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Home Is Where The Nachos Are

31 May

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Friday afternoon I found myself in a yin yoga class with Hilary.

Yin yoga is my favorite kind of yoga, mainly because I know I can do it.  I know I can stretch and grow and leave feeling refreshed.  Sometimes I go to these 1.5 hour hot yoga classes in Malibu, and all I can think is I’ll never be able to do this, I must give up yoga and probably everything else.

But yin yoga at noon at Pepperdine is one of my favorite things in the world.

Hilary smiles throughout the whole class.  You should really try working out with that girl.  Her eyes are closed, she’s in shavasana, and she’s got a big, broad grin across her whole face.

Hilary has many of the things I do not have.  It’s what makes us good friends, my eagerness to soak some of it up.

After yoga I told Hilary I wanted fries.  I saw an Instagram shot of fries and I needed fries and so to Duke’s we went because I know about their fries.

(And their nachos.)

(And their hula pies.)

We’ve been here nearly three years, Hilary and I.  I got a notification that the blog I started in London–a very sad, very small, desperate thing of a blog–just turned four.

FOUR YEARS OLD!  My London times are in preschool.  They no longer just happened.

I remember moving here, fresh back from London and everything was London this and London that and it’s not anymore. I hardly mention it.  It’s part of my history, and certainly not the most important part right now.

Not even close.

The boys Cait and I dated that first year we were here, the ones we gave nicknames and who were topics of conversation–they have grown older, grown out of their nicknames.  The other day I found out one of them is expecting a child with his now wife.

I texted Cait.

She responded with a picture of a burrito.

Three years.

Not quite.

Almost three years.

It’s enough to make a place a home, I think.  Or it’s getting close.

I get sad, sometimes, about my life here.  I have friends, and good ones.  But not that many of them.  And none who knew me before.  These are all “new” friends, people who met me when London was fresh.  People who have never met the boys who broke my heart or the friends and family who healed it.

My friends here feel so separate from the rest of my life, sometimes.

Rob has two friends from other areas of his life, a childhood friend and a college friend, who are both here in Southern California.

I envy that.

What I would do to have a childhood friend out here!  A high school friend!  My sole college friend! (Hi Laura!)

There are times when my life in California feels so separate from my life elsewhere.  My life in Utah, I suppose.

All of my siblings are back in Utah now, did you know?

You wouldn’t know.

For a stretch there it was only 1/5 Denning children in the Beehive State, all of us spread out, doing our own thing, likely never to return, and then without warning everyone is coming back but me.

It’s enough to make a girl think.  What am I doing here?  How long will I be here?  What do I want of my life?

I think these things anyway, but the prospect of all the people I love regularly gathering without me, I think them harder.

I have a life here.  I’m no longer at the stage where I wonder when my real life will begin.  I am living my real life, right now, this very moment, with the dregs of my cold tea and my California cherries and the four books I have open on my bed because nothing is really holding my attention reading-wise these days.

This is my life.  A life of yin yoga and french fries, of sea salt and foggy skies.

I don’t want to ever leave Malibu.

I think this fairly regularly.

Every time I drive up the PCH, past the stilted houses and the dots of surfers and the overpriced restaurants–I feel the air come back into my lungs and I think, “How could I ever leave this?”

Malibu feels like home.

I have my places.  A magazine stand, a burrito stop, my favorite scoop of ice cream.

Places take time.

So do people.

Rob reminds me of this when I’m feeling sad about being here.  “Jill,” he says.  “Your people in Utah have 15 years with you.  It’s natural that it’s different here.”

It’s natural and it’s hard.

It’s my real life, right now, this very moment.

A Plea To My Siblings: Don’t Take Christmas From Me

21 Oct

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Christmas is far and away my favorite holiday.

I’ve often worried I would fall in love with someone who had strong family Christmas traditions and our dueling alliances would tear us apart.  I will give my partner any other holiday, ANY holiday he wants, as long as he gives me Christmas.

My family does Christmas right.

There’s the neighbor gifts–salsa.  We all have our jobs, I write the labels because mah handwriting is da bomb, yo, also because I’m terrible with a blender. There’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the novel we read every year growing up.  There’s the Disney Christmas Album and a box full of handmade ornaments, and a yearly Nativity pageant where I am always, always the angel and plan to be such until my own daughter rips the role from my hands.

And then there’s Christmas Eve.

Long ago when my four siblings and I were but young children, curly of hair, extreme of height, Christmas Eve meant the Nativity and Christmas morning meant presents.  These were the days of Barbies and video games and sleepless, giddy nights.  These were also the days when the cheap gifts we bought our siblings got lost in the fray of Barbies and video games and sleepless, giddy nights.

Enter Christmas Eve.

One year it was decided us children would exchange our gifts on Christmas Eve, allowing us to fully enjoy our simple sibling gifts for one night, and then on Christmas Day we would have our parent gifts.

This solution worked like a charm.

Suddenly sibling gifts were a thing.

A very, very important thing.

Back in the early, early days, sibling gifts consisted of our parents handing us $6 as we entered the Dollar Store, $1 per person per gift.   We would walk through the aisles, looking for the best crappy soap possible, furiously hiding our baskets from snooping siblings, and furiously trying to track down what our snooping siblings were getting us.

When money grew a bit more sophisticated, it was all of us at Target, trying hard not to/to run into each other in the aisles.

We would obsess over the gifts we got each other. “Just read the first three letters on the receipt,” we would say.  ”What are the first three letters?  That’s all I need to know.” We would shake hidden gifts and give hints and then, once we all went shopping together, we would all wrap our presents together.

This is my favorite part of all of Christmas.

My siblings and I gather in one big room and wrap our gifts to each other.

It’s exactly the sort of madness you would hope it would be.  We furtively show each other our grand surprises.  ”Ooooh Jessie,” we say, “you’re going to love this!” and Jessica, who has her back turned NO PEEKING groans in anticipation.

We build forts to wrap presents underneath.  We use love seats as dividers, employ the honor system, and loudly speculate as we wrap a gift.  ”Hear that?” we say, “That’s your gift Joel,” and then Joel will be off predicting based on the first three letters of the receipt.

A lot of things have changed since the Dollar Store days, but this Christmas Eve gift giving and wrapping has (mostly) stayed with us.  When Jeff flies in from Austin he brings a bag of unwrapped gifts.  When I return from California my sibling presents are bare, ready for wrapping day.  Ready for this, my favorite family tradition.

And then, one day, without warning, we grew  up.

We added people to the familia.

Hi Lindsey! Yo Andrew! Hello my little nephew/Pride Of The Family Denning!

And suddenly the task seemed bigger.  The gift giving for each, individual person more unlikely.

Last year we tried to end the sibling gift tradition, or I should say a majority tried to end the tradition, and a vocal minority (me) (I’m always the family’s vocal minority) opposed the motion.  Drawing a single sibling name for a single sibling Christmas gift was heartbreaking and painful and every draw I cried out, “I can’t do this!  I feel terrible!”

So our tradition continued another year.

Just one year, it appears.

For recently it was casually mentioned we would draw names and buy one sibling a gift this Christmas.

One sibling gift!

What about all of the other people I love who share my family ties!

How will we wrap nine presents in the same room if we are only wrapping one!

It doesn’t make any sense!

And so here is my plea.

My siblings read my blog.  So do you, great people of the world.  And I am imploring both my siblings and you to make this madness stop.

Comment on this post.  Use that emotion stored in your heart of hearts and convince my siblings they are wrong.

LET’S SAVE DENNING SIBLING CHRISTMAS GIFTS.

Together we can do it.

Adventures in Rollerblading And Pasta Salad

7 Jul

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My mother is in town, which means my belly is full, my orchid is being nursed back to health, and my hair is out and scaring strangers.

I swear on the life and legacy of Edith Wharton that my hair grows when my mother is around.  I think it’s a competition thing.  Like my hair can just feel another mane trying to assert dominance and it won’t stand for it, nope.

When you add my little sister’s fuzz to the mix, well, we’re just a walking trio of alpha hair clowns over here in LA right now.

Luke assures me my hair is my best quality and that’s why we keep him around.

Then again, my dad says my mother’s hair is her best quality so maybe there’s something to this.

All right.

My Fourth of July was pretty grand, if you ask me, which you sort of did because you’re reading my blog.

My family saw a feminist revisionist film.  We had a BBQ in which I converted Luke to pasta salad (a crucial step towards any couple’s happy future) and we rounded the day off with an intense rollerblading session and spectacular fireworks on the Marina.

Now.

Before we get to the nitty gritty particulars of my blading adventure, I want to talk about pasta salad, because I don’t think I’ve really expressed my feelings on the matter enough.

Pasta salad is one of my main food groups.

Nachos is another, obviously.

Watermelon makes its own category.

So do peaches.

And mac and cheese!  Let’s not forget mac and cheese!

Isn’t this fun?

The pasta salad that converted the “I like my foods hot, thank you very much” Luke to the right way of thinking about pasta salads, I actually discovered at a baby shower.

I’m going to go ahead and say it’s the best thing to come out of that or any baby shower ever in the history of the world, because, really…

…baby showers…

On to rollerblading!

My family decided to bike to the Marina for the fireworks show to end all fireworks shows, and I strapped on my rollerblades for the outing.  This was fine, mainly, but not quite so fine in the dark.

Downhill.

In a crowd.

At one point on the journey we hit a slope and I took off on my blades, unable to stop myself.  My mother yelled, “Jill, grab the flashlight!” as though I could somehow gain control, turn around and reach back for her phone.

(My mother also said this week that she “lives for Snapchats” so let’s document that now.)

People made comments, as they do when a girl in a dress barrels through a crowd on rollerblades.

Is she wearing rollerblades?

Way to be unique!

Hello Jennifer Aniston!

(I couldn’t hear all of the comments, so I’m ad libbing a bit here.)

It was a whole thing.

I also managed to get stuck in my rollerblades right before a family picture, but let’s not go into details right now, let’s just review the picture above.

Ah, candid photos.

The night ended with a midnight s’more, several episodes of The Combeack, and bowl of extra chilled pasta salad.

I’m starting to feel like myself again after this month of Zombie Working Jill.

I’m almostttttt halfway sort of there I would say.

Also, The Comeback.

Why did no one tell me?

OK, Mom

12 May

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The summer after third grade I wrote my first novel.  It was called The Chronicles of the Porcelain Doll and it was a highly inventive story, 49% Chronicles of Narnia, 49% Wizard of Oz.

The 2% original part came in the form of a piece of bacon that served as a compass for my motley crew of animal and doll adventurers.

Mmm bacon.

I spent that hot Vegas summer locked in my room, furiously channeling my genius into spiral notebooks until one day I finally emerged, hands full of pages, and marched to my mother.  “Type this up!” I said in my usual, bossy way, hands on my hips.

She did, and in the end I had a beautiful 80-page book.

“You’re going to be a writer,” my mother said as she handed me my first novel.

“OK, Mom,” I said as I put the book away, never to be looked at again.

My mother always said she knew I would be a writer because what child spends their time hiding away writing novels?  “I know children,” she would say.  “You’re a writer.”

“OK, Mom,” I would say.

When I was 12 years old my family moved to Utah, and soon after I found myself at a church activity.  This particular get-together introduced each 12-year-old girl to the rest of the group via a written statement by their mother.

I remember standing in line with the other pre-teens in our performance fleece and flare pants feeling awkward and cold.  Mainly cold.  I never got used to the Utah cold.

The announcer read my mother’s words about me.  “Jill is a great pianist,” she said.  I blushed a bit.  “She loves to help other people,” I smiled. “And she writes plays and commercials and stories and likes to get other people to perform them.  She has a creative mind.  She’s a writer.”

I rolled my eyes, “OK, Mom.”

When I was 17, I went away to college, just 40 minutes from my hometown.  “I’m going to be a social worker,” I said, teal corduroy backpack on.  “This is my life’s path and destiny.  I couldn’t be more certain of anything on this planet Earth, and also Jewel is my kindred spirit.”

“You can do anything you want to, Jill” my mother said.  “You are endlessly talented.”

“OK, Mom,” I said.

When my mother was 19 she got married.  When I was 19 I started grad school.  I think it was also around this time I began the “If I were my mother, what would I be doing right now?” game.

It’s not a good game, really.  Everyone’s life path is different and too close a comparison to anyone is going to play with your mind, but, of course, as a teenager I didn’t know this or didn’t care about this.

I did know that all of the sudden my mother couldn’t relate to me in the same ways as before.  All of the sudden our life experiences were dramatically different.

At the age my mother had her first child I was single and finishing up grad school.  At the age she had her second child I was heartbroken and working full-time as a social worker.

As I struggled to cope with everything that comes along with being in your early 20s, I felt like my mom quite simply didn’t get me. The loneliness, the fears, the questions that I faced on a daily basis were things she could not relate to.

Sometimes I would cry to her or try to explain a problem I was having and would think, “She doesn’t understand.  At this age she was —.   She never had her heart shattered.  She never made all these tough decisions entirely on her own.  She never, she never, she never.”

When I was 24, I quit my job in London and moved back to my childhood home.  I was not happy to be an adult in my teenage bedroom, but I was quite happy to be done with social work. I spent the next few months working a terrible transcription job and trying to figure out the next step in my life.

After a good while of moping and coping, I emerged from my room, ombre hair in a messy bun, and announced, “I’m switching careers.  I’m moving to Malibu.  I’m getting another degree and no one can stop me!  Also my heart will never go on!

“What are you doing in school?” My mother asked.

“I’m going to be a writer,” I said.

“I’ve always said you were a writer,” she said.

“OK, Mom,” I said.

“OK, OK, OK. You were right.”

Today as I sit in my fluffy bed in LA I can’t help but play the “If I were my mother, what would I be doing right now?” game once again, a game I’m quite skilled at at this point, but also a game I realize means just about nothing.

At my age, my mother had three children.  She owned a home. She had mastered cooking and sewing and cleaning and praying and was well on her way to solving world hunger.

At this very minute I am underemployed and eat McDonald’s more times a week than she has in her entire life.

But I am a writer, just like my mother always knew I was.

I am a writer because of my mother. Because of her love of stories and imagination.  Because of her book collection.  Because of her unending faith in me.

And those differences, those things I thought that made it so we couldn’t relate to each other?

Well, they’re quite silly, really. Quite, spectacularly, ridiculously silly in the grand scheme of things.

I love you, Mother.

Happy Mother’s Day.

You were right.

J Names And Such

13 Apr

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There are five Denning children in my family and five Denning children with J names in my family.

Yep.

That’s us.

Sometimes people call us the J5s.  We know.  Thanks for pointing it out.  Perhaps you could share your baby name opinions with us?

My parents claim they did not start their journeys into motherhood and fatherhood with this J plan in mind.  Their favorite boy name was a J, so that was that.

Then came me.  If I were a boy I would have been named Ross. But  I wasn’t a boy, or a future paleontologist, and so I got their favorite girl name–also a J.

Obviously.

You know my name.

I just thought about that, and is the whole name thing a bit unfair to younger siblings?  Like, you know that you got the second favorite girl name when you’re the second girl?  And third favorite with the third girl?  I’m suddenly feeling slightly more special here about my name.

Jillian!

Number one girl name in the Family Denning!

Anyway.

My parents had a third baby and they thought, “Well what if we only have three kids, he’ll be the odd one out if he’s not a J,” plus they liked another J name, and well you get the point.

It wasn’t a plan, but it is a thing now.

Js for the win!

J5s!

J-j-j-Jillian number one girl name in the Family Denning!

All right.  I’m not sure where my mood is here, so let’s bring it back around to the more ridiculous.

I was going to try to walk you through my whole thought process for this next step, but it’s feeling impossible, so just know somehow my brain went, “Hey, what are the J names your parents didn’t use?  What would the siblings with these names be like in the Denning household?  Why don’t you write a post about this?”

And so I went there, because sometimes I let myself go to these weird places and maybe it’s time to share this on my blog.

Here are my six J-named non-siblings and their made-up personalities and roles in the Denning family.

(What has this blog come to?!)

Jocelyn is a sister I’m glad I never had because I’m already intimidated just thinking about her.  She’s ethereal and barefoot, the type of beauty that seems so natural and wholesome you can’t even begrudge her for it.  Jocelyn would spend her time wandering the woods in long silky robes and speaking to animals and making herbal teas from bark and thank goodness she’s not real because how would I even get out of bed knowing she was out there being that?

Jonathon would only go by Jonathon, thank you very much, and he would be the Percy Weasley of the family, all uptight and rule-following and REALLY REALLY political in a REALLY REALLY bad way and praise the heavens above Jonathon isn’t with us.  Does a family ever need a Percy, or do families just have to put up with Percys?

Jade would be the Denning girl who was a bit evil. Like if you met her in an alley she might just kick the crap out of you, maybe for no reason at all.  Maybe for rage issues, who knows.   Us Denning girls, we’re fairly tame, with me taking the attitude cake, but Jade would dye her hair a deep red and wear combat boots and go shoot arrows in the forest to save our family from the Quarter Quell and make me look like freaking Cinderella. I would try to joke with Jade like, “Hey, so archery” and we would not connect on any level.  Sorry Jade.  I think you’re cool, though!  I promise!

Joshua would be the douche, and maybe I’m just projecting knowing certain Joshs in real life, but it feels like he’s a douche and he tans and he wears neon clothing of some sort, but not in a good way, and my two nerdy, skinny brothers would not know what to do with him.  Also, he rides a bullet bike and can’t talk Star Wars.  We’re glad Josh didn’t come into our lives.

Josephine aka Josie would be the drama student the Dennings never had and not just because she’s named after Josephine March.   I’m the resident drama queen in the Denning household, but Josephine isn’t a drama queen.  She’s simply a thespian.  Serious about her art.  Bouncy and bubbly and outgoing like none of us Dennings really are.  Plus she can dance.  Yep!  She would be the Denning who got the very, very latent dancing gene and we would all not quite know what to do with her in the very best of ways except stand back and let her dance like a crazy.  Go Josie!  Go Josie!  We love you!  You are not grossie!

Jonah would be the missing Deninng artist.  Sensitive, perhaps to a fault, Jonah is an introvert who likes time alone with just his paintbrush and his battered Morrissey record. The real world would be a bit harsh for our Jonah, but we would love him anyway and we would love his art forever and always and anyway even when it was terrible.

Jonah is my secret favorite non-sibling, but don’t tell the others, especially not Jade!  Jade, I love you! You’re my favorite!

Promise!

Hey, so archery!

The Grandma Dress

7 Feb

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Every so often, my grandmother opens her considerable closet to me and my sister Jessica and it’s like Christmas, only better.  My Christmases don’t usually include authentic, floor-length hippy dresses straight from Farrah Fawcett’s past, and my grandmother’s closet most certainly does.

My grandma is something of a collector of clothing, and these open closet sessions are some of my favorite memories with her.  Nothing bonds people quite like, “Are we thinking yes or are we thinking yes to this prairie dress?” if you know what I mean.

Jessica and I often fight over the best pieces in my grandma’s closet(s), bartering for flannel, calling dibs, over-complimenting one article of clothing so we can steal the next i.e.

“That just looks SO fantastic on you, you must have it. I insist.” (martyr-like tone)

“And THAT ruffle number, I mean, I wish I could pull it off like you do.” (faux enthusiasm)

(We both reach for the same shirt we actually want.)

There’s an added level of excitement when I fall in love with something in my grandma’s closet and it then, miracle of miracles, it actually FITS me. My grandmother is a full six inches shorter than I am and the fact that I can wear anything she ever wore defies logic and reason and plain old science.

But it happens.

And when it does it’s something of a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants situation.

Fate.

There’s an element of fate.

And maybe a coming-of-age novel about it in my future, who even knows.

Wednesday I went to the San Diego Zoo and I just felt in my heart it was time for this gem of my grandmother’s to have its day in the sun.  My grandma is an avid zoo fan and lived most of her life in San Diego, slowing collecting her year zoo memberships pins and putting them on one fabulous sweater.

(The zoo sweater is not up for grabs in our closet raids, unfortunately.  Jessica and I have both tried.)

Wearing this 80s floral number only seemed appropriate.

The past few days have been a blur of crazy and happy.  I don’t feel I’ve even really been able to soak it up because each individual day is at least four regular-sized days all crammed into one and I am so full and tired I’m not exactly sure what time it is or what I need to do, I only know that this is good.

Right now is good.

Wednesday Hilary and I celebrated her birthday in spectacular birthday fashion, from Sprinkles cupcakes to 45 minutes of “It’s All Coming Back To Me,” to magical moments with baby orangutans. It would have been a wonderful day on its own, and was a wonderful day on its own, but to cap off its wonderfulness, Hilary’s brother decided to fly in and surprise her last minute and I got to be in on the whole deal.

Several hours and dozens of secret plans later, Hilary’s brother arrived in LA and watching the two of them interact was so sugary sweet I was practically in tears the whole time.   We spent the night at a pizza place laughing and friending and talking about why we love Hilary.

 Every birthday dinner my family has a tradition.  We take turns going around the table and saying the reasons why we love the birthday person.  My mother always starts off with, “I could go on and on…” and the family always collectively groans, and there’s always an awkward moment when you have to say what you love about yourself.

It is, without question, my very favorite family tradition.

Always.

And so I’ve taken this tradition and squeezed it into my friend group here in LA.

Wednesday was Hilary’s turn.

I have been doing these birthday love sessions my entire life, and I have to say I have never seen a session quite like the one for Hilary.  Hilary inspires superlatives.

I’ve often heard, “You’re very happy,” but in Hilary’s case it wasn’t just, “You’re very happy” it was “You are literally the happiest person I have ever met and just being around you makes my cynicism go down by 80%.”

All of her compliments were things like: You are the kindest person ever.  You are the the best human being.   You are the most genuine girl in the world.  And it’s all true.  Hilary has that slightly not-of-this-earth quality where she’s a fully developed person and yet just a bit better than the rest of us.

She’s the Peeta of the group.

And so, when Hilary’s birthday ended and I flipped through the millions of zoo photos I took with her I couldn’t help but think that maybe I had had such a great day, not because of the fated grandmother dress, but because I was with Hilary.

Being around her brings out the best in people, you know.

Thus it was said in her birthday love session.

Thus it is written.

Oh Hello There, Disneyland

20 Oct

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On Friday I headed to Disneyland with my mother, my baby sister, my baby sister’s friend and Caitlin/Thelma/Ben.

There is probably a more fun way to phrase that sentence, so I’ll let you get on that.

We walked around looking like mice all day because before we put on Minnie ears my energy was at a 0 and after we put them on my energy was at a 1 and we need to take these victories where we can get them.

MORNINGS!

Going anywhere with Caitlin means I take more pictures than I am comfortable with.  By the end of the day as we passed yet another perfect backdrop I said, “No more pictures, please.  I have enough awkward hand-on-hip shots to last a lifetime here.”

I really need to practice my photo taking skills, especially if I’m to call myself a blogger, but it just seems so out of character. You know those adorable girls on Instagram who just casually laugh and hold each other all the time and you go, “Is this real life?” and “That seems exhausting to cultivate”?

Yes, well that seems exhausting to cultivate and also nothing like my real life.

Oh!  And another thing about pictures with Caitlin, she keeps them all, INCLUDING THE BAD ONES and then comes back and tries to blackmail you with them later i.e. “Tell me about this conversation with this boy or I will post a 2012 OC Fair photo on Facebook.”

She hasn’t actually posted any because she loves me, but it is frightening to think that those photos of me are still out there.

What if they fell into the wrong hands?

I believe the greatest blessing to come from technology is the freedom to delete photos and try again and never, ever mention they happened.

And now that my Disneyland post has taken a drastic turn for the photo, we will end with one last, happy picture and the knowledge that on Saturday  I woke up and had a Disneyland caramel apple for breakfast.

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Successful weekend all around.

Bagels And Sisters

9 Aug

photo-173I’m back in the great Beehive State this week, enjoying a delicious cold front.  I don’t even need air conditioning here, I just roll down my car windows, bask in the 100 degree heat, and scream obscenities about Arizona!

Fine, I don’t scream obscenities.  I just think them.  Sometimes. Often?

Don’t miss you, Arizona.

The parentals are out of town, which means I wasn’t welcomed home in the grand funfetti way I’ve grown accustomed to, but which also means I’ve spent some quality one-on-one time with the baby sister Jessica.

Jessica and I are often told how much we look alike and, as good sisters do, we vehemently deny these claims.  “Who, us?  PLEASE, I look more like that red-headed 80-year-old man across the street than her!”

It’s all very unconvincing.

Jessica and I have been lounging and bageling and Dawson’s Creeking all week and I miss this so.

The hardest part of adulthood is the reality that all the people I love are never in the same place at the same time anymore and I have to take them in scraps and pieces and bagels.

And even when the bagels are smothered in homemade apricot and almond cream cheese, it’s just never really enough, you know?

You know.

55 Years And Counting

16 Jul

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When my grandma was 16 years old, she moved next door to an angry, rebel-without-a-cause type named Allen Denning. He had big brown eyes and the first time she saw him smile, that was it. She was a goner.

My grandma was a tall, quiet, girl next-door type from the tiniest of towns. She had never met anyone like this big city bad boy and even though she moved again three months later, she never quite could get him out of her head.

When I asked her about falling in love she said, “No one ever compared to him. My heart was always his. Is that romantic enough? It’s true.”

Yes, that’s romantic enough, grandma.

Last month this boy and girl next door celebrated 55 years of marriage.

My grandpa still believes himself to be an angry, rebel without a cause, but half a century with my grandma has shown him to really be an old softie.

My grandma is still tall, gentle and girl-nextdoory. Thankfully she never lost that impulsive romantic streak that she had at 18, eloping with her first love.

Last month, as these two cut their first wedding cake, my grandma looked around at her big, happy, buzzing family and said, “I wish we could have had a glimpse of this. I wish we could have seen where this would all lead, 55 years ago.”

Isn’t love everything?

Happy Anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa.

I couldn’t write a cuter love story if I tried my whole life.

The boy and girl next door thing is just the prologue.

The Great Outdoors, Or Something Like It

2 Jul

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Let’s talk for a minute about that time my extended family rode ATVs and side-by-sides through the Heber mountains.

First, I think it’s necessary to point out that while my extended family may often ride motorcycles in the dirt, my immediate family, aka the”J5s,”  is not used to this sort of activity.  The J5s’ idea of a rip-roaring time is a brisk walk or perhaps a tight Wimbledon bracket challenge.  If we’re feeling really rebellious we might try a new word game!  ATV riding, the great outdoors…not so much in our vocabulary.

My mother once famously said that the only reason she would ever camp would be if she no longer owned a car.

It should be noted this is not an attitude problem. My mother enjoys all sorts of activities. For instance, she and I love to engage in heated, all-night discussions on gender roles in Gone With the Wind.

Some people like the outdoors.  Some people like Rhett Butler.

Moving along.

My father was given the (unenviable) task of driving me, Mam, and Jess in this dune buggy thing, straight out of the Indiana Jones Adventure. We were a loud dune buggy. A  screaming dune buggy.  An “I feel like I’m on a Disney ride!” dune buggy.

Bless him.

And now for a few pictures to explain our journey.

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My mom, usually the first woman to weasel her way out of a picture with an, “I’ll take this one!” kept saying, “I look so good dirty!” and jumping into random pictures, all smiles and poses.  It’s like I’d never met her.

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My Paps was apparently unfamiliar with the faux-candid photo. When told to “pretend you’re driving” he smiled for the camera.   This, the man who claims he cannot smile on cue.  We’ll save the all-night conversation about gender roles and pictures for another time, but know it’s there and it’s real.

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Even though I rode with my face covered as shown in this beautiful shot, I still managed to be so dirty at the end of the whole ordeal that people lined up to take pictures with me.  It was like I was a prop, one of the princesses at Disneyland or a dressed-up gladiator outside the Colosseum, making money as the entertainment.

This last shower I finally felt like the dirt was out of my hair.

Until we meet again, Great Outdoors. Until we meet again.