NaNoWriMo Part One

I’m doing NaNoWriMo – National Novel-Writing Month – this year. My main motivation is that the writing group of which I am a part is having a competition with our sister chapter and I can’t resist a competition. But I’m also in a sort of good position this year in that I am putting aside my first attempt at a full-length manuscript for now, and I am at the beginning of two different projects, and for at least one of them I can probably at least get the bare bones down of one them in the next month. So go me!

As part of my secretarial duties, I wrote a little this-is-how-you-sign-up walkthrough as I signed up. I’m going to post it here so that it’s accessible and so that anyone who isn’t in my group can see it, and I’m going keep updating my progress here as well.

So here’s what I wrote:

Hello again, ladies! (The again is because I had just e-mailed this group the meeting minutes from last night, so this was their second e-mail from me in an hour.) I promised last night that I would sign up for NaNoWriMo today so I could tell you all how to do it. It’s my first time, too, so let’s see how this goes.
1) Go to the website: National Novel Writing Month
2) There is a convenient Learn More section to the right. There you will find that NaNo offers all kinds of support to people who want to write a novel – retreats, library resources, classroom materials for young writers, regional organizations, etc. How and whether you use these resources is up to you.
You will find that you are to “announce your novel,” then update your progress (self-report) on the site regularly, and then, on November 20, you can start submitting, or validating it.
3) Hit the Sign Up button. You will then be asked to create a user name (Mine is RLRicki), enter a valid e-mail address, and create a password. And they want to know what time zone you’re in, a question that confused me for a minute because I am dumb sometimes. I almost told them I lived in Central America.
4) An e-mail will be sent to that valid e-mail address you listed. They warn you that it might go to your spam box. Mine didn’t.
5) You click the link in the e-mail and then you hit Sign In! (You might want to hit the Remember Me button too if you, like me, can’t remember your passwords for anything even if you use the same ones all the time. I seriously have had to reset my Facebook password about six times this week because my husband updated our iOS and each time I re-signed in to Facebook on a different device, I forgot what password I used on another device and had to reset it. Then I immediately forgot it again.)
6) The next thing they want is your Home Region. If you want, you could lie, but I think they do this so that you can have the option of connecting with others in your area who are doing NaNo. I clicked USA:Illinois:Chicago.
7) Now you are on the How It Works page, which, if you’ve looked through the Learn More section, you’ve already seen. But now it’s time to actually do these things! So click on My Novel.
8) You are taken to a page that asks you to Announce Your New Novel and Tell Us About Yourself. I’m going to Tell Them About Myself first. I click on the first icon in that box – the first one on the line labeled “Participation Badges” – to set up my author profile. They want your location, age, birthday, hobbies, favorite novelling music, favorite books/authors, your website, a sponsorship website if you have one, occupation, and a bio. You can be as protective or as cavalier about privacy in this section as you like. I tend toward the cavalier.
Re: Sponsorship websites – if you like, you can set this up so that family members and friends can donate money based on what you write, like a walk-a-thon but with words. The money goes to their Young Writers Program and sponsored writers get prizes and goodies. I’m not doing it this year, because I just found out about it. But you can! It’s kind of a cool thing to do!
9) So, I saved that and I hit the tab that says, “My Novels.” Then I hit the Writing This Year? Enter Your Novel! link. If you’ve done NaNo before, you can also enter your prior novels, though to what end I’m not sure. Now it wants a title, a genre, a cover image if you’ve got one, a short synopsis, and an excerpt. I am working on two things right now that are in the very early stages. Both require a lot of research but one requires more so I’m going to use the one that requires less for NaNo. I’ve already written around 5,000 words, which is a no-no, but I came to the realization that they need to be re-written pretty drastically, so I’m going to assume that will be okay.
For my short synopsis, I used my Michael Hauge Story Concept Template sentence. You can find a version of it here:  Michael Hauge’s Story Concept Template (A version of the template, I mean, not of my synopsis.)
I am not putting in an excerpt. I mean, it’s all supposed to be new writing, right? And I’m not really sure I like what I have right now. So I’m just leaving it blank.
I think that’s it! I’m going to play around on the page a little bit. I want to see if I can figure out how we can all be writing buddies with each other. I will keep posting when I get new information. Please e-mail me at if you want more tutorial help.
So, uh, now you all know. Go forth and be merry!

A Conversation with My Brother on a Potential Trip to the Berkshires this Summer

So my brother Evan and I were talking about some potential Berkshires traveling for this summer. He kind of wants to go up with friends; I kind of want to go up with my dad; it’s unclear to us whether or not this is all going to happen together. 
Evan: you and dad joining in on this venture is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. you guys know the area and the cool things to do better, i was just also looking forward to hanging out with friends
Me: Here’s what there is to do in the Berkshires, as best as I can tell –
1) Purchase wine and cheese at overpriced but delicious markets.
Evan: yesssss
Me: 2) Bring them to Tanglewood along with a deck of cards, a backgammon board, a book, and all of the crossword puzzles you can get your hands on. Also a blanket and some chairs and a shit-ton of bug spray.
3) Lie on the lawn at Tanglewood eating cheese and drinking wine and napping and expressing the intention, any moment now, of reading your book/playing backgammon.
4) Find the potty at Tanglewood.
5) Go home and having a glass of wine on your deck.
6) Walk to town for some delicious gourmet pizza, some homemade ice cream, and some tchotchkes.
Evan: this is all i could ask for and more
Me: 7) Go back home and having another glass of wine on your deck.
8) Go to sleep
9) Wake up early with EVERY INTENTION of taking a brisk, invigorating walk through some woods somewhere.
10) Get distracted by the pastries someone brought home from the delicious but overpriced market. Eat those while doing some crossword puzzles.
11) Have a glass of wine while plotting strategy regarding Tanglewood and parking.
Evan: im noticing a lot of wine involved
Me: Yes.
That is a theme at Tanglewood.
or, with Dad and Kay, gin and tonics.
But only in the home setting. We don’t bring G&Ts to Tanglewood.
Evan: can wine be replaced by seasonal microbrews?
Me: “Replaced”? No.
“Supplemented”? Yes.
Evan: (at same time) supplemented with?
oh perfect, same wavelength
well isnt that lovely
so what you’re saying is the berkshires is basically the closest humans have gotten to the garden of eden
Me: Yes.
Can I edit this conversation and put it up on my blog?
Evan: of course
Me: Thanks.
Evan: no problem. will this part be included?
cuz now i kinda want it to be
Me: . . . no.
Evan: but…but think of the meta!
Me: I am.
And I am considering it.
Evan: huzzah!

Ricki/Sophia 3

Dear Ricki/Sophia,

I’m the oldest of my ten cousins, and I’m the only one who didn’t marry in my twenties like a good girl. Usually, being single doesn’t bother me, even at a wedding, but I think that is about to change. My youngest cousin, Tabitha, is getting married in May, at which time I will be the only single cousin left. I won’t disclose our ages, but suffice it to say I held Tabitha when she was a baby. Even if I happen to be feeling good on the big day, I’m anticipating a lot of pitying looks and rude questions. What are your best tips for looking great, feeling fabulous and not giving a fuck?

Spinsterliscious in Seattle 

Look great, feel fabulous, and do not give a fuck. Am I missing something?

Yeah, Sophia’s pretty much right here. Look, haters gonna hate, and rude people gonna rude. When you get pitying looks, ignore them. When you get rude questions, make big eyes at the person, say, “Wow,” like you cannot believe that this person could ask that rude a question, and then, if you don’t care about that person much, walk away, or if you do, change the subject. “Boy, the bride looked beautiful, huh?” “So, Kim Kardashian, right?” “Your shoes are fabulous; where did you get them?” Just as if they did not ask the incredibly rude question.

Yes, this is perfect. And do not for one moment allow yourself to feel as if you are being rude by changing the subject. You are being all things gracious and kind by ignoring their rudeness and carrying on a polite, appropriate, interesting conversation.

Yes. And if they persist, you can say, “Why are you asking?” And then stare at them and let the silence just sit there. Fight the nice-girl urge to smooth. They’re being rude and inappropriate; it’s they’re job to smooth.

Darling, you have nine nincompoop cousins who have chained themselves into the bonds of matrimony. You alone have escaped these shackles. What on God’s green earth would give them cause to pity you?



We’re married!

Well, that was your decision.

Wow, Sophia. So, Spinsterliscious, do you have an ally at the wedding? Are you invited with a plus one? Bring your coolest friend, male or female. Do you have someone in your family who gets you and would never pity you for being fabulous? Hang with them during the wedding and have a good time. And stop calling yourself a spinster. Or not a sufficiently “good girl.”

Who wants to be a good girl? My alter ego is good and what good has it done her?

Wow, Sophia. Just wow.

Ricki/Sophia 2

And we’re back!

Dear Ricki/Sophia,

I just moved back to Chicago after seven years in sunny Florida. It was hard saying goodbye to a job I loved, great friends, and lots of fun clubs and community groups I was a part of. But opportunity knocked and I was ready for a new adventure, so I decided to give it a chance. Well, it’s been almost a year now and I couldn’t be more miserable. My new job turned out to be a total bust: I work long hours and I can never seem to get ahead. I have no friends left in town except my parents, who I’ve been living with while I save up enough money for my own place. I thought Chicago might be a great place to find the man of my dreams, but between my long commute and my lack of energy, all I want to do at the end of the day is curl up with a jar of peanut butter and the remote. Even my parents go out more than I do (which they don’t hesitate to point out)! And all that laying around and eating have made me pimply and fat. Who’d want me now? What can I do to get out of this rut?


Regressing in Rolling Meadows

I do not know how it is that women do not understand this basic fact of men, but please, hear me: Being pimply and fat will not stop a man from wanting to have sex with you. Most of them will not notice that you are fatter and pimplier than you would like to be. BUT! Believing that men don’t want to have sex with you will stop a man from wanting to have sex with you, nearly every time. (Except for those horrible men who make a business of preying on insecure women, telling themselves that they are very clever indeed, when really, deep down, they do not believe that a woman who liked herself would ever like them. Which is true. And they are absolute shit in the sack; please do not bother with them.)


(It’s a self-five because Sophia lives in my imagination so we share a set of hands.) (Also, I’ve never inserted a .gif into a post before. I have a feeling this might be addictive.)

You have a bunch of small problems and they are snowballing into one big one in your head and that’s making you miserable and depressed. That doesn’t make you a horrible person; it makes you a totally normal person. But it’s what’s happening and it’s hard to recognize when it’s happening to you so I’m here to tell you that that’s what’s happening.

So, first things first, take care of you. I would start small. I would make a little schedule for myself. On Mondays, allow yourself to curl up with the peanut better and the remote. On Tuesdays you are required to go immediately to the gym after work, even if you feel draggy and tired. Join a yoga class or a class with some fun, exciting element like belly dancing or rock climbing, and just go no matter what else is happening. Take a totally different route to the gym than you do to go home, even if they are close to each other, so you can’t “accidentally” or unconsciously drive home. I’m not saying this because being fat is awful and you must get skinny immediately; I’m saying this because working out makes you feel better. Endorphins, energy, the sense that you did something good for yourself, simply not being home when your irritating parents are all, “We and have awesome concert tickets tonight and then after we’re going out for drinks, what’s your lazy ass doing?”, these are all good things. On Wednesdays, maybe a little more peanut butter and remote time, but before you sit down, go through your local paper or and write down three new things you could maybe get interested in trying. Thursday, either back to the gym or to some other outside the house thing. Friday, do more research on those three things, then back to peanut butter. What the hell, put a few dark chocolate chips on there; it’s Friday!

And then Saturday find yourself a delicious man – not your dream man, honestly, darling, just someone attractive – and go back to his place. Or, if he also has a less-than-ideal living situation, go find someplace terribly naughty to park. 

Sophia thinks casual sex is the solution to everything.

I have nothing against formal sex. Wear ermine and pearls if you like; they make me feel divine!

We don’t have any ermine.

That’s what you think. 

Next, the big things. (1) Are you in therapy? Because it sounds like this whole situation – the big expectations you had going in, the letdown of those expectations, the feelings of helplessness surrounding the situation you’re in – has got you pretty down and a little immobilized and maybe seeing a therapist would help.

(2) How soon can you realistically move out of your parents’ house and to someplace that is closer to work? Get an idea in your head of how much money you’d like to have saved and then do everything in your power to get to that number as quickly as possible. Long commutes can suck the everliving life out of you and so can asshole parents. and rest assured, your parents are being assholes. “We’re going out; how come you’re not, loser?!” is not what parents say. It’s what Regina George says.


Yeah, this .gif thing is going to be fun.

Also, is this the house you grew up in? Even without asshole parents, living where you did when you were a kid can increase your feelings of stagnation and helplessness. GTFO.

(3) The job. You didn’t go into much detail so I don’t know exactly what’s going on with the job. You’ve only been there a year and you called it a “new adventure” so maybe give yourself a little break on the learning curve if it’s relatively new stuff for you? Maybe one of those off-the-couch nights could be seeking some form of professional development? What’s your boss like? Can you talk to him/her about practical, concrete ways to improve your performance? Does your boss think you’re underperforming (“can’t get ahead”) or is it just you? Sometimes – and God knows, I do this, like, way too much – we can let ourselves think, “I did not perform this particular task well, therefore I suck, therefore I should just bury my head in shame and hope no one notices while I chew myself out on the inside for sucking so much,” and that’s not productive or helpful. But you can instead think, “I did not perform this task well, therefore there must be better ways to approach this task. I wonder how I can find them?” and then you can go find them and learn new things and master them and it’s awesome!

I teach Sunday School and sometimes have to teach kids from 4th – 8th grade to read Hebrew. And because the place that I teach is what it is, kids tend to come into the classroom with widely varying levels of already knowing this stuff. So the kids who barely remember that Hebrew goes right to left and not left to right watch the kids in their grade who already know pretty much all the letters and vowels and go, “I must be so stupid and dumb and I hate Hebrew and I hope we can just get this over with,” and sometimes it takes a great deal of work for me to convince them that it’s okay not to already know stuff. No one is born with the Aleph Bet in their head. The kids who already know this stuff just learned it before, that’s all.

My point is, with the job, is there stuff you can treat like it’s just a skill set you haven’t learned yet, and then go about finding ways to learn it, either with the help of your boss/colleagues or on your own?

Or is it simply not the job for you at all? I think you should give it a full calendar year, but if it’s not, it’s not, and that’s okay. Maybe spend one or two of your nights a week doing some serious thinking about what it is you like about the job, what it is you liked about your old job, and what you want from your next job. Then start looking for the next job.

(4) Friends. Friends are everywhere. I think there’s something of a problem in letting us all come of age in college, where finding friends is the easiest thing ever and people get super tight super fast and it feels like family because you’re all at the exact same stage of your life, living on top of each other, with more free time than you even had before or will again, and so many ways to fill it that allow you to meet even more friends. And then we all graduate and move and shit, and find out that making friends as a grown-up is way harder. And it is. And it’s not going to feel like college. But it’s not impossible. Is there no one in your new work place you like and would want to get to know? Ask them for coffee! Ask them if they know any way to conquer the tasks that are difficult for you. Ask them if they know of any fun thing to do this weekend and then ask if they want to do that thing with you. When you’re not at work, get out of the house! You said you were part of lots of clubs and community groups in Florida; find some of those to join! I know you say your long hours are leaving you wiped but, (a) sometimes having fun stuff to look forward to doing is more energizing than knowing you’re going back to your house to be assholed at by your parents, and (b) caffeine exists in numerous delicious forms. Go join shit. Then find the cool people at the places you just joined and say, “Hey, I’m wiped from my long day. Want to get some coffee?” Or, “Holy shit I just had an awful week at work. Know any good wine bars?” What about people you grew up around? Are any of them still in the area/cool? Would you want to hang out with any of them? Give them a Facebook nudge and see what happens.

(5) Dudes. Look, I am not saying that the man of your dreams is not going to happen. But he is sure as hell not going to pop up on your couch holding an extra spoon. So, yeah, you have to leave the house. But also, you’re not going to find him if you start by thinking, “Are you the man of my dreams?” Because then it will always look like, “No.” Because you will be comparing him to this nebulous, glowing image in your head of what a dream man is and no man is nebulous and glowing.

I really like to cook, and my husband really likes it when I cook. But sometimes he’ll be like, “Hey, this restaurant makes a really great thing! Can you make the really great thing just like this restaurant makes?” And I hate when he does that because I’m never going to match the restaurant thing, and, worse, I’m never going to match his memory of the restaurant thing, which is better than even the restaurant thing itself. No man can match the dream in your head.

And you have to get to know the man before you know whether or not he is dreamy. I know, I know, gut-level attraction is important, but, as much as I hate to agree with Patti Stanger on anything, most women don’t know if their guts are attracted until the dude has his tongue in her mouth.

So don’t start with, “Are you the man of my dreams?” Start with, “Are you a man I might enjoy a cup of coffee with?” If yes, “Are you a man I might enjoy dinner with?” And then keep going.

But I wouldn’t even start here because I think you’ve got to get yourself in a healthy headspace before taking dating seriously. I mean, when choosing gym classes and community groups and whatnot, maybe keep half a mind toward dudes you might meet there. Like, maybe make only one thing a thing only girls would do. Don’t do a belly-dancing class AND a knitting circle AND a Jane Austen book club and then not have any time left for dudes. (I mean, I’m sure there are dudes who take yoga and/or knit and/or like Jane Austen. But in terms of numbers? Not so much.) But start by making yourself feel better about your life. Get yourself on a path toward what you want your life to look like. Then, if no dude has presented himself to you, start actively looking for dudes.

In the meantime, some delightful casual sex couldn’t possibly hurt.

I’m not saying “Turn down nookie.” I’m just saying, “Don’t make pursuit of nookie a significant goal right now.” Actually, I’m not saying that either. I’m saying, “Don’t make pursuit of the man of your dreams a significant goal right now.” Nookie is fine.

“Nookie” is always fine.

Ricki/Sophia Reboot

So here’s what’s going on. A long time ago I had an alter ego named Sophia. She’s sort of my id. And she even has an origin story! I had an English teacher my junior year who called me Rachel all year, except one day she called me Sophia. Then she looked at me and said, “You’re not Sophia; you’re Rachel!” So the following year I had a different English teacher who heard me telling this story, and speculated that Sophia was my evil twin. Specifically, my evil Italian twin, whereas Rachel was my nice Jewish girl. (My mother is 100% Italian and my father is 100% Jewish and so I do, actually, have Italian and Jewish halves.) (Also, the English teacher making this comment is himself Italian. I grew up in Jersey, people.)

Anyway, Sophia was going to offer advice with me and I did a couple of columns like that and then I think I erased Sophia from my blog. I was going to set her up with her own but I . . . kind of never got around to it.

And yet my – and her – advice is needed! So here goes!

Dear Ricki/Sophia,

Help! I have a big decision to make. About a decade ago, I got my dream job and moved to a small town in the Midwest. I love what I do, and I have a lot of friends here, but there’s just one problem. There are NO eligible men here! I’m not exactly afraid to be on my own for a little while, and I love the independence of the single life, but to be honest, I haven’t been with a man since I moved here (and the few that have applied for the job could not handle the workload, if you know what I mean). Now I’ve been offered a less-prestigious job, for less money, but in a big city with lots of man potential. Is it silly to sacrifice my career just for sex?

Celibate in Cedar Rapids

Darling, I do know exactly what you mean. Of course it is not silly. Sex is never silly. Well, sex is often silly, and delightfully so, but it is never silly to do anything in order to have sex.

Yeah, maybe that’s true for figments of my imagination, Sophia. But let’s back up a step. You say “eligible men” in sentence two, but then in your question you ask about “just for sex.” And those are two very different questions.

Ah! I am lucky I am not alone here; I did not catch that. Yes, I must agree, I find it absurd to believe that there are no men capable of delighting your body in Cedar Rapids. I confess, I do not know what a Cedar Rapids is, but, darling, the world is positively full of men with working penises and a significant percentage of them have some vague idea of what to do with a woman’s body. But if you are looking for something more than simply a person to fulfill your sexual desires, then the question is more complicated.

And you’re not great with complication, Sophia.

I beg your pardon?

Outside the bedroom.

There are many things one can do outside the bedroom.

You know what I mean!

Look, if by “eligible,” you mean, “a man I might want to get married to,” and marriage is important to you, then no, it’s not silly. I’d take some serious time to consider if you’ve truly looked at all of your marriageable options where you are, but if you really think you need to move to find a husband, and you want a husband, then, yeah, do it.

If your career is important to you, too, though, also consider the new job and the old job. You say the old job was your “dream job” ten years ago. Is it still? You say the new one is less prestigious and makes less money. Are those crucial characteristics to you in a job? Does this new job offer something, besides a well of new men, that is attractive to you? If so, then I’d say this is an unqualified yes. Change jobs, change living situations, go on with your bad self. If not, is there a possibility of holding out in Cedar Rapids for a little while longer? Maybe looking into dudes you would not marry but might have fun with in the interim and still look for new jobs in new locations that would offer fulfillment?

Darling, do keep in mind, men are simply crawling all over this planet. There are literally billions of them. In big cities and small, in little tiny towns and on vast swaths of farmland. I do not know how to go about choosing a man for marrying, but for pleasure? Just find one that makes your skin tingle and go for it!

But use a condom.


Yeah, well, figments of imagination don’t get STIs or pregnant. Real women do.

Yes, well, fine, then. Use a condom. And have fun!

What Would I Give?

I swear to God I don’t want to defend the Disney princesses as much as I do. I just can’t help myself. I especially get irritated by the “Ariel gives up her voice to land a man” narrative. Because she doesn’t. She gives up her voice to become human. She wanted to become human before she laid eyes on Eric. And she made the actual decision to become human when her father destroyed all her human stuff. And the notion that men don’t like women who talk, anyway, came from the villain. Who was lying to get Ariel to sign the contract; even the villain didn’t actually believe that noise. And she thought she was giving up her voice for three days, and then she’d get to be human, which is what she wanted her whole life.

If you don’t want something badly enough to give up your voice for three days, you don’t have a story-worthy goal.

In fact . . . I mean, it’s three days. Here’s a short list of things I want that I’d give up my voice for three days to get, and they’re not story-worthy goals.

  1. Reservations at Next.
  2. Fins. So I could be a mermaid.
  3. Prada shoes. Specifically, these Prada shoes.
  4. Or my mythical shoes.
  5. The perfect lip gloss.


What you’d give up your voice for three days to get?




So, as I posted on Facebook, I am having to deal this week with the fact that my 60-year-old father is in significantly better shape than I am. This has been true for a while – at least since he started Weight Watchers last year and probably before that – but this week, I’ve been dealing with it more viscerally because, while he’s been here, we’ve worked out together. Yesterday we walked in the Botanic Gardens and today we biked. He can go further faster than me without getting as winded or red-faced or sweaty, and what I consider a good work-out, he considers “warm-up.”

But. I will not allow this to shame me. I will not allow this to sink me into a pit of despair and pasta bowls the size of my kitchen table. I will allow this to motivate me instead! In fact, we have struck a deal this morning, since we have always been a bit competitive. The next time I am in NJ, which will be in December, we will take a pair of side-by-side elliptical machines at his gym, and whoever can go the furthest in an hour (or maybe 90 minutes if I have REALLY been working out hard and that no longer seems ridiculously daunting to me) wins!

(Wins what? We didn’t discuss. The joy of winning has always been enough for either of us.)

And, to stay motivated, I might do a daily or weekly post on this blog. I actually started another blog in January which was meant to keep weekly track of my weight/size and daily track of my food intake and exercise, but I didn’t keep it up, because 1) that’s daunting, and 2) I didn’t even tell my limited audience of you guys about it so the motivational effects were pretty nil. I’m not going to be that intense about it here because how boring for y’all but I’ll try to do some form of update.

Parenting Philosophies

I saw this the other day and I started thinking about my parenting “philosophy.” I do try to “calm the fuck down” about most things. I also have read, you know, Alfie Kohn, and Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and all those people, and I try, I really do, to parent the way I want to parent, a way I’ll feel proud of when she’s 16 or 21 or 30 or whatever.

I try to think long-term. I try not to focus on whether or not she’s learning her alphabet on schedule or jumping up and down on one foot on schedule (for those of you who are not parents – yes, that’s an actual thing). I try to focus on whether she’s developing a lifelong love of learning, and developing a body she’ll be able to use and enjoy using for her life. 

I try not to encourage in her personality traits that will make her childhood easy for me – such as obedience – and instead encourage her to feel what she’s feeling, do what she wants within reasonable limits, and question things, even me. 

I try not to say no unless I have to, and when I do, I try to give a reason. Not because she’s owed one, exactly, but because I am not trying to teach her “Do what your mother says”; I’m trying to teach her “Think about what you do before you do it; think about the consequences of your actions. Here’s how.”

Because I’m trying to let her do what she wants within reason, I am constantly monitoring her abilities, her feelings, her physical and emotional ability to handle things. And when she can’t handle things, I try to work with her, not just to comfort her, but to help her figure out how to handle things.

We didn’t exactly subscribe to all of attachment parenting’s doctrines, but I did breastfeed for 106 fucking weeks, and wear Zoe in a Baby Bjorn until she was absolutely too heavy, which, as many of you know, took a while, because she’s teeny. And she did share our bed until . . . oh, yesterday. 

I am trying to be the perfect authoritative balance between “I unilaterally restrict everything!” authoritarianism and “I unilaterally allow everything” permissivism. I try to allow her to have her feelings while also teaching her to be strong. I try to make her feel loved and looked after without helicoptering. 

I am fucking exhausted.


My Trip to Door County, or, A Dissertation on the Cherry

Jason and I went up to Door County, WI this weekend. It was the first trip we’ve taken alone since Zoe was born and actually only the third trip we’ve ever taken just the two of us, which sounds completely ridiculous and unbelievable considering that we’ve been together for thirteen and a half years, but it’s true.

Some of my readership (Dad, Uncle Mark, Lisa – so, like, a third of my readership? Uncle Mark, do you in fact read this site?) has already seen Jason’s e-mails about this, but I’ll tell it from my perspective, too.

For those of you who don’t know, Door County, Wisconsin is the county that covers that peninsula sticking into the top of Lake Michigan.

door county map

It’s a resort-ish collection of towns, with adorable little downtowns that have adorable tchotchke shops (and I have to ask – how do people who don’t know Yiddish describe stores like the ones in resort towns all over the country?) and places where you can rent boats or bikes or mopeds or go parasailing or fishing or play golf or, you know, do vacation-y things.

It is also the home of the cherry.

And whitefish. Lots of whitefish. But more cherries.

Day Zero

So Wednesday Jason took Zoe to his parents’ house when he got home from work. I had to run out of the house, too, and because we’ve been on the move constantly, I hadn’t really realized that once I left the house, I wouldn’t see Zoe for FIVE WHOLE DAYS. So then I got all sad and choked up and she was being the sweetest little girl ever, saying good-bye so nicely, and she’d miss me for 100,000. (This is a thing now.) And giving me lots of kisses while also being totally cool about it, because she was SUPER-EXCITED to stay at her grandparents’ for five days.

Then on my way home there was a major thunderstorm. So that was cool.

Jason and I had intended to be ready to go so that we could just roll out of bed and into the car and get passed Milwaukee before rush hour.

That did not happen.

You guys, we’re kind of tired. We’ve been travelling a lot.

So Jason brought me Yu’s from Schaumburg around 9 o’clock. We watched an episode of “Mad Men” (I am so in favor of Peggy banging Stan, btw. I mean, if she’s looking to me for approval, she’s got it.) and went to bed, and then packed in the morning. Which meant we didn’t leave until basically after rush hour was over. Which is also fine.

Day One

We arrived in Door County in mid-afternoon and checked in to our hotel, The Coachlite Inn, in Sister Bay. It had a giant rainbow flag outside, as did a lot of places, and I have to say, I’m not totally sure if Door County is especially gay-friendly, or if it’s so rural and innocent that they don’t know what the rainbow flag means and just use it to help you spot the driveways. But the hotel was nice. Big jacuzzi in the bathroom. Clean. Friendly. Free, unpassworded wifi. Which would turn out to be important because our service sucked everywhere that was not our hotel room.

Anyway, after settling in a bit, we headed over to Fish Creek, which has the highest concentration of adorableness on one strip of road. The road being 42, which is what all things are on. Want to go to Fish Creek? Head south from Sister Bay on 42. Want to go to Washington Island? Head north on 42 until it goes into the water. The ferry will be on your left. Want to go to the movies? Keep going south on 42 until you see a movie theater. It’s convenient.


So we shopped in Fish Creek. Got some cherry fudge. Looked at tchotchkes. There was this one store with lots of leather jackets and furniture made from branches and real hide rugs and stuff. There was this hooded poncho made of strips of fur that I thought was hilarious. I loved the wood furniture with the legs all twisted branches and the surfaces like you’d just taken a slice of tree. There was also this really cool piece made of different colored stone to look like a rapids across the table top.

Jason fell in love with these Australian opal-and-amethyst rings and decided Zoe needed one.

I ask you.

She’s going to be demanding, like, a Dior prom dress and he’s just going to go, “But she’ll like it so much!”

Anyway, I also went into the Alexander Noble Home. Alexander Noble was one of the earliest settlers of Fish Creek and his home was designed more or less by his oldest daughter – they had a copy of the plan she gave the carpenter and everything. She made her bedroom the biggest. The house actually stayed in the family until 1995, which is pretty impressive. And the house was showing all sorts of Victorian (and later) wedding things, which was neat. I had a nice chat with the guide about my wedding and also the morals of young kids these days, and I learned some things. That device that someone had given to Zoe’s preschool that I couldn’t figure out? Coffee grinder. They had one, too. Victorian ladies used to make jewelry out of their hair. Oh, and my favorite thing – they would have a cake for the general guests, then a groom’s cake, and then also a lady’s cake, for the bridesmaids. And they’d have ribbons on the bridesmaids’ cake that the bridesmaid would pull out and at the end there’d be a little favor for her! Like a ring or a pin or something! Isn’t that cute?

After we finished shopping we wanted dinner. Jason chose the place with cherry barbecue ribs on the menu, even though I thought it looked a little too corporate. And it was. But cherry barbecue sauce is a good idea and I got some cherry jam so I could try it this summer, and I had a drink of cherry brandy, honey-jalepeno syrup, and club soda that was pretty good and would be better if the ratio were a little less club-soda-skewed.

There was a mini-golf place right next to our hotel so we went there that evening. I had been avoiding playing mini-golf with Jason because I have memories of sucking at it and I thought he’d make fun of me and I would lose and hold everyone up and it would be awful. But he really wanted to play so I said okay, I’ll play.

And you know what? I didn’t suck. I was fine. Not good or anything. But fine. He only beat me by 3 points, and we were neck and neck most of the time. So that felt good. Healed some childhood trauma for me.

Day Two

We wanted to bike on Washington Island, which is the island off the tip of the peninsula there.


So after some cereal at the hotel, we drove up 42 until we got to the ferry. Well, at one point we almost took a different ferry, but in the end we sorted ourselves out and got on the boat.

We were crossing the little bit of water that gives the county its name. See, some time ago, the Potawami tribe occupied Door County. Then the Winnebago tribe (Yeah, it’s a tribe, not just an RV company. I learn something new every day.) went on a murderous rampage and took the peninsula by force. The Potawami who survived escaped to Washington Island. The Winnebago decided to pursue them there, but as their best warriors headed in their canoes across the 6-mile passage, a storm kicked up and dashed the warriors on the rocks, killing them all. That passage – which was entirely peaceful when we headed across it – became known as “Death’s Door.”

Jason crossing Death's Door. Does he look scared?

Jason crossing Death’s Door. Does he look scared?

So we headed across the door of death to Washington Island, and got on our bikes. We biked through a couple of miles of nothing – including four pieces of waterfront property for sale; I thought we could maybe buy them all and open a sleep-away camp or maybe a luxury resort. Then we turned on the Main Road, which the map I had seemed to indicate would have some cutesiness on it. But you know what Washington Island has on it?

Not much.

We pulled over where the “cherry train” trolley tour had stopped, at a general store – not a cutesy one – and a book store which was not open for business yet. Whether for the day or for the summer was difficult to tell. The non-cutesy general store also did not have both the gold and the red verjus (and not green and gold, like Jason indicated in his e-mails) that was made on the island, and which I need to make virtually anything from my Shakespeare’s Kitchen cookbook, so we moved on.

We biked all the way up Main Road, which continued to host farms and little else, and then turned in to go to Schoolhouse Beach. Schoolhouse Beach is one of only five beaches in the world that has limestone rocks instead of sand. It was the most awesome place I’ve ever seen, except the Negev desert. It was small, surrounded by cedars, and entirely made up of these perfect, smooth limestone rocks. Which had spiders living under them. And the forest was full of mosquitos. But it was truly beautiful.


And then we looked up and saw a sun halo!

See the mosquitoes?

See the mosquitoes?

Only we didn’t know it was a sun halo! Because we didn’t have any service of any kind for our iPhones! So I thought maybe it was the end of the world. But a beautiful end.

We biked back down Main Road and stopped at the one cafe we saw, which happened to also be the one cafe I’d picked out in the guide book as the one I wanted to go to. It was called Bread + Water cafe, and it was a restaurant, bakery, kayak shop and museum, possibly the center of some sort of community service project, AND had free Wifi. That was when we looked up the sun halo thing and reassured ourselves that the end was NOT nigh. But it was the most adorable place.


Kind of Jesus-y. You could request a prayer along with your not-from-powder lemonade. And the woman who sat us and seemed to manage or possibly own the place seemed very surprised when we walked in and wanted to order a meal. I got the impression that she usually knew personally the people who came in. She seemed to know everyone else there. And by everyone else, I mean the two waiters, who were young teenagers and may have been part of this community outreach program, their family members who were in the restaurant sitting with the proprietress when we walked in, and maybe three others, at least one of which I thought probably had an intimate relationship with marijuana. Jason had a very delicious-looking ham-and-cheese sandwich with homemade slaw, and I had them combine the two salads on the menu so that mine had spinach AND apples AND bacon AND almonds AND feta AND – naturally – cherries. It was really good. I wasn’t expecting much when I saw how low-rent an operation this was, but it was a damn good salad.

And we finally had a slice of cherry pie. Thank God. They were going to kick us out of Door County any second.

See that plate with the flowers? I think my great-aunts had those plates.

See that plate with the flowers? I think my great-aunts had those plates.

And I got my verjus at the grocery store across the street, along with some chocolate-covered dried cherries. So that was good.

We made the 2 o’clock ferry back and then went back to refresh ourselves and then had dinner at a family-owned diner in Sister Bay called Grasse’s, where I had some truly excellent white fish. And we had some cherry ice cream, too. We took a walk on the pier and then returned home for the night. The biking had wiped us out pretty good.

Day Three

I had been told of Al Johnson’s, the Door County institution with live goats on its roof, and it was right there in Sister Bay, so we went for breakfast. It’s a Swedish establishment with a “butik” that was apparently the first store in Door County to sell, in 1974, bikinis. Scandalous.

See? Goats. It's hard to make this shit up.

See? Goats. It’s hard to make this shit up.

It’s a family-owned place – Al Johnson himself only died three years ago; his widow still owns it; one of his sons sat us and the other apparently cooked our food. Jason had eggs Benedict and I had Swedish pancakes – thin, almost crepe-like, and, at Al Johnson’s, rectangular – with lingonberries and a side of Swedish meatballs, which were good, but honestly, the ones I made a few months ago were a little better. We got Zoe a stuffed goat and me a cookbook of Swedish cookies and stuff, and also some limpa bread, which I brought home and haven’t eaten yet.

Then we were determined to get to Sweetie Pie’s, the best place, we were told, for cherry pie, before it closed. It was in Fish Creek but down 42 a ways from where the main shops are.

It was really cute. It was, like, a normal kitchen, not even a double oven or anything, and a few varieties of pies, and they offered “crust cookies” when we came in. We got one big cherry pie to share with Jason’s parents when we got back, one little cherry pie for Jason’s co-worker, and two little pies – a chocolate pecan and an apple – for us. Then we walked around the shopping area where Sweetie Pie’s was located and had a lovely conversation with the owner of the alpaca store, who was also an alpaca farmer. One of the first in the United States! And she had a farm on Washington Island but that was being taken over by her nephew, who liked the property because he could put a deer stand out there. And me, being from a family like mine, was like, “What’s a deer stand?” So I got a lovely lesson in that, too.


By then it was raining. I had wanted to go to the Fyr Ball festival in Ephraim, which was my favorite town so far because in addition to the cuteness, it looked like the kind of town people actually lived in, with a Village Hall/Library, and a Wilson’s Soda Shop, and all these cool flags for the Fyr Ball.

Fyr Bal

But obviously it wasn’t going to be fun in a thunderstorm, so we decided to drive all the way to Sturgeon Bay – which kind of lacks cutesiness and is really where people actually live – to go to the one regular movie theater in all of Door County to see Man of Steel. (There’s a drive-in, and we wanted to go, but they were showing Iron Man 3 and Fast and Furious 6. You guys, I totally missed Fast and Furious 5! I can’t see 6!)

None of those muscles are created by the suit, by the way.

None of those muscles are created by the suit, by the way.

I did not much care for Man of Steel. Jason liked it. I did not.

I do not want to spoil it for anyone, or make much of a discussion of it on this particular blog post, so if you want to discuss with me the merits and de-merits of Man of Steel, please feel free to e-mail, call, or message me. Or take it to the comments and we can have it out there. But I just did not care for it. And I will say this one thing – I am too damn old for shaky-cam 3D. I was even too damn old on Saturday, and that was before I turned 32!

So once we got out the rain had cleared. We stopped at a wine-tasting place and tasted – and then bought – some wine, and then tasted – and bought – a whole bunch of cheese. At least two of the wines we bought and at least four of the ones we tasted involved cherries somehow. None of the cheeses we tasted did but I think the cheese place had at least one cheese that involved cherries.

We also stopped in Fish Creek to have dinner at the fancy place I’d picked out our first night but didn’t feel appropriately dressed for. I had made us reservations and we were supposed to come back later that night, after I had changed and put on my nice shoes, but Jason was hungry now, so we decided to have dinner early.

It was at Whistling Swan, which is a great name, and their whole look – I was just totally enamored. Very neutral, pale colors, dark woods, metal and stone bird statues and black and tan pebbles on the table, stacks of birch wood and gunmetal light fixtures. I know I tend to favor a lot of color in my decor scheme but sometimes I want to wipe it all out and do this style instead.

And the meal was VERY good. I had the wine the waitress recommended, which was sort of herby and delicious. They gave us a cucumber basil gazpacho as an amuse bouche which was creamy and had a real kick. Then we shared a pork belly taco with jalepeno-tomato jam and picked red onion, and a sort of pate thing (‘nduja) with mascarpone on toast and chervil. I don’t always like chervil but this was really good. I also ordered a tomato salad with mustard greens, pesto, and house-made ricotta, and Jason was all, “Eh, I don’t think we need a salad,” and ate half of it. Because it was delicious. And because of course he did. Then he got a perfectly cooked flat-iron steak with veal reduction, haricots verts, carrots, mushroom (trumpet? What’s the kind that’s got a thicker stem than cap?) and mashed potatoes, and I got duck breast with peas, new potatoes, carrots, and a beet puree. Everything was excellent. Then some good Chai (but not as good as yours, Shobhit!) and a chocolate fudge cake which was way more fudge than cake (which is an EXCELLENT thing) with honey ice cream, crushed pistachios, and salted caramel. And THEN they brought us two tiny, tiny spoons with that caramel, covered over in amaranth seeds, which are sort of corn-like.

Anyway. It was delicious, the room was beautiful, and we were very happy.

By the time we got to Ephraim the Fyr Ball was more or less over, although there was a really good band playing covers of ’80s songs in the Village Hall. We didn’t stay for the bonfire (bonfyr?) or the little girls in Swedish outfits dancing, which I was sort of disappointed about, but we had been out all day and Jason was tired and wanted to go home. So we did. I soaked in the tub for a while, wrote, and eventually we broke out the chocolate pecan pie which was DELICIOUS.

Day Four

Time to go home. We got up and got packed. Jason observed that I hadn’t had any of the Scotch we brought up with us, so he insisted that I have a sip before we put it in the trunk. So mark your calendars, folks – my descent into depravity started on my 32nd birthday, when I had Scotch before 9 am.

We had intended to go to the landmark White Gull Inn in Fish Creek for their famous Door County Cherry French Toast, but when we got there we discovered that we would not be seated for an hour, so Jason said forget it. We went down the street to The Cookery, which is where I’d wanted to have dinner that first night. And when we walked in, I said hi to the guy who’d been manning the desk at Whistling Swan the night before, and was now having breakfast with his parents. I think it gave Jason a pause that I could greet familiarly a handsome and bearded young man, but you know. I’m a man magnet. He’s just gotta deal.

The restaurant was very good. It was owned by a couple who bought the place on their honeymoon (I mean, it wasn’t a total whim; they had met in a kitchen and were looking to open a restaurant together), and they still operate it, along with their daughters. Very dedicated to homemade, locally sourced, etc. Jason had more eggs Benedict on their homemade biscuits and I had fried eggs over the biscuits served with their whitefish chowder. AND of course Jason had a lemonade spiked with their house-made cherry syrup, and I had their house-made ginger ale spiked with their house-made cherry syrup. The refills were supposed to be sans cherry syrup, but they gave us more anyway, which was nice.

And then we got some more cherry fudge – they had dark chocolate this time! – before getting in the car and heading home. Well, to my in-laws’, where Zoe was.

My favorite thing on the ride home? We passed a couple on a motorcycle. Jason wanted to chastise them for their lack of helmets. Then we pulled up closer and saw that the woman on the back of the bike was reading! Just chillin’ with her paperback on the back of a motorcycle! Girl after my own heart.

So we got to my in-laws in the mid-afternoon. I had been feeling really good about Zoe being there because we Facetimed with her every night, and whenever we did she was really happy to see us, told us she loved us a million times, gave us lots of kisses through the phone, and then would be like, “Okay, I gotta go watch Powerpuff Girls, bye!” And I thought, wow, what a terrific job I’m doing as a parent. My kid, she’s secure enough that she can be someplace without us and still be happy to see us but not desperate or sad or anything. I get an A+ for the Emotional Health class at Child-Rearing School.

But when my daughter, the love of my life, the light of my soul, my own little mouse who I love the most in the whole world, saw me walk through the door – she burst into tears. “I don’t want to leave!” she complained.

Thanks, kid.

We had dinner with my in-laws – more Yu’s, because it was my birthday and I always want more Yu’s – and then had the cherry pie. We decided the filling was better but the crust not quite as good as the Door County cherry pie we get from Wildfire when it’s in season.

And that was our trip! Thanks for listening! Tune in some time in the near future for this season of SYTYCD!

Good Parenting

Y’all, I forgot to post last week. I think trying to do a once a week blog is interfering with my goal of writing something I will one day actually get paid for. So I’m dropping this down to “sporadic” for right now.

But I wanted to tell you two stories that illustrate why my parents are awesome. Their best parenting moments, if you will.

First, my dad. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I got pinkeye for the first time. I know this sounds like absolutely no big deal to anyone since it’s just a piddling little infection that goes away in a couple of days. But I freaked the fuck out about it. I was not a vain teenager; I didn’t spend a lot of time or money or energy on my clothes or hair; I never even learned to do eyeshadow until I worked for Aveda in college and had to. I didn’t really think I was all that pretty and I didn’t try to make myself so.

Or at least that’s what I thought I thought. Until one eye was all red and swollen and goopy. And then I found out where my vanity lived.

My dad was witnessing my freaking out and couldn’t understand it. “But Dad!” I sobbed. “My eyes are my best feature!”

“Really?” my dad said. “I thought it was your wit.”

Perfect Dad moment right there. There was simply nothing better he could have said in that moment, no better way, even, to construct or deliver that sentence. It should be studied in textbooks with titles like “How to Talk to Your Teenage Daughter: A Guide in Building Self-Esteem.”

Now, my mom. The television show “Felicity” started airing when I was a senior in high school, IIRC, and the first episode featured the mom getting all sad that her titular baby girl was heading to college. I, feeling a touch sentimental myself, asked my mom if she would feel that way when I went away to school. She said no. I got a mite offended, but then she said something like, “My job in raising you was to teach you to go away from me. You going to college means I did my job and you’re going on to live your life, pursue your interests, and be an adult. I want you to grow up and go away, because that’s what I want for you. I’ll miss you, but I won’t be sad.”

She insisted on taking me to college sans my father, because she feared, probably correctly, that my father would spend the afternoon schmoozing with other parents and then get all sad and weepy when it was time to go, whereas my mother, who I swear is not British but still only believes in showing sentiment to dogs and horses, would get me unpacked, make sure I had everything I needed, and leave. Which she did. I remember starting to walk her back to her car, and she asked why I was following her, and I said I wanted to say goodbye, and she said, “Oh, please. Give your mother a hug and go.” So I gave my mother a hug and went back to my dorm, soon to be picked up by my aide group leader (read: camp counselor) and on to have lots of fun for four years.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I was back in New Jersey, and my mom, my sister and I went to see that movie with Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman as mother and daughter and then Natalie Portman goes to Brown? And I look over and my mom is crying! We left the movie theater and I said, “Mom! How come you cried when Natalie Portman went to college but not when I did?” And she said, “I did cry. I just did it in the car where you couldn’t see me. I didn’t want you to feel like you had to take care of my emotions on your first day of college. I wanted you to go have your own emotions.”

Good job, Mom.

So what were your parents’ greatest parenting moments?