turkey day.

Pounds of turkey: 35
Metal folding chairs moved in a hatchback: 32
Lost teeth: 1
Times the hammock hook was pulled out of the tree: 3
Potato rolls baked: 64
Leftover potato rolls: 0
Time in hours of a game of Settlers of Catan: 3
Water pressure tanks replaced: 1
Puppets: 4
Time in hours the water was turned off: 1.5
Pies: 6
Loops on the tandem bike: 5

Happy Thanksgiving.



In the interest of keeping it real, I will admit that my husband and I had a fight on our honeymoon in Paris. Maybe that's understandable. Being in a foreign country, people using unfamiliar languages and currency, delays, lost luggage, your smartphone not getting internet...all that adds up being stressed out and taking out your frustrations on the nearest person.

So what did we fight about? Laundry!

One of the big selling points about the particular flat we rented was the fact that it came with a clothes washer. What a great idea! We would only have to bring half as many clothes! More room in our suitcases for souvenirs! We are surely the smartest travelers ever.

One evening it became clear that we needed to do some laundry. All of our clothes were dirty. Well, not all of them. My short pants and my sundresses were sparkling clean. My one sweater, the one I'd worn every single day, was, of course, dry clean only. The owner of the apartment had left a binder full of useful information - phone numbers for the pizza delivery from Speedy Rabbit, that kind of thing. There were also manuals for the various appliances, including the washer.

I don't know if I've mentioned it yet, but neither Josh nor I really speak French. We got better. By the end of the trip, I could hold a whole conversation in French, as long as that conversation was me ordering food and paying with a credit card. The citizens of Paris speak fantastic English. Every single person, from the art dealer at the flea market to the singer at the bar, spoke English well enough for me to have actual conversation with them. It was humbling.

However, the manual for the washer was not in English. I took a look at it and decided I could just wear dirty clothes. Josh was more persistent. In his reading, he discovered that the washer was also a dryer.

Say what?

That's what he said, anyway. He pointed out the word in the manual to me, but it's not like I know the French word for "dryer." That word could've meant "flagellater" for all I knew. Plus, who ever heard of a washer/dryer? It doesn't even make sense. He insisted, explaining that the machine would use hot water to steam the clothes dry (what?). So after we had washed our clothes, he pushed the dry button. Or what he said was "dry," I only know food words in this language.

The little machine made some whirring noises, I made some doubtful noises, and fifteen minutes later it made the ding! noise that means it's finished. We opened it up and found very hot, very wet clothes. Josh said it needed more time, I said there is no such thing as a washer/dryer. He said fine, what do you suggest, and I said get the hangers.

That was the fight. I don't blame you if you missed it. I missed it myself. I won, I guess? Josh gives in pretty easy sometimes, preferring to just let me have my way and then resent me about it. We are working on it.

We hung up our clothes all over that little flat. Conveniently, there were some lights hanging from wires running across the room. After we ran out of hangers, we hung things from doorknobs and drawer pulls and anything else that would hold a wet sock. Then I took pictures of Josh standing next to his drying underwear in France - so romantic!

It wasn't a great plan. Some of the clothes did not get dry fast enough, and they got that telltale mildew smell. That was when I found out that we'd had a fight, and that there was lingering resentment: when the clothes still weren't dry, and it was my fault for not listening to my husband who knows how to read French appliance manuals.

A couple days later, we needed to do more laundry. But our time in Paris was coming to an end, and we did not have enough time to dry our clothes using the hanging method, not that it really worked. So I just said whatever, we'll do it your way, let's see this washer dry. Josh set the machine to dry, and he programmed it to run for something like two hours just to make sure they were good and dry. Then we went to bed.

I woke up a bit later and could not get back to sleep. Do you ever hear a sound that probably was going on all along, but once you notice it, you can't not hear it? It was like that. First there was a sloshy noise, which was accompanied by renewed skepticism that a machine can both wash and dry. Then there would be some churning and humming. And then there would be a pause, just long enough for me to start to think that the time was up and the machine was done, before it started up again with the sloshing. In my half-awake delirium, I became convinced that the machine was melting our clothes, that we would reach in tomorrow and pull out one big clump of mixed socks and underwear and pants.

Finally, it stopped. I slept.

The next morning, we opened the washer/dryer to find clothes that were dry. They weren't even melted! But they did have a strange sort of burnt smell. So we smelled a little burnt ourselves. Add that to the slight mildew stench and the body funk from the dry-clean-only sweaters. It sorta worked, because each odor prevented the others from becoming overbearing. We smelled off in some way, but not in a way anyone could pin down, unless maybe they'd recently had a fight about laundry, too.

us and them.

After we got back from France, a friend was asking us about how we were treated. He'd recently gone on a trip to London and Paris, and he said the French were just as nice as could be, but the Brits were rude.

"Yeah, they just don't like us over there." He couldn't understand it.

See, this is a case of pronouns. He said "they" to mean British people, and "us" to mean Americans. But really, "they" means the British people they encountered on their trip, probably just some of them, and "us" means his particular group of traveling Americans. I don't know what kind of traveler he is, but I saw some who were going to go home thinking the French don't like Americans. At the train station one morning, a woman went up to the pastry counter and bellowed, "SPEAK ENGLISH?" The cashier nodded, and the customer went on to say her order in English, very loudly and slowly. See, if I had to go to work at a busy station every morning and be yelled at like I was a moron, I might not always be my cheeriest. And then a tourist would go home and say that all my countrymen were jerks. I would go home and complain to my spouse about entitled Americans, completely forgetting about the nice young couple I encountered earlier that same day.

Those generalized pronouns work the other way, too. While we were staying in the countryside, I helped our host hang up some laundry on the clothesline. "I bet you don't do this in America," she said.

"Sure, we do. Well, we personally don't, but there are people who do." I know, it's a confusing statement. I felt the need to defend "us," meaning Americans, even if the comment was true in regards to "us," meaning Josh and me. But later, she did the same thing, saying that "we," i.e. the French, have gardens. Except that they personally don't. I told her that many Americans did, too, but again, we do not.

It's hard to represent your whole country. A man in the bar told me that he liked the American people okay, but he had some problems with its government. I told him that was a common feeling over here, too. Another person we met seemed to have developed his ideas about Americans from television, and he did not come out with a good impression. I wondered what shows he'd been watching. Another seemed to think that we eat only fried food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So I hope we did alright, being abroad. The people we interacted with probably still have their own ideas about Americans, picked up from who knows where. But maybe there will be an asterisk next to that thought that says some of them are okay.


my redneck present.

Before Josh moved in with me, he bought a secretary from the North Carolina State Surplus to use as a bureau. It was massive and massively heavy, because it was made of particle board. There were two drawers, plus a top compartment that opened out, where the frontpiece could be used as a writing surface. One of the joints was a little busted, but otherwise it was solid. Josh was very attached to this completely ordinary piece of furniture, but I tend not to question his strange attachments, since he is strangely attached to me.

I did not care for this particular piece of furniture, and he really had no need for it once we moved into the house. It was too heavy to go up the stairs. We shoved it in a corner. I occasionally said something about taking it to the thrift store, but without a specific need for the space it was taking up, I didn't have a good reason to get rid of it other than I just didn't like it.

One day, I came home, and the secretary was gone. However, I did not celebrate, because it had been replaced by an electric organ. Actually, the organ itself was in another room. The secretary was displaced by just one of the two enormous speakers.

Josh was too much in the throes of his electric organ excitement to do much of anything, including find a new home for the secretary. He did not take advantage of the three men he'd brought in to move the organ to move the secretary to the thrift store. The secretary ended up on the back porch. Another thing he neglected to do in his excitement: ask me if I wanted an electric organ in my house.

I yelled a lot of things that day, but they were all about the organ. The next day, I yelled something about how the porch is not an appropriate place for a secretary. The day after that, I was too hoarse to yell anymore, so we just made up.

The secretary sat on the porch. It was convenient for putting our beers on when we grilled out. It was also dearly loved by the local wildlife. Apparently, there is a species of millipede that loves nothing more than wet particle board for living in. The secretary got wet with each rain and the boards swelled up a little more. The millipedes moved in. When it rained, they would come out and wriggle, and once you noticed one, you saw that there were actually seven thousand or so. It was pretty gross. After the apocalypse, when the roofs are all ripped off and the particle board furniture of the world is left open to the elements, that millipede is going to do just fine.

I don't know how many pieces of furniture you need outdoors to be officially white trash. I hated it, but got used to it enough to not grumble about it very often. The few people that we ever had over already knew the kind of people we were. I myself grew up with a stove in the yard, until the fateful day that it fell backwards (or was it pushed???) into the woods, where it went wild.

But then last fall, our church asked for signups for a program called "Foyer," where a group of four couples rotate having dinner at each other's houses. I was moderately interested, as it sounded like a good way to meet people. But I thought of all the things that would need to happen at our house before it was ready for company. Sure, my family could come over, and we could have friends over, especially the ones still living in crummy apartments. But I was not going to allow church people, practically strangers, to come over and see how we lived.

It wasn't just the secretary. It was also the overgrown front yard, where there is no grass, but plenty of briars and upstart poplar trees. It was the siding on the back of the house that we had replaced, but still hadn't repainted to match the rest of the wall. It was also the collection of motor oil in milk jugs and plastic juice bottles sitting by the driveway. We spent years living in the house without maintaining the outside of it. Maybe we are white trash, or maybe we are just children masquerading at being grown-ups.

Josh was not interested in Foyer, until someone directly asked him to do it, and then suddenly, he transformed into that guy at church who can't say no to anything. He lobbied hard to sign up that very day, but I pointed out all the things that added up to a picture of a redneck household. I said we could take care of those things in the next few months, and then sign up the next time they started up a new Foyer. He saw the wisdom in this, and promised to take care of everything. I wrote the list of tasks on the whiteboard.

One day, I came home, and he told me he had taken care of the secretary. Praise be! And then I saw the secretary, in pieces, in the backyard next to last year's Christmas tree. But...right, but you just...that is obviously just...ARGH.

We did not sign up for Foyer the next time. Or the time after that. Nor the time after that. In his defense, he did cut down the saplings in the front yard. It looked a lot better, like someone lives here even.

However, we are hosting Thanksgiving for my family this year. This week. Which means that forty or so people are about to descend upon our house. While the thing they have in common is the kind of past with a stove in the yard, many of them are children. I don't know much about children, but I do know to assume that they will get into everything. EVERYTHING. The secretary and the oil cans would just have to go.

Yesterday, we lined the trunk of the car with trash bags and loaded up the various pieces of the secretary. It took a bit of work to find them all. It's fall, you know, and the millipedes aren't the only things that had begun reclaiming the secretary. It had just about gone native. I can sorta see his logic. His problem was that the drawers would not bust apart. So while the individual boards had been disintegrating quietly underneath the leaves, the drawers still stood tall. EITHER WAY, IT IS NOT AN APPROPRIATE WAY TO DISPOSE OF A SECRETARY, JOSHUA. We also loaded up the oil cans, and in doing so, I found some large pieces of broken glass. Good googily moogily, we were bigger rednecks than I even knew.

But it's gone now. We are only rednecks on the inside again. It's like a fresh start. Let's not screw it up this time.


health food.

Once, when having some friends over, they brought cute little bread puddings in individual tins for everyone. Do you like bread pudding? I love it. I don't think I'd ever tried it until I was an adult, and as soon as I had, I looked up how to make such a delight happen in my own kitchen. I was shocked, SHOCKED, at how easy it is. You don't even have to make the bread! Bread, eggs, milk, sugar, spices, BAM. More people should be making bread pudding. It's got bread in it, so it's practically health food.

The particular bread pudding that our friends brought was extra fancy, because instead of stale store-brand sandwich bread, they'd used croissants. It was decadent, like the kind of thing that billionaires eat. It opened my mind to all the possibilities of bread pudding created by the many varieties of bread. They'd also mixed in a generous amount of chocolate chips, which turns out is the necessary ingredient to get Josh to enjoy bread pudding. I cleaned my personal tin as best as I could; since we had company, I did not lick them. I thought about it, though.

The morning after our dinner party, we found the pudding tins on the floor, which was not where we had left them. They were also completely clean of chocolate smears, which was also not how we'd left them (because of company). We'd only had the dog for a few weeks, but we knew enough to know that Remix was not supposed to eat chocolate. We thought we'd killed her with the most delicious bread pudding in the world. However, with a little googling, we found out that a dog can safely have up to 1 ounce of chocolate per five pounds of dog. So our dog could eat three-quarters of a pound of chocolate with no ill effects. Phew!

Since it did not kill my dog, I've been craving that bread pudding ever since (had it killed my dog, I would probably still have craved it, but would feel conflicted). I did not want to go out and buy a bunch of croissants just for the purpose of making the most delicious bread pudding ever. Croissants in France are cheap; croissants at Kroger are not.

Then last weekend, we were at a church yard sale where they were selling boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. There came unto me a thought. I paid $5 for a box to support their mission trip or youth group or something. Mostly it was to get the doughnuts.

I asked the Internet whether anyone had ever made doughnut bread pudding before, and the Internet said, duh, Paula Deen has. Of course she has. But she put fruit cocktail and raisins in it, which is fine, I guess, but sort of silly in a world where chocolate exists. I found another recipe that used store-bought cake doughnuts with chocolate chips. Between the two, I came up with something.

Do I need to even tell you? It was amazing. And you don't even add any sugar! Health food, I tell ya.

Krispy Kreme Doughnut Bread Pudding

1 dozen Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c half and half
1 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla
pinch salt
1 1/2 c chocolate chips

Mix the chocolate chips and doughnuts in a large bowl. Mix the other ingredients in smaller bowl. Add the wet mixture to the doughnuts and let them soak it all up. Add to a buttered baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes until set. Let cool, then stick face directly in and snarf it up. Or serve it on plates or whatever.

You could maybe sub milk for the half and half. You could also possibly cut the chocolate chips to 1 cup, but I have a chocolate addict in the house. Some people make sauces to put on bread puddings, which is probably delicious, but unnecessary.


yard sales, nov. 16

I haven't done an entry like this in forever!

Frankly, we haven't gone to many sales this year. I have no explanation. I still believe in and preach the gospel of secondhand. I drop into at least one thrift store every week to poke around. I don't buy much, but I still like to look. Sometimes you see some crazy stuff, like clown shoes.

I think that I finally have enough stuff. I really wasn't sure that would ever happen. But I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff sometimes, and the thought of taking on more just makes me tired. So to buy something, I have to really really really really like it, OR it has to replace something I already own - an upgrade.

Friday night, I had gone to some thrift stores and bought only a book (totally broke my no more books rule, but it looks really good, was in perfect condition, and I was weak from not having bought anything at a series of three stores). I looked through the clothes, because I need some basic shirts for church. Sometimes vintage t-shirts just aren't that appropriate. It would actually be totally fine at my church, but I guess I'm old-fashioned. The thrift stores in my area have the clothing arranged by color, so if you want a black shirt, it's easy to find that section. I looked through all the black shirts, and I found a couple that were cute and in my size. Then I didn't buy them, because shirts at thrift stores are about $3.50.

I know. It's more than a bit silly. There are a lot of solid financial concepts in my decision:
1. The shirts were not special. They vary from other shirts, but to me, it's just serves as a black shirt that I can wear to church. I can go back to any Goodwill and find another black shirt that is comparable any time I want. If I'd found a pair of jeans, I would have bought them, because it's much harder to find pants that fit and are not cut for some horrendous fad. Shirts? Bah.
2. I didn't need a shirt at all. I would like to expand my wardrobe to have more selection, but I'm not skipping church for lack of things to wear. I could wait until I found something I liked better or something cheaper.
3. Clothes are cheaper at yard sales, it was Friday night, and I was planning on going to some sales in the morning.

See, very practical, but I didn't stand there and count reasons out in my head. I just know the difference between a shirt that I like a dollar's worth and one I like three dollar's worth. I wonder sometimes whether other people distinguish between one and three dollars. Most of them shop retail, so in terms of a shirt, probably not. I suspect that lots of people also think of value in terms of what the store says value is, not by their own internal system.

In any case, the secondhand gods must have looked approvingly at my good sense, because the next morning, I found four very nice Eddie Bauer shirts in my size for fifty cents apiece. Wore one to church this morning with a yard sale skirt and some Goodwill shoes. Looked cute.

I also found Christmas ornaments. The lady suggested shining them up, but I kinda like the tarnish (or I am too lazy to shine them up and can tolerate the tarnish). I've also considered just spray-painting them. I got five of them for a dollar: two angels, the wise men on camels, a bird, and a rocking horse. There was probably a bird at the manger, but the rocking horse seems a bit suspect.

My find of the day was - wait for it - a hole puncher.

Now, this is a pretty sweet-looking hole puncher. Vintage and industrial, you could stick this on an old desk, get out the soft lighting and have a photoshoot to sell an old typewriter on Etsy. I searched for the name and found an ad for it in a paper from 1965. It's very sturdy. Something I love about secondhand shopping is that your most common and utilitarian of possessions can be unique and interesting, which makes activities like putting your choir music in a binder a more enjoyable experience. It's the little things, people.

But what is really fancy about this hole puncher is that the position of the holes is adjustable. You can punch up to seven holes in your paper, and you can adjust the positions of each. So if you have some kind of non-standard binder, you rebel you, you can still be organized. Have you ever heard of such hole punching technology? Indeed, I have not. I really don't see myself ever needing a hole puncher other than this one. It seems unlikely to break, and has such fantastic capabilities that I can't imagine any requiring more than this hole puncher can handle.

So. Check buying a hole puncher off my list for life. One less thing.


dancing shoes.

I stripped off my socks, and there was blood.

It was entirely predictable. I'd brought the wrong pair of shoes to Washington, D.C., and I'd walked all over our nation's capital in them. It was just stubbornness, a refusal to believe that my blue Chuck Taylors, the ones I got married in, my something blue, were the wrong shoes for a day of sight-seeing. I'd learned this lesson already in Paris, where they rubbed my pinky toes raw. They are fine for the life of a software engineer, but not for any sort of non-sedentary lifestyle.

I'd had bloody socks before, in high school. All the girls on the basketball team were required to buy these particular Nikes. They were ugly and they were rough on my feet. There was a game early in the season where I'd played my fifteen-year-old heart out (we lost), and then grossed out the whole locker room with my bloody socks. From then on, every day in the locker room before practice or a game, I wrapped up my littlest piggies in two band-aids apiece. Maybe I should start doing that whenever I take a trip where there's going to be a lot of walking. I am still hopeful that I can figure out a way around this, that I'm simply not wearing the shoes properly. Tighter laces, or looser ones.

I went into the bathroom to wash off the crusted blood. In doing so, I discovered two blisters. As I gingerly bathed my wounded tootsies with a hotel washcloth, I composed a strongly-worded letter to the Converse shoe company. I imagined their reply: We're not responsible for your weird feet, lady.

The real problem was not the blisters or the blood, but the fact that I had a wedding to go to in about an hour, and the shoes I'd brought for that occasion made my Chucks look like bedroom slippers. I thought my toes were pinched before, but they were about to be squeezed into a pair of peep-toed pumps. I was just hoping that no blood would decide to peep, too.

I eased my way into the dress shoes, complaining all the way. Josh called me a poor baby. I complained some more, because that is how I deal with pain. My husband is a lucky, lucky man.

The wedding was lovely. My cousin got married in a Methodist church in the suburban woods, in front of a huge window, while the great state of Virginia showed off her autumn colors behind. My appreciation for weddings has skyrocketed since I threw one. It's nice to go to a party and not be responsible for any of it.

At the reception, there was Mexican food and an open bar. We sat with some Texas relatives of the groom and talked about voter IDs and the American Pie movies. We put together Lego minifigs from the bowl of parts on the table.

After dinner, a DJ turned up some tunes and invited everyone to dance. Josh looked at me expectantly. I thought of three things:
1. My feet.
2. The beers I'd had.
3. The smug blog entry I had just posted about how we were bad dancers, and we didn't care who knew it.

If there was anyone in the world who had read it, it was my mother, who was sitting just across the room. I took a big swig of my beer, and allowed my dance-partner-for-life to lead me to the dance floor, where other dancing nerds were already showing off their complete lack of moves.

We danced. We had so much fun. Does anyone ever regret dancing at a wedding?

Later that night, I found myself in the same hotel room, removing my shoes and afraid of the damage I might find within. No blood. And somehow, my blisters had gone away. It didn't appear that they'd popped, they just seemed to have fused back into my feet. Dude, dancing cures blisters. Does the American Podiatric Medical Association know about this? This could change everything.



When I was a little girl, I was nuts about cats. There was very little going on in my life that was not cat-related. I wrote stories about them, I drew pictures of them, I filled up roll after roll of film with blurry photos of them. When I wasn't playing directly with them, I was pretending that I was one, part of an entire cat community, with characters drawn from our real-life cats and also cartoon ones on TV. I had a rich imaginary social life.

We had outdoor cats, which were often one step removed from feral. They came to the food bowl, but were not interested in being manhandled by a little girl. A few of them would consent to be petted, but they were never snuggly enough for me. Of course, snuggly enough for me was in the love them and squeeze them and call them Complainy range. Since then, I have met cats that are very snuggly, and it makes me sad that I never had that growing up. I understand that it was probably my own fault, though. Maybe they wanted to snuggle, but they feared for their lives.

We briefly had a kitten when we stayed with some friends in a village outside Lyon. It was like renting a kitten for four days. I think Rent-A-Kitten services would be a great success, though they would probably convince everyone that they don't want to own kittens. At least, that was the lesson I learned.

This kitten was named Minou, which is simply French for kitten. Really, she didn't officially have a name, as her owners either called her Minou or what might have been "Kitty" with a French accent, but sounded to me like "Titty." We opted to call her Minou.

Minou, being a kitten, was incredibly playful. I'm used to the lazier behavior of adult cats. Kittens only nap when you're gone, I think. Then when you come home, they spring to life and start batting at your pant leg.  Mostly, they want to play. They might get distracted by a bug or a piece of string, but mostly, they want to play with you. They want to sit on your lap and bat at your hands while you're trying to read. At dinner time, they jump onto the back of your chair. Stand still, and they'll climb up your leg. Minou's very favorite game was Bite. You can probably figure out how it goes.

I feel like a wuss complaining about widdle kitty bites. They don't hurt that bad. At first, I was happy to play with her and let her bat at my hands. She would bite and I would bop her on the head with a finger. But at some point, it just seemed like all biting, all the time. By the end of our stay, we would go to our bedroom and shut the door to escape the teeth of Minou. It was tricky, because she was good at zipping into the room under your feet. Then you had to try and catch her from her hiding spot under the bed while she was attacking you.

As with Remix, we took to speaking for Minou in our own goofy Minou voice. Pretty much the only thing we ever made her say was, "I'm gonna BITE you!" We could make a whole little speech out of her biting plans as she crept across the room, our tender hand meat in her sights. And then the pounce - "here I come to BITE you!"

We were not sorry to leave our bitey friend behind. We own a pitbull and we were glad to be back home where an animal would simply snuggle us rather than attempt to draw blood. But sometimes, I sneak up behind Josh and give him a playful nip on the shoulder...I'm gonna BITE you!


old amsterdam.

We took a day out of our time in Paris to hop over to Amsterdam to visit a friend. Amsterdam is a crazy place. It is picturesque and quaint in appearance, but intense to experience. In Paris, and later in Lyons, Josh would heave a big happy sigh and say, "Let's move here. Can we move here?" He did not say that in Amsterdam. That is likely unfair. We were only there a day, and we spent a lot of time in the tourist areas. We got mildly lost. I would absolutely go back, but I know that I am not cut out to live there.

For one thing, there are already too many people. Something I have noticed about the big cities that make me anxious versus the ones that make me feel good about humanity is how close they feel. I have a hard time in Manhattan because the buildings are so tall that I feel walled off all the time. Walled off with a lot of strangers. Amsterdam felt like that to me. The buildings were not tall, but the whole place felt very cramped. A lot of the streets were very old, and therefore narrow. It was a little better near the canals, but even there you felt like the buildings were leaning in over you. That's because they were. A while back, the city tried to build some subways underneath the canals, which unfortunately caused the buildings on either side to sink. I think they halted construction on the subway, and I hope they took some measures to secure those houses.

And the bicycles. Do you like bicycles? Not as much as the Dutch. I agree that bicycles make a lot of sense in Amsterdam, because area-wise, it's not that big. (We saw some very small cars, too. They're so small that you don't have to get a full driving license to drive them, sort of like a moped. And, bonus, you can park them on the sidewalk.) I've just never seen such a bike culture. In some of the fancier neighborhoods in North Carolina, usually near college campuses, there are bike lanes. They're usually just the shoulder of the road with a bike painted in it. In Amsterdam, there is a completely separate, smaller road next to the larger road, a road for bikes. So you have the road, then you have a sliver of sidewalk, and then there is another road, followed by another sliver of sidewalk next to the leaning buildings. A distracted tourist might stand in the bike road waiting for the light to change so that they can cross the main road. They wouldn't stand there very long before being screamed at or just run down by an old Dutch lady, because as far as the old Dutch lady is concerned you are literally standing in the middle of the road like a slack-jawed yokel. Next to Centraal Station is a parking deck for bicycles.

The whole traffic situation requires constant vigilance. There are a lot of cars, and then there are all the bikes, and oh yes, there are trams, too. And there are canals, so after you get hit by the bike, the car, and the tram, you can fall in the water and be run over by a houseboat. People know how to move in Amsterdam, and they are not going to let you slow them down. They've got somewhere to be and only five minutes before it starts raining again. Our friend showed us a website that had the radar map of the city, where you can check for breaks in the clouds before you go anywhere, so maybe the fast pace is weather-related.

Also, I was unable to figure out how the tram routes worked. I have been able to figure out public transportation maps in multiple cities, but I had no luck there. Each time I thought I had it right in theory, the trams in actuality would prove me wrong. We ended up walking. This could be my own fault, or this could be why everyone rides bicycles.

Anything goes in Amsterdam. There are weed shops all over the place, some of them obviously catering to tourists and others that looked like a place where everybody knows your name. We did not go through the red light district, though Josh says he saw a lady dancing provocatively through a cellar window. We were in some tourist areas, and most of the shops were capitalizing on Amsterdam's reputation as a den of sin. So many phallic souvenirs. We encountered shops like this in Paris, too, around the Moulin Rouge. But that was in a generally seedy part of town, where everything was just a little bit dirty. In Amsterdam, this kind of thing was just everywhere. Our friend says that frat boys from all over Europe come to Amsterdam to get wasted, hire prostitutes, and be generally obnoxious.

It's a very international city, which I guess is why it is so permissive a place. When you've got people from all over trying to make things happen together, you need to live and let live. Everyone spoke excellent English, which was very lucky for us. I stretched my pitiful college French to the limit, but I don't know a lick of Dutch. I couldn't even read it very well. In French, you can sound out the words and end up pronouncing things badly, but generally understandably. With Dutch, I'd get halfway through the word before encountering a strange letter combination, and my eyes would cross. I learned how to say "thank you" from a information booth at the train station, and that was the extent of my education.

This sounds like a long list of complaints from a disgruntled tourist. I am sure that to some people, Amsterdam is the place they've been looking for all their lives. And it truly is a beautiful place. There are cobblestones and canals and cute houses all over the place. I think if I went back I would be able to adjust better. I guess I'm saying that it's not you, Amsterdam, it's me.


choir widow.

There is lots more to say about our European adventures, but while I've been not writing about that, other things have been going on that I haven't been writing about either.

During the summer months at our church, they have what they call the "summer choir." Mostly it's the regular members of the choir, but they don't wear the robes and they don't proceed in at the beginning of the service, so it's supposed to be casual. While in this low-key state, they invite other church-goers to come and fill in some of the spaces vacated by vacationing vocalists. The very first time we came to church, this was going on. So we walked in and were enthusiastically asked to join the choir. I'm pretty sure my face communicated my absolute terror. We declined.

One Sunday this summer, I had to go drop off a borrowed coffee thermos in the kitchen, and by the time I got to the sanctuary, there was Josh, sitting with the summer choir. I should've known not to leave him alone. Every time he gets off by himself, some sneaky Episcopalian talks him into volunteering for something or other. This time, the lady didn't even have to talk. Recognizing him as a sucker joiner, she caught his eye as he came in the door and jerked her head toward an open seat in the choir. And that was that.

I was pouty, because I did not want to sit by myself. His answer was for me to come sit in the choir, too. Seeing as how we would be put into different sections, this was not a solution. Also, I told him that summer choir was just the way they get you to join the regular choir. The revelation of their real plot was not quite the bombshell to him that I'd hoped. In fact, he seemed entirely okay with that idea. Hrmph.

It's November now, and summer choir is over. Which means Josh has graduated to wearing a robe and walking in at the beginning of the service. He made sure to get Thursday evenings off so he can go to practice. And, he has practice again before the service, because Episcopalians sing strange songs, which means we have to go to church at 9:15. We'd been talking about getting up early enough to go to Sunday School, but it had just never happened. Apparently, it took the choir. So I go to Sunday School, and Josh goes and practices singing. He loves it. He comes home on Thursday nights all full of musical joy. He says it's like free singing lessons. The opportunity for summer choir came along at the same time as he was starting up a new band with himself on the mike, so he saw it as one of those mysterious ways that the Lord's always working in. And here I thought it was just sneaky Episcopalians.

Of course, I have been asked to join the choir about fifty times since Josh signed up. About thirty of those times were him. I sang in the church choir when I was in high school, so it's not as if I'm allergic. However, I only joined then as part of a deal with my dad to get a beagle puppy. I'd use that as an example of the kind of persuasion he would need to bring to the table, except that I can't be sure that my husband wouldn't just go out and get a puppy. I don't want a puppy, and I don't want to join the choir.

Josh asks why I don't want to join the choir, and I don't have a real reason, other than when I imagine doing it, I suddenly feel sort of crappy and like I hate church. I don't need a reason other than not wanting to. I felt abandoned at first, but now I feel like I need to just find my own place in the community. He joins everything, and I haven't join anything, yet. I'm just easing myself in.

I've gotten used to sitting on my own (still not used to being there by 9:15). In fact, I sit with the other choir widow(er)s - the spouses of choir members who don't want to sing in the choir, not even for a beagle puppy. The choir takes communion before the rest of the parishoners, and when that happens, we go up there and insert ourselves in line with our partners so we can take communion with our honeys. It's sweet. And then we go back to our seats and listen while the choir provides music for the rest of communion. Sometimes, if I know the song, I even sing along quietly to myself.

I have to admit, his singing has gotten better. And he looks awfully cute in the robes.


leader price.

Across the street from our little flat in the city, there was a grocery store. Being built into a storefront that predated supermarkets, it was well-stocked, but cramped. It was called Leader Price.

We saw a lot of English writing in France, both store names and on apparel, and most of it didn't quite make sense, as if they'd taken a French phrase which may or may not have been idiomatic and then run it through a bad online translation engine. The result was often phrases that no native English speaker would say. Or maybe they were British or Australian terms, I don't know. We thought about how we could make a killing selling shirts with English phrases that, you know, made sense, but I'm not sure the French could tell the difference. They are happy to go to Leader Price and not worry about it. Maybe making sense is overrated. What the heck is a Food Lion, anyway?

We went to Leader Price probably every single day. We bought wine and cheese and chocolate, and sometimes bread if the bakery down the street was closed. Sometimes that was dinner, and sometimes that was the post-dinner snack. For being a small store, they still had a whole aisle devoted to wine. The first time we went, I randomly grabbed a bottle of red, basically picking the cheapest thing that had a little sticker on it. The sticker means it won an award. This is not a foolproof method for choosing wine, as all you need to give out awards is a roll of stickers. But this wine, which cost $4 a bottle, was pretty fantastic. Josh in particular liked it, saying that we needed to buy up cases of the stuff and ship it back. We did not do that. I don't even remember the name of it, and we will likely never come across it again. There are tons of French wines that you can only buy in France, which is maybe why they're so cheap.

And we tried a lot of different cheeses. Josh introduced me to fancy cheeses when we first started dating. Before, my idea of fancy cheese was something that came in a block, rather than individually sliced and wrapped. My tastes are still not very sophisticated. I love those soft, buttery cheeses, but I can't handle anything too sour. When we were in Lyon, our friends gave us some Brie and dismissively said it was the stuff they give to kids, so my tastes are about as developed as a French kid's. French cheese was also ridiculously cheap, or maybe that's just at Leader Price.

At Leader Price, and probably a lot of other European stores, you don't get free bags. You bring your own or you can buy some from the store for some pittance. I'd bought Leader Price bags on two trips before I realized this. After that, I stopped saying "Yes, uh, I mean oui" when they asked if we wanted a bag and we just carried everything. But we still had those two bags, and I'd paid for them, dangit, so I was going to keep them. We used them to store our dirty clothes in our luggage.

When we got home, I didn't want to use our Leader Price bags the way we'd use a regular old Food Lion bag. I remembered something I saw on the internet about using plastic bags for iron-ons. I bought a plain t-shirt at Goodwill, trimmed the logo (the tutorial said it worked better if the iron-on was smaller than the surface of the iron), and made my own Paris souvenir. It is quite possibly the only Leader Price t-shirt in existence. People who bother to notice it will not know it is a souvenir of Paris, though they may wonder about the name.

Leader Price!