Julie Rocks the House

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know I spent Saturday standing in line in Bel-Air, Maryland answering a “House of Cards” open casting call for extras of all ages, shapes, sizes, and types. I first heard about the opportunity on Facebook from the DCist, and reposted it asking my friends if anyone wanted to go with me, even though I’ve never seen the show.

Truth: I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously because I wasn’t being serious myself. Continue reading

A Little Bit Vaudeville

My kids are hilarious. 

I was on our family computer this evening, and discovered this little video here. One of the things my kids love to do is take silly webcam photos and videos, and this was one of them. Not quite the Von Trapp singers, but definitely a little bit vaudeville. Miss C said they created this gem a few weeks ago. Lola is extremely proud of it. They both insisted they rehearsed to get everything just right.

They made their Mama laugh, that’s for sure!

Good Life: Laugh Everyday

I had no idea this was just the beginning.

On my Good Life print, there is the suggestion to “laugh everyday.”

Personally, I think the artist was phoning it in when she added that one. Who doesn’t laugh at least once a day? I akin that human reaction to breathing or blinking. Even the grumpiest person let’s out a cynical “heh” when he or she witnesses a bit of schadenfreude.

And that counts in my book.

For the rest of us, I imagine it impossible to go a full day without laughing at least once, especially if we’re around humans or if we catch a political news story.

So, I think the artist could have picked something a little more insightful here, realizing that laughs happen.

Also, shit happens.

It’s the ability to laugh when the shit happens that is an important part of living a good life, if you ask me.

Yesterday was a regular shit storm of laughs.

As you know, I flew out to Las Vegas over the weekend to attend a retirement ceremony, and I will share more about all that later.

But for today, I will tell you about what happened yesterday at the end of my journey.

First, I will explain that I flew on Spirit Airlines, which really should be called “Steerage Airlines” as I imagine the conditions and mob handling are not unlike what they were back when thousands of people huddled together in the underbellies of ships for weeks at a time just to get to America.

Mine was one of those “red-eye” flights from west to east, and for nearly four hours, I pretended to sleep while sitting upright (because Steerage Airlines doesn’t offer reclinable seats) on a crowded flight. It wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t awesome.

Fortunately, we had some great winds in our favor, and we landed in Baltimore just over 30 minutes early.

Yet, we sat out on the active runway for 40 minutes as we waited for an empty gate at the terminal. I snapped a photo of it, and breathed a sigh of relief.

If that’s the worst thing all morning …

When we finally parked and I got off the plane, I was pretty ecstatic that all I had to do was catch a shuttle to my car in the daily parking garage. I packed one bag for my trip to Las Vegas, overstuffing everything I needed in an oversized backpack (that still fit under the seat in front of me, so no extra charges), so I didn’t need to stop at baggage claim.

I figured I would be on the road in minutes.

Wrong.

I took the shuttle to the parking garage, took the elevator up to the seventh floor of the garage, found my car, and then reached in the front pocket of my bag for my car keys.

My car keys weren’t there.

For the next 35 minutes, I emptied that overstuffed bag, laying out the contents on the hood of my car to go through everything. Packets of make-up. Wadded-up dirty clothes. Three pairs of high heels. (Yup.) My laptop. My electronics, to include my laptop. Souveniers from the Pawn Stars shop.

Everything.

I pulled everything out of that damn bag, searched every pocket, and pouch.

Right about the time my hand grazed the very bottom of my backpack, a series of mental snapshots flickered in my mind. My hotel room. The bed, where I dumped out my items when I got there to unpack. The plastic shopping bags, two of them. One for garbage. The other to separate some of my personal items. My car key — which was a spare, and not on my normal keychain — on the bed next to those bags.

I called the hotel in Las Vegas to ask if my key was turned it. It was not.

It dawned on me that I may have thrown my key out with the garbage.

It was not a happy realization.

I called Martin and woke him up. It was, after all, still early on a beautiful Sunday morning. Of course, he was home.

I may not have used very happy, beautiful language.

Yet, instead of dropping the phone on his tired, angry, frustrated wife, and leaving me to stew inside a nearly-empty parking garage all by myself all day, Martin searched our house for my purse to find my keychain, gathered the children and drove for 45 minutes from our home in Northern Virginia to meet me in the parking garage just outside of Baltimore.

He didn’t even mention the three dollars he had to pay just to exit the place.

He just handed me the keys, waited patiently for Miss C to jump out of the van to join me, and told me to drive carefully.

During that time, I had been sitting on a bench on the first floor of the garage, surfing the Internet as fresh, cheerful travelers strolled past me on the way to the airport. I was glad to finally be able to get into my car and on my way. I was even happier to have Miss C with me for some company.

Yet, as soon as her dad pulled away from us and she stepped away from giving me a hug, she grimanced and said, “Mom, just to let you know, my stomach really hurts.”

I refused to give a moment’s thought.

“Let’s just get in the car and go home,” I said.

All was well at first.

By this time, the sun was fully up in the clear sky, revealing a bright and sunny day. Traffic was relatively light for our area, and I thought for sure we’d be home in no time. Miss C wanted to hear all about my visit at the Pawn Stars store, and the food I ate in Las Vegas, and we were laughing and smiling.

But right at the halfway point, just as we were passing the Mormon temple, Miss C made a gurgled groan, and barely whispered, “Mom?”

She didn’t need to say more. I gripped the wheel and gave orders, keeping my eyes on the road straight ahead.

“Sweetie? The bag. There’s a plastic bag in the backseat. I don’t care what’s inside of it. Dump it out. We’ll clean it up. Just hurry up.”

Miss C had already twisted herself over the middle console, reaching frantically for the plastic bag I was referencing. I heard her flip it inside out, all the contents (make-up, electronic cords, etc.) spilling out all over the backseat.

Then I heard her twist back into the front seat and hurl in the plastic bag.

I heard it before I heard her mutter, “Mom, there’s a hole in the bag.”

I instinctively rolled down my window, holding my breath the entire time until I couldn’t hold it anymore.

And then I started dry-heaving, all the while barreling down the Beltway because there was no way I could stop or pull over.

It was so gross.

That’s when I started laughing.

Like, hysterically and uncontrollably laughing.

Miss C finished up, grabbed a newspaper off the floor of the passenger seat (See? It’s good I keep crap like that down there.), cleaned herself up as best she could, and knotted up the bag before placing it down at her feet on the mat.

She unrolled her window, too.

“Why are you laughing, Mom?” she hollered over the roar of the wind whipping around us in the car, shaking her head. “I thought you’d be mad!”

“I’m not … laughing at you … oh my god … I can’t breathe,” I said. Miss C started laughing nervously, too, her hair whipping around her head from all the wind circulating in the car.

“This is so messed up,” she said.

“Yes,” I agreed. “This is so messed up. But you feel better now, right?”

She nodded her head that she did.

And that’s how we spent the rest of the drive, screaming at each other over the wind as a bag full of vomit sat at her feet in a car that I had been locked out of for most of the morning all after a red-eye flight that was less than enjoyable.

All of that wasn’t awesome.

But laughing at it all was pretty good.

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PS – Miss C was totally fine for the rest of the day. I, on the other hand, don’t remember anything from the time I took a shower to the time I woke up again in time for dinner. 🙂

Just Add Zing


I think it happens in all marriages or long-term relationships:
at some point, that zing — that mysterious and powerful tension — that cackled and sparked in the early days of the relationship dissolves into something that’s a lot more tepid.

It definitely happened in ours.


And let me be clear: I’m not talking about romance or attraction, or even THAT specifically, either. With a little bit of effort, I think all of those things are sustainable. Martin has always been good about finding little romantic things to do for me, and I like to think I‘ve done the same for him. And I’ve never doubted that he finds me attractive, just as I’ve always found him to be one good-looking dude. No complaints here.


But after awhile — and especially after three kids and more than a decade together — things become … comfortable, right? 

Like, it’s just assumed one will get a kiss from the other before leaving the house, if one’s not in too much a rush. What was once bought at Victoria’s Secret gets picked up from the clearance rack at Target. Putting on anything other than yoga pants is a sign you want to be taken out. Nobody thinks twice before passing gas under the sheets. And there are no surprises, except maybe when helping identify whatever it is that’s growing on the other’s back that he/she can’t see in a mirror.

It’s not that this level of comfort is a bad thing. In fact, being at that comfort level with each other is a comfort all by itself, in a way, because it means we’ve been through it all, we know each other completely, and are free to be ourselves.


Yet, being at that level also means that gone are the days of that zing, that puppy love and anticipation, right?


Wrong. 


It IS possible to put zing back into one’s marriage even after fourteen years together, three kids, stretch marks and hair loss. 

Here’s how you can do it, too.

1) Send your spouse or significant other to basic military training, or some other environment that’s going to completely remove them from your home for months at a time. Deployments are an alternative, but I don’t recommend them. Be sure that all forms of communication are severed, except for traditional letter-writing and maybe one phone call every two weeks. It also helps if wherever you send them uses physical fitness as punishment in the form of push-ups, situps, and flutter-kicks.

2)  While your spouse is away, write a ton of letters and feel free to share things that are much easier to share on paper than they are person-to-person.

3) Lose nearly 20 pounds, but don’t mention it at all to your spouse. On the days you reunite with your loved one, wear clothes that fit you well and show off your assets. (Hey, that’s advice straight from Tim Gunn!) In fact, wear a snazzy dress in his favorite color on you. Bonus points if it’s two sizes smaller than what you were wearing when he left. Get your nails did and your hair done, too.


4) No matter what, do NOT forget the rules. Most importantly, don’t forget that Airmen in uniform are not allowed to participate in any form of PDA (public display of affection.) This means no kissing, no hugging, no snuggling, no hand holding. Even if the closest you’ve been to holding your spouse’s hand in public in about five years were all the times you were handing a diaper bag/stroller/baby bottle/flashing the bird to him, you will suddenly want to hold his hand all the time. Nope. Don’t do it. You get about 20 seconds to do this when you FIRST see your spouse, but anything after that is unacceptable.

5) Don’t gawk too much when you finally see your spouse and you see that all the running, push-ups, sit-ups, and flutter kicks shaved about 10 years off of him, and that he still looks really, really good in uniform. Try not to stare.


6) Be prepared to feel incredibly awkward at all times. Don’t take it personally when, after the official graduation ceremony and after he’s already seen you the day before, your spouse just sort of pats you on the back because he doesn’t want to break any rules … and he doesn’t want others to think he’s breaking the rules, either. Use your kid — who is allowed to hold hands with your spouse — as a barrier. Be prepared for questions and clumsy behavior. Such as when your daughter asks in the car why Dad won’t hold Mom’s hand, and as he’s explaining the reasons, you turn on the car radio only to realize you left the volume turned up and the song that’s playing on the radio just happens to be “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Bonus points if your husband’s wingman from Nigeria is in the back of the car, singing along as you fumble for the volume because he thinks it’s a really good song. Yeah. Awkward.



 

7) At other times, try sitting or standing far apart from your spouse so that nobody suspects you really just want to jump each other’s bones. Try not to blush when your good friends — ah, those good, ol’ friends — point out that they can tell you just want to jump each other’s bones. Be horrified when they actually capture this in photos.

 


8) When touring your husband’s dorms while wearing that snazzy dress, be sure to remember that there are chrome strips running along the floor and they’ve been polished to shine. And reflect. Since you are a lady, don’t panic: just swiftly step/shuffle over them so that nothing is revealed. But as you are leaving the dorms, lean over and whisper to your husband that a warning for such an issue would have been nice because one can see everything — everything — in those chrome plates. Pretend not to notice his jaw drop.

9) In the most gracious and vague way possible, ask your husband to (gently) ditch his wingman — who has provided excellent wingman support for two whole days — because you and your daughter had your hearts set on going to SeaWorld for some family time on his first day of town pass. Pick him up early the next morning and mention that your daughter went to the early morning Shamu show with a friend, and that you guys will join them there. But the truth is, you’ve actually arranged it so that your daughter gets to spend her day at the zoo with a friend’s family. But he doesn’t have to know that.

10) Don’t be alarmed when in the parking lot of the resort hotel where one has booked one of the finest rooms in the whole place with deluxe room service and lots of food, your husband looks confused, and after a moment of silence, says, “So, we’re NOT going to Sea World?”


Zing.

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Mommy Barbie Photobomb

I have no idea when this photobomb happened.

Clearly, that’s me, the dark form sitting there in front of the computer.  I can see the frames of my glasses. That’s my hair.

Maybe I’m bent over tending to my son?

Bent over talking on the phone (which is next to our computer)?

Adjusting my socks?

Clearly, though, I was not paying attention as my daughter swooped in for an impromptu maternity photo shoot with her Barbie doll and our Photo Booth application on our computer.

Normally, just before a photo is taken, there’s an audible countdown warning one to focus and smile. I have no idea why I didn’t hear it or notice.

But I did notice this photo now, along with several other hilarious images, as I cleaned up and organized my computer files last night. There were no images before or after this one for more context.

Just a random photo of a random moment.

I love that my kids are so silly.

I love that capturing these little moments are so easy now, thanks to modern technology.

I’m weary that capturing these little moments are so easy now, thanks to modern technology. Do you see the state of my family room in this image? Cereal on the coffee table. A Barbie pile on the couch. Stuffed animal. Crumbs.

A random bar stool next to the couch?

But then I remember … that bar stool was used to build a tent out of pillows and blankets.

This is a photobomb, but it shows my kids playing and using their imaginations, having the time of their lives despite the messy family room and a distracted mother.

And I love it.

Another lovely discovery.

Happy Little Trees

For the record, this isn’t a vanity-based self-portrait.

It’s a unity-based one.

Yesterday was Devin Kunich’s 23rd birthday. Devin is the son of my good friend and former Air Force colleague, Gary. Unfortunately, Devin was killed last year while riding his bicycle when he was hit by a teenage driver talking on her cell phone with her eyes closed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: this blog’s gone dark. In one week’s time, I’ve managed to write about disrespect in the work place, depression/suicide, 9/11, and now I’m going to write more about Devin.

But I write about life, and this is life. There is darkness and there is light. There is pain. And there is joy.

I promise you, this post is about the joy.

So back to Devin.

 

I never met Devin, but I knew him as Gary’s oldest kid.

I first met Gary in 2002, when he was the instructor for the feature writing class at our annual career workshop in San Antonio. He was — and still is — a writer, well-known in our profession.

His class was a riot. All I remember is him dancing like Elvis and instructing us to breathe deeply and write about the exquisiteness of toilet paper. If I remember correctly, I wrote how something so delicate can be made to withstand a lot of shit, and he thought that was genius.

We stayed in touch over the years, meeting up at those workshops and connecting more frequently with the dawn of social media. So over time, I came to know about Devin in that passive, roundabout way work colleagues share family stories.

By all accounts, Devin was a goofy, funny kid who grew up to be a goofy, funny young man with dance moves like his father. (Trust me: I’ve seen videos.) He was 21, working at the local Renaissance fair, dating a great girl, saving up for school, getting ready to take on the world.

Finding out that Devin died in such a manner was heartbreaking. I was sick to my stomach about it for days, and did my best to post and send messages of support that didn’t seem too trite or shallow as we followed Gary’s postings online. You would think someone would rage under those circumstances. Gary had every right to do that. Nobody would have judged him for it.

But Gary didn’t.

Nope, he and his wife Ruth are the type of people who are made to withstand. And not just withstand, but lead by example. They decided to honor Devin’s life and memory by making it their life mission to educate people about cell-phone driving. They’ve already paired up with other parents who’ve lost their loved ones due to cell-phone driving, and are throwing their weight behind efforts to pass tougher laws and observances related to this topic.

But most of all, they want people to remember their son, and the day before Devin’s birthday, Gary asked his online friends and family if we would wear pink on Devin’s birthday and post online photos of our attire.

You see, one of the last little random quips Devin said to his mother before he was killed was the remark that he felt there should be more of the color pink in the world, so he was going to wear it more often. Since he is no longer here to wear it, others are wearing it for him.

Including me.

In an effort to show that Devin was being remembered here in Washington DC on his birthday, I wanted a landmark behind me for my photo. And what better landmark than the US Capitol building, just a few blocks from my office? After work, I walked over to the Mall to snap the photo. Easier said than done.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, but the white dome reflected too much light. The building just wasn’t registering on my iPhone. I spent 20 minutes walking around, trying to find some shade or some alternative. It wasn’t happening.

Then I remembered the happy little trees.

A few hours before Devin was killed, friends captured him doing a silly little dance during an improvisation circle at the Renaissance festival. He ad-libbed some song about being a happy little tree, and Gary’s referred to it from time to time.

 

The National Mall is full of trees. So I went to the littlest one in my area and snapped a photo with the trees in the background and my pink scarf on display.

And as I lowered my iPhone to post the picture onto Gary’s Facebook page, I heard a soft whir coming up from behind me.

It was a skinny man on a Segway, wearing a ginormous helmet on his head, and a bright, neon pink shirt and tight black shorts. He looked confident. He looked in charge. He looked hilarious, especially with about four or five others who weren’t nearly as confident following him like ducks on their Segways.

I burst out laughing, and relayed the story onto Gary’s Facebook page, telling him it took me 20 minutes to find a good spot for a photo, but all it took was a spot near the trees for humor and pink to collide as a sign from Devin.

Gary agreed with me.

Some folks may say it was sheer coincidence. Some say it’s just our human nature to want to make connections and apply meaning to things like this.

But I say these are embraceable moments of joy.

Faith. Positive energy.

Whatever you want to call ’em, they are reminders to smile and appreciate life every moment.

To be silly and light.

And to celebrate the happy little trees among us.

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You can listen to two of Gary’s recent NPR News radio interviews (which were made local in Wisconsin) HERE and HERE.

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Also, BlogHer syndicated my blog post yesterday about that woman bashing the military during my meeting last week. They put it on their front page and used it as the headliner for their Career section. How cool is that? Go check it out and join the discussion!

The Song That Everybody Knows

I will be okay if I never hear this song again.

But because we hear it everywhere, the girls and I took advantage and decided to join the rest of the online population and make our video version of this tune.

As I mentioned in a previous post, during three trips in the rental van (two of them the same day), and one lazy afternoon in front of the web cam, we captured ourselves lip-syncing this song.

Earlier this evening, Miss C and I combined all the clips and made a video. She learned about audio control, adding text and transitions, how to split segments and match things up evenly. She’s been wanting to learn how to use the movie-editing software on our computers, and I was more than happy to show her the steps.

Even if that meant listening to this song over, and over, and over again.

Enjoy … and sing along!

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Around the House

My scrapbook room, shortly after Lola was born in 2008

 

Martin and I made excellent progress around the house this weekend.

If you walked inside our door right now, though, you wouldn’t know it.  As I said, we made progress, but we didn’t finish, which means there is still evidence of our work-in-progress all over the place.

But we’re closer to finished than we were on Friday.

We focused on three rooms: the family room, the basement guest suite, and my former scrapbook room. Now that our third child is becoming more and more an active participant in his sisters’ shenanigans, we need more play space. Over the past few months, I’ve been purging a lot of our stuff, and downsizing our furniture. Slowly, but surely, all of our rooms changed.

But this weekend, we did the heavy lifting. Our family room now looks and feels like a family room, and not just a whittled-down version of it’s former self. The basement suite is no more: it’s turning back into a really awesome playroom.

And that former scrapbook space of mine? Gone. That room will now be the guest room, so we will still be able to host visitors. The *new* playroom will feature an amazing, kid-friendly craft area since Miss C is now the gung-ho scrapper in the family. I no longer feel guilty for having neglected what was once a passionate hobby of mine because she’s really embraced it and is putting all my supplies and tools to great use. Lola also loves painting and coloring, so the area will be perfect for her, too.

But of course, creating this utopia takes work. With the help of Miss C, Martin and I were busy moving shelves, electronics, books, toys, artwork, and whatever else needed moving. We also used the time to purge even more stuff (where in the world did it all come from?) while also shredding and recycling the mountains of paperwork that were hiding in random corners and tabletops.

We have bigger plans for this old house. The bathrooms are in dire need of remodeling, and not just for aesthetic purposes. I’ve been daydreaming on Pinterest while Martin’s been studying up on all the ends and outs of it. And of course, saving our pennies. Eventually, the kitchen will need a facelift. And then our back porch could use a redo, as well.

As much as it daunts me, I really love thinking of new ways to make this place feel more like a home for our growing family. Oh, the never-ending joy of owning a house!

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Funny moment while Miss C and I were shredding papers: we came across some of her daily reports from preschool, when she was about three years old, and discovered a series of incident reports.

Most involved her biting other kids on the playground, and how she and the teacher had a conversation about no biting, and how the teachers encouraged us to have that discussion at home, too. (I actually wrote about this here on the blog in 2006.)

To my great amusement, after reading a couple, Miss C shook her head and said, “Mom, I’m seriously starting to wonder about your parenting skills.”

Oh, that kid.

 

The All-American Waldo Shirt

Can you find me in the courtyard of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum?

I dressed like Waldo for Independence Day this year.

I had it all going for me: the red-and-white striped shirt; the jeans; the dark glasses; the grin on my face.
Trust me: I didn’t intend on looking like a lost storybook character when I stood in front of my closet. All of us were wearing something red, white, and/or blue. But as I flipped through all my shirts, sweaters, blazers, dresses, and scarves, I realized I do not own a single patriotic garment.

Except for the striped shirt. Continue reading