Monday, December 31, 2007

Catching up before midnight

Happy New Year!

It's 5:48 p.m. on December 31, and I'm trying to cross everything off my Must Do in 2007 list that I didn't. Here's what's left:

1. Lose 30 pounds
2. Experience Hawaii from the passenger seat of a helicopter
3. Post pictures taken since October
4. Train for the New York City marathon
5. Leave baked goods in the vestibule of my apartment building for the neighbors' enjoyment
6. Write a novel
7. Floss
8. Choose a mutual fund that will ensure my financial stability forevermore
9. See Juno
10. Find the telephone that used to be in my old bedroom in my parents' house that they hid when I was grounded in 10th grade and eventually lost because I was grounded for that long

To be fair:

1. I attended the New York City marathon (more on that later)
2. I baked cookies yesterday that I planned on putting out for the neighbors, but I managed to burn them and they remain quarantined in my kitchen (and seriously, how many times have I made these cookies and now I burn them? yegads)
3. I wrote a few pages and a brief character sketch for a novel, but I'm not yet feelin' it
4. I've been flossing diligently after a brief hiatus from my gums
5. I think a lot about mutual funds, more than I should
6. The phone is hopelessly lost
7. I really did do a lot this year. I just didn't do these things.

All that leaves is the 30 pounds (which, please), Hawaii (where I am in my head), Juno (which I'm still holding out for) and posting three months' of pictures. And aren't you lucky ...

(As always, you can click on any of these photos for a more detailed look.)

In October, Josh and I went to Cape Cod for our friends Jay and Jessie's wedding. I've always, always, always wanted to go to Cape Cod, and the thought of going during my favorite season was almost more than I could bear. All the leaves would be peaking. So excited. If you didn't know by now, I'm extremely easy to please.

We packed up the car to go. The key to a successful road trip is the snacks. Josh and I try to keep things relatively healthy (except for the time he bought a pound of chocolate rugelach from Gertel's bakery on the Lower East Side and we ate the entire box while driving along I-80). We bring along grape tomatoes, but this time the tomatoes didn't look that great so instead we bought peanut M&M's. And sometimes we'll stop for bagels, but this time we just ate peanut M&M's. And sometimes we'll just have regular yummy green grapes, but this time we ate peanut M&M's.

We stopped off to get gas. Inside the gas station was this:

To you, it may be a cover for a set of car floor mats. To me, it is badly punctuated printed matter using the word nib.


My god, I hate the word nib. It's like nubbin without the potential of whimsy.

Also inside the gas station was this:

Just as gross as nib, but this time with visuals. Ew, coconut stacks.

So the whole plan for procuring fulfilling road food was a dud. We left the gas station, started to drive toward the bridge, and realized we'd forgotten his suit and my dress for the wedding. Thank nibs we hadn't driven that far before we remembered we'd forgotten, because I can't imagine the alternative, having to find something, in Cape Cod at the end of October when many stores have closed for the season, appropriately stylish and plus-sized for me to wear to a wedding. Nightmare. And for Josh to find a suit? We spent the whole car ride up to Massachusetts saying, "I can't believe we almost forgot our clothes. I can't believe we almost forgot our clothes."

The drive up was beautiful. It was rainy and grey, but the fall leaves were just beautiful. And then we saw this:

And at that point, I was all, "You know what? I love donuts. Who needs grape tomatoes anyway? Donuts!"

We got to the Cape, settled in, and had dinner with Josh's cousin Mindy, who lives on the Cape with her wife, Mercedes. Josh and Mindy hadn't seen each other in a long, long time, and it was outstanding. Mindy and Mercedes are so cool, so relaxed, so comfortable to be around, and to see Josh with her was excellent. He had an ease around her that was lovely, and it was nice for me to see him spend time with someone from a side of his family that, for various reasons, he doesn't have a lot of contact with. It was a really excellent night.

The next morning, the sun came out, the ground began to dry out, and we went to the site of the wedding for the rehearsal (Jay asked Josh to recite one of the seven blessings given during a Jewish ceremony). The site was beautiful: It was Cape Cod in October, but the weather was due to be sunny and warm, so the ceremony was set to be outside in the backyard of an old house near Skaket Beach.

It was such a pretty location. We hit the rehearsal, then drove to a town called Chatham to walk around

and then we went to Mindy and Mercedes's house for a few hours. Their home is beautiful, with lots of light and gardens and a small orchard on their property. They're moving to California soon so we're so glad we were able to connect with them while they were still living on the east coast.

We spent the rest of the day driving out to Provincetown, which is at the very end of Cape Cod. We stopped first at Race Point, one of the many beaches along the National Seashore. During the drive out there, the sky was covered in a thick blanket of cloud, but as we neared the end of the Cape, we saw that the cloud cover all ended at the exact same point, where the clear sky was exposed. It was bizarre.

Race Point

Everything was lovely and smooth-sailing until we were leaving Race Point and got pulled over for speeding.

The beauty of Cape Cod is that it is such a laid-back place. We got pulled over for speeding in a very expensive part of the country, in a national park, and we thought that a) the cop would be dickish, and b) the ticket would cost a fortune. But the cop was pretty chill, the ticket didn't cost that much, and the only sense of forboding we got was when it was pointed out to us that not paying a ticket issued in a national park — by turns, a federal ticket — would result in the cavalry coming after Josh and hauling him off in shackles for eternal damnation building national monuments for the rest of his life. Or something.

Provincetown was cute and kitschy, although our quest for homemade ice cream was thwarted by the fact that all the most promising ice cream joints were already closed for the season. We're glad we saw the town anyway. It was the kind of place where someone saw we were looking for a parking spot so they had us follow them to the one they were about to leave so we could have it. You know, that kind of place. Ice cream shortage aside, I'd still much rather visit Cape Cod during the off-season than during the summer. It was crowded enough in October; I can't imagine what it would be like in July.

Jay and Jessie's wedding was perfect. It was a crisp but warm fall day, the air smelled fresh, the sky was clear. They couldn't have asked for better weather. Everything was very seasonal and autumnal, which is lovely enough, but all of their friends were so cool. Josh and I only knew a few people there, but by the end of the wedding, we had spent time with so many strangers who had become friends with Jay and Jessie through the most interesting means. Jessie herself had been in the Peace Corps in Slovakia, and we loved her Corps friends who were there. All different ages and backgrounds. It was so much fun.

This is Jay watching Jessie walk down the aisle:

Josh and Jay met while both were in undergrad at George Washington University in D.C. The first time I met Jay, he asked me where I was from. I told him West Bloomfield, Michigan. He said he knew one person from there, but I probably didn't know him. I said to try me: The Jewish community is large in metro Detroit, but everyone at least knows someone who knows the same person. They call it Jewish Geography, and it runs deep in the northwest suburbs.

Needless to say, not only did I know the man Jay knew, but I was still using the alarm clock he (or, really, his mom; he was 12, of course) bought me for my bat mitzvah. Our parents are close friends. The difference, though, is what it's like to meet someone as an adult: When I met this man, he was in my homeroom in seventh grade and we used to sit in a group during General Swim at summer camp and read aloud from Forever and giggle at the dirty parts; when Jay met him, the man was shitfaced in a taxi, puking on the street before stumbling into the house where Jay was hanging out. It's about growth.

Jessie wins the Greatest Wedding Dress award.

Oh, it was so hot. Both Jay and Jessie are tall drinks of water, and she was stunning in this tiered column gown with a jeweled brooch at her waist. It was flattering and sexy and I wanted it.

My beloved reading his blessing. So cute. The blessings were in Hebrew, so Super Jew over here got the second-longest one. He did great.

In the Jewish tradition, after the ceremony, the couple usually goes into a room for their yichud, which is time alone before the craziness of the reception when they can just take in the moment, the actual marriage, in peace as a couple. It was my favorite part of our wedding day. At Jay and Jessie's, there was not a room for their yichud, so two chairs were set up for them and they were left alone in this lovely, quiet spot.

I'm not a huge wedding cake person. I love how they look, but I find that the efforts are usually poured into the visual and taste is always compromised. At our wedding, Josh and I served apple pie instead of cake. But then there's Jay and Jessie's cake. Jay and Jessie's cake was ridiculously pretty, but oh, man, it was dee-hee-licious. SO good. In reality I ate one piece, but in my head, I ate five.

Before Jay and Jessie left the reception, guests were given rose petals to toss at them.

After the wedding, some guests went down the road to Skaket Beach to explore and take pictures. It's a really picturesque spot with interesting wildlife and plants. And it was fun to walk along the sand all dolled up.

Note the awesome dog in the lower right of the frame. That dog could run:

The good men they are, Jay and Josh held court over my shoes while I wandered the beach.

One thing that did surprise me about Cape Cod was that I expected the whole area to look beachy and dotted with the signature grey slatted homes. Cape Cod is actually very woodsy, very remote, and you don't see the beaches by just driving down the main roads; you have to go to them. It was much more diverse in terms of its topography, and much more earthy, than I thought it would be. So nice.

On the way back to New York, we decided to take the long way through Connecticut, off the interstate, just to see the leaves and the small towns. It was a sweet drive, but we were literally driving through one-horse towns, where in three blocks there were Bob's Automotive Repair, a bar that hadn't been painted since the Depression and some guy having a yard sale underneath a sign that said: WE HAVE PYREX. And that was it for that town. We also stopped for lunch in Providence, Rhode Island, where I visited alone in March, but Josh had always wanted to check it out.

The end of October means the beginning of November, which, to me, means Marathon Day. Lisa and I headed to Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn to cheer on the runners.

Every year, they amaze me. Every year, they smile and sweat and dress up and every single one of them is running for a very different but very specific purpose. And every year I wish I could do such a thing but every year I know that I just don't have 26.2 miles in me. So I stand on the sidelines and scream their names instead. I still can't believe that, at mile 7, where I stand, they're still smiling.

Seeing Darth Vader run the marathon will cause anyone to double-take, but not far behind him were Princess Leia and Han Solo. By the time Chewbacca ran past, we were jaded.

There are two reasons why I love America's Next Top Model: 1) the photo shoots, and 2) how every year, Tyra Banks gets more and more insane. Every year, she gets more and more sanctimonius and narcissistic and completely, mind-blogglingly wackadoo, totally unaware that you can't wear a ginormous orange weave and expect people to take you seriously when you're lecturing on the dangers of smoking or not mastering a smoky eye or not truly understanding a pose that says "What-what?" as opposed to "Uh-huh." For some reason I'm not proud of, I find it hilarious to watch. I assume it's hubris, and maybe one day somebody will be entertained by my own downward spiral, but for now, I'm just amused with Tyra's.

So really, this is how I feel about her, especially since the fugalicious Saleisha's very obviously (and badly) fixed win:

Marathon detritus: The best kind of foot-traffic litter.

So, as I may have mentioned, as Thanksgiving approached, we started to clean out the apartment to accommodate the bazillions of guests we were having. Salvation Army came by and carted off a whole load of stuff, we threw away bags and bags of old mail and papers. The one thing we had not addressed in the past year, though, was the corner of our apartment that was stacked with cans of prescription food and IV fluids we used to give to our cat, Gwendolyn, who died last December. (She had a kidney disorder and required special care.) Josh looked for a shelter that would take donations, but most of the big ones only accept money. Lisa then told us about Barc, the no-kill shelter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she adopted her two excellent cats, Max and Ruby. Being a no-kill shelter, they were thrilled to receive Gwendolyn's food and medicine because the kidney condition is common in cats and they treat their animals' illnesses. We arranged to bring the stuff the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Not surprisingly, we came home with this:

Ultimately, we knew we couldn't leave without someone. We were both deeply devastated when Gwendolyn died, but we both came at the idea of adopting someone new differently. I grew up with dogs, and I never felt that when one died, as distraught as my family was, that we'd be trying to replace him or her by getting a new one. Animals all have such specific personalities; each one you adopt is so different from the other. For example, my parents' golden retriever, Charlie, is terrified of aluminum foil, but his great uncle, Mensch, who I grew up with, what an amazing dog, had no issues with kitchen wrap. So I just feel that you mourn, you go through the motions, and when you find yourself cruising Craigslist for pets, you're ready.

With Josh, it wasn't as simple. Gwendolyn was his baby and he didn't know if he could ever have another pet. He's not great with change. But eventually he, too, found himself cruising Craigslist for cats. So when we went to Barc and they asked us if we wanted to see the animals, we were hesitant, and then we were all, "Ahhh, twist our arms." I could tell that Josh was still a lot nervous, so when the woman asked what we were looking for, I said, "We definitely want two. Preferably siblings." Josh said, "If we were looking, we'd like female grey tabbies."

"Well, you're in luck," she said. Two three-and-a-half-month-old grey tabby sisters had been brought in six days before. They had been strays. Barc had named them Margot and Tallulah, and Josh fell to pieces.

I had never adopted a pet myself before, so I always thought that they sort of picked you. That they'd come to you and look at you with those big eyes and plead, "Take me to your house. Here, let me snorgle you." The girls were crazy-cute, but they'd been in a cage for six days and were exhausted. Tallulah stayed in the back corner of the cage, suspicious. Margot was more forthcoming and let us hold her. We were enamored, but Josh started freaking out a bit. He felt he was betraying Gwendolyn.

"It comes down to this," I said. "Can you go home without them?"

"Put them in the carrier," he said.

So we brought them home. We liked the idea of naming them ourselves, but we loved the name Tallulah, so we kept it. Margot is my sister Stephanie's middle name (apparently, in 1977, my parents thought they were French; I'm still wondering why they didn't name her Stéphanie, or, like, Marie-Hélène) so we bumped the Margot and renamed her Nora Margot. St(é)phanie still calls her Margot in solidarity. The Nora was a compromise so Josh would get off my back about wanting to name any future daughter of ours Nora. Good name, but I just don't see myself naming my kid Nora.

(And let me just say this: Having grown up with dogs, I never thought the first pet I'd be adopting myself would be a cat. That was weirder to me than anything.)

For the first couple days, they were very into our apartment and very into each other, but Josh and I were just the hairless beasts who fed them. They figured out how to not get eaten by the couch

and they spent some considerable time trying to reconcile the concept of Day-Glo green mice.

NORA (on left): Dude, sniff it.
TALLULAH: [sniffs] What the hell is this thing? This mouse is not like the mice we saw — on the outside.
NORA: Jesus, what is this place?!?

NORA: I give up.

They're nearly identical. For the first few days, we kept the nametags the shelter gave them on their necks, and after we took them off, there was a lot of, "Which one is that?" "This one." "Well, then, which one is that one?" "The other one." But I think we've got it. Nora is a bit lighter and has more brown. But from a distance, they're still That One and The Other One.

They both came down with nasty respiratory infections, and both spent nights at the vet; Tallulah couldn't even breathe with her mouth closed and had to be force-fed. The first two or three weeks we had them, we were running back and forth to the vet, wondering when they weren't going to be sick anymore. Neither of them weighed four pounds yet, so when they weren't eating, we got really worried. But then they got better. And now they're hilarious.

* doesn't like it when we wash the dishes.
* is a total bottom; when they play, she always flips onto her back and goes all defensive legs-up.
* apparently has OCD.
* would be good in the event of a fire: every time we come home, she does Stop, Drop and Roll and won't stop rolling around until we rub her belly.
* will climb anything, absolutely anything.

* coos like a pigeon when she pees.
* is a really picky eater, and seems to not be that into mackerel, of all things.
* doesn't like it when I talk about her butt.
* is transfixed by computers, and has put in considerable effort to read Josh's file of horror-film synopses; she thinks Roger Corman was a hack, but doesn't want to tell anybody because he's so popular and she's not yet mature enough to handle dissent.

They are both extremely loud purr-ers. They're giant mushbombs. They love to be kissed but don't like to have their ears rubbed. The hair on their bellies is so soft you can barely feel it when you touch it. Nora won't stop climbing on the treadmill and Tallulah jumps into the shower the second I turn the water off, while I'm still in it.

I'm not sure that my apartment can survive the kittens, but I'll take my chances.

In the middle of all this, we hosted Thanksgiving. The guest list was up to 22 people. I made pie.

Actually, I made three pies. My parents came to town early and my mother and I made butternut squash soup, Mom baked a cake, my father worked on putting our falling-apart apartment back together again, and then Jennifer and her fiancé, Brian, came to town and made appetizers and helped me peel potatoes for mashing and were stars in helping to set up, and Josh made pot roast and salmon and I made chicken and my mother-in-law made salads and vegetables and we were all set on food. And I bought tables and chairs and cleared out the apartment and everything seemed fine. And each day leading up to Thanksgiving, we accomplished what we needed to accomplish, and this was with two brand-new and getting-sick kittens wandering around the joint. I had all these plans to take pictures during the preparation and setup, and to take pictures of the table before everyone showed up. And then all hell broke loose.

Josh, who is the cook in our family, and is a great one at that, was having a complete meltdown over the pot roast, which he'd never made before and thought he'd ruined. I realized, in the middle of understanding that I had no idea how much chicken to make (we didn't do a turkey) and I hadn't even started to cut the vegetables for the dip, that I hadn't taken a shower yet. One of the kitchen cabinet doors appeared to be dangling off its hinges. My brain was mush and I could not, for the life of me, figure out what serving utensils to use or remember where I put them. The moms swooped in to save the day food-wise, the dads ran back and forth to and from the supermarket, Jennifer and Brian handled the setup and appetizers, and I was in a fetal position in the front-hall closet.

And then all of our guests showed up 40 minutes early.

Think of every stereotype you've ever heard about Jews, and please know this: Jews don't show up anywhere 40 minutes early. But there I was, with an apartment full of early Jews.

Luckily, they're very wonderful early Jews and didn't mind at all that we were still scrambling in the kitchen. And then we were ready, and everything turned out remarkably well. It was great company, the food was outrageous and Thanksgiving, which is quite an undertaking, was not a dud. I have to admit I was a little nervous: It was the first time we were combining certain pockets of both of our families into a tight spot, and there were a lot of different political and social views and beliefs that would be floating around that table. I'd had meals with each pocket before where there would be stomping away from the table and shouting and allaround havoc. Josh and I were a little wary of introducing certain relatives: We don't mind conflict, but we didn't want it at Thanksgiving. But none of that happened. Everyone mingled and enjoyed each other, there were almost no leftovers, it was loud and high-pitch the way a large family holiday should be. They ate everything and looked like they had a great time. A relief.

I think the hardest part for me was to admit that Josh and I could not have done it without help. I had all these big ideas about how it was going to be our holiday and we were going to start all these new traditions and take the pressure off of everyone else. But nobody can throw a dinner party for 22 people without help. As my mom said, "Marla, even restaurants have a salad guy. Just one guy on salad. You didn't have a salad guy."

So thank nibs for the family. Jennifer was a champ, doing all the dishes.

And her artichoke dip (glass bowl to the right of the pita)

was the hit of the night. Yum.

We were satisfied, but exhausted.

Really exhausted.

As far as our life lately, the other night at 3 a.m., the phone kept ringing. It was Drunk Girl At A Party saying her name is Crystal, she's Josh's girlfriend, and she's pregnant. It was 3 a.m. so all of our Awesome Comeback Faculties were disabled. (Later: "Oh, I should have said, 'Is this Crystal from the deli or Crystal from Scores?'" "Wait! When she said she was pregnant, I should have said, 'Again?!?'")

So now that Crystal is part of the family, we've incorporated her into daily conversation.

JOSH: Did anybody call today?
ME: Crystal.
JOSH: What did she want?
ME: She had her ultra-sound today.
JOSH: And?
ME: Twins.
JOSH: Oh, shit. I can't afford twins.
ME: Well, they're conjoined, so it's kinda like one.
JOSH: Conjoined? I can't afford those medical bills!
ME: Not my kid, not my problem.

And we had a moment where we did look back on 2007 to see what we accomplished. And we accomplished a lot. So I have to remember that, whenever things feel like they're moving too slowly, our lives have changed dramatically in just seven months. Let's keep it going.

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