Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"element" of surprise

Today's LLVS moment: I looked down, did a quick tally, and realized that, as usual, my entire outfit originated from Goodwill. Well, nothing actually originated there...that's the point. I commented to Baby Daddy the other day  (Him: You look nice today. Me: I got everything I'm wearing except my intimate apparel at Goodwill. Him: I'm glad your underwear hasn't been in someone else's buttcrack. Me: It's important to have standards.) that even if we were wealthy I would buy 9/10th of what I wear second-hand. (At my most flush, my shopping destination was still Salvation Army, or Sally's Boutique as my San Francisco fashion icon Denise Laws called it.) Especially if living in a wealthy community, with its couture cast-offs -- a total LLVS bonus. There's nothing like the thrill of the find, especially when the tag color on said find matches the day's 1/2-price sale; the satisfaction of not adding something new to the waste stream; the mystery of why something nearly or brand-new was discarded by its previous owner. Sometimes the answer will never be known and can be chalked up to a change of taste or a need for closet space.

Other times the reason doesn't become apparent until  the item has already been welcomed into one's wardrobe, which certainly adds an element of adventure to the thrifting experience -- like when I scored these tall leather boots in pristine condition for $20, sidestepping (literally) my commitment to not buy leather, fur or wool*, wore them all day then took them off for the first time and my stockings and porch floor were covered with brown flaky bits of the lining. A troublesome but not insurmountable feature, boot dandruff, and worth removing them outside or in reach of a dustbroom. Or when I wore a Banana Republic skirt bought still bearing the original store tags to my new corporate job and, although it had a built-in slip, it clung and bunched up between my legs like a black crepe diaper when I walked (luckily it's a desk job). Or when I detected nothing amiss about a beautiful winter-white cashmere sweater, had it cleaned, then midway through its debut day detected someone else's body odor emitting from its -- my -- pits, which is way worse than smelling your own B.O., which at least is where it belongs: on you.

My local Goodwill is so fancy that I found this recent news item hilarious! I'm still trying to figure out the "element" to whom she's referring...I'd say the primary clientele are either middle-class savvy shoppers or designers and antique dealers who cull the discount racks, then raise the prices 400% for their own nearby shops. Does she mean the elderly male employees who graciously unload donations from the trunks of Audis while the charitable sit behind the wheel with the engine running? The young woman with Down Syndrome who orders shoppers out of the store promptly at closing time like a harried mother way past bedtime, soundly flouting the ever-cheerful stereotype associated with her condition? The mellow, pleasant clerks? Whatever her concern, I am grateful to be among the thrifting riff-raff in our tony community, and to be wearing: JCrew wool trousers that are too spiffy to be called "pants" ($10), a cozy cotton turtleneck sweater with sweet decorative buttons on the collar ($7), brand-new gold matte round-toe high heels that put a little Bob Fosse in my step ($12), and a sassy, coral color wool JCrew swing coat ($25), all of which fit perfectly and haven't revealed any weird surprises in the wearing.

*if new

Sunday, December 19, 2010

One Book, One Town

I love the very notion of a community reading, somewhat simultaneously, the same book, and am impressed and proud that my somewhat-stuffy little 'burb has selected Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals as its pick for what amounts to a 60,000-member book club. There's even a companion picture-book read, Our Farm, with paintings of and poems "by" the residents of Farm Sanctuary (as translated by Maya Gottfried) so the whole dang family can enter 2011 considering, discussing, and literally putting a face to the food they share. About to check my copies out...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Willful Thinking

Now that Baby Daddy and I are married, we're finally getting around to doing that other grown-up thing that grown-ups do: writing our wills. First we had the excuse that we'd just have to redo them post-nuptials and name-changes and all that stuff. Then we put it off because as awful as it is to buy life insurance (which we did after the baby was born), it's worse to imagine worst-case scenarios and one's desired outcomes, legally speaking, in said scenarios, and then to put them in writing, and with a raised seal and witnesses at that. Our material assets don't amount to much beyond some sweet vintage vinyl and a car with 125k miles; if we didn't have kids our wills would consist of a couple handwritten "pull the plug" requests. But with the joy of progeny comes the duty to not only protect and provide for them, but also to arrange for their protection and provision in the event that you...gulp...can't.

I did write a will once before, probably with a magic marker, and very likely with open circles over the i's. I was in junior high, which is nearly as painful to think about as the aforementioned topic. My parents divorced and we moved after sixth grade from a rural hippie town to the only real estate market close enough to her job that my mom could afford: a factory town that no longer had factories and was so depressed the Burger King couldn't even stay in business. I went from a progressive elementary school of 80 kids to a sprawling regional high school with low achievement-test scores and lower expectations. I was the youngest kid in my class; I turned 11 a few days before 7th grade. After a miserable transitional year during which: 1) I learned that wearing one's same (and only) pair of jeans every day will inevitably earn one the nickname "Jordass"; 2) A girl who would today be cyberbullying with the best of them cornered me in the bathroom and threatened to beat me up if I didn't date her older brother. I stopped using the bathroom. Then she started calling me at home. I stopped going to school; 3) While I was out "sick" my supposed best and only friend (Missy Williams, I'm talking to you) decided I was a social liability, what with my fashion faux pas and magnetism for mean girls, so she broke into my locker and hit the public-humiliation lottery: my diary. I don't know why I kept it at school; probably so my mother wouldn't read it and discover I was being threatened and make more trouble for me.

It contained my last will and testament. I can only surmise that the impetus for drafting this particular document  was a genuine terror of my bathroom stalker -- whose name was Melanie Perkins, while I'm naming names -- and a recognition in her presence of my mortality, for the first time in my prepubescent life. I've forgotten what it was I bequeathed to whom. My worldly goods consisted of a collection of pocket-sized Beatrix Potter books, a Morris the Cat T-shirt for which I'd diligently peeled, saved, and mailed the labels of numerous cans of cat food, and a few other childhood keepsakes; a denim-texture three-ring binder that smelled like cat pee unsuccessfully masked by Love's Baby Soft (which, come to think of it, may also have hindered my social standing); a 10-speed from Sears, and a fold-up hairdryer. Undoubtedly I left my lone possession of material or personal value -- those designer jeans I'd rallied so hard for the summer before after spotting them in a chance encounter with "television," having lived without one for several years, having not a clue what was in fashion but in hopes of fitting in -- to Missy Williams.

Once retrieving the diary (which had been reviewed and annotated by an untold number of my seventh-grade peers with an enthusiasm and creative use of language that roundly belied the school's drop-out rate. Why, with the proper materials and encouragement, these underprivileged youngsters could be the next Danielle Steeles or Dan Browns!), I destroyed it. My next journal detailed not my personal thoughts but an action plan titled "How to Get Popular," crafted over a summer spent alone in the cool, dim respite of our unfinished basement, studying Seventeen magazine and daytime dramas on our new-used TV. I don't remember what was on the list, besides a plan to select my week of outfits on Sunday night to assure no duplications. Whatever it was, I implemented it, and it pretty much worked. I was no longer bullied, at any rate, and didn't again feel the need to put a post-mortem contigency plan in writing, until now.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


The UPS man gave props to our chickens the other day. I was going from our backyard to my car, latching the gate and bidding adieu to the biddies, who stampede toward me like paparazzi at every sighting. I know better than to take their apparent adulation personally; I am merely the One Who Fills the Feeder. But I admit: I liked it when the package-delivery guy chuckled at the sight and commented how cool it was to see chickens in the 'burbs. Then I got nervous that they were so visible from the road -- they usually hang out deeper in the yard, out of sight of passers-by. I don't want anyone to harass them. Besides me, that is. I had harassed poor Betty Bock Bock into a wicker picnic basket bedded with straw and brought her to preschool just that morning.

I confess: I have been, well, chicken about holding the hens. It doesn't make sense; I've wrangled feral and stray cats; I was a "cat socializer" in a shelter with truly antisocial felines; for years I had a pet-sitting service and confidently cared for typical household critters plus rats and iguanas. I've been bitten, scratched, and dragged once on my ass along icy pavement by a zealous standard poodle puppy. But the hens' skittishness makes me skittish; I jump when they flap. Also, I feel badly about handling an animal that displays such a desperate resistance to being handled. I picked up Captain Pecker once, but she was about to die and gave as much resistance as a supermarket broiler. But I had volunteered Michael to bring a bird in for circle time at Stellina's school and he had to work, and showing up with picture books and a dozen eggs just wouldn't cut it. I gave myself a stern talking to, put on a pair of work gloves that made me feel less vulnerable (vulnerable to what, I don't know. They have no teeth; being pecked is about as painful as being poked with a pair of kid's scissors).

 (Betty, center. Notice the vicious pit bull lounging to the left.)

Betty is a minorca with beautiful blue-black feathers, and truthfully not the quickest of the flock in either acuity or agility. I scooped her up and held her tight, tucking her under my arm. I actually think she liked it -- not getting caught, but being held. She hunkered down in her portable nest and I tried not to think about how many fried-chicken meals may have been transported in that vintage, gingham-lined, ample picnic basket.

Upon our arrival, Stellina's classmates were already seated around the edge of the Earth-motif rug, and teachers Miss Karen and Miss Annie were reminding them that the Montessori ethics of grace and courtesy extend to guest with feathers. Stellina helped me unpack our props -- cartons of eggs, a photo book of unusual chicken breeds, containers of pine shavings and layer pellets, a travel-size waterer -- to which the kids gave a polite, cursory look, but all attention was on the rustling basket. I spread a towel on my lap and made poop jokes, always a guaranteed hit with the 3-to-6-year-old set. And then I acted like I'd held a chicken on my lap more than once (that one time being en route to the vet with a failing Captain Pecker) and Betty seemed calm, like she was a regular attraction on the education circuit. Or she was catatonic. I don't think so...but what do I know of the emotional life and body language of poultry?

The children were quiet and gentle -- all except Stellina, who found it challenging to share a parent and a pet at the same time. In my mind she threw a Tasmanian Devil-caliber tantrum, yet all the while the rest of the kids stroked Betty and asked questions, and her teachers gave me reassuring looks, mouthed "it's okay," and calmly redirected her. As literate as I am of the emotional life and body language of my daughter, she is so central in my consciousness, as symbolized perfectly by her stomping in frustration in the middle of the continental carpet, that I can't possibly see (or hear) her objectively. Miss Annie later assured me that Stellina was composed and cooperative within moments of Betty's and my exit. As for Betty, when I unlatched the basket back at home, she hopped out and joined her flock without incident for a session of bug-hunting among the autumn oak leaves.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I never had a tutu as a child. Well, not totally true -- I vaguely remember a super-scratchy ballerina Halloween costume my mother made out of an old curtain under which I was forced to wear PANTS because it was too cold to trick-or-treat otherwise. That was about it for fantasy feminine dress-up opportunities. I was raised by well-intentioned, first-wave feminists who believed in gender-neutral clothing (overalls), playthings (blank wooden building blocks, stuffed animals) and entertainment (Free to Be You and Me).

One gander at Stellina's dress-up garb and you'd be sure to say I was imposing my inner 3-year-old girly girl upon my own, but I swear it's all some generous friends whose girls' have outgrown their tulle finery, in either size or interest. At last count she had 5 tutus, which she often wears in multiples (getting a kick out of saying "two tutus!" over and over), and 4 "princess" dresses, two of which are Disney-affiliated. There are countless tiaras, wands and jewels. There's a tiny pink boa. Somewhere near the bottom of the bin are a cowboy hat, Cub Scout cap, pirate eye patch and superhero cape, which have gotten zero play time. The pink kitty outfit is fairly popular; last year's Halloween costume, a chicken, is less so. No makeup (too JonBenet) or toddler high heels...until last weekend.

Since every hour in the day not spent at preschool is done so in princess/fairy attire (including while sleeping), it was inevitable that for her third birthday she requested a "Fancy Dress-Up Party." You know from my previous post that we had a budget of nada. But my friend Kelly, who just so happens to be a nanny and looks like Cinderella, offered to make an appearance as the "Birthday Fairy" after I begged her to do so. Same for our freebie face painter, Uncle Diane. It's so important to have talented friends who like your kid and have a hard time saying no.

The weather accommodated, with a summer encore. The Birthday Fairy was a total pro. She would make a killing on the Fairfield County pampered toddler party circuit. She wore iridescent green wings; she developed a personal biography on the fly (pun intended) under the keen interrogation of the worldlier 5-year-olds in attendance; and she brought a bounty of costumery, including a pair of hot-pink plastic peep-toe pumps. Suffice it to say, on her feet they remain to this moment. She wears them with innate ease, as if they grew there. She has worn them in bed and the bathtub and to Home Depot. (Did I mention she loves Home Depot? To drive past the orange block-lettered sign is to risk a round of pleas of the pleasepleaseplease variety.) She accompanied me one evening on an emergency run for a drain snake, and it was awfully satisfying to watch my princess clack up the aisle with the hem of her tulle skirt in one hand and a plumbing tool in the other.

And hopefully allowing her unrestricted access to a pair of training heels now will keep her off the pole one day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Welfare Wedding: Part 1

The real reason the baby daddy and I waited so long to get married was money, or the lack thereof. We nearly headed to town hall and called it a day a while back, just to get the legal deal done, but 1) our Town Hall doesn't officiate marriages, and 2) we have kids who are old enough to both participate in and remember the occasion, which seemed particularly important for my stepson. Let me rephrase that. The only opinion he ever expressed about the wedding was the shrugging of one shoulder, over which he said, "That's cool, whatever," as he headed into his Man, Jr. cave. But the concept of him standing up for his dad and witnessing our community witnessing our commitment to each other and our family...that just felt correct, and solid, and worth a few grand. Because sometimes our family of four still feels ad hoc.

The stepkid came to live with us suddenly and via circumstances that were out of his control, and out of control, in general. He hadn't lived with his dad since he was a baby, but his dad stayed within visiting distance (often walking distance), seeing him on weekends and more if possible. "Possible" depended on the cooperation of, and answering of the telephone by, all parties involved. There's a slew of info that isn't mine to share so I'll stop there. Suffice it to say that when the opportunity -- the imperative -- arose for his son to live with him, it was an answered prayer (despite his avowed atheism).

For our first two years together, we lived around the corner from the stepkid and his mother and baby half-sister. Our relationship -- the stepkid's and mine -- was friendly if distant. I knew from my own childhood experience with steppeople neither to come on too strong nor to infringe on his time with his father. If they invited me to all do something together, great, but I never made that assumption. I certainly never minded when my boyfriend opted for time with his kid over with me. In fact, it would've been a turn-off otherwise; his commitment to his child was one of the first things I loved about him. Let's be honest: I was in the market for a future coparent, and it was assuring to know from the get-go that he was capable of both making a kid and caring about it. I'd also learned from the success of my mother's relationship with my stepmom the importance of cultivating the stepkid's mom's trust and being clear about my role -- particularly that it wasn't hers. This grew complicated when he suddenly lived with me and she was unavailable for a while, and her son was in need of some parenting the likes of which weren't my boyfriend's forte. Like establishing a bedtime and introducing the concept of a "family meal." Don't get me wrong -- this stuff didn't come naturally to me, either. He and I ate dinner, often take-out, at 9pm. We spent our nights at jazz shows and movies, not helping with homework.

The day we found out he was coming to stay, I opened the fridge, surveyed the contents (soy milk and batteries) and wondered what people with kids kept in their pantries. I probably Googled it, then went shopping and hoped for the best. (Beyond the domestic learning curve was the fact that I was vegan at the time and had literally never cooked meat in my life, while he and his dad both liked a side of meat with their meat.)

We had moved to our suburban homestead just three months earlier, a two-flat we cohabitate with my aunt. The idea of an extended-family domicile appealed to us, and afforded us more space and the chance to have a dog after our tiny rental apartment. We were also fairly freaked out by being 30 miles farther from NYC, and homeowners. But the stepkid had his own room, which proved precient when he went from spending four nights a month to moving in. Honestly, we'd picked the location largely with him in mind, whether on a part- or someday full-time basis. The neighborhood is multicultural and mixed-income; the school system is excellent; the town's a few shades more laid back than Greenwich, where he lived at the time, the only kid in his peer group to live in an apartment, a residence the square footage of his best friend's foyer. He was just becoming aware of class difference when I met him. I remember the shock on his face when he learned that most of the world does not, in fact, live in homes with indoor swimming pools. But knowing this is different than experiencing it, and I can't help but think it's more comfortable to now have a group of friends with a true array of cultural and class experiences. Or maybe it just makes me more comfortable...

So, money and marriage. We'd been hobbling along on Michael's carpentry salary plus unemployment  benefits plus some freelance income since our daughter was born (my company had closed shortly beforehand). We could barely cover the bills, never mind fund a wedding, when my mother and grandmother offered us $3,000 toward the cost. Now, I know some brides spend more than that on a gown alone. But my groom and I both agreed that the most -- really, only -- important thing about a wedding gathering was quality eats. And my one Bridezilla demand was a caterer. I'd do everything else myself on the cheap or for free, but if we tried to cook the food or have a potluck I'd either feel stressed out or like a miser. Then we set a date three months out so it would be summer and we could do it outside, before the stepkid's football season and all the back-to-school brouhaha started. Then I booked an ice cream truck. Unsure what to do next, I Googled "how to plan a wedding."

None of the legion of downloadable prenuptial to-do list offered online, however, include "Apply for Food Stamps." But my fiance would soon be out of work for the next three months (and counting) with a back injury-turned-back surgery, following two years of barely scraping by in professions (and hours and paychecks) deeply impacted by the recession.

(They don't actually look like this anymore. Recipients are assigned a discreet debit-type card, much to the ire of conservatives who think people ought to bear a big, scarlet $ sign in the grocery check-out line.)

Let's pause a moment here. Are you as uncomfortable as I am at the mention of welfare? Or of personal finances, in general? Did that $3,000 a couple paragraphs back make you squirm, or is it just me? I get as embarrassed hearing a person's financial specifics as I would the details of their sex life. Wait, that doesn't embarrass me, even a little bit! In fact, nothing feels as private a matter as the state of one's bank statements. Which is why I'm writing this, really. I feel shy discussing money, but I feel shame for being poor, especially poor and a parent. Yet, politically and intellectually, I balk at that reaction. There is nothing shameful with using "the system" as it's intended: a safety net for the welfare, the well-fare, of citizens when they need it. Funds for food have got to be some of our government's most sensibly spent dollars, when one considers illegal wars and bank bailouts and $74k teacups and what have you.

But rest assured, all you critics of the social welfare system: You would totally commend the efforts put forth by the CT Department of Social Services to discourage its use! First, no one answers the phone, ever. There are no hours or directions listed on the website. The area in which it's located would be dangerous if anyone cared enough to commit a crime, but they're too poor and tired to make the effort. Or maybe they're just lazy! Which is how my caseworker likely would have regarded me had I been someone else. But what with my ability to collect and present all relevant forms of ID and paperwork in a neat, labeled file and my Aryan good looks, combined with children to feed and negligible assets with which to do so, procuring food stamps was, all said and done, a snap. And despite opinions to the contrary, I'm thankful, for the stepkid's sake especially, that we can use a card versus Monopoly money at the check-out. He's well aware that times are tight. We've been candid, but with an emphasis on reassurance and sharing with him -- not in detail, but as evidence to that reassurance -- our plan to get outta the hole.  It's so critical to keep the fear and shame shit to our adult selves.

(to be continued...including the Vows-n-Vittles radically transparent budget.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Kids in the Flock

Our latest addition is three Ameraucana pullets. Introducing: The Supremes.

Monday, September 20, 2010


There are miscommunications, everyone retreating to their separate outposts with a slammed door between them and the rest of the house, whining and bad behavior (mine, not the 3-year-old's).

Then there are evenings like this: Painting at the easel with Stellina, then making dinner to NPR, open door and windows with fall breeze blowing through, the stepkid showing Stellina -- and allowing her to help him -- make a smoothie, the recipe for which he found online, to accommodate a basket of overripe strawberries that I exhumed from the Crisper drawer (which I think of as the "Rotter"). He's taking Cooking in school and has been quietly applying it at home. I am careful not to react overly enthusiastically, as not to scare him back into his man, jr. cave., yet pointedly admire the results (and the process, his cutting and clean-up skills). I'm making dinner around them, Michael is watering his fig trees and hooking up a CB radio, which he bought for $40 on Amazon with a wedding gift card. He wants it in order to get traffic reports from the truckers. And to say "You got your ears on, Good Buddy?"

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Happy Yogini

LLVS moment o' the day: My friend Patti Tower just stopped by on the fly, fresh from a 500-hour yoga teacher training, and bequeathed me her grandmother's apron collection. Oh, the sheer cotton and rickrack and lace of it all! The woman who once worked the trading floor of a multinational bank and possessed 300 pairs of shoes is paring down. The contents of her charming 1800-square-foot brick row house now fit in an 25-foot storage unit with room to spare. She is flitting from housesit to housesit, but flit isn't the right word for someone so grounded in her new incarnation, residing where her (nowadays most often bare) feet are.

What's LLVS about this is that she could swing on by, since I live so close to southern CT's main thoroughfares (I-95 and the Merritt Parkway). If I was out-of-the-way rural or inconvenient-parking urban, she wouldn't have as likely pulled her thrift-store-on-wheels up to my front stoop, one of her errands about town.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I don't have time this morning to give the vows-n-vittles play-by-play, but it was a dreamy day all around. Folks keep asking for copies of our vows, so I'm posting the ceremony here. It's a hodgepodge of a couple options provided by our JP, Christine E. Speight, a Unitarian service I found online, and our own words.

Jessica & Michael’s Vows-n-Vittles
August 28, 2010

We gather together today not to mark the start of a relationship, but to recognize a partnership and a family that already exists. We are grateful for this miraculous day, for the fulfillment of love we see before us in each of you, Jessica and Michael, and for the joy of sharing this happy occasion.

We’ll now have a moment of silent reflection, to include in spirit the family and friends who couldn’t be here today or are no longer with us.

Each of you here present has been invited because you are a special person in the lives of Jessica and Michael. You have come to rejoice with them; to hear their vows, their hopes, their plans... to extend good wishes as they continue their journey together and to be reminded of the loves and commitments that are a part of your own lives. Will you, therefore, do all in your power to uphold these two in the marriage they are about to undertake?

All gathered:  We will.

Michael and Stellina, you are a part of this marriage. We hope that together all of you will find ways to comfort, understand, help and challenge one another, and that you will make your home a place where all are safe, happy and encouraged to grow. Will you do your best?
Children reply: I/We will.

Ultimately, two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble. Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage is itself something which has to be created. To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take. If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession but participation. It takes a lifetime to learn another person. When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling.

We’ll now have a few moments of quiet reflection, during which, as you feel inspired, you may say aloud your own advice, well-wishes and thoughts to the couple.

Thank you.

Jessica and Michael, you have carefully considered the beauty of the obligations assumed when lives are wed. You come before me today to be joined in marriage. Are you both ready to declare your commitment to one another?

Reply: We are.

Please face each other and share the vows you have written together.

I, Jessica, take you, Michael, as my partner in life, love and law. I promise to be quick to love you and slow to judge you; to express kindness more, and criticism less; to turn first to humor and last to anger; to support you in being the man you aspire to be; and to do all I can to bring my best self to our marriage and our family, every day, for the rest of our lives.

I, Michael, take you, Jessica, as my partner in life, love and law. I promise to be quick to love you and slow to judge you; to express understanding more, and impatience less; to turn first to humor and last to anger; to support you in being the woman you aspire to be; and to do all I can to bring my best self to our marriage and our family, every day, for the rest of our lives.

May I have ____________’s ring, please? [officiant holds ring in hand] This ring is a symbol of unity, in which your two lives are now joined in one unbroken circle of love. May your ring(s) always call to mind the freedom and the power of this love.

Bride places ring on Groom’s finger as she repeats the Justice’s of the Peace words:
As the sign from my heart that I desire to live with you from this day forward, and that you may remember forever that I have chosen you above all others, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love. Michael, with this ring I thee wed!

Groom places ring on Bride’s finger as he repeats the Justice’s of the Peace words:
As the sign from my heart that I desire to live with you from this day forward, and that you may remember forever that I have chosen you above all others, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love. Jessica, with this ring I thee wed!
(The parties are now directed to join hands.)
By the act of joining hands you take to yourself the relation of spouses for life and solemnly promise to love, honor, comfort and cherish each other so long as you both shall live. Therefore, in accordance with the law of Connecticut and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the law of Connecticut I do pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss to seal your vows.

May these two find happiness in their union. May they live faithfully together, performing the vow and covenant they have made between them and to their children; and may they ever remain in sympathy and understanding: that their years may be rich in the joys of life, and their days good, and long upon the earth. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

happy endings

We are foregoing a wedding cake and its $5/per slice price tag and spending that $$ on an ice cream truck. That was actually the first thing I booked when we set a date -- before the JP, before the caterer. Dave and his flamingo-pink ice cream truck will park in the driveway for an hour or two, our version of a free bar.

Then last week Michael said he wanted a cake after all. Our magical and nomadic friend Laura, whom I see rarely but always right when I need an infusion of enthusiasm, happened to be passing through on her way from Florida to Venus, and offered to not only procure a last-minute cake but also stage-manage our festivities. She is wicked bossy, in the best possible way, a Taurus with bullseye focus, and a fantastic dancer, which has nothing to do with her organizational skills but is something you ought to know.

We ordered a vintage cake topper from The homeliest couple to ever grace a pastry, they look like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 50s wedding garb. 

Psych! Don't want to spoil the surprise...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

something borrowed

Our wedding seating will be courtesy of St. Emery's, the Catholic Church around the corner from our house. Once a thriving congregation comprised of the neighborhood's Hungarian immigrants, home to a parochial school and convent, St. Emery's now rents its classrooms to the Fairfield Board of Ed for the town's alternative high school and to AA meetings. Its income is also augmented by "Bingo! Every Thursday night! Air Conditioned! $$!" I've never attended, but it seems to draw a larger crowd than Mass, which gave me the notion that where there's a social hall there's seating, and I tracked down Father Louie.

Whereas a rental company would charge a minimum $154+tax for 8 banquet-length tables and 60 wimpy Samsonite plastic chairs, he's letting us borrow the equivalent (and the chairs are those hardy, if homely,  metal ones) for a donation of our discretion (I offered $50), and we can pick them up Friday and keep them if need be til the following week's game night. Having to transport them is certainly worth the $100 savings. My groom has a pick-up truck, as does his brother, but I bet I could get a couple of the juvie students who throw Yoo-hoo bottles on our front lawn on their way to school to help lug them up the street in exchange for a pack of smokes.

Monday, August 09, 2010


I'm fairly lousy at this blog business, or anything that requires taking notes on life while in the midst of living it. I haven't consistently kept a journal for years, ever since an ex (who was in the midst of becoming an ex, which neither of us were handling very nobly) read through and wrote commentaries in the margins. 

I don't have a baby book for my kid; I have a huge plastic storage bin in the basement into which I've thrown particularly cute outfits, her hospital discharge papers, a corsage from her father for my baby shower and the scabby remnant of her umbilical cord. It's terrible -- I know she started walking and talking in the past 2-1/2 years, and that I've been there, live and in person, for all her "firsts" (smile, word, firefly, french fry, tantrum, toilet foray) thus far, but I couldn't say on what date particular things transpired. 

But we're getting hitched in a few weeks and it's pretty all-consuming a process, no matter how casual a manner in which we're doing the hitching, so I figured I'd try to write about the planning while we're planning. 

Like, I'm at the library alternately doing editorial work and Googling compostable paper goods for our backyard shindig, and I don't want to forget the phone message Michael just left me. "You are the girl for me," he said, laughing. "I think that's your dress. I didn't look at it, but that's got to be where it is. In that tiny box!" He guffawed, and hung up, and yes, the Priority Mail package he'd spotted in the closet does indeed store my bridal attire, which is a vintage party dress of a hue other than white, was purchased for $180 from Etsy and arrived in said packaging, wrapped for protection in a plastic Wal-Mart bag. Bridezilla, I ain't, which is fortunate both us both, considering I'm marrying a man who regards the sweatpants without holes his "dress-up pair."

Sunday, August 01, 2010

clean slate

Note to self: When everything else mechanical you've laid eyes and hands on malfunctions, don't write a pithy title line about your computer crashing. I didn't back up my laptop, and the hard drive imploded a week after that last post. My Apple tech, bless his heart, didn't scold me for neglecting this chore, and delivered with sensitivity and a Kleenex the news that my hard drive's condition was fatal. He quietly loaded my new hard drive (at least I had the sense to purchase that three-year extended warranty, if not an external HD-as-automatic backup) and wished me luck retrieving data off the old one. The good news is he knows someone with the same error as mine who got nearly everything back. The bad news: It cost her $2,000.

So please back your computer up. And wear a seatbelt, helmet and condom while you're at it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

time to back up my laptop...

I have had a month-long run of odd, mechanical- and electronic-related mishaps. It feels like Mercury is retrograde, if you believe in that sort of hooey. Which I do, because I swear that every time a computer goes on the fritz or a printer runs out of ink or the cable goes off (and we've actually paid the bill), the planets are aligned in this particular way. But that hasn't been the case since the end of May, so I don't know what the deal is. In the month of June our DVD player broke, my car horn stopped working, the garbage disposal literally ground to a halt, our Internet access went out for 2 days, my Bluetooth and Michael's satellite radio were stolen at separate times from separate vehicles, and some other stuff I can't remember right now.

So, it was funny to come across this today on The Daily Fairfield, as I deposit my phone, once again, into a Ziplock bag of basmati rice. I thought the hair dryer/rice combo had worked several weeks back after my fancy, fairly new, uninsured phone fell into the toilet at the pediatrician's office - an unexpected risk of potty training in the mobile age. I believed I'd triumphed over water damage and my own foolishness at having not purchased that insurance plan, when the screen again went white and sweaty yesterday. It hadn't been totally restored to health, but was limping along well enough. I could get by without the letter L (the number 1 works in its place) and the number 0, since the gadget has two keyboards and it worked on one of them, and the "back" button. I was even able to use the GPS feature by switching back and forth between screens and fudging spellings, although getting directions sometimes took longer than actually getting to my destination. I don't know how many lives a smart phone has. I hope 3, at least. I can't afford to replace it, and Sprint has told me water damage is considered "beyond repair"...but I could try submerging it in rice.

P.S. This post is showing up in a font and point size not of my choosing, and I can't figure out how to change it! None of this crap is life-threatening or even particularly interesting, but it's really getting old.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I'm inspired by a recent Facebook post by Starre Vartan (author, founder, HuffPo blogger, and a global-thinking-Fairfield County-residing embodiment of the LLVS spirit) in which she sang the praises of our local Department of Motor Vehicles. That would be "praise" and "DMV" sharing a rare thought bubble. How rare? Google "I love the DMV." One person in Vermont had a positive DMV experience once. There are a few "I heart DMV" links but I think that stands for the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. Now enter "DMV Sucks." This sentiment has its own website, original anthem, monologues on YouTube, and a poll that 77% of those asked agree with that statement. It's easy to understand why:

Indeed, when it came time to register my car and get a CT license, I readied myself for a day spent maneuvering a fluorescent-lit labyrinth understaffed by civil servants who moved at the can-do clip of barnacles, as had been my experience at every such facility since taking to the road in my '77 orange VW beetle at the age of 16. However, I knew this would be an altogether different encounter even as I pulled into the parking lot and beheld the edifice before me, its facade of windows gleaming in the morning sun.

So my day wouldn't be spent in what resembled a fallout shelter, after all. The door opened from the inside. I stepped aside to let the person through, but he waved me in. "Welcome!" said an elderly gentleman. "Can I help you find the forms you need today?" I looked around, confused. Was this a kindly-yet-addled customer who'd spent so long waiting that he fancied himself an employee? And did I smell coffee brewing? The greeter -- yeah, Fairfield County is so fancy that the DMV has a doorman -- familiarized me with the refreshment cart; the cabinet fully stocked with forms in the cubbies for which they were labeled; a plethora of loose pens and pencils; the waiting room with comfortable-looking cushioned chairs in which people kicked back and read the paper and didn't look a bit irate; and the various, clearly marked stations, each staffed by people who looked as inclined to smile and make eye contact as not. They did both these things; the lines moved steadily; the digital counter on the wall announced at a reasonable pace who's turn was next. Within two hours I was out the door with new plates and a decent driver's license photo, and I had the whole rest of the day to sit in traffic on I-95! I have to renew both my registration and license in August, so we'll see if it's as painless a process again then...

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The LLVS Manifesto

This spring marks my 10th year living in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I ended up here as much by accident as someone can. I lived in western MA but had spent most of the previous two years in NYC going to acting school. I was now ready to relocate to the city for real, having gotten a few-years' fill of bucolic college town life (which I might add is a pretty awesome combo: country-n-culture!) after a stint in San Francisco. However, in looking for a place to rent in NY, I quickly realized my temporary loft-share in Tribeca had been a fluke of the finest kind--living on the cheap with an insta-soulmate whom I'd known at a distance in SF in an incredible, huge loft her dad had rented since the 70s.

After an earnest eight-month search of Manhattan, the boroughs and beyond (including, significantly, a quick drive through downtown Westport, CT, in search of coffee. My then-partner and I took note of the sea of luxury SUVs in the Starbucks parking lot--and the tiny blonds with the shake-n-bake tans wearing diamonds and tennis whites who drove them--and laughed at the preposterous notion of spending more than a hot-latte-minute in Stepford. I try to remember that sense of culture shock but can't quite summon it anymore. Those ladies are my peeps now, yo. Well, maybe not my BFFs, but I've been in their houses. When working as a cater-waiter.) Our norm at the time was lesbian families in vintage Volvos, hippie farmers and hipster musicians all coexisting in damn-near liberal bliss...and before that, San Francisco in all its tattooed freaky technicolor greatness.

I grew up working class in MA; I went to a monied school, but the college campus was common ground--I never visited the homes or witnessed the worlds from which my friends and classmates came. Any wealthy friends I had in SF were secretly, scruffily wealthy. So maybe I'd been in money's midst before, but never in the sort of ostentatious, "yeah, we're loaded and want you to know it" way of the Gold Coast, the 30-mile beachfront corridor of Connecticut from Fairfield to Greenwich) we signed a five-year lease on an industrial live-work loft on the Brooklyn/Queens line. The catch was it wasn't yet built, so we gave up our place in Northampton, put our stuff in storage and stayed with friends. And stayed, and stayed...our move-in date got pushed back; there were plumbing problems, then permit problems, then the landlord stopped taking our calls altogether. It was March, it was snowing, we'd spent the last year looking for a decent place to live and now this, and we (and our 3 cats) were wearing out our welcome.

So we called a psychic. Or tried to, anyway. But the psychic's ex-boyfriend no longer had her number, but DID know of an open apartment next door to his office, right across the street from the train into NYC, so maybe we could rent it temporarily (no lease required) and get on with our big-city lives while finding a place in the big city to actually live. So we checked it out. The landlady was 97 years old, owned a goodly amount of the town's commercial properties, said we could move in whenever we wanted and gave us a key, never asking our last names. The rent was inexplicably low for that zip code...or any zip code this side of Iowa. (We soon realized this was because neither the plumbing nor the wiring had been upgraded since the 1940s, but as long as we didn't plug in more than one item requiring electric current at a time, we were fine.) It was a mile from the beach and a short walk from a video store, cafe, grocery store, dive bar, a river, a dive bar on the river, several restaurants, a public park, a post office, and so close to the train we could watch it pull in from the living room window and still make it aboard. The apartment itself was adorable: an oddly shaped, slope-eaved cozy abode above an antique book store, ill-tended enough that we could have several cats and create art and not worry about making a mess, yet well-enough maintained for habitation (if one maintained a loose definition of "habitable.") Compared to a pup tent or a prison cell, it was luxe. And it was, of course, in Westport, Connecticut.

I can't really explain what happened next. What didn't happen is we didn't move to NY. I continued acting classes but got rapidly disenchanted with the whole breaking-into-showbiz thing. I liked the craft of acting but not the profession of it. I was catering to pay the bills when someone suggested I give proofreading a try. I'm a nit-picking Virgo and lived within walking distance of the marketing company that was hiring, so just as haphazardly as I'd stumbled into my new locale I began a career in editorial services. (I'd done a bunch of editing- and writing-type stuff since high school but hadn't circled back to it as a profession. Not that I considered proofreading copyright lines on beer posters a "profession" until I found I'd been doing it for, well, going on a decade. The material has changed, but I still wield a red pen for a living.)

Here's the other thing that didn't happen: We didn't gentrify a neighborhood, or contribute to its future gentrification, by moving there. The same week we landed in Westport there was a spate of break-ins and violence in what would have been our new hood in Queens. In SF I'd lived in the only neighborhoods I could afford but where my presence was clearly not appreciated. And I get it: First come the artists, then comes Starbucks, there goes the reasonable rent for working-class people of color. In contrast, we kind of livened up our new setting. We were (and still are) white, but were enthusiastically tattooed and drove a 20-year-old shit box of a car and were pretty obviously girlfriends. In a town with zero visible gay presence, holding hands at the library garnered the equivalent raised-eyebrow response as an orgy might in San Francisco.

Time passed and relationships changed and three years ago my boyfriend (did you catch that?) and I were faced with the decision to either stay in Connecticut or leave. Head to Brooklyn, perhaps. (Other spots we fancied, Vancouver or Seattle or either of the Portlands, were out for now; our radius needed to stay small in order to see his son on weekends.)

So we bought a house, and we got a dog, and because we got a dog we built a fence. And within 4 months his 9-year-old son came to live with us, and 4 months after that I got knocked up. I went from a shack on the tracks full of lezzies and cats to a mortgage with a man and a white picket fence; from midnight jazz shows and tattoo conventions to parent-teacher conferences, diapers and family dinners.

I went into total despair. I felt homesick but didn't know where home was. I loved my family but couldn't shake the sensation that they were somebody else's. What had started a decade ago as an odd and temporary change of address had become a lifestyle, and not an alternative one. And I felt ashamed and petty, ungrateful for this beautiful life I had in fact created. Not just the baby, but all of it.

So I decided to live here. Not just dwell, but live. Let my freak flag fly, as they say, and still love what the burbs have to offer rather than pine for the mythic thing I'm missing out on. We're still near the beach. My stepkid can walk there with his friends. He goes to an excellent, safe, surprisingly diverse middle school. I've found my peeps, finally -- other new parents and transplants and artists and artists at heart who still feel like they're playing grown-up. I have a yard to garden and a multi-culti neighborhood; locking the car is optional even if owning a car isn't; the air's fairly clean (when the wind's right I can smell both the ocean and Pepe's pizza from my front steps) and the downtown is downright pristine. And for golly's sake, I'm only an hour and change on the train from NY, even if it sometimes seems a world away.

What does Livin' La Vida Suburbia mean? Taking full advantage of and joy in where it is my mail's delivered, every day. Finding the humor in it, too, because it's a crazy-funny place. But not in the way I did before. No eye-rolling, no hating on the well-to-do for sport allowed.

Living in suburbia is purchasing a pedigree dog; Livin' La Vida Suburbia is adopting a multiple-pedigree dog from the Bronx.

Living in suburbia is a matching patio set from Pottery Barn; Livin' La Vida Suburbia is a kids plastic picnic table retrofitted with an umbrella advertising Hot Italian Sausages, both procured from the town dump.

Living in suburbia is wearing Lilly Pulitzer; Livin' La Vida Suburbia is wearing Lilly Pulitzer to clean the chicken coop.

I'd love to hear the ways in which you, my burb-dwelling brethren, are LLVS. Please do share!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hi, Fructose!

Hi, fructose corn syrup! Since you're in every loaf of bread sold at Stop & Shop (besides the sliced cinder blocks in the natural food section), I figured I should introduce myself. I'm the proofreader-turned-label-scrutinizing mother who could spot you on a 4-point-font ingredient panel in a foreign language: jarabe de maĆ­z de alta fructosa, I'm talking to you! If I want sugar, I'll eat sugar, without the side of mercury and Type 2 Diabetes, thanks anyway. No longer will I buy the bread, crackers or soup within which you dwell (and why are you there, anyway?), nor the stuff that's supposed to be sweet, soda and ice cream and crap. You are making us a sick, fat, addicted monocrop monoculture and I, for one, pledge to never again* knowingly buy you.


*Except for canned cranberry sauce. Haven't found one yet without HFCS...but as soon as I do, never means NEVER.

Friday, January 22, 2010


In today's mail: the necropsy report from UConn for our hen, Captain Gloria Pecker (final diagnosis: visceral and articular gout and egg-yolk peritonitis);
-an overdraft fee notice from my bank. Fittingly, I overdrafted whilst paying the vet bill;
-my unemployment check;
-the results of my annual ob-gyn exam (I fared better than the chicken). This was actually brought over by my elderly neighbor, Carol. It was delivered to her house and she accidentally opened it. The neighborhood can rest easy tonight about my vaginal health.

I often wonder what the mail carrier gleans about the people on their route. I bet they know more about our financial straits, shopping predilections, habits of correspondence than most people in our lives. Talk about a paper trail.

Monday, January 18, 2010

poultry woes

Last spring we jumped on the backyard chicken bandwagon and adopted a flock of 6 hens. As a fallen vegan who once worked for an animal-rights organization, I'm all too aware of the abysmal conditions in which most "food" animals live, and chickens have it particularly rough. I won't go into details here, but for more grisly info than you can bear, check out United Poultry Concerns or Compassion over Killing.

I liked the idea of bringing a little bit o' country living to the 'burbs and our kids witnessing from whence their breakfast came. Chickens lay eggs regardless of whether or not they'll hatch, which they won't do without a rooster on the scene, so I figured they'd be pampered pets who actually contributed to their keep.

A family up north was moving and selling their 30 chickens. I wanted to get grown hens rather than chicks, akin to adopting from a shelter versus buying from a breeder. (Note: This might be the bullshit rationalization of someone not quite willing to face up to using animals for food.) We had the room to do it and got the OK from our neighbors. Michael is a carpenter and awfully clever to boot, and built a coop under our play structure.


after (but pre-chickens. It will never be this clean again):

There's an enclosed run, and they also roam the yard hunting for worms and bugs, stretching their wings, raiding the garden, taking dustbaths and lounging under the lilac bush.

After about a month of getting used to the new digs and establishing their pecking order, they started laying, and laying, and laying...nearly an egg a day each. Here's our first dozen, aren't they gorgeous? The green ones are courtesy of Chloe Omlette, an ameraucana:

All was well in chicken world, until Rita Layworth suddenly died in July. She was crazy about kale:

The cause of her demise was a mystery. We didn't think to have her examined, postmortem. None of the other hens got ill, though they went on a laying strike after the death of their pal. Then 3 molted--Chloe, Captain Gloria Pecker (black minorca) and Kiki Jones (silver-laced wyandotte)--meaning their feathers fell out and regrew, during which they don't lay, so for a while we were getting maybe 1 egg a day. We decided to adopt 3 pullets--teenagers in chicken terms--while the flock was already in flux, hoping to increase the odds of having eggs through the winter. After a few days of territorial bitch-flapping from the older hens, Betty Bock-Bock (austrolorp), Annie Yokely (buff orpington) and Autumn (golden-laced wyandotte) settled in.

It's safe to say none of the hens like winter. They don't seem to mind the cold--all being breeds suitable for the northeast--but hate walking on the snow. On especially cold mornings I bring them oatmeal with their "tea"--warm water in their waterers.

On the advice of our vet, a seasoned chicken-keeper, we didn't heat the coop. The temperature difference from coop to run can encourage respiratory infections, to which chickens are prone. We did put plexiglass over the windows, so our coop is draft-free but not airtight, and installed a 60-watt bulb on a timer for a tiny bit of heat and 3 extra hours of "daylight" to encourage laying. And lay they do--6 eggs/day these days. But no longer the petite white ones unique to Captain Gloria Pecker, who died on Friday.

I opened the coop for a good cleaning that morning, the balmy 40-degree weather presenting an odious opportunity to clear out all the thawing poop stalagmites and crapsicles. She hopped out of her nest to say howdy but stumbled, then slouched, in front of me. And Gloria is no slouch: She's been the flock leader since day one, earning her rank (so dubbed by my stepson) by bossing around her brethren like a surrogate rooster, always the first to try new things, leading the ladies back to the coop at bedtime. She was the most aggressive hen (hence the name "Pecker") but the most sociable, too, sidling up for a pat on the tail feathers and playing chase with our two-year-old daughter. I picked her up--which she would never allow if feeling well--and dribbled some water in her beak. She drank and perked up a bit, then curled back against me. What to do...she was clearly close to death. Should I wait? Bring her to the vet? What if she was suffering? I called around and found an avian-savvy vet (ours was out for the day), rallied the babysitter and a ride, and brought her in, looking every bit the crazy chicken lady with a hen in my arms, bedhead and a shit-covered coat. He peered in her throat and judged it a virus, and suspects it's what Rita died from months ago. We decided to assist her passing and as he parted the feathers on her neck, revealing her, well, chicken skin, I was struck by what a fine line there is between a $5 grocery item and a $150 euthanasia bill; a dinner and a companion animal. I brought her body to the veterinarian pathology lab at UConn, so we ought to know today if it's contagious to the rest of the flock, or to us, and where to go from here.

RIP Rita Layworth and Captain Pecker.

UPDATE: Cpt. Pecker's necropsy revealed gout and "egg yolk peritonitis" as possible causes of death. Neither's contagious. She had all the symptoms of the latter, including having laid a few weeks back a mammoth double-yoke egg. Ouch.
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr