nostalgia


Note unrelated to this post:  MacBook, you are ON NOTICE.  When I unplugged you from power source to start typing this post, you were fully charged.  Twenty-three minutes later, you alerted me that I was now running on reserve battery power.  Unacceptable.  To the genius bar for you, young man.

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Over the weekend we took a whirlwind trip to California, to go to Monterey for the wedding of my college roommate.

One of the most frustrating things about visiting Northern California with John is that it is literally impossible for us to see all of the people we love out there in the course of one weekend.  This is doubly true when we have to drive down to Monterey for an event, since Monterey is technically about 90 miles from where our friends live.

The wedding was beautiful, and my friend was so happy and radiant that it was impossible not to feel privileged to be a part of her day.  And we got to see some of John’s best friends, including one who is a few days away from a tremendous accomplishment, after many years of hard work, so it was great to spend time with him to celebrate.  Still, though, when we got on the plane to come home I couldn’t help but feel a little wistful about all the people I didn’t see.

What I didn’t feel wistful about, surprisingly, was leaving Northern California.  This was sort of unexpected.  You see, for years, whenever I got on a plane to leave California, I felt sad – California felt like home to me, and everywhere else was just a place where I was temporarily until I got to return home.

But on this trip, for the first time, I found myself not wishing that I lived in San Francisco.  Sure, I still love it, and I still spent much of the trip lobbying John to go to my favorite places to eat for food we can’t get back in Chicago.  But there was no part of me that wished we lived there.

There were a lot of things it turns out I don’t miss.  Talking to our friends who live in an adorable one-bedroom and discovering they pay more in rent than we pay in a mortgage?  I don’t miss that.  Driving on the 101 in traffic?  I don’t miss that.  Spending hours talking about the rarified world of Silicon Valley technology, where everyone knows the name of the founder of the Next Big Startup, when I don’t work in tech and never will?  I don’t particularly miss that.

(Our lovely friends do, in fact, work in tech, and it’s fun to hear them talk about their work, but the constant hum from everyone around you of “this startup just got this guy and that one just got that guy and this one just got X dollars of funding and that one just lost is next round of angel funding” makes my eyes start to glaze over.)

Yesterday morning, as we were packing to leave, the California State Supreme Court delivered its ruling upholding Prop 8.  As we drove to the airport, we passed a protest on the corner- people holding signs, some dressed in wedding gowns, objecting to the decision and pledging to continue the fight for equal rights. Dozens of cars (including ours) honked in solidarity and support as they drove by.

I felt a rush of affection for California’s culture of protests and the progressive tendencies of the neighborhoods where I’ve lived.  But I also was reminded of how broken California is, what a joke it is to have a state constitution that requires a 2/3 majority to pass a budget, but only a simple majority popular vote to take away rights from a minority group, and how bad the state is at addressing the needs of its poor families.

I don’t pretend that Illinois has this stuff figured out- god knows we don’t.  But these days, instead of wishing I could chuck it all and move back to the Bay Area, I found myself ready to come home – to Chicago.

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When I was an 18-year-old college freshman, I sent my mother an email. “Dear Mom,” it said,

“I don’t know quite how to say this to you, so I’m just going to say it.  Remember Cory, my RA who lives down the hall?  Well, he and I have gotten really close, and a few weeks ago we started dating.  He’s amazing, I think you’re going to really love him, and I’m really happy.  The thing is, the school has a rule against RAs dating people who live in their dorm, and they found out about it, so they’re going to move me to a room in a dorm down the street.

Don’t worry, Anne [my roommate] won’t have to get a new roommate- they’re letting her keep our room as a single for the rest of the year.  And there was some girl who got homesick and dropped out in this other dorm, so there’s a space available over there anyway.  So starting next Friday, my address will be c/o [Other dorm name].”

Then, because I was 18 and it was a Thursday, I went out with Anne to a party, got reasonably drunk, and totally forgot about the email.  I was young, and happy, and that’s what you did on Thursday in college- you went to parties and got drunk!

It was, of course, April 1, 1997, and I thought it was HILARIOUS April Fools’ joke to play on my mother.  I would now like to go back and kick my 18 year old self in the ass because I can only imagine the aneurysm my poor mother must have had when she read that email.  It was juuuuust plausible enough that it probably never occurred to her that it might be fake.

I had originally intended to call her right away after I sent it, but I think I got her voice mail, and I wanted to tell her in person, and then I went to the party and forgot all about it….

The next morning at 8am I was awoken by my mother, trying valiantly to keep her shit together but clearly frantic, saying in a rush “don’t worry, sweetie, we’ll find a way for you to stay in your current dorm, there’s no way they can make you move, and shouldn’t this Cory boy be the one who has to go, if anyone?”

Oops.

(This email hoax turned out to be especially funny when, two months later, I started dating Rocco, a different RA who was even older than Cory (a 5th year senior to my freshman) who I proceeded to date for three and a half years.  Haha!  Prescient!)

I look back on this little episode and am stunned at my own brazenness.  I mean, if you had met my mother, and seen how she can get when she’s frantic, you would realize that it was a seriously ballsy April Fools’.  I remember at the time, Anne couldn’t quite believe I was going to send it, but I was 18 and feeling my oats, so to speak.

Nowadays, I HATE April Fools’ (I LOVED Swistle’s post it idea, and copied it as soon as I saw it, so I think I fell for fewer this year than normal).  But generally, I am pretty gullible anyway, so an entire day devoted to fooling people like me just seems mean.  I went through the entire day yesterday casting suspicious glances in the internet’s general direction (except for first thing yesterday morning, before I realized what day it was, when I totally wished a friend congratulations over facebook on her FAKE APRIL FOOLS PREGNANCY.  NOT NICE.)

Any of you play, or fall for, any April Fools’ jokes this year?  What’s the worst one you’ve ever perpetrated or fallen for in your life?

The route I sometimes run in the morning takes me past several schools, including the largest high school in the city.  (It has 4300 kids.  I went to a school with 3200, so I’m hardly a small-school girl, but 4300 seems mindbogglingly big to me.)  This morning I start work a little later than usual, so I went for my run at about 7:15 instead of my usual 6am.  An unexpected side effect of this delay was that I was running past the high school right as kids were streaming in for the day.

Is it embarrassing to admit that I got a little bit of a high school anxiety flashback?

I didn’t loathe high school, but I certainly didn’t love it.  Like many, I felt nervous and self-conscious and left out much of the time (this despite the fact that I had some truly stellar friends, several of whom I am still close with today, 15 years later.)

Running around the school this morning, in my schlubby yoga pants and sweaty face and slow, plodding pace, I felt that old familiar pang of self-consciousness.  As I passed a group of boys, they burst into laughter, and I immediately assumed they were laughing at me.  (Which = preposterous, as I’m certain that a group of sophomores pays about as much attention to the 30 year old lady jogging past them as they do to their geometry teacher.  As in, not much.)

It’s funny: when I was a teacher, I walked confidently through the halls of the schools I worked in, never really worried about what the kids thought of me.  (Because I knew, for the most part: they either thought I was pretty cool or totally annoying, and I was fine with both assessments.)  Even now, when I’m doing schools stuff for my work, I can walk into the halls of a high school or middle school and feel just fine, even though those kids don’t know me at all.  But something about jogging past them in all my sweaty non-glory made me feel a little nervous and awkward. It reminded me of the time when it seemed like so much could turn on an offhanded comment or a minor mixup or an embarrassing gaffe.  And I was in high school in the mid-90s, when we were all about grunge-y tshirts and baggy jeans, so I didn’t even have to worry about committing social suicide by carrying the wrong purse or wearing jeans by the wrong designer like kids do today.  (Or at least that’s what Gossip Girl would have me believe.)

Around this time of year, as the weather starts to turn and spring and summer approach, I often feel pangs of nostalgia for the old days.  I recall how free it felt to go out, newly-obtained drivers’ license in hand, music way too loud, hanging out with friends on the beach as the weather got warmer and the nights got longer.  I think of awkward, long-anticipated first kisses in parks on balmy spring and summer nights, and the rush of staying out past curfew and speeding home, hoping not to get in trouble.  I remember sitting on the sand with a high school boyfriend, watching a lightning storm roll over the lake, talking about college and the future and the joy of feeling for all the world like someone really got me for the first time.

I usually think of these times a little wistfully, thinking that my adult life could use a dose of that exhileration.  But jogging past the high school this morning, I remembered that it was exhilerating in part because there was the ever-present risk of rejection and embarrassment, angst and anguish.  And so today, as I plodded along in my old-lady sweats, I felt pretty okay with being past all that.

Remember a few weeks ago when I shared with you that a game of pub trivia had led to the shocking revelation that four of the world’s top 10 visited sites were Disney theme parks?

Well, at least that was a good trivia question, even if I found the answers outrageous. The question (“what were the top ten most visited sites in the world in 2007?”) was the kind of thing you could reason through, make educated guesses. Even if you didn’t get all 10, you probably would get a couple. It was the kind of question that gets you a range of answers, too (some teams will get only a few right, others will absolutely nail it) that helps you separate teams in a close contest.

Last night, we went back to trivia, and the bonus question absolutely blew goats. It was: “name 10 of the 15 main characters in Animal House.”

DUDE. That is a TERRIBLE question for the bonus round. Either you have seen the movie or you have not. If you have not, you have NO CHANCE of getting any points. At least with the “ten most visited” question, you could do some reasoning, and talk with your teammates to try to make educated guesses. With the Animal House question, if you’re me at least, you look around your table blankly, hoping someone, anyone, has seen Animal House. (One guy had, years ago, but didn’t remember much. Something about smoking something illicit that clouded his memory?)

So here, in no particular order, were our answers:

1. John Belushi’s character
2. That guy
3. That other guy
4. The one who wore a toga
5. The one who did a kegstand
6. The nerd who inexplicably gets the girl
7. The irritable school official
8. The cheerleader
9. The pledge
10. The frat house mascot

Needless to say, we did not win.

Before I get any comments to the effect of “what?  You’ve never seen Animal House?!”, allow me to list for you some other movies I’ve never seen, all of which have come up in trivia contests at some point in my life (though, I will note, I have gotten some of the questions correct, even without seeing the movies):

  • Ghostbusters
  • Goonies
  • Gremlins
  • Adventures in Babysitting
  • The Wizzard of Oz
  • Star Wars
  • Back to the Future
  • Caddyshack
  • Jaws
  • ET

What can I say?  We didn’t have a VCR until I was 12, and even then my mom held tight control over what we watched, and she doesn’t like adventure/fantasy/sci fi/any movies that might have swear words.  I can’t be the only one with gaping holes in my movie watching history…can I?

I have this thing for projects.  I love to cook, bake, knit, decoupage, you name it.  (Okay, not decoupage.  I’ve never technically decoupaged.  But I have no doubt that if I tried it, I would like it.) My sister teases me fairly regularly about my so-called “Martha Stewart problem.”  One of my coworkers has suggested I quit the law business and go into granola and jam-making full time. (I believe she had selfish motivations for that suggestion.  For now I’m sticking with law, and canning is just a side project.)

It is a little funny, actually, that I have turned out like this.  I am not, generally, a detail-oriented person.  I tend to rush through things.  I was definitely not always crafty.  When I was a kid and everybody was making friendship bracelets, mine always turned out a tangled mess of knots with no discernible pattern.  (Don’t even get me started on lanyards- unmitigated disaster.)

But somehow, as an adult, I’ve become drawn to homemade and handmade things.  (Hi Etsy!  I love you!) I find this stuff relaxing and satisfying.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my work can be stressful, and it’s very academic- lots of thinking and writing and talking, but not much creating or embellishing or designing.  It provides nice balance to come home and knit a new hat after a long week of noodling over complex legal questions.  (It also provides something for one to do while one watches tv, so one does not feel quite so guilty about being a huge lump on the couch.)

But knitting is limited for me- I do hats, scarves, and quilt squares and nothing more.  I am terrified by sock heels, and I am pretty much certain that a sweater wouldn’t be worth the effort- I’d slave over it for months only to discover the sleeves were too short, or the fit not quite right or something.

So for a while, I’ve been looking for a new project, and when I heard about this cool store in the city that teaches sewing classes, I was sold.  Unlike pottery and printmaking (both of which I also considered,) I could see immediate, practical uses for sewing skills- starting as early as the holidays, which I’m hoping to do all handmade this year.  The idea of sewing classes left me with visions of handmade tote bags dancing through my head.  Plus, I remember very fondly the scores of Halloween costumes my mother lovingly sewed for me and my sister over the years, and I figured if I want to have a chance of doing the same thing for hypothetical eventual children, I should probably, you know, learn to sew.  So I coerced Nilsa into signing up for a basic sewing class with me.

I made this.  No one is allowed to put their head on it because it is precious.

I made this. No one is allowed to lay on it because it is precious.

Nilsa has an awesome, thorough description of the process for making these pillows over at her space.  I have pretty much already forgotten all the steps, but nonetheless I have to say: I am feeling awfully smug about my sewing skills right now:

Check out that craftsmanship!

Check out that craftsmanship!

Next stop: tote bags! Then aprons!  And maybe, someday, I’ll be ready for Halloween costumes!  (I just have to learn to read a pattern first.  Baby steps.)

What do you do when your husband goes off to hang out with his college buddies in California and you’re left all alone?

You go to the state fair to eat a bunch of fried crap, of course!

My friend Mooks and I battled through surprisingly bad traffic and a few wrong turns and finally arrived in West Alles, Wisconsin, home of the state fair grounds, and center of all things fried.

Not sure what, precisely, is French about cheese curds, but its all fried, so I wont argue.

Not sure what, precisely, is "French" about cheese curds, but I won't argue.

We wandered through the livestock tents:

Nonplussed

Nonplussed

We looked at prizewinning homemade foodstuffs:

SO MANY CATEGORIES of jam and pickles.  Was stunned.

SO MANY CATEGORIES of jam and pickles. Truly, this is less than a 1/3 of them. Was stunned.

And saw winners in categories I never imagined existed:

Let’s look a little more closely at that tag:

There is a Cheese Party Tray category!  I would EXCEL at this category.  Its a shame I dont live in Wisconsin, so I am ineligible.

There is a Cheese Party Tray category! I would EXCEL at this category. It's a shame I don't live in Wisconsin, so I am ineligible.

But the real draw of the Wisconsin state fair is the world-famous cream puffs.  Truth be told, my memories of these cream puffs are not fond.  Whenever we went to the fair when I was a kid, I just remember waiting for what seemed like forever for a messy, not-that-delicious wad of cream.  Of course, when I was a kid, I didn’t like fresh whipped cream, preferring instead the chemical, stable-textured Cool Whip.  I have since come to my senses, and decided it was time to give cream puffs another shot.

Shirts were not for sale.  Yes, I asked.

Shirts were not for sale. Yes, I asked.

They sell something like one bajillion cream puffs during the fair, and it’s quite a high efficiency operation.  First, slice open puff:

I totally didn’t notice this at the time, but the glove/knife arrangement in the lower right corner there is a little creepy, isn’t it?  It’s like someone left it that way on purpose to freak people out- “oh, that’s just the ghost employee- he’s really fast, and doesn’t take up hardly any space!”

Then, you fill the cream puffs:

They go through an INSANE amount of cream.

They go through an INSANE amount of cream.

And then, finally, most importantly, you EAT the cream puff:

Public service announcement: if you are eating a cream puff, and you get powdered sugar from the top all over your shirt (this will happen,) please look at your hands BEFORE you absently try to dust off your shirt, as your hands are likely to be even more coated with powdered sugar, and you will only make the problem worse.

On the whole, it was a tremendously successful afternoon.  I think, in fact, that I probably had a better time than John had with his 5 best friends, camping in Sonoma and then going wine tasting.  Oh, wait, that’s false.  Why does everyone, including my husband, insist on taunting me with their vacations?

Last week:

This week:

In other words: I had a vacation? Wha? I hardly remember.

Oh, wait, yes I do! There were volcanoes involved!

We hiked to the rim of the volcano crater and saw this cool lake…except it wasn’t a water lake, it was a LAVA lake. Awesome. And then we hiked down from the rim into the crater and across the lake. Double Awesome.

It was crazy to hike across a frozen lava lake, knowing it was bubbling boiling lava only 50 years ago. See? (same volcano, swear to god:)

Also, we hiked to a pretty waterfall:

I wanted to jump in, but John wouldn’t let me. Jerk.

We also spent time at the beach, dressed mostly in long sleeves and floppy hats under umbrellas wearing SPF eleventy thousand. Still, I managed to get this:

That would be my upper arm, with a quarter-sized patch of sunburn on it. It is totally unclear to me how this happened. I’m just grateful that was the worst of my sun problems.

So now I’m back, pale as ever but marginally more relaxed, reflecting fondly on mai tais and volcanoes and wondering how it is, exactly, that I ended up back in a place where the weather on March 21 looks like this:

How was your week?

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