Wednesday, December 21, 2011

crowd control

One of the things that gets on my nerves after too much time in NYC is the crowds.  Specifically, however, the crowds of tourists.  Sorry, friends from out of state, but it's true.  New Yorkers have considered passing minimum walking speeds on the NYC sidewalks (3 mph, to be specific), and creating, in Midtown, a New Yorker-only designated passing lane.  I have a friend who puts her shoulders in what she calls "football position" to walk home through Rockefeller Center.  And for god's sake, if you want to stare at the top of a building with your mouth hanging open, do it from the edge of the sidewalk, not dead-center.

Yesterday, my mom wanted to go to that icon of consumerist NYC Christmas:  MACY'S.

Monday, December 19, 2011

tackle a nagging task

In some ways, the most interesting thing about the past year without working has been my ability to organize myself.  In The Happiness Project, Rubin learns that one way to free up energy is to tackle a nagging task.  You know the ones -- they are the tasks that you don't want to do, so you put off.  Or maybe you don't particularly mind the task, but preparing to do the them involves doing something you find annoying or boring.  For example, I don't mind going to the dentist, but I hate the phone, so I put off making the appointment.  It's not just chores that are like this, though, but also emotional tasks. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Sometimes, I feel like my life is one long game of whack-a-mole.  Like at the arcade.  We get one problem solved over here, and a new one crops up over there.

We were steadily trucking along toward getting the basement finished.  The carpeting was installed about eleven days ago, and the doors we ordered from Home Depot came in.  Kathy and I went out in the City on Saturday night for our Christmas Date (the night of Santa Con, which was amusing), and then we got up and threw a load of laundry in on Sunday morning, before heading out to breakfast at the local diner.

When we came home, we discovered that our washing machine had broken, and FLOODED OUR FREAKING BASEMENT.  I wish I were making this up, but I'm not.  Our brand new, 10 day old carpet was soaking wet.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Yesterday, we had a new after school babysitter start.  Our nanny of three years is moving on, so we had to find someone new, and took the opportunity to change the full-time nanny gig, which we no longer need, into an after school babysitting gig.  It doesn't sound like much, but having someone new in your house five hours a day, three days a week requires some major adjustment.

I am a very particular and quirky person.  One of my quirks is that, no matter what I'm doing, I like to do it without input or suggestions, unless I ask for them.  I want to figure it out myself.  I get a lot of pleasure out of messing with something for a while and then figuring it out.  But mostly, I just don't like being interrupted.

Even with the most mundane of chores, I can work for hours without getting bored or tired, as long as I don't get interrupted.  Sometimes I'll put music on, sometimes I'll work in silence, but I like to do what I'm doing.  I call this chore-flow.  Our nanny had figured this out, through my blatant displays of irritation.  If she asked me a question when I was mowing the lawn and I had to shut off the lawnmower to answer, I would do it, but it was pretty obvious I didn't like it.  I wear my emotions on my sleeve a bit.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

christmas eve

I'm not much of a Christian.  I think there are certain prerequisites to being a Christian, one of which is believing in God.  Nonetheless, I am a Christmas lover.  I love all of it.  The evergreens, the fact that pretty much every commercial on TV is about buying for someone else (even car ads, which, come on, do people really buy cars as gifts?), that people listen to music recorded in the 40s, etc. 

It has taken me a while to land where I have with Christmas.  I have always loved it, but I used to be a lot more militant about making sure my Christmas celebration was strictly secular.  I consciously wrote "xmas."  I worked the Christmas Eve shift at the mall so I couldn't get to my parents' house in time for church.  I ignored nativity scenes, and eschewed "Silent Night" in favor of "Deck the Halls" or "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

our gay apparel

This morning, I was driving home from dropping A off at school, and I heard on the radio that a schoolteacher in Michigan tried to change the words to "Deck the Halls."  She had her confused elementary-aged kids singing "Don we now our bright apparel."  Oh, Michigan.  You do a sister proud.  What was she afraid of?  Did she think her second graders were going to rush out and put on gold Speedos and hiking boots, because "Teacher said we should don gay apparel"?

(Gay Apparel.  As an aside, I had a roommate after college who would sometimes mow the lawn
in his gold speedo.  Our next door neighbors, Butch and Dan, asked if I could take over
the lawnmowing duties full time, because my hiking boots weren't as "distracting"
as his gold speedo when they were sitting on their front porch smoking cigarettes mid-afternoon. 
Personally, I think I looked dead sexy in those boots and my blue shorts.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

thongs: the great underwear debate

A few nights ago, there was a collection of our suburban friends drinking copious amounts of alcohol in our kitchen.  We call ourselves the Misfits, ostensibly because we're all divorced, but really for reasons we don't like to talk articulate (e.g., one friend has a rather crazy ex-husband who trash-talked her all over the place; Kathy and I are, well, two of four lesbians in our town -- which we know because we have been asked if we know the "other" lesbians.  Etc.).

Anyway, for a reason that I can't quite remember, it came to the attention of these friends that one of us was wearing... um, white cotton Hanes underwear (the kind which you can buy in a 3 pack at the drugstore).  Kathy and I both have them.  We refer to them as our "running underwear," since that is kind of why we bought them.  You want something comfortable and breathable when exercising, right?  This HORRIFIED our straight suburban friends.  Apparently, we are supposed to be wearing thongs.  At all times.

"But not when you run!" I protested.

"Especially when you run," the only other runner in the group informed us.  "Those tight running pants show your underwear lines!"

"But you're RUNNING.  Who sees your underwear lines?"  I wailed.  "If people can see your bum that closely, you should be less worried about your underwear and more worried about your running pace." 

According to her, that's not the point.

(acceptable underwear, from an acceptable store)

Monday, December 5, 2011

when less is more: decision-making for the lazy

I had to go to Radio Shack over the weekend, to buy parts to hook up our TV in our recently renovated basement.  We had miles of speaker wire, but for some reason, no sound was coming out of the speakers (and the TV is so old that it has no internal speakers, so no speakers = no sound).  I brought our receiver and a small sample of our speaker wire to Radio Shack, and asked the clerk what I needed to connect the two properly.  Within a few minutes, she produced some red and black ends to attach to the end of the speaker wire so we could plug them in, rather than delicately winding the bare wires around some screws in the back of the receiver.  She then returned to the rack of parts, without saying anything.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Finding you another option."

"Won't those red and black end things work?"

"Yes.  But I wanted to find you another option."

This was totally confusing to me.  The red and black ends cost only a few dollars, and they would work.  Why would I want another option? 

And that is when I remembered, from my Happiness Project reading, that I was a satisficer

Friday, December 2, 2011

the worst chore

I have never much minded cleaning toilets.  That is why I was shocked, when playing a game called "the worst chore" at my sister's wedding shower eighteen months ago, that cleaning the toilets topped everyone's list of horrible chores.  It doesn't take all day like doing laundry does.  It's not never-ending like doing dishes.  It doesn't require interacting with people who seem to hate their jobs, like grocery shopping, going to the drugstore, or stopping at City Hall.  It is kind of gross, but it takes all of two minutes and doesn't have to be done that often.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the great basement redo: progress

We've been furiously working on the basement.  To give you a little sense of the progress, take a look at the evolution of one wall...

(the wall during demo -- you can see the top layer of paneling, the under layer of paneling,
and the disintegrating rock-wool insulation and termite-eaten boards underneath)

(the wall during framing: we used waterproof styrofoam insulation between the concrete
and the wood to protect it from moisture, and then added a second layer of traditional
fiberglass insulation between the studs.  all cut and placed by yours truly)

(the sheetrock is up -- because of our water issues we splurged on the mold-resistant
sheetrock typically used in bathrooms.  Then, our new friend Dean came and
 mudded the screws and the seams so the wall appears flat when finished)

(and here it is now, just waiting for carpet.  we moved the couch down from our
livingroom in the middle of the project so we could figure out where we would
 want the TV -- and thus, decide where to place outlets.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Diary of an Expat: An Affair with London

I decided to give it up. I've spent the past few weeks whining to everyone I could about how much I miss New York. At one point, I even said to Joe [my husband] that I loved New York like a person (which, technically, is still true). But I decided when feeling especially bad for myself that it would be a pretty miserable couple of years if I just kept thinking about what I didn't have. I decided this while I was jogging, which is when I make a lot of crucial decisions (and have conversations with people in my head that will never take place, and dream about lives I'll never live, etc.). I continued my jog with a renewed sense of purpose - trying to absorb everything around me. I smelled the fall air, which is something I've somehow gone almost the entire fall without noticing. I organised my new apartment (which I just moved into this past week) and remembered how good it felt to have familiar things around, even if I was putting them away in brand new places. I went out shopping and there were Christmas carollers in the store - seriously, in eveningwear just singing out loud for everyone on the escalators to hear. Where else do you find something like that other than London? (I realize it can probably be found in many places, but that's not the point.)
Logo designed by Milton Glaser, who designed one of my other favorite logos for the Brooklyn Brewery

Monday, November 21, 2011

the great basement redo: demolition

Remember back in the summer, during our "vacation," when the basement flooded with sewage?  That was horrible.  Well, the result of that was that we discovered that our retro-style wood paneling was kind of... moldy.  Actually, it turned out it was really moldy.  And our carpet was trashed.  It seemed like a good time to redo the basement.  We got a bid from a contractor, submitted it to our insurance company, and got the go-ahead to redo the basement.  Then, we waited.  We waited six weeks.  We called the contractor, and said we were anxious to have our basement back (and not have potentially health-threatening mold growing in our walls).  He ignored us.  We called again, and told us if we didn't hear back from him, we'd have to find someone else.  He finally called us back, and said that if we wanted someone to get started before the holidays, we would have to find someone else.  You know, the old "You can't fire me, cuz I quit."  Nice.  So we called three other contractors, and asked them to submit bids.  Only one actually came out to do an estimate, which we never received.  One called and said he would come look at it, and never showed up, and the third did not call back at all.

Finally, 10 weeks after starting the process, we said F THIS and decided to do the basement ourselves.  The drawback is that we did not have the tools, or actually know how to do everything that needed to be done.  We enlisted the help of some of our friends from Massachusetts, who came down last weekend to "help" (except that by help, I mean tell us everything we need to do, and do all the hard parts). 

So, to give you a sense of what we're dealing with, let's see some "before" pictures.

Here's what the kids' playroom looked like for 10 weeks -- note the exposed carpet tacks on the concrete floor, which used to be covered in asbestos tile.  Also note the several weird shelves too shallow to put anything on (except, apparently, the old filter for our shop vac).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

living on the roof

When I was in high school, I was in a church youth group, and was simultaneously horrified and amused to come across this:

Better to live on the roof than share a house with a nagging wife.  Proverbs 21:9

This morning, this particular verse sprang to mind as I was trying to avoid getting up, and I heard Kathy say to A, in the kitchen, "Erin says you need to clean up those clothes on the floor of your room before your birthday party tomorrow..." followed by some muffled things I could not hear.  Sometimes I think my family would not so much mind living on the roof.

So, let's unpack the nagging wife, shall we?  My reactions to Kathy's comment (and Kathy's reactions to my reactions), the Bible verse above, the archetype of the nagging wife, and my realization that I am becoming one.

(a view of our rather inhospitable roof, from A's bedroom window)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

leaving home and the American way of life

Last weekend, Kathy and I traveled to San Diego to visit my parents for my Dad's 60th birthday.  Actually, Kathy went to London for work on Monday, I left for San Diego Wednesday afternoon, Kathy returned from London Wednesday night, Kathy flew to San Diego Friday morning, we both flew home to New York on Sunday, and she left for a business trip in Chicago last night.

"What would be easier," Kathy said yesterday afternoon as she packed for the next trip, "is if we had some family close by to help out with the house and the kids."  Indeed.

When I was 18, I went to college an hour from my hometown.  I lived in that college town for two years after graduation, and then moved to California, where I lived for three years.  During that time, my sister lived in Arizona and my brother moved from Michigan to St. Louis.  Then, my sister and I moved to New York, my brother moved home to Michigan, and my parents moved to San Diego.  Basically, for the last 5 years or so, my family has lived in at least three different time zones.  Kathy's family, too, is spread out.  Her mother lives in the San Francisco area, her father lives in Pittsburgh, and she lives here, in New York.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the weight is over

Yes, that was on purpose.  I do love a good pun.

Today, I leave for San Diego to visit my parents for my dad's 60th birthday.  My grandparents, who are approximately 9 million years old, will be there, and I don't get to see them very often.  Not to mention my parents, who I haven't seen since last Christmas.  And a surprise guest, which not even my mother knows about, because of how she ruins surprises on a regular basis.  I was wholly excited about this trip, until my mother said those three little words to me.  Bring. Your. Swimsuit.

Monday, November 7, 2011

(financial) freedom ain't free

I'm still looking for a job.  While I have a promising lead or two, I haven't done any actual interviewing yet.  This has resulted in several sleepless nights, where I have nightmares that we are going to be evicted from our house because we can't pay for it, and that it will be all my fault.  Also, in the dreams, I default on my student loans. 

No one thinks that law school is cheap.  That is because it is decidedly not.  According to some articles, attending a top 10 law school (like Berkeley, where I went -- although it's a public school, it's still pricey) costs about $43,000 a year, just in tuition.  Plus your undergraduate education.  Plus the expenses of actually living for the three years you are in school.  This is usually financed by taking out massive student loans, with the expectation that you will either make big bucks to pay them off, or at least qualify for LRAP

So, since this is not a dinner party with in-laws, I will tell you my numbers, so you non-lawyer types can get a sense of what this means in real terms.  I graduated from undergrad with no debt.  I graduated from law school with about $150,000 in student loan debt.  That is the size of a decent-sized mortgage.  Fortunately, like a mortgage, they give me 30 years to pay it off.  Unfortunately, and unlike a mortgage, my interest rate is locked in to pre-crash highs, and I can't refinance it to bring the rate down.  So the interest rate on my educational debt is higher than that of our mortgage, our car loan, and one of my credit cards. 

704 Montclair St, Pittsburgh, PA 15217 
 (an example of a house I could buy with the same amount of money I paid to go to law school.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

muffin mania

I have never been that interested in baking, but lately I have started baking muffins like they are going out of style.  I have also started pinning a lot of muffin recipes on Pinterest.  B and C both have to take a snack and a lunch to school every day, and we were tired of sending them with pre-packaged crap.  So I started baking muffins, first from box mixes, then gradually more and more from scratch.  The advantage to muffins over quickbreads and the like is that muffins are easy to grab-and-go, so they are perfect when you don't have time for breakfast or to put in a kid's snack.  The downside is that they can be a teensy bit packed with oil, sugar, butter, and other things that make them delicious but perhaps not so good for you.  Sometimes I try to modify to increase the nutrition and decrease the calorie count, but sometimes I say f- it and just make a tasty muffin.

Here are my favorite three muffins that I've made recently...

1.  Apple muffins.  I wanted to make something fall-ish, and these were the first fall muffin recipe I found.  I made some adjustments, like using crushed-up granola to top the muffins and pureeing the apple peels and adding to the recipe to up the nutritional value.  The commenters to the recipe complained that the muffins didn't peak, but I didn't have this problem -- maybe because I was careful not to overmix, and/or because I melted the butter before I added it.  (The full list of modifications I made is in the comments on Pinterest, for my reference in case I want to make them again.)  In case you're curious, I used Gala apples.  Because they were the cheapest.

Apple Strudel Muffins Recipe

Thursday, November 3, 2011

an open letter to whoever makes stocking decisions at the stores around here

To whom it may concern:

I try hard to keep our house relatively organized.  This is not easy when any attempt at organization is constantly undermined by three people under the age of twelve, and occasionally undermined by the resident adults.  

There is one organizational item that I disproportionately love.  That item is the holiday color coded bin: the big orange and black tubs you can put Halloween decorations in, the red and green ones for the Christmas decorations, etc.  This is essential when you have an attic completely jammed with all sizes and colors of plastic bins full of kindergarten art projects, baby clothes, high school yearbooks, your sister's sewing machine, cases from CDs you no longer listen to, and the like.  If you don't have color coded bins, you never find all the holiday stuff until the holiday is good and over and you are searching for the stuff for the next holiday.

(the ubiquitous bin*)

stripping down

I always thought that trees lost their leaves in the fall because they were unable to support green foliage during the cold, dry winter months.  This may be true.  However, when New York was hit with several inches of heavy, wet snow this weekend, before the trees were able to shed their leaves, I saw that this is not the only reason.  In my small town not far from New York City, we received only a few inches -- practically nothing compared to the several feet that upstate New York and New England received.  But still, even here, everything from small shrubs to large, decade- or century-old trees lost limbs.  Trunks were split down the middle, entire trees were lost, under the weight of the frozen water sitting on broad leaves.

I have heard that November is a month for goodbyes.  The leaves go, and the trees prepare for hard times ahead.  Last night, as I jogged through my town and surveyed the damage from the storm, still blocking off streets and lined up on curbs, I thought about stripping down in preparation for hard times. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Kathy is in London.  The only good thing about her going to London is that I have some rare time alone in our house.  Except that this trip, A came down with a cold right before Kathy left, and was by my side for the first two days that Kathy was gone.  Yesterday, she didn't seem all that sick, actually, considering that she did yoga, baked cookies, and went to the library.  With that, Kathy said, "Send her to school, have a day to yourself to do whatever you want."  So I gave myself permission for a day to myself, doing whatever I wanted.  And taking pictures of it.

With a love of solitude bordering on misanthropy, I could not wait to spend the day alone.  It wasn't so much what I did that was the indulgence, it was the company.  As in, none.

First, I made myself a real breakfast -- which oddly included eggs, which I ordinarily don't like much. 


A year ago, I started this blog.  I can't actually believe that I've been writing, somewhat regularly, for twelve months now.  When I started this blog, it was about the writing.  Now that I've been writing it for a year, I feel like the writing truly has been the most important part.  Some days, the words flow like water.  Some days, I sit and stare at a blank white box, then finally sigh and write something that bores even me.  But still, for a year, I write. 

Kathy was telling me recently about a study that she read about.  There has been some chirping in recent years about adolescent brain development.  It seems that the decision-making part of the brain is not fully formed in adolescence, and as a result, adolescents are more likely to take unreasonable risks, and more likely to fail to appreciate the long-term effects of their actions.  Ask any parent of a teenager, and this is called making crappy choices.  The study that Kathy read about, though, suggests that this is (no surprise here) an important evolutionary tool.  When being a teenager meant leaving home and the safety of your parents, striking out into the world, perhaps it would not be such a bad thing if you were incapable of fully appreciating all the long term consequences of your actions.

I guess it's too bad, then, that as adults, we can't at least selectively tap into this kicked-out-of-the-nest stage of brain development.  Change is inevitable, so wouldn't it be nice if we could face it with, if not always courage, at least a certain amount of irreverence, and just make the change.  Sometimes, the specific change you make is less important than just making a change, any change.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

on marriage

Almost a year ago, I wrote about my divorce.  In that post, I said that my divorce shaped my thinking on marriage.  In other posts, I've referenced the fact that Kathy and I are not married, and that one reason for this is that she is presently engaged in what very well may be the most drawn out divorce in history.  It has literally been going on for years.  And so, I find that it's not just my divorce that has shaped my thinking on marriage -- it's also hers. 

So, what does it mean to have a view of marriage that is shaped by divorce?  For one thing, I am under no illusions that divorce is the quick or easy out for a marriage that doesn't work.  When you don't have kids, divorce scrapes you so emotionally raw that it can take years to recover.  When you do have kids, it's not just you that is scraped raw -- it's also the small beings entrusted to your care.  Not to mention the fact that almost everyone I know who has gone through a messy divorce has emerged with no savings.  None.  Divorce is a lot of things.  But "quick" and "easy" it is not.

Although these experiences with divorce might have made me bitter, jaded, or cynical about marriage, nothing could be further from the truth.  I am a romantic, underneath it all.  As Kathy's divorce slowly draws to a close, there are some marriage-minded people in my life (and in my house).  So, I've decided to take this opportunity to think about my definition of marriage, and why I would want to give it another try. 

One caveat, though:  this is what marriage means to me.  It probably isn't the same as what marriage is to you.  In fact, I would be kind of freaked out if there is someone out there with the exact same definition of marriage. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

job searching

Recently, I've started the job-search process in earnest.  By recently, I suppose I mean this morning, although I have been half-heartedly searching for about the last month. 

Finding a job is possibly one of the most horrible experiences to which we subject ourselves.  You send your resume out in to the void, and wait endlessly for some kind of response.  Most online postings have some sort of disclaimer to the effect that, due to volume of responses, they only actually answer people that they intend to interview.  So you have no idea whether you are still in the running but they haven't called yet, whether they found someone else, or whether they were even considering you in the first place.  Or really, whether they even read your resume.  So, worse than rejection, you hear nothing, nothing, nothing.  Then, if you're lucky, rejection.

Friday, October 21, 2011

how I made a kids' art wall with only $10 and some crap I found in the attic

Near our front door, we have these cubbies for the kids.  The open cubby is for school papers that we need to look at -- school work, report cards, permission slips, notes about peanut allergies, and the like.  The colored bins are for each kid's hats, gloves, and other outerwear accessories.  The only trouble with our cubbies, as far as I can tell, is the gigantic, blank beige wall above them.  So Kathy and I decided this would be the perfect place frame and hang some of the kids' artwork.  And this project was born.  The thing was, I didn't really want to spend more than $10 on it.  End of the month, and all.

Up in our attic, we had random old pictures in random old frames.  The only problem was, none of the frames matched each other, and they also weren't the right sizes for any of the art.  Apparently, the teachers planning the projects tend to think more about the sizes that construction paper comes in, and less about the sizes of standard frames and mats.

The first issue I tackled was the fact that none of the frames matched.  I chose my favorite, this funky metallic frame, and used it as the starting point.  I then grabbed a black plastic frame and a plain wooden frame that were the right sizes -- or at least, were big enough to hold the work I wanted to use. My plan was to use the metallic frame as inspiration, and paint the other frames to coordinate.

If you don't happen to have old picture frames in your attic, you can get cool and cheap picture frames at a thrift store, and paint them to match or compliment each other to make a grouping -- just make sure you write down the measurements of the frames you need, and bring something to the thrift store to measure with, since it's unlikely they will have a sticker telling you the size. Don't forget you can buy cheesy pictures of beach landscapes just for the frame! I personally think textured frames look best.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

warm feelings

 I've always been an introspective person, but in the last year or so, I feel as if the question of what I want my life to be has been more all-consuming than is typical, even for me. The reason, I have come to understand, is sitting across the room from me now, frowning and scribbling something on her time diaries.

A few days ago (I'm a bit behind on my google reader), I read this post about getting married young. Toward the end, Robin, the author, says of being married young, "You hear people talk about 50% divorce rates and how those rates are even higher for people who get married young... [But] What about those people who focus on making themselves better as individuals because the biggest question mark in their life is already answered?"

Today, when I read a quote in which a woman said, "I remember the warm feeling of relief of knowing where my future was," I recalled what Robin said and it clicked into place.* 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

a little break

Thursday night, the whole family was sitting on the couch watching an episode of the original Star Trek on the computer (what, we're nerds, okay?), when suddenly, Captain Kirk's smiling face was frozen on the screen.  We were simultaneously plunged into darkness and silence, other than the glow of the laptop.  Our power had gone out.

"Captain Kirk smiles weird.  Why does he always try to flirt with everyone like that?" B said. 

(Look at him.  He does kind of smile weird and try to flirt with everyone.)

Last week, a gasoline truck exploded in the middle of the night, burning down a gas station and causing the first power outage in several years for our house.  As a result, when the power went out this time, there were all kinds of hypotheses about what had happened, mostly involving explosions.  And, for some random reason, police men dying. (At least the police women were spared in all of the domesday scenarios, haha.  It's about time sexism worked in our favor.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Diary of an Expat: What?

Hi everyone! As Erin introduced me, I am her sister, Joy. If Erin is taupe and lime, I am probably more like raw umber and magenta. We have many similarities, but for every similarity, there are hundreds of differences. So, maybe you will read something similar to what Erin writes and like me for that, or maybe you will read something different and appreciate that perspective. Or, maybe you will grumble to yourself every time you see one of my guest blogs and secretly wish I would be done living in London and guest blogging. Anyhow, for those of you who don't fit into the last group, I hope that I entertain you and make you think a little. Now for me to get to the point.

A picture I took of the lovely London Eye on one of my first weekends here

I moved to London almost four weeks ago. In this time, I have tried to explore every neighbourhood that I might want to live in (I'm in temporary housing for the time being), eat new and traditionally British things and befriend everyone I could at work. I've been having fun so far, peppered with longings for my tiny Lower East Side apartment, my amazing friends in New York and stores that are actually open at hours convenient for someone who has a job.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Those who are more observant among you might have noticed some changes to the sidebar recently: specifically, that it now references a second author to this blog -- my sister, Joy.  As you might recall, I was fretting a few weeks ago about how Joy would soon be moving to the great city of London for two years.  Well, the move happened.  I've been curious about how her experiences abroad would shape and change her, and how she copes with living in a culture that seems like it should be really similar to ours, considering how they speak the same language and everything, but is actually quite different.

That is why I asked her if she might be interested in writing as a guest blogger about her experiences abroad, and to my delight, she said yes.  And so, it is my great pleasure to announce a new monthly-or-so feature over here on taupe and lime (drumroll please):

Diary of an Expat*

Joy's first post will go up sometime tomorrow (London-time, of course) so be sure to check back to read the first installment of her honest, witty, and emotional account of what will undoubtedly be one of her life's biggest adventures.

P.S.  If any readers living in London have advice for my sister, please do comment, either on this post or on her first post tomorrow.  Gracias.

*In case you're wondering, yes, expat is one word, unhyphenated.  I actually researched it.  And no, she is not the kind of expat who was involuntarily ejected from her country of origin.  Rather, she is the kind who voluntarily withdrew, albeit for a relatively short period of time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

occupy wall street

(mounted police and barricades in front of the NYSE)

A few days ago, one of my west coast friends asked me if I had been down to the protests at Wall Street.  I had not.  To be honest, I live in a nice little bubble called Westchester, and was barely aware of what was going on -- other than the fact that it was costing in the neighborhood of $2 million a day in police overtime, which the local news looooooooved to point out at every opportunity.

So I decided to go check it out.  But first, I decided to do a bit of research as to what was actually being protested.  It was disconcerting to me that I could articulate the money spent on police overtime, but not the issues at hand. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

wine, and erin

Last week, I finally went to the Thursday night wine and horseback riding lesson.  There were five riders, including me.  I was, by far, the worst one.  This is not a position I like to find myself in when I am doing something in a group, but it's something that I think is good for me.  When you're a perfectionist, nothing is better for you than sucking at something.  Also, just about nothing is harder.  Except for maybe sucking at something in front of a bunch of strangers that you want to like you. 

And of course, nothing bad happened.  It was actually fun to be riding in a group setting.  It was fine being the worst one.  At some point, you're SO FAR behind the other people that it's not even embarrassing -- you're just a beginner, and they're experienced.  I did not fall off, I did not go bolting across the ring out of control.  There was one point where I couldn't get my horse to stop, but even that wasn't too bad.  Then, after the lesson, we had wine and chatted.  Another person in my lesson was surprised to learn that horseback riding was a new hobby for me, which flattered me.  Everyone swapped stories about falling off, and my old teacher told a story about a student that she was convinced was trying to murder her (by poisoning).  I did not say much, but it was okay.  I did not drink excessive amounts of wine, which I felt was crucial considering that one e-mail exchange.  After an hour, we all went home.  All-in-all, it was fun, and nothing terrible happened. 

(I do not ride like this.  Not even close.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


A few weeks ago, I realized that if I wanted to continue to be a lawyer, I had to actually comply with my state's continuing education requirements and keep my law license.  The compliance deadline is October 22, two years after I was first admitted to practice law.  Which gave me about a month to get 13 hours worth of continuing legal education credits.  Preferably, for free.

In New York, if you're "newly admitted" -- meaning within your first 2 years -- you can't click through the online seminars, or listen in over the phone.  You have to be a body in a chair in front of a live presenter.  I discovered I could take the classes offered by the Practicing Law Institute for free (to me) through my affiliation with my old firm. That's how I found myself at "Bridging the Gap" all day on Tuesday -- a nine hour continuing education seminar full of other newly-admitted attorneys like myself. 

(Look at the size of the book.  They are not messing around.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

anchors aweigh

Six months into joblessness, one thing I'm struck by is how thoroughly our identities are wrapped up in what we do for work.  It's like our careers (whether it be homemaker, freelancer, corporate lawyer, or otherwise) are, at our core, who we are.  Being a (practicing) lawyer gave me confidence in other areas of my life in ways I didn't recognize.  It gave me something to complain talk about at parties.  It gave me something to do during the day, so that I didn't have to structure my days, weeks, and months for myself.  Being a lawyer, and a pretty successful one, for someone three years out of law school, gave me a core feeling of competence as I moved through the world.  It also gave me a sense of pride, to be able to say that I was a lawyer -- I had obviously worked hard through law school and bar studying, and had passed the exam.  It gave me a sense that I had made it.  All of this anchored me in the world in a way I didn't recognize. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

no wine, no erin

Wine Taste

Remember this post, where I talked about how shy I got at my horseback riding lessons, and how it actually makes me a worse rider?  And how I wanted to go to the Thursday night group lesson/wine drinking?  Well, I had planned on attending this week, which gave rise to this email exchange:

From: Equestrian Center
To: Erin

SUBJ: Thursday Lesson

Due to school closures/religious observances we are moving lessons up.

The Thursday 6:30pm lesson will be at 3:30pm
Please let me know if you can/can not make it.

Thank You.
From: Erin
To: Kathy
FWD: Thursday Lesson
I think I am going to say I have a conflict and go next week.  The point was more the hanging out, less the extra lesson, right?  No one is going to be drinking wine at 4 in the afternoon.
From: Kathy
To: Erin
RE: FWD: Thursday Lesson
From: Erin
To: Equestrian Center

RE:  Thursday Lesson

I have a conflict at 3:30 but I will come the next week -- Oct 6 -- at 6:30. Thanks!

From: Erin
To: Kathy
RE: FWD: Thursday Lesson
That's right!  NO WINE NO ERIN.  It's supposed to be FUN, right??

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

the simplest method

I originally wrote this post as a detailed account of how I waterproofed the deck.  Then, I realized that waterproofing a deck is kind of boring.  Really, what I had to say boiled down to one point.

(our deck before cleaning and waterproofing - can you tell where the doormat was?)

Since I had never used a waterproofing product before, I read the directions in the store to make sure I had all the equipment I would need. The "application" instructions say: "Apply by brush, roller, dipping, or sprayer. A garden 'pump-up' style sprayer is the simplest method." Alright then. I dutifully bought a pump-up style garden sprayer.  I was all for the simplest method.

 (the deck scrubbed clean)

After I had cleaned the deck, I was ready to spray the water sealer on the deck with my pump-up style garden sprayer.  I put the sprayer together, filled it up, and pumped.  I set it to spray a "fine mist," but all that came out was a thick stream, which actually mostly landed on an azalea, rather than on the deck.  I took the sprayer apart, put it back together, and went to it.  Still, thick stream.  When I tried to turn the nozzle clockwise to get a finer mist, it fell off.  When I turned it the other direction, it still projected a thick stream, but just a more forceful and less accurate thick stream.  Which hit the window of the house, and had to be removed with paint thinner.  I took the sprayer apart again, and it leaked waterproofer all over the deck, so I had to sort of swish that around and rub it in, but there was still a big oily patch (fortunately, underneath where our grill goes).  This went on and on, until I finally gave up.  I got a cheap paint brush and an old dishrag.  I painted it on, and wiped it off -- similar to how you would apply stain to wood.  I used half the amount of water sealer, and it took half the time. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

i finally want a job

Okay.  It's finally happened.  Nearly six months, to the day, from the time I quit my Biglaw job, I WANT A JOB.  I love what I do at home.  I love my garden, and keeping the house ticking, etc, etc.  But it's time to go back to work again.  This weekend I actually spent a period of time playing something on, which I'm pretty sure is directed at children.

Castle Defense Game

(specifically, this castle defense game)

I was bored, for the first time in ages.  My mind was bored.  So, I think, it's time to get me a job.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

farmers market

I've been trying to make my small Westchester town home, and one thing that helps with that is to get involved in all that the community has to offer.  This week, I visited the farmers market in the next town over -- in the pouring rain.  I was worried it would be closed or cancelled, but although the vendors seemed a little sparse, there it was.  I had to choose in a hurry, because I was getting soaked, so I didn't comparison shop or anything like that.  I just grabbed what looked good. 

Here's what $10 got me (still shiny from the rain):

That is:  a bunch of celery, 4 big carrots, a basket of onions, 2 apples, 2 tomatoes, a head of garlic, and a pepper.  The best bargain was that pepper, at just $.18, while the 2 tomatoes were probably the worst deal, at $2.70 (more than all 8 onions).

I'll definitely be back next week - hopefully with drier shopping conditions.

Friday, September 23, 2011

my investment portfolio, which can survive any crash

From the time I was 18 until I turned 28, I had 13 different addresses.  Finally, I have just the one, which I intend to keep for the foreseeable future. 

When I signed the two-year lease for our Fire Island house shack, which just expired, I smiled at Kathy and noted that it was the longest I had "lived" in one place, since moving out of my parents' house at 18.  Now I live here with Kathy and the kids, in a house she owns (until we redo the title, at which point I will also own it, hooray!).  Home ownership, combined with the joy I have found in trying not to kill plants in our garden, has given me the lovely gift of a feeling of permanence, in a good way.  I always thought such permanence would feel like being tied down.  Imagine my surprise that it, instead, feels like being set free.  Free to plan, free to make changes, free to hang on to the things that are working, while discarding the things that aren't.

(a fading hydrangea that's mine, year after year)

Yesterday afternoon, I bought heads of garlic online to bust apart and plant the largest cloves, in the hopes that each one will grow into a full head next summer -- if I don't kill them. It has gotten me thinking about all of the little investments I have made, knowing that I'm not going anywhere. Like any good portfolio, some are short-term investments (expecting payoffs in the spring or summer of next year) and some are long-term investments (which could take many years to mature):

Thursday, September 22, 2011

blogging for your worst enemy

One of the drawbacks of a blog being public is that, until you are ready to share something with your enemies, you don't want to put it on your blog.  Even if your enemies aren't in the habit of regularly reading your blog, rest assured, the time that you post something you don't want them to know, they will discover your blog and read it.  Didn't we all learn that with livejournal in 2001?  Right.  That's why I never had a livejournal.  I don't think I can even count the number of fights amongst friends that were described to me beginning with, "Well, she put on her livejournal that I..." I guess now it's what people post on facebook?  Anyway, the internet is public.  So my approach to blogging is that I try to imagine the person I would least want reading what I write.  Then I pretend they are reading it.  And I try to edit out anything I wouldn't want them to know.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

the savage beast

Today, I had a very disappointing day.  After allowing myself to wallow for a little bit (McDonald's french fries, finishing my book) I have decided to take charge.

I am listening to my entire Ani Difranco library on shuffle, as loud as possible.

Isn't that what anyone else would do?  If a little Shameless and Fuel don't make you feel better, what will?  It has also filled me with an uncontrollable urge to organize and clean things. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Today, I had a new teacher for my riding lessons.  The problem with this is that I felt really, really horribly shy in front of my new teacher.  When I feel shy, I want to curl into a ball.  When you curl into a ball, you can't control your horse.  When you can't control your horse, it's embarrassing.  When you get embarrassed, you want to curl into an even tinier ball.  Repeat. 

Horses are like people, in that if you ask them to do something in a meek, shy little voice filled with uncertainty, they just do whatever the hell they feel like doing at the time.  If you ask them to do something assertively, they do it.  Because I was so uncomfortable and uncertain, it was impossible to keep my back straight and actually ride the horse today.  So I basically regressed to the skill level of my first ever riding lesson.  Meanwhile I knew that all I had to do was have some confidence, and he would listen to me.  But as it was, he was in charge.  Not me.  Which made me keep thinking, "I bet they wonder what I am even doing here."  Which, in turn, further decreased my confidence and made me ride even worse.  Also, I lost my balance at one point and landed on the pommel in a really uncomfortable way, if you catch my drift.  So I have a nice painful reminder of how horribly I rode today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

birthday boy

Today, C turned 6.  This is a big milestone for me because, out of all the kids, I am most parental for C.  Not to say my relationships with the girls aren't important -- obviously they are -- but C does not remember his life before I was in it.  He is the only one of the kids who calls me Mommy (although I rarely respond to it because I am always confused and think he's talking to Kathy).  I remember the days of C in diapers and drinking out of a bottle.

And now, he's 6 years old.  He has no front teeth, and has opinions about what he likes to wear (preferably shirts with numbers on them -- no collars -- and shoes that light up).  He likes to walk up to the school with his friends, and has to be reminded to hug us goodbye. 

One of his favorite pastimes is spying on A.  To that end, he got a secret message pen and a lie detector kit from his sisters.  Nice of A to play along, since she is most often the victim of his secret missions.  He also got a skateboard from the family, a remote-control car that drives up walls (from me and Kathy), Battleship from my parents and a Steelers jersey and jacket from Kathy's mom.  Not a bad haul for 6 years old.  Oh right, and Kathy's mom sent him 6 dollars, so he now believes he is rich.

A few nights ago, C came downstairs with a bad dream.  Kathy snored through it, but I woke up.  He crawled in, curled up in my armpit, and was fast asleep in minutes.  After my arm fell asleep, I carried him back up to bed.  As I tucked him in, he woke up a little bit, and said in a groggy voice, "Thank you, Ewin.  Love you," then was back to sleep.  I'll be sad when the speech therapy at school changes the way he says my name, and when he's too cool to say he loves me.  For now, I'm just glad that at six, he's still such a little boy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


We have a lot of computers in this house.  We have a Mac in our kitchen that the kids use to play games on and for their homework (it's in the kitchen so we can keep an eye on what they are doing on the internet).  We have a desktop on our office.  I have a laptop, and an old laptop.  Kathy has a work laptop. 

Yet, yesterday, we had one computer in the house that actually worked -- the desktop in the office.  A while ago, I or someone else stepped on my laptop and broke the screen.  Yesterday, I fired up my old laptop, and was reminded exactly why I got a new laptop in the first place -- it took nearly 20 minutes to boot.  And the battery holds a charge for 0 minutes.  And it has no wireless internet.  There is something wrong with the wireless router, so the Mac is fine if you want to look at star wars pictures the kids have downloaded or play chess, but that's about it, since it has no internet.  Kathy's work computer was conveniently left at work.

Since Kathy worked from home yesterday, she had dibs on the functioning computer.  Which meant that blog posts went unwritten, mortgage refinancing rates went unresearched, and I generally had nothing to do all day but pace and do chores (and bother Kathy).  I even went so far as to try to use my phone to google whether I could use the old laptop as a monitor for the new laptop by hooking them together somehow.  (The answer seems to be no, at least with my existing skill set.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

out of reach

Since I quit my job, Kathy had been blissfully flexible with her work.  She was able to work from home a few days a week, usually days of my choosing, and she rarely had to work at night or on the weekends.  This is pretty unheard-of for a full time lawyer.  I didn't realize really, how used to that I had gotten and how much I depended on having pretty much constant access. 

We've always been a high-contact couple, by which I mean that we speak/email/gmail-chat several times a day.  That has actually decreased a little since I've stayed home, because I'm no longer parked in front of a computer screen all day.  But basically, for the last four years, I've felt free to keep her in the loop on every thought that enters my pretty little head (and that I have been privy to almost every thought that pops into hers).  I like this.  It means I can talk in half-sentences and she knows what I'm talking about.  It means she can jump from topic to topic in a way every other person on the planet finds bewildering, and I can keep up. 

But.  Then.  Yesterday, she had to work all day.  THE WHOLE DAY, even during the Steelers game.  I was so bored by her working during the game instead of explaining it to me that I ate 100 of those little hot dogs wrapped in dough that you buy in the freezer section (which I regretted).  And, for the first time, she got really, truly irritated with me for popping into the office ask her something. 

Friday, September 9, 2011


The entry to your house is the first thing that people see when they come for a visit, so it's your house's first impression.  That's why I think that it's important to have the entry be well-kept and tidy looking -- it sets the tone or something.  By the time you get people inside, they are busy thinking about when they can get a beer and where the bathroom is, so flaws/messes/broken things are less noticeable.  But while they are waiting for you to come to the door, there's really nothing to do but look around.  Which is why, for months, the sorry state of our front entry has been so annoying to me.

Kathy is blissfully unaware of all of this.  She has an amazing capacity to look right over things that need repair without noticing them.  So it was only me that was twisting myself into knots over the fact that the railing leading up to our front porch looked like this:

When I pointed it out to her, she responded, "Hey, look, it used to be blue; can we paint it blue again?"  Isn't she sweet?  Of course, I told her no freaking way we were having a tacky blue railing.  So I started the project of scraping, sanding and re-painting the railing.  I also thought I would paint the rusty mailbox while I was at it.  I figured the whole thing would take me a day and a half -- the first day I would scrape and sand in the morning and prime in the afternoon, and the second day I would paint it. 


Thursday, September 8, 2011

back to school

The kids have gone back to school.  A started 6th grade (middle school!) and B and C are in 3rd and 1st grade, respectively.  This means, for me, several hours of time alone each day.  It also means the much-needed return to some semblance of a normal routine.  I am SHOCKED at how much longer the day seems when everyone is up and active by 7 am, rather than 9, 9:30, or 10, depending on the day.  It's only 10:30 and I've already done loads of laundry, made a nice, long to-do list, made several much-needed phone calls (someone to fix our flooding problem, someone to get rid of the animal who has made his home inside our front steps).  If it weren't for all this rain, I'd be really productive.

Irrespective of the rain, something about the promise of fall is exciting.  I find it more energizing than spring, which mostly makes me want to lounge around in the sunshine reading books.  Maybe because the school year starts in the fall, it just feels like such a nice clean slate.  Time to clear away last year and start something new.  When I actually finish some projects around here, rather than just writing them on a sheet of paper and taping it to the wall, I'll post some before/after shots.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

labor day

Hopefully, everyone received an actual day off yesterday - not just a Biglaw day off, which means you still work, only without a secretary or cafeteria.

I spent the long weekend on Fire Island with Kathy and the kids, closing up our cottage and visiting a few houses which could be options for next year, should we be able to continue to have a summer place there.  I spent a lot of time thinking about my own labor, on this day devoted to the contributions of laborers, and what short- and long-term work-related plans might look like. 

(the Cherry Grove ferry dock)

the "vacation" ends - part V

I'm happy to say that the horror of our "vacation" ends with part IV.  By some miracle, things just stopped going wrong.  The following morning, the plumber came and snaked the tree roots out of our sewer line.  Then the disinfectant clean up guy came and sprayed everything with some kind of germ-destroyer.  We washed 1,000 loads of laundry, loaded the car, and headed off to Fire Island with our friends, where, I am happy to report, none of the predicted rain actually materialized. 

But you can see why, in the aftermath of all that, coming home was a little bit stressful.  I originally wrote a list of all the clean-up related chores I've been doing, but that was boring, so I deleted it.  Instead, I will say that I am grateful that somehow, in the midst of all that chaos and bad luck, we were able to have fun -- a fact which shocks me. 

I think the vacation series has gone on long enough, so I will leave this post at that, and let you know soon what else we've been up to around here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

the "vacation," part IV

When we got into town, we called our friends, and found out that the clean-up crew recommended calling a plumber as soon as possible, since what was leaking into our basement was actually sewage.  Which explained why the water level was going down so slowly.  The sewer pipe was blocked.  So the water would get pumped out by the sump pump, dumped into the laundry tub, and then flow directly back into the blocked sewer pipe, then back into our basement, in some kind of circle of death.  Resourceful things that we are, we booked the plumber for 9 am the next morning, scheduled the clean-up crew to come back after he was done, and went to the county fair.  Bam.

The county fair was one of the most fun things I have ever done in my life.  Here are some things you should know if you find yourself at one:
  1. The Gravitron will make you want to throw up, even if you could go on it 10 times in a row when you were a kid.
  2. If you ask whether there are any animals at a county fair, the people will look at you like you are a mutant.  Of course there are animals.  It's a county fair.
  3. You don't actually need to tell the woman letting you pet her baby bull that you are from New York City. She already knows that.  By how you want to pet her bull, and how you are afraid of its tongue.
  4. There is a relatively large market for handmade potholders, and wooden signs specifying that coffee is 5 cents.
  5. In a tractor race, the tractors just go one at a time and then try to beat the time of the other tractors.  So watching is kind of boring.

(we are all actually as afraid as we look)

After a full day at the county fair, our happy, sweaty, countrified selves piled into the car and started to drive back home, listening to country music and eating Slim Jims.  

When we were about halfway home, it started to rain a little.  Which would have been fine, except that I had pulled the fuse on the windshield wipers, remember?  So Kathy pulled over and started to get out.  "STOP!!!" I screamed.  "My dad says you should never open your door on the side of the freeway!! What are you thinking?  I will have to just put it back in with you sitting there."  Kathy disagreed, and said she should just get out of my way, but I won.  The fuse box on our car is underneath the dashboard on the driver's side.  Which means that I had to lean across the car, put my head in Kathy's lap, and rummage around under the dark dashboard, to try to put the fuse back in.