Unraveling This Life

A little bit of this . . . a whole lot of that . . . and just a pinch of sparkle

I Put A Spell On You

Posted on January 25, 2017

Every knitter has an idiot project. You might not call it that, but you have one if you are a knitter. The perfect idiot project meets several requirements. It must be easy enough to knit without needing a pattern. It must be portable to take with you. It ought to be enough to sustain your attention and enthusiasm, but if you look at the first two requirements, this is usually where the wheels fall off the cart. Because something it is both something you can knit without a pattern and kinds, sorta portable is usually rather boring. Nine times out of ten, and idiot project (for me, at least) is a pair of socks. Once you get them cast on, they are relatively smooth sailing. Knit the foot in stockinette and throw something “fancy” in for the leg, and you are all good. Until you get to the second sock.

I’m not sure why the last two idiot projects weren’t socks (cough, cough – peer pressure and forgetting that I needed something quick to take with me), but I fell for the Garter Trap just like most of the women at my knit shop. A few of them were knitting a Trap at sit ‘n knit one Saturday, and one of the women confessed to it being her second or third. Even my friend who is a newer knitter had fallen under the GT’s spell. “You haven’t knit one? Why?” she asked. I don’t think I ever gave her an answer and went back to whatever I was knitting, but later that night, I went out and grabbed some complementary colors and cast on. I figured that I would be able to knit on it while I was watching videos for my grad classes and take it on our trip to Ireland in a few weeks.

Oh, it's a trap alright . . . because at first, it's not that bad. But then, you realize you have way more to knit

Oh, it’s a trap alright . . . because at first, it’s not that bad. But then, you realize you have way more to knit

So the GT is a true idiot knit. Honestly, you don’t really need a pattern as you are just switching colors every other row and increasing every fourth row. You basically just knit like this until you run out of yarn, but preferably, you figure out where this is going to be so you don’t have to rip back a row to cast off. I chose Elsebeth Lavold’s Silky Wook, which isn’t a yarn that I normally enjoy (the smell of silk sometimes gets to me) and Louisa Harding’s Pittura. Originally, I wanted to use a lovely shade of teal in the silky wool, but there wasn’t enough, so I went with black instead. You know – teal, black . . . so similar in shades, right?

Best part about an idiot knit: you can do other things like watch videos, read books, talk to you friends, look at the pretty scenery outside of your bus window, close your eyes. Worst part about an idiot knit: tedium. They get very, very tedious. And quickly. This one proved to be no exception, but thankfully the best parts about it were there to save it. I’m 99% sure I know who this is going to. A person who should have had something hand knit by me ages and ages ago. Hopefully, she’ll forgive me and wear it anyway, knowing that this wrap saw the best parts of Ireland with her brother, laughing the entire time. It saw me through a master’s degree that was beyond boring in parts and mind blowing in the other parts. And I really hope she resists the urge to scream, “It’s a trap!” whenever she does, but if that happens, I am A-OK with it. Because lord knows I yelled it a few times while I was knitting it.

The Trap traveled all of Ireland and down some rather small country roads. Hopefully, it enjoyed the views as much as I did

The Trap traveled all of Ireland and down some rather small country roads. Hopefully, it enjoyed the views as much as I did

Pattern: Garter Trap by Andra Asars

Yarns: Elsebeth Laval’s Silky Wool and Louisa Harding’s Pittura

Needles: Kollage 6 (4.0mm) – I’m not sure that I would ever buy a non-square needle again

Modifications: none other than knitting four rows of black instead of alternating between the colors

Cast on: June 2016

Cast off: December 2016

So, the song “I Put a Spell on You” was probably most famously performed by The Screamin’ Jayhawks, but Annie Lennox’s version is pretty good, too. 


Falling Faster Than You Can Run

Posted on January 16, 2017

Dear Speaker Ryan

Before your staff shuffles this letter into a pile reserved for “people who do not agree with you and also are not represented by you,” perhaps they might find a more special pile reserved for “people who graduated from college with you.” Surely that can’t be more than 4,000 of us, right? Back then, Miami University couldn’t really muster more than the state treasurer to come speak at commencement, so kudos for actually getting to be a commencement speaker. Don’t take it too personally that many of the graduates didn’t really care what you had to say. Did you really care what our commencement speaker had to say? Me, neither!

Here’s the deal. Your recent appearances on the news are troubling to a certain segment of society (me among them), and no doubt, they are a sign of wonder to others. At this point in time, you’ve made it perfectly clear that the Affordable Care Act has got to go as well as all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and this leaves me perplexed. Is the ACA perfect? Oh, god, no! Anyone who suggests that is highly suspect. Even the president said it wasn’t . . . and people like to slap his name all over it. And I get it: premiums have gone up, people are pissed that they can’t keep their doctors or coverage, folks are getting confused by the names Affordable Care Act vs. Obamacare. But in the end, Congress was finally able to do something. After record low approval ratings for the past five or six years, y’all finally got it together and passed a bill to effectively dismantle the ACA. Congrats? Maybe?

But truly, this letter isn’t about the ACA. I think that Congress will figure out quickly that creating something is far harder than railing against it. No, this letter is about Planned Parenthood. Why is it that Republicans spend six long years going on and on and on about how we need to put America back to work again and how our economy is going to shit, and yet one of the very first things you do is move to defund Planned Parenthood? Are there tons of OB/GYNs out of work and this is a jobs act for them? Didn’t think so. So, why? It’s that whole abortion thing, right?

At the rate that Planned Parenthood supposedly gives out abortions, I’m a little irritated that I’ve never been offered one at Planned Parenthood. Seriously, I’m still waiting on my punch card for that. The way the talking heads go on about the horrors that are committed at Planned Parenthood and their “abortions for everyone” philosophy, I’m still a little miffed that mine must have gotten lost in the mail. Or, and this is probably it, I’m a rational person who knows that only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does involves abortions. Back in 1990, when you and I were juniors at Miami, I went to the local Planned Parenthood (relax, Speaker Ryan – it isn’t there any more) on Spring Street in search of some prenatal pills. You see, I had already made the choice to continue with my pregnancy, and god bless Planned Parenthood, they actually would see me and provide some vitamins to ensure that both me and my baby would be healthy. Not a damn person tried to sway me from my decision. It was so shocking! You know what else was happening there? Two kids I tutored the previous summer decided they were going to start having sex, and they went in together for birth control. And they each got some. Another woman was there to have an STD test run. I’m not sure if you remember this or not, but 1990 was the height of the AIDS epidemic, so most people were concerned enough to get an STD test or two run. Let’s see . . . what else were people doing? Two women were talking about their Pap smears; I remember one of them was really nervous because she never had had one, and the other woman was quite comforting in her frankness. And then, there was me. Just trying to get some prenatal vitamins.

If you fast forward a couple of decades, I’m still using Planned Parenthood for my doctor’s visits because a) they are super close to my house, b) they can have my insurance dollars if they want it, and c) it’s easier to get an appointment there than with a more “traditional” doctor. The women in my local Planned Parenthood are pretty much the same as in the one that used to be in Oxford. The walls are still as lackluster as I remember, but I guess with a shoestring budget, you get by on all the free posters that you can. But the people there are just as caring as the one in Ohio. They aren’t in it for the money. They are in it because people need and rely on them for help and the services they provide. Services like: pap smears, breast exams, STD screenings, flu shots, prostate cancer screenings, condoms, sex ed, birth control, pregnancy tests, counseling for a variety of diseases, Plan B, mental health care, and abortions. Yup, they do provide abortions (you’ve got me there, Mr. Ryan), but thankfully the Hyde Amendment took care of using tax dollars to support them. BTW, if you are so opposed to abortions, then why cut off the funding that provides birth control to millions of women? That makes about as much sense as citing a work of fiction as one of your guiding principles. You do know that Atlas Shrugged is not a “how-to” manual, right? Did you also have the economics professor who put everything in terms of rum and sluggish sales? Maybe that’s why you are so confused.

So, let’s wrap this up, shall we. I doubt anything that I say will change your mind. You seem rather resolute in your desire to defund Planned Parenthood, so kudos for standing for something. I just wish it weren’t something that actually helps millions of women in a nation that continually underestimates and insists on explaining things to them like they are a six year old. Couldn’t you choose instead to defund naming a post office after someone instead? Oh, fun fact – in the past few years, that’s pretty much all Congress has been able to do: rename post offices. In the end, abortions are still going to happen. They aren’t going away . . . not at all. If I needed one, I wouldn’t have any trouble with obtaining one. Neither would my daughters if they needed one (forgot to mention: it was twins! Yay, me!). But I can’t say that about all women. I certainly can’t say that about women in Texas or in Ohio or in any other state that insists on a 20-week ban. Or women who need to take off a day from work or whose partner isn’t in favor of anything. Or for women who don’t have the luxury of having a provider within a reasonable distance. Sure, abortion is technically legal, but it’s not accessible. Maybe that’s been the plan all along: keep it legal but just out of reach for the vast majority of American women.

Well, I guess that’s it. Do you ever make it back to the old alma mater? It just isn’t same since they tore the water tower down. Then again, once Chuck stopped selling his corn nuggets and Bruno’s burnt down, it seemed a bit off to me. However, so much seems off now. Any way, if you’re not busy next Saturday, come on down to the corner of Independence Avenue and Third Street and join me at the Women’s March on Washington. Sure, you can probably see if from your place of employment, but do you really get the chance to interact with thousands of savvy, intelligent, passionate, and, yes, opinionated women sitting in that drafty old building? Didn’t think so . . . we’ll save you a patch of grass.


A fellow class of 1992 graduate

Oh, and the title of the post is “Falling Faster Than You Can Run” by Nathaniel Rateliff. It’s just a song that I’ve had on repeat, Mr. Ryan. Truly, it has nothing to do with anything . . . then again, maybe it does. 

I Don’t Feel Like Dancing

Posted on January 1, 2017

Last night, I had every good intention of getting up and joining some running friends for a 10 AM jaunt through town. But then for some strange reason, we stayed up until 12:30 AM (gasp) and split a bottle of rather sweet bubbly. That 10 AM resolution went out the window similar to the intentions of blogging more did last year. Classic example of why I don’t like resolutions because once you break them, you kinda feel like you have screwed up for the year so why even bother, right? A few years ago, I started choosing a word to focus on for the year, and before you start shaking your head at my hippy-dippy, New Age love fest, understand that there is very little about me that is either hippy-dippy or New Agey. It’s just something that works for me.

Last year, I chose the word complete, and I explained to my friend this morning on a walk (because like a good little girl, I actually went out with the dogs – and my friend – for a walk once we were all awake) it had two meanings. First, the obvious in which I focused on completing things that needed completing – more on that later. But second, I chose it because I figured that sometimes, I needed reminding that I was complete the way that I was. Self-improvement is great, but occasionally, it feels like people are constantly trying to find something to improve about themselves. It’s taken me many, many years to figure out that I’m good the way I am, and if I feel like doing something for self-improvement, it’s my damn choice.

So back to that first reason in which I get shit done. I started to run through what I had completed in 2016, and I was coming up with not a lot. The obvious items were there, but I was really getting disheartened with my word. Well, taking a walk with the dogs does a lot to clear your mind and put things into perspective. Here’s what I came up with:

  • my master’s degree: started that in January and finished it in December. I nearly thought the final two courses might be my undoing, but I’m just waiting on the degree conferral in February and walking in May.
  • two half-marathons: they weren’t my prettiest, my fastest, or my favorite, but guess what? I still ran 13.1 miles and got a medal and a free banana at the end.
  • 445.3 miles: not even close to my top milage and that’s ok. I’m guessing that the first item on the list had something to do with the low miles, which probably impacted the second item on the list.
  • The Great Gatsby: finally check that off the list of books that people told me I had to read. Didn’t love it but didn’t hate it either. That’s a win in my book.
  • another school year: last year’s students were an amazing group of kids, but you know what? So are this year’s group of kiddos.
  • knitting projects: I can’t be specific here because I haven’t really tracked what I have knit. That being said, I’m pretty sure that there were some shawls, cowls, scarves, and maybe a sweater (sleeve) or two. 2017 goal – keep better track of knitting projects
  • Project 333: I think that I’m on my fifth year of the project, so I don’t even think of it as completion any longer, but we were talking about it on a run the other morning, and I came to the realization that not everyone plans their wardrobes like this.
  • another One Second Everyday project: honestly, I thought that I had given up on this one in mid-September. Thankfully, you can use still images, so the last three months are basically a video here or there with lots and lots of photos of the dogs. You’re welcome!

I’m sure there’s more, but my brain can only hold so much during my walks. I would wager a bet that I have solved world peace, ended hunger, and balance the national budget a million times over on our walks, but I can never seem to hold on to that information once we cross the threshold.

There’s a word percolating in my brain for 2017, but I’m going to let it stew for a bit more. You would think that it would be food related based on that last sentence, but it turns out I’m just hungry.

I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” by the Scissor Sisters . . . not quite their danciest tune, but it still does the trick when you are trying to clean the house. 

Fake Frowns

Posted on January 2, 2016

We bought our house in 1999 for a variety of reasons. Mortgages were relatively easy to come by then without a downpayment. Our kids were getting a little older, and we wanted some place where they could grow up. This house came with a massive maple tree out front, the type of tree that you simply tell people, “You know, the one with the maple tree shading the street,” and people just know which house it is. But probably, we bought our house because it had “charm.” In 1999, that meant original woodwork and lovely turn-of-the-century features and a pink toilet. Now? Whenever anyone tells me that they are buying their house for the charm, I immediately think of knob-and-tube wiring and gouged up hardwood floors and that damn pink toilet.

Who buys a house for the toilet? Apparently, I do . . . kind of. The bathroom is massive; it’s bigger than most bathrooms I’ve been in and probably the same size as one of the bedrooms. But the fact remains that it has a pink toilet, tub, and sink. Renovating the bathroom wasn’t on the “to-do” list when we signed the papers, so we worked through cosmetic aspects first, getting rid of the butterfly wallpaper and playing up the pink. Honestly, I’m not even sure how I settled on the shade of brown that I did (it’s a truly dark shade of brown, almost a cherry cordial chocolate) or why I decided to add four blocks of varying shades of pink on the wall (note to all DIYers out there: an album cover makes the perfect square in situations like this). But this I do know. I decided to play up the pink in the bathroom by scouring Target for cheap accents. Lucky for me, Cynthia Rowley’s Swell line fit the bill to perfection. Lots of pink. Frequent rotations. Usually inexpensive. Pretty damn perfect for new homeowners. Anything pink that popped up on Target’s back aisles (seriously, I’m not the only person who shops the back of the aisles, am I?) made it’s way into my basket. Even a journal.

January 01, 2016

For the longest time, the journal just sat on the shelf by the toilet. It was another pink prop in the bathroom. I’d probably spent more than a little time reading any number of home beautification magazines that stressed “setting the stage” and things were added accordingly. It’s functionality was limited at best. It didn’t hold any Q-Tips or cotton balls. Nope. It was just pink. One day, however, I noticed a pen on the journal. Inside, my daughters had started a dialogue with each other. The first thing written in it? “Who puts a journal in the bathroom? Are people supposed to write in this thing?” And so, our family started writing in a journal in a bathroom. The comments ranged from the mundane (Could you pick up more lotion?) to the festive (Happy Thanksgiving! with a turkey hand tracing). Occasionally we have marked family milestones like when the girls left for college. Usually, though, there’s family banter like when one of the girls commented that she used some “glittery perfume” to make her room smell less like farts and turtles. Or when my husband and I wrote about how much we would miss them when they left for college. Perhaps my own personal favorite is an exchange between the two of them and why the basement wasn’t getting cleaned.

The journal is covered in a fine layer of dust – never said I put too much stock in those home beautification magazines – and the pencil hasn’t been used in ages. Someone commented a while back that no one seems to write in it any more, and they are 100% correct. I’m not sure who wrote in it last, but I’m positive that there are still pages on which to write.

* “Fake Frowns” by Death Cab For Cutie . . . family joke: Dave always follows anything Death Cab For Cutie related with Lunch Check For Shelby based on one of her notes left for us on the stove; we’ve always said that it would be a good name for a band.


Posted on January 1, 2016

Ever wonder about New Year’s resolutions? Why do so many people decide that come January 1, they will suddenly get the urge to exercise or eat better or go to sleep earlier or drastically change whatever behavior they’ve deemed problematic? Trust me . . . that urge for double stuffed Oreos is still going to be there come January 10. I’ve gone the route of making resolutions, and quite frankly, I really stink at them. So, I haven’t created any for years. Instead of taking on a resolution, I’ve adopted words instead. In the past, I’ve chosen growth and persistence with some decent success, so this year, I wasn’t sure where to go. I thought about focus as a possible one but ultimately settled on complete as my word this year.

For me, complete has multiple meanings. The biggest is easy. I start a lot of projects and have about a 35 – 40% completion rate. Countless knitting projects (and, yes, I laughed a little at my daughter when she explained that she couldn’t have two projects on needles at the same time – but yet, she finishes her stuff). Novels started (so many writing projects started). Five years of 365s started (with one completed). Running plans that kinda, sorta get stuck to (but only kinda, sorta). Complete allows me to work towards a better completion rate for all my projects. But it’s more than that. As “new agey” as it sounds, I need to remember that I am complete and don’t need to change anything unless I want to. I don’t need another degree unless I want it. I don’t need to take on a new way of cooking unless I want to. I can be complete without adding or changing anything unless I want to.

Yesterday marked the end of my One Second Everyday project. I have no idea why I stuck with it, but I’m really glad I did. It allowed me to look back on the year pretty objectively. Trust me, I needed objectivity. The second to last day of January, my husband lost his job. February brought a lot of uncertainty but also a lot of joy. March? I forgot about being in the pods for the majority of the month for work. April was several races and a birthday or two. In May, we were in the homestretch for school, which came in June with some amazing time spent with my Girls On Track girls. But July? Hello, Iceland and London . . . and a trip to Ohio to celebrate my dad’s 75th birthday. August celebrated our 24th anniversary (plus Duran Duran in concert, a new fence, and a return to work for me). September was Dave’s birthday and lots and lots of school work.  October was bittersweet with a funeral and a birthday, but it ended on a high note with some Star Wars mascara and a new job for Dave. November? Trips to DC with students, running, and a low key Thanksgiving. December gave us a wedding and family and Ohio and family and lots and lots of joy and family. Through it all, there were lots of “boring” days, days in which very little happened. Those days were among my favorites. Seeing my dogs going bonkers when Dave walked in the door. Watching my students rather creatively play with their food. Trying to figure out how to “be” in the picture. It’s not the big events that make up a life . . . it’s the little bits that make it perfect. They make it complete.

Here’s to a 2016 with more of that!

“Love” by John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band – I’m not sure why this is in my iTunes library, but it came up on shuffle. Kinda perfect for today, right? 


Posted on November 8, 2015

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Honestly, there isn’t even a toss-up between any other holiday and Thanksgiving. Don’t really care for loud noises – see you, Fourth of July. Christmas is overdone – hasta, merry merry. Scary movies and all that crap – no Halloween lover. But Thanksgiving? I’ve had a small love affair with it since I learned how to cook. There’s something about Thanksgiving that leaves me pressure-free. I don’t have to decorate the house. No need to plan an elaborate costume. Just food and family. My kids know pretty much what we’ll have year after year, but they are welcome to suggest something new. Last Thanksgiving, Lucas, Shelby’s fiancé, made the turkey and had to contend with two rather attentive dogs at his feet. Thanksgiving is pretty much the bomb for me. Plus I normally enjoy the preparation that comes with a month focused on gratitude. Normally. This year? It’s just plain weird probably because it’s been that way for many, many months.

Maybe I need this month of gratitude to just let it all go. I read about others expressing their gratitude and see red. It’s irrational. Not even remotely healthy, but that’s where I am at. Things that used to destress me seem like a chore, but I know better. I know better. I need to find those places and let them just wash over me. I need running and knitting and writing and reading and photography and just being. And yet, all the other “must dos” get in the way. November? My focus for gratitude is to find those spots again and claim them for myself. Me. Just me.

I took my first photo in a long, long while when my parents were out, and it felt good to notice the small things around me. It felt good to pick up an actual camera and not settle for my phone. It just felt right. I’m not committing to a 365 just yet, but I am going with a photo-a-day in November. Where this goes is anyone’s guess, but I can’t let the bitterness and stress win out. There’s too much at stake for that. I’m planning on just letting it happen. Sometimes, that’s the only way to go. And surely I can’t be the only one to feel like that.

Please tell me I’m not.

November 1 - I'm grateful for so much yet have such a hard time expressing it. Pretty soon, my gratitude will devolve into something that sounds like Steve Martin's monologue towards the end of the The Jerk.

November 1 – I’m grateful for so much yet have such a hard time expressing it. Pretty soon, my gratitude will devolve into something that sounds like Steve Martin’s monologue towards the end of the The Jerk.

November 2 - Often times, my desk is my happy spot. The trinkets that populate it are carefully curated through the years. A puffin from Iceland. The Doctor from an NYC trip. A stapler I like.

November 2 – Often times, my desk is my happy spot. The trinkets that populate it are carefully curated through the years. A puffin from Iceland. The Doctor from an NYC trip. A stapler I like. Shaun the Sheep and the Penguin from the Wallace and Gromit series. A Koosh ball from ages ago. 

November 3 - I voted today, but first I got to marvel at the few leaves stubbornly clinging to life outside of work. This one wore its heart on its sleeve.

November 3 – I voted today, but first I got to marvel at the few leaves stubbornly clinging to life outside of work. This one wore its heart on its sleeve.

November 4 - Ever been grateful for jury selection? Me neither . . . until today. I was delighted to sleep in and have an extra cup of coffee.

November 4 – Ever been grateful for jury selection? Me neither . . . until today. I was delighted to sleep in and have an extra cup of coffee.

November 5 - The tree outside our house is a Norwegian Sugar Maple. Translation: it's still pretty full with these lovely leaves. The carpet they leave behind is worth seeing them in early December.

November 5 – The tree outside our house is a Norwegian Sugar Maple. Translation: it’s still pretty full with these lovely leaves. The carpet they leave behind is worth seeing them in early December.

November 6 - Starbucks' Red Cup signals the true change of season for me. And I actually enjoy seeing the simple red . . . if you are offended by the lack of "Christmas" cheer, you need to find something else to be all riled up over.

November 6 – Starbucks’ Red Cup signals the true change of season for me. And I actually enjoy seeing the simple red . . . if you are offended by the lack of “Christmas” cheer, you need to find something else to be all riled up over.

November 7 - We saw Spectre today and enjoyed some time together before he starts traveling again. I'm grateful for the opportunity he'll have on Monday when he gets to share his vast knowledge with a new company.

November 7 – We saw Spectre today and enjoyed some time together before he starts traveling again. I’m grateful for the opportunity he’ll have on Monday when he gets to share his vast knowledge with a new company.

November 8 - This goofball. She won't sit still for a photo. That shadow on the left? My camera strap. It's either live with the imperfection or not enjoy the view. She's too adorable for that.

November 8 – This goofball. She won’t sit still for a photo. That shadow on the left? My camera strap. It’s either live with the imperfection or not enjoy the view. She’s too adorable for that.

“Alive” by Sia – I’ve seen her twice in concert (back before she cared about covering her face), and her voice is as good live as it is on the radio. 

And Your Bird Can Sing 

Posted on July 4, 2015

Why Reykjavik? Seems to be a popular question these days. Well, why not? Years ago, when we bought our house, we decided to stencil the names of cities we would like to visit at the tops of the walls. Some have been visited multiple times while others have been visited solo. But Reykjavik always seemed like a possibility. It’s 1) only a five hour flight, 2) not terribly hot in the summer, and 3) compact. When my sister-in-law’s brother posted something about cheap fares from Baltimore back in October, we jumped at the chance. Throw in a three day trip to London on the backside, and I’d call it a win-win. So what if I don’t speak a lick of Icelandic. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. 

We landed at 6:00 AM local time, and it’s now 9:54 PM here where the sun won’t set until midnight. I’ve been up for about 37 hours, run three miles in the ‘Burg, walked for what seemed like miles and miles here, and sampled enough local brew to make me want to check out house prices. Between the cool temperatures, beautiful scenery, tasty food and drinks, and bountious sunlight, it’s turning into one of those kind of trips. Skal!


Heading toward the harbor


Selfie at the Cathedral


In the Lebowski Bar


First Gull of the day


Love is love


View from our flat

“And Your Bird Can Sing” by the Beatles…there’s a Beatles themed place here, too 

Where It’s At

Posted on March 20, 2015

True story . . . I was looking for a sock pattern so I could figure out a heel that I wanted to replicate and came across a short story that I wrote years’ ago. And I just kinda feel like putting it out there since I like where it was going. 


Nobody ever comes in The Beauty Inside with an actual purpose. Fine, there may be the odd one who knows exactly what is needed and finds it using stealth like precision; otherwise, they will fall trap to the rest of the lures, like pretty colors or tantalizing scents or “helpful” sales associates. For most people, The Beauty Inside simply beckons and they walk through the doors like lambs to the slaughter. Some are pulled inside by the pulsating music. It’s always something slightly familiar, but the boom boom boom of the bass overshadows what you thought you knew. Others see the iconic stripes on the front and realize, “Hey, I need a lip gloss/eye shadow/perfume/ego booster,” and they too are in. Still others, usually the men, are dragged in by someone else. Hardly any wait outside, for if they do, the bill will most likely be higher. Besides, without the knowledge of what their partners are buying, they will have no clue what has been “improved” and the little compliments that most women go fishing for will remain unsaid. There are a few who stumble in on a hot summer day when the wall of cooled air hits them in the face as they pass by. For some reason, the marketing directors decided years ago that leaving the doors open on days above 85 degrees and cranking the AC just a bit made sense. You know what? There’s a reason those folks get paid the big bucks since it works like a charm. The occasional tourist from someplace in Iowa or Missouri comes in, thinking that they are on to some Big City phenomenon talked about in Elle or Vogue, but if they did a little bit of homework, they would have found a smaller shop in the largest city of their state or visited our Website already.

I say “our” Website because after working here for two years, you start to get a little possessive of the place. My zone – between Lorac and Hard Candy plus register two – is my own patch of The Beauty Inside. You want a killer Smoky Eye? Ask Dakota. You need something to make your high school boyfriend beg for forgiveness at your next high school reunion? Ask Dakota. You need a cheaper alternative to Miorine Eye Deglace? Ask Dakota. That’s what it says on my nametag. You can’t honestly think that Marge and Bert Crowley of Totowa, New Jersey called their first son Dakota, can you? Christ, that name only became popular ten or so years ago. If you had a choice of buying beauty enhancements (or make-up if you hate euphemisms) from Dakota or Dennis, whom would you trust? I won’t think you’re shallow if you don’t even entertain the name Dennis. Neither would I.

I’ve seen all types come in over the years, so much so that Chantal (Catherine if you must know), Midori (truly) and I have invented a game of sorts. We devised the categories years ago: surgeon, dreamer, drifter, helpless, tourist, and other. Surgeons mean business; they are in and they are out, very clinical. Dreamers are searching for the latest craze trumpeted in the glossy pages of the magazines to make them look ten years younger or to give them Sienna’s pout or the volume of Jennifer’s hair. Drifters come in almost by chance and they buy a random assortment of crap that you know damn well they’ll never use. The helpless are the ones I feel for the most. They need something – anything – to make them feel better. Sometimes a cheating spouse is the root cause of a $1000 make-up binge or a sudden weight gain causes the sales of anti-cellulite cream to spike through the roof. I almost feel guilty when working with the helpless since they will buy anything you put in front of them, but when your salary is tied to your sales, you get over it relatively quickly. Tourists? Just what the name implies. It’s the other category that really gets us, but when have you ever played a game or taken a survey when “other” wasn’t listed.

Before the day begins, the three of us decide on the point structure for the day. Surgeons are usually worth the most since it is rare that we get any. During the autumn months, tourists increase in value. The helpless are worth the least – just as in life – and the dreamers are usually variable depending on the item they are after. In all my months of playing, the game has never failed to entertain me. Then again, I find most YouTube videos of people falling entertaining. The only group that we don’t usually categorize are men. Early on we decided against lumping them into a category since it would be unfair to look at a potential hook-up or date in such light. All three of our last “serious” boyfriends have been former clients. Oddly enough, they stopped coming in after the break-ups.

Angie first started coming in about eighteen months ago. At first, we put her down as a drifter since she seemed to be without purpose, but when we noticed that she came in every Thursday at 6:15 exactly, we thought she might be a surgeon. Chantal saw, however, that she never bought anything more than cheap lip balm, the kind that your mom might buy to shove in your stocking to make you think you were special. By the end of the first month, she no longer counted in the game and I had her pattern down.

She enters from the 6th Avenue door with little make-up on and walks to the Stilla counter, applies some eye shadow using our hygienic applicators, and moves on. Angie then walks to the Shesido area and adds the mascara before navigating her way past the spritzers to the Bare Minerals section for the foundation. Her last stop is near the Cargo display for two shades of lip-gloss before grabbing a balm, paying, and leaving with one brief stop for a quick spray of Ralph Rocks. That’s it . . . it never deviates, save for the time that the Japanese tourists blocked her access to the Shesido area and she had to settle for Lorac. She’s never paid with a card, always cash, and she’s never said anything other than thank you. Hell, I don’t even know her name; Angie is just the name I gave her since she reminded me of Angie Carmichael in the third grade at St. Lucia’s Elementary. For all I know, she is Angie Carmichael, but I doubt it.

Angie always struck me as being kind of pathetic at first. Here is this woman, fairly attractive in my limited knowledge, coming into a huge chain store like The Beauty Inside to use our makeup for free. Granted, the make-up is there for people to use, but we are expecting you to buy that $34 tube of mascara at some point. But not Angie. She buys the cheapest $4 lip balm we offer. Is it absolution for using the shop as her own personal dress-up box? Or is there some deep down Catholic or Mid-West guilt forcing her to make amends for the “theft” of some good make-up week after week? Maybe she just has really chapped lips? Either way, it was kind of pathetic watching this plain Jane enter only to leave as someone else. This, coming from a man who spends too much time caring about the shape of his brows and not enough time about his sister’s kids, according to my mother. Pathetic, yes?

About six weeks into my “relationship” with Angie, pathetic was the last word that came to mind. A young mother – a dreamer – had her two kids plus a pocket-dog with her while she was trying to negotiate our narrow aisles. (There’s a reason for that, says our marketing directors. People are more likely to purchase items if they feel claustrophobic as they just want to get out but the guilt usually prevents them from doing so until they make at least a small purchase. Told you there is a reason they make the big bucks.) The mom is blissfully ignorant of her youngest in the front seat, who by now is eating the display of nail “varnishes” and kicking them all over the floor. Angie, who is attempting to make the turn into the aisle for her lip-gloss, sees the young child gum the third bottle of polish and grabs it out of his hand. She leans over and says something to the oblivious mother, who gushes over her sons and dog yet gives Angie the look of death, and goes back into her own world. What kind of woman does that? Not ignore her own kids – millions of women do that – but actually take the time to “parent” someone else’s child. Maybe Angie herself is a mom, separated by a bitter custody battle and she is looking for any child to fill that void. From that day on, I started “writing” Angie’s story in my head.

If she came in with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she was obviously training for the New York City marathon. She had probably been running a ten-mile warm-up through the park, getting ready for the big day. I admired how fast Angie’s metabolism returned to normal as she strolled in without the ruddy complexion or sweating which prevented me from becoming a serious runner.

But if she walked in carrying a book or a newspaper, clearly Angie had been to her weekly book circle where she discussed how Oprah got this one wrong and why people should look to the classics before anointing the next Dickens or Austen or Proust. How the newspaper tied into that was beyond me. Maybe a newspaper circle where she debated the new font choice in the Times.

Every once and a while, Angie wore all black and then she needed to spruce up before heading to the funeral of her best friend/lover/close family accquaintence/groomer. Or maybe she really worked for one of the myriad of places that thought all black outfits brought class to the joint (like The Beauty Inside). Once or twice, the outfit didn’t need a lot of explanation: sparkly top, tight jeans, fuck-me pumps. You get the picture. This outfit was the rarest of all, so I felt some kind of comfort that she had a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse to take up the rest of her time.

One Thursday about two months ago, Angie didn’t come in. 6:15 came and went and no Angie. I asked Chantal if she had seen “the freebie” since I had never shared my obsession about Angie with anyone. “Nope. Maybe she actually bought her own shit and isn’t free-loading off of us,” she muttered. I gave a strangled laugh, but something was clearly wrong. In eighteen months, there had never been a Thursday without her; the Post Office could learn a thing of two from Angie about regularity and efficiency. Where was she? Fifteen agonizing moments went by and still nothing.

Then, I saw her . . . but it wasn’t her, just some dreamer in search of J-Lo’s butt cream. At 7 I called the shop on 8th and Madison, which was about a ten minutes walk from us. “Halley, it’s Dakota. This is going to sound weird, but did a woman about 5’ 7” with dirty blonde hair come in, use a bunch of make-up, buy a Essential Lip Balm in Mint, and leave? Yeah, a freebie.” Shit. No Angie there either.

For the rest of my shift, I popped my head up every minute or so and scanned the crowd. Nothing. I have no clue why it troubled me that this anonymous woman who clearly never gave me anything other than a five-dollar bill and the odd smile was “missing.” That night, I left heading along the path that I had seen her use so often. I shuffled down 6th Avenue, bumping into people while scanning the crowd instead of watching where I was going like a good New Yorker. Maybe she took the subway to get here so I headed into the station and just stood there. For the first time in years, I felt out of place in the city, while people knocked into me trying to buy their Metro cards and racing through the turnstiles to catch the next train. I thought about getting on a train but had no clue which way to go. I’d never figured out if Angie was an Uptown or Downtown kind of girl.

Instead I went home, reheated some Indian food from last night and watched some reality TV. Eventually, still irritated by Angie’s disappearing act, I clicked my way to the NYPD’s Missing Person’s page and read the descriptions of every individual listed. Some were clearly not her: wrong gender, too old, obviously not Puerto Rican. But two or three seemed like they could be Angie. Was she really Maria DeCarlos from the Lower Eastside who had been missing since last Saturday? God, almost a whole week. Her family must be frantic. Perhaps Angie’s real name was Karissa Rosenblatt from Brooklyn. Never thought she might be from Brooklyn or named Karissa. Eventually, I got tired of the guessing game, drank three glasses of wine like a good little boy, and went to bed.

The next day didn’t go any better. Angie, I thought, just got her days confused. Maybe she had a grueling day at the office and she couldn’t make it in for her beautification. But 6:15 came and went as it did successively for the rest of the week and still no Angie. Midori and Chantal started to give me funny looks when I asked about the freebie after my days off. “Why do you care about her? She’s not your type . . . unless you have something to tell us.” My sales were slightly down during Angie’s “missing week;” helping the helpless isn’t so easy when you feel that way yourself. She didn’t turn up on the next Thursday either, even though I had been hoping against hope that she would.

Eventually my obsession with Angie faded as I realized that she wasn’t’ coming back. Maybe she had secretly been buying make-up at another shop or perhaps she was really a Cover Girl after all. Either way, Angie never returned to the shop. Nothing really changed for me. We kept playing the game, deciding eventually to add the men to two separate categories: hello and good-bye. I took the train home every so often for Marge’s tuna noodle casserole. My nieces loved their trip to the American Girl Place with Uncle Denny. A new boy came and another one was close behind. Without Angie, my life went on: coffees ordered, magazines read, gossip whispered, groceries purchased.

My favorite place to buy the groceries is the Whole Foods on 26th Street. It’s not that busy on Saturday mornings, probably because it’s far enough away from the tourist hot spots and at least a three block hike from the nearest subway stop. Besides, they do fabulous samples on Saturday, so I really don’t have to worry about breakfast or lunch. After three trips through the cheese section, I don’t even think about dinner most Saturdays. I can always justify the samples since I usually – usually – buy one or two of the items they put out. Near the deli counter, the sales girl cuts up some exotic cheese from Portugal, promising a nutty punch in a creamy cow’s milk interior. I take two cubes of this cheese, not really caring if she gives me a look of disdain or disgust. Maybe I’ll buy some next time if I can get a few more “hopelesses” to boost the sales.


She hates working Saturdays. All the people who come in clearly load up on the samples before heading out for a day on the town. Ellie swore the change in shifts wouldn’t be permanent after she took her vacation two months ago but here she stands, cutting up over priced cheese for trendy city dwellers who never buy the shit anyway. Take this jack-hole with the manscaped brows. He’s been in the cheese section three times – three times! – and has yet to add a hunk of the cheapest cheddar to his cart. Was ten days with her sisters and their kids in a cramped time-share in Phoenix worth working Saturdays, catering to the weekend warriors? Maybe but if one more person leaves the aisle without buying the Poirier cheese, she might scream. Instead, she reaches into her smock, grabs the tube of Essential Lip Balm in Mint, runs it over her top lip twice, presses it to her bottom one, and smiles while she says, “Can I offer you a sample of our newest cheese, ma’am? It’s from a new line of artisan-crafted cheeses from Portugal. You’ll find that the creamy cow’s milk interior gives way to a pleasing nutty finish.”

“Where It’s At” by Beck

Feed the Tree

Posted on March 9, 2015

Occasionally, I’ll stumble (hint: it’s almost always from my sister, Erika) across something that I think I’m going to love, and I do, but it takes me ages and ages and ages to figure out that I love it. Twitter was like that. “I don’t get why people tweet . . . it is just plain stupid,” I lamented one afternoon, only to be brought low when I wanted to enter a contest for a new camera bag. Of course I would start tweeting if I got a few more entries. There have been a few books along the way, purchased and then forgotten about until months later, including Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze CookbookYet another idea I can thank my sister for.

When I first bought the cookbook, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it other than there was a pan of manicotti on the front cover. I leafed through it, looked at a couple of recipes, read the helpful tips . . . and then promptly set it aside for a few months. Once-a-month-cooking, or OMAC in case you are looking for tips on-line, became something that I would pin on Pinterest, but it just seemed too time consuming. It made so much sense, but why did it look so damn hard. Maybe I’d try it, and slowly life resumed as normal. Come home and cook something, rather come home and look in the fridge for something then decide that it’s too late to make XYZ because I forgot something so may as well go run through a drive-thru or order Domino’s. Every once and a while, I’d get ambitious and write out a menu for the week, only to be derailed a few day laters.

Over Christmas break, I blew the dust off of Not Your Mother’s cookbook (yes . . . literal dust; I’m also a shitty housekeeper), and I decided to give it a whirl. Turns out that cooking for an entire month in one day takes some planning and thought, but there was light at the end of the tunnel. Because I realized that I wouldn’t have to cook for another four weeks.

Have there been some stumbling blocks along the way? Sure, but that’s to be expected. Here’s what I found out along the way just in case you are interested in either this cook book or OMAC.

  • Be sure your family is on board. It’s just Dave and me since the girls are on their own. I can see how a family of four might get tired of the same foods, but for us, it wasn’t a problem.
  • Make a really good list and group it according the the aisles in your grocery store. If you have an Aldi’s near you, almost everything in this book can be found there, so the meals might also cost you less, too.
  • Buy your groceries on one day and cook on another. Trust me, you will be tired at the end of your cooking day, and grocery shopping before hand will only make it worse. I learned this the hard way the first time I tried it.
  • Whomever will be eating with you, make sure that you all agree on the meals ahead of time. It doesn’t do you any good to make a beautiful shepherd’s pie if only one person will eat it.
  • Figure out which recipes give you the most bang for your buck. Meatballs are great, but Dave and I are more prone to enjoy meatloaf. Luckily the recipe for meatballs can be halved, or you can split the batch into meatballs and meatloaf (win-win!).
  • If you find that you enjoy this type of cooking, create one menu and just recycle it month after month after month. Works great for us since I tend to cook the same foods every Friday (frozen pizza) and Sunday (my chili).
  • Work in times to eat out. Because honestly, you’ll want to . . . even better, schedule it on day that you need to go grocery shopping.
  • Keep a list of items that you need to pick up fresh to finish off certain meals. The grilled shrimp tacos need a little cilantro to make it just right, but that doesn’t stay fresh terribly long. Chances are, there are other things that need to be picked up, too. Make one trip, and you’re saving on gas, too.
  • Change the recipes to suit your taste. Personally, I think the salt level is too low, which is saying something because I under-salt everything. If I don’t have the right kind of fish on hand, I’ll sub in whatever I have available.
  • Check on your freezer stock every so often. According to my calendar, I should have cooked last weekend, but after checking in the freezer, I had enough food to get me through another week.
  • Take the food out of the freezer you’re planning on eating the night before so it thaws. Otherwise, it’s to the drive-thru you might go.
  • Invest in plastic Zip-Loc bags. You’ll need them. And, yes, I draw the line at washing them out. If your grandma did, awesome! I don’t.
  • Organize your freezer. You’ll thank me for that one.

That’s about it. Every month, I make the following out of Not Your Mother’s cookbook: tandoori chicken, spicy dijon chicken, meatballs and meatloaf, shrimp tacos, hoisin glazed salmon, almond-lime tilapia (it’s not the fish called for, but it’s what I had on hand), taquitos, and my chili. In addition to that, I’ll supplement it with garlic bread (it’s cheaper to buy the fresh ones at Aldi’s, cut them in half, and freeze them), pasta, and precooked chicken sausages. Add in some pasta sauce or pesto, and we’re set.

This month, I added ginger-pork lettuce wraps to the rotation. If the small taste that I snuck on Sunday is any indication, I’m pretty sure that it will stay in the rotation. I’m not too sure about the stuffed chicken parmesan, garlic-butter lemon chicken, and salmon packets with red onions and sun-dried tomato pesto will stay, but I’m willing to try . . . because it sure beats the drive-thru.

If you give it a whirl, let me know how you make out. I’d love to add your ideas!

“Feed the Tree” by Belly

Santa, Baby

Posted on December 1, 2014

Dear Sadie –

Technically, you’ve been a Greenwood for exactly two full weeks today. I say technically because we adopted you on November 16, 2014. But on that day, I was pretty sure you might have been the biggest mistake I’d ever made. On our drive home from Last Chance Ranch, you quickly figured out how to get out of the back seat and come up front with me. You spent that drive alternating between standing in the passenger seat and looking out the window or sitting half on the passenger seat and half in my lap, licking my hands. At one point, you decided you were car sick and very nicely jumped in the backseat to puke. Once we arrived home, you peed twice in the kitchen and then pooped in the living room. But the whole while, you were happy as a proverbial pig in shit with your corkscrew tail wiggling a mile a minute. Lucy decided she wanted some love, and that’s when you decided to let her know that I was off-limits. And that, my little piggie poo, did not bode well for you. I nearly called the shelter to see when I could bring you back since being possessive of me would not do for our family. But I took you and Lucy for a walk instead, and you started to work your magic. Later that night, I cried on several times on the phone with Jordan, and she put it into perspective: you had been through a lot and probably needed some time.

Sadie Grace . . . she hasn't quite figured out what to do with the camera (hence the blurry black and white)

Sadie Grace . . . she hasn’t quite figured out what to do with the camera (hence the blurry black and white)

So we waited. The next day, you didn’t really like going into your crate, but you did. That afternoon, you were like a dog possessed, but again, we walked and walked and walked. Friends out walking their dogs also echoed Jordan’s sentiments: give it some time. Lucy didn’t really like you in the house because you growled at her when she came near us, but eventually, you both sacked out on the couch. The true test came in the middle of the night when Dave came home from a trip to Las Vegas. Meeting him at 1:45 AM was like meeting a long-lost friend . . . you were overjoyed by your new friend but happily went back to sleep in a few minutes.

That first weekend, we left for a trip to Philadelphia (a half marathon waits for no one), and you stayed home with Lucy and Aunt Dar. She met you the first night and couldn’t get over how well you were doing with our family. When we got home on Sunday, you and Lucy couldn’t stop wagging your tails and giving kisses . . . plus you were ready for a walk around the neighborhood. Apparently the whole “I just ran 13.1 miles” thing was lost in translation, but you were pretty darn insistent on the walk. Slowly but surely, you and Lucy started coming to an agreement: playing would consist of tag, keep away, and wrestling. Growling optional.

Lucy Goosey . . . she hasn't quite figured out what's going on, but I'm pretty sure she likes Sadie

Lucy Goosey . . . I’m pretty sure she is starting to like Sadie

Since that first night, I’ve learned this:

  • you love your tummy rubs: that’s how I found out you still had your staples in from your spaying;
  • the vet and the techs thought you were adorable and the perfect patient;
  • you are a horrible water drinker . . . most farm animals have better manners;
  • when you are happy, you snort like a pig; in fact, you kinda look like a fox/pig hybrid;
  • you learned ‘sit’ in a matter of minutes, so I’m pretty sure that when we get you in training classes, you’ll catch on relatively quickly;
  • you don’t like the backseat of the car (but you will throw up in it);
  • I have no idea what kind of dog you are other than Sadie, but once the DNA results are in, I’m pretty sure we’ll have an answer (and I’m truly hoping it says that you’re a dog);
  • any toy that Lucy has is the one that you want; she’s much better at turning corners than you are, but you make up for that in muscle;
  • you willingly go into your crate for bedtime and during the day, but I’m hoping that you won’t need either of those of much longer;
  • you are about 75% house trained (which is why you’re in the crate during the day);
  • you take treats much more gently than Lucy does;
  • your tongue is polka-dotted . . . I know this because after you run around the house or the backyard, you spend a great percentage of the time panting with it hanging out of your mouth;
  • you greet everyone as if you’ve known them your entire life and will charm the pants off of them within minutes;
  • you can be a little mouthy if you don’t feel that you have received enough attention, but we are working on this;
  • even with all the running and barking and growling, you’ve helped Lucy with her anxiety a lot; she enjoys trying to get you to lie down next to her;
  • you’re a work in progress but one that is completely worth it.
Lucy and Sadie

Lucy and Sadie

Next year, on November 16, we’ll make you a pupcake and throw you a party to celebrate your one your anniversary. Because you will have been a Greenwood for one whole year. But today? Today, you have been a Greenwood for two weeks.

PS – If you are thinking about getting a pet for Christmas, please consider adopting a pet from a shelter. Chances are, you’ll find the perfect pet for your family and make the difference in the life of an animal looking for a home. Most pets in shelters are there through no fault of theirs. Sadie was brought into Philadelphia’s ACCT and then to Last Chance Ranch. Other than when she was brought in, we know nothing about her. But I can tell you this much: she is our dog and gets all the love she can handle. Shelters are currently bursting at the seams with pets looking for their homes . . . maybe one or two are looking for you. 

“Santa, Baby” by Marilyn Monroe . . . or anyone but Madonna (that version is too, too campy)