Monday, December 29, 2008


Sometimes, for fun, I like to go on Craigslist and search for an apartment. Not necessarily in Jacksonville, or even in Florida. It's kind of fun to see what the going rate is for a 2 bedroom house in Idaho with a mountain view, or a cottage on Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland. I have no intentions of moving to any of these places. It's just fun. Almost like browsing through a travel brochure from the (-insert touristy place here-) Conventions & Visitors Bureau.

I've lived in a few places. Two countries, four states, ten cities, and sixteen homes (to be exact). And I've loved and hated something about almost every single one of them.

For example, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, is portrayed in the media as a highly secure yet welcoming Presidential home base. Here is where I, a clueless and unappreciative teenager, met foreign dignitaries, Desert Storm heroes, General Shalishkashvili, and a Vice President named Quayle. For years I lived among jet pilots and doctors and security agents who probably spent a good number of days armed to the teeth. This is also where I was dumped into the most fucked up education system in the country and thrown to the wolves while our base commander refused to help us better our drug-/gang-/violence-ridden school for fear that the PG County Schoolboard would lose $2,000 for every military-dependent student who dropped out. $3,000 if that student was white! I graduated from Crossland High School having never been shot or stabbed but I am instead weighed down by a massive chip on my shoulder. It's still there. Can ya tell?

Another example would be Gainesville, Florida. Oh, this town is a great place to live! Seriously. There is hardly any major crime, just your usual run-of-the-mill drugs, drunk drivers, robberies...things like that. Gainesville has a top-notch education system and is probably the only city in North Florida that doesn't cut down monstrous numbers of oak trees for sport. It's a college town. This is the good and bad thing about Gainesville. It's a college town. A quiet place during the summer months where one can drive on Archer Road without fear of getting plowed into by some freakin' asshole (aka college freshman). Gator Football reigns supreme in these here parts and Coach Urban Meyer is referred to as God. In my six years of Gator Hell, I slowly and completely developed a hatred for all things Orange and Blue. Get a life, people.

So as I rummage through Craigslist for a place to live if I ever move to Stowe, Vermont, or the Black Hills of South Dakota, I'm reminded of my childhood up north. And when I say up north, I mean up-freakin'-north. Upper Michigan is pretty up there. And I enjoyed every minute of my life there.

My father was stationed at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Upper Michigan during my tween years. We had just arrived after four years in a foreign country but to me the United States was the foreign country. Here is where I was introduced to Pizza Hut and Madonna, Woolworth's and Memorial Day celebrations, A&W Root Beer and cable! I can still remember watching HBO for the first time and seeing Tom Cruise totally kick ass in Top Gun! I started taking gymnastics lessons and spending alot of time at the skating rink. In 7th grade, I had my first kiss with my paperboy's brother and started "going out" with an 8th grade basketball player after I made the cheerleading squad. I picked blueberries in the woods and came home with bucketsfull. Winters were spent sledding down Dead Man's Hill with my best friends and summers were lazed away paddling out to the floating docks when the base lake finally opened for swimming after the Memorial Day thaw. Family vacations consisted not of trips to Disney World and drives to the Grand Canyon, but of camping at Sawyer Lake with the neighbors and eating s'mores made by a real campfire. If you wanted breakfast, you had to catch it, scale it, and fry it yourself.

Dammit. I had an awesome childhood.

Sadly, K.I. Sawyer was shut down in 1995 (due to a BRAC list - this only adds to my list of reasons I hate President Clinton). My house at 624 Hercules is still standing, as are all the other houses where I had slumber parties with my besties after a night of cheerleading practice at Gwinn Middle School or swigging peppermint schnappes from Heather's dad's closet before walking (like a complete moron) across a nearly frozen lake. I say nearly because, as should happen, if only to scare the shit out of little girls trying to be big girls, the ice started to crack while I was about 30 feet out. Obviously, I survived and, thankfully, I never fell in.

According to Craigslist, I can buy my old house, or one like it, for around $40K. This would include two units (!!!!) each housing four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, full kitchen, one-car garage, and a full basement (for tornado season!). Holy. Crap. That's cheap!

Here's the catch: K.I. Sawyer's closing caused the near-death of the small town of Gwinn, Michigan, as do many closings when the local economy is so dependent on the military base it serves. Sure, I can go back to K.I., but it won't be the same K.I. that I was fortunate enough to thrive in. No more rumbling engines from the B-52's. No more bike rides in the melting snow to go swimming at the base lake. No more block parties and cookouts with neighbors. No more 5pm calls as the base loudspeaker pumped out "The Star Spangled Banner" and demanded that every man, woman, and child stop what they were doing (vehicles included), place their hands over their hearts, and stand respectfully motionless until the music was finished.

We thanked our military daily and remembered the fallen every night before dinner. That's how we rolled in my 'hood. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist anymore.

K.I. Sawyer's Main Gate:

The biggest backyard a kid could ask for, with friendly neighbors and plenty of trees to climb (awesome climbing trees not pictured):

Ye Olde Ski Hill (where I once went snowtubing, hit a snowdrift, and flew directly into that very building):

Marquette Lighthouse (on Lake Superior):

Lake Superior at sunset:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Riches

I had cabin fever this morning. A bad, bad case. I filled up the gas tank and Elle and I headed north on I-95. We could've easily headed south on I-95 but then we would never leave Florida. And that, my friends, was the main idea.

Brunswick, Georgia sounded like a good place to end. It was a Sunday afternoon, the first Sunday after Christmas, and I pretty much figured everything would be closed. But their website brags about this dazzling waterfront harbor/district with shops and scenery and...aaah, it just sounded like a nice way to spend this 80-degree winter day. Until we got there.

Elle asked me, "What's the smell, mommy?"

"Oh dear," I said (sniff sniff), "that would be the smell of Brunswick."

It's ok. Everything was closed and we never found that dazzling harbor district, though my view could have been blocked by all the signs protesting a newly proposed Glynn County Downtown Jail on waterfront property. Georgia makes me laugh.

Back onto I-95 (southbound, this time) to exit 29. Did I know what I was really about to find? No. Had I heard a few things about this fantastical hideaway I was about to see with my own eyes? Hmm...a little! Will I ever shut up about how freakin' awesome I think this place is? Um...NO!

It's Jekyll Island!

(And if you've ever been to Jekyll Island but didn't like it, please just shuddup 'cause I really dig this little piece of heaven on earth.)

I had no idea how truly neat-o this entire island could be. Not only is it pretty to look at, but it's also full of history. I don't think I even wandered away from the one square mile that surrounds the Jekyll Island Club, but I was still overwhelmed with how much of the past still exists there. 'Cause it's awesome!

Check it - my daughter climbing a tree in front of J.P. Morgan's condo, Sans Souci (yes, this is one of the condos that introduced America to condos):


And here is Sans Souci (well, half of it):


So all the Ritchie Riches from Up North came down to Jekyll Island and, basically, created it (the Riches = Vanderbilt, Astor, Pulitzer, Morgan, Goodyear, Macy, Rockefeller, etc.). Do you know that the Riches actually moored their yachts (yes, yachts!) in nearby Brunswick (pre-paper mill stink)? The Riches built cottages the size of McMansions and called them "winter homes". Yeah, whatever. Then the state of Georgia evacuated the whole island, told all the Riches to go home, then promptly bought it.

How clever! Wait 'till the island is all fixed up and no longer a handyman special. Georgia still makes me laugh.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My exciting adventures! (coming soon)

This book was purchased only because the book I really wanted was gone from the shelf of my local Barnes & Noble. Obviously, the title is an attention grabber. Plus I'd seen this book hanging around for years and never bothered to pay it any mind because I was never interested in A) other people's sex lives, B) cannibalism, or C)cannibals who have sex (which could technically fall under category A but let's be real here, cannibals deserve their own special category).

It was screaming at me, this book. Even when I walked away pissed off because the book I really wanted was gone. I kept going back to it. And I was also a bit curious about the author. His name was...well, kind of dorky. Then I remembered back to when I learned the singer of Tool went by his full name: Maynard James Keenan. Not that Tool has anything to do with this author or his book. Or even cannibalism, if you're wondering. I just haven't thought about Maynard in awhile.

So...fine. I opened the book and immediately started to giggle. The contents page alone had me hooked:

Chapter 1
In which the Author expresses some Dissatisfaction with the State of his Life, ponders briefly prior Adventures and Misfortunes, and with the aid of his Beguiling Girlfriend, decides to Quit the Life that is known to him and make forth with all Due Haste for Parts Unknown.

Well, I had to buy it. Especially when I read about Chapter 12 in which J. Maarten Troost finds himself suffering from sea lice and being thrashed about in the ocean surrounded by sharks. Sounds fun!

What I find most interesting is that Troost hails from the DC suburbs, from the Maryland side. That's my side. Which technically makes him my homey. He doesn't necessarily come from the slums of Prince George's County, but close enough. And he did what I never had (and still don't have) the balls to do: his own thing. He packed up his crap and left. Went straight to some South Pacific Island called Kiribati. And me...I waited 'till Dad retired from the Air Force and hitched a free ride to Florida.

What? Everyone ends up in Florida. Eventually.

Troost and I have a few things in common. Or had a few things in common, I should say. We would actually be soulmates if he hadn't run off to fulfill his dream of doing something exciting instead of staying stateside and getting a job, which was totally expected of him once he graduated from college. I'm still sitting around wondering what I'm supposed to do with my life, what kind of career path I should take. Everything that seems attainable sounds so boring.

So instead, I read about other people's exciting adventures. Maybe one day, I'll have my own exciting adventure. But until then, I will read.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Year in Review...kinda.

This year wasn’t a horrible year. Well, not unless you financed your home with an ARM, drove an SUV the size of a small bus, or got shot by a JSO officer. In that case, you were screwed.

January: Everyone will talk about Heath Ledger’s death for years to come, but let us not forget that January brings us the Stimulus Package. (Eight years later, when I finally received my stimulus check, instead of spending it in order to save the economy’s ass, I paid off my ever-increasing debt in order to save my own ass. I assume 95% of Americans did the same.)

February: The New England Patriots lose. LMAO!!!! I travel to the Charlotte, NC area, realize that I cannot handle temperatures below 65 degrees, and continue to bitch about the cold weather. That is until I blow a tire on the interstate on my way home and find something new to bitch about. Sadly, my boss passes away on February 29th.

March: My other boss passes away on March 4th. No, I’m not kidding. And the world is introduced to Ashlee Dupre. Who cares? Why are we all shocked to learn of a government official taking advantage of his position and getting it on with some PYT? It’s not like he’s the President. Brett Favre retires.

April: I get a new job and immediately start to hate it. Fortunately, I am not hired to be a photographer at the Miley/Billy Ray Cyrus photo shoot. One word: creepy. Better yet: ookie. I spend Easter at the beach with my daughter. Life in Florida is very cool sometimes.

May: My friend DeAnna gives birth to the second-most beautiful baby girl in the world (behind my own, of course). Angelina squeezes out baby #11 and admits that she’s a Duggar. My brother proposes to his girlfriend on Mother’s Day and she says yes. On May 12th, President Bush claims, “I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.” Uh-oh, too late. Hey, where the hell is my stimulus check already?

June: Big Brown does not win the Triple Crown as expected and blames a cracked hoof for his poor performance. Tiger Woods wins the Open and admits he was playing with a stress fracture in his leg and in need of knee surgery. Big Brown wishes he’d come up with a better excuse. I quit smoking, but only after I visit my friend Jessie in Georgia. I have to have one last smoke-a-thon with my best friend.

July: Gas prices rise to nearly $5.00 a gallon (in Florida, at least). The Food Pyramid is immediately revised to reflect Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese as a food group since it is the only thing Americans can now afford to eat. Oh, and tuna fish. Jacksonville Sheriff’s deputies manage to shoot their 16th suspect, making him the 10th to be killed by JSO officers. Some city residents demand a federal investigation into the shootings. Most city residents advise people to stop doing things that will get you shot by the cops. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: losers. Christian Bale in a Batman outfit: freakin’ hot!

August: Bernie Mac dies. Isaac Hayes dies. The Green Bay Packers die. Brett Favre is reincarnated as a quarterback for the New York Jets. John McCain chooses Sarah Palin as his running mate and the whole country learns to how to translate “northern talk” into actual English. I spend the month of August watching the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team get pummeled by a bunch of twelve-year old Chinese freaks of nature (did you see that girl’s bar routine!??). Michael Phelps in a speedo: freakin’ hotter than Christian Bale in a Batman outfit.

September: Travis Barker and DJ AM survive a fiery plane crash, Clay Aiken finally comes out of the closet, and Paul Newman dies. I begin reading the Twilight series and become consumed with Bella’s stupidity and Edward’s ability to patiently deal with her. The banking industry begs and pleads for help. So do all the homeowners who are about to lose their homes. Guess who the government likes better? Speaking of the government, - Dude, where the F*** is my stimulus check?!?! Geeez.

October: I finally get my stimulus check and decide to take another road trip to the Charlotte, NC area while gas prices are still below $25.00 a gallon. I finally meet DeAnna’s daughter, Delilah, for the first time, and introduce my daughter to the mountains (which, to real mountain people, are really just big ant hills). My grandmother passes away a week after I return home and I head to South Florida to say goodbye. During my visit, I meet even more relatives and we have the biggest family reunion ever. This makes Grandpa happy.

November: O’Rock is elected the next President. Tina Fey is elected the coolest chick on the planet. Michael Vick is officially recognized in court as a major A-hole. Guns N’ Roses finally release their album and Dr. Pepper goes good on their word to give every American a free Dr. Pepper drink to celebrate the album’s release – 15 years later than originally planned.

December: O.J. Simpson is sentenced to 33 years in prison. Who cares what for? It’s about damn time he went to jail for something. Christmas is minimal this year and this has much to do with the fact that nobody has any money since it was all spent filling up our gas tanks over the summer. Ironically, gas is down to $1.64. And Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese is down to $.50 at our local Publix. No, I’m not kidding. The NAACP plans to file formal complaints with the US Department of Justice regarding the number of police shootings in the city of Jacksonville. Their argument? That shooting suspects can be a violation of said suspect’s civil rights. It is important to note that the NAACP has not come to the defense of any of the suspect’s alleged victims. Team Jacob? Team Edward? Nah. TEAM JSO!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Just the prettiest girl in the world. And her dog.

Merry Christmas to me!

Today is my six month anniversary. I decided to quit smoking because I didn't know what else to do. Not about smoking, just about life in general. People think it's an admirable quality, having the willpower to not cave in to the urges and the cravings. It had nothing to do with willpower. It had everything to do with control. There is a difference. For some people, control is an eating disorder. Others turn it into compulsive cleaning. For me, control was a game. I wanted to see how far I could go before I cracked. I smoked for 18 years and I cracked nearly as many times during my previous attempts to quit.

Honestly, smoking became boring. There wasn't much enjoyment left in it for me. When I thought I had nothing better to do, I'd take a walk out to the back porch. When I had to mentally prepare myself for a stressful encounter (such as a conversation with the ex or, God forbid, college algebra homework), I'd take a walk out to the back porch. When I needed some alone time, I'd take a walk out to the back porch. Nobody bothered me out there - it was one perk (probably the only perk) to being the last smoker left in the family. I especially loved going out to the back porch when my family of quitters would tell me how wondeful life was without cigarettes. I didn't believe them, but mostly I was tired of hearing it.

Then one day I looked at my near-empty pack of cigarettes and didn't feel the panic I normally felt when I only had three cigarettes left at one o'clock in the morning. I told myself I'd give it a shot. If the withdrawals left me feeling too miserable, I'd just go buy a pack of cigarettes and continue on with my life of bronchial inflammation and hearing my daughter ask, "Mommy, why do you want to die?" Eh, things wouldn't change all that much. Until she asked me to pay for gymnastics lessons and I almost said (out loud), "Well, Mommy can't afford gymnastics classes because then she won't have enough money to buy her cigarettes, too."


So I quit. Cold turkey.

The challenge of taking control over something and the absurdity of choosing my nasty habit over my own daughter's happiness led me to quit. The money I would be spending on cigarettes now goes toward my daughter's monthly gymnastics tuition and still leaves me with $30 to blow on Starbucks (my somewhat healthier habit that was brought back from the dead on Quit Day 1). My body reacted to food like it had never been fed before and I finally broke the 100 pound mark, leading me to jump up and down with joy after stepping off the scales at the local Publix.

No more girls size 14 jeans for me, no more bedazzled butterfly sequins on the ass of my pants. I can shop in the big girl section now - Juniors!

I know alot of people will wrestle with this idea of quitting smoking now that the New Year is quickly approaching. Don't be bullied into it. Not by doctors, not by your co-workers, and not even by your kids! When your mind is ready to quit, your body will be able to better adjust to the endless fits of crying and random verbal attacks on strangers. Hey, nobody knows the hell of quitting smoking. Not even someone who has successfully quit. They're already past the hell part. I can't remember how miserable it was, I just know that it was. And then one day, I got the hell over it.

So I've added 27 days to my life by quitting smoking (according to some online statistics) and saved over $650. I've gained 15 pounds and look a helluva lot healthier. I take walks because I enjoy the fresh air now. It's my present to myself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I work for a state university and was instructed by the man in charge to go home, collect a paycheck, and not come back until January 5th. Hey, no problem. That was on Monday. It's now Wednesday. I'm bored outta my freakin' mind.

Thing is I'm broke. I was broke before Monday, but at least I spent my days at work doing productive things. Like wearing a glittery top hat and light-up bowtie while blindfolding my superiors and spinning them around before sending them off into the wilds of "Pin the Stocking on the Mantle" at our department Christmas party.

It's different this time, all this paid time off being forced upon me. The goal here is to not spend money. Santa's in financial recovery mode as of this moment and I hope he's going to share with me some secrets on how to survive being stuck in the house for two weeks.

But then I realized something: it's better than being stuck in an airport. Or in the Middle East. I'm being paid to stay home while some people don't even have a job. I'm stuck in my house for two weeks while some people are struggling to provide a Christmas for their children even while facing foreclosure.

Count your blessings. Hug your children. Smile at your neighbor. Better yet, share your blessings, enjoy your children, and talk to your neighbor. When I look at it that way, I think the next two weeks will be very fulfilling.


Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Good morning!

early morning sky - December 22nd around 6:30am



Monday, December 22, 2008

Oh, the humanity!

I live in Florida. With palm trees swaying in the balmy breeze. Tangerines by the dozens growing riper every minute. Aaaah, in my own backyard! The smell of the salt air, the seagulls and pelicans chattering as they soar above the sandy beaches.

Yeah, whatever. Who the f**k am I kidding? It was 48 degrees today!

I know, I know. Millions of Americans are caught in a deathgrip of blizzard-like conditions this week. Like I give a crap. I'm cold, too.

I've paid my dues to the Society of Frozen Tundra People. I spent nearly seven years in Upper Michigan. There have been times when my father had me shovel a path to the front door from my second story bedroom window because it was the only way out of the house. The schools didn't shut down because of a snowstorm unless the windchill went below -30 degrees. Yes, you read that correctly: minus 30 degrees. That was only because the school superintendent didn't want to be responsible for some poor 6th grader freezing his arse off while waiting for a school bus that plowed itself into a 6-foot high bank of snow and therefore never showed up.

I have been trapped inside a snowfort that caved in on itself. I have gone swimming in Lake Superior when it finally thawed and I had to avoid stepping in still-melting snow slush. I have pranced around in my cheerleading skirt and short-sleeve sweater during basketball season (Go Gwinn Modeltowners!).

I never wussed out. NEVER.

Until now.

But I live in Florida. This kind of weather, it's wrong. So wrong. And it's not that I don't feel for those of you who are without electricity. I do. And it's not that I don't want families and friends to be reunited for the holidays via planes, trains, and automobiles. Because I do. It's almost like asking my family in Wisconsin to just deal with 105 degree temperatures on the heat index. You know what they'd say to that? Hell no!

I'm cold. Plain and simple. I wear socks to bed. I crank up my heating pad to TURBO BROIL and place it under my blankets (because I'm too cheap to buy an electric blanket). I check the weather forecasts daily to make sure the temperatures are rising instead of falling. I beg my family to turn up the heat to 80 degrees because, to my skinny, little self, that is a comfortable room temperature. Florida has turned me into a sissy. Even wind has an affect on me after many a harrowing night asleep on the couch with my daughter listening to trees crash to the ground and feeling the walls "breathe" during an onslaught of hurricane force gusts.

Florida is not equipped to handle temperatures below 70 degrees. Florida is a land of heat-induced deaths, alligator-eats-toy-poodle incidents, hurricanes named after Nickelodeon characters and foreigners, one-armed golfers (refer to alligator), sinkholes the size of Delaware, critical drought conditions brought on by overpopulation and too many golf courses, Old Sparky (ret.), a declining English-speaking population, and the Backstreet Boys. Haven't we suffered enough?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another bridge story...


See that beautiful point in the middle of the bridge...the highest point? It's incredible, isn't it?! I've always wondered what it would be like to stand up there on my own two feet, to not be confined to my vehicle.

Well, I got my wish today when a bright orange construction zone barrel was blown into my lane (the left lane) by a 40 mph wind gust and I had to slam on my brakes and hear my child scream "Oh, nooooooo!!!" and pray to God that the SUV behind me could brake in time and avoid hitting me and Holy Crap! Did that thing just hit my car? I'm so suing the city of Jacksonville! I told Elle to stay in the car while I fought against the wind and tried to open my door, only to get it slammed in my face TWICE! Now I was just plain pissed because I had somewhere to be. Santa wasn't going to be at the mall forever.

I started to notice that all the other cars in the right lane were still driving right on past me. Finally, I managed to open my door and get halfway around to the front of the car when a man in the right lane stopped his vehicle and got out, grabbed the orange barrel, placed it behind a concrete barrier, and got back in and drove off. Like it was nuthin'!

I never got a chance to thank him because every time I opened my mouth, a huge gust of wind blew directly inside me and turned every nice thought in my head into a bunch of curse words.

So...thank you, Mr. Orange Barrel Remover Guy. You probably saved a life today.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Unworldly. Uncultured. White girl.

I went out to lunch yesterday with two women from my office. One, who I'll call Hadiyah, is Jordanian and Palestinian. The other one is from El Salvador. I'll call her Ana.

At first, I was hesitant to go. What started as lunch plans with Ana turned into lunch plans with Ana and Hadiyah at her family's restaurant. I was really kind of looking forward to eating at Applebee's or even Taco Bell, but both of them were super excited about tabouli and hummus and grape leaves and "Oh god, Dena, you have to try the pita bread when it's fresh!"

Um. Okay.

We were seated at the family table. Hadiyah spent most of her lunch talking to an aunt named Hafa and a cousin named Abir. They had met Ana once before, but this was the first time I'd met them, or even heard about them, and I was introduced as "the skinny, white girl" Hadiyah works with. The restaurant was bustling with clanking silverware and dozens of people speaking Arabic. Even the music being piped in on the sound system was Arabic pop music. Hadiyah told me stories about when she took her kids to Ramallah and was rushed out of the city by cab when gunfire broke out unexpectedly. Ana spoke about being in El Salvador as a teenager and how the little neighborhood kids were fascinated by her "Americanism". I had a few jokes thrown my way because, not only am I unable to shake the greek salad dressing properly, I also need to eat more. So Hafa says, "You want to try tabouli? I get you tabouli! You eat it! Eat the tabouli!"

Um. Okay.

Ana and Hadiyah talked about a mutual friend of theirs who is considering taking a trip to the Holy Land. The cease-fire has ended and Ana didn't believe it was safe to go. Hadiyah disagreed and admits that if she had a ticket, she'd get on the first plane. Cease-fire or no cease-fire! I was just sitting there eating my tabouli. This made Hafa very happy.

While everyone was talking about armed soldiers, the best hummus recipes, and how wonderful it was to teach Kuwaiti children lessons in English, I looked around and realized I was the only white person in the whole restaurant. I started to worry about how boring I looked. Seriously. I have a brown bobbed hairstyle and I talk like I'm from the North Woods. The only exotic thing about me was that I was eating with my left hand. Shit! Can I do that? I was in a middle-eastern restaurant and had probably already offended ninety percent of the clientele with my left-handedness. But nobody said anything to me. I was just a silly, uncultured white girl.

But then I remembered my own childhood in Europe. I've had confrontations with bad guys. Our first night in our italian duplex was chock-full of fear and anxiety as my father hid my brother and me underneath our parents' bed. The blasts outside continued into the night as my father dressed himself in his military uniform and prepared to be called to duty. I cried, Mom prayed, and we all lived to tell the tale of how my father saved us from Italian Independence Day fireworks.

In 1983, airport security took my brother's stuffed Mazinga doll and confiscated it, claiming it was made with illegal materials like...stuffing? Then they came after me and my plastic case of Strawberry Shortcake dolls. My father had to convince me to hand the case over because the machine guns these guards carried didn't mean a damn thing to me. Dad was elated when the guards returned my case to me because it meant that I'd have something to play with during the flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Philadelphia. I can't say the same for my brother. But I'm sure he was pissed.

There were the gypsies, too. Especially the one we called The Lady with the New Shoes. This woman terrified me! She wore a black shawl that covered up most of her scraggly gray hair and looked like the witch from Snow White. The Lady with the New Shoes would come into my yard with her back hunched over, almost like a question mark, and wander around aimlessly, mumbling crazy shit to herself in italian and shuffling her feet hard into the rocks that covered the front portion of our property. I was always instructed to run into the house whenever The Lady with the New Shoes showed up just in case she was looking to snatch a cute little girl to throw into her cauldron of boiling witch brew. She never caught me but my cat went missing. My mother swears Dixie died a natural death. I like to think Dixie lived out her last days as a best friend to The Lady with the New Shoes.

Maybe I'm not very cultured. But I can honestly say that, until the age of nine, I believed I was a true Italian girl. That all changed when we moved back to the United States and I was introduced to my extended family from Wisconsin - the Polskis and the Germans. Gone were the dinners of homemade gnocchi and spaghetti carbonare. In were the brats and saurkraut. Pasties and beer bread? Where's the freakin' tortellini, Ma!??

Back to the lunch with Hadiyah and Ana. Hafa was smiling at me, almost like she felt sorry for me. The poor uncultured white girl from Jacksonville, Florida. Hafa knew nothing about me and Abir was quick to answer me when I asked if their American-born cousin was allowed to leave Kuwait on her own free will. The answer? Yes.

No, no, wait. The answer was, more specifically, "Those barbarians in Saudia Arabia have nothing to do with what we believe! It's like the Indians beating their wives and pouring acid on their faces so nobody else will want to marry them!"

Um. Okay.

I lifted my fork with my left hand and finished off my tabouli.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This is not how I want to die

It's rush hour in Jacksonville and I'm heading northbound on 9A. Florida 9A is the eastern portion of I-295 which is the western portion of 9A. Basically, it's the same road. Kind of like when you tell someone to turn onto Alta Drive and keep driving until they pass Alta Drive. Yes - it's retarded.

Wanna see something else that's retarded? The good old folks in Jacksonville's city government thought this was a good idea:


What. The. Shit? How did that ship not hit the bridge? The bridge that I'm currently stranded on because all the dumbasses ahead of me are too busy gawking/taking pictures/crapping their pants? Or, as in my case, nearly peeing all over themselves. When you're not expecting something this big to come into view, under the bridge on which you are driving, your mind tends to go into the Holy Shit! Am I going to die? mode of thinking.

I remember reading that the JaxPort Terminal for Carnival Cruise Lines was engineered in such a way that any ships returning to port in Jacksonville had to arrive at low tide so that the clearance between the highest point of the ship and the highest point of the bridge would be...(gulp!)...SIX FEET!!!!

Six feet? That is all the buffer I have and the only thing that keeps the cruise ship from barreling into the Dames Point Bridge, slicing it in half, and sending hundreds of cars into the St. Johns River. It's a long drop at almost 200 feet.

High tide? Low tide? Whatever! Just don't do this at rush hour. Please!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


This kid loves adventures on I-95. Elle loves the scenery that flies by her window in a blur and gets excited when the highway dips up and down. Her right arm starts flailing when we pass a trucker who probably has a doozy of a horn. Oh, you should see her face when that 18-wheeler belches out a special one just for her! You'd think it was Christmas. She practices her addition and subtraction on the road by reading out the mile markers and reporting to me how far we are from our destination. She reads the signs that give the names of upcoming cities and decides, on the spot, if it's a pretty enough name to make her want to live there. Pooler, Georgia? Nope. How about Dumfries, Virginia? Mommy, that name sounds dumb. Well, how does Rocky Mount, North Carolina, sound? Oooh, that's pretty. This is how Elle thinks. It's actually kind of fun to be in her head for awhile, I might add.

My poor child hasn't been outside the state of Florida in over two months. The saddest part about that is we only live 18 miles south of the Georgia state line! So, after I took my car in for a $34 oil change and walked out after having paid for a $286 coolant leak repair, I'm almost afraid to take her anywhere. For now, at least. But we have some traveling to do. And we're not gonna let some mishap on the road stop us from getting the hell out of here whenever we feel the desperate need. (This desperate need arises often since we currently live with my parents.)

We didn't get to do much traveling in 2008 so we made sure that the trips we took were worth taking! A few jaunts northward to Charlotte, North Carolina and York, South Carolina, another northbound trip to Byron, Georgia. We also had the unfortunate task of heading to Fort Myers, Florida to say our final goodbyes to one of the most awesomest grandmothers ever. But Elle and I are ready for some new adventures, in new cities...

On the list for 2009:

Key West, Florida (for the six-toed cats - I have one, pictured above! - and, of course, Hemingway.)
Helen, Georgia (because I like mountains and cheesy tourist traps, especially when they're a package deal!)
Washington, D.C. (I used to live there and never took advantage of that. Dammit. Plus, Elle wants to see the "Big Lincoln" and O'Rock's new house.)
Charlotte, North Carolina (my brother's wedding reception following the Carribbean wedding itself.)
Lexington, Kentucky (Horsies. And grass.)

So - there it is. I figure only two of those will actually happen and only after I know for sure that my car is in tip-top shape. I am in no hurry to have a state trooper escort me off the highway after a massive tire blowout. AGAIN. And I'm pretty sure Elle is in no hurry to be blown over face-first into the median after an 18-wheeler flies by her for the umpteenth time. AGAIN. Without blowing his horn especially for her.

Friday, December 12, 2008

You want fries with that?


I agree. Four bucks is dumb. However, in Florida, an iced tall caramel macchiato comes to $3.38 including tax. And the peace of mind that comes with knowing the barista didn't spit in your drink. And never having to really order because the barista already knows what you want and how you want it (whole milk, light ice, and a box of organic chocolate milk for the kid) because they are all so nice and so...un-McDonald's-like.

I'm not making excuses for Starbucks or why I think anything you drink is worth more than $1.50. But it's the same reason people are willing to pay a few bucks for a beer in a bar rather than buy a six-pack and drink at home. What's next, McDonald's? Bud McLight?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Karma's a bitch and I used to be one, too

I believe in karma. I think I always have. Even in times of stress and uncertainty, I have always had a strong feeling that things would work out for the best. Whether the end result gave me exactly what I wanted or just gave me time to adjust to what I was stuck with...I could always deal. I think being a child of a military father taught me that. Not because my dad was some stereotypical drill instructor (which he wasn't!), but because my life was always getting turned around just when I was starting to get used to things. It is the military way. Anyone who has experienced that kind of life will tell you that. You like your school? Time to move! You've made a new friend? Time to move! You like your life? You have a boyfriend (finally!)? Well, guess what? It's time to move!

Here I am, 32 years old. I'm a single parent and working whatever job will provide me and my daughter with health insurance, weekends off, and tuition reimbursement (since I also do not qualify for financial aid!). And sometimes these jobs are only meant to last a short time, just enough to catch up again on my bills and pay out my college tuition and legal fees. And sometimes these jobs land me in an office filled with more egos than I know how to tolerate. But I've always adjusted.

I think I've adjusted so many times before that I have forgotten how to stand up for myself. When I was a teenager, my friends came to me when they needed someone to be a bitch. I took care of them and I took care of me. I genuinely like being nice and taking care of the people that I like. As for the others, they can kiss my ass. I deal with them on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, I'm not much of a people person and can't stand most of the world's population.

Which makes me wonder...have I lost myself? Have I lost the person I once was and all of that great karma that came with her?

Maybe karma knows that, in the back of my mind, I'm gleefully punching the people I work with in the face every time I say "Yes, I will be happy to do that for you!" Maybe karma knows that, deep down inside, I want to spit in the coffee that I make for them every morning. (But I never do - because that's just wrong! And also because Dave drinks that coffee and I think Dave's awesome! He's not one of them.) Maybe karma knows that it can have its little way with me and all I'm gonna do is sit here and...adjust.

Hmm...wanna know something, karma? I can play this game, too. I'm tired of being everyone's little bitch. I'm tired of being the girl known as calm, organized, relaxed because that girl isn't me! I've got more turmoil brewing inside me than you can shake a stick at (not that you'd want to shake a stick at it, but whatever) that it's literally making me sick and the only way to keep it from getting worse is to let the bullshit just roll off my back. Until now, because that load of bullshit never goes away. It just starts collecting in a trough that weighs a ton and gets pulled around by me, wherever I go.

I am tired of adjusting. And, quite frankly, I'm just tired. But this doesn't mean that I'll let you keep slapping me around, karma. Oh, no. I just need some rest. And a good game plan. I will win you back.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


On this night of studying for my final final (at least, until I can afford to continue studying at UNF), I'm battling a migraine, growing out of my "fat pants", and mourning the loss of my once-upon-a-time overflowing savings account (this affects me now because I'm so freakin' sick of eating pasta but it's all I can afford). I am arguing with my lawyer via email because I can't afford to call her to tell her she takes too long to answer my questions. I have a feeling I'm going to get thrown under the bus at my monthly staff meeting tomorrow. My dryer is full of dress pants from my skinny days when nothing fit me. Now they do. Thanks to all that pasta.

Basically, I'm exhausted. In every way - physically, emotionally, financially. So when Elle climbed out of the shower tonight with shampoo bubbles still glistening in her hair, I went over the edge. I didn't yell - I just quit. Elle went back into the tub, underwear still on, and I rinsed her hair clean. She knew I needed quiet time, apparently, because a few minutes after she got out of the shower for the second time, I found her in the living room watching Charlie Wilson's War with her grandparents. In the dark. Being quiet. Very quiet.

I invited her into my bedroom to watch cartoons until bedtime and she happily accepted. When Elle walked in, she asked me to close my eyes because she had a very special present to give to me. All of a sudden, I felt this crushing squeeze around my stomach and I heard my daughter say...

"Mommy, I'm gonna put glue all over my hands so you'll be stuck to me when I hug you and you won't be able to go away."

Migraine? ALL GONE.