I am a warrior

https://i0.wp.com/static.ddmcdn.com/gif/hammer-1.jpgSome people belong to book club. I’ve heard of dinner club, cookbook club and wine club. But one thing I had never heard of until I made friends in Cheverly is Weekend Warriors.

I’m not sure whose conception it was exactly as I’m a recent inductee into this esteemed group, but several years ago my friends created the book club equivalent for home improvement projects. Think of it as a modern interpretation of barn raising. Ten families over 12 months come to one family’s house on the second Saturday of each month (except December and January) for half a day’s worth of work. Your month is predetermined at the beginning of the year and you are supposed to make eight out of ten months. Projects I’ve seen so far include building a greenhouse, landscaping, deck staining, painting (there’s lots of painting), plumbing work, tile grouting and of course, someone has to herd the children.

I don’t officially have a slot in Warriors until the 2012 cycle begins, but I still participated in a couple of projects over the summer and fall.  Since I had helped in the 2011 cycle, and I drew August 2012 as my month for the next round, a couple of Warriors members suggested that if I had some small projects that I send a note around over winter break for a mini-unofficial Warriors gathering.

Do I have projects? I had some ceiling tiles that needed replacing in my basement (a constant reminder of the pipe bursting incident Inaugural weekend when temps were in the single digits) and I needed electrical work in the basement bathroom my brother renovated but was not comfortable doing the wiring on. These were two projects I could not do on my own.

I was overwhelmed by the number of families who came to help what were really two one-man projects. I could have called last night’s gathering “borrow a husband” instead of Warriors since really it was the Don and Rob show while their wives and I drank champagne in the kitchen, and the children ran amok until someone wisely turned on the TV. (A very rainy day prevented outdoor play.) In all, five families came over to enjoy homemade pizza, leftover Christmas cookies, champagne, Bell’s Winter White and the merriment that fifteen children (only four of which were girls) confined to the indoors can make.

And now, my ceiling tiles are replaced. I have power in my bathroom, though I need to take a trip to Home Depot before we can actually install lighting, but Don promises me this is a 15-minute job once I get the parts I need. We even got to do a little advance work on what my August 2012 project(s) should be. Do I want to rip out the carpet in the playroom/mommy cave and replace with wood or faux-wood flooring? Build a wine closet? The more we drank, the bigger the ideas seemed to get. But whatever project ends up being, it’s the spirit involved that means the most.



a miracle beyond explaining

Remember Beatrix the Back Brace?

You might have read somewhere that I have this back problem.

Over the last four years, varying degrees of pain from excruciating to consistently annoying didn’t always limit my activity (two marathons, multiple 4-inch heels) but it does tend to mess significantly with my sleep. It isn’t that I don’t have those nights were I zonk out into a deep and dreamless sleep (well, the dreamless part rarely happens). But chalk it up to a high tolerance for pain, a general acceptance of the situation even after so-called “surgery” to repair my torn disc earlier this year, or maybe a little avoidance too, on most days I don’t let it bother me and you wouldn’t necessarily see me after a rough night of sleep and know I’m running on fumes. (Or maybe you do and you are too polite to mention it.)

The latest diagnosis for those who haven’t been following my progress is that the disc is repaired (so I didn’t wear Beatrix for nothing) but I have arthritis in the lumbar joints around where the damaged disc resided. This realization was good news to my physical therapist – because the pain is manageable – even if admitting I have arthritis feels aging to me.

Under the watchful eye of my PT, for the last three weeks, I have stepped up my fitness routine. The positive aspect to be pain being as a result of arthritis is that activity helps reduce the pain. That is, while I was restricted with the torn disc, with arthritis I’m encouraged to be active. With that in mind, I signed up for a package of personal training sessions at Fitness Together, a gym that exclusively offers individual workouts. I have taken a number (okay, three, but the results are amazing so it feels like more) of ballet barre classes at Red Bow Studio. Back in my weekly PT visits, my suite of exercises has increased in pace and difficulty, and each sessions concludes with an extended period of “body work” (code for deep massage) followed by 15 minutes of electro-stimulation therapy under a heating pad. All that and I’m still taking a killer amount of Naproxen, which is an improvement over the muscle relaxants and narcotics my doctor prescribed the last time I saw him.

As I mentioned, collectively we have been plugging along with this routine for about three weeks. Then on Christmas Eve, I woke up groggily, feeling rather puffy-eyed from my melancholy of the night before. As I lie in bed getting my bearings, I suddenly was struck by a sensation I barely recognized.

For the first time in four years I was waking up to zero pain. Zero. Not an ounce of stiffness, not any low-level lingering discomfort. On the zero-to-ten-zero-is-no-pain-ten-is-the-worst scale I was a zero.

On Christmas day, same deal. This morning, maybe just a hint of stiffness, but otherwise, no pain. I don’t know how to explain how I went from waking up – on average – as a seven on said scale to waking up a zero, but for now I am attributing it to this new increased level of fitness training and activity.

I still miss running. I still feel pangs of jealousy when I see runners on the road on my perfect weather days. Today I am going to pack up all the winter weather gear and clear drawer space for the new indoor workout clothes I got for my birthday. But for now, I’m going to savor these pain-free days and nights. I hope beyond hope they continue.

a holly jolly Christmas

Favorite Christmas Present

Since I made a number of my readers cry with my emotional porn of a post the other day, it’s only fair that I update you on how my Christmas Eve actually went down.

Counter to previously stated plans, last night I did not drown my sorrows all day and night while watching sappy after sappy holiday movie. I didn’t order take-out or make one lonely quesadilla or eat hummus and carrots for dinner.

Instead, I spent the evening with my kids.

On a whim on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked Ex if I could have my boys over for dinner on the 24th for a small window from 5:00-7:00. I knew that having a chance to see them, plus Nancy’s plan to come over late night would be enough to stem the tide of tears that were bound to be shed. As it fortuitously turned out, the window I wanted to see the boys happened to fall in the window when Ex and kids were going to go to church with his mother, a tradition none of the three of them was looking forward to.

Jack: We went to church last year, and I really think you should only have to go once every other year.

Ex (on the phone later): Giving them to you for dinner gets me out of church with my mom, so you can have them.

Maybe it was that I was generous with the champagne when Ex and his mother brought the boys over. Maybe it was the festively wrapped presents under tree, the Christmas cookies I had spent the day baking, or the smell of a chicken roasting in the oven, but minutes after leaving us to our dinner, Ex called and asked if I wanted the boys to sleep over at my house.

You know my answer.

We gorged ourselves on chicken and cookies. We tracked Santa on NORAD. We opened and put on our Christmas pajamas. Colin set a trap to test whether Santa is real.

At 8:30 they went to bed (not without significant complaint) and round two of my evening began. Nancy came over in her pajamas, bringing mousse liver pate, delicious cheeses and more bubbly. We watched Love Actually.  And since my heart didn’t feel quite so Grinch-y tight, instead of buckets of tears, there was merriment all night.

Because one is never too old to learn from the good Dr. Seuss, let me end with the final words of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is how I feel about the last 24 hours: “Christmas day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand heart to heart and hand in hand.”

Merry Christmas!


blue christmas

this year's Christmas photo (my cards will be late)

I love Christmas. I love decorating the tree, wrapping presents, seeing the surprise on my kids’ faces when they open their gifts. I bake a gazillion different types of cookies. I don’t always get presents out the door on time, or cards out at all some years, but that’s more a product of a busy life than any lack of spirit.

One of the aspects of the season I love most is Christmas music. I don’t let myself turn it on until December 1st, then I pretty much play it all the time until December 26th. Christmas music generally puts me in an upbeat mood. Who doesn’t love a good rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside?  I like the classics sung by the likes of Dean Martin just as much as so-called “alternative Christmas rock.” Jack Johnson’s surfer version of Rudolph is super clever. Who can feel Grinchy when listening to Carol of the Bells?

But this year’s Christmas spirit feels a little forced. While I outwardly cloak myself in proclamations that I’m loving the quiet stress-free-ness of this year’s holiday, it’s clearer and clearer to me that this year I’ll have a blue blue Christmas.

This year, the boys are with their father.

It doesn’t mean I won’t see my little bundles of joy, but they won’t sleep at my house on Christmas Eve. My tree won’t be the one they rush to first upon waking up at an hour that will undoubtedly be unreasonable. The stockings I hung by the chimney with care won’t be the first they pillage.

We have this little Christmas pajamas ritual where everyone gets new pajamas on Christmas Eve to wear to sleep that night. I bought theirs not really thinking that they won’t get worn until December 26th. As a single mom, I buy myself a pair too. Similarly, to maintain the illusion of Santa, I fill my own stocking, usually with beauty products that I am running low on and would have had to replace anyway. But do I bother this year with my pajamas? Do I fill the stockings the night before or wake up Christmas morning and do it. Do I set out cookies and milk and a note? “Dear Santa, the boys aren’t here tonight but take my word for it, they were mostly good this year. Love, Jack and Colin’s Mommy.”

In 2009, the first year I had a Christmas without the boys, my sister Meghann came to DC. Maybe it’s the 15-year age gulf (she’s young enough to be my daughter) or her own overflowing sense of Christmas exuberance, but having her here gave me reason to be full of Christmas cheer. This year, despite the joy I try to project in civilized company, internally I’m a little Ebeneezer Scrooge, a little George Bailey and a lot dreading Saturday night.

I try to tell myself it won’t always be this way. I have confidence that at some point I will have a significant other who will be here to keep my spirits in check (or at least wipe away my tears) even when the boys are not. Or maybe in 2013 – my next Christmas without the boys – I will travel to an exotic destination. But these thoughts of Christmases future won’t soothe as I get through the next 36 hours.

It’ll be me, a log in the fireplace, a bottle of champagne and as many sappy Christmas movies as I can line up. No church, no gourmet dinner, no caroling.

If I am going to lay around all night, I might want those new pajamas after all.

on turning 42…

On the swings of Tivoli, birthday 42 minus 2.

I can hardly believe two years has passed since I was a little bundle of stress about turning 40.

And not much has changed as the years tick up. I’m not a birthday dreader, per se. But I think it is safe to say that I love the build up to my birthday more than the actual day itself. I start counting a month out. I make lists for the cyber world in case there is a birthday fairy who wants to know my deepest wishes. I plan my birthday outfits with great care (or mighty haste, depending on what else is going on in my life). The anticipation fuels me. Then birthday eve approaches and I panic.

Except last night.

Maybe it was the excellent company to keep my mind preoccupied and the sparkling bubbles to soothe my angst. Perhaps my steely calm can be attributed to the lack of tequila shots. Or that the residual jet-lag from my whirlwind San Francisco trip and the cold I came home with left me more sluggish than normal by the end of this week. Whatever the reason, last night is the first birthday eve that did not include an emotional breakdown at some point in the evening. (I’m sure Kate and Rob, Rachel and Sandra are quite thankful for my fortitude.)

But the water has to go somewhere, so while last night the flood was dammed, today I could end droughts in several parched countries. From the early wake-up to Jack serving me breakfast in bed to the drive to and from the gym, well wishes on Facebook, a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday to you sung over the phone, my tears runneth over.

However, this afternoon, just as quickly and furiously as the tears flowed, they stopped. I’m not saying it’s rational, I’m just saying it is how it is.

And now, let the celebrating begin.

birthday suit

In pursuit of a birthday dress

My birthday has been fortuitously timed for the last several years. On the day that marked 40-minus-one, my dad happened to be in town. And since his birthday is the day after mine, it was never a question that we would go out to dinner for a joint celebration. Beforehand, my friends all met up with us for happy hour so he got to meet my people prior to going to dinner.

On the birthday known affectionately as the big one, I happened to be at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. There I turned 40 under the lights and icicles of Tivoli Gardens surrounded by scores of climate-beaten friends. It was 20 degrees. It sleeted. We drank glugg. It snowed. We drank more glugg. We danced to bad 80s music at an Irish bar late-night. There might have been tequilla shots.

It was perfect.

Last year I was feeling a little less festive, but rallied nonetheless for happy hour and dinner. After all, who wouldn’t go out when their birthday falls on a Friday night?

Which brings us to 39 + 3. This year, one week from today as a matter of fact, my birthday falls on a Saturday.

In the continued spirit of serendipitous timing, my friends Tim and Sarah are having a black tie optional party that night. (I don’t know who actually opts for the “optional” given those parameters). So if my last official birthday in my “early” 40s weren’t reason enough, I they provide the perfect excuse to don sequins.

Of course, I am a horrible procrastinator so here it is one week away and I don’t yet have a dress. But here are a few I have my eye on.

Some quick thoughts:

I love the champagne color in theory, but I’m not sure whether it will camouflage with my skin tone too much. The sheath dress in the middle of her two sequined sisters I actually own in a slightly more stony shade, NWT, the victim of last year’s failure to make my office Christmas party due to a horrible stomach flu. I should wear this dress, as technically it is new. But one only turns 42 once. (Well, until next year and the year after that, as I plan to hit the age pause button for awhile.) There is so much fiscal responsibility in Washington right now though that I feel it is my duty to break the miserly mold that is de rigueur.

The plum dress is my perfect shade, but I am afraid it could be a little matronly looking. A definite must-try-before-buy. The blue sequined dress with dolman sleeves is gorgeous, but is the shape right for me? I love the cut out detail on the arms to show off my hard work in the gym, but the body of the dress will either work spectacularly or fail miserably.

The silver is hands down my e-window shopping favorite. I love the combination of long sleeves and a short skirt. But I have to make sure my new Twitter BFF DCCeline isn’t planning on this one for an event we will both be at later in the month, when I intend to get a second wear out of the birthday dress. Black Champagne will be my NYE, and sequins are mandatory.

And last year’s Christmas party dress? Well, I am eager awaiting birthday lunch with my friend Chris. He never fails to take me to the best suburban Virginia has to offer.

Black tie definitely optional.

all I want for Christmas (naughty version)

Christmas List: Naughty EditionHey, while one is dreaming of presents that won’t appear under the tree, why not kick it up a notch and fulfill some real fantasies?

All these items pictured speak to the playfully naughty in me. I was initially inspired by the ultra sexy but elegant chemise and robe from none other than my favorite lingerie shop, Coup de Foudre. I could totally Hugh Hefner through life in that getup. Or enchant for a night.

Shoes. My passion. Does anyone else get warm and tingly inside when holding a beautifully crafted shoe in her hand? I tend to buy shoes in twos (because I can never narrow it down to one) but if given the opportunity to own one of these two shoes, the fun and flirty satin platform pump by Butter or the reptilian Manolo Blahnik, it really would be a Sophie’s Choice moment for me.

Being a woman with short hair, I have been trying to integrate more dangling earrings into my collection. This Kendra Scott pair could be worn with a t-shirt and jeans, an LBD, or, as pictured, with an elegant outfit of seduction.

But no ensemble such as this would be complete without the perfect accessory. In this case, a little fleather whip is just what the doctor – or the dominatrix – ordered.

Have you been naughty or nice?

all I want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas...Now that Jack has been reassured that Santa exists, he has been busy working on his letter to Santa.

Too busy.

While letters from years past have been Facebook-worthy in their sure little boy-ness (“gas mask [with hood]” last year or “one puppy [small]” the year before) this year my little consumer monsters would have made the Material Girl blush.

23 items on Jack’s list, including such treasures as an iPod touch (no), a video camera (no) and a DSI (no). So then we had to have a little talk about gluttony.

Me: There’s no way I am sending either of these letters to Santa.

Both boys returned with more appropriate lists that were limited to five items of varying sizes and price ranges, though neither list included the item they’re actually getting for Christmas.

All their list-making and prioritizing and editing and rewriting got me to wondering: if I had a Santa, what would be on my list?

Of course, aside from a binding global agreement on climate change from major emitters, some very classic items came to mind. New riding boots (I’ve had my eye on these convertible ones from Lillybee for awhile) and an orange wool coat with leopard print gloves. You have read of my desire for a new handbag (pictured is Emily’s coveted bag but in a gorgeous purple). I’m in the market for some funky jewelry that can be dressed up or down. And of course, while one is dreaming big and making lists, a Cartier tank watch.

I probably have a better shot at getting a Cartier watch someday than I do on an international deal on climate change.

I didn’t self reprimand my gluttony as I do not have expectations that a single one of these items will end up under my tree. After all, there’s really no one to share this list with beyond the blogosphere, and I’m sure Santa doesn’t follow me. As a half-time single woman/half-time single mom, I will look forward on Christmas morning to opening the gifts my boys make for me. This year I am hoping for one of Jack’s self-designed comic books, perhaps a box of Colin’s paper airplanes, and a jointly assembled pack of their “Magic Cards” which include a cross-pollination of the characters of all the mystical books they read, each assigned a point value and strength based on their activities in their respective books.

At least, those are the items I intend to ask for on my real list, the list I plan to give to the boys.

After the holidays, I can always buy myself the boots.

Yes, Jack, there is a Santa Claus

http://slicktiger.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/ch891224.png?w=644&h=800The other night, as I peeled the potatoes I was planning to mash to my usual perfection to serve with the Zinfandel-Braised Beef Short Ribs stewing in the oven, Jack came into the kitchen, a somber cloud hanging over his head.

Jack: Can I help you peel potatoes?

Me: Absolutely!

I handed him the peeler and he went to work. After about two potatoes, he stopped.

Jack: Mom, we need to talk.

After the initial elation that my child was about to have a grown up conversation with me subsided, panic quickly set in. What could possible be wrong that Jack would take such a serious tone?

Jack: I want you to tell me the truth, Mommy. I just need to know. (Pause.) Is Santa Claus real?

While I assumed this day would come (I don’t remember having this conversation with my mom, but I do recall noticing that Santa had the same handwriting as she did) I wasn’t expecting it to come so close to Christmas. I figured Jack wanted to believe and thus would continue to do so, not only for his own sake, but for Colin’s. So, the short of the story is, I didn’t really have a good answer prepared. I bought myself some time though by asking him what he believes. Then I pulled an answer out of thin air, but in retrospect, it wasn’t what I wish I had said.

I turned it into a discussion of faith. I told Jack that whether it’s God, Santa or climate change, there will always be people who try to shake your faith in what you believe. And in those times, you have to dig deep and figure out your own beliefs. Then stand by them. Kind of hokey, I know, but he accepted it.

Jack: Oh I’m so relieved! Mostly I wanted to make sure that when I am a dad, I don’t have to do all the work on Christmas Eve! Thank you, Mommy.

Upon greater reflection, here is what I wish I had said. Santa Claus as a living and breathing person who lives in the North Pole making presents all year round, Santa Claus as a man on a sleigh who delivers toys to privileged Christian children the world over does not exist. But what is real is the spirit of Christmas that Santa represents, a spirit of giving to others and creating joy. You can believe in Santa by creating and perpetuating the spirit of Christmas. Even on your Grinchy days.

The next time I have to have this conversation, hopefully it will be spring, well after the tree is down, needles are swept up, and stockings are put away. Regardless of when it comes, I will be better prepared.

Or maybe I will fall back on the age-old cop-out: go ask your dad.

a very newsy update

the scraped, primed and painted ceiling and walls of the guest room, the source of all my sweat equity efforts

I can’t fault writer’s block for my recent absence from the blogosphere. I’ve had several ideas that fell the wayside or were condensed into 140-character tweets. But fear not, I’m still here, thinking the same snarky thoughts.

I do feel like I should wrap up some loose ends, given how many questions and comments I get on previous posts. So for those who haven’t been sleeping at night wondering how my turkey came out or if I found a new purse, here are some updates to whet your appetite for more posts to come. Trust me, I have a lot on my mind that I want to share.

In no particular order, fall foliage. It’s gone. I’m no longer lounging under the brilliant canopy of autumn-hued trees. It was a spectacular fall, the best in my memory, and I hope fall 2011 is the new norm for the years to come.

My turkey. If you read my post, then you know I was poised to host Thanksgiving for the first time ever, and I was seeking turkey recipes. Thanks to all who submitted their favorites. I used the version submitted by my friend Stephanie, who has used it ten years running, although every year, her mother-in-law still declares, “why Stephanie, I didn’t know you could cook!” Now, my bird did not come out as juicy as Stephanie promised, but that’s my fault for screwing up the weight-time conversion and leaving it in the oven a little too long. Regardless, Colin ate both drumsticks and there weren’t as many leftovers as one would think given we were five adults, five kids and two turkeys (yes, someone didn’t trust me and brought their own).

A new fall/winter purse: There’s still no new handbag dangling off my arm, though I have test-run many models. The favorite thus far is my friend Emily’s purse, but even though she lives in Chicago and we have owned the same bag before, I am hesitant to click purchase. A big Kate Spade sale after Christmas and continued ennui with my current bag might cure me of that though.

The Sweat Equity Challenge: No, I did not end up tackling a household project every week between September 18th and Thanksgiving, but I did do eight weeks worth of projects in about a 5-day period, which explains why I still have repetitive stress disorder in both arms (I’m an ambidextrous scraper/painter). The lesson learned: next time hire someone to do the work or find a boyfriend who is handy around the house.

My fall wardrobe refresh: In October, I took advantage of a 25% off J. Crew sale to purchase some new staples for my fall wardrobe. What a bust. First of all, I kid you not when I say each of the five items I ordered was shipped separately. Secondly, I ended up returning everything except the pencil skirt in harvest tweed. The camel sweater was not the right shade (nor was the blouse) and the plum capri pants looked like pajamas. The red pants, which I had high high hopes for, weren’t lined and it took 15 seconds of standing in front of my mirror before the itching began.

So that is pretty much my life to date. Stay tuned for my musings on Santa Claus, Christmas lists, and of course, my upcoming birthday.

December 17th for those who don’t have their calendars marked.