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I am a vegetarian.  I have been so for many years, since about 9th or 10th grade.  I stopped eating red meat in 8th grade, and easily tapered back on my fleshly intake, until I am became an ovo-lacto vegetarian.

I’m sure you, my literate blogdience, understand what it means to be a vegetarian.  It really shouldn’t be so hard.  I’m not talking about the finer points like gelatin, rennet, or honey.  I’m not debating ovo-lacto versus vegan versus raw foods and macrobiotic.  I’m not talking about 5th level vegans who don’t eat anything that casts a shadow.  I’m not even discussing vegetarian shoes and responsible resourced materials. 

I just mean the whole I-don’t-eat-meat thing.  It seems remarkably hard for people to understand.

“But you eat chicken and fish, right?”

In my book, animal = meat.  Chicken flesh = meat.  If you eat animal, animal died.  You eat it.  It is meat.  It sure didn’t grow out of the ground.  I’m not trying to get ethical, just definitional.  I think something has watered down the meaning of meat as people have shifted away from “red meat” into “alternative” meats.  They think they’re healthier for choosing chicken or fish.  Pork did that whole “other white meat” campaign to convince you it was healthy.  Yes, but still…the other white meat.  Carving up your turkey, you are offered white meat or dark meat, n’est-ce pas?  If it’s meat, I don’t eat.  Got it?  If it has eyes, it’s meat. 

“But what do you eat? Salad?”

It’s amazing to me how many foods can be vegetarianized simply by leaving out the meat.  Salad, for example.  Sadly, it’s getting hard to look at a menu and order a salad as is.  I often have to say “without the chicken/steak/beef tongue”.  Again, marketing has struck.  What’s a salad withouth triple meat?  You have to feel like you’re paying $7 for more than a few leaves of lettuce.  Break out of the lunchmeat rut, folks.  Pasta, soups, casseroles, lasagna, quiche, veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, eggs, dips, veggies.  And international cuisine is a haven for veggies, since in other cultures, meat, being very expensive, is reserved for special occasions.  Burritos, curries, pad thai, Chinese, sushi (yes, even sushi), rice-based dishes, sweet potatoes, frittatas, falafel, and more.  I’m not starving.  I’m really okay.

“But how do you get enough protein?”

This is usually followed up by cliché discussions about how I must consume huge quantities of eggs, nuts, peanut butter, and beans.  In reality, I bet the majority of meat-eating America is consuming too much protein.  Our “3 servings” of meat or meat alternatives are only supposed to amount to about 9 oz of protein per day.  Double quarter pounder?  And all this assumes protein is only found in so-called “meat alternatives”.  

Out of curiosity last night, I looked at our box of pasta we had for dinner.  7 g of protein (about 1 serving, thank you) in each serving of pasta.  Then we put some lovely Edam cheese on top, and served it with pasta sauce with fresh veggies.  Cheese?  Veggies?  Oh, yeah, they’re also a good source of protein.  My only issue with protein is other people’s insistence I’m not getting enough.

“Do you eat [gasp] tofu?”

Among other things, yes.  I do eat tofu.  Followed up by, “What does it taste like?” Well, nothing and everything.  Whatever you put it in, much like, I suppose, meat. 

Who really savors the flavor of unseasoned chicken?  Of steak withou the A1?  Of a burger without the fixins?  Meat’s main selling point is all those delicious flavors that have, by and large, been added.  This is how I can enjoy consuming such delicacies as “Philly Cheese Steak Potato Chips” (sadly no longer made) and “Buffalo Chicken pretzel bites” (Snyders makes these — awesome), and many convincing veggie substitutes for The Real Thing.  We’re talking meat balls, tacos, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese steaks, “steak”/”chicken” quesadillas, and General Tso’s mock chicken.  Many of these we make at home using a crumbled garden burger (which is really veggies, not so much on the soy end of the spectrum).  The flavoring in a taco is mostly the seasoning, folks. 

“But how does your husband cope?” or “What does he eat?!”

Umm, whatever we make for dinner.  I’m not the Susie Q. Homemaker here, providing whatever roots and bark I fancied to cook up.  We shop together, we cook together.  If he wants a burger, he makes a burger.  If he wants shrimp lo mein, he orders shrimp lo mein.  I used to think it would be hard to have a partner who would be disappointed if I couldn’t or wouldn’t cook meat for him.  Thanks to Mr. Apron, and his mother, I have learned 3 ways to make chicken, which I do for him on special occasions.  The other times, he makes it himself. 

Far more frequently, though, we share a meat-free meal.  And he does not want for flesh.  He actually has said, “Thanks to you [that’s me!] I’m going to live longer.”  Thanks to me, he now enjoys his favorite kind of veggie burger, and has expanded his love of vegetables and fruits.  I never force a thing on him, and he doesn’t feel deprived. 

A single friend of mine is a vegan, and she is still ardently looking for a vegan husband (or one who would go vegan for her, she says).  If she finds one ready-made, good for her.  But would you really want to have forced someone onto your team, forced them into a lifestyle they may not agree with, just to satisfy you and make your pantry a little easier to stock?  Would you really want to base your partnership on one piece of compatibility?  That sounds more like looking for a roommate.

When Mr. Apron wants meat, he makes turkey burgers, or bakes chicken, or orders take-out.  He gets enough meat, and I’d say he gets more. 

“Do you eat eggs and dairy products?

Finally, an intelligent question I am happy to answer.  Yes I do.  I am not a vegan.  I do enjoy those products very much.  To me, vegetarianism is a diet choice, one that does not have to impact every aspect of my lifestyle.  I can go to most restaurants and find something to eat.  I have eaten well at the Capital Grill in Boston and at a seafood shack in the Midcoast of Maine.  I survived rural Spain and southern France.  I was inundated by the choices I faced on menus on the island of Bali.  From England to New York City to small town America, I do okay, though we do occasionally make the joke that, if Mr. Apron wants to have seafood at The Shore, that I’ll only be able to eat the tablecloth.

Veganism seems more like a lifestyle choice than simply a diet.  What car are you buying?  It had better not have a leather-wrapped steering wheel.  What shoes are you wearing to the wedding?  They’d better be synthetic.  I want to bake her cookies for her birthday, but I can’t use eggs or butter.  Guess how dense they turned out?  And don’t even get me started on checking labels.  If it says “whey” it’s out.  If it says “lecithin” it’s out, because it could be dairy or soy.  If it says “casein” it’s out.  You’ve even got to check your calcium supplement source to make sure it wasn’t milk-derived.  One visit we ended up at a deli, and all my friend found to eat was a bagel with jelly. 

That doesn’t seem like the joyful experience we want to have when we sit down to eat with friends.  I want ask her, “What do you eat?”

As I was cleaning out my desk (just moving down the hall — nothing too serious), I found  a scrap of paper I made some notes on about brain surgery items I hadn’t yet addressed.  So you get a story about my whomping stick.

When I was trying to get discharged from the hospital, I had to prove to the PT folks that I could walk, or something like that.  After my surgery, I’d lost all function in my left arm/hand, and had been in a hospital bed for nearly a week.  Also recall that balance is a function monitored and controlled in the brain, and my brain was, um, a little “off”.  A little sore having been cut open that week.

I stood up, I shuffled out to the hallway.  I walked.  I didn’t fall, but I did rely heavily on the wall on my left side.  As in, I was leaning on it and sliding along as I strolled.  That would not do, the PT declared.  I was indignant.  They had only said I had to prove I could walk.  They said nothing about walking upright or unsupported.  Blessedly, she passed over the walker she’d brought with her, and handed me a cane.  Somehow, holding a cane in my right hand (left hand = useless) helped me lean less to the left.  I don’t understand it.  I’m no physiatrist.  I guess that’s why I’m a speech pathologist.  Somehow it helped. 

I left the hospital in a wheelchair, though equipped with a wooden cane (cut down from its original height to fit my munchkin stature).  I left the hospital AMA, which was why I had to “prove” myself to the staff.  It was a Saturday, and I’d been told there’d be no chance of discharge on Sunday, when even bustling university hospitals go to skeleton staffs.  This whole mess had started on Friday, when some dum-dum got my hopes up by saying I might be discharged on Saturday.  In the world of being an inpatient post-surgery, that magical D-word is a light at the end of the tunnel. It signifies an end to the endless lack of sleep, the constant poking and prodding and the revolving door of med students eager to practice neuro tests.  One more day?  That’s an eternity when you’ve lost track of time.  I could not bear the thought of staying till Monday.  I needed out.  Now.

So I busted out, first proving myself on my feet, then proving I had adequate supports at home (2 steps to enter the house, one boyfriend to care for me, one parent [or two] to make sure I didn’t fall, etc.), and finally proving I could pee on my own.  Peeing on your own is a beautiful thing, even if you’re scared to death you’re going to crash to the floor (or into the garbage can) as you try to stand up from the toilet.  Ask me how I know. 

So they let me out.  I only puked one time on the car ride home.  As I entered the door, exhausted by the journey, I smelled that “home” smell, a mixture of dog, and old carpet, and familiar foods, and, sadly, mouse poop (though the critters wouldn’t reach critical mass for several more months).  I spotted the couch, and made a beeline for it, saying, “I”m going down.”  The dog sniffed me, mystified by the odor of hospital, dried blood, and nast that had collected all over my body.  Still I was home.

I couldn’t sleep that first night, so I hobbled down the hall, and slid down the stairs on my ass, bump bump bump, to watch mind-numbing “Blind Date”, a perennial favorite of insomniacs.  Finally, mind sufficiently numbed, I crawled back upstairs and found my sleeping boyfriend. 

The rest of the weekend was a little scary, with my balance still unsteady.  I took a spill on the futon, and my parents watched me like hawks, flanking my sides as I took my therapeutic walks around the block.  Each day I walked farther and farther (though I still can’t tell the different between further and farther), until one day the three of us made a half-mile trek to the nearest Starbucks, where I partook in the one beverage I was allowed to have — ice water. 

I remember thinking to myself at one point, as I had grown stronger and stronger, and felt more and more human, that even if I had left the hospital AMA, I would now be home anyway.  I would now be well enough anyway.  That twinge of guilt and recklessness I felt (only psychopaths leave AMA, right?), even as I advocated for what I thought was best for my overall well-being, faded as I realized it was all water under the bridge.

My goal was to feel human enough to go to the 4th of July fireworks, a date not even 2 full weeks post-surgery.  My sister had planned to be in town for that “shift” of care-taking, and I was really looking forward to it.  I needed to use that outing as a benchmark for healing and recovery.  I met my goal.

My sister helped me glue pink ribbon in a spiral around my cane, just to dress it up a bit.  And we went to the fireworks.  We staked out a huge chunk of grass for our blanket and got there early.  By the time the festivities were about to start, people had filled in not only all around us, but some rogue teens had decided it would be okay to sit on the perimeter of our blanket.  I was quite ticked, but withheld my wrath, as I was not supposed to get excited, lest it raise my blood pressure. 

I can’t remember how exactly my cane earned the moniker “Whomping Stick”, but I do remember holding it menacingly as people threatened to come nearer and nearer to our coveted blanket.  I must have looked a little like Frankenstein as I made my way over to get a drink, teetering back and forth clumsily as I stomped on top of everyone else’s blankets, trying to keep my footing on the unsteady ground. 

Later that week we were passing by a strip mall which contains those teenage necessities — a salon, next door to a tanning place, next door to a nail place.  This one also contained a Barbizon modeling “school”.  It consisted of two rooms, one for reception and waiting, I guess, and one for the try-outs, or something.  At any rate, this being a strip mall, we could see in both rooms.  We paused, “reading” the information offered by the signage.  We moved along to the try-out room.  Some girls inside noticed us.  I smiled as wide as my left, paralyzed side would allow, and bowed my head down deeply so they could see my headband scar.  Then, like the hooligans we are, we took off as fast as my hobbling would allow, cackling hysterically at how frightened the poor beauty queen wannabees must have been. 

From Jade Monfils, on the Barbizon site:

“Barbizon enhanced my life by making me feel good about myself on the inside and the way that I appear on the outside.”

I wonder if they could have done that for me? 

From their FAQs:

Do you accept everyone?
The answer is No. All prospects must meet certain requirements including a personal interview and evaluation to determine if they possess the qualities and dedication that Barbizon is looking for.

I wonder if my 38 cranial staples and pink striped Whomping Stick were “qualities…Barbizon is looking for”?

A while ago, I lamented our horrific attempts at home improvement, including dying phlox, a shelf that forgot how to assemble itself, and “unbreakable” switch plate covers that somehow did not fit the light switches.  I have since uncovered the truth about all 3 things. 

1) The phlox was deluged on a fairly regular basis by dog urine owing to lazy dog owners who shoo the creature out front for his last pee, rather than leash him and take him down to the curb to kill the neighbors’ grass.  He enjoys the phlox. 

2) The shelf had fit together perfectly before.  Then we made each board thicker with two coats of primer/paint.  It no longer fit so nicely.  Our closet-builder friend recommended that we take the tedious step of sanding when the boards’ “swelling” (my first hope was bloating due to the shelf having its period) didn’t go down.  We sanded.  We grunted.  We dealt soft blows with a hammer on a piece of scrap wood so we didn’t split any more boards.  The shelf is up.  It’s full of books and gorgeous.

3) The fucking switch plates.  When our kitchen was designed/remodeled in 1465, switch plates were a standard size.  When we went to Home Depot and bought brand-new unbreakable vinyl ones in 2009, they were also a standard size.  A bigger standard size — one designed to cover more wall, more mistakes from the painter, more half-assed switch box assemblies.  Thus, the sconce which was not too close to the switch in 1465, is now too close to the switch.  Mr. Apron took some scary-looking wire-cutters to the plate.  And now it “fits”. 

The latest saga again involves — you guessed it — switch plates.  Because we’re gluttons for punishment.  We like to fail at our home improvement attempts, no matter how small. 

The walls in downstairs painted, we decded to replace the ugly granny switch plates with new ones.  Mr. Apron, being the bridge-brained beau that he is, fixated on some ceramic switch plates at Anthropologie we’d seen a while back.  On our next trip there, we scanned the hardware section to no avail.  Disappointed, we traipsed back to the sale section, where I played among the racks, and he scoured the tables of tchotchkes, including books about fashion, French pick-up sticks, hair pins, scarves, and dishtowels.  Guess what he found?  Two double switch plates, in the exact design he’d wanted.  And.  On.  Sale. 

Huzzah!  Took them home only to realize our electrical system had not been updated since the house was built, and our light switches did not fit in the slots.  We don’t have the hundred year old push button switches, nor the modern “decor” rocker switches, nor the boring, usual switches.  What we have looks like the ordinary switch, but is just slightly thicker.  Enough so that it won’t fit through the rectangular slot of our snazzy new Anthro plates. 

The electrician came about something more pressing (I think “fire hazard” was a word the home inspector used), and I begged Mr. Apron to ask him to replace our switches, as trivial as it probably might sound to an electrician.

He did it yesterday. 

Take two.  I came home, and, craving some pride in accomplishment,  immediately went looking for the switch plates.  Only they were nowhere to be found.  Now I’m not the cleanest person in the world, and I’m not so organized (except at work, where the other SLP and I just organized the office supply closet, and it’s freakin’ awesome), but Mr. Apron’s style of cleaning leaves me, ummm, frustrated sometimes.  He cleans out his car by taking a black plastic trash bag, filling it with junk, and stashing it in the trunk of the car, or our garage.  Are you surprised I thought my grandma’s quilt had been the victim of an unmarked trashbag and pitched in a feverish cleaning spree?  House cleaning is also challenging.  Much as I try to bite my tongue and not say, “Where did you put the..?” I am often wondering the same thing. 

So, after tearing the house apart yesterday, from top to bottom, looking every place we could have logically stashed the switch plates, Mr. Apron finally uncovered them.  In the kitchen.  In a bag.  Stashed in the dog food cupboard.  Because company was  coming 2 weeks ago, and he needed to hide our clutter. 

Take three: installation.  I located 4 cast off screws from the former switch plate and dropped them into the new plate.  They fell right through.  That’s right, folks; the heads were too small because artsy fartsy Anthropologie switch plates have non-standard sized holes.  Off to the hardware store.

ACE hardware was inexplicable closed at 5:25pm Monday.  True Value is not really a hardware store any more because they used to be 3 different variety stores, and now they’re condensed into one store that simultaneously carries everything and nothing.  Not a loose screw to be found — just packets of useless hardware we couldn’t try out on our switch plate.

Sears hardware did not want to sell us anything.  Though they had a nice hardware aisle with tons of metal thingies, there was not a soul to help us.  Two ladies staffed the register, and no one else was to be found.   After failing to find a screw with the same circumference and a larger head on our own, we meandered through the deseted aisles, perusing gas ranges, air conditioners, caulk, and small children mouthing hardware bits.  Finally, I spied an employee. 

“Quick!  There’s one!  Get him!”  I whispered to Mr. Apron.

Johnny Hardware had about as much luck as we did on our own finding our Perfect Screw.  I took frequent breaks to disappear from the insanity as he kept opening drawer after drawer.  Finally, there was a breakthrough.  Johnny Hardware suggested using our existing screws (or ones with a slightly longer shank) with washers to keep their little heads from falling through the holes. 

By the time we finished with Mr. Hardware and tried to check out, we’d discovered both check-out bitches had disappeared, leaving a growing line of confonded would-be customers.  I swear, the store doesn’t want to sell us things. 

We  finally returned home around 7pm with 8 screws and 8 washers, and a motion detector flood light kit for our next hopeful project.  Installation pretty much sucked because the plates are extra thick and — have I mentioned? — non standard.  I could see Mr. Apron’s fist curl as we kept dropping screws under the radiator and struggling for some decent light to see by.  Finally, they were in.   And beautiful.  They really do match the colors of the room. 

But our success is not without reservation.  The one by the door is such a tight fit that it now requires Arnold Schwarzenegger to flip the switch.  One day we’ll take it off and sand it down.  For now, we’ll suffer, suffer in success or a job that took entirely too much of our collective energy and money.

Well, there is one good thing about working during the summer — air conditioning.  Specifically, free functional air conditioning that makes the office icily cool, and I don’t (directly) pay for it.  If I worked from home, or had off during the summer, I’d have to either spend copious amounts of time in the library and Starbucks and Ikea, or else pay for the air conditioner to get fixed/replaced.

Our home came with 4 units — 2 window units in the larger bedrooms, and 2 wall units.  I shall explain this “wall unit” phenomenon.  Somewhere along the line, someone decided that the eye sore of having a box sticking out the window that you were supposed to remove every winter was worse than having a box jutting out from a rectangular hole carved into the house.  At least this one you can’t remove in the winter.  I think we’re supposed to cover the wall units with “blankies” in the winter to keep the air from moving back and forth and trying to heat the outdoors in January.  So we have two wall units — one in the kitchen, useful for counteracting the fiery inferno that emanates from our oven whenever we use it.  Seriously, I don’t think they knew how to insulate ovens in 1980.  You can’t touch the oven door when it’s on.  And the gas range, as great as it is for cooking, generates a fair bit of radiant heat because — hello! — it is afterall a fire, in the house.  The other wall unit sticks out from a point in the dining room near enough to the large doorway to the living room that it’s supposed to cool both rooms.  It is a large beast, and I’m sure in its day, the BTUs were quite sufficient. 

Today, however, the Emerson Quiet Kool is neither quiet (think jet engine mixed with weed whacker) nor cool.  That’s right; it no longer blows air that is any cooler than the air already in the house.  We already have a fan.  So in the largest part of the house, where we spend a good deal of time, we have no cooling “system”.  The kitchen unit can’t begin to touch those areas because it’s an L-shape, and the A/C is at the far end of the L.  My mother, who was visiting last weekend, brought the defective unit to our attention quite, um, frequently.  Subsequent phone conversations have focused on What To Do About The Air Conditioner.  We’ll get it fixed, I insist.  I know it’s broken.  I don’t need any evidence or further nagging.  I get it.  We were all hot last weekend during the heat wave.  We’ll get it fixed.

Except that Mr. Apron called some HVAC guys, and they said that they do not (nor will anyone else) come out to a house to fix window units, wall units, or any individual units.  This is indeed a wasteful society.  Our A/C is disposable?  We sure as hell can’t yank it our of the wall to take it into “the shop”, if such a thing even existed.  We’d be left with a gaping hole 20′” x 25″ in our house, open to all sorts of feral cats, killer moths, and local hoodlums using preschoolers to break into houses through their ventilation systems and dog doors.  So essentially, it is disposable.  I guess we buy a new one, pray it fits, then get some thugs to install it (something that size must weight 100lb), and hope it lasts another 25 years.  Until we have to find a new thug to rip that one out and start all over again.

It angers me greatly that all sorts of things are now considered disposable, or not worth fixing.  Granted, anything new will be much more energy efficient, but what if we could pay 20% of a new one, and get it fixed?  What if it were as simple as a freon recharge?  I used to do that for my first car when it stopped blowing cold air.  I didn’t junk it the first time it stopped working.  Seems like cars are the only thing we do fix.  Unless you’re thinking of Cash for Clunkers, in which case we’re destroying not only serviceable cars, but already runningcars that home-schooling Mennonite and Chassidic families could use for their litters of children.  We throw away shoes when the heels are worn; we pitch shirts when they lose a button or pants when a pocket tears.  We pitch toasters, VCRs, DVD players, ipods, mixers, lamps, and vibrators when they stop working.  We return dogs to shelters when they grow up too big, or require too much attention.  Cell phones have planned obsolescence built right in to the 2 year agreement.  All the analog TVs that are now clogging landfills and thrift shops as a result of the FCC’s tryst with the cable companies have, yet again, designed a way for the working things to become tomorrow’s waste.   I saw in the drug store “disposable” sippy cups.  What makes them single-use?  It’s not that they’re a Dixie plate that soaks through with the usual load of spaghetti and meatballs.  It’s that they’re labeled as such, sanctioning their becoming trash when they’re as easily washed and reused as the next cup. 

I want to be able to fix our wall unit.  I want it to be cool in our house.  But when the HVAC assholes charge $79.99 just to have a look-see, it’s hardly worth anyone’s time or money, unfortunately.  Maybe what we need is to start a revolution in the trade school sector.  Just as some folks donate junk cars to auto-repair school, maybe we could start donating our old A/C units to HVAC schools, our old shoes to cobbler apprenticers, our old appliances to Aspergian children desperate to disassemble mechanical bits.  At least it would keep things out of the land fills.  I can’t tell if it’s actually a good idea; maybe my brain is just fried from the heat.

–cold showers after a hot day of sweating

–crazy-ass thunderstorms

–fireflies, and finally living in a climate warm enough to have fireflies

–cicadas

–being able to eat ice cream all the time

–having said ice cream delivered to the door via the Ice Cream Truck

–summer concerts on the grass, though I could get by without the accompanying mosquitoes

–sprinklers.  The water is always too cold and grass sticks to your feet. 

–being able to wear sandals, and leaving my sock drawer closed for weeks on end.

–watermelon.

–sitting out on the porch

And one I don’t like:

–working through the summer.  I haven’t had a day off since the 4th of July, but Mr. Apron and I are taking the first week of September (before Labor Day) and leaving the heat of the city behind.  And maybe someday I’ll have a job that gives me back the halcyon days of summer to enjoy as  I please.

I was last “popular” in 5th grade.  And I really was.  I remember girls fighting to sit next to me on the Computer Bus (mobile computer lab housed in former school bus, ‘cuz we were cool like that).  That was my peak.  Something weird happened in 6th grade, and the 2 girls I considered my best friends became popular, while I did not.  They instantly made friends with the kids who had come from other schools, and I hung back.  Throughout middle school, when a New Kid would arrive at school, I would study him/her to try to detect what made him/her able to effortlessly assimilate with the cool kids, or be doomed to hang onto the fringes of adolescent society.  I never quite figured it out, but I guessed it had something to do with my clothing and my hair.  I knew they were all wearing jeans, Coed Naked shirts, Umbros, and those color-blocked V-neck sweaters, and I was not.  I was wearing leggings, sweatshirts, and “Don’t sweat the small stuff” t-shirts.  I knew I still had my long hair in multiple scrunchies, and they did not.

In high school, I had two different groups of friends, which kept me quite content (plus a bonus group in marching band — it was clear I was never going to achieve popularity), and I often found myself torn between them.  If several of us had lunch at the same time, I had to choose, as a few of one group couldn’t stand a few of the other, and I was their common link.  We were a motley crew, but there were common bonds, namely, each group had gone to middle school and even elementary school with its members, save me.  I had just moved to town in 9th grade, and I was lucky to have made friends at all.  As with any new group, I missed out on the stories of childhood, the inside jokes about common experiences and shared teachers, but that was inevitable. 

One group of my buddies kept in touch solidly throughout the first year of college.  All 8 of us e-mailed the group constantly, developing new jokes and keeping abreast of what the others were doing.  Two of the girls — Sonja and Jessica — went to college not a half-hour’s drive from me, and I probably saw them twice in the three years we were there together.  Every now and then I get a random phonecall.  The last time I spoke to Tim, it was when he called asking me how to tell if food was kosher, because they were hosting an observant Jew, and, being Taiwanse, he didn’t have a clue where to begin.  I explained how to look for the hechshers — kosher marks —  on the packages.  That was it.  I haven’t kept track if he has graduated medical school yet.  Though he did come to Philly once, to visit me and Jessica.  Soon after I moved to the area, she had landed a position with Teach for America, teaching in Camden, and living across the river, in Philly.  In those 2 years, I saw her twice.  I didn’t even know she’d moved to Trenton, or wherever it is, until my Valentine card came back Return-to-Sender.  Emily, another friend, sent me a gift for my birthday freshman year of college, and I haven’t heard much from her, except some Facebook lament about “how horrible a friend” she has been.  Friendship is a two-way street, for sure.  I haven’t exactly made huge overtures, or held dinner parties at my home with the excuse of seeing my old friends. 

In 1998, the summer before senior year of high school, 3 of us did an 8-week long summer school program at Harvard whereby we took 2 classes, and generally just hung out all summer.  One weekend, Jessica and I went down to New Haven, to take an optimistic tour at Yale.  We stayed with her aunt, and somehow ended up looking at her wedding photos.  I can’t remember specifically if her high school buddies were or weren’t at her wedding.  It doesn’t really matter; however we did muse how sad it would be if high school friends (as close as we were that summer, and throughout high school) weren’t at each other’s weddings.  Okay, fine, so she’s a bit of a flake, and has always been “transportation challenged” (hence 2 visits [on my steam] in 3 years of college, and 2 visits [on my steam] to see her in her 2 years in Philly), but I still wanted to think of her as a good friend, and to maintain our friendship that long.

So I invited her — the whole gang, really — to my wedding in 2006.  Even 2 people I’d lost touch with showed up as each other’s “dates”.  They even tracked down my junior prom date and dragged him halfway across the country.  Let me count — Sonja, Emily, Narith, Moira, Jessica, Tim, Mike, Ben, Valerie, Mim — ten people made it out here, a large contingent of them from Minnesota.  They stayed in a hotel and came to my pumpkin-carving girls’ night.  They were here.  They came to show love and support and celebration. 

Last summer I saw on Facebook (which seems to be my news source these days) that Mim had gotten engaged to her long-time boyfriend.  I sent the usual wall-post, and she said the wedding would be sometime this year (2009).  I noticed last night, becuase Jessica had tagged me in some app or another, that she’d also tagged Mim.  And that Mim had a very different last name than the one she used to have.  She’d gotten married.  And I wasn’t invited.  Maybe it was a small wedding?  Maybe she didn’t invite high school friends?  Maybe it was just family?  Facebook with the answer.  I browsed through all 88 wedding photos on her FB page, and saw at least 3 easily identifiable buddies (of the 10 who came to my wedding) in the crowd of the not-so-small wedding out . 

I was the first of “our group” to get married, so there haven’t been any other weddings that I could be invited (or not) to.  I won’t pretend I wasn’t hurt.  I just feel so out-of-the-loop it makes me wonder if I have been in-the-loop since we graduated high school.  Many of us went out-of-state for college, but they always came home for vacations, or for impromptu reunions.  My family moved away, and I didn’t go back much to visit.  I was an outsider when I moved there for high school, and I’m once again an outsider from the place I called home for 4 years.

My 10th high school reunion is coming up in October.  I’m not lamenting how old I am, or how depressed I’d be to see how accomplished my classmates are, or how jealous I’d be to see them fabulously happy (after all, I am married to the best man in the world).  I’m not going, because I’m not sure who I’d want to see.  The other friends I want to see, I already do keep in touch with.  I can go visit them anytime I want to brave the Midwest again.  I’m not ready to go and not be popular again.  I’m not ready to not remember names or classes, or hang-outs.  I’m not ready to face friends who didn’t invite me to their wedding.  It would just make me too sad.  And that’s not what friends are for. 

My mother collects friends everywhere we go.  She has made it her personal mission to track them all in her address book, which is so overstuffed with irreplaceable information and histories of lives we call it the Brown Bible.  She is the proto-Facebook, sending honey cakes for the Jewish New Year, Valentines to her inner circle of girlfriends, and alway having a couch to crash on in whatever major city or rural region she happens to be passing through.  I’m not sure if these people reciprocate.  I know some of them don’t — being flakey — so she gets ticked when they don’t acknowlege birthday gifts or whatnot.  Yet they stay on her list. 

I have a list, too.  I send out Valentines each year.  Mr. Apron and I have been amassing our collective contact list and it now reaches into the mid 70s.  This year I looked at that set of 10 friends who were at the wedding, but whom I haven’t heard from since, and I cut them.  With postage being what it is, and not receiving any acknowledgment of our whimsical Valentines (others post them on their fridges, or keep files of our cards for their novelty value — that’s how cool they are), I just didn’t feel like putting in the effort, if they couldn’t even manage a Facebook or text: “thx 4 the vday card”.  Was that what got me cut from the group?  Or have I not really been a part of them for 10 years?  Why did they come to my wedding?  Was that a show of pity?  Or of nostalgia?  I miss them.  I don’t have a lot of friends in the area.  I guess I miss feeling a part of the group, of feeling like I had those friends, whether or not it was true.

So, congratulations, Mim.  I wish you every married happiness I have known with Mr. Apron.

I have now been at the New Center since July 28th.  I have had some time to adjust to the quirks, the differences, the way of the world, so to speak.  Well, the way of the world is going along swimmingly, the majority of the time.  I do have some complaints, like the one computer with word processing for all teachers and therapy staff to use.  None of the kid computers have MS Word, so the teachers have to write IEPs in the therapy office.  I’m not being territorial; it’s one computer for 14 teachers and 3 therapists.  It seems a little weird. 

It’s very dangerous to begin my next gripe, because, in the scheme of things, it’s not so bad.  Some might argue it’s a blessing, or might tell me just to suck it up and be content with the way things are.  Here’s the situation: at my old center, I arrived promptly at 7:52am, or thereabouts, for the day to start at 8:00am.  The administrative assistant was always there early, and some teachers were, too, having caught an early bus.  Children arrived around 8:30am (even the bus was getting there more or less on time), and therapy could begin. Here, the day begins at 8:30am.  The teachers are straggling in at 8:30am.  The kids are also scheduled to arrive at 8:30am, but the buses don’t often arrive till 9:00am.  So I can’t begin therapy till then.  But I still technically have to be able to see as many kids.  It’s not only my eagerness to do my work.  Oh, no.  It’s my eagerness to be let into the building.  The therapy office (where I stow my gear, stash my lunch, and do my paperwork) is separate from the classrooms, and operates on a different key, different alarm, different everything.  So even if teachers and secretary are there, my building may be still Fort Knox’d up.  As it was this morning.  The social worker arrived at 9:00am, as she is supposed to, and we were waiting in the blazing heat until then.  Of course, the secretary came in late, or not at all.  The program director (the only other person with a key) was nowhere to be found.  At 9:00am, we were let in.  Barely enough time to crank up the A/C, having been sweating our brains out on the hot porch for a half-hour.  Then we went into therapy marathon.  At least I had high absenteeism today, or I never would have seen my kids. 

I’m used to promptness being rewarded.  Mr. Apron has schooled me in this way of thinking, and he’s usually right.  Show up early to a job interview, and they think you’re conscientous and dependable.  Show up early for a doctor’s appointment, and you may get seen early.  Mr. Apron has many times been seen by the doctor and left the building before his actual scheduled time.  Yet in this case, showing up early means either standing on the sweltering porch while the engine from the food truck idles diesel fumes 2 feet away, or burn gasoline sitting in the air-conditioned car for anywhere from 10-40 minutes.  Neither is very appealing.  On a day without children, it’s not so bad, since there’s no rush on therapy, and those days have a more relaxed atmosphere anyway.  But on a day when school is in session, it’s very inconvenient, not to mention unprofessional. 

I’ve been told we’re getting keys.  I’m not sure if we’re getting the magic deadbolt key that opens the shop, or just the bottom lock that opens it during business hours.  And as for alarm codes, a part of me doesn’t want to know those sacred numbers.  Ever.  Because then one can be called upon to open, to close, to take on increased responsibility.  I can do that in therapy.  I’d be happy to take on a student in speech pathology, or to train people in something I’m good at (like creating Excel schedules, or making sock monkeys).  I just don’t want extra accountability with the facility itself. 

It’s a toss-up.  Am I rewarded for my promptness if it means I get a key and a code and can let the whole world into the building, or am I content with the facility’s excuse as to why I didn’t see my first kid until 9:15 am today?  With great power comes great responsibility, and I’m not sure I want that.

When I was a child, tween adolescent, teenager, college student — well, let’s face it, my whole life-long — my brother has bothered me.  However puerile and low-hitting I may have been (or continue to be), his brand of humor never fails to sink lower.  I recall my mother’s futile advice to ignore him and he’d just go away.  He never followed that rule.  Ignoring him just made him try harder, till he knew he’d hit his mark.  One time specifically, I’d taken a nap on the couch.  He and a friend had discovered one of the assorted keyboards we had around the house.  This one actually had batteries and a volume adjustment.  It probably had synthesized “guitar” “cymbals” and “accordian”, too, if I’m remembering correctly.  They started by playing in my ear at a moderate level, just for kicks, to try to wake me up.  When I feigned continued sleep, this only instigated them further, till they were blasting at full power horrid strains of adolescent angst.  And it actually hurt.  I’m not sure what would havee been a better choice at that moment, waking up suddenly, startling them and yelling, “FUCKTARDS!” in their shocked, yet no-doubt delighted faces?  Not sure that would have helped.

Mr. Apron, too, has a middle sibling of the opposite gender with a personality strikingly similar to that of my brother’s — self-important, self-centered, self-involved.  I think if we locked the two of them in a room together, we’d at last unleash the true potential of nuclear fusion.  Well, I’d like to save you some of the gorier, more personal details (though I loves me some gossip), but my sister-in-law (whom I will continue to call “Bianca”), is having the fetus extracted in September, so she and her boyfriend figured on getting married to make it all legit and shit, they’re having a hoagie celebration tomorrow after the hitchin’. 

Me: Do we have to get them a gift?

Mr. Apron: She didn’t get us one.

Me: Let’s ask your mother.

We saw the MIL on Saturday and asked if we’d be expected to get a gift.

Mr. Apron: Do we have to get Bianca and Baby Daddy a wedding gift?

MIL: Well, it is a wedding.

Mr. Apron: She didn’t get us one.

MIL: Do what you want.

As we were walking away, he turned to me and said, “Well, you know what this means, right?”  “Yeah,” I said.  “We’re getting her a gift.”

Why?  You might ask.  Why, after I”ve already made and stocked a custom, gorgeous diaper bag and held my tongue on countless occasions to avoid being estranged from her side of the family?  Why do we have to take the high road, do the right thing, and never receive the appreciation we are due?  We will never get so much as a thank-you note or a text (which is, incidentally, how Mr. Apron found out he was going to be an uncle.  High class, indeed.).  Why should we bother?   Why should I schlepp around to half a dozen stores seeking out components for a thoughtful, individualized wedding gift when they only announced their “engagement” and subsequent “marriage” on Friday morning?  A registry?  For a shot-gun marriage like this?  Please. 

Because we have to continue to play our roles in the family.  We have to be better than that, to hold up a standard of the right thing to do.  Or at least we try.  Not that we always do the proper thing. I like to spread the viral family gossip just as fast as I can.  Afterall, what else is a blog for, if not to trash your family anonymously!

Many years ago, I set some goals for myself.  I had no idea if they were realistic or worthy, but I set three specific goals.

1.  To become fluent in a foreign language.  If I set this goal in middle school, I would have been just starting to learn French.  I don’t think I knew my aptitude for languages back then.  I knew I liked my French teacher (Mme. Beauharnois), and fluency in a language I was starting seemed like a reasonable goal.  At the time, my family was living in Upstate New York.  The Real Upstate.  None of this Westchester or Buffalo nonsense.  We’re talking 7 hours due north of New York City.  Our nearest big city was Montreal.  Therefore, French also seemed useful.  Now, of course, I am nowhere near the French-speaking pockets in this country or any other. Spanish has become the vogue language to pick up as a second tongue.  The majority of my students whose parents do not speak English, speak Spanish.  I did not have that foresight in 7th grade, but I did figure on a second language being a useful thing.

2.  To have a book published.  Following alongside my linguistic penchants, authoring a book seemed a noble task.  I knew I’d have my whole lifetime to figure this one out.  I wasn’t picky — an illustrated children’s story, the Great American Novel, a non-fiction reference book, some professional writing — I just wanted to be published.  I think authors have a quiet kind of fame, which also appealed to me.  They’re not recognized in the street or the grocery store, or followed by paparazzi, but they are known in name, and respected.  As a child, I wrote to some authors when we were required to in school.  Before my brain surgery, I read a book by Suzy Becker about her own brain surgery, and I was moved to write to her care of her publisher.  She not only wrote back; she called.  I seek to achieve that level of coolness that I ascribe to them.

3.  To learn to juggle.  Silly?  Ridiculous?  Not really.  I’m not the world’s most coordinated or athletic person.  I did gymnastics for a while but quit when my friends quit because no one wants to be in a class without friend.  I made it as far as a hesitant back-walkover, but only while on a slight declining slope.  Unfortunately, I never got to the elusive handsprings, and my back-walkover skill was not meant to stay.  I can barely do a forward somersault anymore.   Juggling seemed like a cool skill, not requiring much flexibility or agility, but something that, once you figured out, was locked into your hands’ lexicon forever.  Klutz published a juggling book for kids.  If it was targeted at kids, surely I could figure it out by the time I died.  Right?

So, would you like to know how I have done so far?  I’m 27, and my goals have had 15 years or so to ripen. 

1.  I do consider myself fluent in French.  I don’t have much opportunity to practice anymore.  My conversational partners have been living on different continents of late, and I haven’t been to France (or Francophone Canada, for that matter), since 2000.  Still, I have retained enough to tutor French for the past few years, so my retention of grammar can’t be that bad.  I’m sure the vocabulary would come back to me.  Here’s my new goal though — I am trying to learn Spanish for work.  Mr. Apron has taught me, informally, how to conjugate regular verbs in the present and past tense, and he teaches me new words daily.  Today’s was cebolla, the word for onion.  I’m not sure how being able to say, “I ate the onion” will help in preschool speech pathology, but it’s all part of the greater goal.

(Una nota del editor: “Comé la cebolla.”  Gracias por dios.)

2. The book deal has not yet come.  I see my greatest opportunity to write about my brain surgery.  Hence, I have started blogging about my surgery experience, but it is slow going, and very emotionally exhausting.  I told myself, going into surgery, I would write down all the details as they were happening, so wouldn’t forget a single procedure, a single nurse’s name, a single rehab landmark.  When I emerged from surgery, my glasses were MIA and I had developed double vision.  I could only read with my right eye closed.  Needless to say, I did not chronicle much.  I have written text for a children’s book which aims to cover the topic of brain surgery.  It’s on the level of a 5-8 year old, I think.  There are now some children’s books about medical conditions and procedures, and I haven’t yet found one about brain surgery.  The goal continues.

3.  Not a chance.  Especially because of my surgery, my left hand just doesn’t do what I tell it to in the same way my right hand does.  My movements are not as fluid, not as strong.  I had to relearn how to button my clothing, how to type on a keyboard, how to hold a shopping bag.  I’m sure learning to juggle would be very therapeutic, but that level of coordination is, alas, beyond my reach at this time.  I can’t even text using two thumbs. 

Do you have goals?  Or objectives on your bucket lists?  My father’s goal, as he told me when I interviewed him some years ago, was to become a father before he was 40.  I helped him accomplish that goal by being born when he was 39 years, 7 months, and 29 days old.  Go me!