May 6, 2015

A Childbirth By Any Other Name

Earlier today I read this post on the Scary Mommy blog, which was biting back at all those people (mostly women) who seem to think that if you aren't squirting babies out of your fun house after hours of excruciating and unmedicated labor, then somehow you aren't a "real woman."  Personally?  I think that's one of the biggest crocks of bullshit I've ever heard.

Furthermore, I applaud Lola Lolita's snarky take on the debate (and I use that term 'debate' loosely, considering it's not so much a debate as yet another judgmental attempt for some women to feel superior to other women by denigrating them or their personal birth experiences.  Was slut-shaming not enough?  Do we really have to run around birth-shaming as well?)  By Lolita's description, I too am "not a real woman" because I took the "easy way out" and didn't "actually give birth."


I went to the hospital 2 weeks after my due date to be induced because my very stubborn daughter was in absolutely no hurry to arrive (she still loves to sleep in).  In spite of this, I fully intended to be a "real woman" and deliver her naturally and without medication (well, other than the Pitocin required to drag her lazy ass out of bed).  But that's not what ended up happening.

Eighteen hours later, she still hadn't fully dropped, I'd only dilated to 7 cm, and she was starting to experience some distress so the doctor decided enough was enough.  It wasn't one of those "OMG C-SECTION RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!!!" kind of emergencies, but things were definitely headed in that direction.  Nor did I start freaking out over the fact that I wasn't going to be able to "actually give birth" like a "real woman" because, strangely enough, I was far more concerned about my daughter arriving healthy and, you know, alive than whether or not I'd be shooting a bowling ball out of a straw like God intended.  I definitely prefer a "non-real" but living child to a dead one birthed naturally.  Call me selfish that way.

Sure, having my daughter by fauxmergency c-section was "taking the easy way out," provided you consider being slapped on a narrow table and having your arms strapped to pull-out planks at your sides crucifixion-style while some lady doctor climbs onto the table with you so she can launch push the baby out of your body and into a waiting resident's catcher's mitt "easy," never mind getting to watch medical personnel and family members pass around your newborn infant like a bag of pork rinds while you yourself are trapped on a table and shaking violently for hours from the post-op effects of your epidural.  Because it's "easy" to go through months of uncomfortable pregnancy then have major abdominal surgery after which you get to watch everyone hold and coo over your brand-new child but you.  I know I enjoyed that part...it was so relaxing.

Wanna know what else is "taking the easy way out?"  Spending four days in the hospital being awakened every 10 minutes to have a thermometer or some other instrument shoved in your various body parts while suffering the indignity of having orderlies swab your bits and empty your catheter bag because you couldn't move to do it yourself, that's what.  Not to mention being further deprived of your child for the entirety of your hospital stay because she developed jaundice and had to spend most of her time in a tanning bed toaster phototherapy unit.  I saw her for feedings and that was about it. So yeah, after 9+ months of pregnancy, 18+ hours of labor, 4 days in the hospital, and major surgery, I got to see and hold my extra-crispy newborn daughter for a few minutes every several hours...because that's "taking the easy way out."

Just the same, I wouldn't change a thing.  While a c-section was certainly not part of my original plan, at the end of the day I went home with a beautiful and healthy baby girl.  And that's all that really matters.  All this nonsense about what constitutes "real" birth or "real" womanhood is just that...nonsense.  As far as I'm concerned, if a woman is pregnant and a baby is removed from her body, then she's given birth regardless whether that child was pulled from her hoo-ha, her abdomen, her left nostril, or shot out of her right nipple.  Why try to belittle someone else's experience?  What's the point, really?  Are you just jealous that we didn't have to suffer through an episiotomy and you did? As long as a woman and her doctor are deciding what's best for her and her child, that's all that counts.  Birth is birth, in my humble opinion...and I don't give a rat's patootie about those who say differently.

Hell, if a c-section was good enough for a Roman emperor, then it was good enough for me.

Feel free to add me to the list of Not Real Women, Ms. Lolita--I'll claim that title proudly.

April 23, 2015

I Don't Think That Word 'Adventure' Means What You Think It Means

For most people, travel is an adventure.  Seeing new places, trying new things, and learning about different cultures is exciting.  I'm no different...I love all those things too and wish I could spend every day exploring the world and squeezing out every ounce of life and joy and discovery it has to offer.  The problem is that I tend to have as much or more adventure just trying to get to my intended destinations than when I'm actually there.  While I've never had a truly traumatic trip anywhere, the fact remains that something still manages to happen nearly every time I go anywhere near an airport. The cumulative effect makes me look like Pigpen from Charlie Brown, only surrounded by a cloud of disgruntled TSA agents rather than one of dirt.
You know you're hearing the theme song right now.
( Image © Charles Schultz)

This past weekend was no different.   The plan was to fly to Georgia for a big SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) event on Saturday to support two dear friends who were heavily involved in the event.  In spite of carefully planning how much time I needed to allow for check-in, I still nearly missed my flight--in part because the economy parking lot is located in approximately Luxembourg (which I didn't realize in advance, this being my first time to park at the Philly airport), and because of a slight delay while TSA felt up my ankle to make sure my sock and airport pants were not packing tiny AK-47s.

After running OJ Simpson-style--complete with untied sneakers--to my gate at the very end of the concourse, I arrived just in time to board.  There I soon discovered that my Delta "Comfort+" aisle seat was neither comfortable nor plus.  I settled in as best I could, only to spend the next 15 minutes getting whacked in the head and shoulder by an endless parade of baggage like some sort of ginger piñata. Seated next to me was Hoggy McHoggerson, who had already selfishly commandeered both armrests before I arrived.  Hoggy proceeded to spend the entire flight with his elbows digging into both me and his other seat-mate while he happily snored away, oblivious to our discomfort. Once everyone was seated, we watched an unexpectedly amusing safety video full of sight gags and snarky humor (my favorite!); for example, we were ordered not to smoke on the flight, which caused an apron-clad guy sitting in a plane seat and holding a steak on his leg to slam down the lid of a smoker grill in the aisle in disgust.

Guess which one was me?

In spite of a late curbside bag check, my suitcase managed to make it onto the flight, though the brand-new address tag with updated info I'd just put on it hours before was mysteriously missing.  Hopefully it just got torn off in transit rather than stolen by some creepy dude collecting addresses.  I grabbed my bag off the carousel and went to collect my rental car.  Alamo tried to shaft me with a compact car instead of the mid-size I'd paid for, but the garage clerk was cool about it and directed me to pick from a long line of silver, red, and white cars.  So naturally I found the single blue vehicle hiding behind the others and quickly grabbed it (red clashes with my hair). After adjusting all the mirrors and such, I messaged some friends in the off-chance one could meet me for dinner en route to my hotel. As expected, none could join me, though one said I might be able to assist another friend and told me to stay near the phone.  Meanwhile, I'm thinking to myself "I'm currently doing 70 mph down Hwy 20 in Atlanta...how far away from my phone could I possibly go?"  She messaged back all the details and the next thing I knew, I was barreling down the highway towards Joann Fabrics in a Hail Mary attempt to acquire quilt binding before the store closed so this other friend could finish a garment for Saturday's festivities.  I arrived a few minutes after closing but luckily managed to slide in and purchase the required trim before the door was locked.  Quite pleased with my successful conquest, I then went across the street to grab a very late meal at O'Charley's, one of my favorite restaurants and one which is sadly non-existent in the northeast.

I was bound to succeed.  (See what I did there?)

After dinner, things began to get really interesting.  I tried to contact my friends to ask if they wanted their trim that night, but the location of the event was in a rather isolated state park with very poor cell reception and I couldn't reach them.  So I made the executive decision to go anyway, driving past my hotel to deliver said trim.  When I got to the state park I found a big gate rolled across the road to prevent entry after 10 pm.  I may have uttered one or two terms of sailorish vocabulary displeasure.  Then I thought, "Well, I can just walk to the campground, deliver the trim, and make somebody drive me back up to the gate afterwards."  I walked around for 5-10 minutes, decided absolutely nothing looked familiar, then headed back to my car.  Unable to get a strong GPS signal or double-check the address online, I drove all around the state park trying to find the correct campground, eventually ending up right back where I'd started--in front of that big-ass gate.  I sighed, got out of the car, and proceeded to walk around the gate and down the hill towards the campground to find my friends.

To complicate matters, it was raining (and apparently had been for several days); the warm spring weather and heavy, misty rain created a deep and eerie fog which encompassed the entire state park.  Also, as in most state parks, there wasn't much in the way of ambient lighting at night so between the rain and the fog and the remoteness of the location, my surroundings were pitch black...and I do mean black.   I couldn't see squat, which might explain why it was so difficult to get my bearings.

Where movie co-eds go to DIE.

With nothing but a sad little travel umbrella, spotty GPS, and my iPhone flashlight to keep me company, I walked about a mile down the road looking for the event campground only to come out by some cottages overlooking a lake.  Unfortunately, the relevant campground does not overlook a lake...that would have been too easy.  So I turned around and started the long hike (mostly uphill) back to my car.  As I walked in the silky darkness and incessant rain I kept thinking to myself that it was a damn good thing I don't scare easily since my current situation was a Friday the 13th movie just waiting to happen. Oh, and did I mention?  I was doing this late at night...because walking all alone around a very dark, very secluded park's woods in the rain and fog at midnight seems like a sensible thing for a woman to be doing, right?

Meanwhile, the next day one of my oh-so-helpful friends informed me that, as it happens, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives actually WAS filmed in that very state park right around where I was walking...in pitch blackness...at midnight...alone.  So were the movies Poison Ivy and Little Darlings.  Turns out she worked at the park back when those were being filmed.  Only I would be ridiculous enough to channel a horror movie in the exact same location where said horror movie was filmed.  That's just how I roll.  Yup.

"Oh, Gingerrrrrrrrrrr..."

Needless to say, I made it back to my little TARDIS-blue Volkswagen Jetta without being assaulted by any random hockey mask-wearing dudes. Giving up the whole enterprise as a bad job, I headed back to my hotel to check in.  There I found the doors locked and a sign up that read "No Vacancy."  A couple more colorful epithets may have escaped my lips...possibly...okay, probably.  I rang a doorbell to call the desk clerk to let me in, learned that my room was still waiting on me (phew!), and was even given a much-needed bottle of water for free.  I went upstairs to shower off the sweat and the rain (because clearly I needed more water pouring over me), only to find that the sliding shower doors were stuck.  Eventually I got one jammed door shifted enough in its track to open the other door so I could get in the shower.  Afterwards, I got on my laptop to check my messages quickly before going to bed, only to discover that it had picked up a virus and was busy popping up windows and downloading random programs as fast as I could delete them like some syphilitic 18th century prostitute.  Exhausted and lacking the requisite cybercillin, I slammed the lid shut and went to sleep.

No more computer viruses for me!

The next morning I finally located the correct campground, trim in hand. In spite of the 4-hour sewing extravaganza that ensued, during which I applied the binding I'd plundered to one garment and helped yet another friend finish an outfit of her own in a wildly unrealistic time frame, the rest of the day was calm and I had an absolutely wonderful time visiting with and catching up with my besties all weekend.  Lots of food, fun, and laughter (and also a few tears) were involved, and I even received some excellent swag:  A brilliantly badass friend gave me a book on dressing Italian Renaissance-style, another lovely friend gave me a sweet little green shoulder shawl she'd knitted ("I thought it would go with your hair"); I plan on pinning it together with a broach and running around everywhere pretending to be the kickass Claire Fraser, who has a hot ginger Scot waiting for me her at home.  Yet another dear friend made me a knitted crown so I can now be a self-rescuing princess, which is especially useful since the chances of me ever getting a crown in the SCA are about as likely as my freckles growing together into a permanent tan.  But I'm okay with that.


As anticipated, my trip home was not without its own bumpy ride--literally.  Monday morning I stopped at a few favorite shops in town before heading to the airport amid dark and stormy skies which the radio informed me were because of a tornado warning in the north part of Atlanta.   However, the airport is to the south of the city, so I arrived without major incident.  After returning my rental car (bye, pretty blue Jetta!), I headed into the always-crowded terminal of the Hartsfield-Jackson airport.  I quickly checked my bag but had to wait quite a while in the security line, primarily because of the doofus in front of me.  By the time I was able to leave the herd of people in line and shuffle up to the actual security scanners, the doofus, moving slow as Christmas in molasses, had divested his belongings into 4 different grey bins (most people use one or two), not counting an enormously over-stuffed black backpack.

Next his royal doofiness decided he needed to bypass all the body scanners for a personal pat down, only to get yelled at for forgetting to remove his belt first.  I escaped through the scatter scanner while they were bellowing for a male agent to come and feel him up.  For once I didn't set the scanner off, in spite of the metal brads on my jeans or wearing the exact same sock brand that nailed me on the previous trip.  While I collected my things, zipped up my laptop bag, and put on my shoes another agent yanked aside the doofus' big black backpack and my paper bag containing the jelly beans and fudge I'd purchased on my way out of town (as well as a necklace, pair of earrings, and my tablet).



The TSA agent asked if the bag was mine; thinking she had said "flat bag," meaning my paper one, I said yes.  Apparently she had meant the doofus' backpack and proceeded to get pissy with me because I'd said it was mine then said it wasn't. When I apologized for mishearing her and tried to explain my error, she got even more pissy and defensive to boot.  Presumably she thought I was in league with the doofus and trying to pull a fast one...I don't know.  At any rate, she put up her hand to shut me up and forced herself to shake off my verbal assault argument explanation (apologies can be so offensive), then grabbed the doof's backpack and started digging slowly through it.  She plopped aside big wads of dirty clothing (have some pride, dude--fold your crap), then tossed a grocery bag of dirty socks and undies in front of me.  I confess to being secretly glad she had to put all the guy's nasties back in his sack when her pitch made them fall out.  Next the agent pulled out three boxes of Schlage door locks--the kind with the combination buttons instead of a keyed lock.  At this point my friendly neighborhood doofus started getting twitchy; he tensely asked the agent if she had to open the boxes because he "wouldn't be able to sell them if the cardboard was damaged."  Since, you know, Home Depot never has dented boxes ever.  You'd have thought those boxes were filled with meth or state secrets the way this guy was sweating and fidgeting.  Meanwhile, the agent looked at him like he'd grown an extra couple of heads, barked out "YES" and proceeded to break open the tape seal with her pen.  Three boxes later she was satisfied the contents were indeed door locks, then set them aside to swab his suitcase with one of those little PH paper terrorist test strips, walking three aisles over to get the results...naturally.



By this point I was starting to twitch because this ludicrous charade was taking forever and I was about to be late for my plane yet again.  What made it worse was knowing that my bag would have taken approximately 90 seconds to check, but I still had to wait the 20 or so minutes for her to deconstruct Sir Doof's bag first.  Finally she finished and started to pile his clothes back into the backpack, at which point the doof tries to reach over to help her so he can pack it the way he wants.  The agent freaked.  That little move nearly got him arrested for trying to breach the sanctified air around a government official's table...I mean, how dare he interfere with an official government investigation by overly-enthusiastic TSA officials??  Also, and I say this with love, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING BRINGING 3 BOXES OF SUSPICIOUS-LOOKING METAL BOXES WITH COMBINATION/DETONATOR BUTTONS THROUGH SECURITY??  Seriously, dude--WTF???

Once he backed away, the agent shoved his bag aside while he received the TSA Grope Special™("all the junk-touching with none of the dinner or movie").  Instead of immediately getting my bag to inspect next, the agent meandered over to the line to stack up a bunch of discarded bins, chat with her colleagues, pick up a couple more bins, and finally bother to pull my paper bag over to the inspection table.  You'd almost think she was dawdling to punish me for disagreeing with her earlier.  The agent set aside my tablet, poked suspiciously at the jelly beans (they might have been made of explosive cherry gel, you know), then pulled out the box of fudge to examine more closely even though it had the name of a well-known candy vendor on it.  Because terrorism.  She opened the box, inhaled the chocolatey goodness, and ultimately decided perhaps it wasn't candied plutonium after all.  She put the box back in my now-torn sack, pushed it at me, and said I could go.  The jewelry boxes she never even opened...apparently fudge is way more threatening than metal objects.

Weapon of Mass Confection
Also? Best. Fudge. Ever.

Sometimes I wonder if TSA has my picture, emblazoned with an admonition for agents to screw around with me, posted in various airports around the country.  When I mentioned this, one of my friends suggested it's because I have an IRA dopplegänger somewhere stirring up trouble.  Another friend suggested maybe it's a redheaded prejudice thing (and people wonder why I have a hate-hate relationship with TSA).  All I know is that it's always something, every damn time.  I have no idea what the deal is, but I would like for it to stop.  I just want to fly in peace.  Is that really so much to ask?

After the very time-consuming Doofus Debacle, I jumped on the tram and once again zipped down the concourse to my distant gate, pausing only to use the bathroom and grab a bottle of water and a quick burger from 5 Guys, as well as to waste another 5 minutes explaining the meaning of the word "schlep" to a cashier ("Schlup?"  "Schlap?"  "Ohhhhh--Schloop??") who was just fascinated to learn a new word. I reached my gate and wolfed down the burger just before boarding began.  This time my seat was farther back in steerage with the rest of the serfs, and was significantly more comfortable than the Comfort+ seat I'd paid a couple of extra bucks for to avoid sitting on top of the engines last time; somehow that just seems wrong.  My seat-mates were quiet and nonintrusive college girls who allowed me to lean away from the baggage going down the aisle so I didn't have turn into a custom Delta bobblehead.  As a result, the flight was much more pleasant than my previous one, at least until we hit some major turbulence near Philadelphia, which also happened to be under a tornado watch.  Perhaps I should change my name to "Ginger Stormbringer, Terror of TSA."

Don't screw with me, TSA...I have a crown and I'm not afraid to use it.
(That goes for you, too, Jason.)
Still, I wouldn't change a thing in spite of torn tags or tornados or TSA trials because it means I got to see my "sisters from other misters"--women who love and support me unconditionally, even after only knowing me a scant four years.  Women whom I likewise love and support, and for whom I would even traipse around undead serial killer-infested woods at midnight...because that's real friendship right there. Right?  RIGHT??

August 16, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are? - The Genetic Journey

Lately I've been watching a show on TLC called "Who Do You Think You Are?"  Largely sponsored by Ancestry.com, it follows various celebrities around as they trace bits of their family history.  Given my own history (and frequent lack thereof), I find this show fascinating.




On the one hand, I'm wildly envious of the stars' seemingly endless resources in hiring professional genealogists and researchers and historians to trace their lineage as they travel all over the world to discover where they came from.  Have to jet off to Europe or the Carribbean?  Oh, darn.  On the other hand, I love how much genealogical searching humanizes these celebrities; their reactions, whether of surprise or excitement or distress, appear genuine because in those moments they are just like the rest of us--regular people searching for who they are and where they came from.  And that's something we all want and deserve to know.

So far this season I've seen celebrities who've discovered they are direct descendants of European royalty and I've watched as other celebrities learned that distant relatives were murderers (though in one case it was arguably self-defense).  The common themes seem to be either how various family members persevered against great odds or how some aspect of one's personality carried down through the centuries.  For example, Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory wanted to see if there were any creative people or artists in his line; apparently there were several.  Another actor, for whom family is paramount, discovered a long line of ancestors who routinely sacrificed for their families.  Just the other night I watched as Brooke Shields learned that her Italian lineage actually originated in France; turns out she majored in French Literature in college and has always been drawn to all things French without ever really knowing why.  Now she does.

Obviously this is a television show and is therefore edited for maximum effect, particularly in presenting the whole "rise above adversity" theme.  After all, the goal is to snag viewers.  Even so, I am drawn to the latter theme of continuity because I get it--I'm seeing it over and over again as I trace my own ancestry.  I find the idea of continuity in one's family extremely compelling, especially after growing up as an adoptee and having pretty much zero continuity or family history for more than four decades.  Certainly a great deal of who I am was instilled by my adoptive family and I'm grateful for that and for them, but those experiences only define a portion of what and who I am.  Perhaps that's why the recent search for my birth parents and my history has been so valuable to me because I am finally getting a glimpse of my unknown origins.  Some aspects of my ancestry, particularly on my birth father's side, will likely remain a mystery forever.  I wish it could be otherwise, regardless of my birth father's apparent lack of character, because his own ancestry still comprises half of my heredity and I'd still like to learn more about it...I want to see if there is a continuity present in his line as there is on my birth mother's side.


The Love of a Birthmother by Susan Scharpf
Even if I never learn anything more about my birth father, the information I've learned thus far about my birth mother's family has been a gift.  It's difficult to describe how meaningful an experience it is to be able to find a part of yourself that you didn't even know was missing...to hear the echoes of relatives long past calling down to you through the ages...to feel just that little bit more whole.  It's an amazing thing, this context, and I've watched it play out over and over in each episode of this show just as I'm now watching it play out in my own life on a much smaller scale.

It's these stories, these connections, that make everything so real for me.  Seeing names on a page is interesting and all, but when those names come to life and become real, breathing people with whom you might share commonalities?  Well, that's another matter entirely, and one which cannot be underestimated.  I've already written about some of the small commonalities I share with my birth mother, the odd idiosyncrasies that mark me as one of her line and no one else's.  Since then, I've learned a little more about her our family, even with my limited resources.  I'm starting to hear the echoes.  I have one great-grand-aunt who did medical research at a time when women were not generally that highly educated; she helped to isolate the typhus bacterium.  Her sister, another great-grand-aunt, was a musician who taught piano in Germany.  I gather my grandmother was also a pianist.  I know virtually nothing about these people, and yet I can still see glimpses of where my interests in education and music might have originated.  My great-great-grandfather himself founded a well-known mission in Indianapolis which is still in operation today.  I find it particularly ironic that it was originally founded as a home for unwed mothers (and initially called the Door of Hope) given the circumstances of my own conception and birth.  I can't help but wonder if that example might not have somehow influenced my birth mother's decision to put me up for adoption as opposed to aborting me.  If so, then I'm doubly thankful.  Regardless, the echoes are still there--I may not have done anything as big as founding a mission, but I have always liked helping people however I can.




Watching this show serves to remind me how we are all tied to our past whether we realize it or not, as well as whether we are trying to improve upon it or to merely live up to it.  Either way, we are still a product of all those who came before.  For me, this is much like the strange feeling I had a few years ago when I was in the UK.  We spent some time exploring London, though we missed many of the sites I would have liked to see such as Glastonbury, Bath, and Stratford-upon-Avon.  There were various complications along the way that made the trip less than it might have been, but when I got on the train to head to Scotland, all the frustrations melted away.  It felt for all the world like I was going home.  The closer I got to Scotland, the more relaxed I became--the more at peace--as if centuries of Gaelic ancestors were welcoming me back to my native land.  It was a surreal experience, particularly since I had no knowledge of my heredity at the time.

Since then I've discovered through DNA testing that most of my ancestors originated in the UK (with a few Swiss and Germans thrown in for seasoning). Apparently Ancestry.com (which provided the testing) filtered their findings more fully because one day I received an email with updated results showing that I am approximately 31% Irish (yeah, like that's a shocker) and 27% British.  I'm even 10% Scandinavian...yay, Vikings!  Research into my birth mother's family suggests that of that UK percentage, a significant portion is Welsh and yes, there are a a few Scots scattered here and there.  So far I've not found any Irish in my birth mother's lineage to speak of (though I'm not done researching), so I can only assume I inherited the majority of it from my birth father.  Either way, I now have a context for my life-long fascination with all things Celtic (and not just their kilts, though admittedly those are pretty fabulous and tend to make me a little weak in the knees).  I've always been intrigued with the history and mythology of the Celtic nations and drawn to Celtic art, particularly knotwork.  I never knew why before--now I do.  Besides, if I'm part Welsh, I can totally claim a legitimate connection to King Arthur and to Torchwood (and possibly Doctor Who by extension).  Bright side, people...bright side.

Learning about oneself and one's geneaology is a journey in every sense of the word.  Most people get to discover their history over decades; my journey has so far been compressed into two short years, making it arguably more impactful since I didn't have the luxury of living and breathing my genetic family history as I grew up.  Suddenly I have a context for things I didn't previously understand; suddenly I can see the beginnings of a continuity connecting me throughout the years.  Suddenly I understand why my time in Scotland felt so natural and grounding, like Scotland was calling me home.

It was.



August 15, 2014

Happy Jerseyversary

Two months ago today, I moved to New Jersey.  If someone had told me years ago that I'd one day be living here, I'd never have believed them.  I grew up in a smallish town in the Midwest, middle Indiana to be precise, directly across from one of the ubiquitous cornfields dotting the Midwestern countryside.  My hometown, at least while I was there, boasted maybe 3,000 residents.  Today it's closer to 23,000 and is basically a suburb of Indianapolis.  Personally, I find this grossly unfair.  I mean, they have a movie theater, for crying out loud.  Where was this when I was a teenager??  But I digress.


Two months and counting.

When I was an adolescent, I couldn't have imagined all the different places in which I'd find myself over the years. True, I tended to be "take one day at a time" sort of person and so didn't really think about it one way or the other, but when you grow up in a fairly insulated and conservative town, it's often difficult to think past one's limited experiences anyway.

I stayed in Indiana for college and grad school after which I found myself unexpectedly transported to a whole new universe in Memphis, TN--the South.  I felt like an alien in a strange land and, in many ways, I was.  I spoke too quickly, I moved too fast, and I refused to say "y'all" on general principle.  I was introduced to real-life cotton gins that looked nothing like the little box in my childhood history book.  Eventually I adapted; I spoke a little more slowly, drank sweet tea, and even picked up the odd regional colloquialism, though I still avoided "y'all" as a matter of course; no doubt it will be "you guys" till I die.  Ultimately I came to love Memphis and I still think of it as my home.  Besides, Memphis brought me some of the biggest joys of my life, including the birth of my amazing and brilliant daughter and the opportunity to travel overseas not once but twice, for which I will be eternally grateful and because of which I want to travel even more.


Seriously...I do.

After nearly 20 years in Memphis I moved to Georgia because of the Spousal Unit's job.  Georgia was quite the adjustment considering the girlie went to her first year of college just 3 weeks after we moved and we'd just lost 3 of 4 parents in the previous 4 years--never mind a number of other things complicating the move.  In the process, I soon learned the difference between the South and the Deep South and that I don't really belong in it.  I made some fantastic friends in my short time there, but I never really fit in otherwise.  And that's okay.  It was a good place to discover how much more liberal I am than I'd originally thought and to better understand who I am overall and what I think after years of focusing on other people.

Four years later, just when I was getting used to the place and able to find my way around, we moved again and I ended up on the Jersey side of the Philadelphia metropolitan area.  I find this particularly ironic because when I was a kid, my family used to drive all over the country visiting relatives.  By the time I graduated from high school I'd been in most of the contiguous states at one point or another, with the exception of the northeastern US so naturally that was the region I was most curious to visit. Well, that and Alaska.  Then the girlie unexpectedly chose to go to school in NY, so I got to see a little of the Northeast for the first time--and now I live here.  That's kind of exciting, really.  In fact, I'm even planning a new blog that will focus on my explorations of both Philadelphia and the Northeast in general; hopefully it will be launched in the next month or so.  And what's a new blog without a small preview?

In the process of running around like a crazy person while trying to sort out things like driver's licenses and plates and registrations the first two weeks and after myriad jaunts to home improvement stores,  I've picked up a few things about my new home.  So here, in no particular order, are ten things I've learned about New Jersey so far.




  1.  The people here are surprisingly friendly.  No, I didn't think everyone was going to be a rude, overly-tanned mafioso, but I did expect a certain degree of terseness and directness in speech that is largely absent in the South.  And while everyone does tend to be more straightforward here (which is great, because I always have been too; it's one of the many reasons I don't make a good Southerner), I was still surprised by how just how polite and open everyone seems to be.

  2.  It is illegal to pump your own gas here.  I've been pumping my own gas since I started driving approximately 5 centuries ago, so it's more than a little weird to hand over my credit card to a complete stranger and sit in my car while he hooks up the pump.  I confess I keep eyeballing the card reader in case someone wanders by to try yanking it out of the slot.  On the other hand, I can see the potential advantages of being forced to stay in my car when it's rainy or snowy outside, so there's that.

New Jersey:  Where You Can't Be Trusted To Pump Your Own Petrol

  3.  Speaking of gas, it's cheaper in New Jersey than in Philadelphia which is good because it's pretty much the only thing that's cheaper here.  I knew going in that the cost of living up here was much higher than in the South or the Midwest, but frankly I'm still in sticker shock at just exactly how much more expensive it is.  It's daunting, to say the least, and kind of makes me want to knock over an armored truck just so I can squirrel away some reserves.

  4.  New Jersey has something called "jug handles."  And I'm not talking milk pitchers.  Jug handles (which constantly make me think of "Jug Ears" from the British show "Are You Being Served") are a bizarre means by which one makes a left-handed turn on the road.  I've actually done a couple now (mostly successfully), and they still seem to me to be overcomplicating the streets but then I'm just a misplaced Midwest-Southerner so what do I know?


Just in case traffic wasn't convoluted enough.

  5.  There are no Kroger's or Publix grocery stores here; instead one of the big chains is Acme, which I cannot look at without immediately seeing Wile E. Coyote holding a cardboard box and hearing "Ac-Meeeeeeee" playing on repeat through my head.

  6.  New Jersey is surprisingly green, and I don't just mean all the trees and grass.  (And, can I just say?  Fescue, how I've missed you!  So soooooooft...)  In my township, most of the lampposts have solar panels installed and the recycling program here is rather extensive.  Residents are even provided with a big recycling dumpster, thoughtfully emblazoned with the breast cancer support ribbon...but you have to provide your own trash cans.  Go figure.




  7.  I may not live at the epicenter of US culture, but I can access a significant majority of it within four hours or less.  NYC is maybe 2½ hours away, and Washington D.C. is maybe 3½.  I'm also only about an hour from the shore should I get the inexplicable urge to expose my pasty flesh to the sun's harsh rays.  And it's the shore, not the "beach."  That's one change that's going to take some getting used to.  Meanwhile, I'm a scant 20 minutes from the "Cradle of Liberty" that is Philadelphia, as well as its myriad museums.

  8.  While I'm pleased to be living above the fire ant line once again and can actually do yard work without the imminent threat of my extremities blowing up like inner tubes or burning as though doused in habañero juice, my car and I are both somewhat less than thrilled to be back in the Land of the Eternal Pothole. I may mock native Southerners' aversion to cold weather with the best of them (not that I won't soon be whinging here after 23 years of relatively hot winters), but I have to admit that the roads are much easier to traverse without all the cracking and expansion brought on by frigid temperatures.  Also?  I haven't picked up a snow shovel in nearly a quarter of a century.

It was good while it lasted.


  9. Furthermore, I've learned that summer in New Jersey means rain and lots of it.  I don't know yet if that's typical or if it's just this summer, but either way, I really wish my neighborhood's power lines could handle the strain a little better.  Seriously--you'd think if the electric company knows there's going to be a problem every time it storms they'd spring for proper repairs rather than going through their giant box of magic electricity bandaids to jury-rig the outages.  Still, that seems a small price to pay for significantly more temperate summers than I've had for the last 2 decades.  And while I dread surrendering my beloved flip-flops in favor of grown-up shoes this fall, I am totally down with hot cocoa and tea and cider and sweaters and cozy fires and trees that actually change more than two colors in the approximately 3½ days which constitute "autumn" in the Southern region.  Apparently my Celtic roots are showing.

10.  Lastly, New Jersey has my phone's GPS completely flummoxed.  I've been using the Tomtom app for several years now and, barring the odd exception (and parking lots), Paul's done quite well for me.  No, I didn't name him; the voice options came pre-named.  A few years ago when relatives were visiting, I was demonstrating the different voice and language selections.  I landed on an Australian voice designated as "Paul" ("That's not a knife...THIS is a knife!").  Eventually I got so used to Paul's voice that now all the other voices sound somehow wrong.  At any rate, Paul can't seem to manage New Jersey at all and consistently smokes silicon motherboard crack when plotting out my various destinations.  I've been told that others have similar problems with their GPS when in New Jersey.  I'm not sure why this is, but even Google Maps gives me better directions.  Yet if I cross back over into Philadelphia, Paul is good to go once again.  I can only assume that Australians have some sort of ocean-based enmity against Atlantic dwellers.  Or something.

All I know is that continuing to learn about my new environs should prove to be very interesting and I look forward to blogging more about my adventures starting this fall.  In the meantime, I need to figure out how to become independently wealthy so I can travel all over the rest of the world (especially Europe) because just the small sliver I've seen thus far has not only to whet my appetite for more but has fanned it into a voracious flame; clearly something must be done about this soon because we all know how easily gingers get burned.  That raises an interesting question, though:  who is more formidable?  A Jersey girl, or a ginger girl?  (God forbid one is both, I suppose.)  I'll have to do some research and let you know how it turns out. ;)



August 14, 2014

Moving, Part #2: The House that Crack Built

Any time you move into a new home, unless it is legitimately new--as in new construction--you expect to have to make small repairs here and there.  That's just part of the deal.  Even so, there are inevitably little surprises that greet you along the way, whether things you missed during the inspection or things which just don't get discovered till you're actually living in the new home.  For example, I used to call one of my Tennessee homes the "House of Many Doors" because until I was living in it, I did not realize how many superfluous or poorly-placed doors were ready to bang into each other.  That's also the house that decided to blow a water heater about 10 minutes after the homeowner's warranty expired.  I'm convinced that appliances can sense when that's about to happen and just lie in wait, ready to spontaneously combust at the most inopportune and expensive time possible.  My home in Georgia had much fewer issues since it did happen to be new construction, but even there I soon discovered that the dishwasher opened at a 90° angle to the sink; this meant that I spent the last four years crammed into a one-foot space trying to clean dishes at the sink and then awkwardly twisting myself sideways like a giant dishwasher wedgie to load the dishes.  It's always something.

Oh, look...it's my Tennessee house.  (From Pleated-Jeans.com)

This house has proven to be no different.  Sure, there were the things we knew about going in, like some cracks from the house settling and a dripping faucet, never mind the big things like a major stucco repair and installing a radon system and sump pump (who has a sump without a pump?), all of which were provided for in the settlement.  I still have to arrange for everything to get done, but at least I don't have to pay for it...mostly.  Even so, there are plenty of other interesting things we've had to contend with in the last two months, most of which appear to be largely the result of an overly-ambitious first owner (who was also an HVAC contractor) and a builder who clearly cut corners.  I don't know if the builder was inept or just lazy but between him, the HVAC guy with delusions of grandeur, and the previous owners with the questionable home improvement skills, this house has been a veritable rabbit warren of oddities.



My first discovery, after spending hours scrubbing them down (cleaning appears to have been considered largely optional), was that all the kitchen cabinets are not constructed of wood so much as covered with a weird plastic laminate condom, presumably to protect them from KitchenAIDS.  Unfortunately, said laminate condom is far more effective at attracting every dirt particle in the kitchen like a giant schmutz magnet than in protecting the cabinets from kitchen STDs.  Laminate condoms might have been more successful in the oven, which looks not unlike it was used to bake auto parts.  Or Meth.  (Though Meth might also explain why half the cabinets and/or their doors are not lined up properly and why all of the trim corners were professionally hot-glued on, never mind why the back of one drawer had to be cut out to allow space for the stovetop's power cabling.)  But that's still not as good as the elaborate hood vent built in among the upper cabinets that is exactly the correct height on which to wham yourself repeatedly (as evidenced by the permanent dent now in my forehead) and which is not, in fact, functional.  That's right--I have 3 feet of fake ventilation, complete with a transformer that was never fully wired and so just whines in the distance when you flip its switch.


Just sittin' here, waiting to suck up all your steam.

Psych!!  I'm gonna drop decaying paint in your food instead!
Not wiring things up seems to be a theme in this house, really.  The heating and air systems in the basement look like refugees from a 1940s airplane hangar, complete with several inexplicable ducts that are capped off and lead nowhere.  As a result, we have vents that don't actually vent.  In addition to the faux hood in the kitchen, the vent in the master bathroom is likewise not connected; the room turns into a sauna when anyone showers and leaves humid air hovering upstairs for hours.  I wouldn't be surprised if the other bathroom's vent was likewise disconnected.  Furthermore, the master bath's floor is wired for radiant heating--which was also never hooked up--and there are heat lamps over the sink.  All I can figure is that the bathroom was constructed for someone more accustomed to Equator-esque weather and so was built to wildly over-compensate.




As if all the disjointed wiring and ducting weren't enough, it turns out that the previous owners were apparently very bad at home repairs and tended to solve their household problems by either simply turning off the offending item or camouflaging it rather than taking the time to get it repaired.  Because, you know, calling someone is hard.  When we had the house inspected, for example, we found that one faucet upstairs was turned off; we were told that this was because a grandmother didn't like listening to the water drip.  Okaaaaaay.  So it didn't come as much of a surprise when we later realized the dishwasher's water supply was likewise shut off (something our inspector missed).   I tried to run a load of dishes after turning the water back on.  The dishwasher promptly spewed out water, which then snaked across the floor and down a vent leading into the basement.  Whoops.  Turns out the dishwasher was missing a simple hose--that's it.  But I guess it was just easier to turn it off than to actually fix it.


Looks like some of my ductwork.

There are other problems, of course.  A garage door opener is missing.  Someone hacked up the baseboards to install a gas fireplace upstairs.  Whoever put up the ventilated shelves in my closet used approximately 568 hooks to secure them because you can never have enough shelf security, particularly when the pull-down attic stairs--which are inexplicably placed in said closet--had to have an opening gouged into the door to keep it from smacking into the shelves.  The basement has outlet boxes dangling awkwardly from the ceilings, making electricians everywhere cringe without quite knowing why.  There are cheap cabinets randomly hung on the middle of the garage wall, guaranteeing that no one can get into the car without first tightly duct-taping all their wobbly bits or dusting a swath down the side of the car with their posterior.  Most of the window blinds are hung so precariously that they look like they're seconds away from making a prison break.  The molding along the stairwell is strangely mismatched; either that or the builder was trying to interpret the steps "artistically."  Nor is the back patio entirely level, which we discovered when the grill decided to go walkies in a storm and pitch headfirst into the yard.  And, just to keep things interesting, the power goes out in the whole neighborhood nearly every time it rains.


Okay, now you're not even trying.
We have additional repairs to make and will no doubt uncover yet more WTFs as time goes on.  Fortunately, however, we are pretty good at DIY, and many of the issues here are primarily cosmetic.  The house itself has good bones, so once the stucco has been repaired and the place has been given a little TLC things should improve considerably, busybody neighbors dropping by to regale us with all the neighborhood gossip and uttering creepy things like "I've been in your house...I know what you have in there" notwithstanding.

Besides, any time I get discouraged, I can console myself with the fact that at least I have not had pipes stolen nor had poop water pouring into my lighting fixtures as has a friend recently who moved into a rental house.  While I'm not sure I be handling her situation as gracefully or as positively as my friend has, her unfortunate house struggles definitely put things here into perspective.  My plumbing (as well as many other things) may well need an overhaul at some point, but at least it's intact and not currently raining literal crap in my home.  By comparison, everything else seems small potatoes.


(From CollegeHumor.com)

June 28, 2014

Moving, Part 1: The Relocation Blues

A month or so ago I was browsing in a bookstore (one of the two main places I cannot be trusted with a credit card, the other being a fabric/craft shop) when I ran across the following quote:  "Moving is the second worst thing in the world...the first is ethnic cleansing."  While perhaps a bit overstated, I generally agree with the sentiment and am glad to have largely survived my most recent cross-country relocation extravaganza.

Wouldn't this be so much easier?

Even in the best of circumstances, moving is never fun.  Oh, sure, it's exciting at first when you're fantasizing about how best to rearrange your furniture in a new place.  Then you arrive and discover all the dubious things that need repairing because you were too busy evaluating those 30 houses in three days for overall structure to notice all the little dings and dents and scuffs and dirt and questionable constructions.  And that doesn't even take into account the actual moving process, which starts with the oh-so-careful labeling of boxes in exquisite detail and which rapidly devolves into a mad free-for-all of throwing completely unrelated items into the same boxes and labeling them all "Misc" just so you can finish before the movers arrive, guaranteeing that you will spend the next several months fruitlessly trying to find your favorite spaghetti fork till you eventually give up and purchase another one--only to discover the original one packed inexplicably in a box of Christmas lights the following December.  And that's assuming that the move goes smoothly.


In our case, I think, "smooth" is a relative term.  The moving crew arrived to load us up early on a Friday morning.  They were all very young and polite and moved with such alacrity that they had half our stuff in trucks before noon.  Because we were still frantically throwing things in boxes, I wasn't able to supervise everything as it was leaving my home.  That should have been my first red flag.  Eventually we ran out of boxes and so the movers just started taking loose items as they were and lumping them in with other stuff.  Once loaded up, they drove off into the sunset with all our belongings to await transport.

We stayed in the Georgia house that night, intending to thoroughly clean it and do all the paint touchups in an (admittedly over-ambitious) attempt to save money, but we were all so exhausted that it just didn't happen and I had to admit defeat to the realtor and let him hire a cleaning crew behind us.  The next day we loaded up our cars (late) and began the lengthy drive to New Jersey.  We ended up having to leave a few mostly irrelevant things behind in the garage because we simply couldn't get them all in our vehicles; as it was, the Spousal Unit's little sports car look disturbingly like the Beverly Hillbillies' truck on the way to California.


After innumerable pit stops for the dog and/or the child, I finally pulled safely into my New Jersey driveway around 3 or 4 am after mainlining Pepsi non-stop and with no small thanks to the girlie for staying up chatting all night to help me keep awake.  Twenty minutes later I was out on the road again to locate the wayward Spousal Unit and lead his GPS-less car to the house.  We all finally got to bed around 6 am Sunday, just as the day was well and truly dawning.  I know that's when I always like to go to sleep.

Caffeine drip.

 The movers arrived bright and early the next morning with all our belongings in tow.  They whipped through unloading at warp speed and were on their way barely 5 hours later, but not before treating me some prime mover porn as they basically performed a bucket brigade with our boxes, so I got to watch the rippling muscles of a bunch of attractive 25-year-olds.  Try not to be jealous.

This is when they weren't flinging boxes at each other.
My new boyfriend (he just doesn't know it yet).

As the morning progressed, it didn't take long for me to discover why the movers were so speedy all the time...in their youthful zeal to get the job done quickly, they weren't as careful as they might have been in stacking boxes, causing several to split or tear.  One even had a gash torn across the side, which mercifully occurred about an inch and a half above the printer housed inside.

In addition to my many now-crunched boxes, several small storage carts/units were damaged in one way or another (one is missing two wheels, for example, and hovering precariously in the sewing room like the Leaning Tower of Sewing Equipment).  At one point I went upstairs to discover a dresser lying on the floor of my new bedroom and one of the movers attempting to glue back together one of the three feet that had come off.  Shelving units from my office were unnecessarily dismantled in Georgia and left swaying in my office here (they're still a bit on the wonky side, even reassembled). My desk was significantly damaged as well and had to be repaired so it would, you know, not fall over.  Admittedly, most of my furniture is of the super-fancy kind that requires lock-screws, multiple tools, and extensive swearing to assemble, but it's still mine and I still prefer it in one piece.  Furniture which was originally dark now has white streaks on it, and things which were white now have dark smears.  My refrigerator's freezer drawer was disassembled to make it fit through the door, but then returned to me coated in a fine black dust.   Yesterday I spent several minutes picking up straight pins and buttons from my driveway, presumably fallen from a broken box.  Perhaps the coup de grace, though, was the Unit's completely trashed work cabinet, which appears to have resulted from the movers setting heavy boxes on top of said cabinet, the removable countertop of which had been taken off for some reason.  Needless to say, the heavy boxes shifted in transit and slammed into the exposed drawers and fell right on through to the bottom of the cabinet.  Well done, movers...well done.  Ironically, all our fragile items seem so far to have come through just fine, so clearly the movers are able to take extra care when needed.  Apparently they just didn't feel the need for everything else.

Whoops.

Ultimately I don't think the guys were deliberately careless; I just think they were very young and perhaps overly enthusiastic.  And it will be a while before I know if anything in the many smushed or torn boxes is damaged.  Still, I'm keeping track of the carnage as we unpack and taking pictures for a claim down the road.

Damaged or not, it still feels much more like home with all of our stuff here, even if half of it is still buried in a cardboard jungle creeping through all of the rooms like the ubiquitous Kudzu we just left behind.  Eventually everything will get unpacked, but in the meantime I will dive back into the cardboard chaos with my trusty machete in hand (and by 'machete,' I mean 'box cutter'), and chanting the mantra of unpackers the world over:  "It's around here somewhere..."

If you don't hear from me in a week, send out a search party.  With cookies.

May 29, 2014

Georgia vs. Philly

About six weeks ago, I was sightseeing in Philadelphia while the Spousal Unit interviewed for a university job, and enjoying every minute of it.  Just a week or so later, the Unit was extended a job offer and we had to decide whether or not to take it.  So I did what I usually do in these situations...I made a list.

Reasons to Stay in Georgia:

10.  I haven't had a real Georgia peach yet.
  9.  Chris Christie.
  8.  Historical hoop/bell skirts = Personal cone of air conditioning.
  7.  O'Charley's.
  6.  Publix.
  5.  I can continue wearing flip-flops for 11½ months of the year.
  4.  Big houses and cheap property taxes.
  3.  So I won't have to leave fantastic friends.
  2.  I like the subversiveness of being an Indianian Yankee in General
        Sherman's court.
  1.  So I can keep singing "Love Shack" every time I head downtown
       on the Atlanta Highway.
 


Reasons to Leave Georgia for the Northeast:

10.  I've never had a real Georgia peach, so I won't miss them.
  9.  More religious/idealogical tolerance, like local politicians not referring
        to women as cows/breeding stock.
  8.  Historical Liberty Bell = Personal cone of liberty.
  7.  Wawa.
  6.  Wegman's.
  5.  They have all four traditional seasons (none of which are the pre-summer,
        summer/hell, post-summer, and slightly more chilly summer of Georgia).
  4.  Two hours from NYC, two hours from DC, 1 hour from the ocean, and
       more schools and museums and arts communities than I can count.
  3.  So I can live closer to the girlie.
  2.  I will once again be undamned--geographically, at least.   (Northerners who
       visit the South are Yankees; Northerners who come down and never leave
       are DAMN Yankees).
  1.  Dragons are way cooler school mascots than bulldogs.  Sorry, UGA!



In the end, we decided to take the job.  After all, how can you beat a dragon named Mario the Magnificent?  I mean, really??  Oh, and all that other art and culture and history stuff, too.

So now all we have to do is get a house, sell this one, and move everything 750-ish miles.  No big deal, right?