Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You Get What You Give

Penn and I saved a ton of money at the grocery store on Saturday. The thing is, we didn't exactly save it in an entirely honest way. And yet I also don't feel bad about our savings. I've justified the following story in two ways:
1) Sometimes you just get lucky
2) The cashier really is an idiot, and that's not my fault

Here's what happened:
Because we're getting old we spent most of Saturday morning and afternoon running errands. We went to Home Depot for light bulbs, returned some books at the public library, and then went to the grocery store. (Aren't we exciting? Does it make us seem more or less lame if I tell you that we then spent Saturday night using the iPowerHour application by ourselves? There's such a fine line between "trying desperately to hold on to your foolish, fleeting youth" and "pathetic", isn't there?)
We do a big shopping trip together every two weeks or so, and that's what we were doing on Saturday. We anticipated paying about $200 for groceries since we were out of pretty much everything. So we did our usual grocery-buying routine: I had the list of our basics plus ingredients I need for recipes and as I went around comparing prices and grabbing only items on my list, Penn kept disappearing and reappearing with things that were definitely NOT on the list. Things like pistachios and smoked salmon, for example. I mean, I'm all for delicious pistachios and smoked salmon (which is why these things ended up in our cart), but the man is the definition of "impulse shopper." Anyway, we got everything we needed, plus a dozen lemons because we're trying to make our own limoncello.
We finished our shopping and made our way to the shortest checkout line. I realized pretty quickly that we'd picked the wrong line. I turned to Penn and whispered, "This is the same stupid girl we had a few weeks ago, isn't it?" The girl is a teenager, obviously pretty new at the store, and the last time she checked us out it took twice as long as it normally does because she couldn't figure out how to ring up any of the produce and she didn't get how to use coupons and blah, blah, blah, it was ANNOYING. And normally I'm sympathetic to people that are in training, but this particular girl doesn't seem to take direction well. I've watched more seasoned employees try to explain things to her and she's always like, "I did that. I already did that! I know!" She's just stupid. Seriously. In fact, as we walked up to the line on Saturday she was once again screwing up the checkout process, getting all confused about coupons and frustrating the customer in front of us. We almost got in another line at that point, but since I'd already started loading our groceries onto the conveyor belt we decided to just take our chances.
And I am so, so glad we didn't move to another line! First, she rang up our produce. We had the lemons in two separate bags because we took all the organic lemons in the store but still needed a few more so we had one bag of regular lemons and one bag of organic lemons. So she typed in the number on the organic lemon sticker...and then put all of the organic lemons into our cart. Then she typed in the number on the regular lemon sticker...and put the entire bag of regular lemons into our cart. And then she said, "Oh!" and I thought, "She's going to catch her mistake. She's going to realize that she only charged us for two lemons instead of twelve." But no. She talked herself out of it! She literally went, "Oh, wait...no, okay, never mind," and then went on ringing up the other groceries! I'll admit I felt a little bit of a qualm at that moment. But then I thought to myself, "Well, maybe the scale weighed the lemons? I thought lemons were sold individually and not by weight, but what do I know? And she seems to think everything is okay." So I didn't say anything.
She rang up the rest of the groceries and our total, as predicted, was about $175. Penn and I split the grocery bill, but we don't split it in half because I don't eat as much as my caveman, meat-eating boyfriend. We generally just decide on the spot the fairest way to split the bill. Usually it's about a 65/35 split, other times I'll take on more of the bill if I'm buying a lot of random spices or girlie hair products or whatever. On Saturday we decided that Penn would pay $100 and I would pay the rest. Normally this isn't a problem at all. We go to the same store at least 2-3 times a month, and the other cashiers understand the process of allowing us to put part of the total on one card and part on another. This particular stupid cashier has even split the bill for us before. I guess she didn't remember how to do it, though (I suppose it doesn't happen that often), so she called another cashier over for help. The other cashier explained the process, the stupid teenager cashier claimed that she understood. So Penn swiped his card and paid $100 and requested $40 cash back. And then I went to swipe my card and the computer screen said I owed $35. Penn said, "Wait, this is wrong. I only paid $100, not $140. I wanted forty dollars cash back." And the cashier said, "It's fine. After she swipes her card it will charge her $75 and then the drawer will open and I'll give you the $40." With a dubious, "Okay...." I swiped my card, Penn got his $40 in cash, and we left the store with our $10 worth of free lemons.
And then I checked my bank statement today and it turns out I really was charged only $35 on Saturday. So we actually paid only $135 of the $175 bill since Penn got his $40 cash. Thanks to the mix-ups of a single (dopey) cashier, we got $50 of free groceries!
I'm pretty sure she won't have a job at the grocery store for too much longer. And really, that's probably for the best. I would feel bad for her if she wasn't such an idiot. Really. And it's not that she's just stupid, I'm sympathetic toward stupid people. It's that she's stupid AND mouthy. She doesn't even want to learn how to do her job properly.

Seriously, I never know what to do in these situations. I find that I'm about half-and-half: half the time, even if the mistake is in my favor, I'll point it out to the person at the store/restaurant. The other half of the time I figure it's their mistake and the universe's way of giving me a lucky break and I let it go. In this case, I sort of noticed the $40 mix-up on Saturday but I believed the cashier when she said it would come out right somehow. It wasn't until today that I actually realized my savings, and now it seems pointless to go back to the store. And, honestly, a lot of it has to do with the personality of the person waiting on me in the first place. If this girl hadn't made my shopping experience annoying on more than one occasion prior to Saturday, and if she just wasn't so stupid I probably would have told her she'd made a mistake.

I don't know if this makes me a bad person. I'm pretty sure it just makes me a normal person. Sometimes you get screwed, sometimes you get an accidental bargain. I guess in the long run it all evens out.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


This morning I got an e-mail from the public library informing *A* Hot Lastname that two books are due on Monday.

So I called Penn immediately and asked, "When you filled out our library card applications, did you write that my middle name is "Hot"?" He laughed uproariously, so I took that as a yes.

He loves jokes like that. He sets things up and then he just sits back and waits. Sometimes it literally takes months for the joke to pay off (as it did in this case) but it always does eventually. Like the time I was brushing my teeth before class one morning and discovered that he'd manipulated my floating Christmas snowmen candles so it looked like one was humping the other. Or the time he wrote me a check to pay his half for something we'd charged on my card and it wasn't until I was putting the check into the ATM that I noticed he'd written "hot sex" on the "For:" line. Or the time he printed out maps for a roadtrip and typed "You smell" into the "Google Maps says:" section. Oh, and then there was the time he printed out pictures of David Hasselhoff and glued pictures of his own face over David's and then stuck the pictures into one of the magazines I was taking on the plane to Russia.
His patience with these practical jokes is astonishing, especially considering how impatient he is about almost everything else. He's great at keeping his pranks a secret. I could never do that. I'd hover around him endlessly, giving him hints until he eventually figured out the joke. He just lets me stumble upon them myself, which just makes it even funnier every time.

I love this man so much.

I'm just hoping I never have to actually speak to any of the librarians in person about my account. How embarrassing!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pick a Topic, Any Topic

I'm going for a grab bag of topics today because I'm not in the mood for narrative flow.

I've been reflecting lately on how good I feel now that I'm on a normal sleep schedule. Unless I am behind on work and I have a deadline coming up in the morning, I now sleep from about 11:00 until 8:00. I wake up naturally at 8 in the morning feeling chipper! If you had told me two years ago that I would be capable of waking up before 10 in the morning without bitching about it I would have told you that you were crazy, but it turns out I actually like this schedule. I think I'm also feeling good because I've been working out really hard lately. I love the variety of workouts I can do in the summer: swimming, biking, taking the dog for long walks...I'm also back on a yoga video kick at the moment because I've been craving that stretched, elongated feeling. Oh, and the other day there was a stack of coupons in our lobby for free dance fitness classes at the studio across the street, and I've decided I'm going to try a Zumba or Latin dance class. I hope it's good. I had no idea this place does group fitness classes (I thought it was just a ballroom dancing place), but it would be really convenient to have a place to do fitness classes right across the street.

On a health-related note, I made an appointment to get a physical next month. It has been a long time since I had a full physical, and I figured since I have insurance right now and only have to pay the $25 copay to see a doctor I might as well do it. Since I'm feeling healthy right now it will be nice to know what "normal" is for my body. Also, I keep reading all those summer articles about skin cancer and I've realized that I really need to get some of my moles checked out. I have a ton of them, and I think it's just hereditary because my mom and grandparents both have a bunch of "beauty marks" as well, but it can't hurt to have a doctor tell me they're all normal, right?

Penn and I took the Meatball to a beach last weekend. It was so much fun! He had exactly the reaction we predicted: he loved all the people and other dogs, he was annoyed with the water, and he barked and howled pretty much nonstop the entire time we were on the beach. God, I love that dog. He's so funny. Sometimes I wonder what I did for entertainment before I had a basset hound. I also achieved one of my summer goals, which was to visit a beach with a boardwalk. Penn grew up going to beaches with boardwalks so he doesn't find them exciting, but there aren't boardwalks where I come from (or beaches, for that matter) so I thought it was pretty cool. I especially liked it at night with all the neon lights. I can see how it would be a kids' paradise: the beach, amusement park rides, mini golf, arcade games, and an endless supply of junk food all in one place?! Actually, I was thrilled and I'm 26! I get Penn's point that the boardwalk isn't really a beach, exactly. There is a pretty huge difference between the Jersey shore and a white-sand-and-palm-trees tropical beach, and overall I prefer the latter. But if you go with the mindset that you're going to the boardwalk, not the beach, I think it's a fun experience. A different experience, but a fun one. Also, you should know that I bought six pounds of saltwater taffy and I have already eaten 3/4ths of the box. (But I am only eating one serving for dessert every night. Believe me, if I wasn't limiting myself that box would have been gone by Monday!)

I'm making good progress on my comprehensive exam prep. Some friends and I have a study group and it is actually proving to be surprisingly efficient. We each write book reports for each other each week, so each of us is reading a theoretical or historical book each week plus getting the benefit of everyone else's reports. As a result we're all going to be able to cover much more material this summer than we would have been able to cover on our own. I'm still feeling overwhelmed, but at least I get something accomplished every day and I'm not wasting my summer.

I finally managed to get a summer job of sorts. It's a job that I will start in the summer, at any rate. I interviewed for an SAT tutoring job last week and was hired pretty much immediately. My interviewer said she liked my teaching style so much that she didn't even feel the need to bring me in for the second round of interviews. The fact that someone thinks I am an approachable, enthusiastic teacher makes me feel really good (I hope that's a good sign for the future). Anyway, I took the job and I start training next month. It sounds like a job that will work well for me. It's night and weekend work, which I should be able to continue throughout the school year since I'm done with coursework and not taking night classes anymore. Also, the company claims to be flexible and to a certain extent I should be able to pick my schedule (I can at least choose which sessions I want to teach, I think). I should only have to work 5-10 hours per week at most, and that won't even be every month during the year. Plus the pay is really, really good. I figure if it works out, great, and if it doesn't work out I'll just quit. I'd hate to do that, but this isn't a job I really need. So now next month I'll be teaching two weeks of camp and training for the tutoring job. I guess I can't complain about working out of the home a lot in July, though, when I haven't had to work out of the home at all in June.

I can't stop watching the Jon and Kate Gosselin trainwreck. I keep telling myself not to do it, that I'm just helping to fuel a stupid media obsession, but I can't help myself. I have refrained from actually buying the tabloids featuring their separation, but I definitely grab them off the shelf and read them when I'm in the checkout line. For the longest time I couldn't figure out why I was so intrigued by this whole mess. I watch the show's reruns when I'm home in the morning because I find the kids entertaining, but I'd never made a point of trying to watch new episodes. Penn keeps saying, "Who cares!?" and he's absolutely right. Why does anyone really care, and why can't we just leave this poor self-destructing family alone? But the more I think about it, the more I realize why I'm so interested in this: I'm treating it as a vicarious life lesson.
I can see myself in Kate Gosselin. And I can see Penn in Jon. Not to their extremes, of course. For one thing, their communication is awful (it has always been awful, even in the early seasons) and neither Penn nor I have personalities as extreme as Jon and Kate's. I don't have the bitchy, snappy element of Kate's personality and, unlike her, I think I am actually pretty good at going with the flow. As for Penn, he has a much more dominant personality than Jon's and wouldn't stand for me ordering him around even if I tried to initiate that dynamic. But there are definite similarities there. I like routine and organization and order, to the point that I will admit that most of our household (at this point) is run to my standards more than Penn's. I make the grocery list, I keep track of when the bills are due, I'm the one that cleans and organizes the apartment and then tells Penn where things are, I'm the one that decided Monday is laundry day. That's not to say that Penn couldn't have a say in these things if he wanted one, and he does pull equal weight in other decisions in our life, it's just he isn't particularly interested in, say, organizing our closets or cooking dinner. And I hope this doesn't read as a complaint, because it's not intended to be. Our current system makes me happy and I have no problem with it. But I guess what I'm saying is that Jon and Kate may have started out like this, too, and I can see how if you're not careful you can go from a happy situation like Penn and I are in right now to a situation where one party all of a sudden realizes the other party is making the bulk of the decisions and starts to resent that. Not that I make the bulk our decisions as a couple, I don't. Overall I'd say we make decisions together. But at this point I make the bulk of the domestic decisions, I guess, and I imagine once we have kids the care and feeding of them will more often than not fall under the realm of "domestic decisions" and I can see how Jon and Kate ended up in the problematic situation where she was calling most of the shots in the house because she had a "system" and she needed Jon to conform to it. And I can see why Jon eventually got fed up with the nagging. I don't actually envision Penn and I having their same issues, mostly because I hope to keep working outside of the home at least a little bit so once we have kids I think we'll have to split the domestic duties a bit more evenly than we are right now, but still. I can see far too easily how things went wrong for Jon and Kate and how if I'm not careful I could become a bit Kate Gosselin-esque.
Let's use the dog as an example. If I'm going to take the dog on a trip, I pack a bag with his pillow, a couple of toys, a treat bag, a food and water dish, his shot records in case there's an emergency...so here I am running around the house looking for all of this stuff and trying to anticipate every possible worst case scenario, and there's Penn standing by the door saying, "Just grab his food bag and let's go! He doesn't need all that stuff, stop worrying." And this is why I think Penn is good for me, because he helps me to realize that you can't prepare for every scenario anyway so why worry? But at the same time, I am very set in my way of doing things and it's challenging sometimes to admit to myself that he is right and I don't need to compulsively plan quite as much as I do.
I think this is how it will be when we have children, too, and it makes me sad that Jon and Kate couldn't blend their different styles into an equitable partnership. Instead--and this is just my reading of the situation--it seems like Kate persisted in thinking Jon's way of doing things was "wrong" and kept trying to force her will on him, and in the end she couldn't get him to conform and their relationship just snapped because she wasn't getting what she needed from him and he was sick of feeling like he was being dominated by his wife. (I'm sure that's only one element of their divorce, of course, but it's the element that played out most obviously on television.)
Like I said, we're not as extreme as them. We're much better at communicating with each other (for example, I have NEVER yelled at Penn and demanded he do something, and when Penn realizes that I have a reasonable request he actually does it without being all petulant and Jon-ish), and I have no desire to change Penn. I don't need him to always fit into my little organizational scheme. I need to realize that doing things his way sometimes is fine. I realize that in the best relationships both couples cooperate and compromise (in emotionally healthy ways) to make it work, and Penn and I are already very good at that. We're not changing each other, but hopefully we're both molding each other, teaching each other new ways of doing things, and that's a good thing. In short, I'm not actually worried about us. But as ridiculous as this sounds I do feel like I've taken a personal lesson from this Jon and Kate debacle. I've realized more than ever that it is important to not let my routine, structured, organized personality turn me into a nagging, demanding wife. Because it's really just a fine line between having a well-run home and an organized space and driving everyone else crazy with your requirements, and I'm going to have to be careful as I walk that line for the rest of my life.

Monday, June 22, 2009

As Real as Anyone Else

Last night Penn and I were watching George Clooney movies on TBS and an ad came on for a TV show called More to Love. Apparently it's The Bachelor for plus-sized women. There are so many things wrong with the premise of this show (not the least of which is why, for the love of god, don't these dating shows just go away?!), but the thing that really ticked me off was the fact that this show is being advertised as the dating show for "real" women.

That got me thinking about other things. Things like the movie title Real Women Have Curves and all of the magazines with cover lines that say things like, "Real bathing suits for real bodies!" or "Real Women Aren't a Size 2!" I call bullshit.

Here's the thing: I am all for anything that implies that women should love our bodies and accept ourselves. I am all for the media stating that women come in all shapes and sizes, because that's true. But I do not think it is okay to suggest that obesity is okay, because it isn't. It's NOT healthy. Somehow our society has to find a way to encourage individuality and the embracing of one's genetic body type without at the same time implying that it's okay to eat unhealthily and sit on your ass all day and "love" your size 22 body when you are perfectly capable of eating healthily and working out and getting into a healthy weight range so that the overtaxed healthcare system doesn't have to deal with your self-induced diabetes and cholesterol problems. That sounds harsh, but it's true. I understand the effects of genetics and emotional baggage and everything else that causes some people to hold on to more weight than others. I get that it is not a level playing field and that some people really have to struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. I get it, I really do. But I have no patience with people who won't at least try to be healthy, and it worries me when the media says, "Embrace your body!" while leaving health out of the equation entirely. Why can't the mantra be, "Be as good to your body as you can, get healthy, and THEN embrace that body"? You should never hate your body, EVER. That's not what I'm saying. But we all need to learn to look at our bodies and say, "I love myself, but I need to change this body because I love myself, because I want to be healthy and have a long life." For some women that healthy body may be statuesque, and that's fine. That's beautiful, and wonderful, and it takes me back to the point that even in a room full of healthy-weight people there is still a vast variety of shapes and sizes.

I admit that the "embrace your body" thing is better than the alternative. I think overall things are trending in a better direction. Anything that allows society to see that a variety of bodies are beautiful is a good thing. I just think the media needs to spend more time talking about how important it is to be healthy. Even TV shows like The Biggest Loser or other shows of that ilk on TLC or Discovery Health that purport to be teaching a healthy life style are still attempting to inspire participants by telling them how attractive their body will be when it is thin. And that's not the point. The goal is not a "perfect" body, the goal is a healthy one.

My point is that women should embrace their body at any size, provided that body is healthy. I am so sick of hearing about how "real" women are a size 12 or "real" women have curvacious bodies or "real" women have bootys and bellies and boobs. I'm 5'7" tall and I wear a size 4 or 6. I have A cup boobs and basically no hips. I'm not what you would call curvacious. In fact, I have a boyish figure. But the last time I checked I was just as real as my friends who are size 12 or 18.

I get it, I really do. Despite this rant, my body type is still the one that is privileged by our society. It's still easier to be a size 6 than a size 16 in this country. By complaining about this, some people might suggest I'm as bad as rich white men that complain about reverse discrimination. I GET IT. But don't tell me I'm not real. Isn't it about time we stopped letting ourselves be divided into categories based on our looks? I am a real woman. Every woman is a real woman. End of story.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Vacation Wrap-up

I'm about to take my third trip of the summer, so before I do that I figured I should probably finish writing about the vacations I have already taken.

First, my trip to Florida. Florida was perfect. We went to Florida immediately after my brother's graduation. The day after the graduation ceremony I got on a plane with Penn, my brother and his girlfriend, and my parents and we flew to Tampa. I wish my sister had been able to come, too, but she was about to start nursing school so she needed to stay home to prepare for that.
We were actually on Anna Maria Island, which is about an hour drive from Tampa. My parents' best friends have a beach house there. They're both really nice people and I basically consider them an aunt and uncle since during my childhood I saw them more often that I saw a lot of my actual aunts and uncles. My mom's best friend, Elle, is completely crazy. When we were driving out to their house my mom said, "Elle will probably greet us wearing her coconut bra." Sure enough, when we pulled up in the driveway she burst out the front door wearing the coconut bra and she'd talked her poor, patient husband into putting on a captain's hat and following her out the door with a tray full of bourbon slushes for all of us. It was quite the greeting, and very typical Elle (I should also mention that this woman is in her late 50s! She is aging amazingly well; her entire bathing suit wardrobe still consists of bikinis and it's not horrifying).
That greeting pretty much set the tone for the four days we were there. The weather was great the whole time. It only rained once, and that was at night when we were eating dinner on a covered patio so it didn't mess up any plans. Everything was just casual and relaxing. We spent a couple of days lying on the beach, we went into Sarasota and shopped and ate at a delicious Cuban restaurant, and we went tarpon fishing. And every afternoon when we came home from the beach or fishing, our host would whip up a different kind of cocktail for the group (bourbon slushes, pina coladas, Seabreezes...) That's the life!
When we weren't relaxing or laughing at made-up nonsense we were being amazed by the wildlife. I swear, every day down there was like something from a National Geographic Special. The first morning I was fishing off the dock behind the house and an enormous blue heron showed up and started stalking me, hoping for a pinfish. We threw him a fish and he swooped down and grabbed it. I also loved watching the egrets run along the beach and I kept spotting geckos and other small lizards all over the place (I don't know why, but geckos don't freak me out as much as mice or bugs. I actually kind of like them). On our first beach day I saw a dolphin making his way up the coast, leaping out of the water. Also, at one point I was out in the water with Penn, my brother and his girlfriend and all of a sudden we were absolutely surrounded by a whole school of tiny baitfish. There must have been thousands of them swirling around our legs. And since it was such a big school all the seagulls and pelicans were following them to feed, so one second we were just standing in the waves and chatting and then all of a sudden we were being divebombed by dozens of seagulls going after the thousands of fish. It was so cool. Kind of scary, but cool. I just kept yelping, "Oh wow! Oh wow!" over and over again. I'd never experienced anything like that before.
But the coolest thing of all was our shark sighting. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Penn, my brother, his girlfriend and I got to spend a day tarpon fishing. We went out on a fishing boat with two young guys who make a living as fishing guides. We had a really lucky fishing day. All of us caught snook early in the morning. I managed to catch a pelican, of all things. I always catch the weirdest stuff when I'm fishing, but the pelican was crazy, even for me (previous catches include a giant sting ray and multiple blue crabs). I felt really bad when I caught the pelican. I cast my line out and the pelican snapped up my bait fish while it was still on the surface of the water, and then the dumb bird wouldn't let go of the fish. We had to reel him all the way onto the boat and our captain had to hold him still and cut the line to free him. I'm pretty sure the hook had to stay stuck in his tongue. I was feeling sad about it until Penn said, "Now he has a badass tongue piercing. He's going to go home and everyone is going to call him Hook Mouth!" That cheered me up. I'm sure he (she?) is going to be fine. Later my dad texted my brother to ask how fishing was going and my brother responded, "So far we've caught two tarpon and a pelican!" and my dad's response was, "Let me guess, *A* caught the pelican?" Ha. Anyway, my brother did manage to get two tarpon all the way up to the boat. I had no clue that those fish were going to be so huge. I had been told that they can weigh between 100-200 pounds, but I guess I hadn't really bothered to mentally prepare myself for exactly how huge a 150 pound fish is. Some of the tarpons were almost the size of my boyfriend! It blew my mind. When we were on the boat we could see them leaping and rolling through the water. I was in awe. And then along came the shark. Penn was in the process of reeling in a tarpon that our captain had estimated was a 180 pounder. Needless to say, reeling these fish up to the boat is not an easy process. You can easily spend half an hour or more fighting the fish and tiring it out enough to be able to reel it in. Penn had been fighting his fish for ten minutes when the whole school of fish began leaping out of the water and swimming across the bay and just generally freaking out. The first mate said it looked like the water was boiling. We soon figured out why the fish were flipping out: a thirteen-foot-long hammerhead shark was attacking them! As we watched from the boat the shark grabbed Penn's fish right off the rod! We could see the shark's fin in the water and then we saw him really clearly as he grabbed the fish and half of his body splashed out of the water. Then after he had grabbed the fish he swam under our boat a few times. We were all so excited. Everyone on our boat was yelling, as was everyone on the boat near ours (even the captain and the first mate were yelling in excitement; apparently a hammerhead eating a tarpon is a very rare sighting, even for them). I'm so glad we got to see that. I also managed to capture it on video!
All in all it was a great vacation. I was really happy to see that Penn fit in perfectly with everyone and genuinely seemed to enjoy himself. I had a feeling he would like hanging out with my family, but it was very reassuring to see that I was right. My family really seems to like him, too. He can talk sports with my dad and books with my mom, he and my brother make fun of each other (the way boys show friendship never ceases to baffle me)...it's just really good. I get along with his family, too, and it makes me really happy that both of our families support our relationship fully. Not every couple gets that lucky.

Last weekend we got to take another fun mini-vacation. My friend's husband's boss (got that?) let him use her house on the Chesapeake Bay for the weekend, so she invited me and Penn and Nicole and her boyfriend for a "couples' weekend." I felt like such a yuppie telling people I was going out to the Chesapeake for the weekend with two other couples. I was imaging that the house would be a small cottage or a cabin. I was not expecting the house to be what it was, which was AMAZING. It was like walking into a catalog. Everything was perfectly designed, right down to the magazines artfully fanned out on the end tables in the living room. Have you ever looked at a catalog and thought, "Now who in the world has a scale model of a sale boat in their living room?" This woman, that's who. I can't even explain the extent of the decor in this house. None of it was from Ikea, I can tell you that much. I'm pretty sure the owner just gave a designer an enormous sum of money and said, "I just bought this house, please decorate it for me." Every room had something in it that made us gasp and say, "This must have cost a fortune!" The framed mirrors in the bedroom and dining room alone must have cost thousands. Penn's favorite thing was a blown glass bowl shaped like a fish. I estimate it cost at least a few hundred dollars and it was being used to hold washcloths in the master bathroom. That's what this house was like. And it was huge. Penn and I got to use the master bedroom because we had the Meatball with us and the master bedroom was where the dog crate happened to be. And of course the dog crate wasn't a wire crate with a blanket thrown over it, oh no. It was made out of wicker that perfectly matched the rest of the decor in the bedroom. Anyway, the master bathroom was easily the size of our current bedroom. And the bed was perfectly fluffy and king-sized (not that Penn and I need a king-sized bed because fifteen months into this relationship I still sleep pretty much on top of him every night; we're the only couple I know that can sleep perfectly comfortably in a twin bed) and from our bed we could look through French doors out to the hot tub, swimming pool, and down a rolling green lawn to a river. It was beautiful. And the house was so big that when the other two couples went to the bedrooms upstairs (both of which were huge and as lushly furnished as the master bedroom) we couldn't hear them talking at all. The lawn furniture alone probably cost more than all of the furniture in my current apartment. And when we ventured down to the house's private boat dock on Saturday afternoon, we found a sparkling boat that had sleeping quarters on it! (We didn't have permission to use the boat, but I was just amazed that it was even there) The Chesapeake Bay house is this woman's second home and it's so much nicer than my only home will ever be. Why does anyone need that much money?! I'm just grateful that I know people that know millionaires who let us use their fabulous homes for the weekend. It's highly likely that I will never have millions of dollars myself (and I'm well aware that more money=more problems so I really shouldn't wish for it anyway), so I guess being a couple of degrees of separation from the millionaires is good enough.
I'm pretty sure we could have spent the entire weekend at the house going, "Oh my god, did you see these dishes?" or "Is this a remote control for the swimming pool?!" (it was), but we decided we shouldn't spend the entire weekend testing out the lounge chairs and drinking in the hot tub (I know you're not supposed to drink alcohol in hot tubs). We went kayaking for a few hours one day, we went out for soft shell crabs (they were so good, I can still taste the Old Bay. And cracking crabs is fun!), we made a fire in the backyard fire pit (of course there's a fire pit!) and had s'mores. Oh, and I saw a bald eagle fly through the backyard! How often does THAT happen? I'd never seen a bald eagle outside of a zoo. It was so, so cool. Late Saturday night as everyone else was trying to get the fire started, Penn and I walked down to the boat dock. It was two flights of stairs down a steep cliff, so once we were down there we were all alone. I could only faintly hear our friends laughing up by the fire. We stood there on the dock and even though there were no artificial lights in sight the full moon was making it almost as bright as day. All around us we could hear fish leaping and splashing back into the water. It was as if we were in another world.
All of us agreed it was a weekend in paradise. At one point as we were kayaking my friend turned to me and said, "I'm so glad we were able to do this," and I said, "So am I. I really love this phase of life." And I do. It's definitely better than being in high school, when you still have to go home to your parents' house every night and you don't get to make all of your own decisions. It's better than college because there's at least a semblance of certainty about relationships and career that was utterly lacking in my early twenties. Plus we may not be rolling in money, but since most of us are dual-income couples we have the money to splurge once in a while. At the very least we have the money to spring for a better beer than Keystone! And since we don't have kids yet, there is nothing stopping us from jumping in the car when a friend unexpectedly gets a vacation house for the weekend. I'm trying to savor this time while it lasts, because I can't imagine it getting much better than this.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bus Stop

I'm currently sitting at the bus stop near the campus library(where I just picked up fifteen books; comprehensive exam prep is moving right along!) waiting for the bus to come along and take me home. It's about three hundred degrees outside, muggy as can be, and the guy on the bench next to me is smoking a cigarette. I never understand the appeal of smoking, but on a day like today it makes even less sense than usual. Anyone else out there more tolerant of cigarettes at night time and in colder weather? I don't know why, but when I'm already hot and I see someone smoking it just makes me feel nauseous. Weird quirk, or normal reaction from a non smoker?

Yesterday I went to see a friend's play and when I came out to my car after the show I had a parking ticket. I was already planning to argue for the ticket's dismissal since the parking lot had confusing signs, but then I read the ticket and all it said was WARNING. No fine. And then under that, in tiny letters, it said Friendly Ticket Program. I don't know what the Friendly Ticket Program is, but I like it!

I'm cooking fish tonight. Grilled tilapia with pineapple salsa. I cook at home a lot more now and I've tackled plenty of other recipes and I keep hearing how fish is so easy. Here's hoping that's true. Just in case the fish sucks I'm also making cherry pie for dessert and as far as I know there is no way to really screw up pie. Even bad, crumbly, falling apart dessert is still dessert! And if all else fails, Penn and I have plans to go drinking in City A tonight with a bunch of the other PhDs, so we can always fill up on beer and bar pizza if dinner is a bust.

Curently I have no job. I'm looking, sort of. I have an interview with a tutoring place next week and applications in with two other places. If none of those pan out, I think I'm okay with just living frugally between now and the end of July, when I'll get paid for the two weeks of summer camp classes I've agreed to teach. I feel a little lazy about not really pounding the pavement to find a summer job, but I'm also studying for my exams and working on my prospectus so it's not as if I'm doing nothing. I think I have enough money to get me through the summer. And if not I suppose I can get an emergency waitressing job to tide me over until I'm back on contract at school again. Or I can be a sign flipper. That's what Penn keeps suggesting.

Alright, enough tidbits for now.I'll be back soon with more on my summer vacations, since I currently spend a lot of time sitting at home eating bonbons and watching Say Yes to the Dress.

No, I'm kidding. It's amazing how much work still needs to get done, even in the summer. I read Marx while watching Say Yes to the Dress.And I eat gummy worms, not bonbons.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer Family Vacation

"We never laugh about anything real. We just make up a bunch of hypothetical bullshit and then laugh about that!"-my brother

My brother said that about my family as we walked back to our car following his three-hour-long campus graduation ceremony. I think at that exact moment we were laughing about a particular professor who had spoken during the ceremony and imagining how funny it would have been if, following the ENORMOUS post-ceremony fireworks display, they showed the professor on the video screen looking all scorched and disheveled with his glasses hanging off the end of his nose and his hair standing straight up in the air as a result of the fireworks. My brother is absolutely right. That's what my family does. We get into a situation and immediately turn the entire thing into a big joke. Any situation at all can become hilarious to us, and then we tell the funny stories from that situation over and over again for the rest of our lives. But it's only funny to us because most of the time, well, you had to be there.

I thought I'd be able to write a great post about the week Penn and I spent with my family, but now I'm realizing that even though I was laughing pretty much non-stop from the moment we got off the plane on Thursday night until the moment we got in the car to head to the airport the following Thursday, only about 10% of what happened on the trip would be funny to anyone other than my family. That's just how it is with families, isn't it?

The whole trip was great. It was the first time Penn spent an extended amount of time with my family. Prior to this trip he had had one dinner with my parents and had spent a day with my brother, but he had never met my sister or my grandparents. The best part of the whole trip was that we have all finally met each other. My brother has a girlfriend now (they've been dating since January) and I'd never met her, and I'd only spent a few hours with my sister's boyfriend prior to the trip, and I don't think any of the significant others had ever met each other. So it was great to be able to hang out with my entire family, including my grandparents, and add the people we're all dating to the mix. This is the first time that my siblings and I have all had significant others at the same time, so it was kind of interesting to have that little peek into the future when we'll be a family of eight (at least!) instead of a family of five. I really like my brother's girlfriend a lot. This is the first girl he has dated seriously (seriously enough to introduce her to the family, anyway) and she seems smart, pretty, and fun and she has a good sense of humor. They're only 22 so it's probably too early to assume that this is the girl he's going to stay with for the long run, but if she is the one I'd be happy with his choice. Not that my opinion really matters; you love who you love, after all. Still, it's nice to see that he has picked such a classy girl. My sister and I used to joke about him bringing home some floozy, so I'm proud that he has such good taste. Now I understand why Penn's older sister awwws so much about us. It's just so shocking and amazing and cute to see your baby brother as an actual adult in a relationship. As for my sister, I still don't really understand her relationship on paper (He's 40! He has four kids from three different women! They've been together for a year and a half now and its hard to get beyond those facts, despite my best efforts) but seeing her with her boyfriend makes me realize that, although her relationship would never be my choice for myself, it really does seem to be working for them. He seems happy, she seems happy and seems to be thriving in the role of stepmom (his 7- and 11-year-old sons are with them often) and when it comes down to it, that's what matters. They seem to be making a good life for themselves despite the obstacles. And despite the fact that I think her boyfriend has made some mistakes and I still don't entirely trust that he won't make the same mistakes with my sister, I can't deny that he is a nice guy. My sister and I are very different people. I love her like crazy and she's one of my favorite people to hang out with. She's a hilarious person with a big heart and I never want her to change. But I realized recently that for our entire lives I've been having to remind myself, "Just because she doesn't do it my way doesn't mean her way is wrong," and this is just another, more extreme reason for me to use my mantra. It's not what I'd want for myself or my future daughter, and it's not ideally what I would want for her, but I can't control her life and I'm not going to try to do that. She's happy. Until that changes, I won't interfere. Anyway, who knows what will happen in the future. She and her boyfriend may happily be together for the next fifty years and Penn and I may crash and burn despite our best efforts and easier start. There is no "right" way to have a relationship, and I'm going to continue to be as open-minded as possible about my sister's choice. After all, the only other option is rejecting her choice and therefore rejecting her (because there is no way she'd choose me over him) and I'm not going to do that.

Anyway. Family time was awesome. And loud. We spent three nights in the city where my brother and sister are currently living hanging out with them and attending my brother's graduation. As I mentioned, my grandparents came to town, too, as did my brother's best friend from high school (I think I've mentioned him here before, I call him my Adopted Mexican Brother. Whenever my siblings and I are home he does family dinners with us, he's usually over on Christmas and Thanksgiving, and he traveled with us to Vegas last year.) Add my sister's quasi-stepsons to the mix along with various aunts and uncles who met up with us for some meals and my brother's roommates and, well, let's just say I think at its smallest point the group consisted of ten people and one afternoon there were seventeen of us at lunch. Penn always jokes about how loud my family is, and now that I only see them a couple of times a year I realize exactly how loud we really are. Good lord. At one point during the trip we were eating lunch, all of us shouting up and down the table to each other as usual, and Penn grabbed my wildly gesticulating hand and said, "Ssshhhh, you're so loud!" I said, "Really? Oh, come on, we're not being that loud, are we?" and at that exact moment my Adopted Mexican Brother turned to my brother and said, "Stop yelling in my ear!" Point taken. Actually, Penn had a great time with my loudmouth family (and I'm not just saying that, he told me it was one of the best vacations he has ever had). We may be deafening, but we're fun people. I think it's just going to take him more than one trip to acclimate to the decibal levels we can produce.

The highlights of the graduation weekend? Well, restaurants, for one. I got to eat at a lot of the places I've missed since I moved away from this particular city two years ago. I also got to revisit some of the bars I used to frequent when I lived near there and would go out with my sister. We had a great time drinking and dancing. My mom was doing more dancing than anyone, of course.* We also had a really nice hotel room with feathery pillows to crash on after said drinking and dancing. Now that I'm thinking about it, that's about all we did other than go to the graduation ceremonies: eat, drink, dance. It was pretty perfect. Oh, and we got to see my sister's new house (yes, my sister owns a house now! It's really nice, too. Other than my family, the cheap real estate is the only thing that could even remotely tempt me back to my home state) and Penn and I went swimming with her and her boyfriend and the kids at their community pool. My favorite part of that day was when the 7-year-old looked at me and Penn and said, "Do you two kiss each other on the lips?" I hemmed and hawed for a second and then decided "Sometimes..." was the best answer. To which he replied, "No, you can't! He has a big mustache and a beard!!!" I thought that was hilarious.
Oh, and I also took Penn for a quick drive to see the school where I did my MA and the little town where I lived for two years. It was so weird being back there. Penn said he couldn't imagine me living there, and now it's really hard for me to believe that I ever lived there, too. It's just so...small. It was never a happening place, but I guess the economic downturn has hit the town hard because so many stores and businesses have shut down. About half of the bars in the town square appear to no longer exist, and the Target and Best Buy I used to frequent are gone as well (I assume they moved somewhere else in town and didn't shut down entirely, but maybe they did). When I think about the time I lived there now (August 2005-May 2007) it seems like a different person's life. There were a lot of good parts of life there--it was great being close to my sister and brother and I have a lot of fond memories of hanging out with my sister and our dogs, that's where I met Maddi and those two years were worth it even if all I had gotten out of them was our friendship--but I also associate that place very strongly with my horrendous breakup with Phil and I hate the way I let myself behave during that whole ordeal. I was pathetic. And yet I don't know how else I could have handled it. Maybe a bit more foresight and faith in my ability to have a good life on my own and a bit less pleading and sobbing would have helped, but I worked through that breakup the only way I knew how, and the way most people work through breakups, I think. Everyone I know has a story of a breakup during which they behaved horribly or pathetically. In my case, a lesson has been learned and if I ever have to go through another breakup I know what not to do (of course, I'm really, really, really hoping I'll never have to go through another breakup, but if I do I won't make the same mistakes...probably just different ones). At any rate, I spent many months of my time there feeling not quite myself as I went through that breakup, and now unfortunately a lot of good memories from that time in my life are tinged with memories of crying a lot over someone who, despite my best efforts to continue to try to remember him in a good light, seems determined to prove himself to be a petty jerk (in his dealings with me, at least. I'm pretty sure that even though I try to say a friendly hello once a quarter, we are not the sort of exes who are ever going to be friends). Oh well. We get older, we learn things about ourselves, we move on. And I know life moves in cycles but it definitely feels like I've moved on to something much, much better.

This is getting long so I'm going to have to talk about the Florida portion of the trip in another entry. This also got a bit heavy at the end, so let's end on a lighter note:
My Adopted Mexican Brother has an iPhone and one night as we were walking back to the hotel my brother called him to figure out where we had gone. When the phone rang, my AMB was like, "Hey, look what pops up when your brother calls!" The picture he has chosen to symbolize my brother is a cat wearing a tophat and a monacle. And I can't explain why because it's not logical, but for some reason the picture is a perfect representation of my brother. If you know my brother you know that you wouldn't immediately associate him with a pencil drawing of a distinguished-looking cat. He's a boy's boy whose main interests are beer and baseball. And yet the picture is so, so perfect. It just captures his essence somehow. My Adopted Mexican Brother showed the picture to my brother the next day and he was like, "What?! Why?! Why am I a fucking Mr. Peanut Cat on your phone?!" And my sister laughed so hard when we showed it to her that she spat out a mouthful of refried beans. And I realize no one finds this funny except for those of us that were there, but, seriously, there is nothing as fun as family time, especially now that Penn is getting to be part of the family.

*Want to see something funny? Go to YouTube and search for "Pamela Anderson+too much to drink." The first video--the one that is not actually Pamela Anderson--is my mother dressed up as Pam, shaking it a bit too hard at a celebrity costume party for her friend's 50th birthday party. The Kid Rock in the hideous wig is my dad. I love my family!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another Post Where I Freak Out About Other People's Babies

I just found out my college roommate is expecting her first baby. We've been playing phone tag for a while and the original voicemail she left said, "I have big news, call me back," so I knew that she was going to tell me she was pregnant (in my experience, whenever someone calls to tell me they have good news that they don't want to break via Facebook, it means they're either engaged or pregnant; Roomie had already done the former so I knew this call meant she was preggo). Anyway, I'm very excited for her. I love good news.
Still, I turned to Penn just now and was like, "Oh my god, everyone has to stop having babies! This is getting ridiculous! A dozen of my friends either just gave birth or are currently pregnant!" And I thought I was exaggerating, but no. I sat here and made a list of everyone I know who has given birth or will give birth between September 2008 and September 2009 and there are ELEVEN people on the list. ELEVEN! How many more of my friends have to give birth before it ceases to shock me? The whole engagement announcement thing finally started feeling normal, so I'm sure eventually the whole baby thing will feel normal, too. But right now every time I'm still like, "What?! A baby?! We can do that now?!?!?!" That's why I keep blogging about it. I just can't wrap my mind around the fact that, apparently, we're all adults now.
Penn jokingly asked me if I wanted to jump onboard the baby train and I said, no, no, no, not yet. But the really crazy thing is, if I get lucky enough that this relationship continues as smoothly as it has and we both don't become homeless and Penn doesn't get abducted by aliens and the world doesn't blow up and any number of other bad things don't happen between now and then, it's not too far-fetched to think I might be attempting to grow a person a few years from now. A few years ago I was just starting my MA program and it feels like I was doing that yesterday. And now I'm thinking that in that small amount of time or maybe less I, too, might maybe possibly potentially be somebody's mother.

Time freaks me out, everyone. That's all.