Thursday, June 28, 2007

Nozin: Is It All in My Head?

When my friend Kelly was around ten years old, she inadventantly sucked a peanut into her nose. A few seconds later, she stuck out her tongue and there was the peanut, sitting right smack dab in the center of that red pad of taste buds.

Sometimes there's nothing funnier than noses. Other people's noses, anyway.

My own schnozz is sacred. I operate under the belief that my finger is the only thing that should penetrate the holy cavity. Except for an unfortunate incident with a nasal allergy spray and a couple feigned stabs by The Partner, my right pointer digit, and occasionally my pinky, have pretty much gone uncontested in this regard. Until Nozin.

I review products for the Parent Bloggers Network on occasion because I like to inflict my opinion on others just as much as the next person. Usually, I sign up to review products I think I can get excited about. I don't know what I was thinking when I said "yes!" to reviewing a "nasal sanitizer" that comes in a travel pack filled with swabs designed to be stuck into one's nostrils and rubbed around.

I called The Partner into the living room to partake in the experiment with me. He was not thrilled. First of all, he does not believe in products that claim to ward off colds (I've long been a big believer in Airborne fizzy tablets as a magical anti-cold elixir, and he's long believed I'm a sucker). Secondly, he is another one who doesn't like foreign objects up his nose. He'll use his trusty hand trowel to dig for gold with the best of them, but that's where it ends.

I convinced him to help me out in the name of blogging. I handed over an orange-tipped swab and took one for myself. I commenced to flicking the clear tube of the swab as the directions indicated. The liquid inside was supposed to turn cloudy. Mine did. His didn't.

I laughed at him. "Ha, ha! I'm a better flicker than you! You don't know how to flick!"

"It's defective," he said, glaring at me.

I took the swab and applied my expert flick. Nothing. "Oh."

I left him to try his luck at another swab (the package contained ten of them) as I moved on to phase 2. I bent the swab at the black line till a snap was heard, then I pushed the liquid from the bottom of the plastic tube toward the cottony orange top. There were subtle signs of absorption. Then I threw caution to the wind and inserted the stick into one nostril, swabbing the inside rim.

It smelled like an orange. I sighed with relief. I was expecting the nasty medicinal odor of the above-referenced nasal allergy spray. I don't think the Nozin marketing materials tout this fact enough--it actually doesn't smell bad. It's kind of clean and pleasant.

"The tip isn't getting moist," The Partner said to me.

"What?" I was jolted out of my citrus reverie.

He held up his swab.

"Oh," I said.

In fact, the tips didn't seem to get noticeably wet, although a minimal amount of moisture was evident. I just assumed that was the way it was supposed to be. Plus, it made it a much less drippy and gross proposition to insert into one's nose. The Partner, on the other hand, couldn't get past the idea of insufficient lubrication.

He stuck it in anyway. He was unimpressed. He sighed a bit and then went about his business. He clearly did not believe that a dry, orange stick could do what the Nozin marketing materials said: kill 99.9 percent of a host of germs (including the common cold, streptococcus pneumoniae, and Influenza A) at the chief site of infection.

Me, I'm willing to believe. I will keep the swabs on hand for the next time I fly in a germ-laden plane or set foot in a school filled with sniveling children. Even if The Partner is right and the effectiveness is all in my head (pardon the pun)--so what? Whether it's hard science or a placebo, I'll take my good health where I can get it.

The next morning, I asked The Partner what he would want to mention if he was writing a review about Nozin.

"The first stick didn't get cloudy and the thing didn't get very moist," he said. Then he shrugged and offered a sly, sideways smile. "But hey. I'm not sick, am I?"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Bridge Over Troubled Buyers

We pondered. We calculated. We formulated Plans A, B, and C.

We decided to purchase another house before we've sold ours.

We reached a deal with the sellers that will get us through the summer without feeling the burn of two mortgages. Come September, all bets are off. If our first home is not sold by then, we will be facing the episode of our lives brought to you by the number two--two mortgages, two house insurance policies, two sets of taxes, two dwellings to vacuum and dust. . .

We're taking the gamble because we think this house is the one for us. It's got what I want: a pool, a whirlpool tub, and a spacious kitchen. It's got what The Partner wants: 4 acres, an oversized garage, plenty of parking space, and a garage-sized shed for all his gas powered lawn implements. It's got space for The Boss to grow and the dog to run amok.

This is no blind jump into the uncertainty of owning two homes for an indeterminate amount of time. We looked at all the angles and decided that we can swing it. It won't be easy, of course. We'll be living off the fat of the land for awhile and not venturing out into the world of extraneous costs, but even that doesn't sound bad. I mean, we have everything right in one place. It's why we're taking this risk in the first place.

As always, I'll keep you updated. Though I have to wonder if you might be getting sick of reading about this drawn out process by now. I know I'm getting sick of talking about it. The whole thing is strangely boring, in a life changing kind of way.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hold On To The Feelin'

It goes on and on and on and on. . .

It's when a song becomes emblematic of a collective time and place and experience that it becomes the soundtrack to memory. It's a perfectly serviceable concoction of notes and instruments that suddenly becomes much more than that, because it is the context around which we will forever frame our ideas of who we were at a given time.

A smell of wine and cheap perfume. . .

Once the song is set, it becomes the key to everything else about that memory: the aroma, the visuals, the taste and the feeling. It is emotional propaganda. It's goosebumps and a wet pressure behind the eyes.

Everybody wants a thrill. . .

It seems like disappointment was the most common reaction to the last episode of The Sopranos. There's nothing a collective experience needs more than closure. But such a pretty package does not exist in life, nor did it have a place in David Chase's idea of a dramatically real ending. And so viewers stared at their screens during the last scene, taking in everything, perched on the edge of their seats, with the beats of their hearts palpable. Then what? Then nothing.

Oh, the movie never ends. . .

When Journey's Don't Stop Believin' is on the radio, it comes back to me--the feeling of not wanting something to end, not knowing what's next. It's the end of spring. It's watching from the outside--where the evening air circulates in a faint, warm breeze--and seeing only a blue glow through an open window.

Hold onto the feelin'. . .

In 1999, I was a junior in college. I first watched the show in my semi-boyfriend's room at his fraternity house. Brothers would pile in, squeezing onto fifth-hand couches and flat futons, to watch this new favorite. The year was about freedom and about the novelty of all that was ahead.

The semi-boyfriend had taken on husband status by 2007, when we watched the final episode in the living room of our home. Our daughter was asleep in her crib upstairs. The year was about family and the uncertainty of all that was ahead.

It goes on and on and on and on. . .

I thought that the ending of The Sopranos was good as it happened. In looking back on it, it was perfection.

Friday, June 22, 2007

So Sorry

The Boss is the epitome of the apologetic female that women's empowerment advocates would like to squelch.

She grazes my leg with her fast moving form on her way to the television. "Sorry!" The Boss says.

She pushes her doll stroller in its usual circuit around the first floor and bumps a pink plastic wheel into the doorjamb. She is repentant. Her emphatic "Sorry!" is administered with haste to the offended molding.

The dog prances right into her, yet it's The Boss who pipes up with "sorry!"

Animate or inanimate. Affronted or non-plussed. Giver or receiver. The Boss does not discriminate in her desire to restore balance wherever she perceives it to have been set askew.

The thing about raising a toddler is that facts I didn't even know about myself become readily apparent. She must have gotten this "sorry" thing from me. The proof is in the pronunciation. All my life I've been the only person in New England who says "sore-y" instead of "sorr-y." I've heard that's how some Canadians say it, but that doesn't explain anything. None of my forebears are Canadian, and all my current bears are well removed from the border. But I must've learned it from someone, just as The Boss has learned it from me.

I am not conscious of being so sorry. But I must be, in an oft-articulated way, for The Boss to have taken on the concept with such a vengeance. As I ask these questions of her strange contrition, I must now ask them of myself: Why is she so sorry? For what is she apologizing? For whom is she apologizing?

I know women are more likely than men to say sorry. I know that women are more likely than men to change their intonation at the end of sentences so that every statement ends up sounding like a question. That is not the kind of placating and uncertain language I want to teach my daughter, yet I do it every day. I do it without even realizing it. I see in The Boss's new expression what I need to work on, myself.

So The Boss learns from me and I learn from her. We are liberated together, for the first time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Swans Crossing Is the Best Show Ever

I was at my parents' house on Sunday when I found myself in the attic, looking for a recycled gift bag in which to nestle the wrench I bought as a Father's Day present for my dad. I could've taken care of that at my own home with my own stash of gift bags, but that would've required forethought. So there I was, at 5 p.m. on the evening of the holiday, pawing through 20 years of used wrapping paper and gift bags my mother had saved, when I stumbled across a box labeled "Junior High School Memorabilia." My junior high school memorabilia. I grabbed the box, threw a bag and some tissue paper on top of it, and carried my loot down the narrow steps.

Knowing exactly what kind of hilarity was contained in that tattered box, I brought it into the living room to regale The Partner, my father, my sister and my brother with tales of my pre- and early-teen inanity. After reading excerpts from a few English papers, a journal I kept for history class, and a story that won first place in the town-wide fine arts contest, I came upon the piece de resistance. It was a letter I wrote to the executives in charge of the teen soap opera with which I was obsessed--SWANS CROSSING.

Can I get a woot woot?

To know those interweavings of rich pubescent angst is to love them. I honestly believe that, for a time, my best friend and I were two of the biggest fans out there. We spent what probably added up to hundreds of dollars in quarters at pay phones calling different members of the show (who were not yet popular enough to have unlisted numbers but who, when were done with them, most certainly rectified that oversight); we had sleepovers where we did little else than lay around, taking turns articulating elaborate SC fantasies for the other's amusement (though sometimes we got up to do the coreographed dance and the signature "SC" hand gesture that began each show); and, as you will soon find out, woke up at 6 a.m. each weekday morning to watch the episodes when the show was given the after-school boot.

This is the letter I pulled out of the box that chronicles the latter example of my age fourteen fanaticism. It was addressed to the studio where Swans Crossing was filmed.

"To whom it may concern,

Words cannot express my anger and dismay. I am livid. I am disgusted. I am positively overwhelmed with fury. I am ready to hurl (which, in case you don't know, is slang for VOMIT!!). I am your basically average 14 year old who is astounded by the stupidity of you middle-aged executives.

The issue I am writing about is the pinheaded decision to move Swans Crossing from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. just to make room for episodes of Saved By the Bell which I've already seen 80 million times. Do you realize how hard it is going to be to get up at the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM? I am probably the only girl who will even bother to make the effort. Whereas at 5:00 p.m., almost all my friends have watched Swans Crossing.

I am begging you, pleading with you, to change it back to 5:00 p.m. You can go stick SBTB in the 6:00 a.m. time slot where it belongs! I hope I have made my point abundantly clear.

Yours in disgust,


There is nothing more for me to say. But, you--feel free to chime in.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Counseling, Schmounseling

The Partner and I recently filled out elaborate questionnaires regarding our marriage. They were generated by eHarmony Marriage, a spin-off of the popular dating Web site. eHarmony Marriage is something of a counseling program wherein a computer assesses various aspects of your lifestyle and world-view to come up with a detailed marriage profile to help you understand how to build a better marriage.

We dove into the lengthy process with gusto. I call their introductory assessment tool a questionnaire, and so does eHarmony, but it is actually a series of statements on issues ranging from communication, to family, to trust, to sex. Respondents must ask all the questions of themselves, as they look at each statement on their computer screens and move a small carat to the spot in the spectrum that shows how much they agree or disagree.

45 minutes after we embarked on first leg of our introspective journey, The Partner and I finished the questionnaire. As soon as both of our responses were tabulated (and that was instantaneous), we had a 61 paged eHarmony Marriage Profile (EMP) and a Marriage Action Plan (MAP) that was all about us. The EMP is a sort of reference resource analyzing the sources of agreement and disagreement in the marriage, while the MAP is a personalized and practical set of interactive video exercises, expert articles and other practical tools designed to maximize the positive impact on your marriage.

It was impressive. There was a lot of information and, through the miracle of the high speed processor, it spoke with utmost attention to the details of our strange and imperfect marriage. It was, as eHarmony touts it, extremely personalized.

It was enlightening. On the third page of our EMP was a directory of emoticons that represented how each of us felt about issues pertaining to eHarmony's list of the ten components to a healthy marriage. With one exception, every emoticon was a frowny face. Frowns denote when a person is "usually unhappy" with a facet of his or her marriage. On the positive side, at least we're in agreement about how unhappy we are.

It relied on our own drive. Whereas a visit to a real-life counselor would require a drive in a car, this program rests on the couple's internal drive to enhance or fix their marriage (actually, it can work even if only one spouse is interested in putting in the effort, as it is not required for both partners to participate). The problem with self-motivation is one of the factors that makes marriages falter in the first place--it's hard to find the time to focus on each other. The Partner and I were consumed with so many other projects and activities that finding a way to get past our disheartening EMP and into the MAP realm of doing something about it was difficult.

It was good to talk. When we did find the time, the exercises were helpful in sparking conversations that helped each of us better understand where the other was coming from. And it was all done in the comfort of our own home.

In conclusion, I have no conclusions. Our marriage is in the same hole it's been for the past three years, although now we have depressing analytical statistics to prove it. Like any form of self-help or counseling, the success of this program relies on the willingness of the participants to embrace it. As wise ol' Anonymous once said, "when the student is ready, the teacher will come." If you are ready, the $39.95-$49.95 monthly price tag is a small price to pay for the teachings of this highly personalized and detailed marriage assessment with workable action steps.

This review is part of the Parent Bloggers Network.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Would Someone Just Buy This House, Please?

The big news around here is that our buyers backed out on the day of our closing. That was Friday.

Today, their agent called ours and asked her to please return their deposit.

I may be damn morose after this turn of events, but I had to laugh at that one. They can get their money back when they rip it from the grip of my rigor-mortified hand.

So, back to the daily grind that is selling one home to buy another. Five months and three failed offers down. . .how many to go?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Guest Post: More of A Financial Guy's Perspective on a Woman's Money

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the blog owner. That is mostly because she has no opinions of her own on money management, which is why she invited the Financial Guy here in the first place.


Nope, it's not with me, though that would be nice.

Now that you have saved tons of cash, what do you do with all that money? Do you put it in your own personal Scrooge McDuck-inspired money bin? Do you change it all into quarters, fill a kiddie pool, and lather yourself up in moolah? Do you finally hire that hitman to take out the kid that put gum in your hair in second grade? Or, you know, like, invest it or something?

Some synonyms and definitions before we start:

Securities=Investments, stocks, equities, bonds, mutual funds, 529s, CDs, etc.
Bonds=Debt, fixed income securities, all the same thing
Mutual funds=Portfolios of equities, bonds, or combination thereof

Investing is not the rocket science many are led to believe. You just need to remember that to earn a higher return you need to take on more risk, and higher fees equal lower returns. Those are the basic principals behind pretty much every investment. There are two other things to remember: There are investment vehicles, and there are investments. Investment vehicles allow you to buy investments, such as a brokerage account that allows you to buy stocks or a bank account that allows you to buy CDs. The brokerage account is the vehicle, and the stock is the investment. But how to prioritize and select you investment vehicle? Then how to choose the investments in those vehicles?


1 - Payoff Debt: If you have debt, particularly credit card debt, the rest of this blog will be useless to you until you pay it all off. Unless your loan (credit cards and mortgages are loans) charges a rate less than 6.5% or 6.0%, roughly, go back and read the first post I made here. Then, when you've got some cash to invest, read on.

2 - Cash savings (emergency cash): Hopefully you opened a brokerage. If not, you should do so immediately (Fidelity, Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, etc.). Your "interest-bearing" checking or savings account pays less than the rate of inflation. Open a brokerage account and transfer any money you want to keep in cash (other than what you need to pay bills) into the account and designate an appropriate money market (called the "sweep" because your cash will automatically "sweep" into the money market) for the cash to sit in. When you need to access the money, you should be able to easily transfer it out. Often your bank will have a brokerage arm that will make this possible. Avoid those brokerages that charge fees to transfer money back and forth between your bank and brokerage, or you will negate the benefits of the higher-yielding account. Using a bank-affiliated brokerage may provide breaks in fees, particularly if you have a large balance with your bank. Steer clear of the bank brokerage if it charges any fees for maintaining the account.

You may as well find a broker sooner rather than later, since you will inevitably need to open a retirement account with a broker, college savings account(s), and other long-term and short-term investments.

How much cash do you keep? There are multiple "rules of thumb", such as two months of your salary, two months or more of expenses, or $10,000. Personally, I think you should keep as much in cash as you are comfortable with, but be sure to keep it in a high-yielding money market fund within a brokerage account. Keep a couple months worth of expenses in your regular checking account to pay bills.

3 - Retirement savings: If you have not yet contributed to you and/or your spouse's
employer 401(k) to get the maximum matching contribution from your employer, you are missing out on free and tax-deferred money. Go immediately to your human resources department and adjust your contributions, they should have someone knowledgable to help you with your 401(k). The money comes out of your paycheck pre-tax, so you are unlikely to miss it dramatically.

If you are uncomfortable selecting investments within the plan, choose a target-date fund that matches your intended date of retirement. These funds adjust their risk levels downward as you approach retirement, becoming more conservative to preserve your capital in the years you will not be working. If you are comfortable selecting your investments, you probably do not need me!

Once you have your maximum 401(k) contribution set up, if you still have surplus money to invest, you should open a Roth IRA. I cannot emphasize how much I like the Roth IRA, and that everyone that can afford one should open one.

You can open a Roth IRA with any brokerage, it is merely an account designation. To qualify for a Roth IRA, you must have an annual income below $99,000 (single) or $156,000 (joint). Each account holder can contribute up to $4,000 in after-tax dollars (as opposed to 401(k) contributions, which go in pre-tax) and it grows tax-deferred, meaning you can take the money out tax-free after you reach age 59.5 without penalty. Each spouse and working family member can open a Roth. You can take your principal out - the money you have contributed - anytime without penalty. My wife an I make it a priority to max out our Roth IRA each year, but have not yet made it to priority 4 below (though it is coming up!). But, if you have maxed-out both your 401(k) and Roth(s), move on!

4 - College savings: Your kids need to go to college. Without a college education they will have a significantly more difficult time getting even modest jobs as artists or reporters. To save for a college education, consider a Coverdell account (if you qualify). The account works
much like a Roth IRA with some minor differences; you can contribute up to $2,000 ($4,000 for joint filers) of after-tax dollars per beneficiary. The money will grow tax-free and can be withdrawn to pay for qualified tuition without penalty.

If you do not qualify for a Coverdell or you still have additional money to invest, consider a Section 529 Savings Plan. 529s are state-sponsored municipal securities. Every state except Wyoming offers one, and many states offer a tax-deduction for contributions. You contribute after-tax dollars and that money grows tax-free. You can invest in any state plan, not just your own, so I suggest visiting the site, which is the most comprehensive college savings web site on the internet. The site has its own recommendations about the best plans nationwide. Invest in a direct-sold plan, which have lower costs and fees than advisor-sold plans (where you will pay a hefty commission up front), and select an age-based portfolio. If you set up automatic contributions from one of your checking or savings accounts, the account will pretty much manage itself!

5 - Prepay mortgage: I would be impressed if you made it this far. If you are here, you are likely older and have fewer payments remaining on your mortgage. Check your rate to be sure you might not be better off investing that money in a security with a higher yield than your mortgage rate. With mortgage rates around 6% today for a 30-year, you might be better off putting that money to work in equity markets. Otherwise, you may want to make additional payments towards your house to make it truly yours. Sometimes the satisfaction of having it paid off is itself worth the investment.

6 - Buy (extra) insurance: At this point you own your own home and have tons of assets in banks and brokerage accounts. Why not buy some extra insurance to give you children or a designated charity something extra once you shuffle off this mortal coil? In fact, some long-term care insurance may be prescient given our expanding timelines. Not being an insurance expert myself, you will need to do some research. In fact, this leads into estate planning.

7 - Estate planning: Everyone needs a will. In fact, you should talk to an attorney and have a will drawn up as soon as you get married, and definitely after you have your first child. It will alleviate many legal issues and possibly save your loved ones thousands of dollars (or more if you are a Richie Rich) in taxes and fees. If you have made it this far you should also seek out the help of a CPA or fee-based financial advisor. While I am a do-it-yourself advocate, a large estate and complicated investment situation requires a third-party. A professional will have the knowledge and experience to make your estate planning process smoother. If you use an advisor, be sure they are purely fee-based; commissioned brokers and planners have a conflict of interest and your interests may not win out.


You might be wondering what I recommend investing in within a 401(k), Roth IRA, brokerage account, or other investment vehicle once you have opened them. I do not recommend individual stocks or bonds for lay investors because they carry significant risks. Even stalwarts like Ford and 3M can turn into Enron depending on circumstances. Avoid unusual investments like Master Limited Partnerships (horrible, horrible investments), particularly if you never heard of them before. Instead, I recommend using low-cost mutual funds. They are proven investment for long-term savers.

Mutual funds offer an economical way to get a diversified portfolio of stocks and/or fixed income securities. For example, you might invest 40% (of your total investable amount) in short-term and intermediate-term bond mutual funds like the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBMFX), another 40% in domestic equity funds like the Fidelity Spartan U.S. Equity Index(FUSEX) and Fidelity Low-Priced Stock Fund (FLPSX), and the remaining 20% split between cash and international funds like Julius Baer International Equity (BJBIX). You might also want to hold a portion of assets - 5% or less - in a REIT fund (Real Estate Investment Trust) like the Cohen & Steers Realty Income Fund (CSEIX). However, chances are you already have a large
portion of your income tied to real estate: your house or condo.

The aforementioned funds are all pretty good, with low costs and strong long-term (5 years or more) track records, but are only suggestions, not recommendations. I myself use many funds in addition to those above, and some of the above funds may not be appropriate for you depending on your investable assets, age, risk-tolerance, tax bracket, and other factors.

If you are going to select your own fund, be sure its annual expense ratio is below 0.40% if it is a index fund, 0.50% if it is a fixed income fund, below 1.0% if it is a managed equity fund, and below 1.5% if it is an international fund. Balanced and target-date funds should also be less than 1.0%, and preferably below 0.80%. Index funds are unmanaged, meaning you do not need to pay for a professional to manage the portfolio because it reflects the investment performance of an index like the S&P 500 or Russell 1000. Do not buy shares that charge a "load", which is a term for funds that charge a commission. Some brokerages offer load waivers for certain funds,but you will need to inquire with the brokerage. Also avoid paying transaction fees wherever possible. Brokerages maintain a list of NTF (No Transaction Fee) funds, and you are generally better off sticking to the list. Remember, every time you pay a fee you are lowering your return.

Ever heard of ETFs? Exchange-traded funds are very low-expense baskets of securities that mimic an index like the S&P 500. They can be a great purchase, but you do not want to dollar-cost average (make regular purchases on a fixed schedule like in a 401k) into them. ETFs are treated like equities, meaning you have to pay trading costs just like if you bought a stock. The trading costs can quickly erase any amount of savings you made through its lower fees. I use a few ETFs but generally only in lump-sum purchases once a year in large amounts.

This can be dangerous, however, if you time your investment poorly. Dollar-cost averaging into an NTF fund is typically the least expensive and most profitable way to go. Most brokerage accounts can be set up to withdraw a fixed amount from your checking account or savings and invest it on a regular basis into a fund or another security of your choice. This "autopilot" method works best for people that want a low-maintenance way to manage their savings. Also, if they are NTF funds, you can sell them at any time without fee (check with your broker or read your fund prospectus, certain funds have selling restrictions, such as a two-month holding

If you do not want to deal with selecting a mutual fund or other investment, just stick your investment into target-date or target risk funds, also known as lifecycle and lifestyle funds. Target-date funds start out aggressive and become more conservative as they approach their target date, which typically coincides with retirement. Target-risk funds match your risk level, so a conservative investment will use primarily fixed-income and income-producing equity securities, and an aggressive fund will use primarily growth equity securities.

There is a lot more that can be said about selecting mutual funds, evaluating individual stocks, selecting a broker, and other personal financial topics. However, if you are able to address the top seven issues outlined above using relatively simple underlying funds, you should be in good shape to retire comfortably and leave something of value to either your offspring or charitable institution. This was fairly high-level, but I hope it gives you a jumping-off point for getting a life-goal plan together to address your priorities, and I hope I have helped!

About the author

Boz lives in Boston with his wife in a small house on a hill. He is a financial professional of 5 years, and a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Boz is Series 7 and 63 licensed. He has been quoted discussing 529 college savings plans in such publications as the Wall StreetJournal, Barron's, SmartMoney, and Reuters, among others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Moving On, or, If You Didn't Watch the Last Episode of the Sopranos, You Probably Will Only Want to Read the Middle Section of This Post

The Partner and I packed most of three years into boxes and, on Sunday night, sat in front of a stripped down television set-up. We ate pizza off paper plates. On HBO, Tony and his family were moving on, too. We settled in together for the last time.

There was Junior's blank stare. There was a blank screen.

We sat back and sighed. Life goes on.


It's not going anywhere fast. The buyers of our house decided one week before the scheduled closing that they didn't like some of the particulars of their loan agreement. They are changing lenders. While we are still waiting to hear the new closing date, we can assume that it will be at least one week later than the original--one week being The Partner's optimistic assessment. Me, I'm not drinking from the same half-full glass. While they push back dates, I push back the fear that the deal will fall through. The agent for the buyers assures us that her clients fully intend to buy our house, but the uncertainty is always there.

The boxes are packed. Only the television, DVD player, computers, toaster oven, one pot, a skillet, some cutlery, and a microwavable plate remain in the open. I dress out of a suitcase each morning after rising from a mattress on the floor. It's fine, except that somehow, living stripped-down like this has made room for the kind of worry I don't usually indulge.

I worry about ever actually moving, of course; but then that worry translates to others, like planning for our next child, or freaking out about things that people I don't even know (read: other bloggers) are going through, or contemplating the strange realities of my extended family. The thing I detest most about the process of selling our house is that the uncertainty breeds uncertainty.


Suddenly we are sucked back into Sunday night and our existence is a diner in New Jersey where artful direction makes things seem slow-mo even though they aren't. We are fat-fried and together. Our hearts race as we wait. In limbo, introspection is a long aisle; it is the distance to the opening door.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Greener Pastures

We are moving through with moving, despite our discovery of a large lot adjacent to ours that is zoned industrial. The Partner spoke with a manager at the town office and discovered the wooded property procured its status long ago--so long ago that the manager does not know when, or why--but there's been no action on it. We've decided to take the gamble--laying down our chips and shoving them under the rug, hoping nobody else decides to play.

Packing is in full swing and my attention is both everywhere and nowhere. I had a dream last night that I was in love with someone who preferred to be with someone else. Clinging to that dreamboy despite the betrayal evoked emotions I haven't felt in a long time. I woke up with a shocking sense of gratitude for The Partner's presence. In the day to day reality of living, I've forgotten to be thankful for the thrill of having somebody to live with--someone who loves me more than I give him, and myself, credit for.

In getting ready to start again in a new home, it might not be a bad time for me to put more effort into the marriage that will sustain it. It's easier said than done, I know. But something has to happen before the aloneness of my dreams becomes a reality I did nothing to prevent.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tales From the School Cafeteria: The Fluffer

I didn’t have a lot going for me back then. My glasses were thick. I carried my lunch to school each day in a reusable nylon bag filled with Tupperware containers that I left in my locker to grow mold indefinitely. I wore sneakers on gym day no matter what the rest of my ensemble entailed, so that seeing me in a suede skirt, nylons and blue and white LA Gear high tops was not uncommon. My nickname was Binky, and I embraced it.

Mike O’Flannery was merciless. Each day on the bus he taunted me about things I have blocked from my memory. All I remember is the incessant soundtrack of high pitched mean. He sat in the back of the bus with Dave Wojowiczobrewski and Brutus LaTarte, all sporting the same Megadeth tee shirts and straight black jeans. He probably tried to trip me. Maybe he threw gum wrappers. What I know for sure is that all the little things added up.

The junior high fates conspired to stick us together in the cafeteria, too. It was no twisted desire of mine to sit next to him, and I am sure that it was not a schoolboy crush that placed his lethargic group of loners next to my near-sighted posse. It’s simply that he was freak fringe and I was nerd fringe, so there we sat in sad complicity at the table on the far end of a cavernous room, closest to the vile smell of processed chili emanating from the lunch line.

My friend Jessica ate Marshmallow Fluff. That’s important to the story. Her sandwich each day included that nauseating marshmallow product and some peanut butter. I must’ve told her it repulsed me. She must have agreed it was kind of gross. Somehow, a plot emerged. A plot to give Mike O’Flannery what was coming to him.

The day before we carried out my junior high school triumph, I got off at Jessica’s bus stop and we made our way to her kitchen.

Inside, Jessica was already on task. She reached into a high cabinet and pulled out the jar of Fluff. “Here.”

I held the jar in my suddenly shaking hands, not sure what to do. “How are we going to pull this off?” I asked. “I mean, should I put it on bread? Or should I bring the whole jar?”

“Just put it in this.” She handed me a Tupperware container like the one that held her sandwich each day, then she gave me a spoon.

“Oh, God. This is so disgusting.” I can still feel the nausea that overtook me as I dipped the spoon into the wide mouth of the jar and plopped several dollops of Fluff into the red plastic. I almost threw up more than once as the heaves lurched from my stomach to the base of my throat. Finally, I secured the lid on both containers and sat down at the kitchen table, contemplating what was to come. The anticipation was scary and new.

It seemed like the next day’s lunch period would never come, but of course it did. I sat next to Mike and stared at my lunch bag. Jessica looked at me from across the table. I tried to breathe. I had to focus on that normally innate response, lest my lungs ceased operation and I died. Or passed out.

Suddenly the lunchroom monitor called our table to the lunch line and Mike rose. My eyes widened. This was it. As he walked away, Jessica leaned in.

“Are you going to do it?”

“Yes,” I squeaked. Her face began to waver in front of me. I was not doing a good job of regulating my air intake.

“You look really pale,” she said.

I ignored her, and the ensuing minutes seemed like years. Years of more torment. Years of feeling like a dorky, suede-skirt-and-sneakers-wearing failure who couldn’t even run The Mile in less than 12 minutes. Years of reading books because that was where things happened.

I saw Mike returning with a tray of gelatinous beef. I leapt into motion, smearing a gaping pile of Fluff onto a piece of bread. The mixture spanned the entire width of the slice and rose at least two inches high.

He got closer. Without looking at me, he placed his tray on the table and began the descent into his seat. Life hit the slo-mo button. Before his black-jeaned butt made contact, I slid the bread onto the folding chair. My aim was right on. The smush of his scrawny frame spread sticky whiteness all over his death metal pants. The Fluff accentuated his non-existent ass. It was everywhere. I thought I’d stopped breathing for good.

He didn’t even look my way as he bolted upright and screamed “What the . . .?” Then he was off to the boy’s lav, and, as I would eventually find out, to the nurse’s office, where he called home to request a change of pants.

I was pale and triumphant. The rest of the fringe leaned in to find out what had happened.

“I can’t believe you did that!” said a girl named Christy as she looked me up and down. “Are you okay, though? You don’t look good at all.”

Jessica just giggled, all wide eyed and respectful. Her gaze darted from me, to the remaining Megadeth brothers, to the doors out of which Mike’s white ass disappeared.

Today's post is brought to you by the Parent Bloggers Network in conjunction with School Menu and its parental counterpart, Family Everyday. The latter two sites work together with School Food Services Directors to promote healthy eating and physical fitness for kids and their parents.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Touching Tale

Since I can't seem to summon up the telling of any good stories lately, I'll just point you in the direction of someone who can, and did. Click on this link to revel in the glory of toddler self-discovery. And laugh, laugh, laugh.

'Mell My Winger

Friday, June 01, 2007

Bad With Dates

You know you need a date with your husband when you have nothing to say to each other. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Sounds like a waste of time. Sounds like the buzz of other conversations in a restaurant would be deafening against the stare of the emotional stranger at your own table.

We need a date, The Partner and I. I realized last night, during our own little make-shift rendezvous with a bottle of wine and a therapy session courtesy of eHarmony's new marriage rehab program, that talking through our lack of communication is what's most needed. It wasn't the relationship exercises, like "Dreaming a Great Dream for Your Marrriage," or how to be a "Considerate Mate," that offered the clearest insights; it was the simple act of sitting down and watching the words come out of each other's mouths, undiluted.

We need a date because even though that kind of attention to each other's thoughts and feelings shouldn't be occasional, it is now. It will be that way for awhile, until we get back to the place where attuning to each other is natural. We haven't looked out over that particular vista in three years. The demands of work, homeownership and parenthood have sullied our outlook.

Last night we talked about an important date in July--our third anniversary. The Partner said he would take the day off from work. Then we talked about going on a vacation in August (because we're INSANE like that). It was nice to plan things just for us. It was nice to sit there, just us.

The loveable and eHarmonic Dr. Neil Clark Warren says that a couple needs to dream big. I'm sure that's true, but I'm also a believer in building up to big. Right now I'm setting my sights on little dreams that we can connect into something larger, something whole.

And I'm hoping that a little more conversation can lead to a lot more action. But that's an eHarmony exercise for another day.

Write a post about why you need a date, and you might just win one. Act now! The Parent Bloggers Network has teamed up with E-Harmony to raffle off a $100 AmEx gift certificate (for the date) and $100 in cash (for the babysitter) to a random winner culled from all the participants in their June 1 Blog Blast.