We’re Still Who We Were in College, Just Exaggerated or More Polished Versions

This past weekend, G and I headed to Philadelphia where I went to my 25th college reunion, and he went to his 30th high school reunion. So strange to see people you haven’t seen in years, decades – and to see both how they’ve changed and how they haven’t.

  • Some people here look 15 years older” – That was G’s observation on Friday night at my reunion welcome event. It was true. For the most part, the women looked similar. I guess we can wear makeup, get our hair colored and get botox? Women looked like slightly older versions of ourselves in college, but with updated looks. Gone are the baggy, oversized sweatshirts (what were we thinking?) and weird 80s/90s hair and makeup. The men? Some looked good, but there were quite a few who had gained weight and gained gray. I mean, a lot of both. I hate to say it, but a head of mostly white hair, made some otherwise age-appropriate guys look 10 years older.
  • Some people have long memories for slights – As a joke, one of G’s friends mentioned that there was one guy from high school he was really hoping to see – to kick his ass. That was only half a joke. Some people were very friendly and forthcoming, just wanting to connect after so much time. Others seemed to still remember some definitely forgotten slight or fight. I guess once a bitch, always a bitch.
  • We haven’t changed our cores, just how our core selves manifest – Awkward people are a little less awkward, I guess life takes care of that. Neurotic people got more neurotic. Again, life shaped them in that direction. But the girl who always seemed so sweet and docile? She’s edgier and not such a pushover. I guess life intervenes and her true self is a bit more apparent. We’re both smoother and sharper versions of ourselves.

The years pile up even if it doesn’t look obvious – Of a gathering of 8 college friends, two had mothers with advanced Alzheimer’s and another two had their mothers pass away in the last 2-3 years. That’s a harsh reality on Mother’s Day Weekend. And a preview of what’s to come for the rest of us, alas.

What else? From G’s private high school, a number of folks had made their way back to Philadelphia. Maybe it makes sense that local folks are over-represented at reunion. But it was also a statement about Philadelphia. It’s still a small place and people tend to stick around. From G’s class – everyone was married, or had been. I think I recall one single mom and a single dad, each divorced. Almost everyone I talked to had kids – from the older mom or dad with a 3-4 year old, to the ones who had kids heading to college in the next year or two.

That’s a sharp contrast to my group. Three of the women have never married. They’ve all been in long-term relationships, just for a number of reasons, never got hitched. Another 2 or 3 of us don’t have children (I’m not certain about one of the gals). A friend turned to me and said, “I always thought I would have kids, but as things got closer to decision time, we decided we liked our lives too much.” She has 2 cats. Exactly. So the traditional family – married parents, kids – was the minority in our gathering. Unscientific sample, of course, and many of the other sorority sisters in our cohort are married with kids. Even still, we outliers aren’t such outliers here.


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Sand in the Hour Glass

A friend at work is having a typical puppy experience – adorable photos, punctuated by stories of chewed up socks, and of course, the inevitable waking up in the middle of the night to take the pup out to pee. Although *I* never had to deal with the waking up in the middle of the night part, I say to myself smugly.

Bing, surveying

After all, Bing was the smartest (and best/cutest/most adorable/insert your own superlative here) puppy and he’s still the BDE (best dog ever). He figured out potty training in a snap. We would take him on his last walk around 11:30 or midnight and then at 6 or 6:30 am, when I sat up in bed, I would see that he was already awake, sitting nicely – and quietly – at the door of his crate, just waiting for me to take him out. Big smile on his face.

There was the time we gave him his first bath … and he ran, dripping wet onto the new rug, stared up at us and peed emphatically. Pissed off.

Other than that, for about 16 years, we could count on one hand the number of accidents in the house. That just didn’t happen. And proud dog mom that I was, I secretly lorded it over my friends who had puppies who weren’t as quick to potty train. I even secretly lorded it over the new dog(s) that came along to join our pack. Bing was simply superior in every way.

Lately however, my elderly gentleman, about to turn 17 at the end of May, has started yet another new medication. This one makes him pee. He’s already taking one that makes him thirsty. You see where this is going.

He’s come full circle and as an old dog, has to be watched and taken out on a puppy’s schedule. So while I never had to wake up in the middle of the night to take him out when he was a puffy puppy, now that his blonde hair has turned white and soft, we take him out a few times a week in the middle of the night. If he’s awake, he has to go. Although isn’t that true for everyone?

Now, I take him out one more time just before I leave for work in the morning. I take him out after he eats. I pretty much take him out whenever I think of it, or pass by his napping form. The good news is he always goes. He understands why we’re outside.

And when I think about taking him out, but don’t, invariably he makes a small puddle. I’m annoyed for a fraction of a second. 1 – he can’t help himself and 2 – that’s what Nature’s Miracle is for. I have jugs of it – advanced formula, of course – and spray bottles of the hard floor formula. That and paper towels. Just keep buying them in bulk.

Mostly though, I’m sad. Sad for my sweet, smart, fastidious, super neat puppy …

The other day, I had this flash of insight. No matter what, each dog is destined to pee a certain amount in the house in their lifetime. Whether it’s a tough housebreaking in puppyhood, routine backsliding from a dog who never really gets it or a senior dog where age finally catches up … each dog is destined to pee a certain amount on your floors. And when that pre-ordained quantity is gone? Is it like the Fates in Greek mythology or the Norse Norns spinning then cutting the thread? {gulp}

… sand in an hour glass, dribbling away a little at a time. And there’s less left every time I look. As Uhtred says: Fate is inexorable.


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The Difference Between Men and Women – Surly Waiter Edition

What do you do about surly service? I guess it depends on the type of restaurant, the occasion, the company, a whole host of factors. Or does it?

Two weekends ago, I met two women at Bread and Chocolate in Chevy Chase, a hectic, buzzing place filled with kids, couples and croissants. I was a few minutes late, so I’m not sure what had transpired before my arrival, but our server seemed overwhelmed and not the warmest. My companions seemed a bit exasperated. One was a fellow alumnae who I had seen a few times in DC and on campus at events. We were brunching with the newest member of our women’s leadership group, the third woman.

At the close of brunch, Courtney, the new member, offered to pay the bill and headed out to relieve her babysitter. Mary and I were a minute or two behind her, and we stood outside on Connecticut Avenue for a minute or two to catch up on vacation plans and recommendations. That’s when the drama started.

Our server ran out and interrupted us. What’s this, he asked, waving the check.

I was confused. Our friend paid, did she leave her card? Or not sign the check?

She left me $1 in tip.

Ugh. I grimaced. Both Mary and I laughed uncomfortably. It was certainly a direct move, and the short brunch with Courtney definitely indicated she was unvarnished.

I guess she wasn’t happy with the service, we said and turned to leave.

You must be joking he said. This is my salary, my tips.

That’s when liberal guilt kicked in. I mean it’s Bread & Chocolate, so … I think both Mary and I reached into our bags. I had a $5 so I gave it to him. On a $35 check, not exactly generous, but better than $1.

I was annoyed – at the waiter for accosting us. I’ll admit I was a little annoyed at Courtney for putting us in the situation, although I was impressed by her ballsiness.

Then I got home and recounted the story to my husband. His take, entirely different.

You should have gone to the manager and had him fired. He had no business chasing down customers and hassling them.

True. But really get him fired?

You should complain. That’s not okay. Then the kicker: You think he would have done that to 3 men?

Well, when you put it that way, no. Not that he threatened us. He was an older man, and I towered over him.

That doesn’t matter, said the hub. Think about it. He wouldn’t dare do that to 3 guys.

The irony, three women in a women’s leadership group who spent most of brunch spouting off about the current political situation … we were subjected to poor treatment? Or just aggressive follow up because we were “girls”? Not singled out, of course, but I doubt he would have come out to say anything had it been me with my husband. And let me tell you, he would have had none of that.

So that does cast the events in a slightly different, more uncomfortable light.

Should I have given him the $5? Probably not. But it’s $5 and it made him go away. Or I should say, it made the problem go away.

If we’d just left, would he have followed me to my car, or yelled at me or Mary as we left? And would I have gone to the manager then? Or just do what I’ve been told to do since childhood – keep yourself safe, get away from the situation (calmly, slowly) and move on?

It’s just $5, right?

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One in Three Tourists Visits Copenhagen For The Food … So What Are The Others Doing?

It’s amazing to think that a small city on the Baltic has a record number of Michelin star restaurants. Is that reason enough to visit Copenhagen? Apparently, the answer is yes. And we’re not the only ones who think this way.

For years, we’d talked about trying to get a table at Noma. We’d even joked with other food friends about getting a reservation, then only after securing the table, finding a flight. But somehow it never happened. Maybe because the reservation system there is incredibly challenging. Or maybe because I wasn’t sure what else we would do in Copenhagen or when to visit or …. so many excuses. But with Noma closing at the end of February, when the opportunity for dinner there presented itself – even in deepest darkest February – we jumped.

Roasted Ant Covered Stick and Fruit Leather Atop Leaves at nova

Roasted-ant paste covered stick and leaf-shaped fruit leather atop leaves at Noma

So off we went for our food-focused long weekend. Verdict: there’s no problem with traveling to a place primarily – or even just – for the food. In fact, I’m not sure why we hadn’t done it before.

This happened: I ate sticks and leaves at Noma. Okay, more like food shaped into sticks and leaves served on top of (inedible) leaves. And ate the best grilled kale of my life. I’m still pondering how to make that happen on the backyard Weber …

We sampled other versions of Scandinavian cooking and tasted dishes from Noma alumni. We drank a little too much biodynamic wine for my taste. (Is that wine or is that juice?) But managed to snag a walk-in at a fun wine bar with amazing steak tartare.


That's a lot of bottles

We were awed by the bottled beer display at Carlsberg brewery, which definitely put my college collection to shame. We watched artists working with metal to create sleek jewelry.

And in between, we walked around the city, bundled up in hats and scarves, but otherwise learned about design and the history of Danish chairs.

I managed to learn where Zealand was and where exactly Copenhagen was situated in in Denmark. No mean feats.

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A Year of Escapist Reading

In the seven weeks or so, I have found myself strangely drawn to two types of books: science fiction (or is it technically fantasy?) and dystopian novels. Clearly a reflection of my current view of the world.

What better way to escape than to immerse myself in another world? Thus far, it’s more magic and dragons, then space ships and lasers, but I’m not adverse to the other. As for dystopian fiction, I’m not sure if it’s an escape or a warning. Nonetheless, when I look back on favorites from the past year, I’m definitely seeing these two types jump out.

The Underground Railroad – This year-end top-10 favorite is really that good. When I first read the reviews, I was intrigued and thought about picking up this re-imagining of the Underground Railroad as an actual, physical railroad that transported runaway slaves between states (both physical and states of being, of a sort). But then Oprah jumped on it, and I thought – bleh. But. It’s good. The book almost defies description. Is it historical fiction? No doubt Cora’s experiences are based on historical fact. But then there’s the fantasy of the railroad that travels under people’s homes and was built by, well, who knows who built it. And there’s the dystopian, sometimes Orwellian touches in how various states have decided to address slavery. Creative concept, beautifully written, searing descriptions and above all, a will to survive and thrive.

The Brotherhood of the Wheel – The Knights Templar of the Middle Ages, Dan Brown page turners and countless other treasure-hunting tales still exist today. They are a collection of truck drivers, bikers, cops and others who protect innocents traveling the roads. The predators? There’s your run of the mill serial killer, maybe some zombies (go with it) and something darker? And then there’s the road itself, and the power that lies beneath. A mish-mash of characters, but each with a good back story, who find themselves in a battle against evil. And if you’re a music fan, know that the author is too, and the songs that come on the radio or jukebox or wherever the characters are, well, that’s an important part of the story, as well. Oh, and there’s a sequel. Out next year.

The Handmaid’s Tale – I know, I can’t believe I never read Margaret Atwood’s classic, either. But in the wake of the election, it felt, necessary. So off it came from one of the back pages of my Kindle library. I can’t believe she wrote this 30 years ago – so much of it seems prescient: democracy ends because of Islamic terror attacks. In an all digital economy, women are easily targeted and cut off. Women are breeders or wives on pedestals or they are “unwomen.” Sound familiar? It’s not a screed though. It’s well-written and sharply descriptive. I’ll admit I’m not quite finished with the novel, but 75% of the way in, I think this certainly qualifies as a top read.

Eligible – In honor of the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen and the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, two groups have commissioned contemporary authors to retell their stories. Eligible, set in modern day Cincinnati, where Jane is a yoga instructor and Lizzie a magazine writer, with Bingley and Darcy as hot shot surgeons and Mrs. Bennett as a devotee to reality TV shows, might take the cake. It’s sharp and clever, and if you’re a fan of the original, you’ll like the modern recastings. If not, you’ll enjoy the read anyhow.

The Secret Chord – King David was the first historical figure to be chronicled from birth through childhood through adulthood and death. But what do we really know about the person? Geraldine Brooks’s David isn’t particularly virtuous or sympathetic, but he feels real and he is really flawed. Hence the tragedy. Downside: she uses traditional Hebrew (?) names so even if you are vaguely familiar with the biblical stories, you won’t necessarily recognize it right away.

Arcadia – A group of writers gather regularly at a pub in the countryside of England to read each other’s stories. Sort of like how Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and others did during WWII … Then the stories the professor writes get intertwined with his life. Is he writing a story of another timeline? The future? The past? Or is that story influencing (writing) his daily life? Add in a storyline that doesn’t seem connected until further into the book, and you have Arcadia. The threads eventually come together and yes, there is a conclusion.

Queen of the Night – This books is long and lush, with the main character moving between worlds and realities the way an opera singer moves through sets. Who is she? Well, that’s a secret that only 4 people know – a friend, a lover, the love of her life and her deadliest enemy. She’s poverty-stricken, she’s a kept woman, she’s Empress Eugenie’s servant, she’s an opera singer, she’s at the Commune – you get the picture. You become entangled in the story she’s written for herself. Can she escape it? Operatic in scope and feel.

And two nonfiction books make my list as well:

Black Flags The Rise of ISIS – Because you can’t escape reality all the time …. Black Flags is a good, informative read on the founding of ISIS. It’s terrifying, and timely. You can vaguely remember many of the events chronicled in the book, and the stories echo in what you read in today’s news. Warrick is a good storyteller with excellent sources, particularly among the Jordanian services, who (naturally) have their own POV.

Valiant Ambition – This book about George Washington and Benedict Arnold tells the stories of the two famous Revolutionary War figures, before their places in history are set, as they are barreling toward their fates. I wish I had read a physical book, so I could follow the detailed maps and drawings, but I muddled along as best I could. It’s a reminder that we control our own destinies and that long game is the one that’s worth winning.

What were your notable reads of the year? I’m always looking for book recs!

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