Saturday, December 29, 2012

Many Happy Returns

Technically, I’m thirty years old today, but it’s possible I’m not thirty until next month, unless I’ve actually been thirty since September. It’s kind of a long story.


“I hope your daddy told you it would be on the 29th,” grandma said while we were discussing the upcoming family Christmas party.

“He did not,” I said.

“Shame on him! I assigned him that over Thanksgiving!”

“No problem,” I said. “I had no plans.”


It was only later I got sad about it.

It’s my birthday!

My 30th birthday!

It’s supposed to be a milestone! It’s supposed to be special!

And I’m spending it at a Christmas party?

“I suggest you quickly make awesome birthday plans,” Sarah told me, playing the part of my shoulder devil. “And then tell them, ‘Sorry, can’t come. Awesome birthday plans.’”

“Actually, maybe I could come to town early and meet you for lunch beforehand. Just so I can have a separate birthday celebration on my actual birthday.”

“You could do that,” she said. “Or you could just be like, ‘Sorry, I have plans that day, since it’s MY BIRTHDAY and all.’”


But family Christmas was scheduled for lunch time. So much for birthday lunch plans, I thought. “Any chance we can move it to five or six?” I asked grandma on the phone.

“Honey,” she said with genuine concern, “do you have other plans that day?”

“Well, it’s… just…” and I stumbled over the words, not wanting to spell it out. “It’s my birthday.”

“I know that, but did you have other plans?”

I sighed. “No, not especially.”


I moped. I complained to anyone who would listen.

Christmas ate my birthday!

It had come down to choosing between Christmas and my birthday and it wasn’t fair! Other people don’t have to make this decision. Other people get to have two separate celebrations each year: one for Christmas, and one just for them.

I’m getting the short end of the peppermint stick here and I don’t have to take it!

“I’m thinking of moving my birthday,” I told Charlotte at work.

“That seems very sensible of you. What date did you have in mind?”

“I’m not rightly sure,” I said. “I was leaning toward October, since it’s my favorite month. I went to an October birthday party once and it was fantastic.”

“Lots of fun decorations in October,” Charlotte said, nodding.

“But, well, the only problem with my current birthday,” I said, glossing over the fact that it’s my only birthday, “is that it’s too close to a major holiday and I don’t want to make the mistake of just swapping out one holiday for another.”

“That is a conundrum,” said Charlotte.

“So I’m leaning toward September. There are no major holidays in September. Possibly on the seventeenth. I think I’d like to have it on a day with a seven in it.”

“I can see you’ve given this a lot of thought.”

“More than you’ll ever know.”


There were complications with this plan, of course. If my birthday was going to be September 17th from now on, did that mean I was already thirty, or that I wouldn’t be thirty until next year? Would this make me older than my husband?

But Sarah thought it was a great idea. “Maybe I could change mine to the same day and we could be twins,” she said. “Have you looked at June? No major holidays in June either. We could have pool parties.”

“That’s it!” I said. “I’ll have a floating birthday! This year, I’ll just move it to January 29th. In 2014, I’ll move it to February 28th, then March, then April. In 2017, we can be twins on your birthday. In six years, I’ll have a pool party, and then in ten years I can have the Halloween birthday I’ve always wanted!”

“That’s awesome!”

And my Facebook status that afternoon read: “This is just a heads up, everybody: My birthday has moved. If you have any songs or gifts or cards or cakes or well-wishes, please hang on to those until January 29.”


“What’s this?” Matt said when he saw the Facebook post that night.

“Oh, that! I’m moving my birthday.”

“Moving it?”

“It’s my new floating birthday plan.” I briefly laid it out for him. “And in twelve years, when I’m 42, it will be in December again! Unless I’m 43… I’m not entirely clear on how the math works out.”

“Stop,” he said, holding a hand up. “Why are you doing this again?”

“Because I don’t want Christmas for my birthday!”

“And have you adequately explained this to your family?”

“They should know by now!” I said.

“Have you told them, specifically, that you would like to keep Christmas separate from your birthday?”

“Aside from hanging out with loved ones, what else would I be doing for my birthday? How am I supposed to tell them that getting together for food and fellowship isn’t what I want? That’s crazy!”

“Dear, moving your birthday sounds crazy. You have to call your grandmother and talk to her.”

“It’s just easier to change my birthday,” I said.

He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply. "For the love of God, don't say that when you call her. There are like four different ways you can inflect that statement and all of them are sarcastic."


And the phone call started out a little like this: “Matt said I had to call you because I sound crazy but I assure you I’m not crazy.”

And it ended with, “I understand completely! Why don’t we move the Christmas party to dinner so you can have lunch with your friends?”


Yesterday, my coworkers threw me a thirtieth birthday party. Today, I had another party with my friends. Then I had family Christmas but with plenty of “Happy Birthdays” thrown in for good measure.

When all was said and done at the end of the day, I got on Facebook to tell everyone thanks for making my birthday special.

Only Facebook still thought my birthday was January 29th.

“Oops… Let me just…  there. Fixed it.”

Maybe it is a little crazy, but it is startlingly easy to change your birthday.

I changed mine into something wonderful, with a little help from all of you.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Discontent of Our Winters

“I’ve heard of that,” a coworker said, “but that’s not a real thing, is it?”

It is.

I have it.

Let me try to describe it for you.


Winter Depression.

Sheesh, that’s depressing.

Can we call it something else?

There’s a technical name for it: “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Or SAD for short.

Are you kidding me? Really?

Like I’m supposed to buck up and be happy when the scientific name for what’s wrong with me is that I’m sad?

I’m not going to call it that. I’m giving it a new, more apt name.

Winter Malaise, perhaps.

Winter Hibernation, like with bears.

Winter Lethargy.

Or we can skip the negative connotations altogether and call it Spring Anticipation.


I suspect I’m a lesser child of Krypton, on account of I draw my powers from Earth’s yellow sun. While the days are long and bright, I’m a normal human being. I love my husband, my friends, my job, my house, my hobbies. Every summer, I feel like I’m living the highest high life ever: I’m warm and happy.
Every summer, I think I’ve cured myself of this thing, that it won’t happen again.
By God, I’ve got it too good to let a little weather get me down.

But somewhere around October, a switch flips.

The shorter, darker days become a fog, a layer of cotton batting between my body and my brain, dulling all sensations. I live in that muffled feeling you have when you know it’s snowed outside even before you look out the window. There’s a disconnect between me and everything not me.
It’s not depression.

It’s straight up laziness.


In the winter, when the sun rises later, waking up in the morning is akin to emerging from anesthesia after surgery. There’s a bone-deep fatigue no caffeine could touch. If I had a bathtub full of coffee, I’d fall asleep in it and drown. Any day I don’t have to get up and go places, this is not a problem.

But every workday is an uphill struggle. If I can just get myself out of bed, if I can just get myself through my shower, if I can just get myself to work, if I can make it to my lunch break, if I can make it through the afternoon, if I can make it through my errands, if I can make it home, then I can go straight to bed and everything will be fine.

On evenings and weekends, I have a lockdown procedure in place: my home is a carefully maintained environment. I have tea, microwavable pillows, a fireplace. I can wear fluffy scarves and fluffy hats and hide under fluffy blankets. If I turn on all the lights, I can pretend it’s not winter.

Like, maybe it’s actually summer. Maybe it’s all in my head. Yeah, guys. I’m fine! No problems here! A-Okay!

I’m like Schrodinger’s Agoraphobic Neighbor: until you open my door, I could go either way.


It’s not that I don’t want to go places and do things. It may cross my mind that going out for Mexican food would be a super fun dinner plan, for example. It’s just that it’s cold outside. I will raid my pantry and eat plain black beans straight out of a can rather than roust myself from this super comfy couch, or change out of these pajamas which I’ve only just warmed up. Body heat aint cheap, you know; wouldn’t want to waste any.

I will make no plans. Planning not to have plans becomes the order of the day. I morph into the great anti-socialite and plan to do nothing.

And this would be fine if there weren’t five hundred holidays sandwiched between Halloween and Easter.

“I’d love to!” I say when cheerful people call me, and I say it with a smile, in case they can hear my facial expressions, but I don’t want to go.

The day of the party, I still won’t want to go. I practice my plastered smile on the car ride over, so I don’t look like the saddest party guest in the whole history of human festivities.

Once I get there, I’ll have fun.

But the funnest part will be when I get to go home afterwards.


The world is not ending just because it’s dark outside.

I say it over and over again.

I remind myself that it will not be cold forever.

I remind myself that there are plenty of good things in life. I have books and movies and video games and yoga and my guitar, and I don’t have to leave the house for any of those. It’s warm in here and I’m fine. Thick socks are cheap. Scarves are stylish. There will always be more tea. The engine runs on tea.

But I’m not depressed. I’m too busy keeping warm to be depressed. I’m too tired to be depressed. It takes every ounce of energy I have to focus on being present in this room right now, rather than thinking about my bed and the twelve hour nap I’m not letting myself take. Who has time to be depressed?

It’s just that I’ll be happier when winter’s over.

Spring Anticipation.

It’s a real thing.

I have it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Picture of Torian Gray

“Let’s play a game,” said Don. “Let’s go around the table and everyone tell something we don’t know about you.”

Matt’s club had decided to have their Christmas party at the hibachi place. The waitresses had only just finished gathering dishes and handing out to-go boxes, but the party goers weren’t going anywhere for a little while yet.

I laughed along with everyone else as the other guests told tales of celebrity encounters or drunken antics, and at least one case of both at the same time, until the game circled its way around the table to me.

“How about it?” said another party guest. “Any wild tequila parties at the library?”

“Nothing like that,” I said. “But I was a nude model for an artist once.”

The table erupted.


The story isn’t actually as interesting as it sounds.

When we were poor newlyweds just starting college, there was a sign outside one of the art buildings: “Nude models wanted for figure drawing class.” They paid by the hour for people to stand there naked.

Did I mention we were poor?

But on the day of the interview, the interviewer was built: a perfect specimen of humanity.

And I was not.

So I turned around and walked out without saying a word.

That’s not the story.


The story starts ten years after that. Or about six months ago. I was yelling at my computer.

“How is it right for anyone to have that much talent?” I demanded. Lonnie’s facebook page was full of art. Again.

My friend was working on his art degree, and I routinely drooled over the pictures he posted of his paintings in progress, such as this one of his wife Randi wearing one of her ren fair outfits. I clicked on the picture for a closer look. Pretty, I thought.

Then I saw the rather long status update: “I’m planning to do series of paintings,” Lonnie said. “I will need at least six models. I’ll be taking pictures,” I read, and at the bottom, “Message me if you are interested.”

Ooh! I want to be in a painting! I thought. “Sounds fun. I’d do it,” I posted in reply. Maybe my painting will look as nice as Randi’s does…

I was a little confused when Lonnie sent me a private message later saying, “I assume you meant clothed, but were you willing to do any kind of nude?”

I read the message again.

One more time.

I went back to the original status update. No, there it was: between “need six models” and “message me” was the phrase, “Need a few willing to do nude poses.”

I must have missed that part.

And then I experienced an epiphany: hadn’t I thought about posing nude once before and chickened out?

Am I a chicken who is ashamed of her body?

Or am I an adventurer?

What would Curious F-ing George do?

I replied to Lonnie’s message with, “Draw me like one of your French girls!”


“Just promise not to kill him, alright?” I added, after discussing the details of the upcoming photo-shoot with Matt. I had engineered the conversation to take place during his shower so he couldn’t run away.

“I… I just… Can I…?” Matt stuttered. “Doesn’t it feel weird that you’re going to be naked in front of one of your friends? Who is also a guy?”

“Not really,” I said, striving to keep it casual as I combed my hair. “Sarah and Randi will be nearby.”

“But isn’t that weird?” Matt asked, sincerely.

“Sarah’s seen me naked hundreds of times and with Randi it would have happened eventually.”

From the shower, there was silence except for the running water. Then, “I can honestly say I’ve never seen any of our friends naked, and they’ve never seen me.”

“What a dull little life you lead!” I said, applying my deodorant. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I left it in my other pants!” Matt declared.

“That’s your problem! You shouldn’t keep your adventure in your pants.”

“Where would you keep it then?”

“Hang on!” I said. “I’ve just remembered! I’m fairly sure Randi saw me naked while we were changing in the bathroom after that pool party!”



“That was so cool of you to agree to be a nude model for Lonnie,” Randi said the weekend before the shoot while we were in town for ren fair.

“It’s basically the best diet ever,” I said, as Randi, Sarah, and I browsed the fair shops in front of the castle. “Every time I pass a donut, I think, ‘nude model, nude model, nude model,’ and I find previously untapped reserves of self control.” That got a laugh.

“Are you nervous?” Sarah asked

“No way!” I said, with fragile bravado. “I’m in the best shape of my life, imperfect though that shape may be. I need a permanent record of this hotness before it all goes downhill. I’ll call it the Picture of Torian Gray.” We exited a corset shop and found ourselves facing a vendor selling chocolate fudge. “Did he say ‘rum butter’?” I mused.

“Nude model,” Sarah said.



It was a bit like a party at first. Sarah and Randi were indeed nearby. Lonnie had planned to artistically photograph me doing yoga, so Randi did a yoga routine with me to warm up while Lonnie and Sarah fiddled with the lighting. Sandy chatted at us in the background. Matt and Alex, Sarah’s husband, discussed the movie they were going to see during the photo shoot.

But then it was time to get naked and all of my other friends evaporated, leaving me alone in the room with Lonnie, who is my friend.

And also a guy.

But mostly my friend, and it wasn’t weird at all. We talked about work, and the ren fair, and books we’ve read, and music we liked, and it all would have been perfectly normal except that I was naked and he was holding a camera.

And every now and then we both laughed uncontrollably at the situation, but otherwise, perfectly normal.


“So I did some yoga poses and he took pictures to paint later.”

The party goers stared in stunned silence, minus a few murmured comments. Finally Don said, “Okay, Tori wins. That calls for applause.”

I didn’t need the applause, of course, but it was nice.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

How to Clean the Popcorn Popper

Dear library employee or volunteer,

If you have taken over this responsibility from me, I am either dead or now outrank you - in either event, you have been promoted. Congratulations!
Ooh, popcorn! We love popcorn, right?

Now that you are in charge of family movie night, part of your job is to pop the popcorn. Unfortunately, you are also the cleaner of the popcorn popper. How sad for you.

As I have endured this procedure one too many times (ie ever), I have this process down to a science that minimizes discomfort. I share this knowledge with you from the goodness of my heart.

Step 1: Make peace with the popcorn.
This is what the "Authentic Butter Flavor" looks like before you cook it.
If you love popcorn, I’m sorry. (Read this in the voice of David Tenant as the tenth Doctor: I am so so sorry.) The knowledge of what is in your popcorn is a killing knowledge. You will die a little inside every time that “authentic butter flavor” residue touches your skin. After your cleaning experience today, you will never be able to enjoy popcorn again. If any is leftover from the movie earlier, have a seat and eat it. The popper can wait.

Step 2: Prepare yourself, your supplies, and your soul.
Break out your ipod and play something catchy, like “Eye of the Tiger” or “The Touch”. You will need
a. an empty sink
b. a full bottle of dish soap
c. a full roll of paper towels
d. a hazmat suit.
If you do not have a hazmat suit, that’s okay: you will not actually contract a horrible oily plague from touching the “authentic butter flavor” residue; you'll just feel like you have. Pray if you must. Doubtless some deity will listen, but none will offer aid.

Step 3: Scald yourself.
Fill the sink with hot water and about half the bottle of dish soap. The water will never be hot enough, as the “authentic butter flavor” residue can only be destroyed in the fires of Mordor from which it was forged, but do what you can, keeping in mind that after you have scalded all life and feeling from your hands, you will no longer be able to feel the “authentic butter flavor” residue.  

Step 4: Put on the hazmat suit.
Gather all the loose equipment except the kettle, such as the popcorn scooper, the catch tray, and the popper doors, and – without touching any of it – put it in the water to soak. Do not soak the kettle. The kettle is equipped with an electrical box and getting electrocuted isn’t fun for anyone. Put the kettle in the EMPTY half of the sink and fill it with hot soapy water. Let everything soak.

Step 5: Get used to yellow.
Now you can wipe down the insides of the box. Start with a generous handful of paper towels. (If you’re cheap or environmentally conscious, you may use a real cloth instead, provided you never want to use that cloth ever again.) Dip the paper towels in the hot soapy water and proceed to wipe down the glass walls of the popper’s box. These towels will come away yellow. Throw them away.
Next use a handful of wet paper towels, without soap. These will also come away yellow. Throw them away.
Now wipe the box with some dry paper towels – they’re still going to come away yellow.
End by spraying the box with glass cleaner and wiping down with fresh paper towels. You’ll begin to notice that the glass is looking nice and clean, although the paper towels are still coming away yellow. It’s best not to think about this.
However, if you did eat some of that popcorn in step 1, think about your arteries. Maybe consider some more time at the gym later.

Step 6: Confront the cauldron.
While you were cleaning the popper box, the sink full of soapy water was losing the battle against the “authentic butter flavor” residue. Your sink full of soapy water has become a cauldron full of thin, runny, “authentic butter flavor” residue, with soap bubbles in it.
You will have to put your hands in there.
I can’t talk about this. Figure it out for yourself.

Step 7: Cry.
By this time, the “authentic butter flavor” residue has corrupted your cells, like an inoperable cancer. Someday you will get used to the nasty “authentic butter flavor” residue: this is a sign that your soul has died and you are a hollow husk of your former self, but until that day, wash your hands as many times as you like.
It won’t work.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

He Blinded Me with Science

The first time we watched Big Bang Theory, we laughed at the nerds and their awkward social skills. Finally, some TV characters we could relate to! Sure, they’re supposed to be geniuses, but we like the same shows, play the same games, and laugh at the same jokes!

But then, during one episode, Matt, breathless with laughter, gasped out, “The equation! The math on the board behind them! It actually goes with what they’re talking about!”

“Really?” I said. “That’s cute.”

“This show is hilarious,” he said.

“You know, babe,” I said. “I don’t think other people are laughing at the same thing you’re laughing at.”

Equations aren’t the least bit funny. I used to proofread his science papers in college, skipping the mathematical bits. “Is this really what you mean here?” I asked once.

“Yeah, because look at these variables,” he replied, pointing to an equation where N equaled a squiggle unless X was blue.

I stared. “It’s like a horrid massacre of numbers and letters!”

“Mostly letters,” he said. “Few numbers were inconvenienced in its making.” He spent the next several minutes explaining it to me.

I shook my head, sadly. “The guts of language!” I said. “Strewn across the page as a sacrifice to some dead Greek mathematician! Strewn! Like chicken entrails!”

He really wants me to understand, which would be cute if it wasn’t so much like homework. Because I love my scientist, I smile and listen, asking clarifying questions when he pauses for breath or dramatic effect.

“So you’re saying the particles can move through walls?” I asked in our dark bedroom one cold December night, snuggled under a mound of rumpled blankets.

“They call it quantum tunneling,” he said.

I couldn’t read his expression in the dark. “You’re just making that up, right?” I said.

“No, it’s a real thing!”

I socked him with a pillow. “You just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of something and you expect me to fall for it?”

“I’m serious!” he said, socking me back. “They move through walls!”

In case you’re wondering, it is a real thing, and he’ll never let me live that down.

“I don’t even hear it anymore,” said Sandy, whose husband is also a scientist.

“Did we tell you about the elevator music theory?” asked Sarah.

“No,” I said. “What’s that?”

“When you put them in a room together and they start talking, eventually everything they say transforms into elevator music in the background.”

I looked across the room where our husbands were deep in a discussion about the feasibility of the siege weapons at the Battle of Pelennor Fields in Return of the King. The melodic cadence of their voices was only occasionally marred by words like “stone”, “momentum”, and “trebuchet”.

“You’re right,” I said. “I don’t hear it anymore either.”

He must have known I wasn’t hearing his lecture on the state of the national debt because he stopped to ask, “Don’t these numbers fascinate you?”

“No,” I said. “To be honest, they confuse and terrify me.”

“An octillion would be bigger than Avogadro’s number.”

I vaguely remembered that from high school chemistry. “I knew what that was once,” I said.

“Six point oh-two times ten to the twenty-third,” he supplied helpfully.

“Yup, that’s the one,” I said.

He shook his head at me. “How does your brain not work that way?”

“You’ve got the numbers, I’ve got the…” I trailed off. What did I have? Oh, yes. I pointed at the notebook in my lap where I was journaling. “Words and things.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Word things?”

“Yes, you’ve got the numbers. I’ve got the word things.”

Sometimes, it’s like we’re speaking different languages. Even when we’re watching a movie together, we’re not watching the same movie.

“That bridge is structurally unsound,” he said during Van Helsing. “Especially with that chunk missing out of the middle like that. Those supports on the end wouldn’t be enough. The whole thing should have buckled by now.”

“The movie is about vampires and werewolves and you’re complaining about that?”

“It bugs me!” he said, defensively.

“It’s a fantasy movie!” I said. “Suspend disbelief!”

I still can’t get him to suspend disbelief. “I’ve done the math,” he said during Avengers. “The most successful heli-vehicles weigh no more than 6 tons. The smallest aircraft carriers weigh 12 tons. The heli-carrier would need at least 600 of those rotar-blades. It’s just not possible.”

I rolled my eyes at him, “Asgard isn’t real either. Just saying.”

Sometimes he really wants these things to be real. I once thought he would sink into a depression over what he thought was an error in the new Star Trek movie. "I noticed that they have transporter pads on the shuttles, so why didn't they just transport Kirk Sr. off the bridge at the last second?"

"Because then there wouldn’t be a movie," I said, like someone trained in literary theory. "How did you notice there were transporter bays in the shuttles?"

"In that scene on the ice planet where Spock beams Scotty and Kirk onto the Enterprise, he was using a transporter inside a shuttle."

"Well, that scene is supposed to be 25 years later, right? Maybe the older models didn't have transporters?"

"No," he said. "I went back and watched both scenes several times. Not only can you see the handrails for the transporter bay in the first scene, you can also tell that the shuttles in the two scenes are the same model."
"That's very thorough of you," I said.

After an hour and a lengthy discussion, we came up with an agreeable explanation: They couldn't beam Kirk Sr. off the bridge because the ship and the shuttles were both moving. They mention the difficulty of transporting moving targets at least three other times in the film, showing that it’s a dangerous procedure and takes great skill.

His face beamed. You would have thought we had cracked the Da Vinci Code there in our living room.

Unsolvable puzzles turn up in our living room all the time. 

“I bought this mirror,” I said, pointing to the giant frame he couldn’t possibly have missed.

“How the heck did you get that thing home?” he asked.

“Grandma helped.”

“Oh, good grief,” he said.

“I need to hang it above the couch,” I said, pointing, “right there.”

He knelt beside the mirror, testing its weight. I could almost hear gears turning. “We might have to rig up a pulley system. If I start with a board, and attach hooks here and here-”

“Don’t tell me about it,” I said. “Just tell me what to do.”

“Let’s go to the hardware store.”

Just Yesterday
We wouldn’t be going anywhere all weekend, not with his sprained ankle. “I’m sorry I ruined your plans!” he said as we crawled into bed.

“It’s okay,” I lied. “They weren’t elaborate plans.”

“We could go anyway?” he said, but in a way that implied he hoped I’d say no.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Maybe we’ll order a pizza, watch some Big Bang Theory. We can still have fun.”

“Okay,” he said.

Then after several minutes of quiet in the dark, he said, “Will you sing ‘Soft Kitty’ to me?”

I laughed, but remembered the appropriate response. “You’re not sick. You’re injured.”

Right on cue, he said, “Injured is a kind of sick.”

So I sang “Soft Kitty” to my ailing scientist and kissed him goodnight.