For the low, low, low price

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One of the treasures at the yard sale of the year. And a fancy pair of gold heels to go with — still in the box.

After helping to host a subdivision-wide yard sale on Saturday, I can finally say I get the attraction of the wheel and the deal.

This is a belated realization as I come from a long line of bargain shoppers. First off, my little brother Matthew has never paid full price for anything — whether it’s on sale or not. Whatever he’s buying, he has no qualms about turning on the charm and asking for the manager.

Then, to their automatic question of “What can I do for you today?” he’ll smile broadly and say, all cheerful and light, “What can’t you do for me?”

This is not even a kind of funny joke and, actually, veers on this side of smarmy. Yet it works for the little twerp almost every time. Ten percent, 15 percent, 30 percent, he’s had it all. He’s had a leather couch replaced twice because it got scratched. He got it for 50 percent off to begin with.

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Dirty feet at Shaky Knees

11074538_10152736562830493_1941701460_nThis past Saturday, I looked down at my feet and contemplated how dirty they were. Mud was caked in perfect stripes where the straps of my flip flops had been, and the spaces between my toes were black. I looked over at my girlfriends’ feet and theirs were the same, the dirt echoing the formations of their shoes.

The night before, we’d made the trip to Atlanta to attend the Shaky Knees music festival. It was my friend Candice’s idea, since she still knows all the cool bands, and Sarah and I met her at our hotel nearly jittery from the excitement of a girls’ weekend.

I hadn’t had a music festival getaway like this since 2001. That year, I’d gone to the Winnipeg Folk Festival, held at a big park outside of the city. It was a weekend-long affair of listening to fantastic music by day and staying in a tent all night. In the distance, the beats of an all-nighter drum circle lulled us into a semi-consciousness that wasn’t restful but wasn’t objectionable either.

I thought of that as I stared at my dirty feet on Saturday. This was an essential byproduct of music festival attendance, yes. But had they always gotten this dirty? I didn’t remember that part.

And then I realized it: I’d never noticed before because I’d been 24.

But at age 38, I sure did. In fact, it wasn’t so much the feet, it was the body as a whole. I was sweaty and stinky, partly from dancing, but partly from just being around such a mass of people. I was also keenly aware of my hands and how badly I wanted to wash them.

I know I wasn’t alone because at one point, Sarah tried to use the portable sinks set up near the PortaJohns.

“They ran out of water,” she said, slightly panicky. “So now I just have soap all over them.”

The very fact that she’d, a), tried to wash her hands, and, b), attempted to lather up was another testament to the fact that we weren’t young anymore. Would this even have been a consideration back then? Didn’t my hands just get clean from the condensation beading on my cold beer?

But beer also wasn’t at the forefront this past Saturday. Instead we kept sucking back on the Smart waters Sarah had bought us at the Dollar General a few days before because she’d read on the festival rules webpage (!) that we were only allowed to bring in containers that were still sealed. She’d painstakingly chosen bottles with flip tops so we could refill for free and not have to buy $3 Dasanis.

Both Candice and I were extremely thrilled with our Smart Water bottles and repeatedly told Sarah that throughout the day. The reason why our bottles were constantly a subject for conversation is because we were constantly refilling them. Why were we doing that?

Dehydration fears, of course, which is another sign of being 38.

Thinking back on it, I’m not sure I ever drank a glass of water throughout the summer of 2001. Someone might have offered me one once, but I’m sure I scoffed at the idea. Being thirsty or feeling dry, getting a headache or stomachache due to desiccation, never even crossed my mind. I’d just sat there listening to music, letting the sun blast out every ounce of moisture from my body.

Of course, the sun was doing more than that. But did I even have a dime-sized dab of sunblock anywhere on me? No. No because I was trying to get a tan. Did I burn? I don’t know. If I did, I didn’t feel it.

But now? Sarah, Candice and I put on sunscreen before we even got to the festival, forming a factory line in the hotel room so we could apply it to each other’s shoulders. What number was that sunscreen? Thirty for our body and 60 for our face. When had those numbers been shared? Before we left the house in Kentucky.

And now what did I want to do? Well, a), wash my feet, but, b), get that sticky layer of sunblock off me. Where did I want to do that? Dreamy images surfaced of our luxe hotel shower and then the cozy beds that were waiting for us.

The girls must have been feeling the same. Around 10:30, we made the executive decision to leave early so we could avoid the rush of the masses all looking for Ubers and taxis at the same time.

I’m making it sound like we didn’t have an amazing time and, actually, nothing could be further from the truth. We had a blast. We heard incredible music and danced like we were 24. We had lots of laughs, met up with fun friends, ate fish tacos with avocado-lime cream, talked and talked and talked. Overall, apart from the dirt, we were heaps more comfortable than we ever were when we were young.

But as we drove back to the hotel, still floating from the music but looking forward to the shower, it occurred to me: Isn’t it amazing how you become responsible without even realizing it? And how you never know the freedom of your immaturity until it’s over?

Lego: best toy in the world

IMG_1175I ask you this: Was there anything better than playing with Legos when you were a kid? Think hard before you come to the inevitable conclusion, which is, of course, no. There was nothing better.

I was contemplating this a few days ago as I put a birthday care package together for little Miss Greta Pancoe, my best friend Kristin’s daughter. I bought her Lego, of course, since she’s now 5 and that is the magic age, at least according to the box, that one is officially old enough to play with the best toy in the world.

My little brother Matthew and I spent hours playing with the stuff. Like our Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, they were hand-me-downs from our older cousins Richard and Roger. The Legos were our favorites and nearly every weekend, if not every day, we’d spread the stuff out and get to work.

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Citizen at last

IMG_1001“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible.” Wait, is it indivisible before under God? Or under God before indivisible?

This was my ragged thought process as I drove up to Frankfort a few weeks ago to become naturalized as an American citizen. It was the final step in a long series of steps that, frankly, had taken me 10-plus years to take. Now all I had to do was remember the pledge correctly.

I texted my question to my friend Jessica Crockett, who was student government president in high school and led the pledge every morning (“Nerd alert,” she admitted upon sharing that sweet piece of trivia).

“Under God before,” she immediately texted back.

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Visiting the great Down Under

11079242_10152665122370493_439161320_nI’m almost, but not quite, finished writing about the trip to Australia we took a few weeks ago. It really was a momentous vacation for our family, so, at the risk of being the neighbor that makes you watch his extensive slideshow of his trip to Gettysburg, I’d like to talk about it just a little more.

We spent the bulk of our trip in Melbourne, where my stepdad Peter is from. Immediately upon leaving the airport, the city felt familiar, extremely Western and clean, with an incredible skyline. We saw billboards advertising movies that were recently in theatres here (Furious 7, anyone?), everyone had iPhones, there were Kentucky Fried Chickens everywhere, and people were fit and well dressed. Of course, it was fall  and the leaves were changing, which was a bit of an adjustment, but otherwise, it was like we were in a flatter version of San Francisco or a hillier Chicago.

Of course, it doesn’t take long before the uniqueness of the country becomes apparent. It just takes speaking to a native Melbournian before you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore: “How you going?” they’ll ask you.

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The pretty, impractical purse

IMG_1011We’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Australia, a beautiful, interesting, family-filled, at times stressful, most times wonderful vacation and, in the end, on the plane ride home, it made me think about purses.

I realized this after settling my bag under my seat before takeoff. I had brought two purses for this journey: my steady, Irish green canvas bag that holds everything and a new purchase, an over-the-shoulder hot pink number the size of a pack of cigarettes.

I’d seen it online and realized it was just what I needed: capable of holding credit cards and cash, but so light I wouldn’t even notice I was carrying it. I imagined myself walking the streets of Melbourne with it over my shoulder, this fuchsia vixen adding a hot (and essential, no?) splash of color to my tame outfits. I hemmed and hawed over its rather outrageous price. But then I heard “YOLO, YOLO,” the fatal acronym that is sure to be music to MasterCard’s ears: You Only Live Once. So click, and the transaction was complete.

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A nonsmoking journey

Some of you may remember way back in the summer when my little brother Matthew and I had a frank conversation in my porch in the middle of the night. He’d come to attend William’s dad’s funeral and, despite the sad circumstances, we were using this rare visit and that late hour to catch up. That chat, which was hazy from the smoke of his Benson & Hedges and my Virginia Slim, eventually steered toward Matthew’s smoking habit.

True, it wasn’t the ideal circumstance to tell him how much I wanted him to quit, since I was puffing away myself. But I laid it all out on the line: that he coughed and cleared his throat all the time, that I was worried he would die before me and I wouldn’t be able to bear it, that it was time and he knew it. Somehow, something sank in for him that day.

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The girl and the coconut

1911682_10152374152010493_1094622657382436955_nIt was a long time coming. Little Gabrielle Baker, who’s not so little anymore, sat in the doctor’s office playing a game on her phone. She sat on that pleather mattress — not pink, not orange, not brown — doctor’s offices have, swinging her long legs, looking quite a bit less nervous than her stepmum.

That stepmum was talking incessantly, telling her how fine everything was going to be, telling her, in fact, just often enough that it was betraying her doubt.

But then in walked the allergist, who is happily my friend Sarah, and stepmum could shut up.

“Are we ready?” Sarah said, with a big smile on her face. “Did you bring it?”

I handed her the bag of sweetened flaked coconut she’d asked me to bring.

“Let’s do this,” Sarah said.

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A party to remember

IMG_0695A few weeks ago, I walked into the local pub the Tap on Main to discover all of my friends banded together at the end of the bar waving little American flags. “The Star Spangled Banner” was playing on the stereo. A little table had been decorated with gingham linen, white roses, Coca Cola, apple pie and patriotic cupcakes. And as I walked toward my friends, crying of course, I had to walk under a huge flag hanging from the ceiling.

It was the surprise of all surprises, one my friends had thrown me for passing my citizenship test, the last step before I can be naturalized as a citizen.

Admittedly, I had the feeling something was in the works before we got to Tap. This was largely because my husband was acting shifty before we left the house. We were supposed to meet our friends Sarah and Scott at the Tap by 7. But from 6:45 to 7:04, my husband’s phone kept vibrating, jumping around on the kitchen island like an alarmed bird.

“Work stuff,” he sniffed and started tapping on keys with his hand covering the screen.

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The road to citizenship

IMG_0698Last Thursday, I walked into the local pub The Tap on Main to see a huge American flag hanging from the ceiling. “The Star Spangled Banner” was playing on the stereo, and bottles of Coca Cola, apple pie and patriotic cupcakes sat on a table nearby. But most importantly, at the end of the bar was a big group of my friends, all of who had gathered just for me.

Earlier that day, I’d driven to Louisville to take my citizenship test, the last step before you are naturalized as an American. I’d been studying for it for the past week and now knew: Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. James Madison was the main writer of the Constitution. The Constitution was adopted on July 4, 1776. Not 1767, but 1776. 1776. 1776.

Studying for this test, which consists of knowing the answers to 100 questions about American civics and geography, had been interesting. Finally, I was getting some things cleared up in my head. For example, I’d always thought the Declaration of Independence had happened after the Revolutionary War, after the Americans had won and “declared” victory. I had had no idea that the Louisiana Purchase was the purchase of such a huge piece of land, extending all the way to the Canadian border. And I’d always just associated Benjamin Franklin with kite flying, not libraries, the post office or writing the Constitution.

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