Friday, December 14, 2012

Bourbon and Pepsi (or Why I'm Blogging at Midnight Instead of Sleeping)

Today went sideways. Sometime around 12:30, on the way to Walmart to buy more formula because I committed the ultimate sin of letting us get down to 4 scoops left, there was crying, gasping for air and then projectile vomit. There is really nothing like vomit when it comes out horizontally. And then the look on a 4 month old's face when he wonders what in the hell just happened to him. And why is mommy's face all twisted up like that? When Neal rolled in 3:30, after an 11-hour day, I handed him our clean, but whiny, son and poured myself a Maker's and Pepsi. And caffeine at 4 PM has ruined me for sleep before 1 AM. So here we are. Someday I'll stop making this mistake. If we had wine in the house this would have never happened.

Let me bring you up to speed since October 12.

  • After 2 months of relentless Internet searches, we landed ourselves a 3-bedroom apartment with the kind of balconies that I've seen on apartments and thought, "I wonder what it would be like to live THERE?" So, we spent the next 4 weeks sorting through every single drawer, closet, and box...throwing away anything that didn't seem absolutely pertinent at the time. Here's to hoping we don't actually need that badminton set. 
  • The movers shifted our move date up. Twice. What's one thing you don't want less of when you're trying to move? Days before the move. 
  • Two days before the movers arrived, Mama Virgo and Anna Banana (who are now known around these parts as Big Mama and Nana Anna) arrived and reported for babysitting duty. Honestly, to all of the military families who make these moves without any family? I don't know how the hell you do it. You should have a cape. 
  • The stuff, the husband, and the cats all drove off in the direction of Virginia, while the rest of us were Kentucky-bound. 
  • We spent 2 weeks visiting. Big Mama and I counted all the new people. Baby E met over 50 folks in the 10 days we were out and about (deduct 4 days for the obligatory KY sinus infection that you fall ill with at the state line). 
  • E and I arrived at our new digs with the fancy balcony on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We were greeted by piles, stacks, and a storage unit that is nearly overflowing. 
  • It is now 9 days before Christmas and all boxes are unpacked, my office is functional again, jewelry is being made, pictures are hung, and the Christmas is out. Although sitting here, I just saw a strand of lights go out on the tree. And that makes me want to let loose a scream from a deep, dark place. 
All of that to say that it's been just a hair shy of crazytown around here for exactly 2 months. And feels so so so much longer. Maybe that's the Mommy in me talking. I'm not sure how I spent my days before baby but I'm actually more productive now than I've ever been. E goes down for a nap and I get at least 39 things crossed off my to-do list. I think I may have watched a lot of television their entirety. They keep canceling the shows I get hooked on (Goodbye, 666 Park Avenue. I heart you, creepy guy from Lost. And Vanessa Williams. Who apparently doesn't believe in plastic go girl!). So, I just quit watching anything but Sesame Street.

To everyone who keeps reading but knows that I haven't read a blog in a minute...THANK YOU! I will be back. And at any given time, I have about 3 ideas for posts rolling around in my head...2 of which have nothing to do with projectile vomit, teething, or how to shop from your phone while a baby sleeps in your lap.

Happy Champagne Friday to all! And to all...a good night!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Champagne Friday: Rental Roulette 2.0

Somehow, it was September 20 and then I logged on again and it was the 12th of October. I'm just not even sure how that happens. Except that I've fired up The Pink Campaign over at Daisy & Elm again. A new PINK item everyday for the month of October (except for next Monday when I will post some items in honor of Infant Loss Awareness Week) to benefit the American Cancer Society's Making Strides for Breast Cancer. And then there was a little trip to the beach we took last weekend. And the dreaded 2 months shots on Wednesday. I think that's probably how I lose large chunks of time. Oh and the move to VA coming OMG...Neal's countdown clock says 23 DAYS! OK...please hold while I try to process that. Yep...that's how I lose my days weeks.

So, to celebrate Champagne Friday (I think we'll do a little Barefoot Bubbly tonight..what about you?), I'm listing some more of the rental don't's that I've discovered on AHRN. They're so funny (read: horribly bad), you may just accidentally blow bubbles through your nose. You've been warned.

#1 For $850, you can have the Leaning Tower of Petersburg. Sorry, pets not allowed. Because, obviously, this is high end rental property and they just can't risk it. Maybe that's what happened in the first place? An elephant resided on the left side of the house?

#2 This one advertises a "playroom on the second level." Um...where, exactly, is that second level?

#3 For $2175/month, you get these lovely built-in bookshelves. And someone's fedora collection. That's important in rental property, y'know. And y'all know how I love a nice assortment of hats. (Also, let's just remember that $2175 is about $800 OVER BAH.)

#4 The landlord claims that the blinds are new and they are simply distorted by the camera. And that's all well and good...except, what's their excuse for this picture...
I mean, really...if you are going to lease a property, just go ahead and spring for that nice(r) digital camera to advertise your property. Although, at least it's not leaning. So, that's something.
Lastly...this is not a rental property but a photo I found while I was cleaning out the back bedroom. It's of me and my cousins at my grandparents' house when I was about 6. I am 7 different kinds of sad that I'm going to have to explain to E someday why our television was so damn big. It wasn't just a TV, it was a piece of furniture. It was home to Granny's Christmas village every year. And tons of Olan Mills photos in heavy, wooden frames. And there was no remote. I cry for our children as they will never know the wonders.
I now give you permission to mock my lavender suspenders. I had such a pot belly as a child that I don't know they were all that necessary, but they matched the pants, so...
Have a very lovely weekend and HAPPY CHAMPAGNE FRIDAY! I will probably drink a smidge more than is appropriate. It happens. It's been a long week.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Life's Lessons From a Virgo

Mama Virgo making notes in Baby E's journal on the day of his birth. She is the Queen of Documentation.

Today is Mama Virgo's birthday. She will be sixty-ish. She doesn't dye her hair, wear high heel shoes (or even dresses...seriously...last year she cleared her closet of every dress and skirt she owned and gave them away), paint her fingernails, cook (except she makes a MEAN filet and her mac and cheese isn't half-bad either), or drive the speed limit. But I love her for everything that she's not, as well as everything she is. And now that I'm a mom, too, I can appreciate even more the sacrifices she has made, the late hours she has kept, the attitude she has endured, and the heartbreak she has experienced over the past 34 years. Happy Birthday, Mama Virgo! Here are just a few of the lessons you've taught me over the years that I hope to pass down to our son: (Mama Virgo loves a list, too)

  • Don't let the trash build up in your car. If it came in with you, it goes back out (this saves on any embarrassment one feels when someone not related to you gets in for a ride). 
  • Time is money. If it's going to take you an absurd amount of time and you hate doing it anyway, considering making it a financial priority to pay someone else to do it. I feel this way about oil changes, clothing alterations, and computer repair. I will clean my own house, cook my own meals, make my own jewelry (obviously), and wash my own car...but please do not ask me to get intimate with the undercarriage of my Pathfinder. 
  • It ain't always about you. Oh LAWD this one was a hard one for me to learn. I'm an only child so, really, a lot of the time it was all about me. Especially at Papa and Granny's. But at home, I had to learn that I was not going to be consulted on every decision and that sometimes I would hear "no." E may not ever hear "no" at Big Mama's (it's her turn to do the spoilin' now), but it's my job to remind him that it ain't always about him. 
  • If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right (but not necessarily perfectly). Perfection was never the ideal, but laziness wasn't tolerated. Don't bring home C's when I'm fully capable of B's (except in math, where we all danced in delirious joy if I got anything above a D), when making breakfast, don't leave the dishes in the sink and the butter sitting on the counter, be sincere when writing inside a greeting card, dust under stuff...and on...and on...(related: Put stuff back where it came from and Don't be afraid to throw stuff away.)
  • Be Generous But Don't Be a Doormat. Mama Virgo is constantly saying yes. To mission projects at church and my pleas to drive down for the weekend and to the neighborhood kids selling wrapping paper at her door (which qualifies her for sainthood because who the crap wants wrapping paper? Now, if the schools sold Chardonnay...). She is generous with her time and her money. But she also has very strict boundaries that protect her from getting abused. Over the years, I've built my own fences (they aren't walls, but they do keep people out)...but only after getting used up and thrown out. I hope to teach E that it's an act of love to say yes, but sometimes it's an act of self-preservation to say no. 
  • Life is too short to drink bad wine, read boring books, build up vacation days, skip holidays with the family, and procrastinate happiness. Nuff said. 
  • It's OK to not put it on Facebook. Somehow, I think this one is going to be one of the more important lessons for E as he grows up in this digital age. Perhaps he and Mama Virgo should have a Come-to-Jesus on this one when the time is right. 
  • Life Isn't Fair. Another desperately difficult one for me to learn. To this day, when I think about the 2 little boys that should be living in the house, I have to remind myself that life isn't fair. But I've heard it for as long as I can remember. And however painful it is to be reminded, it's worth repeating. It made the sting of getting picked last in gym (and every injustice since) a little more palatable. 
  • Document, document, document. As the above picture demonstrates, Mama Virgo believes in documenting for our future generations. It's important to save scraps from moments in time (related: it's equally important to know what's a scrap and what's trash). She has saved all of my baby blankets, the newspaper from when UK won the National Championship the year I was born, report cards, voice recordings, and VCR tapes from middle school basketball games. It's no wonder I rushed right out and bought the newspaper the day after Obama was elected and I've kept journals since the 6th grade.
  • Above all, show love. Mom has always shown me love. Even when I slammed the bedroom door so hard it shook the walls...even when I moved away and got engaged to a man who made her blood boil (not Neal. Her love also helped show me the error of that way. She adores Neal. She sometimes asks about him before she asks about me). But she also shows love to others. She may not agree with their viewpoint or understand their motives, but she doesn't see that as a reason to show hate or disrespect. Everyone is deserving of our love. Even those f*ckers at Westboro Baptist. Even them. You need a lot of God in your life to show that much love. She's got God.
This is in no way an exhaustive list. You just can't bullet-point everything your mom teaches you.  And she is much more than a well-traveled, well-spoken, southern mama. But if I can just pass even a little of her wisdom and gentle spirit on to our son, I will consider it a good day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rental Roulette

As it turns out, it really does take 6 full weeks to get yourself together after having a baby. Who knew?? I was all, "Oh let me just drop it like it's hot and I'll be right back in a jiffy." And then...I wasn't. I was tears and come-aparts and more joy than I ever thought possible and operating with less sleep than I ever thought possible. And everyone says, "sleep when he sleeps!" But then..when would I ever have time to blog?

So, about 10 days after E was born, Neal got a phone call from his career counselor letting him know that a spot in the school at Ft. Lee (Virginia, sorry...NOT New Jersey) had opened up. Neal was registered for the school in April, but there was now an opening for the December class. Like responsible partners in an equal opportunity marriage, we talked about it...and then I demanded he take it because I'm ready for 4 seasons again (number TWO on the List of Things I Never Thought I'd Hear Myself Say). During the second week of August, moving in November seemed so far away.'s less than 8 weeks and I'm trying to not come unglued about everything that still hasn't happened. On that list of unfinished tasks was finding housing. Lodging. A roof over our heads and a pot to piss in. You wouldn't think it would be that hard.

Let's take a little trip back to November, 2010. Neal had a 2 week class at Ft. Lee and I drove up for the last week to check out the post, do a little tree-hugger shopping in Richmond, and go see what all of the hub-bub was about Colonial Williamsburg (turns out, that really is a lute in his pocket, he is not happy to see you). I also stopped by the housing office to find out what our options were for on-post housing (I really do love hearing the Star Spangled Banner at 5 PM everyday, even though it is preceded by bugles that always wake the baby). I was told there is "ample space" with "tons of officer housing" and "no wait list" and "more houses being built." Excellent. We'll be back.

That, apparently, is not the case now. There is no more space, there is no officer housing, and there's a fatty little wait list. Somehow, one day we were #15 of 15 and the very next day we were #25 of 28. I don't even know how that's possible. So, that leaves us to find our own lodging in a short amount of time.

I turned to the Automated Housing Referral Network, which is a website available to military personnel. It lists property for rent (usually with pictures) by landlords that consider themselves military-friendly. There's usually some sort of discount for military personnel - a waived application fee or first month's rent free or something. In the first week of perusing rentals within our housing allowance budget of about $1300 (housing allowance is based on the region where you're stationed, not your rank. So everyone who lives in the Ft. Lee area gets the same housing allowance), I found the following train wrecks, clusterfudges, and all-out duds. Luckily, I also found a very lovely 1300 square foot, 3 bedroom apartment with a balcony and double bathroom sinks in a gated community. I think it will do just fine for 6 months. But before you can kiss the gate pass, you have to kiss some living room wood paneling...

For $800/month, you get (what I consider to be) a double-wide, one token tree, and a piece of sheet metal that's going to do a heartbreaking amount of damage to your car any time there's a gust of wind. $850/month to get a house that has been "renovated to meet today's code." If you are simply renovating your house to meet code, there's a good chance it falls far below my standard of living. I'm going out on a limb here and saying that there are probably not stainless steel appliances or a walk-in closet in this little charmer.

WAIT for it...ah..yes...the living room wood paneling and blue plush carpet. Who could ask for more? And all of this can be yours for the sweet little price of $1450/month. Let's just bear in mind that this is more than BAH for the area. We would have to come up with an additional $100 each month just for the pleasure of living like the Brady Bunch.

I also found this fantastic little bungalow. Only problem is, they've taken the "loft" look a bit too far (2 walls of the most). And it's $1400/month and the fireplaces are inoperable, according to the property description. If I'm paying over BAH for a house, it better have working fireplaces so our utility bill is less.

Just in case you thought the wood paneling was an isolated incident. It's not. You, too, can live in a lovely rectangle of fake wood for $1450/month. (I mean, really?? If your interior features unpainted paneling anywhere in the house, there's a pretty good chance that house is paid off. So maybe not be so greedy with the rent. I could live with paneling for $900/month. Anything over is just a sin.)

$1500/MONTH gets you a house with its own ghost. Oh's just someone who's in too much of a damn hurry to wait until the room is empty to take a picture that will advertise the house for rent. If you can't take a decent picture of a room, you don't get my rent check.

It gets better. $1700/month will afford you white appliances. I know stainless sometimes feels very 2010. And they rust. And it's impossible to clean them of fingerprints. But seriously. For $1700, give me steel.

On the other side of things, you can pay $700/month and get this house, with a master bedroom that is seemingly a converted garage (what IS that rail at the top near the ceiling??), complete with tile floor and cinder block walls. Perfect for the escaped convict who is homesick for C Block.

And for $695, you can get a house with this view. I would love to show you the house, but this is the only picture posted with the description. I wouldn't at all be surprised if the rental was actually a tent. Or a teepee. Or maybe a lean-to. So many options that don't require actual brick and mortar.

And last but not least, for $700/month, you can rent a ROOM in this charming little rancher. You would think $700 would get you the whole house, but you would be wrong. You might also think the property owner is very hip and savvy and has Instagrammed this picture to appeal to the younger generation. You would be wrong there, too.

Not included:
1. The GORGEOUS house in downtown Petersburg that rents for $1500 (think Charleston, SC 2-story with porches meets IKEA/Pottery Barn decor), but I'm pretty sure is haunted by Civil War soldiers singing. (Yes, I believe everything I read from a Google search).

2. The hot mess of a property photo taken in the living room, where they tried to cram in every Queen Anne piece they owned + a pack n' play + a plaid couch + 2 cats + 3 people. I can only assume their target market is clowns and they want to show how much will fit into just one room of the house.

3. The house where the featured selling point was a brass and glass light fixture.

4. The sweet little joint where we'll be living. Because sometimes people be crazy. 

I still get on AHRN a couple times a week just to see if The Perfect House has been posted. I have a feeling it doesn't exist.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Champagne Friday: The Sweetest One Yet

Cheers to a new chapter in our lives that started at 5:27 PM last Sunday. The secret (that is not really a secret anymore) is officially out. And it is the hardest and best thing we've ever done. Prayers and toasts are greatly appreciated.

Baby E: 8 lbs; 20"and ready to leave his footprint on the world.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Champagne Friday: Enough Already

I feel like I've become a sometimes-Friday blogger with some Wordless Wednesday pictures thrown in every now and then for good measure. But it's summer and there are Olympics to watch, key lime cheesecake muffins to bake, the occasional below-95-degree-day to enjoy, and peach orchards to visit. I know y'all understand as my Google Reader is no longer breathing heavily under the strain of thousands of unread posts. Cheers to enjoying the summer and not being a slave to something with a motherboard....

-insert really cool Google Images photo of champagne, which I am terrified to do now that I know someone who gave photo credit STILL got sued. Note to self: take more pictures of champagne.-

1. My first and final word on Chick-Fil-A:

While I have giggled over the photo of a KFC sign floating around on Facebook that reads "Serving delicious chicken. Without the hate." and I've mused over the copycat chicken sandwich and sauce recipes showing up on Pinterest, the cold hard truth is that I'm done eating there. I absolutely commend Dan Cathy (and his dad, Truett) for making their stance on religion known, since it is something that's important to them as a family (and by extension, their business). I don't know that anyone is particularly shocked about their religious slant since they are closed on Sundays. However, there is a wide spectrum of "Christians" and the very liberal side does find fault with the ultra-conservative (usually viewed as hypocritical and judgmental) side. So, when you come out as a business owner and publicly proclaim your views on any controversial topic, you have probably already prepared yourself for the likelihood of alienating (and seriously pissing off) approximately 50% of your business. Then, it just becomes a numbers game...can you afford to lose 50% of your business for quite some time and probably 10% of your business for forever? (Let's face it...they do have the best playground in town and when you need some girl time and your girlfriends all have mini-me's, an indoor, virtually sound-proof playground is a huge bonus.)

Apparently, the Cathy Family thinks so. Whether they believe that God will take care of them if they throw themselves to the lions or that if they die as a business, at least they'll die as martyrs, they've made a business decision. And in the land of Capitalism, that's totally OK. It's even *gasp* encouraged. (Because another hard cold fact is that it has opened the door for Zaxby's, Wendy's, American Deli, Popeye's, BW3's, Church's, Cane's, etc, etc.)

So there are about 10 sides to this situation: from why they felt the need to go public with this philosophy in the first place to how they choose to spend their profits to what it really means to be a "Christian." And every single one of those horses has been whipped beyond recognition. Although it has made Facebook increasingly more interesting to read. Gone are the "just got my car waxed!' updates and they've been replaced with debates, slurs, photos, controversy, and passion. And I do love a slice of passion with my morning coffee.

However, in light of "Support Chick-Fil-A Day" (well played, Gov. Huckabee. I hope your family gets free nuggets for life) and the resulting response from the liberal camp, let me say this: "Please stop berating the Chick-Fil-A supporters for buying lunch for themselves instead of the homeless on Wednesday. I no longer support CFA, but I also didn't rush right out and serve the large population of less fortunate in Macon, either. I downed the most delicious shrimp po-boy ever at a local seafood dive and then came home and took a nap. I consider myself an all-inclusive Christian, but I still struggle with including myself first. If you didn't take it upon yourself to tend to God's meek on Wednesday, then throw smaller rocks...there's a spider web crack in your glass house."


2. Michael Phelps is obviously not operating at peak physical condition. He has, by his own admission, felt burnt out on swimming and didn't train for the 2012 Olympics the way he did for the ones in 2008. Can we please just leave him alone? I cannot imagine training that intensely for...what?? 15 years? I trained for 1/2 marathon once and then, after the event, didn't run again for 2 years. I think he has always understood that he couldn't rely on talent alone...that training is essential to success. And I give him a lot of props for not punching the NBC ground crew in the face every time they ask him if he wishes he had trained harder or if he's surprised at his lackluster performance. I hope he shows up on the cover of Time, wearing all 20 medals, a pair of Speedos and 2 great big middle fingers.

3. There is a Sears commercial that airs during the Olympic coverage. A young, beautiful couple is frollicking on the beach, splashing in the waves, while upbeat music plays and words like "Be Free" and "Live" are flashed across the screen in an Abercrombie and Fitch kind of font. Suddenly, the guy runs straight into a refrigerator, followed by the girl about 3 seconds later. It doesn't matter how many times they play it, I forget that it's a Sears commercial and I'm thinking it's for perfume or Old Navy. Until they run, head-first, into unsuspecting appliances. Every. Single. Time. And it makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time. If anyone at our NBC affliliate is listening, can we replace all of the cheesy Honda Clearance Event commercials with that one? Awesome. Thanks.

*added per request of some superspecial readers*

I think we, as a nation, need a blender of something strong, frothy, and fruity. Or we need our corks popped. Something. Between constant trial photos of a deranged individual, constant arguments over fried chicken and God, our need to judge an Olympian's method of preparation, and an election year, we may not make it out alive otherwise. About the only thing we're going to agree on as a nation right now is that those asshats at Westboro Baptist need to take a long walk off of a short cliff.

Cheers, loves! It's finally Friday and the only song I have stuck in my head right now is "Let's Get Drunk and Screw". Word.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Random Wednesday

Having completely missed Random Musings Friday, partly because after I woke up to the tragedy of 12 people losing their lives in a movie theater I was not feeling particularly witty, and partly because I was setting up my new laptop (thank you, Base Exchange, for running a lovely back-to-school special on a Toshiba Satellite), I'm going to share some Random today. And then again on Friday. Because my personal battle cry is: Better Late Than Never.

1. Liz @ A Belle, A Bean, and A Chicago Dog posted this link on her Facebook page this week and I cannot stop posting it everywhere I can think. Essentially, if you are a blogger, a pinner, a tweeter, a Tumblrer....or a Facebooker, you need to read this blog post. It has pushed me to start going through M&M and taking down ALL photos that I did not take with my very own camera. And I now click through EVERY pin I re-pin to make sure they have given permission for pinning at the original site. While I do not care to get sued over some stupid photo of the NYC skyline, I really do not care to pay someone to defend me in court because I'm getting sued over some stupid photo of the NYC skyline. And, apparently, suing does happen. Just take 5 minutes to read her story.

2. Now, on to the photos that I actually do own.

Mama Virgo snapped this picture of a car parked in her office lot at work last week. It sort of embodies everything I feel about the stick figure phenomenon - which is completely out of control here in Georgia. And it doesn't matter if you choose something other than stick figures...flip flops, skulls, boot prints...whatever. Except this. This is awesome magnified.

3. Apparently, my Pinterest account was hacked last week. And here's what is amazing: Pinterest knew before I did. Pinterest is the last thing I check before going to bed and the first thing I open in the morning ("Hello, my name is Ally and I'm Pinaddict"). So, the fact that they identified a scam pin posted to my board and then locked my account before any more damage could be done is extremely impressive. They then emailed me with directions on how to open an investigation into the pin. This took about 2 working days. Once the investigation was complete, I had the original source of the scam pin, directions on how to reset my Pinterest password, and helpful hints on how to keep it from happening in the future. Somehow, I just don't see Facebook having the same processes in place.

4. We have learned how to make s'mores under the broiler in the oven. On my darkest days, this knowledge can very easily be my reason for living.

5. I bought my first bottle of Mod Podge 2 weeks ago. And just like that, I'm 14 again...covering cigar boxes with magazine cut-outs and decorating the cases for my mix tapes.

May you humpty-hump this Wednesday right on through to the weekend!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Or What Your Monitor Looks Like When You Crack It and You Have to Use Your Husband's Extra

(destroyed monitor with perfectly good hard drive to the left...monitor that's tethered to perfectly good hard drive on the right)

Monday, July 16, 2012

What I'm Reading: Alice I Have Been

I don't think I've ever given much thought to the origins of Alice in Wonderland. Of course, I was read the story as a child and I've seen the Johnny Depp version in 3D, but I suppose I always assumed that it was the seed of a story in an author's imagination, that grew into a children's classic. And considering all of the odd characters introduced throughout (as well as the instructions to "eat me" and "drink me"), I also assumed that Lewis Carroll was in some kind of drug-altered state when he wrote it.

Alice I Have Been is author Melanie Benjamin's account, based on months of research, of how the story came to be. Let's begin with Lewis Carroll, which is actually a pseudonym for Charles Dodgson, who was an Oxford mathematician and professor. He was also neighbors with Alice Liddell (the original Alice in Wonderland) and her family of 2 older sisters, 1 older brother, mother, father (the Dean of the college), and governess Miss Prickett (and later a 3rd sister). Dodgson dabbled in the new art of photography, which required the subject to hold the pose for 45 seconds while the image was taken. Dodgson found endless delight in capturing the girls' images and their mother, intrigued by the new art, was happy to let him do it. In the world we know today, I don't know any mother who would let her 3 young daughters (and later, Alice alone) spend countless hours with a 30-year old man, photographing, boating, exploring, and picnicking around the Oxford countryside. Sometimes the governess was with them (as she had a bit of a crush on the ole Dodgson), but sometimes not. It was, occasionally, just the 4 of them.

Eventually, tired of grim-faced portraits, Dodgson took this picture of Alice alone. He arranged for her to meet him in a tucked-away garden and brought these garments for her to wear. It is the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland and would, much later, incite rumors about the relationship between Alice and Dodgson.

It seems fairly provocative to us now, especially considering that he brought these clothes for her to wear and then watched as she changed into them. But in Benjamin's post-scripts, she writes about how difficult it is for us to read a book about an earlier era without reading it through the lens of our modern times. She also admits that when she first discovered the photography of Dodgson at the Art Institute, and saw this one among the others, she was, at the very least, disturbed. But then she reminds us of the novelty of photography during the Victorian ages, especially of people, since most of it was landscape photography at that time. Dodgson was especially gifted at telling stories, drawing pictures, and then rushing to expose the plate...keeping his young subjects enthralled (and above all, still) for the entire 45 seconds. It helps to remember that the Victorians also embraced a sort of "cult of the child," which Benjamins explains is the "idea that children's unformed bodies reflected the purest, most idealistic representation of humanity. It was entirely possible for a Victorian to look at a child scantily clad and see an angel, not a sexualized creature..."

However, be that as it may, there was a rumored relationship between Alice and Dodgson when she was about 11 and he in his 30's. There is no proof to back this up, as all correspondance between the two, as well as Dodgson's diaries were burned by the families, supposedly to conceal any embarrassing details. Benjamin does her best to describe the relationship and leaving it to us to assume (as we are all so good at doing), just as the rest of the world assumes even to this day...or, at least, wonders. But there is documentation that sometime in Alice's pre-teen years, contact with Dodgon was completely severed and Alice went on to fall in love with Queen Victoria's hemophiliac son, Prince Leopold (and he with her), but marry someone who was more in line with her social status.

The facts we have, and which Benjamin solidly bases her novel on, are:

Dodgson told the Liddell sisters many stories over the years of their intense friendship, but the one he told of Alice in Wonderland during a day of boating was the only one that Alice begged him to write down. Alice was 10 at the time.

Dodgson first came to know the Liddell Family when Mr. Liddell was appointed dean of Christ Church, Oxford and the family moved into the Deanery. Dodgson, who lived immediately across the garden from the Deanery, first photographed the garden and came to know the oldest son, Henry, but soon developed a friendship with the daughters and spent the majority of his time with them.

At the age of 11, all ties were severed with Mr. Dodgson, although the "why" is a matter of complete speculation. One rumor is that Mr. Dodgson asked Mr. Liddell for Alice's hand in marriage. Yet another theory is that Dodgson had professed his love to either Alice's mother, her older sister Ina, or their governess. Dodgson's descendents dispute all claims, but we'll never know as Alice's mother burned all correspondance between Alice and Dodgson after the break.

Dodgson went on to become the infamous Lewis Carroll, first publishing Alice in Wonderland and later Through the Looking Glass. He and Alice continued to have little to no contact, although he always sent her an edition of his newest book. Alice spent most of her life trying desperately to conceal her identity as the true Alice in Wonderland, but it was her most appealing trait. Prince Leopold fell in love with that Alice, although he went on to marry someone else. And Alice eventually settled down to a life of solitude with Reginald Hargreaves and they had 3 sons.

The book is mostly narrated by an 80-year old Alice, as she is crossing the ocean from England to New York so that she may appear at a function as the original Alice in Wonderland. Towards the end of her life, she finally accepted (and even embraced) her legacy and was able to capitalize on it financially after her husband died, leaving her virtually penniless. But she never spoke of her break with Mr. Dodgson or revealed any enlightening circumstances that surrounded that event.

I truly loved this book for its mystery, its conflict, its history, and the way it made me feel. Although Melanie Benjamin has been accused in some of the critics' reviews for "dumbing down" Alice's 7-year old speech, I found it to be accurate in how most 7-year olds express themselves. And her bitter disappointment at the way her life turned out was compelling and sad. I could sit here and judge Mr. Dodgson for the relationship that he supposedly allowed with Alice, but when I was about 15 or 16, I carried on with a much older man briefly and I can certainly see the appeal. What young girl doesn't want to be idolized by someone so much older and wiser? And just like the Liddells, my family stepped in and put an abrupt end to it.

It's hard not to feel sympathy or sadness for Alice as she recounts the overstuffed atmosphere of the Liddell household and her sisters' shifting demands for attention from Dodgson. And it's nearly impossible to feel anything but hatred at her mother for severing the relationship and sentencing Alice to a life of loneliness. But we have to remember that she did the best she could with the notariety that was thrown upon her. Not everyone is so lucky. The inspiration behind A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin went on to commit suicide as he caved under the pressure of being Pooh's best friend. Alice made a life for herself that eventually included her role as Alice in Wonderland.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What I'm Reading: No Higher Honor

Correction: What I tried reading: No Higher Honor.

I have a friend who is a voracious reader. She updates her GoodReads list the same way most of us update our Facebook profiles. A few months ago, I got an email from GoodReads letting me know that she had just posted this to her "read" folder. And I thought, "Yeah! I should read that! I have always liked good ole Condi, especially after she was on Meet the Press last winter with the author of The Blind Side." And so I borrowed it from the library for a week.

That was my first mistake.

This is a 750 page book, y'all. Neal is listening to it on and he commuted 30 minutes each way for an entire week, then to Ft. Knox, KY and back and is still listening to it. When I complained that the book was better at putting me to sleep than most of my college physics textbooks, he mentioned that listening to it (in her voice) is much easier than actually reading it. And reading it in a week? No way.

I will just have to trust him on that because me and Condi? We're done.

Here was are my take-aways from the first 250 pages:
1. The W. Bush administration was one foreign affairs calamity after another.
2. If Rice could have run over and then backed over Rumsfeld about 9 times without getting any jail time, she would have.
3. She probably would have done the same to Cheney.
4. She willingly admits the really obvious mistakes of the administration.
5. The only reason I made it as far as I did is because Neal told me to stop fixating on the details of each encounter and look for the gist of the story. Although the gist was normally just as boring as the details.
6. NO ONE in the administration predicted the shit storm that would follow the "axis of evil" speech.
7. Israel and Palastine are just never going to get along. Period.
8. Apparently, we were supposed to go to war with Afghanistan (which is where Al-Qaida was hanging out after 9/11) but somehow ended up in Iraq instead.
9. North Korea is creepy.
10. W. did a lot of business from his Texas ranch.

If you are either a) a foreign affairs nerd or b) in love with Condoleeza Rice or c) retired, this may be the book for you. She recounts each detail of her time with the Bush administration in painstaking clarity, perhaps to "clear the record" or perhaps to document for history. Either way, I need more anecdotes if I'm going to make it through 750 pages. I barely survived Gone with the Wind and that involved a war, men in uniform, and lots of beautiful dresses. Condi doesn't have any of that. Well, she's got the war part, but men in robes is just not the same. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Random Musings Friday: Hot-lanta

So the record heat last weekend is not breaking news. It's hot. It's hot in Chicago and New York and DC and, of course, Atlanta. Shana has had her plane ticket south for weeks so changing it due to unbearable heat was really not an option. Originally, we were going to head off to the beach for a few days...maybe Tybee or Hilton Head. But when we saw the 10-day forecast, we decided that neither one of us was all that eager beaver to deal with sweat AND sand. So, we booked a few nights at the Dobbins AFB lodging in Marietta (just north of Atlanta) and awaited our adventure.

As we hopped from air conditioned building to air conditioned building for 4 days, we realized it was the best decision we could have made. And when the AC in my hotel room started to go out 20 minutes before check-out, I knew that lounging in the sun for hours on end was never really going to happen anyway. The only ones lounging in 108 degree heat are the lizards.

So, here's a Random Musings Friday of what we learned/did/ate/saw in Hot-lanta this week. Warning: it involves poop and strippers.

1. The Cinebistro movie theater in Atlanta is exactly like the Movie Tavern in Lexington, except glamorous. We dined on white bean/smoky eggplant hummus, oven baked goat cheese with dried black figs, rock shrimp risotto, a shortrib/brisket burger with sweet potato fries, chocolate cake and peanut butter pie. Bonus: no one under 21 is allowed for movies starting after 6 PM. And we saw more movies in 3 days than I have in the past 3 years. Both Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson's new one...minus Gwyneth Paltrow, plus Bruce excellent trade in my opinion) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (I want Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith to by my honorary grandmothers. I think we would get along famously.) were playing at the Cinebistro. And I'm eager to take Mama Virgo back next weekend when she comes down for a short visit.

Also? They have the coolest sinks in the women's bathroom. Even Neal agrees that they are on the high side of awesome.

2. If you have a military ID, it is insane to pay triple the price to stay at a chain hotel. Dobbins AFB offers very nice and clean lodging that looks exactly like a Hampton or a Red Roof. The beds are comfy, the comforters are down, they sell alcohol at the front desk, and you have to pass armed airmen to get in. It's located in Marietta, which is approximately 10 miles north of downtown Atlanta. 5 minutes on I-75 and we were anywhere we wanted to be. And it's quiet. $117 for 3 nights and we even got a dorm fridge with freezer, a microwave, and this handy 1-cup coffee maker, which was just perfect for my morning routine. You will need to bring your own hair dryer, though, because the one they provide is roughly the same as using your own breath to dry your coif.

3. Breakfast on Monday morning was at The Flying Biscuit Cafe in Candler Park. After a weekend of cupcakes, pie, and dairy, I was experiencing a bit of gastrointestinal distress, so I stuck to the carbs on the menu. But Shana branched out to the "Egg-stravaganza"...complete with eggs, chicken sausage, turkey bacon, dreamy grits (which I also got...turns out, the secret is low-fat cream and cheddar cheese), and whole wheat french toast, topped with raspberry sauce and honey creme anglaise. (related: why don't they have accent marks on keyboards? Where's an accent mark when you really need one??) And this trip also ruined me for really fluffy scrambled eggs. Now, mine just taste like rabbit pellets. I would say that the service was pretty lackluster, but whatever...the food was amazing and sometimes, that's all that matters.

4. While perusing the rack of tourist brochures in the Dobbins lodging lobby, we ran across one that made us both go "hmmm...."

Yes, we paid money to attend an exhibit on excrement. As they exclaim, "It's the #1 exhibit about #2." And we even learned a few things along the way, like:

When your superstition involves driving over camel dung for good luck, you may actually deserve to get blown up...


Thank goodness that even when our species gives birth to multiples, we do not have to poop circles around them to know which ones are ours...


How very fortunate we are to NOT have to nuzzle our babies' rectums in order to stimulate them to poop. Clearly, I would prefer not to come back as a white-tailed deer.

5. There is no better way to follow an exhibit about poo/dung/excrement/crap, than to watch a 45-minute IMAX film about the disappearing ice caps, narrated by Meryl Streep. Bottom line: watching a polar bear fall into the water when the piece of ice they stepped on has melted beyond their weight limit is heartbreaking. And I want to deliver copies of the DVD to the 4 new families on our street because, apparently, driving their cardboard moving boxes to the recycle, 2 miles away, is just too much. I hope your homes melt.

6. After some R&R back at the hotel (and a little House Hunters, followed up by Say Yes to the Dress), we headed over to Seasons 52 for dinner. We had made reservations for an earlier supper so that we could arrive in plenty of time for our all-male revue showing of Magic Mike. Again, seasonal dining at its finest. Artichoke and goat cheese flat bread, roasted artichoke-stuffed shrimp, and cedar plank salmon were followed by "mini-indulgences" of german chocolate cake and pecan pie. I will warn you, though, that they serve their water STRAIGHT from the tap and the tap water in Dunwoody tastes a lot like our public pool. Also, if you go (and you can's a chain), drive your nice car. When we left, the valet drivers were parking Bentleys, Jags, and Beamers next to my pretty little Prius with the bird droppings and tree sap running down the rear window.

7. Magic Mike is...magical. And had just enough plot to keep me interested. But if plot is not your thing, they also offer penis pumps, Matthew McC in boy shorts, and a scene in which they wear nothing but camo pants, Army boots, and dog tags. It's a shame it will never make it to the IMAX.

8. Breakfast on Tuesday morning was courtesy of Highland Bakery...which was loud...and crammed full of tables. I understand making the most money possible in a recession but if they took out just 3 tables, we would have all been more comfortable. But who can complain when there are fluffy scrambled eggs and sweet potato pancakes with brown sugar syrup involved? And...they bring your check out with this:

I do find that a compliment under my bill contributes to a higher tip. And just starts the day off on the right foot, in general.

9. You can buy Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On right now on iTunes for 69 cents. It really sets the mood for a day at the Titanic Exhibit in Atlantic Station. It's the 100th anniversary of the sinking and they've dredged up as much as possible from the wreckage and put it on display for those of us who missed it. Get the audio tour. It cuts down on the reading. And don't forget to touch the ice. It's the only thing in the entire exhibit that you can touch.

10. In an effort to spend as little time as possible in the actual out of doors, we left the Titanic (and its gift shop, which offers a variety of Rose-inspired jewelry and entire sets of china available for purchase) and headed over to the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Virginia-Highland is known for its quirky, independent shops and locally-owned restaurants...most of which are closed until dinner or on Tuesdays or when it's high tide or mercury is in retrograde or any time 2 out-of-towners just want to get a bite to eat before they start gnawing on their own arms. Fortunately, we found a noodle house just in time.

And, as it turned out, the beef and portabello bowl with crispy spinach over fried rice was an ideal late lunch. I had no idea you could make spinach crisp up and I don't want to know how much butter is involved in making that happen, but it was delicious.

11. The shops in the Virginia-Highland area are very boutique-y and thus a little on the pricey side...especially if you are one to peruse the $5 DVD bin at, say, Walmart. But we found them to be quaint with very friendly salespeople. These girls were hanging out in a window outside of Dakota J's:

While the blue feather boas look just like a refreshing dip in the pool, the shocking site of Barbie in a sea of fuschia sort of looks like she is drowning in a puddle of her own blood. Maybe stabbed by a stiletto? Either way, these girls are nekkid and, probably, up to no good.

But there's also this:

although the first time I saw it on Trip Advisor, I read it as Dr. Bombay's Underwear Tea Party, which is not exactly the same as being underwater. Either way, we had to take a pass on having "high tea" underwater or in our underwear. After all, when one has had high tea at The Plaza, everything else is just an affair with monkeys.

12. After an early showing of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (again, excellent film although slow as molasses in the dead of January until about an hour in), we hit Noche, a tapas restaurant in the same shopping center. We managed to score a table 10 minutes before the kitchen closed and we counted ourselves among the lucky as we polished off 3 varieties of tacos (including lobster) and apple-smoked bacon-wrapped dates. The interior is brick and concrete so bring your outside voice and your guide to reading lips. Or brave the outdoor tables. It was raining sideways so we just screamed at each other.

13. Wednesday, as we all know, was the 4th of July.

(note to self: dirty hippies who sell local artists' goods also have the best temporary tattoos)

and, apparently, is something akin to Christmas Day. After hitting 3 restaurants near Oakland Cemetery and finding them all closed, we finally ended up at Six Feet Under. And since we had been on the hunt so long, it was actually lunch time. One shrimp po boy and 3 crab cake sliders later, we were ready for an adventure. And a pedicure. Both could only be had at the Lenox Mall since everything else was closed. Literally. I take that back...I'm sure Walmart and Lowe's were doing a booming business, but every locally owned anything was closed for the 4th. We ended up paying $25 for the Asian women in the mall to do our toes (which, admittedly, was something of a disappointment for Shana, who is used to a full calf-wrap with pumice stone scrub, but fine for me as I usually just cut all of my callouses off with a pair of toenail clippers) and meandering around the mall for 5 hours.

There is an Anthropology in Lenox for anyone who has drool they need to express and a Pottery Barn for decorating inspiration (which you can then take to IKEA for 1/32 the price). And plenty of divine people-watching. But that's about it. Fortunately for me, Shana is incredibly flexible and forgiving.

What else did we learn?

  • Exit 261 comes up on you really fast. Be prepared to cross 6 lanes of traffic with .5 miles worth of notice.
  • Lots of lanes shift. You should really have a co-pilot to warn you of lanes that are ending when you're trying to figure out where in the hell you're going. Expect honking and middle fingers if you are trying to turn into a Publix from a lane that used to be a turning lane for you but is now a driving lane for oncoming traffic.
  • Sea salted caramel gelato is divine. When it is served as a milkshake, it's orgasmic. 
  • Atlanta is closed for the 4th of July. Wait...did I say that already? 
  • There is a song on the Magic Mike soundtrack that makes it absolutely worth it to purchase the entire CD from iTunes.
  • I feel really fancy when I go to a Target that is underground. 
  • A golf umbrella is of no use against sideways rain. 
  • Always bring extra underwear. 
  • There is a store in Atlanta that sells bondage attire, corsets, baby clothes, bobble head Jesus, marijuana accessories, and has kittens for adoption in the back. 
  • After you've had maid service, always make sure you still have a remote. 
  • It's OK to leave cupcakes in lieu of a tip for housekeeping. 
  • Don't let the dirty hippies gift wrap your purchases. Just....don't. 
I think that's about it. It has been next to impossible to get back to my routine after 3 days of family and 4 days of vacation and a holiday thrown into the middle of all of that. I think I'll just open this bag of chips and watch a movie and start over on Monday.

Happy Friday and Cheers to you! We had our fair share of mimosas last weekend so I expect y'all to catch up! 

Monday, June 25, 2012

What I'm Reading: Lake of Dreams

Full disclosure: I read both of Kim Edwards books, The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Lake of Dreams because she was an English professor at the University of Kentucky. Although by the time I arrived at UK, I had already changed my major from English to Telecommunications and therefore never attended her lectures, I bleed blue (as we all know) and fully support a Wildcat when he/she makes it big.

I loved The Memory Keeper's Daughter, but I'm not sure if it was because of the writing or because much of it was set in Lexington and I could identify with the landmarks. It's been many years since I read it so I don't recall much, but I remember liking it and recommending it to others (although it's emotionally difficult to read in certain sections). I wish I could say the same for The Lake of Dreams.

In general, if a book's jacket says anything along the lines of "Susie Jones had it all...the dreamy, doctor boyfriend, a beautiful house on the cape, and a 6-figure income. But then a car bomb brings her world crashing down and all she has left of her dashing beau is a box of mysterious papers. This story of survival, independence and renewal will leave you wanting more long after the last page is turned"...I will immediately start looking for a new book. Unless you're reading about Excel spreadsheet development, every book is about survival and renewal on some level. If there wasn't conflict, there wouldn't be a plot and if there's no growth from that conflict, there wouldn't be a conclusion. But having the perfect life and then having to adjust expectations when everything suddenly disappears is excessively tired in today's literature (and I'm looking at you, chick lit). The only time I will concede to it is when it's side-splitting hysterical, like Jen Lancaster's Bitter is the New Black. Yes, she had everything and yes, she lost everything, but it's how she wrote about the process that made it enjoyable. It's the first time I ever remember laughing aloud (not lol'ing) while reading.

The Lake of Dreams begins with the introduction of Lucy Jarrett, a late 20's hydrologist who lives in Japan with her boyfriend, who she would very much like to make her husband. When her mother takes a fall in her hometown of Lake of Dreams, she fears it could be "the end" and decides to rush home to care for her. It's agreed that Lucy's boyfriend, Yoshi, will follow shortly after a business trip. When Lucy arrives, there is a lot of "everything had changed" and "Wow, you must be so important, you live in Japan," as proclaimed by childhood friends who still lived there...the typical small town response to anyone who travels further than the state line. As Lucy begins to settle into her mom's house, she finds a window seat filled with old family documents and pictures. She immediately begins to unravel the mystery of the papers...the who, when, where, why...and in the process uncovers a secretive past involving her father (who is deceased) and his father.

There is an excellent book review of The Lake of Dreams written here and it's nearly impossible for me to expand or improve upon it. But in a nutshell, there were (for me) only 2 likeable characters in the entire novel: her dead father and her ex-boyfriend who predictably pops up from her past, more successful and handsome than she ever remembers. Edwards builds Lucy's character in about 2 chapters and the entire experience feels rushed. Lucy comes across as needy and obsessively driven to solve the puzzle of her family's past. Combine that with her sudden (and obnoxiously predictable) realizations that serve to move the story forward, and you have a main character who is tolerable at best.

The supporting characters are under-developed, so they were less annoying. It's hard to be bothered by what is unwritten. Lucy's mom, who is chastised by Lucy for moving forward after her husband's death, is actually relatable to the rest of us. She has a boyfriend and enjoys summer evenings with him and a bottle of wine on the front porch. I can actually see myself hanging out with her mom. Lucy's boyfriend, Yoshi, is simply in the story so that she can relay truths she has uncovered and the way she has pieced it all together. He physically arrives on the scene late in the novel and is finally partially developed in the last few chapters. I would have enjoying knowing Yoshi a little bit better. And Lucy's uncle (her father's brother) and cousin are described in a way (and behave in a way) that would be unsavory to anyone. They have no redeeming characteristics. For me, that's just not realistic. Everyone has something that makes them likeable. Even if it's fleeting.

As for the writing, she sometimes fulfilled my desire for expressive, descriptive language. I hated the Twilight books because there was no description of the scent of blood or the sound of a howl. It was simply, "she smelled delicious"...well, so does an apple pie. Did Bella smell like an apple pie? I want a writer to take me there, even if I'm stuck in the dentist lobby with phones ringing and the high-pitch of a drill echoing in the hallway. Sometimes I was there with her, running my hand over brilliant piece of stained glass...and sometimes I was sitting in the dentist lobby, reading about the ripples on the lake and how they...rippled. Edwards is also guilty (which is pointed out by the other review and I had missed - probably because I do the same thing) of describing things in three's. I do everything in three's. I decorate in three's, design jewelry in three's, and (obviously) describe in three's. It's effective occassionally, but can be overwhelming and exhausting. I didn't realize her tactic at the time, I just knew that I was skimming a lot. I hate skimming anything that is not a NY Times article or a textbook. When I read her review, I had my own ah-ha moment.

Lastly, Edwards relies heavily on over-used metaphors...water and rebirth, locks and keys. I would expect more from an English professor, especially a UK English professor. I can only suggest that she sit down with a few Pat Conroy books to see how it should be done.

I can only recommend this as an easy beach read...something to cruise through while you have one eye on the book and one eye on your child building sandcastles. I've constructed my own version of Lake of Dreams in my head and it's really quite lovely. The lake is more like an ocean and the weathered Cape Cod-style homes surround a peaceful, quaint downtown, filled with independently-owned bookstores, coffee shops, and antique markets. My one take-away from the book is that image and how it can restore me to calm when I conjure it up. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Relatively Wordless Wednesday: Rock the Dress

You're doing WHAT??

What if you have a daughter who wants to wear your dress someday?

But that dress was so expensive. You're going to ruin it.

What about donating it? Think about all of those brides who would LOVE to have that dress on their wedding day. You're being selfish. 

And on and on it went....comment after unsolicited comment on how appalling it was to do a Trash the Dress session. And to be fair, I wasn't trashing it. But I was absolutely going to rock it...5 years and 1 month after I said "I do" in it. There wasn't going to be any paint or ocean water or fire. It was just going to be me and my dress and some boots and some amazing jewelry, perched on a train and lying in the creek and sprawled across a bridge. What could go wrong?

At the day's end, I climbed into the shower, still wearing my dress, and started scrubbing with a brush and some soap. Thirty minutes later, I had a clean dress and a cold shower. It is not ruined. It can be worn again, but I'm not going to have a daughter who will want it. It can be donated. It was expensive but it was purchased for one wedding and worn for another, so really it has almost seen 2 weddings. We got our money's worth. And I have these beautiful images to celebrate the happiest day of my life up to this point. Time to cross #13 off the 101 list.

MANY thanks to Abby of Abby Leigh Photography for this afternoon of posing, laughter, and just general fun (and if you're in the central KY area, be sure to look her up!) She sent me a disc of over 100 images and it was so hard to pick to just a few to share with you, but the entire disc is one that I'll treasure forever. If you're tempted to break out the wedding dress (whether you last wore it a month ago or 10 years ago) and do this, I highly recommend it. You will not ruin it, you can always wash it. Unless you set yourself on fire. And then all bets are off.