood so in between songs I listen for the exotic cry of a wandering bird but an ornithologist I am not so I don’t think I’d know it if I heard it. I actually stopped and looked up into a tree a few weeks ago thinking “Oh, that sounds like a parrot, at least to me, in my head,” but what flew out of the tree was remarkably brown and small and not a parrot.

And while we’re talking about trees, lets talk about those mangy denizens of the wood, squirrels. They are e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. and many of them are too bold for their own good. Or at least too bold for my comfort. But while I used to run away from squirrels now I go full beast mode and charge at them if they are in my path, clapping if needed. I feel that this also deters potential human attackers.

The crickets in Virginia are so big my Rottweiler backs away from them. I think one hissed at me once. What I hate about encountering these “crickets” is that they are all antennaed and pointy in every direction so it’s impossible to tell which way they are facing and therefore which way they are going to jump. Although now that I think about it, I wonder if their size means they’d be amenable to the Milkbone peace offerings I sometimes carry.

Sometimes the number of creatures dangling, darting, slithering, jumping, leering, swooping, or dashing means that my morning run may be less of a run and more of an avoidance obstacle course. To which I say, who needs calisthenics and interval training? I just run in semi-darkness in a place where Jurassic Park looks like a kiddie ride.

And I’ve got the stems to prove it.


Time to say goodbye

Here, a little background music while you read:

A good blog (allow me to flatter myself) is like a good TV show. It amuses; it informs, seriously or with humor, about matters vaguely important or unapologetically trivial; it has a target audience; and it knows when to quit. I could also add that a good TV show yields lasting cultural markers—the Rachel, anyone?–and that a blog, if it is true to its purpose, would do the same. Which is why y’all should understand that really, this post from almost exactly a year ago was probably the beginning of the end.

Yep, I used y’all in a post. I use it in real life. No one looks at me funny. That’s how I know it is, as Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli are currently putting it so melodiously, time to say goodbye.

Red, white, and new.

Now that I’m home full-time with the oyster, being red doesn’t matter so much. In fact, being red around here matters less than being red further away from this town. Being white actually has “mattered” in ways that I didn’t expect and that make me uncomfortable and would be hard to explain to anyone who is insulated by distance or by work that keeps them sheltered in a particular like-me demographic, like being a young professional in this area. And finally, the elephant on the blog, the thing I’ve noticed as I’ve had less to say over the last few months…I’ve acclimated. I’m no longer new.

I launched this blog three years ago one week from today, on September 11, 2011. It was meant to be what the subhead says, the story of “a midwest transplant trying to put down roots in the center of the free world.” We were delayed in our adventure by Martha and were surprised shortly after our arrival by the oyster. We have had some incredible highs and devastating lows in the past three years and those things and all the details in between and along the way and behind us and ahead of us mean only, really, that we are living life.

We love the life we live and it’s hard to maintain a full and focused life when you’re distracted watching for potential blog posts in the daily details. So I won’t do that anymore after next week. I’ll post three more times before I close up shop next Thursday.

I’m going to miss y’all.


What goes around comes around…and out the sides

The scene: The Midwest, the suburbs, a two-story colonial, upstairs, a crib. Circa 1986.

The players: The dad, very little me.

The action: The mom says the almost-toddler-aged child is napping and should be down for the afternoon; she leaves the house. The garage door closes; a stench wafts down the stairs to the dad. The dad climbs stairs to find very little me standing in crib, coated in thick layer of my own forcefully expelled excrement. Am very pleased. Am covered from “hairline to between your toes” as the dad tells it for the next almost 30 years. Am deposited into tub and hosed liberally. All garments are disposed of. “Your time will come” also launched as favorite tagline henceforth.

Well, DAD.

The scene: Northern Virginia, the suburbs, a Kohl’s, a cart. June 2014.

The players: Me, the oyster, a cleaning lady with no English, 7 middle-aged women.

The action: We’re shopping for a brother-in-law’s birthday gift and the oyster begins emanating The Scent. Assuming it is a turd and can wait until we choose a tie, we continue shopping. Oyster is unperturbed. Tie chosen, we seek the bathroom for a diaper change. In front of guest services I park our cart and remove the oyster, discovering her to be covered from the armpits to the back of her legs in a soup of her own making. Spillage in cart. Oyster remains unperturbed. I carry her with stiff, outstretched arms into bathroom and flip down changing station panel with one superhero finger. I line changing station liberally with paper towel, which must be pumped from the STUPID DISPENSER one miniscule pump at a time. Four years later, I lay Oyster atop post-consumer padding and begin to strip all articles of clothing. Immediately upon contact with open air, patches of excrement dry onto skin–hers and mine–but Oyster is unperturbed. Now also naked. I have a spare diaper in my purse along with travel wipes, which reveal themselves to be but three in number. Wipes exhausted, toilet paper is required.

We turn now to our players:

Me: Do NOT move. Stay RIGHT there.  <frantically unrolls fistfuls of tp from nearest stall>
Oyster : La laa dee daa LAAA DAA PAPA!
Middle aged women 1 and 2: <stare, say nothing>
Me: Keep staying RIGHT THERE. <more tp>
Middle aged women 3 and 4: <stand in my way as I try to exit the stall, while jabbering among themselves about who will go first into the handicap stall; hint: if you don’t move, it’s going to be both of you>
Me: <wets tp at sink, scrubs Oyster hind parts, tp falls apart in pills of poop-covered paper> DON’T MOVE. Good job NOT MOVING.
Me: No, Daddy’s not here. Alas for me.
<cleaning lady, who watched the whole thing, is now near me>
Me: Hi! Do you have some kind of regular paper towel, like kitchen paper towel? And a disinfectant spray? There’s poop in the cart we were using, out there, and I’d like to scrub it down. Do you have something I should use for that?
Cleaning lady: You want…I stand baby?
Me: I’m sorry?
Cleaning lady: Sorry, no English.
Me: Oh. Hrm. Ok, thanks.
Middle aged women 5, 6, and 7: <stand there as I explain, in vain, to the cleaning lady what I need, and then hustle themselves past; oh Virginia, if you were Michigan someone would have helped me by now>
Oyster: MAMA.
Me: Don’t move. <commences pumping paper towel .35 cm at a time; dampens paper towel in sink> I’m sorry about this, baby girl…
Oyster: Ow. Ohh ho ho oww. Mama.
Me: I know, I’m sorry. <scrubs>
Oyster: Blar blar WOOF WOOF MEOWWWW.

And so I scrubbed her poor bum and legs and back with imitation tree bark until all traces of the explosion were to be found only in the cart we had to tackle next. Fiercely pumping more of the STUPID SLOW CRUNCHY PAPER TOWEL into my waiting hand, I filled the nest with a blue foamy spray that looked like it may kill something, and paraded out of the bathroom with that, my naked child, and a determined look on my face. I scrubbed that cart until the paper towel went dry and to my everlasting surprise, no one from guest services said anything. Nothing about the smell of poop, or the naked child (she had sandals and a clean diaper, so not truly nakie, I guess), or the guest cleaning her own cart with industrial grade chemicals. Kind of feel like that’s a customer-service fail but I’m just the lady cleaning poop off another human, so ignore me. Please. Like everyone else who had two free hands and a set of eyeballs.

The Oyster and I zoomed to the toddler section as fast as that crappy (oh I do love a pun) cart would go and I threw my child into a plain top and bike shorts as fast as I could, leaving the tags on, lest anyone in the entire store suddenly notice what I was doing and confront me. At that point, I would have dared them.

<end scene>

So, DAD. Looks like my time did come at last. I just wish my time had come when we were at home and the bathtub nigh. And bummer for you that you didn’t have a blog when I ruined your day–and my crib sheet–in 1986. 😀

Branches, branches, everywhere, nor any tree to climb

On Wednesday night a storm blew through our neighborhood. And by blew I mean it was fast, not that it provided us with a stiff breeze. My weather app said “chance of showers” overnight. A 30% chance, in fact. And even having spent my entire life up until 2011 in the Midwest–albeit not the super tornado-y portion of the Midwest–I’ve never seen a storm do this kind of damage in real life.


Dietrich had been crying for hours before the husband and I went to bed and we attributed it to a sore back. When we woke up to the storm at midnight, a crack of thunder woke the husband so suddenly and so completely he got a charley horse. The power went out, which it will do when all the wires are wrapped around trees and lying in the middle of the street.

Some trees came up by the roots, obviously laid flat by wind. Others–lots–were hit by lightning and some once-magnificent trees are now really sad stumps. This one is next door to us:



Yesterday morning on our run, the little oyster and I felt like we were in a video game. Jump, go around, slow down, jump again, duck. I couldn’t run on Thursday morning because there was nowhere TO run. Even yesterday morning was dicey. This morning I ran by myself (it’s my birthday, happy birthday to me!) and continued to gawk at the trees, limbs, and branches, branches, everywhere. I ran past one enormous tree that had seemed to provide eternal shade one street over from us. It was split in half by lightning and while it looks like a normal tree on one side, on the other it is flat and black. You might think the lightning trees smell like camping or something tasty. They don’t. They smell like burn. 1 billion volts of burn.

Most of the pine trees that came down came up by the roots. Yesterday when the crews started cutting them a piece at a time for removal the whole neighborhood smelled like Christmas. There were six cars under the tree below, and another half-dozen trees of the same size felled in a perfectly straight line right behind this one, like pine dominoes. Those roots are easily 35 feet in the air.



Here’s the thing: I love a good storm. This was not a good storm. When the sisters and I were little girls and a storm came through our neighborhood, we would stand at the front door and watch the sheets of rain drive down the street, watch the clouds turn colors and snap lightning back and forth. It was always beautiful. I love the refreshing aftermath of a good thunderstorm. I have always felt like the trees and flowers bounce back a little greener, the rain scrubs everything clean, and the thunder and lightning are magnificent. A solid thunderstorm has always, to me, looked like everything was working in tandem, the weather, the trees, the rising water, all in it together. Nature! But Wednesday’s storm felt like nature turned in on itself and started devouring. It felt like all that was rooted in the earth was prey for what blasted down from the sky and stood no chance. It felt wrong and dangerous. This is what people mean when they talk about a storm raging.

The storm included a microburst that struck only our neighborhood. Essentially the opposite of a tornado, a microburst is an incredibly powerful and concentrated downdraft that smashes things flat instead of lifting them up and tossing them around like a funnel cloud does. This explains the havoc that a regular thunderstorm simply wouldn’t have wreaked. A house three streets over is split in half by a huge tree. Shutters from our buildings were scattered like cheap confetti.

Cars were crushed as if our streets are a movie set. We are grateful that ours, which is the little red Toyota below, wasn’t one of them:


We are all safe, though Dietrich lost enough fur to carpet a small condo. Clean up and power restoration started first thing on Thursday morning and the chainsaws and wood chippers are still going today. The mess was incredible but the clean up efforts have been impressive.

But now our gorgeously verdant neighborhood has bald patches; trees left standing have been shorn like sad little sheep, while others are twisted into macabre Seuss-like creations, jutting and jagged. It’s sad. I miss our trees. I miss our shade. I miss our green. I miss our beauty. And because we are all safe, even those in damaged homes, it is easy to say that things could have been worse. Truly, things could have been much worse. But the loss of beauty is still a loss and while capable crews work hard to set things right again, I’ll feel free to shuffle down our streets and mourn it.

An unexpected type of vigil

In 2012 the husband and I went to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and I blogged about it. Yesterday was Memorial Day 2014 and we went with the parents, who are in town, and the little oyster, who wasn’t yet born in May of 2012. This time Arlington had a very different feel. Actually, I bet Arlington had the same feel last time we were there but this time we were tuned in to it. In all honestly, I was looking for it.

arlington 1

These are in Section 66, where one of the dad’s Navy buddies is buried. I remember stories about this guy, and it was something to see an Arlington National Cemetery stone with a name you recognize. I can imagine what it was like for the dad, who knew the man behind the name.

arlington 3

Still, in the early afternoon we were the only ones in Section 66, and Arlington was not strapped for visitors yesterday. Section 66 was quiet, serene, sad. Not just because it’s a cemetery, but because it was quiet and serene. Those who have lost the men and women buried in Section 66 were not there this Memorial Day. Going by the dates on many of these particular stones, these men and women passed away not in combat, but of old age or illness later in life. No doubt they are missed, but please let me be so bold as to say that these things, old age or illness late in life are exactly how we want to let our loved ones go.

arlington 2  arlington 5

But if Section 66 is sad because it was still and alone, Section 60 is heartbreaking because it is busy and full of life and death, side by side. Section 60 is where Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are being laid to rest.

I recently read a beautiful and devastating memoir called Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson. The author’s husband, Miles, was an army pilot who died in Afghanistan when his helicopter went down a few months after deploying. Miles was 24 and at 26, Artis was a war widow. Miles’ ashes were scattered on his parents’ property in Texas but the other soldier who died in the Apache crash was one named John Priestner. He is buried at Arlington. Volunteers hand out roses to Arlington visitors. Obviously I didn’t know Miles Henderson or John Priestner, but I knew their story from the book and I wanted to lay my rose by John Priestner.

In the book, Artis Henderson talks about sitting with John Priestner’s wife Teresa at her husband’s grave on Memorial Day(s). And yes, by the time we got there in the early afternoon, a flower arrangement bearing a little ribbon that said “husband and father” was there. Again, I don’t know these people but I know their story. John Priestner and Miles Henderson are not mine to miss, but I laid two roses at Priestner’s headstone for them anyway.

All around us in Section 60 were families, there to spend the day with the husbands, sons, fathers, sisters, daughters, and deeply loved ones. And it was loud. It looked like a picnic, with so many people there and so many in macabrely festive shirts–the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) does a weekend seminar for surviving military families and the bright red shirts they get were everywhere. I recognized the acronym from Henderson’s book. The number of little kids in TAPS shirts was heartbreaking.

I took this video of Section 60 when we were there yesterday.

The faces around me were the last ones these brave souls pictured, if there was time. These children, spouses, their photos were the ones tacked up next to bunks in the desert and then taken down by buddies, packed up, and sent home. As if what any of these people wanted back were photos of themselves.

When I picture someone keeping vigil, I tend to think night, candles, silence. But all around Section 60 were vigil-keepers, prepared for the day with coolers and umbrellas. They were dressed in red, white, and blue, some sitting quietly alone or in pairs in front of head stones, others in groups, talking, taking pictures, telling stories of the life carved into marble at their feet. Some appeared to be catching up with neighbors, people they likely see every Memorial Day and only on Memorial Day, when they spend hours side by side keeping vigil.

Some headstones hadn’t arrived yet, and little plastic placards were stuck in the ground to hold the spots. I crouched down in front of one to see what it was about and saw these placards list the date of interment. One of the dates was 5/23/14. That was Friday. I remember what I was doing on Friday. On Friday I was picking strawberries with my daughter. I wasn’t burying my loved one at Arlington National Cemetery. And I certainly wasn’t saying goodbye to a soldier born in 1984 0r 1985 or 1989. Or 1992. 1992? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

And yes, I cried and yes, I felt bad for crying because I did not lose these men and women as their families in front of me have. I saw other people crying, sitting near stones or walking away from them, and I wanted to hug them all and thank them all and take them all away from there and also make it so they never had to leave there if they didn’t want to.

The cemetery itself is beautiful and beautifully kept. As soon as someone is laid to rest, fresh green turf is rolled over the spot. Even though only a few spots in a row may be filled those spots are covered in rectangles of grass, flat and neat, like green beach towels laid across sand. These lives may have ended unfinished, but the burial of these broken bodies is meticulous and complete.

I bet when a military wife gets her husband home safe from a deployment she feels blessed. Maybe she would use another word but I think the overwhelming feeling must be along those lines. Last time we went to Arlington we went to see the history. This time we saw current events. It hurt my throat. It hurt my heart. Instead of feeling blessed, I felt spoiled.

arlington 4

In which Trader Joe’s and I bury the hatchet

In the interest of full disclosure, when Trader Joe’s first came to the old home state, I was indifferent at best. And then I shopped there a few times, found it organized in a way that didn’t make sense to me, not much better price-wise than the regular grocery stores, and generally overwhelming and my indifference turned to animosity. That people who didn’t live near a Trader Joe’s would send grocery lists with friends who would be traveling past one blew my mind.

Also, when I found out one July that the chocolate truffles are seasonal and that season is winter, I almost punched a kitten in the face.

So for many years I have loathed Trader Joe’s and saw no reason to change my mind on this.

Then we moved to Virginia and the Trader Joe’s (Traders Joe’s?) abound(s?). I found myself slipping into the Old Town location now and then, for the wine, and always under duress. The place frustrated me with its big, bubbly signage that is hard to read, its constant rearranging of products, and the stupid conveyor belt-less check out lanes. Plus, the orchids are by the dog food…what? Why? What?

And so I bought our wine there and continued to hate it.

But then I noticed that flowers were a good price, a better price than our corner Safeway. And nicer looking. Target, where I do 94% of all my shopping, doesn’t carry flowers. Well, maybe I could stand to get a bunch of tulips when I come for wine.

And then I started to host one of my book clubs more often, and the cheese and cracker options at Trader Joe’s really were second to none, and decently priced and without the additives and preservatives in my standard Target choices. Well, since I’m already stopping in for wine and flowers, I may as well get cheese and crackers, too.

Soon I was buying all of our wine, flowers, cheese, and most crackers at Trader Joe’s. On a semi-weekly basis. And we eat a lot of cheese.

Then I realized that .19 cents per banana really is a deal, and those were often in our cart when we checked out. Then so was the broccoli. And then the coffee.

Still, I would have called my relationship with Trader Joe’s cordial, but not friendly. Not even the cookie butter had swung the pendulum as far as friendly.

The staff at our Trader Joe’s is kind, and each time we go in, the little oyster is greeted with smiles and pinches and happy chatter. I soon realized that these people are happy to be there and they love to see a jolly little girl roll in, applauding other shoppers and dancing along with the music that is always playing. More than once we’ve been in an aisle minding our own business and heard, “There she is!” as one employee brings another to meet “the cutest baby you’ve ever seen.”

It has certainly seemed for some time like Trader Joe’s wanted to be friends with us. But I wasn’t willing. Mostly because it’s always crowded no matter what time of day we go, they still use that stupid bubbly, colorful signage that makes my brain twitch, and the dumb cash registers! I can’t see what my kid is doing, find my ID for the wine, make pleasant conversation back at you, put the nice paper bags into my cart, and still remember to pay!

I figured that Trader Joe’s and I would always be on speaking terms, but never truly friends. We’d be those classmates who go to school together for 13 years, don’t mind working together in chem lab, but would never end up at the same lunch table, much less each other’s houses. But after months of dancing around the subject of whether or not we could really become friends, something happened today that settled the debate for good and in the affirmative.

Today I discovered that Trader Joe’s sells milk for $2.99/gallon.

You know what, Trader Joe’s? You can put your orchids and dog food wherever you want, I’m just going to help myself to a few of your $2.99 gallons of milk, move my flowers and wine and cheese in the cart to make room for them, and be on my way. Good buddy.

Floating on my cloud of new friendship with the place, the oyster and I checked out at one of the lanes quaintly named after the picturesque streets of Old Town. And suddenly the no-conveyor-belt thing didn’t annoy me so much. What’s the point, really? Who needs a conveyor belt? You just hang on to my bags on that side of the counter until after I have paid you and have room for them in my cart and we’ll be golden. No harm, no foul, no petty larceny. Ahh, my friends.

Also, our cashier today pointed out the prominent bite marks on the cheese he was ringing up and asked if they were from my shopping companion or if I would like to choose a new piece of cheese. No no, said I, we broke it, we bought it.

Also, our cashier today pointed out the prominent bite marks on the cheese he was ringing up and asked if they were from my shopping companion or if I would like to choose a new piece of cheese. No no, said I, we broke it, we bought it.


The oyster and I got our parking slip stamped (oh yeah, our Trader Joe’s and its parking lot are half-way underground because that’s the only place left to put anything around here) and waved at other departing patrons–my sisters! my brothers!–as we gamboled back to our car.

One thought about my new friend still niggled in the back of my mind. The signage. The unreadable signage. Trader Joe’s signs are like a unibrow. I know that other people find it quirky and endearing. I find it puzzling, hard to look at, and not something I’d ever go for. But what I call difficult to understand, someone else would call a style choice.  And on a friend, like my new friend Trader Joe’s, I can respect a style choice. Especially when my friend sells me milk for $2.99 a gallon.

I’m so glad we’re friends now, Trader Joe’s. Unibrow signs and all.

Dogblog: What’s a bad-ask?

A few weekends ago my dad was gone and my mom took me and the naked puppy to play with some cousins in a big house with a big yard and I had so. much. fun. Tons of funs. All over. And also my mom came home with a bike from her cousins, for my dad to use because he has been talking forever about riding this kind of bike (dad says it’s a “fixed gear” but I hear “fixed” and I plug my ears and I go in the other room) and so dad has been using it which means…

…my mom is also exercising. She told my dad after they lost the other naked pup in January and found out in February that they can’t add to the pack until this fall that she wants to “lose weight” but I don’t know why she wants to when every time someone “loses” something it’s a bad thing.

Grown ups are so confusing to me. Also confusing: Who ate all my big Milkbones?

Anyway, every day when Mom goes exercising, she puts on her stinky exercise shirts and puts a little black X on the calendar so she knows when she did her exercises. Sometimes she makes me go but I hate the exercises. Yesterday Mom got so speedy and I was being so slow that she brought me home and put me back in the house still wearing my leash. That’s how much she was in a hurry to do exercising. The naked puppy doesn’t seem to mind, but that’s because all she does is sit in her stroller and enjoy the view. Pups these days.

Sometimes I hear my mom say that doing her sweaty-exercises makes her feel like a “bad ask” but I thought asking was good so I really do not get it. I was pretending to sleep the other day when Mom was talking to herself about jogging with the stroller and me (ugh) and how having a baby and then having some weights to lose (on purpose! again, what??) and hauling all three of us around the neighborhood makes her feel like a “bad-ask.”

I guess Mom’s exercises are making her happy though because she is missing some of her weight. I don’t know why she doesn’t look for it, the way we all have to look for Dad’s keys when he loses them. Like I said, grown ups are confusing to me.

So Dad is happy because his bike is “fixed” (LALALALALA CAN’T HEAR YOU ) and Mom can’t find some of her weight every time she comes back from her baby-doctor’s office every month and that makes her happier and happier so she keeps doing her exercises. Today she’s wearing pants that usually she wears not buttoned (woof! wasn’t supposed to say that!) but they are buttoned up and she even had to wear her belt tighter yesterday on her jeeenes genes Jene’s? regular blue pants. I think she looks very nice but I still don’t understand why no one is looking for the weight she keeps losing! Sometimes I try to help her find it and she says to get my nose out of her ear.

What? Maybe that’s where all my Milkbones went. Sheesh.



A note to my daughter as she goes to bed

Each night as I lay you down to sleep I wish out loud, softly, for my beautiful girl to have beautiful dreams. This is how I fall asleep, too; thinking of beauty. But I have noticed over time that the beautiful places and times I picture in my own head to accompany me to my dreams have gotten closer to home.


Faraway tropical beaches have turned into the trees on our street in early spring, drenched in delicate white blossoms.

Peaceful waves on pale sand have become the bold green of our trees and grass during a summer morning thunderstorm.

The imagined warmth of the sun on my back as I rest by the ocean is replaced by the day’s real memory of your uncontrolled giggles when we “surprised” ourselves in the mirror, over and over and over.


The picture I have in my head of a magnificent Hawaiian sunset over a tranquil inlet fades and drifts away, replaced by the blazing colors of our day, our life.


major lol

The beautiful dreams I wish for you may take these exotic forms. For me, beautiful dreams are much closer to home now. They are home. And each night when I wish you beautiful dreams and I am touching your sweet cheek and listening to you breathe easy in your sleep, I am giddy with excitement over what beauty we will fall into tomorrow, here, together. Beauty I can take with me to my own dreams as I send you off with a kiss to yours.