Sunday, February 20, 2011


Dear Daddy,

Today would have been your 76th birthday and it pains me that I can't call you and wish you a happy birthday. So, I come here and write as a way to sort of do it anyway, I suppose. Though a "Happy Birthday" on a blog doesn't seem sufficient, it is the best I have.

Sometimes I feel sad. I miss you and it doesn't feel good. It catches me off guard, this sadness. It's more spaced apart, I suppose, than it was at first, so when it comes on, it often surprises me -- it is a painful surprise.

Sometimes I feel lonely. I suppose that isn't the right word for it, but I don't know what you call it when you simply feel about a billion times less looked out for than you used to . . . and you miss it. I have many people who love me and look out for me and I know that, but there's something about the way you've always looked out for me, the way only the father of a daddy's girl can. I miss that and your voice and your hugs and kisses most of all.

Sometimes I feel understood. I had a client come in this week -- she had a warm and close relationship with her dad and he died less than a year ago. Her emotions were still so close to the surface. As she talked about her feelings, one thing she kept saying, "I feel less looked out for!" stood out to me personally. She and I are similar in age and we both agreed that no matter how old you are, you always want your dad. And there is a BIG void left in my life by your death. She and I shared a kinship for a few moments and that was very validating and healing for me.

Sometimes I feel misunderstood and judged. It's taking a lot for me to even post this. You know why? Would you believe that some time ago, someone, rather than trying to understand or empathize, challenged my grief? That person thought it was his right to question my life decisions and asked if your death was "just too hard." How dare anyone, especially someone who has never been through it, question how I process my thoughts and feelings. The whole experience only made me miss you more and long for there to be more men like you -- dads who care but don't force or impose their views, dads who allow their daughters to be whoever they want to be.

One of my favorite parenting quotes is this one:
"Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you."
-- Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

That's exactly how you've raised me. How I miss that. How I hope that I can be that kind of parent. I'm trying. So, while it's taking a lot for me to post this and I know I haven't written much about this for a while now, I refuse to give someone else that much power. This is my blog and these are my feelings.

Sometimes I feel so very grateful. I see other dads and I know that I got the best dad for me. Even if you rolled up all of the wonderful qualities in others and put it into one person, that person would still not measure up to you. Not for me. There is no one who could ever take your place. I feel grateful that you're my Dad.

Sometimes I feel jealous. I know that's terrible, isn't it? I'm not generally a jealous person at all, but I do feel it sometimes. I feel it when I see people my age wishing their Dads a Happy Father's Day. I feel it when I hear people say that they're attending their father's birthday parties. I feel it most especially when I see grandfathers spending time with their grandchildren. Sometimes my eyes even sting with tears at the thought of what our children are missing out on.

And sometimes I even feel angry, but mostly I feel jealous. They could not ask for a better Vavó and they didn't get you for nearly enough time. Not even close. And sure, they have your legacy, your stories, videos, pictures, memories . . . but it's not the same as when you were here, holding them, hugging them, loving them, talking with them, never raising your voice to them just like you never raised your voice to me, caring about them, playing with them, appreciating them, teaching them, letting them be themselves, spoiling them. I miss that. I miss that so much that it hurts.

Sometimes I feel tired and stretched thin. You see, I think I try to make that up to them, the loss they have in missing out on having a grandfather's time and love like that, and I know there's no way I can replace it anyway, but I try. I think of ways that I can teach them all the things I know you would have -- Portuguese, woodworking, fixing things around the house, cooking, helping others, generosity, gardening, fishing, tennis . . . but it's not the same. I can be the best me I can be, but I don't know how to be you. I just can't give them that. And it sucks that they're missing out on that.

Sometimes I feel reminded. Like today. The calendar tells me it's your birthday, but I don't even know what to think of that. You would've been 76 and I think you should still be here. And I hate that Parkinson's robbed you of so many good years that you did have left. It isn't fair, you know. You exercised and cared about your weight and being fit. And yet, Parkinson's didn't see that or didn't care. It chose you anyway and slowly stripped you of all your enjoyment, hobbies, abilities, health, and ultimately, life.

I get reminded when I see others with Parkinson's. It jolts me, those reminders. I have walked out of rooms where I just couldn't stand to stay and see the stiff unblinking blank mask stare of someone who has the disease. I can pick it up in a second now, those tell-tale signs. And I can't look at it. I start to ache and then my face begins to tremble and I leave to get away or get some air or cry or try not to cry.

Sometimes I feel haunted by the memory of helping you die. It was a difficult process and so painful for you and for everyone involved. I try to think of you as young and vibrant and laughing and happy and able and pain-free, but sometimes those images of you lying in bed slowly fading away are what enter my mind, pushing away those earlier, happier memories. And I think it's cruel that there's not some easier way to help people in situations like that.

Sometimes I feel mind-boggled by the uncertainty of death and where you are. I've been told many things by many people, but the truth is that no one knows definitively. They choose to believe things, they want to believe things, maybe they even do believe things. But they don't know. That's something I learned when you died -- that sometimes what you've believed so earnestly to be true just isn't. Death is one of those great mysteries and it boggles the mind to comprehend it. But if there is one gift in all of it, it is that I have learned, unlike never before, to feel peace in the uncertainty. And what a gift that has been! It has changed my life and brought new perspectives and a peace that I had never before experienced. Though I'd love to have you here instead, it is a comfort and gift.

Sometimes I feel lucky. I know that not everyone has a good relationship with their Dads and I am a very lucky person indeed to be able to say that I always, always have. I know that that is in large part due to your unconditional love and acceptance of a daughter who could be very strong willed and independent.

Sometimes I feel happy. Happy to be your daughter and to have been raised and loved and watched out for by you.

Mostly I miss you. It's natural for me to have so many thoughts and emotions, I know that. But the one I feel most of all is just the loss of you, the void left by your death, the big, gaping hole that exists because you're not here. I miss you being here as my Daddy, being here helping Mark in the yard and the garden, being here asking if we're okay and helping us get ahead in whatever way needed, being here supporting us in our dreams, being here playing with the kids, spending time with them and giving them your undivided attention -- wow, did you ever excel in that -- we've always felt that nothing ever was more important to you in that moment than simply BEING with us, being here visiting with Mom, being here and fixing things around the house, being here for me to call, listen to, talk to, visit, hug, hold. It doesn't seem fair that we can't still do that. I miss you.

So, happy birthday, I guess. I'll be honest that it's not so happy for me all the time around this time of year. It hasn't been for years now. For some reason, the date on the calendar sort of looms there as yet another painful reminder that you're not here and I struggle to do just about anything around this time of year. I try to go about my life, but something feels very "off." And then I realize it's this.

But I'll tell you where it is I do feel happy -- I'm happy that I got you as my Dad and happy that that will never change, I'm happy for how you've raised me, I'm happy that you've always loved me unconditionally, I'm happy that you've always allowed me to be myself, I'm happy that you've always cared for me and for my family. Basically and most simply, I'm happy you're my Dad and I love you.


Monday, February 14, 2011

PA Dutch 101

I know today is Valentine's Day, but I won't post about that yet as my honey is still finding clues for his Valentine from me to him. I'll likely post about that later . . .

No, today's post is about local speak, or what locals call "Dutchy." This area was not settled by the Dutch. It was settled by Germans. The "Pennsylvania Dutch" are descendants of German immigrants from Germany and Switzerland. So, why then is it called "Dutch?" Well, that comes from the German's own "Deutsch." It is believed that that word, over time, evolved into a more colloquial and folksy "Dutch," hence, Pennsylvania Dutch.

We live in a beautiful area -- think a beautiful mixture of trees and wide open spaces, farmland, covered bridges, big red barns, and old stone farmhouses. I fell in love with this area as soon as we moved here. We've been here 8 years so far and I never tire of the scenery and landscape.

Milton Hershey set up his famous chocolate factory here because of the proximity to so many dairy farms (milk for chocolate products). Living down the street from a place called "Chocolate World" is pretty great, too. We're also minutes from the Appalachian Trail.

There are many Amish and Mennonites in our area. We interact with them often and our local Walmart even has a designated "horse and buggy" parking area for them. Because many of them don't use electricity, it is common to see laundry hanging on lines and men working the land being pulled by oxen rather than tractors.

Life has a much slower pace here and it's one of the many charms of this small-town, provincial life. Other charms include local "Dutchy" foods as well as "Dutchy" speak. I was thinking the other day of all the odd-to-outsiders sayings and foods from here to which we've grown somewhat accustomed and I thought it would be fun to make a post about them. So, here we go.

Awhile - When you go out to eat here and the server comes over to see if you'd like a drink to start, a local waiter or waitress will ask, "Would you like a drink awhile?" The first time I was asked this, I was confused and replied, "While I what?" There is some controversy and speculation as to what that actually means. Most take it to mean, "Would you like to drink something while you wait for a little while?" People use it all the time. I once heard a mother ask her child, "Would you like to wait in the car awhile?"

Back in 2005, I asked one of my Google Researcher colleagues, who lives in Germany and is über-intelligent, about the phrase. He says that it could come from a German word. Here is his explanation:

I think I can explain that phenomenon. In the examples you provided, the English awhile is used much like the modern German word inzwischen. Would you like a drink awhile? - Möchten Sie inzwischen etwas trinken? Inzwischen means as much as "in the meantime", "while something else is happening", and the like. But inzwischen is a rather modern word. Since the German heritage of Pennsylvania dates back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, I'd say that the original German word was derweil - this is hardly used in modern German, but it was used the same way. Derweil is pronounced dare-while - there is a certain similarity to awhile, maybe even a common root.

My theory is that "awhile" took the place of "derweil" when Pennsylvania Germans used English, because it sounded familiar and was even understandable to their English-speaking neighbors.
Seriously, isn't he awesome? Word.

Needs Changed/Needs Washed/Needs Cleaned -- Since my friend Oliver was so great about answering my first question, I soon followed up with another one:

People around here leave out the "to be" verb a lot. At first, I thought I just didn't hear them or maybe they mumbled that part, but no. It seems they really just DROP it right out of the sentence! For example:

(Stressed out woman) "I need refreshed." (Instead of "I need some refreshing" or "I need to be refreshed.")
(Speaking of a messy house or something) "It needs cleaned." (Instead of "It needs to be cleaned.")
(This one's even more painful) "She needs talked to."


To be or not to be? Seems it's not. unsure.gif
Try as he might, he couldn't come up with a German explanation for that one. It is a local way of speaking (and one that drives my grammar-loving ear a bit crazy). We often see advertisements on signs and in ads that say, "Car need cleaned?" or "Lawn need mowed?" And suddenly, Hamlet's soliloquy recites itself in my head.

Supper - Most people, from what I can tell call the 3rd meal of the day "dinner," but not around here (at least not the older generation). It's supper. The only other time I hear that is when we watch Little House on the Prairie. I remember calling a local business soon after we moved here and when I asked what time they closed, the man answered, "Oh, about supper time." I thanked him, hung up, and squealed in delight, "I love where we live! He said they close at supper time!!" I was so done with the big-city sprawl of Phoenix where places closed at 5pm or 9pm. Closing "about supper time" seemed so very charming.

"Devil"/Deviling - This is a local word people use to mean ribbing someone or teasing someone or generally giving someone a hard time in good fun. I have clients who use this term and it's almost always said with a twinkle of the eye, as in, "My son was going out on his first date, so I was deviling him" or "Awww, I like to devil her about her quirky ways" or "He's always deviling him about his steady stream of girlfriends."

Religious signs on road sides, restaurants, and local businesses - Yep, we're on the upper edge of the buckle on the "Bible Belt" and we're sometimes reminded of it when we drive around town. For instance, the country buffet down the road has a flashing sign that will tell us alternatively, "Meatloaf Tonight," "Jesus Saves," and "Abortion Kills." Or you might see scriptures painted on the side of barns. Or you might even see chipper signs like this one as you're driving down the road:

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Good times.

Rammy - Now this is one of my favorite words that I'm glad exists. I think it's a handy word and would love to see it catch on and spread among all who speak English and raise children or puppies. Someone must have figured that there ought to be a word to describe when children and/or puppies are bouncing off the walls, extra excited or hyper, can't quite sit still, don't really seem to want to listen, aren't particularly interested in calming down, getting a little lippy, running around in circles, jumping up and down, not paying attention to any task in particular, generally making their family wish to tear out their hair, seeming a little hyped up on who knows what, extra mischievous, extra energetic, and all around seemingly incapable of napping, laying down, or quieting themselves and that person must have somehow come up with the word "rammy." I like it. It's a great catch-all word that at once describes oh so many things.

Let and Leave - Grammar nerd that I am, this one drives me even crazier than the elimination of the infinitive ("to be") in conjunction with the past particle. Many people mix up the use of these two words. For example, a person might say, "Let your jacket on the bench" or "Leave him be!" Or if they're talking about deciding to move on and not hold a grudge they will say, "I just left it go." You might hear, "Let him alone" or "Leave me do it again." I saw an example of this the other day at a local studio. This is the sign on the playroom there:

You get the idea.

"And that" - Now this one is one I mostly hear from the real old-timers and not so much the younger generation. It reminds me of the filler "like" or "um" that younger people often like to use and it is often said as the voice sort of trails off while saying it. The older my client, the more likely I am to hear this phrase as they tell me a story. So, it might sound something like this, "I was going to the store and that and when we got there, there was a sale on chicken parts and that. So, I stocked up and put it in my carriage and that. We put it in the freezer and save it for a party and that." It's a quirky one and kind of cute really. Something about it can be, at times, endearing.

Now, let's take a break from words and talk food. Here are some examples of local fare:

Red Beet Eggs

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This is one of Thing 1's favorite local foods. It is a typical food brought by locals to pot lucks and picnics. They're actually quite good. The boiled eggs are pickled along with beets and served cold.

Potato Filling

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This is one of my personal favorites. It is basically a mix of mashed potatoes and bread and onions like you have in stuffing. I love this stuff.

Brown Butter Noodles

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This is another of my favorites. It's so easy to make and has such a flavorful and distinct taste, that I often make this as a side dish. You simply melt butter in a saucepan and heat it until it just turns brown (be careful not to let it burn -- when it turns brown, it's one tiny step from burning). Then you simply mix in your cooked noodles. That's it! YUM. As a side note, it is very easy around here to buy locally made Amish homemade noodles as well.

Birch Beer or Root Beer

Mark and his childhood best friend Peter in May 2009

I know that's not a picture of birch beer or root beer, but it is a picture of us visiting an Amish farm to buy homemade root beer. It's VERY strong and really good! Thing 2 loves that it's such a big deal around here (birch beer is his favorite and root beer is his 2nd favorite). The homemade stuff you can buy on Amish farms is especially good. It is one of the first things we do whenever we take guests to visit the Amish country (hear that, Lindsay, Scott, and Ada?).

Pretzels (and chips) - I know, the whole world has pretzels. But not like we have here. Did you know that Pennsylvania is considered the snack capital of the world? I'm not sure that's something to be proud of, but there it is. We have about 769 varieties of pretzels and pretzel-related products. Okay, so I made that number up, but we do have A LOT of pretzel stuff here. They're dipped in stuff and stuffed with stuff (and sometimes both)! Think chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, nuts, candy. There are lots of pretzel factories here. Some let kids actually work the line and make pretzels. There are hard pretzels, beer pretzels, sourdough pretzels, snack pretzels, pretzel nubs, soft pretzels. Oh, and the mustards and dipping honeys! So. Many. Pretzels. Chips, too, but I like pretzels more than chips. And they're a bigger deal here. We have a very local pretzel shop near us and when you go there on Saturdays, you wait in a long line to get fresh hard or soft pretzels and oh are they good!! We also like to visit pretzel shops in the Amish country:

Me and my Sweetie in May 2009

And yes, that's the real name of the town. Just imagine the T-shirts. One of my favorites is "Virginia is for lovers, but Pennsylvania has Intercourse."

Lebanon Bologna - This is a local delicacy and it's such a big deal that the town of Lebanon (pronounced Léb-uh-nin) drops a big bologna every New Year's Eve. It is called bologna (and pronounced phonetically), but it tastes like salami.

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Pretty good with mustard.

Pork and Sauerkraut - Given the Germanic origins of this place, this one should be no surprise. A neat little bit of trivia? This is the traditional meal of the New Year, thought to bring you good luck for the rest of the year (and bad luck if you don't eat some). It's tender and delicious and generally served with mashed potatoes. Sauerkraut is also often served on hot dogs here, which I also like.

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It smells great while cooking, but then again, I like the smell of vinegar. :)

Scrapple - You know what? I'm just going to let Wikipedia describe it for you: Scrapple is . . .

. . . traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour, and spices. The mush is formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf, and slices of the scrapple are then panfried before serving. Scraps of meat left over from butchering, not used or sold elsewhere, were made into scrapple to avoid waste.

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where they call scrapple
"Meatloaf's Grotesque Philly-Born Cousin"

What? Does that not sound appetizing to you? Don't worry. Even many of the locals won't touch it. You can find it easily in stores and farmers' markets, though, if you do have a hankering.

Chicken Pot Pie -

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Oh, I'm sorry, were you expecting pie? Yeah, me, too. The first time we ever had this, we were participating in a fabulous dinner co-op (where you cook one night and other families cook the other nights and you all deliver dinner on your nights? GENIUS!). Anyway, we all filled out menus so we'd know what to make/expect. The menu said "chicken pot pie" so we expected, you know, pie. We figured crust, filling, fork. We got something that looked like this. I thought they had messed up and confused nights, so I told my friend, "Hey, the menu said chicken pot pie. What you brought was delicious, but what was it?" She laughed and said, "Chicken pot pie!" I was so confused. Around here, chicken pot pie is more like chicken and dumplings. It's delicious, but it is emphatically not pie.

Apple Butter - This is a traditional and delicious topping for toast and muffins. Breakfast is big around here with farm fresh eggs and amazing sausage (and scrapple). Apple butter is often found on your table along with butter and jams.

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I like it if it's not too sweet. A lot of stuff is sweetened around here and I'm not a fan. I prefer salty to sweet.

Pig Stomach - I had the pleasure of sampling this not too long ago during one of my mother's visits. She comes so often and stays so long that she has loads of friends in the area. One of her friends really wanted to treat her to a traditional "Dutchy" meal so she made reservations at a local restaurant and made sure they saved two pig stomachs -- one for her and one for my mom. She loved it! And I have to say, Thing 1 and I liked it, too.

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It is also called "Hog Maw" and is made with the lining of the stomach which is quite muscular and has no fat if it's cleaned properly. It is then stuffed with cubed potatoes and pork sausage (I'm telling you, the sausage here is go-ood!). It also often has cabbage, onions, and spices. I'm telling you, don't balk. It's pretty good. It is also found at local farmers' markets.

And of course . . .

The Philly Cheese Steak - Never mind that TastyKakes and soft pretzels hail from Philly, this is the food the city is known for. From

But people in other parts of the U.S. often don't even know what a cheesesteak is. No, they're not Steak-Ums. Steak-Ums are a substitute - like Egg Beaters are to chicken eggs.

Real cheesesteaks are cooked fresh, covered with American cheese, provolone or Cheese-Whiz and rest in a roll dripping with grease. Sound disgusting? You're obviously not from this town.

Cheesesteaks were invented in South Philadelphia in the 1930's at Pat's Steaks, located in the heart of South Philadelphia, hence the addition of "Philly" to the name. They were originally topped with a pizza sauce, (now called a pizza steak).

Where to find the best cheesesteak is a question that will forever be debated throughout the area. Only in Philadelphia could two places stay open all night selling cheesesteaks -- right across the street from each other -- and both do a thriving business.

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I wish I could remember the name of the place we had THE BEST Philly Cheese Steaks. It was in a hole in the wall place in Philly and it was recommended to us by the then husband of yet another of my Google Answers Researcher colleagues. The place was a total dive. But OH was that ever an amazing sandwich. So delicious. I'm going to have to ask my friend to remind me of the name. It was so good and we haven't had a better one since (though you can get many varieties at local sandwich shops here).

Okay, enough about food. Back to words. (But you're hungry now, right? So am I.)

As a quick note, I do want to mention that quilts and furniture are also big around here. The Amish make beautiful quilts and their woodworking is superb. Many local shops have beautiful displays of both and you could spend a long time admiring the handiwork and attention to detail of both the men and the women.

Seen vs. Saw -Another localism I hear around here now and then is "I seen it" (rather than "I saw it"). It's kind of like let and leave. They get mixed up. Well, I guess that's not really accurate, because those I hear use the phrase "I seen it" don't use the word "saw" at all from what I can remember. So, even in the third person, it would still be "He seen it" or "They seen it." Hmmm, curious. I wonder why that is. I don't really know. I don't think it's a German thing.

"Leaving town" -This is a funny one. A friend of mine who lives down the street was going up to Rhode Island and Massachusetts with her husband for their anniversary. I knew they were leaving the following week when she, one day, called me on the phone. She told me she was "out of town" and I got confused thinking they'd already traveled up to New England earlier than I would've expected. I asked where they were (I could hear that they were driving) and she named a town about 20 minutes away and literally two towns down the road. Well, I busted up laughing and said, "You're out of town?!?" And she said, in all seriousness, "Yes," and told me the town they were in again. I couldn't help it. I kept laughing. I really thought she was kidding. But nope, she was serious. Apparently, if she's not in her EXACT town, she considers herself as being "out of town." I "devil" my friend about this often asking if she's out of town, if she's packed, does she have an itinerary, etc. It's a running joke now.

Inflection of questions -This is more about how people speak around here rather than exact words. People here often ask questions with a different inflection than one generally hears. I'll give examples to illustrate -- words in ALL CAPS signify words that have the emphasis and rising inflection to indicate a question being asked:

In other places I've lived, people ask, "Are you going to the PARK?"
Here, people ask, "Are you GOing to the Park?"

"Did you get the MAIL?"
"Did you GET the mail?"

"Have you talked to your MOM?"
"Have you TALKED to your Mom?"

And the question here is almost asked as a statement. If that makes sense. It's very catchy, too. We often find ourselves speaking the same way (well, I do anyway -- I pick stuff up like that everywhere I go). I'm very impressionable and highly suggestible like that. Thing 2 does it, too. Of course, we moved here when he was 6 months old. Mark and Thing 1 don't do it as much.

Anyway, it's a lovely area -- beautiful landscape and a wonderfully slower pace of life. People here are a bit reticent and more closed off than other parts of the country, but they're hard-working, salt of the earth people. It's a little "too" conservative for our liking sometimes, but it's also a great place to raise a family and make great friends. It's beautiful here. I can't say that enough. The food is plentiful and delicious. And there's so much to see and do. And if you want to get away from the small town for a bit, NYC and DC are not that far at all and make excellent day trips.

I LOVE to visit big cities -- I am very comfortable traipsing around Boston, New York, Washington DC, etc. But, and maybe it's my New England upbringing, I am a small-town girl at heart and that is most definitely the place for me. I am a million times more comfortable in our day to day here than I ever felt living in bigger cities. We all love the East. And living close the coast is a must. If you ever want to visit PA Dutch Country, you know where to stay. :) We won't make you eat scrapple.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Life Comes At You Fast

(I wrote this post on October 19th and just saw it sitting in my drafts, so I'll post it today. I'm thinking it got away from me with NaNoWriMo getting into full swing. It seems fitting since this month in our homeschool group, our kids are taking classes on finances -- spending/saving/budgeting/interest/credit cards/investing/bills/taxes/etc.).

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Fun Fact #1:

In the past month, we've received the following bills due to varying life necessities, including health care, dental care, and heating costs (we carry our own high-deductible health insurance):

$1700 (medical out of pocket -- this one later turned out to be half this, thanfully)
$680 (dental out of pocket)
$5400 (orthodontic out of pocket for Thing 1 -- keeping in mind we've already paid an additional $1800 for some previous work for her and it looks like we'll have similar orthodontic bills for Thing 2 as well) -- at least these can be paid in installments
$960 (oil for heating our home this winter--that one came today)
$450 for auto insurance (we pay that twice a year -- really not bad)
upcoming unknown amount for a medical ENT procedure
upcoming unknown amount for fixing our van -- it occasionally doesn't start
upcoming unknown amount for replacing our 12-year-old couches that look like this:

This hole is significantly bigger now.

See, my awesome physician husband
uses his stitching skills on more than just
cuts and skin suturing
-- he's extended the longevity of our couches.

Seriously, he's really good.

But, alas, the rips have grown much bigger.
We love our couch set and would replace it with the
exact same set if it still existed.

Remember, most of these pictures
are from October,
so use your imagination
and really widen those holes
and rips in your mind.
Now double that and you're about there.

Fun Fact #2:

Those bills are "extras" and do not include our regular monthly bills, which include two mortgages and student loan repayment as well as business overhead and malpractice insurance (ka-ching!), not to mention food, electricity, insurance, etc.

Fun Fact #3:

Both Mark and I hear SUCH sad stories from our clients who are also struggling. Part of my job often involves hearing about people's financial difficulties and stresses. It is so hard and conflicting to charge people for a session after they've told you how scared and stressed they are financially--because you feel awful for charging them because you know they're hurting, yet you know you also have to make money, because you, too, have financial obligations. We love having our own business in so many ways, but we also get pretty close to our clients and you really feel for them and all they're going through. Ugh. I often think of how nice it would be to be rich and just go around helping people who have it rough.

Some famous quotes dancing around in my head:

Ferris Bueller famously said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Nationwide keeps telling us, "Life comes at you fast."

And then of course we know that, "There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Mastercard."

Two New Books -- Generation Debt: While doing some research online, I've come across two new books that address the issue of how our generation is burdened by debt and having a harder time getting ahead than generations before ours.

Generation Debt, by Anya Kamenetz, takes a look at the major economic shift that is happening in our country.

I feel extra prescient and smart, because her research backs my own personal theory that I've had since the mid-1990s. Back then I was saying that it used to be skills that got you a job, then it was a high school diploma, then it was a college diploma, and now it's a graduate degree plus experience.

Our generation faces different challenges than that of the generation before ours. And I do think that, because of that, sometimes our generation seem like "slackers" to the baby boomers. But only if you don't look at the facts that this book presents.

From the publisher:
In this thoroughly researched and rousing manifesto, Anya Kamenetz chronicles and questions the plight of the new "youth class": 18- to 29-year-olds who are drowning in debt and therefore seemingly unable to "grow up." Many older adults perceive today's youth as immature slackers, "twixters," or "boomerang kids," who simply cannot get their act together, but Kamenetz argues that this perception is a misinformed stereotype.

Numerous economic factors have combined to create a perfect storm for the financial and personal lives of America's youth: a college degree is essential for employment yet financially crippling to many, government grants for education are at an all-time low, Social Security and Medicare are on their deathbeds, and our parents and grandparents are retiring earlier and living longer.

It is soooooooooo different now than it was for our parents. My mom has often told us the story about how she and my Dad went into the bank to get a mortgage. The banker met with them, shook their hand saying, "You seem like a nice couple," and gave them their loan. That was it.

Our generation has about 168 pages of information to fill out, multiple background and credit checks, and skeptical looks from all lenders and bankers.

My parents got that loan and then paid off their home in 7 years. 7 years! No eating out, no buying clothes (they sewed all their own clothing), etc., but they paid if off in 7 years.

The generation before theirs? Some didn't even take out loans at all! The other night in book club, one of our friends talked about how her grandparents paid CASH for their home and there was a murmur of consent and a lot of nodding all around as many could vouch for the fact that just TWO generations before ours (one for some of our book club members), many paid CASH for their homes. That was, for many, the norm!

So, two generations ago, they paid cash. One generation ago, they paid off their homes in a few years, and now our generation can barely afford a home in 30 years? What has happened??

Those of our parents' generation were marketable with high school diplomas, bonus if they had a college degree. And even many jobs without either of those paid decently to start.

Our generation is faced with a dilemma: cheap labor or expensive schooling? People our age can go into massive debt for an education and a chance of getting ahead or get an $8/hour job at Home Depot.

Economic shift indeed. Read this short article for some alarming facts. Seriously, read it. Stop reading our blog and go back and read it. I mean it.

All right. Welcome back. Ahem. I was saying . . .

Today's middle class, college-educated families are among the poor families getting food at food banks.

Two New Books -- Strapped:

Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, by Tamara Draut, has a peppy title that just screams hope and optimism, doesn't it?

This book has more of a political slant to it, in that it addresses how things have shaped up the way they have thanks to a generation of leaders more interested in serving the wealthy than investing in the future.

But here is one fun fact from one of the reviews on the above-linked site:

'Today's college grads are making less than the college grads of thirty years ago.' In fact, men aged 25 to 34 with bachelor's degrees are making just $6,000 more than those with high school diplomas did in 1972.

From the publisher:

Drowning in student loan and credit card debt? Can’t afford to get married, buy a home, have children? At last, a book for the under-35 generation (and their parents) that explains why it is not their fault.

Strapped offers a groundbreaking look at the new obstacle course facing young adults—the under-35 crowd—as they try to build careers, buy homes, and start families. As Tamara Draut explains, getting ahead is getting harder. A college degree is the new high school diploma—but it now costs a fortune to get that degree, and students graduate with crippling debts. Good jobs are scarcer thanks to stagnant wages and disappearing benefits. And, the cost of everything—starter homes, health coverage, child care—keeps going up and up. Budding families, even those with two incomes, struggle to pay the bills, while Visa and Mastercard have become the new safety net. Young adults are starting out behind the financial eight ball—borrowing their way into adulthood and wondering whatever happened to the American Dream.

And that closing line is what leads me to my next point . . .

Is this a purely American phenomenon?

Is it? I mean, obviously there are countries FAR poorer than ours. I've lived in them. We have SO MUCH here -- running water, electricity, indoor toilets. We have the Internet, we have so many resources, we have choices. Honestly, we have it pretty good!

But it also seems Americans are all TIRED and run ragged in the pursuit of the basic American Dream of home ownership.

I often wonder about people in countries like Portugal and Italy. People there work hard but they really know how to live and relax, too. They own small homes, use public transportation, and spend a lot of time in their backyards (if they have them) and at cafés drinking and relaxing
with friends. (Ha! After writing this post and without even trying, I found this article that backs this up, too!)

In the movie "Eat, Pray, Love," an Italian man in a barbershop says, "Americans know entertainment, but they don't know pleasure. Italians know pleasure." I think that's true!

So, yeah, sometimes I daydream about buying a small villa in Portugal or Italy and living simply. Is it less expensive there or are they just smarter? I don't know.

But we do love where we live and so we're now back to the bills and expenses mentioned at the beginning of this post in the fun facts.

And this leads me to my next point . . .

What's your take? The other evening, I was at the coffeehouse with a bunch of my friends and we were talking about life and kids and college and retirement (yes, we've long graduated from playgroups to discussions of IRAs and 529s . . . or the lack thereof). I later spoke with a couple of the dads from the group as well. Here is a little look see at how the group broke down:

Women #1 and #2 did not have college paid for them and do not feel that they can afford to pay for college for their own children either as they feel they can't afford to do both (that and retirement).

Women #3 and #4 had college paid for them and also want to pay for college for their kids.

Men #1 and #2 didn't have college paid for and don't want their children to have to go through what they did, so they want to be able to pay for it.

I've talked to others, too, from different situations and the big breakdown seems to be:

Didn't have college paid for -------> Won't pay for kids' college (it's what they know)
Didn't have college paid for -------> Want to pay for kids' college (it sucked for them)
Did have college paid for -------> Want to pay for kids' college (was great - want to share)

So, most want to pay, but the question is how to afford it when, you know, "life comes at you fast."

As a good friend of mine who reads this blog (you know who you are) says (and I agree with him), "I brought them into this world. I figure the least I can do is educate them."

And let's not forget investing for retirement . . .

So, Generation X/Generation Y (we fit into both of these, depending on which chart/article we reference, but more often it's "X") . . . where do you stand? How do you think we fare compared to past generations? Are you more often scared and stressed? Or happy and hopeful? What do you hope for your own children?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


The Magic Violinist has posted the first four chapters of her NaNoWriMo book (unedited) on her blog.

See, when you do NaNoWriMo, you're supposed to put away your inner editor (Mark and I turned ours off. Thing 1 put hers under her bed. Thing 2 put his at the bottom of the clothes hamper -- and he keeps turning up in the laundry!) and just WRITE.

And write we do!

Enjoy her story!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unveiling . . .

Thing 1 and Thing 2
have something new!
And they want to
share it with you!

It is not a frog.
It is not a log.
It is not a hog.
It IS a blog!

Thing 1 and Thing 2 Revue
Where Thing 1 and Thing 2 review
Books and movies!

They would love to have you as readers . . .
Click here to see it!
And please add it to your blog reader. :)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Listen up, Groundhog.

Photo from

I know who you are and I know where you live.

We don't live far from you.

Someday we'll actually be in Punxsutawney when you come out of your burrow and the strangely dressed man holds you up in the air for all to see. It's on our Bucket List under "Foolish Things We'll Do Anyway."

But that is besides the point.

It's been a fine winter. Lovely even, though cold.

I, myself, have burrowed and hibernated. It's winter. The earth rests and, apparently, so do I.

I wear comfy clothes, drink warm beverages, eat root vegetables and soups, commemorate winter solstice, cozy up with blankets, read good books, and rarely wear make up.

But enough is enough.

I'm warning you, Phil. When you step out of that burrow tomorrow, close your eyes if you have to, but do not -- I repeat -- do
not look at your shadow.

Just don't.

That is all.