Monday, November 23, 2009

Giving Thanks

Thursday is Thanksgiving and I'm not gonna lie, I'm slightly depressed this year. On September 15, we were officially under contract on our first house. On September 16, my job congratulated me with a shocking layoff. Guess they were afraid my new 50 mile round trip commute would somehow interfere with showing up? Who knows. On September 17, we officially lost our mortgage because of my layoff. After looking for over two years, we finally found everything we needed within our price range, then lost it within three days.

The husband needed a basement and garage and I just needed a dining room. If you know me, you know I'm not exactly the resident chef, that's actually my husband's job. When we first met, I did my best and cooked him many a meatloaf, chili, baked mac and cheese, etc. Over the years, he got really into cooking. He reads countless cookbooks, has our TV locked into Food Network 24-7 and just basically enjoys it more than I do. Everyone agrees, he's really an awesome little cook too.

Anyway, this was going to be our very first Thanksgiving hosted by us. We were to move in this past weekend allowing us less than a week to set the place up. I was determined. We have two rooms at my mother-in-law's house filled with dozens of amazing wedding gifts we don't have room for. We have beautiful plates, serving dishes, stand mixer, convection oven, etc. Finally we would have it all unpacked and ready to use in our new home.

Getting that close to buying a house was too good to be true. I didn't want to tell anyone, but I knew something would step in and stop us. I just wasn't sure what it would be. We had our funding. We had our wedding money. Would it be the inspection? What exactly would it be that would screw us? Sure enough, something did and here we are in the same small one bedroom and my mom is once again hosting Thanksgiving.

Yes, I am very, very thankful for my mom and for her generous love and hospitality. I'm just bummed deep down that here I am over 35 years old and I still can't host my own holiday. Our apartment is cramped. We don't have a decent table or room for one. Our kitchen is beyond small and sucky. It just won't work. Yes, many renters host a fabulous holiday. I know they figure out a way to make it work. Me, I just can't. I want it done right. I want people to fit comfortably. I want to invite about 12-15 people. I want things to look perfect. I want people to be able to sleep over if they need to. Hopefully next year we'll be in a house but the way the job market looks, I'm not holding my breath.

When I was a kid, I never really thought about future Thanksgivings. It's really weird, but I'm having difficulty even remembering where we spent Turkey Day back in the days. I'm pretty certain that in the '80s we had dinner at Grandma's. Her house would be jam-packed with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins, etc.

In the '90s, my mom began hosting it to give my grandma a break. One thing I do remember? The wish bone! My mom would save it to the side for me. I'd make a wish in my mind and pull on it hoping my wish would come true. I doubt it ever did, because my wishes were more like unobtainable dreams, "I want ET to come to our house and beam me up to space with him" or "I wish I could marry Ralph Macchio" or "I want to be the next Punky Brewster and have my own TV show." Yeah right. Like any of that's really ever gonna happen.

My mom would starve us all day long and still does! Acting like the food police, she wouldn't allow us a morsel before dinner. "We're going to eat a huge meal, don't touch a thing!" she'd yell, handing us an apple. Sorry, an apple doesn't count as food in my book. I cheated as I got older...

By the time I was driving, my brother and I would sneak out for a burger. It became a bit of a tradition to find a way to eat before the big bird was served. It usually included finding food from an outside source. For example, I once took my little cousins, who were in town from Florida, to Hempstead for White Castle (it was the only place open). I remember the horror on their young faces as they looked around at unsightly customers, wondering where the heck I had taken them. I was going to try to keep it a secret from my aunt, but of course they ratted me out about the rat burgers.

Thanksgiving, 1990
I remember being away at college and the cafeteria throwing us some really inviting Thanksgiving feast before closing for the long weekend. It was a true New England meal with stuffing and cobblers. It was a new and different experience. Hanging out with my roommates and friends from school. We exchanged stories about our family's traditions and all shared a certain excitement about the small break. We couldn't wait to get home to our friends and relatives for the holiday weekend.

Thanksgiving, 1993
I remember my lone semester at Stony Brook. A guy I was dating became my official boyfriend right before Thanksgiving weekend. That Wednesday afternoon I drove him to the train station. I hated the idea of not seeing him for an entire four days. I remember us holding hands while I drove him and thinking, "I'm thankful for my new boyfriend." It kept me smiling the entire holiday season.

Thanksgiving, 2003
My very first real holiday with my husband was one I will remember forever. We had talked about a Killington resort we both loved as kids (there's an older blog about this). I did some research and got us a great deal on a 4-night stay complete with breakfast every morning and Thanksgiving dinner. It was our first real trip and I was super excited about it. He came to NYC and picked me up at my apartment in his little car and we headed up to Vermont for a romantic getaway weekend. It snowed every single day. After a truly gourmet Thanksgiving dinner, we were stuffed for a few hours but then by midnight, typical of us, we were ready for a snack. We drove in the snow to a single pizza place that was surprisingly open. That holiday weekend was incredibly memorable. I even met up with my cousin and her boyfriend (now husband) for dinner in town. Coincidentally, they too were spending their first Thanksgiving in Vermont!

Thanksgiving, 2008
Last Thanksgiving, I was recovering from gall bladder surgery and had to be careful with what I ate. That was probably a blessing in disguise since I can really "put it away" as my mom would say. We had a blast though. We went up to my aunt and uncle's house in Connecticut and got a deal on a nearby hotel thanks to a friend who works for a major hotel chain. It was freezing as we inched towards the hotel, but it was so cozy and it was our first married Thanksgiving. I couldn't ask for a better holiday. I'm sure I'll always remember that holiday as well.

The one awesome thing about every Thanksgiving, is that I'm lucky to always find myself surrounded by the love of my family. That truly is something to be thankful for. Corny, I know, but true.

Friday, November 20, 2009

License to Drive

As a kid, I was a victim of "the late birthday". That situation where you just make the cut off for your grade by about a month. I was always one of the youngest kids in my class. I think I was only five by the time I started first grade and I entered my freshman year of college at age 17. I couldn't even vote if there was some sort of election before 11/4.

Because of the late birthday deal, I was unable to partake in drivers ed the summer before my junior year of high school along with the rest of the kids. Luckily my BFF Scott had a November birthday like me and we were able to sign up together which was cool since I didn't really like many of my other classmates.

However, unlike Scott, I was a horrible test taker. Seriously. Give me a test on my more favorite TV show or the celeb I love most. If the answers were multiple choice with a teacher grading it, you could bet I'd fail it. I always knew the info, but panicked and failed regardless. It's amazing I even had a permit! I made sure I read that driving manual cover-to-cover like fifteen times. I memorized the information knowing I'd be nervous taking it in the DMV classroom.

Fast forward to end of summer. I passed the class, but failed the road test. I took it again, failed. Tried again, failed. And although I took it in a different part of Long Island each time, I still failed. Throughout senior year, each time I failed, my mom and I would get all bummed out. She would remind me over and over again, "You know how to drive. You're a good driver. I feel comfortable with you driving. Why can't you just relax?!" Ironically, my dad taught driver ed in the summer at the high school he worked at. After a few lessons with him, we called it quits. He didn't have the patience for me or my nerves.

The worst part about failing my road test three times, was that I never actually got to complete the test. The road test Nazi seated next to me would watch droplets of sweat fall from my face as I turned the key, positioned both shaky hands perfectly on the wheel at 10 and 2 and within a few seconds, they'd simply say, "OK, turn the vehicle off. Sorry, you've failed." I once did manage to pull away from the curb but my anxiety engulfed my entire body and mind, sorta like the way the Hulk transformed Bruce Banner, only in a very uncool fashion. I was obviously asked to turn around.

The furthest I got was in Freeport, Long Island. Driving along the very busy Sunrise Highway, I came upon a light. When asked to make a left turn, I spazzed. I couldn't breathe. I waited to go as cars sped up to run the light. I never felt I had a safe opportunity to make that left turn. The light turned red. I waited and waited and waited and after two changes of the light, the tester said, "OK, I'm going to tell you when to turn. This test is officially over, you have failed."

I never got to show them my terrific three-point turn or perfect parallel park. It was over. I gave up. I was going to graduate high school without my license. It was official. My first summer as a high school grad and my parents were still dropping me off at the movies and mall. Although BFF Scott had his license, he chose not to buy a car so we were both stuck. You can't survive on Long Island without a car. The public transportation is horrendous. I had heard it took over 2 hours and like three different bus changes to get to the county's colleges.

Having a feeling this might happen, I decided to go away to school. I had always loved New England, so I picked a small state college in Massachusetts. I will always be grateful for the small town of Fitchburg and their driving regulations. They were so much more relaxed than New York.

My parents paid for ten driving lessons up there. I looked up local driving schools and found one named "Allie's Driving School" and I knew I had to call them. I mean, it was my name! Turned out, Allie was about 70-years-old and super duper cranky. We got off to a rough start, but she eventually warmed up to me and offered up some great tips.

I hated driving alongside a truck or construction (still do). I had this feeling that things were closer than they truly were. She would always yell out, "Look straight ahead. Don't you dare look at whatever it is to the side." In this case, I think it was a guardrail along the road. It worked! It kinda reminded me of bowling, how you're supposed to look straight ahead and bring your hand straight up and then you get a strike. Bad analogy, but to me it makes sense. It's all tricking your peripheral vision I guess.

The time came for me to take my road test that spring and of course the nervousness returned. I felt like, by this time, if I couldn't pass, I was done for. What I didn't know was that in Massachusetts, they allow your parent or driving instructor to remain in the car during the test. Allie being a townie and driving instructor in the area most of her life, paid off for me. She knew each of the RMV (that's what they call the DMV there) employees.

As soon as this tough-looking New England guy sat down next to me in the old teal green Ford Taurus, Allie greeted him from the backseat, "Hey Jim! How's it going?" she said in a sing-song old lady voice. "Starting to look more like spring every day, huh?" he replied. "Say, how's the little lady doing? Little Jimmy doing well?" The two chatted back and forth, while he squeezed in a, "Turn left here" and "Turn right there" ... I was in heaven. He barely paid attention to me.

I was lovin' Jim and Allie. We were all in this together, like a team on a driving mission. I mean I was ready for a road trip with these two. It was great! My final big move was to park, not parallel because that's not how they did it there, but in a basic parking spot at the RMV. Come on, how difficult could that be? There weren't even any cars around, it was a big empty spot you'd see like at the grocery store. I pulled the Taurus in and thought, "I think I have this. I think I may have actually passed."

I turned the car off and looked at him sheepishly. With a non-smiling face, he said, "Yeah, you passed." We exited the car, and he handed me a signed piece of paper and said, "You are now a licensed driver in the state of Massachusetts." I asked if I could hug him. He said yes. I bear hugged him and told him I loved him and thanked him for giving me the best gift I've ever gotten in my entire life. He let out a dry chuckle. I raced into the small RMV building, they snapped my pic and gave me my license. I slept with it under my pillow that night.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Adventures in Babysitting

Several years ago while working for an advertising/pr firm, my boss would often tell me horror stories about her babysitter. To me, they weren't really all that bad, but the worst part was that she described things I think I may have done as a babysitter.

Let me first tell you that I liked this boss. She was pretty nice and we got along well, in fact I was bummed to leave the company but things weren't looking good there business-wise and for the first time ever, I was going to break up with a company before they broke up with me.

OK, back to the babysitter. She went on to tell me how she found an abundance of candy wrappers hidden in the trash can in the bathroom. She didn't really think that was cool. Why was her babysitter eating candy? Did she give it to her kids who really aren't supposed to be eating so much candy? I looked at her carefully and she had genuine concern.

Suddenly I panicked as if I had just stepped into a souped up DeLorean heading back to the Future. It was what felt like an endless Saturday night back in 1986. With the kids fast asleep and nothing on TV, brownies and cookies called my name... What if I ate too many? Knowing me, I'm sure I did. What if the parents noticed? What if that was why certain people stopped calling on me to watch their kids? What if they thought I was giving too many sweets to their kids in addition to eating too many sweets? Ugh. At 13, was I aware that this wasn't the right thing to do? I hope so because looking back, I'm pretty freakin' embarrassed.

Several days passed and it seemed as if things had quieted down with my boss and her after-school babysitter. That was until she realized the high schooler had a Facebook page. The boss approached me one morning with a look of worry. We discussed how Facebook works (note this was 2006 and Facebook wasn't nearly as popular as it is today).

Her concern was that the babysitter was posting pictures of her kids - nothing naughty, just pix of them all hanging out together. Something I'm sure I would have done at that age. I quickly logged in for her and searched for the babysitter. Her page was private. The only thing a non-friend could view was a small photo of the high school kid smiling. She was pretty girl stuck in that stupid pose which consists of two rigid fingers posed in front of her face and lips puckered (what's that about anyway?). I assured her that since the girl's page was private, only her friends could really view her photos.

Lucky for me, Facebook and the internet didn't exist in my babysitting days. If so, I'll be the first to admit, I'd be playing with my BlackBerry instead of throwing myself into rousing games of Chutes 'N Ladders and Sorry! Moms today have so much more to worry about that's for sure!

A few days passed before the babysitter made yet another uncool move. Dirty dishes! Holy crap, that really hit home with me. I began to almost sweat thinking about the old days. Did I do this? Oh man, how awful. Was I a good girl who knew enough NOT to do this? What if I left a sink filled with dirty plates and forks? What if I left the milk out? What if I was sloppy? Should I try to locate the moms from the '80s and check with them? How did we end things? Did I tell them I was going to become more involved in after school activities and couldn't help them anymore? Did the kids grow old enough not to need me? Damn, I can't remember how we parted ways.

In an instant, negative paranoia dominated my thoughts to the point where I couldn't even listen anymore. I blurted out, "I hope I didn't do that! I hope I was a good babysitter! Omigawd, what if I sucked? Oh man!" The boss smiled and I think I suggested she leave a little note, "Please wash dishes and clean up after the children."


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