A Little Summer/Fall Reading List

This summer, instead of working on my tan or my fitness or my blog producing skills (hello! Zing!), I’ve been reading. Like, not just US Weekly but actual books.

I’ve turned to actual books, in part, because I cancelled my subscription to US Weekly after about seven too many glowing cover stories on a certain family headed by a bumbling Nacho Cheese Dorito who, (and this makes me shudder every single day) will one day have his very own presidential library, even though he can’t even be bothered to read anything more complicated than a tweet.

Speaking of books: here’s what I read this summer. And all of them were longer than a tweet.

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April — For me, the summer reading season kicked off with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners. As a former journalist, I love to read the stories that win this prize every year, but since I’d already glutinously consumed so much news this year, I decided to take a slightly different approach and read the Prize winner in fiction, Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less.”

I would describe it as “Eat, Pray, Love” with a gay protagonist. It was good, very, very funny.

May — Next up, since I needed some book recommendations, I decided to join the Girl’s Night In book club, which has a chapter here in Old Town, Alexandria. Unfortunately, the first book out of the gate was Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion.” I’m afraid I didn’t like this one at all.

It’s ostensibly about womanhood, loyalty and ambition. I just kept thinking to myself, “How does this female protagonist end up writing a book, living in a Brooklyn brownstone, and becoming a key voice in the feminist movement by her mid-20s after literally having just one clerical job?”

June – This month, I plowed through three books, in part because they were all kinda fluffy, quick reads and in part because work slows down quite a bit for me mid-summer.

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I stumbled on Tara Isabella Burton’s “Social Creature” on Twitter. I think someone I follow mentioned it when it was published, and the way she described it totally hooked me in. It’s a story about obsession and status featuring a con-artist/grifter/murderer (sort of an Anna Delvey-type but more murder-ey, obviously) who uses Instagram and social media to continue her con and cover up a murder. Perfect summer read. Vastly unsatisfying ending.

Another GNI book club read. “The Ensemble” by Aja Gabel was ok, not great. It’s about a group of friends (but are they though?) who are in a musical quartet and how their friendships with each other change over the years. It was difficult to understand whether they really liked each other or whether they were only with each other because they needed the quartet to stick together. Needed more rock-and-roll.

Since we were still in the throws of the Summer of Scams, I read “Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director” by Gary Vikan. I’m actually a tiny bit obsessed with art heists. I blame it on Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown Affair – still one of my favorite movies. I already read “The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft” and loved it.

But the main reason I read Vikan’s book is because of an art heist much closer to home. A few years back, a former PE teacher/driving instructor/blackjack dealer tried to anonymously sell a Renoir she had “discovered” at a flea market to The Potomack Company, an auction house here in Old Town. Major family drama ensued as “Renoir Girl” and her brother fought over who owned the stolen painting. Exactly who stole the painting back in 1951 is still unresolved (it’s got to be the mom, right?), as Vikan details in his book, but it has been returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

July – For the GNI book club, the powers that be selected Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. I had wanted to read this one for a while, but figured it’d be hard. While I did not grow up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho, I had a similar upbringing to Westover’s in a lot of ways. There was abuse, neglect, and (undiagnosed) mental illness. And like her, I knew from an early age that the way out of my circumstances was through education.

I also knew that the road to getting that education would not be easy, but like her, I probably wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would be or the costs that it would require. I personally have found that getting out in the world and changing your life can cause a huge chasm between yourself and those you leave behind, and sometimes that gulf is just too large to bridge. I’m different because of my experiences and education. There is no going back. When people say “don’t forget where you come from,” I just don’t get it because every single thing I did was specifically to distance myself from where I came from, which was a very bad place.

Anyway, this one really struck home and I really, really liked it even though it brought up a lot of bad memories.

The next book I read was recommended by another GNI book club attendee and since I was looking for something on the opposite end of the spectrum after “Educated,” it was a welcome relief to escape into “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou. Thankfully, I have no experience with Yale students who drop out of school to start a revolutionary blood testing startup in Silicon Valley, all while wearing black turtlenecks a la Steve Jobs and taking gobs of money from venture capitalists and investors while lying about the entire company, its technology and capabilities.

This book was head-shakingly, gob-smackingly good. I could not believe what Elizabeth Holmes got away with from a lot of smart people who should have known better. Seriously. If this was the Summer of Scams, she is the undisputed queen. The balls on this chick. Maybe my favorite book of the summer. Although…..

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August – I really, really loved “Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood. It’s a historical novel based on the true kidnapping story in the 1940s of 11-year-old Sally Horner, which ended up inspiring Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Not gonna lie: it was creepy, definitely was on the edge of icky, but it was so, so good and just heartbreaking. I could not put it down.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This was another GNI selection and was also on the summer reading list of the two big O’s – Obama and Oprah (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection). It’s about a newlywed man who is wrongly accused of a crime and ends up going to prison for five years before his sentence is overturned. Obviously, the marriage takes a hit and he returns home to try to reclaim his life and his wife. Another heartbreaker and also good, but a bit frustrating. It definitely made you think. What’s fair in a young, fledging marriage that’s been interrupted like this? What do people who were once in love owe each other? When is it ok to let go? Ever?

Finally, one of my favorite Instagram feeds, @notenoughhangers mentioned he was reading this book: The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy. It’s about the many, many American Gilded Age heiresses who married into British aristocracy at the turn of the century and how that worked out for everyone. Spoiler: mostly not great, but I did love hearing all about their amazing stately homes, fabulously over-the-top parties, and all other ways they blew through their daddy’s fortunes to console themselves.

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SeptemberThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn – Only got about 20 percent into it before I ditched it for my current read. Loved the history angle and the female empowerment idea of the story (based on the true story of female spy outfit in France during World War II), but couldn’t stand the writing and the way the story was being told.

Which brings me to my current read: Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Wall Street Journal reporters, Tom Wright, Bradley Hope. Someone on Goodreads described it as “Bad Blood” meets “Crazy Rich Asians” and I was hooked. Just started this last night and I’m excited.

 

 

 

Hotel Crashing: The Underwater Room, Manta Resort, Pemba Island

There is a place where you can belt out The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea” without a lick of irony, a smidgen of skill, or any regard for your neighbors’ eardrums.

A place where you can “sleep with the fishes.” Where you literally sleep with fishes darting all around you. Except, if you’re like me, you won’t be “sleeping with fishes” at all because the whole experience of watching fish swim around your room all night while lying in bed makes sleep completely impossible.

Underwater room at Manta Resort, Pemba

I’m talking about the underwater room on Pemba Island, one of the islands that make up Zanzibar right off the coast of Tanzania.

Let me start by telling you a bit about Pemba Island. It is lush and green. It is surrounded by impossibly clear aqua waters, teaming with coral and fish. Pemba is also the leading producer of cloves, according to Brittanica.com.

Pemba is very, very off-the-beaten path. According to one tourism source, Pemba’s sister island, Zanzibar has 150 hotels. Pemba has just seven (including a couple that may be more B&B style lodging)

It is very remote – you can take a small plane from Dar Salaam on the mainland to tiny Karume airport in Pemba’s main town of Chake-Chake. Then you’ll need a driver to take you on the hour-and-a-half drive through Ngezi Forest Reserve and up to the Manta Resort on the far northern part of the island.

Pemba transportation options
A Pemba “bus”

Along the way, you’ll pass by thatched huts, the only other traffic on the road is the insistent mosquito-like drone of a scooter or two.

Pemba auto shop
Pemba auto shop

Manta Resort is pretty remote. You won’t be venturing out to any neighboring villages to grab a drink or dine in an area restaurant. There aren’t any. Nor are there any TVs, telephones, gym. Wi-fi is only really available at the lobby/reception area and it is spotty at best. I pretty much gave up on checking email or Instagram after the first afternoon.

The accommodations are spartan – small, private stucco villas with open bathrooms and no air conditioning but stunning ocean views. It’s an all-inclusive setup and there is no menu. You’re server (or “fundi”) gives you two options at each meal and you pick one. But it’s all very fresh and healthy, and there’s almost always a fish option.

The entire vibe at Manta Resort is unpretentious, laid back and friendly. It’s clear that the resort is community-focused and gives back in many ways – jobs, schooling, fishing and coral conservation. Their foundation, the Kwwanini Foundation, has several initiatives aimed at sustainable economic development with an eye towards preserving what makes the island unique.

But what really makes Manta Resort unique and is, quite honestly, the main draw is its’ underwater room.

Photo via Manta Resort
Photo via Manta Resort

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: The Underwater Room, Manta Resort, Pemba Island

Wasted Years*

(*The title is an Iron Maiden reference, off the 1986 “Somewhere in Time” album.)

It was a friendship built out of a kindly act and a wave of gratitude.

I was the new kid at school. I was always the new kid; we moved around all the time, like a ragtag band of trailer park gypsies. It must have been 7th grade (?) at H.D. Hilley Elementary School.

It was before class (I don’t remember what class it was) and we had all trickled into the classroom and were waiting for the teacher to show up. A boy asked to copy my homework. Me, being the little prig I was back then, said, “No.”

He kept trying to intimidate me, hovering over my desk, reaching for my assignment, but I held my ground and just kept saying, “No. I’m not going to let you copy my work.” He started calling me names—“stuck up bitch,” “ugly white girl,” “you think you’re better than me,” “puta,” —that sort of thing—on and on.

I could feel the tears starting to build up in my eyes, and my nose running and my lip trembling. I clenched my fists. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. I tried to stay looking down, not looking at him. I tried to block out the embarrassment as he humiliated me in front of the whole class.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice from the back of the room said, “Dude, she said no. Leave her alone.” I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more surprise or relief than I did at that very moment. And with that, at the ripe old age of 13, Jacque Jean Parks of Socorro, Texas got herself a Stage 5 Clinger Best Friend For Life. Whether she wanted it or not.

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Probably the last time the rocker chick  on the right ever wore shorts.

She was my best friend through the rest of middle school and most of high school. I practically lived at her house. The Parks had a swimming pool, a fridge full of sodas, a microwave (we did not have a microwave in my trailer), a VCR (Beta at first, then VHS), and they were always ready to throw a frozen hamburger patty on the grill if us girls got hungry. Hamburgers! Already formed into patties! I thought they were rich.

I would go over there to spend the night and to get away from all the chaos of my own home. They would let me stay for days on end.  Jacque and I would sit on the couches in our wet swimsuits, eating microwaved pizza rolls, and yelling out the lines from “Weird Science,” “Bachelor Party,” and “Labryinth,” which she insisted on watching in rotation, pretty much non-stop. I didn’t care. I was just so happy to be there, in a safe, normal house with normal parents. I never put up any opinions or questioned our entertainment options.

Jacque and me
Throwing up gang signs to piss off her mom, who was just trying to get a nice picture of us, probably on our way to church. As you can see, I didn’t know any gang signs.

Jacque (and her older brother) both loved heavy metal. They lived for it. They’d both crank up Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, MegaDeath, Slayer. Which, of course, annoyed the hell out of her parents, who were already a bit older than other parents. They were also very Catholic and pretty straight-laced. I would try to play mediator, urging Jacque to just turn it down a tiny bit. I didn’t care much for metal either, but more importantly, I didn’t want the Parks to send me home as punishment for Jacque’s disobedience.

Jacque and Kenny
Oh man, I remember that look so well.

Jacque would spend hours on her hair and makeup, perfecting her rock chick look with lots of Aqua Net and black eyeliner. And she really was gorgeous. I would sit on the floor next to her while she did her makeup (Sidenote: She used to give me a heart attack using a safety pin to obsessively separate her individual lashes between coats of mascara. We’d both sit there with our mouths agape the whole time she worked on those damn lashes) and we’d make all these big plans for after high school. We were going to become photographers and writers and move to England. We were both obsessed with everything British, even going to El Paso’s only British food store to buy PG Tips and McVities Penguin Biscuits.

I wasn’t as into makeup and hair in middle or high school, but I did let Jacque talk me into bangs one time. I also let her talk me into allowing her to cut them. After all, she trimmed her own bangs all the time, almost obsessively. However, Jacque had straight hair. I had curly hair. I remember sitting in her kitchen, looking to her cousin for reassurance and watching her shake her head. Jacque kept saying, “Let me just even them out,” as more and more snipping occurred. I ended up going into 9th grade (high school!) with a half-inch fringe of tight curls sticking straight out from my forehead.

Yearbook photo of Jacque and I
(From my yearbook, which my sister marked up); Jacque and me at registration for 9th grade at Socorro High School. Note the “bangs.”

A couple of years into high school, our interests diverged. She liked boys and going out, I was still that little prig from 7th grade. We each made new friends and pursued new interests, but we always came back together. We worked on the yearbook together and started our high school’s Photography Club. She picked me up and drove me to school every morning. Sometimes we’d hang out after school or on weekends, but usually I had extracurricular activities I was pursuing and she had her new friends to hang out with.

Photo Club with Jacque Parks
The SHS Photo Club, Jacque the hatchet barber in the middle. Me, still growing out those bangs.

After high school, I got married and she was my only attendant. A few years later, she got married and we fought about it. I didn’t like the guy and I didn’t think she should get married. I was going through my divorce and I was bitter. I felt that I had put my life on hold for five years, had finally gotten away, and was now ready to make good on our high school plans. I was totally selfish and childish, and I expected her to just go along with my plans now that I was ready to pursue them.

Jacque and I on my wedding day
My wedding day. Can’t blame her for those bangs. Or that hair color. Or that lip color. That was all me.

Once my divorce was final, I moved to Dallas and Jacque and I didn’t talk again for about 15 years. She got in touch with me about 5 years ago through my work email. We caught up on each other’s lives—work, relationships, travel. We talked about loss—of time, of friends, of family members. We promised we’d stay in touch.

Jacque Jean Parks

Then I was let go from my job and all her contact information, including her phone number and email– was on my work computer. Occasionally, I would Google her, try to find her on Facebook, but I came up blank. She was using a shortened version of her name on social media. I figured she’d find me again, at some point, and just like the time before, we’d pick up right where we left off.

A mutual friend texted me this weekend to ask if I’d heard about Jacque. The same friend who had texted me about her brother. I reached out to former classmates on Facebook, made a few calls, and found out that she was gone. She had died on July 5 at just 46 years old.

Hearing that news—confirming that news—is like a punch in the gut. I feel like I did that day in 7th grade. I’m clenching my fists. I’m looking down, lip trembling, trying to keep the gathering tears from spilling out of my eyes. I’m trying to block out all the voices in my head chastising me for not doing more, for not being a better friend, for not sticking with her like the Stage 5 Clinger BF4Life I had been in the beginning. And I’m waiting for the sweet relief that came from that voice from the back of the room.

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From our SHS yearbook. I was one of the editors and wrote this foreword. Gotta say, pretty corney, but also, pretty prescient.

 

 

 

 

How to Have a Päntsdrunk Weekend (with Wine Pairings)

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UGH.

This week though, am I right? It’s felt like an entire year of bad news and gut-wrenching images rolled into one giant horrible week.

Which is why I think most of us are just really looking forward to sitting at home, drinking wine in our underpants this weekend. Like, REALLY looking forward to it.

Well, good news. 1) You can (at least, I think you still can in this current, messed up iteration of America) and 2) the Scandinavians have already beaten us to it and they even have a name for it. Because—of course, they do.

Yes, the genius people from the cluster of countries who have already brought us the awesome celebration of all things cozy and comfortable (#hygge4lyfe especially in winter), have now given us a new lifestyle/wellness trend. Or, if not new, at least have given us a name for it. Two, actually.

Päntsdrunk, aka: kalsarikannit

Kalsarikannit

And, it’s specifically the Finnish who are responsible for this one. I don’t know any Finnish people (other than that they are consistently ranked as some of the happiest people on Earth), but I feel like it isn’t really overblown to describe them as geniuses.

As Elite Daily describes it:

“Päntsdrunk is basically what happens when you refuse to let FOMO get the best of you.”

OK, I’m already in. But, please, tell me more.

Päntsdrunk is a ‘path to recovery and self-empowerment,’ defined by utter relaxation and temporary escapes from real-world stressors, such as work emails or annoying small talk.”

I am all about self-care. I love to relax and escape. But not the type of self-care I have to actually leave the house to enjoy or participate in or be around other people to partake in. I get annoyed by people at THE SPA. Do you know what kind of self-involved, anti-social hermit you have to be to get annoyed by people at the spa??

So, it goes without saying that I’m only interested in self-care that can be practiced in the privacy of my own home in its utmost, laziest forms. This one, according to Finish journalist Miska Rantanen, simply involves “drinking at home, alone, in your underwear.”

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Oh yeah. I’m (mostly) down. I do have a couple of slight alterations to make, though. 1) Change “underwear” to pajamas or loungewear, and 2) swap out “alone” for “with my beloved significant other who is in the same room but likely doing his own thing, with his own drink and doing it silently.”

I love this bit in the Elite Daily article, because holy hotdog, this roundup of activities just speaks to my soul.

“To be clear, at no point does Rantanen suggest that Päntsdrunk should be equated with binge drinking. Rather, it’s all about allowing yourself to relax while being totally sequestered from the ‘real world.’ An ideal Päntsdrunk night for me would assuredly be homemade cucumber jalapeño margaritas, along with a few seasons of Girls, a face mask or two, followed by a bedtime of 9 p.m. sharp……It allows everyone to do exactly what they’ve always wanted to do (and have probably already been doing in secret), without feeling bad for it on a Friday or Saturday night.”

Since I am so here for this trend, I want to offer up some wine pairings with some of my favorite self-care activities.

  • Reading celebrity magazines at the kitchen bar while XFE cooks us an amazing meal – This is one of my favorite activities, and one that I am very good at. I usually offer up a weak, “Anything I can do to help?” while distracting him with various celebrity gossip tidbits. Pairs well with a nice, rich Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Playing with/grooming/caring for Pinot and Port (our cats. Yes, they’re named after wine) – There’s a bit of an age discrepancy here, so I actually have two wine pairings. For Port, who is just over a year old and very active, I recommend a glass of crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc. Because odds are pretty good that either myself or the cat are going to knock the glass over and spill wine all over the cream living room rug, so white wine = easier clean up. For Pinot, who is 7 years old, kind of lazy and literally plays while laying down, a bold Pinot Noir, naturally.
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The squad, ready to chill. 
  • Bubble bath and face mask – Light a scented candle, fill the tub with a healthy dollop of Laura Mercier bubble bath, slap on some Caudalie instant detox face mask, and pour yourself a glass of spicy Malbec. Just don’t fall asleep. I always do that and there’s nothing relaxing about being startled awake by a mouthful of heavily perfumed bubbles. Or spilled wine.
  • Organize and purge – There’s just something about color coordinating your closet/significant other’s tie rack/pet supplies and/or throwing out all your unused and unloved crap that is so, so satisfying and relaxing. You’ll need a mellow Chardonnay, some equally mellow music (Might I suggest some 90’s trip hop, ala Portishead or Sneaker Pimps?) and a couple of hours to just disappear into the trance that can only be brought on by Marie Kondo folding techniques.
  • Pinteresting – While I mostly think you’re supposed to keep distracting and upsetting technology at bay, I’m pretty sure Pinterest gets a pass. It is probably the most used app on my phone and my go-to when I want to kill time and dull brain cells. I can save and organize pretty pictures of pretty things all damn day. Plus, Pinteresting is just so hopeful for the future! Am I ever going to live in a mid-century modern bungalow in LA with a sauna room built in? Eh, probably not. But it doesn’t stop me from pinning every damn photo I see. Will I ever have a need to make frozen bowls with delicate herbs and greenery suspended in them to hold votives in? No! But their so pretty and Scandinavian! Do I really need to save all these fondue recipes when Trader Joe’s has a completely serviceable fondue kit? Nope. Not even a little bit. But I like to save and organize all these ideas. Which calls for a delicate and eminently drinkable Rose that can carry you through a wasted afternoon of picture sorting.

So go ahead. Get Päntsdrunk this weekend or sans-pants-drunk, if semi-nudity is your thing. We’ve all certainly earned it. Plus, we’ll probably need to store up our emotional wellness reserves to face the next 942 days.

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Put Down the Barbell and Pass the Canoli

In this era of increased awareness and discussion around mental health, I would like to know: what is going on with Teresa Guidice (of Real Housewives of New Jersey)?

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Girlfriend got jacked!

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This is crazy, right? Nobody (particularly those over 40) puts this much time and effort into completely revamping their entire body and look without there being some underlying issues.

I knew that she had gotten into yoga while she was “away,” but this is waaaaay beyond yoga body. This is even past Crossfit Cult levels of enthusiasm.

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This is a woman who has written four Italian cookbooks. A woman who likes her pasta and desserts. A woman who stopped by a diner for a breakfast sandwich and coffee before checking into prison in the middle of the night. A woman, who once “wrote” on her blog:

If you’ve gotten any of my 4 cookbooks, you know I love-love-love desserts! I call them “Happy Endings” because everyone deserves one! I’m releasing a new Fabulicious Dessert line and working on my next cookbook–all desserts!–but until they come out, I’ll post some of my favorite dessert recipes here for you.

Here’s a 2012 account of a typical day’s eats, including homemade pasta, cannoli, a mention of “Joe’s juicy meatballs,” and the line: “Honestly, I have no idea how some people deprive themselves.”

teresa desert

Is this the same woman? Getting to this level of bodybuilding had to take a ton of work and discipline and even deprivation, something that can’t be easy while basically being a single mother to four young girls.

Is this a cry for help? I ask because I care about all my Bravolebrities and I know she’s been going through a particularly hard time, with Joe in prison and everything.

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GIVE ME CARBS!!!

However, you cannot blot out your problems with copious amounts of fake tanner and Muscle Milk, Teresa.

Teresa eating

In all seriousness, I tip my hat to her, even if I do think she’s gone a bit too far. She’s always looked amazing, particularly for someone who has had four children (five, if you count Joe). I was just more impressed when she looked great AND ate carbs.

I’m not sure if the Bravo cameras were along with Teresa on this latest life journey, documenting it all for an eventual season 9.

But her transformation should make for an interesting reunion when Juicy Joe gets out of prison next March. He better watch his mouth because I’m pretty sure she could kick his butt pretty easily these days.

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Reality TV Time: Southern Charm New Orleans

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: having a cold sucks. Especially in the summer.

I’ve been sick for about a week. And it really sucks. It’s also been raining in D.C. for basically a month. Sure, there were a couple of days of modest sunshine, but mostly, it’s been rain: warm, humid, phlegmy rain.

cat in rain

So even if I were feeling 100 percent, I’d be housebound.

You’d think that with all that time at home, I’d have been more productive. But, you’d be wrong. I just finished up my big client project for the year and was gearing up for prospecting mode when this cold laid me out. I’ve got another big client project with no hard deadline that I’m working on and a few smaller projects, but I’ve got some breathing room. If only my gunk-filled lungs will cooperate.

However, when one is sick and housebound and hopped up on Nyquil/Dayquil, there really is just one activity worthy of a doxylamine succinate-soaked brain — watching a lot of bad TV on Bravo, including Southern Charm (both the original and the New Orleans edition).

I, of course, watched Southern Charm Savannah and I got to say: I was disappointed. I just couldn’t get into it. It was just missing something. Maybe a Ravenal. Maybe a Patricia. I’m just not sure, but I didn’t find a single character that I really liked and instead found several that I despised.

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I’m sorry, Ashley. I really thought I would like you, but I just didn’t. (Photo: Bravo)

Southern Charm New Orleans snagged me from the first. Sure, it does seem that every marriage on the show is on the verge of collapse, which is never really comfortable or even fun to watch, but I dig this group of friends. They seem to genuinely be friends and have each other’s backs. I love how they can throw down and call each other out and then end up dancing to zydeco, all the in the same 10 minutes.

Don’t get it twisted: Tamica has a big ol’mouth and stirs the gumbo pot like it’s one of her many exhausting jobs, but, everyone seems to know that’s just how she is and not to take it too seriously. I especially love the tension and marriage-commenting that goes on between her and Reagan, neither of whom should be handing out any commitment advice right now. They are worthy adversaries who play off each other’s relationship blindness pretty well.

jeff and reagan

(Oh damn. Just found this.)

But it’s the guys that especially made this spin off so great – all of them, even Tamica’s cousin, brother, and assorted hanger-ons. They’re all strong, successful, and just chill. They’re clearly used to high drama women and know how to brush off the nonsense. Plus, we saw a little bit of vulnerability in all of them: Barry trying to instill confidence in his daughter, Jeff wrestling with some serious family demons, Justin being a mama’s boy who’s afraid of ghosts, and Jon Moody, who just can’t seem to find a shirt (seasonally inappropriate turtleneck, notwithstanding) or a pair of pants that actually fit him (son, them pants this season were snug!). Poor thing had to go without a shirt most of the time.

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There is almost never a time that a turtleneck is needed in New Orleans. This is also one of those times. (Photo: Bravo)

I haven’t seen the finale yet (it’s on the DVR) but I’m fairly sure it will involve the N.O. gang and all their friends and relatives getting together to eat great food, drink too much, make drama and resolve it. It’s pretty much a Bravo finale requirement. Jon will, undoubtedly, be shirtless (for his art, of course). Reagan will wear a giant hoop skirt and some lion-emblazed, doorknocker jewelry that I think only she can pull off. Tamica will meddle in some people’s business and go a teeny bit too far. Justin will dodge efforts to get him married off after only dating his current love for ONE YEAR (y’all just leave him alone). Barry will be silent and supportive.

In any case, I hope (and suspect) that Southern Charm New Orleans will get a second season and I can’t wait for it.

 

 

This Town Might Have a Dead Body Problem

Hey, who likes to hear about dead bodies? Or maybe I should say, “near misses with floating dead bodies?”

I mean, who doesn’t, amiright?

I realize this is a pretty abrupt manner in which to get started back into blogging. BUT, as a die-hard murderino (SSDGM, MFM crew), I have to post about this crazy, possible (but probably not?) hometown murder.

So, on the work front, things have been pretty busy since the beginning of the year, which isn’t a shocker – that is usually my busy period. But most of my really big yearly projects are slowly winding down (last big convention for the year is next week), so it’s been a nice quiet week here at Poe Communications/ National Detective/Sleuthing Services Agency, LLC.

cat detective

(Sidebar: Here’s a Buzzfeed list of 13 Signs Your Cat is Secretly a Detective).

And when my non-husband, XFE mentioned going to the gym at 6 am, I checked my pajama pockets for excuses and finding none, gamely agreed to go along with him. However, when we got to the gym, we saw construction crews tearing up the street to get to the water pipes and all the lights in the gym were off. After seeing other would-be gym goers leaving the scene, we surmised that our gym was probably not open. Yet, here we were, all dressed in spandex and ready to sweat.

Now, we live in Old Town, Alexandria, just a few blocks from the Potomac River. And along this stretch of Old Town, we have a lovely collection of waterfront parks, most of which are connected by a biking/walking trail that runs all along the Potomac. It’s pretty dang nice and its definitely one of my preferred running paths.

alexandria_waterfront
Pretty typical waterfront park view. Notice no dead bodies clogging up the river.

Since the gym was closed, we decided to take advantage of the cool morning and go for a walk along the Old Town Waterfront, which will now be known as Scenic River Murder Path (SRMP).

We headed south. Because I’m a curious, snoopy sort of person, I spent a good portion of my time checking out all the various bits of debris that had washed up along the shoreline after the many heavy storms we’ve had over the last couple of days. I’m always surprised how many logs and just huge splinters of logs, along with just tons of trash end up stuck in all the various nooks and crannies along the SRMP’s otherwise well-manicured trails.

OT Waterfront
We walked along this lovely area. Keep it in mind.

This morning, as I was gawking at all the debris, I didn’t see too much of note, except for one foam-pontoon-looking thing that had washed up into a pile of logs and trash near the Potomac Riverboat Company office. At first glance, it’s large, concave white shape reminded me of a dead, belly-up shark, which caused me to do a double take and then laugh at myself over the idea of a shark in the Potomac River.

But then, this afternoon, XFE sent me this story:

How the body of a man ended up in the Potomac River in Alexandria is under investigation by the Virginia city’s police department.

The body was found Wednesday morning in the river not far from the marina in Old Town, not far from the Torpedo Factory, according to the Alexandria Fire Department.

Police will investigate how the man ended up in the water and how he died.

The man’s identity has not been released.

Holy Torpedo Factory, that was right where we were! How could we not have seen it? I was literally gawking at every bit of flotsam and jetsam and yet, somehow I had managed to not see a body bouncing around???

OT body
Look familiar? Yeah. I know. Image from reporter Victoria Sanchez’s Twitter feed.

I immediately started looking for more information and found this:

A body was recovered from the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday morning, Alexandria Fire Department said.

Around 9:15 a.m., fire crews responded to the scene just off the Old Town Waterfront for a report of a person in the water.

The fire crew has handed off the incident to the Alexandria Police Department. The PIO does have much information that can be confirmed at this time, but it has been reported as death on arrival.

Wait a minute, 9:15??? We were right there! We were walking along the marina area at like, 6:30!! How did we not see anything??

But then, my Internet sleuthing got even spookier:

 A man’s body was found in the Potomac River Tuesday evening in D.C.

Metropolitan Police say the unidentified man was unconscious and not breathing when he was located. His body floated approximately 10 feet off the shoreline of Dangerfield Island in the Potomac.

According to investigators, there does not appear to be signs of foul play.

So, another, different body was found in the same river the night before. Oh, and guess where Daingerfield Island is? Just north of us, along that same hike/bike trail! Basically, (well, not basically, but literally), the two bodies washed up two miles and about 12 hours apart.

SRMT

That’s suspicious, right?

I have just so many questions, but I think the main one is: what was the deal with the water pipes outside of our gym this morning?

And, in slightly more upbeat neighborhood news, we’re getting a Taco Bell (free Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Tacos Supreme® for every murder mystery solved)! But also, it will serve alcohol (Margarita Bell Grande?).

Old Town is so weird. And apparently, dangerous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Plan to Be Super Chill and Eat Waffles in 2018

Here we are a week into the new year and I must say my overwhelming feeling so far in 2018 is that the dumpster fire that was 2017 is far from over.

That seems mighty pessimistic, I know.

tina fey cake giphy

On a personal and professional level (and without getting too personal), last year was a bit bumpy, to put it mildly, pretty much from start to finish.

And the state of the world and society in general from a national and global level….well. I have thoughts and opinions.

You often hear people compare 2017 to a roller coaster. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. For one thing, some people really like roller coasters. And with a roller coaster, you can generally see the loops and dips and swoops that lie up ahead.

No, I think of 2017 as more like a pinball machine, where we’re all careening around recklessly, slapped about by seen flippers and slingshots yet also gut punched by those little knobs that pop up out of nowhere all the damn time.

LK super chill giphy

And while I can’t do much about the state of the world and society (I’ll leave that to Oprah for now), I can do something about my personal and professional spheres of being.

One thing that I subconsciously did last year was improve my interpersonal relationships. I didn’t set out to do it…I’m actually a bit of a hermit crab who wants to stay home, curled up on the sofa in my yoga pants with a cat on my lap and a glass of wine within reach, watching anything that Bravo wants to put in front of my face.

lizlemon

But when I look back on 2017, the memories that pop out the most are the ones involving family and new and old friends. Times when I made an effort. Times when I stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out to people I barely knew or talked to people I had just met or reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to in a long time.

My sister came and visited me for the first time here in D.C. and we got to spend some time together for the first time in years. Some of it was great, like when I played tour guide and dragged her all over town in the freezing January cold or showed her some of my favorite Old Town spots. Some of it was difficult and uncomfortable as we sorted through some of our vastly different memories and perspectives on shared events.

And I made a point to visit her when I went to Texas for a freelance conference later in the year. Again, some of that visit was good and some of it was awkward as we continue to hash out the perimeters of our relationship, but I think that might be what family dynamics are all about. They’re not cut and dried. They’re actually quite hard. It’s a feeling and situation I’ve tended to avoid more often than not. But at least – on that relationship – we are making inroads, I think.

tenor sisters

About that freelancing conference: it was, quite honestly, pretty much a bust (in my opinion) and I won’t be attending it again. But by just attending it, I met and learned a lot from my fellow attendees (we even joked about starting our own better-organized and useful, practical freelancer conference – maybe a goal for 2019?).

I also came back from that conference convinced that 1) I’m actually doing some things right in this old freelancing biz, 2) I have wisdom, experiences and advice that I’m happy to share with others, and 3) I shouldn’t be afraid to make friends, even with people I view as potential competitors. What I learned is that there’s honestly enough work out there for all of us.

When I got home, I doubled-down on attending networking events and reaching out to other freelancers for coffee, lunch and drinks. And I checked my motivation and expectations at the door. I made sure that my efforts were NOT for the purpose of generating job leads—which has never worked out for me at a networking event—but just to be social and have a laugh, and sometimes to commiserate and share advice. That’s something that I intend to continue throughout 2018.

That bummer of a conference also allowed me to reconnect with old Austin friends, some of whom I didn’t even think had missed me or would want to see me! I left Austin about 15 years ago and I figured we’d all just grown apart and moved on with our busy lives so it honestly didn’t occur to me that they would want to rearrange their schedules to meet up while I was in town. I just didn’t think we were “those type” of friends anymore. But they did! And I was so moved and humbled by that. It really made me reassess how I myself treat old friendships that I thought were “in the past.” I look forward to the work I need to do on improving those friendships in 2018.

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So that’s my goal for 2018 — work on the stuff that I have control over, including and especially, relationships. That, and cut back on cussing, but that’s damn losing proposition.

Goodbye, Petunia.

Last Toons

We have a saying in my family. Well, maybe it’s just in my family, or maybe it’s a Southernism, I’m not sure. But when someone is especially old and ornery and not doing well, we’d say “the devil won’t take her/him.” It means that the person in question is so mean-spirited and bossy, that the devil’s afraid to let them into hell because they’ll take over and start running the place. It’s meant to provide some reassurance that the person you love will be with you a bit longer, so don’t you worry. And, it provides a little chuckle, an inside joke about that ornery, old person.

I used to think that about Petunia. She’s going to be here a long time. She’s too mean to die. The devil won’t take her.

Two weeks ago, we made the brutally difficult decision to have our ornery, old cat put down.

And, I’m crying (again) even as I type this. Because my heart….my heart is broken.

Petunia was in my life for 15 years, 8 months and 6 days. She was, for all intents and purposes, my baby. My heart. The only living thing I’ve ever nurtured and loved pretty much from the beginning of her existence.

I found her when she was around 6 weeks old, hidden up in the undercarriage of a car in my apartment parking lot, mewing for her mom. I have no idea how she got there or where she came from. I wasn’t even sure it was a kitten crying. I had convinced myself that it was a baby bird in some tree. After a day or two of trying to pinpoint the sound and finally realizing that it was a lost kitten, I laid on my stomach on the hot parking lot asphalt for hours trying to lure her out, with tears running down my face, same as right this minute, only back then, on that warm May evening, it was out of frustration that I couldn’t convince her to let me save her.

I never intended to keep her. I was a broke ass college student who already had one cat. So I took her to the vet to get her ready for adoption. Even the vet knew I probably was going to keep her.

The bond I built with her was the best part of me. With Petunia, especially over the last two years as her health declined, I displayed a patience and nurturing that I didn’t know I had and that I don’t really display in other relationships or other parts of my life.

 

It killed me to see her struggling, health-wise. Two-and-a-half years ago, she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. We tried medication, first a gel that was supposed to be rubbed into her ears. That didn’t go well. (Her history with meds is well documented). Then with a pill ground up and hidden in her food. She suspiciously ate it, and for a week or so, things appeared to be looking up. But late one night while my significant other, XFE was out of town, she had a horrible reaction. It scared me to death. So we sent her off for radio-iodine therapy—a tortuous 4 days of quarantine. But it worked and her thyroid levels improved.

However, some of the behaviors that had caused us to become concerned in the first place didn’t go away. Petunia never regained the weight she lost, even though she had a good appetite. She still paced in circles all hours of the night. She often seemed confused and unfocused, meowing at walls until I’d come and scoop her up. She still had tremors in her front paws. She had arthritis and difficulty finding a comfortable cat loafing position. Her balance and mobility were pretty poor. Her eyes dilated completely and stayed that way, no matter the lighting conditions.

The vet said it might be neurological, maybe dementia, maybe cognitive disorder. Just part of getting old. It was the first time we discussed quality of life.

We promised Petunia there would be no more vet visits (she absolutely hated going to the vet and had to be drugged just to get her in her carrier). We promised her we’d just make her comfortable and let her live out her days in peace.

She stopped coming downstairs as much, spending most of her time on our bed hiding under her favorite sweater, or in a makeshift bed we set up in the floor of my closet, or in her special scratching box/cat cubby that XFE had bought for her. But she was still eating well, drinking lots of water, using her litter box properly, grooming herself. She’d sleep with us occasionally, a tight kitten roll between my legs. I would stay still all night, not daring to move an inch, even if it meant I didn’t get much sleep.

If Petunia didn’t sleep with us, she’d pace – down the hall, up the hall, up on my side of the bed, over to the nightstand, jump down,  down the hall,  up the hall, up on my side of the bed….Sometimes she’d just stop in my bathroom and cry. I’d get up, no matter the hour, and go scoop her up and hold her until she calmed down. Sometimes we’d have to do this several times a night/early morning. It reminded me of those first tiny meows, and crouching on a hot asphalt parking lot, trying to convince a traumatized kitten that I was the best thing that would ever happen to her.

We had another ritual these last two years or so. While I was in the shower every morning, Petunia would come in the bathroom and jump up on the toilet seat lid. I’d come out of the shower and wrap myself in a towel and sit on the edge of the tub. She’d climb over into my lap and head butt my chin while I’d pet her (gingerly, to avoid her arthritic areas). She’d rub her face against me, re-marking me as “her person.” She’d lean into my chest while I held her as tight as I dared and whispered in her ear.

Sometimes, she’d eventually scoot down and try to find a comfortable position to take a short nap. The whole ritual could go on for 10-30 minutes, depending on her mood. But I didn’t mind. Even as my hair got dry and frizzy and my towel stayed damp and the bathroom got too warm or cold. I’d stay and hold her as long as she’d let me. XFE called it our “HR meetings.”

When Petunia stopped coming in for HR meetings, we knew it was a bad sign. She withdrew even further, showing no interest in anything other than her meals, and even then, just barely. She stopped sleeping on the bed, stopped sleeping with me at night, no matter how still I’d lie. She just stayed in her scratching box/kitty cubby, coming out only to eat.

Cubby cat.jpg

We knew it was time, but still, I wanted her to stay. I saw and heard about so many other cats who lived 17 years, 20 years, 22 years. Why wouldn’t our cat?

But she couldn’t and she didn’t. We had to be the ones to make the decision, for her sake. Before it got even worse and more difficult for her. We could have gone on worrying about and fretting over her forever, but we knew that she was done with living and I was just keeping her alive for my own selfish needs.

So, we let her go. And I’ve cried just about every day since because my heart still hurts, even though it’s half missing and has got this Petunia shaped-hole in it. Or, more likely, because it now has that hole. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe that when you die, you just die and you only live on as a collection of memories in the heart of those who loved you. But if there is something else, I hope Petunia is being her old, ornery self and giving the devil a hell of a time.

Toons at Payne
Healthier, chubbier times.

 

 

 

 

How to Deal with Freelancing Uncertainty Explained via Vanderpump Rules GIFs

I feel like a broken record, but hey there. I know, I know. I’ve been MIA in the blogging world.

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Well, I am contributing to blogs, but they’ve been on behalf of clients. Not this blog. This blog has been neglected, like a lonely, unwanted redheaded stepchild.

Which is part of the “problem” and a good problem to have…..I’ve got clients and they need words!

But I miss writing on this blog all the time. There’s hardly a day that passes that I don’t think of or run across something that I think would be blogworthy. Or, more likely, something that I think I’d like to remember in the future and that I don’t trust my rusty, old brain to remember.

Throughout my teens and 20s, I wrote in my journal pretty much every night. I still have a lot—although not all–of them. Mostly, I have the ones from my late 20s. And they are hilarious and cringeworthy and poetic and wonderful—all at the same time. It’s a regular, low-rent, pre-social media version of Vanderpump Rules in there. I can usually only read a couple of entries before I become exasperated or embarrassed by the whole, ultra-meta exercise, but nevertheless, I’m so glad I have them and can refer back to them. And there are actually some really beautiful and moving bits in there that I’m really proud of, although those are the least likely items to ever be shared.

Anyway, now to the present. Or, actually, to thoughts of year end. As 2017 closes, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the past year has gone, especially professionally. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster career-wise, to say the least.

getting real

I guess if I had to sum up 2017, I would sum it up this way: How comfortable am I with uncertainty? And also, because I’m not in this alone: How comfortable is my partner with my work uncertainty?

The first two years of my freelance career were pretty dang awesome. I had a lot of former colleagues sign up as clients right away and I am so, so grateful for that. I was also smart enough to take my own freelancer financial advice: cut way back on the spending and kick up the saving, so I was able to put aside a good chunk of rainy day funds.

2.-James-Kennedy-

So, when a client decided not to renew my contract at the beginning of the year, I didn’t stress too much about it. I figured I’d find some other clients, and while I certainly have, they definitely haven’t been the lucrative, retainer-based client that I’d lost.

Another regular client has scaled back their needs quite a bit (but is still providing some work) and a couple of others who dropped off were never really consistent anyway, so again, I didn’t sweat it. I thought I’d just kick up the networking and new clients would be lining up.

a catch

It wasn’t exactly like that. It took a while to line up new clients and there has been a lag while we got up and running on projects and another lag between when I turn an item in and when I get paid.

For the first time since I started freelancing, I felt like I was churning and churning output and not feeling financially secure. For the first time, I had to dip into my rainy day fund to pay myself, which, mentally, that’s fine, that’s what it’s there for, but is still a bit scary nonetheless. Not just for me, but for my ever-patient, ever-supportive boyfriend. There were unspoken questions that hung in the air between us during every conversation about my money and freelancing: What’s my plan? How many months would I dip into my savings? Should I start applying for a steady job?

Luckily, it hasn’t gotten to that point. Slowly but surely, things have started to pick up again. In the past six months, I’ve taken on a variety of new projects – small ones that are big lifts with low pay but satisfying in other ways, medium-sized ones that are not the most exciting in scope or topic, but pay well and are consistent, and a large-sized project that is scary and challenging and is stretching my skills as a writer.

When I talk to other people who are looking to get into freelancing, one of the first questions they have is “how do you balance your projects so you aren’t taking on too much and still making enough?” I definitely do not have the answer to that. Three years in, I’m still figuring it out.

Right now, I’m saying yes to almost every project I get offered. I know that’s not sustainable long term and some difficult decisions will have to be made at some point. But for now, I’m going full throttle. As a result, this blog will get updated when I can. In fact, I’m also trying to set a better work schedule for myself in 2018, and blocking off time for blogging is definitely one of my work schedule goals. We’ll see.

cautiously optomistic

So, back to my 2017 theme: how comfortable am I with uncertainty? Throughout this slow summer, I discovered that I am surprisingly comfortable with uncertainty. Blame it on my nomadic, gypsy childhood, or the fact that I’ve had to pull myself up by my bootstraps more than a few times in the past, but something makes me sure that I’ll figure it all out. That doesn’t mean I don’t have sleepless nights and anxiety attacks over all this uncertainty, but I just believe in myself. And so does my wonderful life partner/manpanion and boyfriend, who actually might believe in me even more than I do, and for which I am also very grateful.

mink lashes