bag lady
My Scout is the size of the pink one but in the orange color.

I am by no means a small purse woman. I usually blame the fact that I have to carry a larger-sized handbag on my being a mom, but when was the last time I actually toted around crayons, pacifiers, or matchbox cars in my bag? Frankly, the real issue is that I can never narrow down exactly what lipstick I want to wear (and often I combine two or three colors to make my own custom-perfect shade) and honestly, lipstick takes up a lot of space.

Okay, maybe not.

But I also have this huge wallet. When I bought it four years ago, I remember the sales woman at Nordstrom saying, “this is lovely, and it can double as a clutch.” Seriously? Where would I put my lipsticks? In the change pouch? I don’t think so. And while I do have a few clutches in my repertoire, I have to admit that I rarely use them. I need my keys. I need my iPhone. I need my iPhone charger since my iPhone only carries a charge for about 45 minutes these days. I sometimes carry my iPod too (especially if I’m metro-ing) because if my iPhone dies and if I am stuck with an 18-minute wait for the orange line in the direction of New Carrollton, I want something to listen to.

Then there are my eyeglass cases. I can sometimes get away with only carrying one, and the regular glasses and the sunglasses take turns being housed it in, but it has to be the bigger of the two cases because my sunglasses don’t fit in the case for the eyeglasses and if I am going to PT or the gym or some place where I might need to take both pairs off, then I need to bring both cases.

I didn’t really keep any of this in mind when I asked my friend Janna from The Finicky Filly to order me the Kate Spade Essex Scout in orange. In my spatial-judgmentally-challenged mind, it looked like it wasn’t that much smaller than the purse I had been using since August. After all, I wasn’t buying the Kate Spade Small Essex Scout. But in practice, my new orange purse is small. It can barely fit my mammoth wallet. I have to narrow my daily lipstick selection down to two options (today’s choices were the Trish McEvoy “Instant Pick Me Up” Lip Shimmer and the new Chanel Rouge Coco Shine in Bonheur). My keys seem too bulky and of course I need my iPhone charger. (The iPhone was conveniently being carried in my coat pocket.) No iPod. No crayons, pacifiers or matchbox cars.

The other night, my seven-year old saw my new purse laying on my bed and started petting it.

Colin (adoringly): Mommy, is this your new purse?

Me: Yes, do you like it?

Colin: I love it. (Pause.) When you don’t want it anymore, can I have it?

I don’t think that Colin realizes that while the cross body style of my bag is very Indiana Jones, he can’t fit his entire retinue of treasures in the Essex Scout. Maybe a couple of his smaller twig wands, a Lego gun and one of the knives he cut out of cardboard. But certainly not all his rocks, his corks (he has a lot of these) or his bottle cap collection. Not to mention his lip balm (he is my son, after all). But that is beside the point since I am far from giving Colin his own Kate Spade purse, even one that has been used.

This week I was lucky. It was rainy, so I didn’t need the sunglasses, and since I was carrying around my computer bag, I could use it to stash the surplus items that I didn’t fit in the purse. And I was only carrying around one cork.

Yes, I have a cork collection, too.


photo courtesy of Tom Lawler

All last week, those of us living and working in the nation’s capital and some beyond waited with some combination of dread, fear and anticipation to see if our nation was headed toward a federal government shutdown. Not to make light of the very serious implications of a shutdown, but in the spirit of how I approached my confinement with Beatrix, I was preparing a post on “shutdown chic.” Some offices had pools on how long the shutdown would last. I even saw that local eating and drinking establishments were offering shutdown specials. Of course, others were taking more serious measures, like trying to figure out how they were going to support their families if the furlough lasted for any extensive period of time. We jested, but not really.

While most cheered, some actually groaned when The Powers That Be, running the shot clock to the very last second, reached agreement (for now) and averted shutdown. During this preceding week of uncertainty, my first real shutdown threat since I moved to Washington in 1997, I myself took some time to reflect on the services the federal government provides, those things that are just expected and which most people probably don’t realize cease to be performed under shutdown conditions.

I mean, everyone thinks they hate the government, right? But aren’t they just confusing the government as a whole with the government’s role as tax collector? I have never heard someone say, “you know, I just don’t pay enough taxes.” But on the other hand, I’ve never heard anyone say “wow, I am so thankful for a national defense.” The bottom line is that those taxes we pay fund the operation of so much we take for granted in our daily lives. Our federal government might not be totally efficient. There is definitely waste. But given the size (and I’m sorry, it isn’t going to get smaller folks) and scope of what is provided, I think we get a pretty good bang for our buck.

Let’s take, for instance, something that my own children were concerned about regarding the shutdown threat: the Smithsonian Museums. You know, the ones you get to go to for free when you visit Washington, DC, or if you live here, where you go on a bad (too hot or too cold) weather day? There are nineteen Smithsonian museums (which is why it’s funny when one is approached by a tourist with the question, “where’s the Smithsonian?”). In addition, there are nine Smithsonian research centers and the National Zoo. Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to pay San Diego Zoo-style admission prices to get into the Zoo in DC? Well, it’s a federally funded institution, supplemented in great part by private donations. And in the event of a government shutdown, the entire Smithsonian system in closed. If you planned your vacation to see you favorite mega-fauna frolic in the bamboo and there happened to be a shutdown, no admission. Your child has been dying to visit the Air and Space Museum? In a shutdown, it’s closed. There was even some question as to whether there would have been a Cherry Blossom parade this weekend if the government had shut down. All those high school bands from across the country that practiced and fund-raised all year to come here and march would have been sorely disappointed.

My kids, of course, were concerned as to whether someone would be there to feed the Zoo animals. It seems this type of worker is what we call “essential.” But I don’t see how you choose. At the risk of coming off too existential, can’t you make a case that everyone is essential?

Let’s take something that is a little less warm and fuzzy. Literally. I know border protection is important to many people. Being first generation American on my mom’s side of the family, I have to admit to having a soft spot for those foreigners wanting their own taste of the American dream (and now that I have put that in writing in a public domain, I guess I can never run for elected office). Many of the functions of the Department of Homeland Security (such as border control) would have continued as usual under a shutdown, but I highlight it here because I wonder how many people actually realize that this is one of the many services that mainstream America considers important that are paid for out of the federal coffers your tax dollars fund.

How about the National Institutes of Health? Would they be able to accept new patients? In a shutdown, would passport applications or renewals be processed? How about Federal Housing Authority loans? Would tax refund checks be sent?

I don’t mean to sound all DC-preachy, I just think that the federal government could use a little more love thrown its way because for all that it does that you hate (like collect taxes) it actually performs a lot of services that you just may like. And use.

I won’t say we are out of the shutdown waters forever. There may still be a discussion on shutdown chic. But at least for now, on Monday morning, federal workers will be riding the Metro and driving on our federal highway system, making their way to work. I am happy that the Giant Pandas will be fed, and of course, that at the U.S Capitol, it will be business as usual. If only business as usual included a little less partisan bickering. I think that is a style we can all agree needs to be shut down.