“Hands up if you’re ready to do something you’ll regret this weekend. Go forth! You have my blessing.”
― Florence Welch
My work pace has been frantic the last week, minions. Traveling to Virginia, doing last minute reporting projects, trying to cram in months of advance work for one client before I take August off for the move, and so on.
And this coming week we have to redo some travel plans because the first phase of our visa application has been approved and came with specific travel dates for us to use (which of course everyone refused to tell us before so that we could plan accordingly). I may have to fly back at some point so because J. and I will probably have to make our biometric application together. It’s never ending.
But I like the busyness. On top of work and moving I’ve been keeping house for Mum, doing my level best to get into jogging (so far sticking with it but hating every second of it), missing J., and planning adventures. Marie and her husband are coming down for the weekend (huzzah!) starting today, so I’ve starting cooking up a storm to keep us fed and make sure all we’ll have to worry about is deciding between local summer weekend festivities, or going someplace like Charlottesville instead. We may even start harvesting some honey this weekend – Dad’s beekeeping has become prolifically successful! I might be an average housekeeper but I am a pretty impressive hostess when I put my mind to it.
Here are your links, tell me what you’re getting up to for the last week of June – and where is the year going, by the way?! My neglect of you is ended and I have all sorts of Virginia backwoods posts coming your way to keep you entertained, so stay tuned.
So, how accurate? Mine said I like rocky relationships and tend to end up with disastrous boyfriends. Nope! One “bad boy” boyfriend in high school fixed that, and I married (as you know) a pretty awesome guy. On the other hand, it said I love problem solving and projects. Check and check (as I plan my house deep cleaning schedule for the week…).
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ― Dwight D. Eisenhower
So, Mum got accepted to a classical language program (yay, Mum!) and will be gone for 8 weeks. She’s asked me to stop in and mind things a bit for a few weeks so that Dad can get to work, Buddy can get to the dentist, and Snickers can get to swim practice. And also that this fate may be avoided, which I think we can all agree is a worthy cause.
This is perfect! I get to spend time with my siblings and parents (once Mum’s back) before I skip the country, play with my dog, see all the girls on the East Coast, and boss people about professionally – what is not to like!
And just like that, my summer in the woods is back on! This has been the most roller coaster year…
Also we booked a bunch of plane tickets yesterday and today. Things are happening.
Some of my favorite memories with her have been the day trips we took together, when I finally got out of the twerpy teenager phase and could really appreciate them. When we lived in Belgium she and I went down to Versailles together overnight, just the two of us, just because. We also wandered through Antwerp, Ghent, and Brugges. In the UK we did Cambridge regularly. It was great fun and I didn’t appreciate them close to enough at the time.
But I’m going to make darn sure I do the same with my spawn. Those hours or days, just the two of us that she carved out just to be with me, we’re just extended “I Love Yous” with hyper impressive scenery.
So, just in case I didn’t say it enough then, I love you back, Mum.
“There are no good girls gone wrong – just bad girls found out.” ― Mae West
Last Thursday I got to attend a storytelling event featuring one of my personal feminist and academic heroines. I even got to meet her after the show and had to stop the litany of fangirling going on in my head as I went up to shake her hand, “Don’t say anything stupid, don’t freak out, smile don’t drool, stop grinning like a hyena…” After I thanked her for the work she’s doing in multiple mediums, she gave me a hug and I went away skipping.
But next to meeting this woman, the coolest moment was when audience members were invited to contribute a story of their own on the evening’s them: Good Girls Don’t. I’d always wanted to try it so I volunteered as available, and to my surprise I was picked. Here’s a brief riff on the story I told. The story at the event was a lot less polished, but it’s still worth the retelling. (Sorry in advance, Mum, but it’s my favorite story of you ever.)
My mother has a good life, I think, but parts of it could have made a Lifetime Original Movie. She’s overcome abuse, depression, and family issues to come out on the other side with three degrees, four kids, world travel, and a survivors mindset hidden behind a beautiful house, antiques, and academia. My mother believes in being strong minded, independent, and educated – but in addition to this, she believed in being a lady.
Ladies aren’t rough, they are firm but polite. They speak well and keep their elbows off the table. They sit up straight. They converse intelligently but in measured tones. Above all they are not crass: bad or rude language was not permitted in our house. We could ask any questions we wanted, all the kids were given a lot of independence, and we were given a lot of intellectual leeway in some ways, but we could not swear. This got to be difficult for me as I got older because frankly I love a good “damn!” and think some words, while perhaps less than savory, are absolutely the appropriate words to use in some situations. But not for Mum. Ladies don’t use coarse language and heaven help me if I did in her presence.
I think, and this is just speculation on my part, that being ladylike was so important to my mother because she’s overcome a lot and coming out of it with the moral high ground was important to her. Behaving properly and speaking well are markers of success, intelligence, and sophistication – my mother earned all those descriptions and it was important to her that her children acquire them as well. To become ladies in the case of her daughters, and gentlemen in the case of her sons.
But I was there the day my mom broke.
When we were living on that tiny island in the Pacific, my father had achieved considerable rank in his career and with that came some perks. We had designated parking spaces, respectful nods, and my mother was able to be a part of organizations with some prestige in the community, even rising to become the president of one. One day she had to run some errands and pulling into a parking lot towards her designated spot, she accidentally cut someone off.
It was a man, who promptly lost it. He started banging on his steering wheel, screaming obscenities that we couldn’t hear and culminated with lifting one hand and flipping my mother off.
And my mother, in her nice suit and pearls around her neck, sitting in her minivan with four children, with a lifetime of hard knocks behind her just looked at the guy. Years later I’d still give anything to know what went through her head because I never saw what was coming. I have no idea why this was the moment that snapped her, but apparently the time had come. Her jaw tightened for a moment, she raised both her hands…and returned the gesture. Double barreled.
All four kids stared at her. The man, his jaw hanging open and his face draining of color as he recognized the markings on our car that indicated my father’s rank, faded in the rear view mirror as my mother turned into her designated parking. And my mother, composure restored, shut off the car calmly in her spot before turning around in her seat to look at us. “Never do that, children,” she said in precise, correct tones. “It’s rude.”
Mum thinks that this “might not have been her best mothering moment,” though I disagree. All four of us kids still speak of that day in hushed tones, it was that earth shattering and awesome. Without a doubt, even at the height of our teenage angst and parent despising, every last one of us respected Mum for this out-of-character act. She somehow became more human, less image conscious, taller, braver, and far more imposing in that moment than we had ever given her credit for. In spite of what we knew she’d gone through in her life, there were suddenly sides to our mother we realized we didn’t know, and we knew that wherever they were hiding, we didn’t want to mess.
Well behaved women might not get angry, fight back, or use bad language… but then again they might and it’s okay, no one is going to revoke your pearls. In fact, some people might even grudgingly admire you. Good girls don’t raise both fists to the skies, but I learned in one spectacular moment that sometimes…just occasionally Ladies do.
“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
― Jon Stewart
Going home for the holidays is always so restful for me – sure a tiff or two might crop up, but they’re rare, usually solved with a tussle or a game, and the food more than makes up for it. Besides my house is the only place where the following conversation could take place and everyone would think it was normal:
Me, to Buddy: “You needed a fez for that.”
Buddy: “I know, but I couldn’t find one.”
Dad: “What do you mean? I have a fez.”
Buddy (incensed): “How did I not know this!”
Dad (matter-of-factly): “Not my fault. You have never asked me if I had a fez.”
A typical Autumn evening with the Small Dog clan.
This year the turkey surprised us all by finishing a full two hours ahead of schedule (seriously, we’re baffled, we’ve only ever experienced the opposite) and we had to scramble and mobilize all the troops to get things finished and the table set for our feast. But all was well!
These pies were the source of much hilarity. You see, that pie on the right is my mother’s rightly famous one, and she has always had very particular ideas about how it should be done. Namely, there is normally a piece of dough fashioned in the shape of autumn leaves that it left on top and bakes nicely into the pumpkin filling (made, traditionally, from the remains of our Halloween jack-o’lanterns). The last time we were there for Thanksgiving my mother, upon realizing that she had popped the pie in the oven without it’s customary finishing leaf, whipped up a special batch of dough just to put the darn thing on. This year I pointed out that the leaf was missing and she tossed her head with a magnificent, “Whatever!”
My father’s land is also the source of some hilarity for me, but perhaps I’ll save that for another post. It’s his pride and joy. When he first bought it, the handful of acres that weren’t forest were covered in brush taller than I was at the time. Now he has several cleared acres that support his berry bushes, a small orchard in the making, and plans for a pond. He was born in the wrong century, he was meant to be a gentleman farmer.
Fun fact about our land, American Founding Father Patrick Henry had his first job as a lawyer in our town, the road he walked to get to work runs across our property, and won his first election to represent the county locally. Also, the parents of J. Sargeant Reynolds (of the aluminum fame) are supposedly buried somewhere on our property as well, though we don’t have a lot of proof for that one. There are an amazing amount of old houses (with fantastic estate names) and many of the families have been in the area for generations (and a handful for centuries) so many properties have private family cemeteries on them – but alas for the Reynolds, they’ll only be discovered if we ever break ground for a house or something.
That J. and I have puppy lust is already well documented, but he compounded the problem by spending the entire vacation playing with Mika, supplanting all of us in her affections by tummy rubs, sneaking her treats, and taking her for runs. The man needs a dog. We also went out to play with Maxi and Niney, the dogs on our property to keep it deer and bear free. Oh, and a bear apparently lives in a copse behind a house just up the street from my parents and likes to set all the neighborhood pets off at night by wandering around.
A week of doing next to nothing means that in the eternal balance of things, I’m now absolutely swamped at work. The continued lack of a replacement for Officer Lampost really is affecting my ability to work as effectively as I would like (which is a much less whiny way of saying that I had a twenty minute lunch break on Monday and Tuesday, and still had to stay after a full two hours on the latter to just get through my list of things to do). Vacation is over, friends, and no mistake! Luckily, I’m working on a few projects I’m really interested in and my work seems to be impressing several of my bosses, so onward towards Christmas, minions.
“I have witnessed and enjoyed the first act of everything which Wagner created, but the effect on me has always been so powerful that one act was quite sufficient; whenever I have witnessed two acts I have gone away physically exhausted; and whenever I have ventured an entire opera the result has been the next thing to suicide.” – Mark Twain
PBS (my Great American Love) is in the middle of doing Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle on it’s Great Performances at the Met program, starting with an introductory program on the staging of Robert Lepage’s fantastical set for the Met’s production. We’re loving it and staying up way too late to enjoy it. And we would feel bad about listening to Wagner late at night except that our neighbors have been treating us to a rather tone deaf rendition of Les Miserables for the better part of the week. We’ll see your French suffering and raise you the fall of the German/Icelandic gods.
Of course, tonight is Die Walkure, so we had to prepare properly. Naturally by watching this.
The Small Dog editorial team: mature, educated, cultured.
“Unless you know the code, it has no meaning.” ― John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things
Last week’s post, and my family coming into town this week, got me thinking about some of the other quirks, inside jokes, and private definitions that make up my clan’s collective unconscious.
My mother has battled depression (tooth and nail) for most of her life. It’s a nasty, insidious enemy that takes over in a big way, but thanks to improved treatments, it’s much more manageable than it was twenty years ago. Now and then, in times of great stress or just because chemical levels get a bit off, things get harder for her. The way the sibs, Dad, and I communicate this to one another by saying, “We’re in a dip.” It’s code that means help out a bit more, give the benefit of the doubt, and love a little harder for the next few weeks.
Most of the time, we are model children in public (seriously, we’re the kind you brag about at dinner parties), but it would be a lie to say that we’re completely civilized. In private we tend towards the ridiculous.. We have two dinnertime rules 1) don’t wait for the hostess to start eating, unless it’s a formal dinner or holiday, and 2) “No bayonetting at the table.” I actually have no idea how this entered the lexicon, but I am willing to be money that some sibling was poking another with a stick at the time. Our napkins may be on our laps, and we may know exactly what forks to use for fish, desert, and salads, but this veneer of gentility hides inner savagery.
Speaking of. Whenever the kids act out one or both parents will threaten to “subject us to civilization!”
Speaking of further. J. and I both like the computer game “Civilization,” probably because of innate Napoleonic tendencies towards global domination. For those not in the know, it’s a nerd’s dream: you choose which historical leader you want to be, and try to take over the world, build world wonders, negotiate treaties – fun! I find, however, that I tend towards military attempts and so J. coined the phrase, “killing people,” to refer towards gaming. As in, “Pass the laptop, I think I’ll kill people for an hour before bedtime.” Note: as psychotic as this sounds it’s not an indicator of unstable mental health, although using the term in an airport might make people around you look at you in alarm and leave you to an embarrassed explanation. Avoid this.
What inside jokes or phrases do you minions have amongst your nearest and dearest? Any good stories behind them you care to share with the coterie?
“I think we should change the amount of time in each day. Sunday thru Friday should be reduced from 24 hours down to ten minutes, and Saturday would become a 167-hour day. That way, when people ask me what I did all week I could truthfully respond, “I slept all week. But I got a hell of a lot done on Saturday.” ― Jarod Kintz, The Days of Yay are Here! Wake Me Up When They’re Over
Apart from Monday when a shrieking, disturbed man was running straight at me and I had a (surprisingly matter-of-fact), “Great, this is how I die,” moment, this week hasn’t been terribly exciting but for one fact: my family is in town! I haven’t seen them since Christmas of last year so it’s quite a treat. Last night J. and I took them to our favorite barbeque joint and then hung out at our place for a couple of hours. Today they’re going for a hike in the mountains (while I bring home bacon, or whatever) and we’re going to a show this evening. Tomorrow we’ve got a picnic and dinner at my godparents house. Needless to say, I’m anxious for the work week to be over. Here are your links, well beloved minions. What will you darlings be up to this weekend?
Olympics, still happening. Here’s a great moment from its history.
I am not a girl who squeals at spiders, I am a girl who rolls her eyes at her shrieking roommates, catches spiders, and releases them outside. I caught snakes in the backyard and out at my family’s land routinely. I loathe cockroaches but they do not produce fear in me so much as… murderous psychopathy. But I don’t think I could eat this without at least a few moments hesitation.
No fear of heights either but more than a couple of these would make me dizzy.
Can I just say it? Ryan Lochte does nothing for me. Apparently he’s the second coming of Adonis to some, but I don’t get it. Not least because whenever he opens his mouth (or his Twitter account) he seems less and less…shall we say, articulate?
As our summer blockbusters wind down and the Very Serious Films that could contend for Oscars begin to show up on the radar, here’s Vulture’s list of the 100 Most Valuable Stars, just in case you were wondering.
“Friday: The day after Thursday and before Saturday according to Rebecca Black. Also the most annoying day of the week now.” ― Aaron Peckham, Urban Dictionary: Fularious Street Slang Defined
Our Summer of London is drawing to a close, kittens. “Why, C.,” I hear you exclaim, “’tis but the the first days of August! Surely summer is not over yet, why would you say so?” Because stores around here are putting up Halloween decor, that’s bloody why. If I see anything for Christmas up before Labor Day, I solemnly vow to give the shop owner thereof a sharp reprimand.
Anyway, it’s been another slowish week but here are your links, only a few today. Our weekend will be spent feverishly cleaning as my parents and two siblings are coming into town soon and all attempts at grown up-ery must be made. No one’s fooled, but at least the kitchen counters will be gleaming. Pity J., minions, a world of stressed out crazy is about to be unleashed on him.
To all expectant mothers ready to pop, or women who have yet to spawn (to various friends and relations’ annoyance), I give you this glorious site. Mind the URL.
What Should We Call Me goes to France, darlings, et j’adore!
The Olympics continue, spoilers notwithstanding. Given your height/weight, what event would you most likely compete in, compared to other athletes? Apparently, I’m a weightlifter (5’1”, 120 lbs, who knew?).
My godmother tells a story that always convulses me. Driving around the city one day with one of her children when they were young, the youngster pointed out of the window and declared, “Look, mommy, a princess!” Fairy looked an beheld not a Disney impersonator but a man in full drag. “That’s not a princess, honey, that’s a queen,” she answered. I’ve only had one friend who participated in drag, but I still think it’s interesting how wigs, makeup, and constricting garments can turn turn someone into another persona entirely. To that end, here are some intriguing portraits.
“There’s all the difference in the world between treasure and money.” – Roderick Townley, The Great Good Thing
My favorite of the concepts my family raised us with is the idea of treasure. I used it in a post title the other day cavalierly and only later realized that how unique and loaded a word it is to me. The initial definition would be almost identical to a dictionary’s, if I’m honest, but there’s a rich history behind that word’s use in my family.
I don’t know exactly how or when this word entered clan lexicon in the capacity we use it, but to our tribe it has a very specific yet not easily explained translation. It’s complicated because to us, treasure can be anything you value. Anything at all. Often it’s associated with travel or adventure, something picked up in an exotic locale, but it can just as easily be something bland that still manages to inspire the bearer to see the extraordinary.
Throughout my childhood the term applied equally to a dried seahorse purchased on a Venetian canal, a handful of pretty pebbles, the wooden dinosaur skeleton models my father would purchase and then assemble with me after returning from long trips, a Turkish wedding belt woven from goat fur that (as I recall, which to be fair could be a totally warped memory) was given to me by a shop owner in Turkey for no reason at all, a particularly straight stick (useful for walking, poking, and play fighting in the backyard), a piece of partially knapped flint discarded by some ancient people and found by me in a dried up riverbed hunting on a Texas ranch that belonged to a friend of my dad’s, the small sweater my mother made for my teddy bear when her fur began rubbing off from too much love, some coins that became obsolete when the Euro was adopted, and so on. Treasure was everywhere growing up.
There were and are some rules. It can’t be kitsch, or stuff for stuff’s sake – it has to be meaningful and important for more than just taking up shelf space. A little statuette of Michelangelo’s David sold in a tourist trap in Italy is memorabilia; a reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus bought from a slightly seedy looking street salesman literally off of a dusty Florentine cobblestone way is treasure.
It doesn’t have to be impulse, you can have an idea of what you’re looking for when you go on the hunt. When I went to Milan for the first time I knew I wanted to get a pair of shoes. Since it’s one of the great fashion capitals, it seemed appropriate. I still have them years later, and I also have a pair of flats I got in Paris as well. There’s nothing like walking around in something you bought on the Champs-Élysée when you’re having a bad day.
Treasure doesn’t have to be for you. Some of my most valued finds are things that I had no intention of keeping for myself. There is something unimaginably thrilling about finding the perfect gift for something, looking at an obscure object and knowing another person so well that you can see what its value would be in their eyes. I sent my high school mentor, a Middle Ages buff, a medieval coin found in a small English shop. I recently discovered a pullover for a friend that will make the most hilarious Christmas present – more I cannot say, she may be reading! Treasure is not so selfish as to be exclusive to oneself.
Freshman year of university when my family was living in Belgium, I returned to school with boxes of hand crafted and personally selected chocolates for my friends from some of Brussels’ finest chocolatiers. One of my friends was from Hershey, Pennsylvania and gave me a giant Hershey Kiss in exchange. On this recent trip to London I found a small booth in Borough Market selling small bottles of truffle oil so I paid £7 for a small bit of extra deliciousness the next time I feel like impressing someone in the kitchen. I also came back with several boxes of Twinings tea (unattainable where we live), and a chic blazer. Treasure doesn’t have to be permanent.
My ideas of treasure have evolved somewhat since my secret box (originally a gift from Morocco from my father and treasure itself) hid the things I valued away – key from the grandfather I’ve barely known my whole life, a bookmark given to me by my mother, a cheap necklace. Now my tastes run more like my parents and I look for things that remind me of places I’ve been or memories I want to protect. We’re not and have never really been a picture taking family, we collect our memories in stories instead and hang the reminders of our adventures on walls. Prints, Balinese baskets artfully arranged, wooden screens from the Orient used as wall decor, bowls purchased in the Levant, a couple of items inherited from ancestors.
But writing this and thinking back, I think I’ve figured out why the concept of treasure was (and continues to be) so important to me. My parents love interesting things and they’ve passed the love of them on to the four of us. Our house is crammed to bursting with the Asian antiques my mother gathers that remind her of her childhood in Japan, the rugs my father collected on his many trips to the Middle East, the more colorful the better (there’s a Tibetan prayer rug that’s over a century old that graces our floor and always leaves me half Indian Jones “It belongs in a museum!” baffled, and half shamefully proud that we walk over it everyday). And I think because things have value to them, not in the vulgar way possessions do to some people, they recognized and shared the value we kids found in much less impressive things.
There is wisdom, and I think greatness, in parents who will look at an excited child’s fistful of rocks and breathe a solemn pronouncement that they are worth just as much as the carpet that used to make up a wall in a Kazakh’s tent. My mother’s exclamations over bird feathers then are just as excited as ones over antique shop finds now, and my father still smiles the same smile that crinkles his eyes only slightly more these days when one of us opens our hands at him to show our latest token and he says in a slow and important voice, “Ah! Treasure!”
The value of value is, ultimately I think, one of the most important lessons they’ve taught me.