Monday, September 28, 2015

Vacation slide show from hell.

So, I've been abroad.

No, not "a broad" in the Bea Arthur sense. "Abroad" in the fancypants sense.

My Guy has worked for his corporation for so long that he got a sabbatical. And so, we took this precious time to get off our couch and go to the United Kingdom. The trip destroyed my feet, gave me a new appreciation for free public toilets, and was generally perfect. Here are some highlights.

Instead of The Dollar Store or Dollar General, the UK has Poundland. This makes sense since they don't have dollars, but pounds. Except that we kept calling it "Poundtown," because both my husband and I are actually 12-year-old boys.
Man, I am really good at selfies.
In what I'm sure is a shock to my humanities professor, I was excited to point out the salient buttresses and flying buttresses of the chapels and abbeys. Basically, I specialized in buttri. Because those were the parts of architecture I remembered. But at least I remembered something, right? Right?
Bath Abbey has both salient and flying buttri. And my husband, listening to an audio guide and pretending it's an old-school cell phone and he's on a very important call, probably with the pope. Or Mayor McCheese.
I really missed the dogs. Luckily, I found this window display.
Your breath is amazing.
This is the Royal Crescent in Bath. It's where crescent rolls were invented.
People here were really on edge, never knowing when the giant tube was going to pop.
Edinburgh is the shit. It is the coolest. And looking over it all is Arthur's Seat. It doesn't look like much of a mountain/hill, but trust me when I tell you that there's an easy-ish way to get to the top and a Marital Death March way to get to the top. Guess which one we took?
This is a slight exaggeration of what we traversed, but not really. And we're still married!
We tried haggis, both regular and vegetarian. No photo. Because it was gross. Not in a gag-me-with-a-spoon way, but in a why-would-anyone-eat-this way.

Toward the end of any European trip, I think it's normal and perfectly fine to be castled and churched out. Here we are in front of the ruins of the Melrose Abbey. Yes, there's a fence between us and the abbey. Because we didn't feel like spending money to see yet another church and we decided to eat instead. It was kind of like in "Vacation" when they see the Grand Canyon - "Well, yep, there it is. Let's go!"
Even our eyes are like, "Obligation photo. Hope skipping this one doesn't make us bad Christians."
The U.S. is great, but can lack a certain panache. Case in point: I have yet to find this cereal back home. Now how am I supposed to become a bekilted Scott Bakula / Huey Lewis track and field star?
Step aside, haggis. This is the true taste of Scotland.
I'm not gonna lie. This trip was great, and such a blessing. Also? I'm really glad to be home. I know what coins are what here, and have a strong sense of how the toilets work.

Once the jet lag wears off, we want to start planning another trip. Where should we go? What destinations have you loved?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book review: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding

Sometimes, you pick up a book because you love the title. This is one of those books.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir is pretty much the best title ever for a memoir about being single when all of your peers are coupled off and having babies. As someone who was in a similar situation, I appreciate this title very, very much.

However ... I guess I did the whole "single in my 30s" thing wrong. Because author Kristin Newman spent her time traveling the world and sleeping with different flavors of international lovahs. I, on the other hand, mostly kept it in my pants. Like a loser.

Anyway. If you want a first-hand account of traveling with no particular plan and making friends with interesting people along the way and changing your return flights so you can keep chillin' with your new Latin lovah, this is the book for you. If you're looking for perhaps a more traditional view of navigating the "but I'm not like any of my friends" waters of 30s singledom, this is not the book for you.

Also? I feel like the author paid as little attention as possible to the real story. She became estranged from her dad for several years, due to a little stepmother situation ... and then she ended up taking care of that stepmother. This is the real story. While Kristin touches on it, she even admits that she can barely talk about it, much less write honestly. But I'd love to read a book about it when she's ready to dig in - she's a lovely writer, and an authentic look at the situation could be gratifying and useful.

Of course, it's also none of my damned business, and if she doesn't want to write about it, more power to her.

I give What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding 2 labradoodles who are kind of over it. No breeding here.
Is there a book that made your inner big-city book editor think the author should go in a different direction?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book review: Bettyville

I review a lot of books here, because I like to read, and it keeps me out of bar fights - for the most part. Most books I like just fine. Sometimes there are books that are like mustard to me - eww eww eww. And very rarely, there are books that I want to marry. Except I'm already married. And I'm pretty sure you can't marry a book.

I want to marry this book.

Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman is just ... so ... oh. It's George's account of moving from NYC back to his small Missouri hometown to care for his ailing mother, Betty. She's fading, and the small town is fading, and George isn't sure where he fits in with it all - or if he ever has.

Oh, and he's a gay man whose parents never made peace with "how he is." And his mother has dementia.

Sounds like a real pick-me-up, right? Funny thing, though - it's really life-affirming.

The memoir is packed with moments like when Betty says, "I bet you wish I would die." And George's response is, "Not until you eat this damn meat loaf." It's an authentic dance between 2 people who love each other despite not understanding each other, told by a narrator who has an ear for dialogue and an eye for beauty.

I mean, there's an entire scene wherein his aunt sits on the porch to be with an alcoholic family friend who can't get out of his car. She just doesn't want him to be alone. Peace be still.

This book is honest and authentic and just lovely. It's one of those books where any description - at least in my feeble hands - won't do it justice. So, the best I can do is to tell you to go and get this book. You won't regret it.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Bettyville 9 packs of dogs.
I'm a sucker for books about the Midwest. Any favorites that you'd recommend?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A minor treatise on women who lost their personalities in a parking lot somewhere, possibly outside Pottery Barn Kids.

There's a scourge invading our homeland. No, I'm not talking about Kardashians. It's worse.

I'm talking about the once-normal women who have morphed into 1-dimensional, perfect little fembots. I call them The Talbots.

These women are well-dressed in completely unobjectional attire. Their highlights are always within the bounds of good taste. Their husbands are well-employed and their children look like something out of a Tommy Hilfiger catalog. The homes? Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, but of course.

So, that part is annoying. And boring. But the real issue I have with The Talbots? They talk. All the time. About nothing at all.

Small talk is the game and your neighborhood Talbot is the grand champion. She will talk your ear off about what kid is going to what school and did you hear about her friends that you don't know, well they sold their house, and isn't it just great? It's all just great.

Here's the thing: there are some people who are just superficial, or dead inside, or whatever. And that's their thing, and it's cool - although I've never met anyone who said, "I'm dead inside and it's cool."

No, the rub is that the Talbots I know weren't always like this. They used to be interesting, engaged, educated women. Now?

Now, I want to stab myself in the eardrum when I see them coming.

Tell me what you're reading. Tell me a dirty joke. Tell me how the dog had diarrhea and half the family walked through it. Tell me anything that's real and authentic. But don't tell me everything is great and perfect and wonderful and also great. I don't believe you. In fact, I feel sorry for you.

I know it's easy for women to get lost in the roles of mother and wife. But it seems like some of my peers haven't so much gotten lost as turned into Stepford succubi completely devoid of personality.

I recognize that we are constantly reinventing ourselves, even when we have no idea what comes next.

But I also know that I miss some women who are here physically but mentally have left the building.

Be ugly. Just be real. And don't be a Talbot. The world needs you - the real you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book review: Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty

If we go way back - and I hope we do! - you might remember that I once reviewed Diane Keaton's autobiography, "Then Again." And you might also remember that I haaaaaated this book. I listened to it, and it didn't translate well to audiobook. It was hard to keep track of what was what.

But, I'm nothing if not a saint. So, I gave Diane another chance. I recently listened to her new book.

"Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty" is kind of a series of meditations on beauty. Written by someone who has been called both a style icon and someone who has "let herself go" by Hollywood standards, this should be a pretty good read, right?

Well ... kind of?

I found it comforting to read that she both stands by her style and beauty choices (Turtlenecks! No plastic surgery - at least not yet!) and feels conflicted by them. Movie stars - they're just like you and me!

But reading an entire book that jumps from confidence to "oh, shucks, I don't know" over and over again can be ... exhausting.

Listening to this audio book, I enjoyed the author reading her own work. So many times it doesn't work, but here it totally did. Diane Keaton is someone I'd love to sit near in a restaurant so I could eavesdrop. I'm not so sure, however, that I'd actually like to be at the same table. I don't think my little introverted heart could take a multi-course meal with her. I'd be exhausted.

So, the book. I loved her talking about how Victoria's Secret is so great because it encourages young women to love their shapes and have fun. I didn't love the in-depth description of shopping there with her daughter, complete with a rundown of what her daughter purchased with a gift card. This "yes, but I could have done without ..." theme kind of sums up my feelings on the book as a whole.

Make no mistake: I love Diane Keaton on screen. I'm so thankful she's (gasp!) aging like a normal human, even though she's in Hollywood. Here, she makes some great points and has some interesting stories. But this book? I found it to be a mixed bag.

I give it two mixed bags of dogs. Dogs that don't necessarily match.
Have you read either of Keaton's books? What did you think?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hanging out in bars is good for your marriage.

I wasn't aware that we needed a marriage tune-up. But I guess we did. And we got one. And it was glorious.

The other night, we went to a concert. We saw My Celebrity Boyfriend Dave Grohl in all his broken-leg, sitting-on-a-throne glory. I knew every song and felt - dare I say it? - cool.

My Guy felt pretty happenin', too. So, we did what cool and happenin' folk do - we went to a bar.

Now, you might say it was a tactical error to go to a bar not near the concert venue, but near our house. And you might be right. Because our local watering hole was kind of deserted. We sat at a table for about 10 minutes before we realized that the waitress had gone home and the bar was our only option. Not that any of the 4 bored bartenders loitering about actually told us this. We figured it out on our own.

So, we bellied up to the bar and ordered ourselves some Miller Lites. Because cold Miller Lite is the nectar of the gods. And if you don't believe me, there were about a dozen drunk people at the bar who would fight you for disagreeing.

Yes. We had stumbled into Drunktown.

There was the guy in the baseball jersey who had clearly been at the bar since the baseball game started some 6 hours earlier. He was holding court, but was in danger of falling off his bar stool.

Then there were the 3 guys who are probably good dudes but who had just enjoyed a little too much Miller Lite.

There were 2 old dudes who just looked sad, as you do at a bar at midnight if you're alone and over the age of 60.

And then there were two women. They both had a distinct "I have a few ill-conceived tattoos" vibe that did not promise stellar emotional well being. And lemme tell you: when those girls approached the bar, it was like throwing raw meat into a den of lions. All the menfolk were all over them.

Meanwhile, My Guy and I sipped our beers and studied the scene, like anthropologists. It was fascinating.

Baseball guy zeroed in on the broken woman with the ratty hair. She seemed to be on a mission to get him to buy her as many drinks as she could slam in a short amount of time.

The other broken woman bounced between the old guys and the probably normal guys, touching their arms and flipping her hair around. I was never good at flirting, but even I saw this as pathetic.

My Guy put his arm around me, partly to whisper in my ear and maybe also to let the leaches know that we were an item.

"Hey, babe?" he said. "You're a really attractive woman. But these girls make you look like a 13."

We laughed. I looked at him, and I looked at the drunken, desperate mating melee in front of us. "Thank God we're married," I said as we clinked glasses. "My appreciation of you grows stronger by the minute."

I looked into my beloved's eyes, and he looked into mine. We both glanced over as the baseball guy finally fell off his stool and managed to bring the ratty-haired woman down with him. Drinks were spilled. The desperation was palpable. And My Guy and I just sat in our smug nest of security and love and ordered another round.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book review: In the Unlikely Event.

I'm bad at librarying. I'll reserve a bunch of books, and they'll all become available at once, and you can't renew books that have a waiting list, so then I'll end up with this high-pressure "read all the books at once" marathon of reading and listening to audio books and it all just calls for a stiff drink.

I get greedy. I love the library. They give you books! For free! Sometimes I overestimate my own reading potential and underestimate my need for sleep.

Anyway. I reserved Judy Blume's latest at the library. I waited a few months for it to become available, and then I picked it up right before I went out of town. And then I was reading another book, and then, pretty soon, I realized I had 4 days to start and finish the book before it was due. It was pretty high-pressure.

But dammit if it wasn't worth it.

"In the Unlikely Event" is a book for adults, but the main character is a 15-year-old girl. And dammit if Judy Blume can't write young people.

Reading this book took me back to devouring Judy's books for kids. I'd get my hands on a new-to-me Judy Blume book and I was lost to the world until it was done. Her characters spoke to me - they had horrible thoughts and things they didn't tell anyone else - just like me. It was a revelation, and seemed crazypants that An Adult wrote such things. Adults clearly didn't know anything about being a kid.

Har har.

"In the Unlikely Event" gave me that throwback reading experience, but it's also just a well-written book. It's engaging, with a plot that keeps you guessing and doesn't leave everyone living happily ever after - kind of like life.

My inner 10-year-old ached for the perfect happy ending. But my outer 40-year-old was thankful for such a fun read. All told, I give it 4 airline ground crew dachshunds.
What's your favorite all-time Judy Blume book? If forced to choose at gunpoint, I'd probably say "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself." You?