Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Beaches Negril

Pictured: The beach in front of Beaches Negril.

As promised, here is a review of the resort we stayed at while in Jamaica. I thought it would be helpful to others who may be like me and never considered going to an all-inclusive resort before. Plus, it makes me feel all important to be "reviewing" something. I'll try to break it down between pro's and con's and then "things to know." Onward!

1. It's all-inclusive, bitches. When my family and I normally take trips, we try to pay for things as much as we can beforehand so we can keep our budget from skyrocketing. It takes a lot of planning. Plus, you can never prepay meals or anything like that when traveling to other locales. Even if it is not a budget you are worried about, it can be cumbersome and annoying to travel with money/cash. My husband has developed several amazingly intricate ways to keep money on hand and convenient in places like amusement parks, water parks, and beaches over the years. And even with his systems in place, it is always something he is thinking about during the trip. Not at Beaches. As at any all-inclusive resort, the place is totally cashless. We put our wallets and cell phones in the in-room safe when we got there and didn't pull them out until we left. Even if you buy something at the resort, like a scuba class or a bottle of sunblock at the resort store, you just charge it to your room and settle up when you leave. Easy peasy. And we had a zero balance when we left, and not due to penny-pinching. Before arriving at Beaches, the kids had wanted to take some of the classes offered (DJ Academy in particular), but once they saw all of the other things going on, decided not to.

2. It is freaking gorgeous. The resort itself was amazing to behold, with great looking pools, a nice, wide beach, and comfy and nice common areas. I thought our room was very well appointed and comfortable. This was the view from outside the room:
Everything was also amazingly clean and smelled nice. I point this out even though it is kind of a "Nah duh" moment (What? You mean a beach in Jamaica is pretty? YOU DON'T SAY.) because I have heard about other resorts not being super clean. And I have to say, from the time I spent up the beach at Sandals, I found the rooms at Beaches Negril to be much, much nicer and the beach to be wider.

3. There is truly something for everyone. I am the mother to three very different kids who are at very different ages. It takes something pretty special to appeal to all of them, as well as appeal to my husband and myself. Beaches did that. My oldest daughter liked the independence of being able to walk around the resort safely and be able to experience things in a more "grown up" fashion. My son loved the Xbox Game Garage, the floats in the pool, and the fact that Matt would/could go out and get him some chicken tenders at midnight. And Alice of course loved the Sesame Street characters walking about in costume, the various Sesame Street shows and ohmylordinheaven she loved the water park. From the time her little eyes popped up in the morning to the time when she collapsed in an exhausted heap, she was saying "I GO WATER PARK????" And because everything is a walkable distance apart and there are lots of friendly faces along the way, you can feasibly do everyone's favorite thing at one time.

4. Everyone is really friendly. Every person we met at Beaches was super friendly. I mentioned yesterday that at first I was squicked about the whole thing, but made my peace with it by talking to everyone and enjoying their company and help. And if you get started talking to anyone at the resort, you might find yourself in a 15 minute conversation. I learned about my brother in law's butler's twin 2 year old girls, a waitress's 12 year old daughter named Abby, and several other fun kids going through a lot of the same stuff my own are. Although there does seem to be a little script of stuff that the resort wants them to say to guests that might feel a little disingenuous, we didn't meet one person who wasn't really, super friendly despite it.

1. All-inclusive doesn't include everything. Yeah, we knew we'd have to pay extra for things like classes, and we imagined there would be small fees for other things. There are large fees, my friend. Wi-fi is $14.99 per day. We were planning on using our phones to email my father in law at the other resort to set up times for meeting and stuff like that, but decided not to, once we found out the price. Texting was just $.50 per sent message through Verizon, which I didn't think was bad at all, but my father in law absolutely refused to try it, afraid he would get slapped with additional fees. So we did it up 1985 style by calling the landlines in each other's rooms and leaving messages. More disgusting is the laundry situation. There was a guest laundry across from our room. Now, I totally didn't want to do laundry on my trip, but after finding out that the rehearsal dinner was in fact a snorkeling adventure, I had to find a way to dry some bathing suits and cover ups. I figured I would pay a small price to use the dryer. Turns out is $6 a load to wash, $6 to dry, and if you are require detergent, you're out another $6 per load for that. Um, no thanks. And, I should note that if you find that to be reasonable, let me know and I'll send you my address where you can send all the money that you plan to ritualistically set on fire this month. We ended up doing our drying with the room's blow dryer. Also note that any time you step off the property, you are incurring fees which vary from reasonable to just plain strange. We had to use a taxi to get back and forth from Beaches to Sandals and it was a different charge every time, going from $5 to $15 one way depending on who the cab driver was (it should be noted that this was about a 2 mile drive). Also, the guy who loads your bags into the bus at the airport does not work for the resort, even though he kind of acts like he does. He expects $1 per bag plus tip. The more you know!!! Finally, make sure you are loaded up on things like sunscreen and cover ups before you get there. One bottle of spray sunscreen at the resort store was $26. We were glad we came prepared.

2. The food. Now, I'm not going to say that I didn't like the food, because I had things that I definitely enjoyed. However, I don't think I could go a week on just the resort's offerings, and really, the quality varied A LOT from place to place and meal to meal. Our first meal at the resort, for instance, was just odd. My husband and son got jerk chicken and pork which was actually pretty good and came in a huge serving. I got a buffalo chicken burger, which I thought sounded great on the menu. It was in fact a frozen chicken patty like you used to get in elementary school bathed in some buffalo sauce and topped with a very sad looking nickel sized dollop of blue cheese dressing. Moreover, the bun was stale and the fries had probably been there a while. It got a little tastier when I had another rum punch. If you are someone who knows even a tiny bit about food, you'll be able to see a lot of convenience products being used. Tiramisu, for instance, was tasty after a LOT of wine, but was made with Dream Whip and absolutely no mascarpone whatsoever. Even the mashed potatoes at the wedding reception were instant, and I shudder to think what the parents of the bride paid for that spread. ME NO LIKEY INSTANT POTATOES. Even looking past all that, if you are used to just cooking/buying what you want at any time, you might just get tired of the food offerings. Like I said, 3-4 days on the food front were fine with me, but I don't think I could do a whole week. If I were staying that length of time, I'd make sure to go off the resort and try some local restaurants at least once or twice. And it is good to know that you can go to the other resorts owned by Beaches/Sandals for food if you want and not have to pay anything extra--just make sure you catch the resort shuttle or be ready to pay cab fare. And I should note in conclusion, that this is not just me being a food snob--this was absolutely the only complaint I heard anyone have while at the resort, and I sat in the hot tub and listened to people A LOT.

Things to know and other minutiae:
1. For some reason, the beach/pool towels run out by 10:00 in the morning. Either someone is a huge towel hoarder or they just don't have enough to meet demand. If you haven't gotten one by that time, good luck. We looked for towels in vain for a good while the first afternoon we were there. If you haven't gotten one by that time, just use the ones in your room and request more later.
2. There are a lot of vendors walking up and down the beach trying to sell you stuff. Mostly it is guys pressing jet ski rides, but you also see people selling jewelry and conch shells. They are not that pushy, really, if you are friendly and they can see that you have no cash on you. After the first couple of days, they remembered us and didn't really ask anymore. Any that seem pushy or especially inebriated are escorted off by security.
3. You can check your kids into day care if you so desire. Just putting that out there. We didn't, but the facilities where they hold the day care things look nice and well tended.
4. Ladies need not bring anything other than comfortable cotton jersey dresses. These were appropriate for everything on the trip, and in fact, anything other than that felt oppressive and thick on the skin (namely, the white jeans I thought would be so nice to wear at night at the resort). If you intend on going to the fine dining restaurant, these kind of dresses are totally fine--I wore a black matte jersey maxi dress from Gap and gold gladiator sandals. Men will need to bring a shirt with a collar--I think Matt wore a linen button down and a pair of linen Armani pants he found on ebay for a song. Other than that, there are no dress code requirements, and really, I'm telling you, don't take anything but dresses. You'll be happy with that information.
5. On that same token, I found Beaches to be a great place, body image wise. I know that I have been some places over the years where I've felt uncomfortable wearing a swimsuit since I am short, pasty, and not a size 2. I didn't get that vibe there. It is probably due to the family feel of the resort, but the groups of singles we met and saw were friendly and also very "come what may." If you are in the market for a swimsuit for the trip, I would recommend a tankini with a skirted bottom like you can get from Land's End if for no other reason than the fact that you can wear that around the resort sans cover up without feeling weird. I brought two one piece 50's inspired suits I got from Lands End and Land's End Canvas, and got a lot of compliments on them, even one from my own 12 year old (GASP).
6. If you can swing it, get a junior suite or higher. Not only do you get a bigger room, but you get the suite concierge service which means that you get a faster check-in, a quick tour from the concierge, and you have the concierge service which will bring you anything you want to the room to replenish your mini bar at any time before 10:00 p.m. And you get spa robes! That is great. I will point out, though, that they usually have only person staffing the concierge center in the later hours, so you might call a few times without a response. However, if you can speak to them, they'll have you a bottle of champagne down there PDQ, and one guy just came by with his cart one morning, and let Matt just take off all the Cokes, Diet Cokes, waters and beers he would carry. Also of note is the dressing area in the junior suite. I don't think I have a picture of it, which was weird since that was my favorite thing. It was huge, with a curved double sink and built in closet stuff to hold all your luggage and things. Really, really cool, and very convenient when you have to get a whole basketball starting lineup ready to go to a wedding. And really, it is much, MUCH cheaper than getting two rooms, which is what we would have had to have done with our size family.

I think that is about all I can remember/need to tell. If you are planning a trip to this resort, and would like more info, feel free to comment or email me and I'll do my best to answer questions.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jamaica Recap

I've debated how to go about talking about the trip, because really, a blog post about one's vacation is the 21st century equivalent to a slide show where some horrible friend drones on and on while the slides click, click, click into a disjointed and boring narrative. But, you know, there may be folks out there who have been waiting five days with bated breath, just salivating over themselves to hear how my trip went. SHUT UP. THERE TOTALLY COULD BE. And well, I guess I should put it all down for posterity, you know so that someday when I am suffering from some wretched Diet Coke abetted illness, I can look back on happier times. So here goes. For those of you bated breath people, I also plan to do a review of the resort so that those of you who want to plan trips of your own can hear some of my opinions and get a better idea of what you are getting yourself into.

Before I get started, I will give you a very brief background of what drew us to Jamaica. My husband's brother was getting married. My husband and is brother both grew up quite poor, I must say, and of course, have the gross fortune/misfortune to have grown up on this huge mountain in the APPA-LATCH-UNS. They also grew up very religious. Now, my husband, as many of you know, has kind of shucked that whole thing. He has a degree from Berkeley, which should tell you a little something. My husband's brother went to Liberty University, the college started by Jerry Falwell. That should tell you another. His bride also went there, and she grew up decidedly not poor and not in the mountains. I'm not going to go much more into this, but let's just say the dynamics in our traveling party were interesting to say the least.

We left very, very early Wednesday morning and arrived in Montego Bay around 12:00 that afternoon. After going through customs, we were taken to the Sandals/Beaches section in the airport and got ready to take our bus. Beaches Negril is about an hour and a half bus ride from the airport. And really, I'll just say that I was brimming with energy before we got on the bus, but that bus ride really took us all down a little. Not to say that it was bad or anything; the tiredness just all caught up with us--all of the kids fell asleep, and Matt and I were really flagging. The one good thing about the bus ride, though, is that you get to see the countryside and of course, there's all that blue-green water to fawn over. It is a bit sobering, though, to see all of the poverty around. And I mean this in a totally un-pretentious look-what-a-good-little-liberal-I-am way, but it really affected me. There was one image in particular, of a tiny shack about the size of my living room (and I live in a very small house) with a clothes line laden with tiny, tiny onesies extended from it, flapping in the wind. A teenage aged girl was standing in the door way wearing bright pink leggings and biting her fingernails. There was a terrible beauty there, to quote Eliot. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

We got to the resort and were immediately whisked away by the suites concierge folks. We got a suite, since as a five person family, a normal hotel room doesn't quite cut it for us anymore. At Beaches, this means you get a whole different team to check you in and do all of that. Our concierge gave me a rum punch as soon as I walked through the door. And yeah, that set the tone for the rest of the week. Our room was lovely, and the kids were excited by both it and the in-room XBox. Matt and I were excited about the minibar that was filled to our demands. We were both squicked out by the concierge guy insisting several times that he was there to "spoil us." I'm sorry, but as a white American person from the South, having a good looking dark skinned person treat you like you are somehow royal made me feel icky. There were lots of uneasy glances all around.

After this, we went out to enjoy the resort. The kids and I soaked in the main pool for a while and then we went out to the beach. My kids were happy to report sightings of "fat, drunk New Jersey-ites in their natural habitat" (Gabby's words, not mine). She is not allowed to watch Jersey Shore for very obvious reasons, but hears about it from friends whose parents are not Nazis. I think she was pleased by being so close to the real action.

Later that evening, my mother and father in law came down from Sandals to watch the kids so Matt and I could go out and enjoy our 14 year dating anniversary (!). We went to the fancier restaurant at the resort and got amazingly drunk. Like crazily so. We sobered up a bit by playing some lawn chess, then staggered home and got the kids in bed before splitting another bottle of champagne on the patio and having a loud, crazy and disjointed conversation about, among other things, Schrodinger and can you fucking believe we've been together 14 years!!!! Yeah. We're those people.

The next morning, we had to go to the rehearsal dinner, which turned out to be a snorkeling adventure. Here's the thing: I spent quite a bit of money and some time procuring outfits for my family to wear to what I thought was a rehearsal dinner on a boat. I bought things that matched, you guys. Everyone was wearing navy blue. And I'm not a matchy-matchy mom so I was VERY proud of myself. I've been talking about these outfits for a long-time now. But we were told, at the last minute, mind you, that this was a snorkeling trip, so to wear bathing suits. I'm not going to front: I was pissed. Plus, when we got to Sandals, where the boat was supposed to take off from, we were corralled on an out of the way couch until someone could locate another member of our party since Sandals does not allow children (note: it took a while). Finally, we go outside to do a quick run through of the wedding on the beach, and THEN, and oh my god, guys, this is where it gets interesting, my brother in law walked out into the ocean and baptized his bride to be. Ever been to a wedding where someone gets baptized? Cause I have NOW. And here's the really weird thing: people were all just sitting around us in their bikinis and beach chairs, watching a bunch of strangers go through some weird shit. One girl, who I think my husband was, um, let's say impressed with, got up and threw down her copy of Darkly Dreaming Dexter, huffily walking away to a place where there were no prayers. If you don't think this is weird, I implore you to tell me if this is "a thing," especially for a husband to be to do it to his wife to be.

Then we got on the catamaran for the rehearsal dinner. And as grouchy as I was, this ended up being my favorite part of the trip. We went snorkeling around a huge coral reef, and then got back on and listened to Shaggy whilst I downed about 10 vodka and cranberries. It should be noted at this point that my mother and father in law paid for this shindig, and they can neither swim nor drink. I was determined to make up for that. I also showed my daughter my amazing knowledge of the Notorious BIG tribute anthem "I'll Be Missing You" and put on a Bob Marley wig to inform several people that I "felt like P. Diddy." And if that sounds strange or embarassing, you didn't see what other people were doing, and folks, those people were straight up sober. Canadians, ya'll. An interesting group.

The rest of the day was spent on island time, which means that I don't really remember what all we did, but that it probably had something to do with the water park, the attraction my kids were the most into. Awesomely, Beaches has this little water park thing, and right behind it, a huge hot tub for the adults who are there "watching" their kids. Matt and I spent a lot of time there.

That night, we took Allie to a Sesame Street parade that she was simultaneously mesmerized by and complete scared shitless of. It was quite fun, especially when the guy dressed up as the Count started doing the Thriller dance. When one is a little buzzed from fruity drinks and a lot of sun, that shit is DOPE. Our older progeny walked around the resort and made sure to delineate themselves from the Sesame Street crowd. Gabby wore a monocle, which delineates her from any crowd really, except from those who shill peanuts and oligarchs who enjoy squeezing lemons as a visual reminder of what they like doing to the proletariat. Then we went to eat at the resort's Japanese steakhouse. The cook asked us where we were from and my husband said, "Virginia." Then the cook proceeded to sing (very loudly I might add) that song "Country Roads" which is about WEST Virginia for just about the rest of our meal. And that song remained in my head for at least two more days. I went home and crashed with Alice after that, and of course, Matt was unhappy because he wanted to sit up and drink and talk about philosophy which is what you do when you are on vacation. IF YOU ARE A NERD.

The next day was the wedding, so we did some fun resort stuff and then got ready for it. The wedding was a perfectly lovely seaside affair. The bride wore Monique Lhullier, and I spent an INORDINATE amount of time worrying about the sand mixing with the beading on the bottom because as SUPER ANXIETY GIRL, I will find SOMETHING to worry about. I wore a dress from Target. It was really pretty, I think, and I kind of rejoiced in sharing that I had gotten it at Tar-jay. (Full disclosure--I ordered another dress from Nordstrom that just didn't work, so ended up sending it back and ordering this on a whim.) I allowed Alice to roll in the sand during the wedding, which kept her quiet and gave me a lot of good pictures. After the wedding, we had a cocktail hour and the bride and groom did a very cute, very interestingly choreographed dance as their first dance. It defied explanation really, but I applaud their appropriate levels of crazy, as did the drunk people watching from their balconies.

And that is when I started drinking myself. We went to a very fancy dinner afterwards, all on the beach, and the champagne flowed. I felt a little weird after the first course, but didn't think much of it, because my eating habits were shit the whole time I was there and I figured it was just my stomach rejecting a proper vegetable. There was a fire-eater guy, and my son Sam did the limbo, which I gladly paid him five booster packs of Magic cards to do. And I kept feeling weird, and not in a good, "I'm drunk!" way. Then, at some point after the bride's father promised Matt and me tickets two rows back from the catcher for a series of our choice in Detroit, I really got sick. As in, I started puking. The alcohol and whatever else just really caught up with me. I made it to the bathroom, and I won't get into it really, but if you've ever read anything on Deadspin where people detail stomach maladies that are, um, explosive enough for discussion, you know what happened. And, being pretty wasted as well, I got this crazy idea that I had to clean the whole stall, so I used all of the toilet paper in both stalls of the bathroom trying to do that. ANXIETY GIRL AWAY. Matt came after me, and I kept trying to explain that I wasn't just drunk, that there was something else at play. I don't think he was really getting it, because, who would, coming from a girl covered in vomit who had just spent the previous 20 minutes catcalling to the fire-eater? I went home with some level of disgrace, but was redeemed when the resort nurse confirmed that I had a fever and that there was some stomach malady going around at the Beaches resort. I ended up making it to my room and literally passing out in the bathtub. The kids were shocked and upset, for obvious reasons, but at this point, Matt was able to explain that I really was sick and that I wasn't just a drunk. So, small miracles I guess? I am still working up the courage to call the bride's father and say, "Remember me? The puking girl from the party? Well, I wasn't really drunk, I was actually sick, confirmed by medical personnel. So how's about them tickets???" (If we can swing it, we are thinking about seeing the Cardinals during interleague play [that's for you, AKM] and our beloved Triple A's in September.)

The next morning, I was remarkably hangover free, which was the last sign we needed that I really had had sickness and wasn't just a degenerate. We had to check out, so we got up early and went to the beach and water park again while the concierge came and got our bags. Gabby and I witnessed two men fight over a beach chair, which was awesome in its own, Jerry Springer-esque way. Then we took the bus ride back to the airport, complete with a kid and his mom puking in the front seat, as they had gotten the bug too. LOVELY.

That is the trip in a nutshell, as best as I can recall. Having had a wonderful time, I would definitely do it all again, except this time, I might wear some sort of mask to keep myself from getting whatever it was that I got. However, there are two things that if I ever hear again, I'll cut my own ears off, Van Gogh style, and promptly airmail to Jamaica.

And those things are:
1) Any white person saying the word "mon" as in "IT'S JAMAICA, MON!!!"
2) Any song by the Black Eyed Peas, especially that one about tonight being a very good night. ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Weddings

As a kid, I went through this one phase where I really liked looking at bridal magazines. Someone my grandmother knew had gotten married and she had a bunch of those great big, thick phonebook type tomes that featured dresses and hairstyles and veils and such that somehow, got left at my grandmother's house. There was one summer in particular that I spent an inordinate amount of time perusing them. I would go out and play in the mornings while my mom worked, heady times when the dew was on the grass and summer was licking at the edges of the day like a cat. In the middle of the day, my paranoid grandmother would usher me inside and make me stay there for fear that I would have a heat stroke or get a sun burn or lyme disease or any number of awaiting summer ailments. Since she only got two channels on her tv (three when it rained) and I had been through all of the World Book Encyclopedias and a good bulk of the National Geographics at this point, I spent the hours of 11:00-2:00 curled up on the couch with the same three copies of Bride.

However, at the time, I wasn't planning my ideal wedding. It was the very early 90's, so if I had been, I would have been sorely unprepared for any type of occasion that did not involve yards and yards of shiny taffeta, puffy sleeves and a bow the size of a Prius on one's ass. Instead, I spent my time making up stories about the models featured. My favorite were these odd, high fashion shots where the bridesmaid dresses were all dark eggplants and hunter greens and the models had black hair piled in hasty, messy updos, dark lipstick, and stares of disdain. They were photographed next to a creek that reminded me of the one in Hanging Rock National Forest that my mom took me to for hiking. And let me just say--in my mind, those bitches got into SOME MISCHIEF. There were dead husbands (who all looked suspiciously like Bob Saget) and vampires and babies left on the steps of the hospital to be raised by nuns, a story line I was familiar with from reading the back of one of my aunt's True Confessions magazines. Those were the girls I wanted to hang out with, not the ladies in puffy white who looked joyful and wholesome and like someone who would attend the same white-bread Methodist church my mom and I went to every Sunday.

And I have to say, I never really considered marriage that much at all. At 13, I decided it was antiquated and horrible, and that I was destined to live in sin with a musician/poet and that we would do everything within our power just to piss everyone around us off. LIFE GOALS. Even after I met Matt and figured out that he was my guy, I didn't really think about getting married that much. We joked about eloping, we would say little things here and there about actually doing it, but well, I didn't really plan out anything.

And then, he proposed to me, on Valentine's Day, on a night when I drank too much cheap champagne. The next day I went to the college bookstore and got a few copies of those familiar Bride magazines. And yeah, you know me, Matt and I spent a good few days snarking on the puffy white ladies again, spicing up our normal talk of Tolstoy with the typical "Who buys this shit!?!" I ended up getting a perfectly lovely, plain, strapless dress at the same store that I got my prom gowns and that my mom got her prom gowns and yada yada yada. And I graduated from college and somehow planned a little throw together wedding two weeks later. We printed out our invitations on the Swem library printer. I think there were about 15-20 people there, at the actual wedding, in the college chapel. My best friend from high school showed up unexpectedly, and it made my day. We had barbecue pork before, and my mom and I made cupcakes with white chocolate M's on the top. We wrote our vows and Matt's vows to me included a reference to Law and Order. And that was that.

It was a great encapsulation of us, really, but as the years have gone by, and I've been to other weddings and seen shows on TV about weddings and thought about weddings and considered the fact that I really, really would have liked Wilson Phillips to sing at MY wedding, I have wondered if I had to do it over again, if I would have done anything differently. And you know, I wish there had been more time between my last semester of school and then getting married, but whatever. We were on a time table and had to be in CA by the end of the summer. So, in the moment, we did our best. And I like that about us--that we had life to get to, and couldn't really be hasseled by the huge event that a wedding can be.

There is a great passage in the book One Day by David Nicholls (which, really, is just a fabulously fun book to wile away a day with--I can't attest to the movie, as I haven't seen it) where the main character laments watching those around her get married. And I can't quote it exactly because I've read a bunch of stuff since I read this, and I'm not a superhuman, but she says (in a much more wonderful way than this) that when you get married while in college, it is kind of a joke, and everyone has fun and is almost apologetic in that the wedding has taken up other's time. She moves on to talk about weddings that occur after that, and that by the time the bride and groom reach their 30's, that weddings become a no-joke affair, with carriages being booked and huge reception halls and all of that. And while it is not true for everyone, I have noticed a trend of this as I've gotten older. The things I have heard of and seen people doing for weddings (and then later, the birth of a child, but let's not get started with that) border on the ridiculous. And I can imagine it getting more and more elaborate as the people I know embark on new lives with second spouses and such from there. It is dizzying in a way, and I am left kind of feeling glad that I have it over with. Is that weird? It probably is.

I'll just be honest and say that I feel really awkward about this wedding I am going to this week. There has been an atrocious amount of money spent by all involved to make sure this is "fun" and "pretty" and "memorable." And I look at things like Matt's big green bowtie (....AND FOR THE RIGHT....TUCKER CARLSON! [It just never gets old.]) and the cocktail parties and catamaran rides and such and I wonder how to even take it all in. To me, a wedding is, at its core, a deeply personal thing between two people. There is something voyeuristic in us all being down there, I think, chronicling the leading up to, and even worse, the post wedding morning. And I keep thinking, "What would I want?" and really I have no idea. "For everyone to go away" is the thought that most often enters my mind. "For nothing more than a bed, a view, a box of chocolates and my husband" is the next thought, but that is what I want nearly everyday. Nothing new there.

So I guess, in the end, I can add "weddings" to the things that make me uncomfortable and that everyone else seems to enjoy that I don't. I guess it is nice to discover that I really am a horrible, horrible person before I turn 30. Best to get it out of the way.

Someday, when I am old and gray, I think I will get a lot of friends together and ask them about their own weddings and if they regret anything about it or if dainty-doo and mango coulis is really all it is cracked up to be.

But did I mention I bought new shoes for this shindig? And some new dresses? That's something I'm totally comfortable with, 100% of the time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jamaican Me Crazy

On Wednesday of this week, my family and I are going to Jamaica, to the Beaches Resort in Negril. My brother in law is getting married there (or more aptly, at the adjacent Sandals Resort, which does not allow kids), and we are attending. Everyone in the family is in the wedding, except for myself and Alice. I get to see my husband in a tux, which will be a little bit o' awesome (especially since the tux features a BIG, green satin bow tie, and when he tried it on, I had to bite my tongue to keep from yelling, "And now the Guv-nah from the great state of South Carolina!"). My husband hasn't worn a tux since my junior prom. Also wearing a tux: my son, Sam, who looks appropriately miserable in it, but having served as a ring bearer before is more comfortable and more...let's say tactful about his lot in life than Matt is. AWESOME SAUCE.

Going to an all-inclusive resort of this kind is not something I think I ever would have done, had I not been invited, or needed a reason to get the hell out of Virginia in January which is, let's face it, a really sorry ass time to live in Virginia. For instance, when Matt told me about the wedding, my first response was, "Wait...they're getting married at the place where Michael Scott took Jan that time? Holy shit." That was my only frame of reference because I had never considered doing this kind of thing. I'm more of a "Let's fly to Edinburgh with really no plan at all, and just experience the country!" kinda girl. We are the people, after all, who turned a little four day trip across the country into a 10 day event just because we decided we wanted to go to Tombstone, Arizona. And when family vacation is involved, we're the educational parents, the ones waking our kids up at 7 to go to museums and eating at local food dives we find on the internet. For instance, my husband is planning a trip in 3 years (yes, we look out that far when it comes to travel) to Europe and he wants to spend half a day showing our kids the historic Parisian sewer system because an old professor told him that was "fun". OUR KIDS LOVE US.

People keep asking me if I am excited, and I guess I am. I am excited to start drinking all the watered down drinks some guy who made two whole dollars last year can shove down my throat. I am excited not to be at work, and to get to see my kids during the hours of 8 and 5. I am excited to go out to dinner with my husband, with whom I will have been with for 14 years on Wednesday and who shares my love for making really bad Jamaica jokes that end with the word "mon". I am excited to wear the new shoes I ordered from Lands End Canvas last week. But as far as being super excited about the trip, I'm not.

I've struggled with that a bit, and I've come to the conclusion that I am just a curmudgeonly old woman. And I wonder a lot about this, if I'm so different from other people my age around the country (PLEASE SAY I'M NOT--I DON'T WANT TO BE ALONE ON THE ISLAND OF UNDERWHELMED). I see people who get so excited about stuff--going to Disney World seems to be a popular one, or eating bacon--and I feel pretty disconnected. Sure, I get inordinately happy about things--the start of baseball season, for instance, or 40% sales at J.Crew (HELLO, JARDIN SKIRT)--but I don't get wildly, haphazardly excited about stuff anymore. I am pretty neutral all the time. And I'm not medicated, if that's what you are thinking. For better or worse.

I wonder when I left all that behind, when I became this way. I also wonder if it is not necessarily a bad thing. Like I said, I am pretty neutral, so just as I am not excitable all the time, I'm not oscillating into wild, self-flagellating depression either. YEA. Here's to not locking myself in a room to listen to Nirvana's Unplugged album for a day, while I write really bad poetry, weep, and try to "feel!"

And since this a Debby Downer post in a way, I'll just declare a short intermission say this: BALLS.


You think about balls and try not to be happy. Doesn't matter what kind of balls are bouncing through your mind right now (and I think we all know what kind are floating through mine), you're smiling.


Shockingly, I feel the same way about Pinterest, I have come to find out. When Pinterest first started, I really liked it. I am the type of girl who sits at the computer with a legal pad beside of me, where I write down things I see that I like, be they recipes or dresses or whatever. Here was an online board where I could keep all those things together. And the pictures are pretty. SCORE. But now, when I look at it, I realize that what Pinterest is really used for is just porn for girls who don't like porn. It's is furniture porn, food porn, BOOT porn (which I'm pretty guilty of myself). It is "Here's a brownie, with a layer of fucking cookie dough on top of that and then because I really, really hate my arteries, the little fuckers, I'm going to pour hot fudge on top of that and call it a recipe. BOO YAH." It is someone's dream world, set to pictures, and given a jar of Nutella. But it ain't my dream world, really. Since I am old, and crochetty and given to melancholy and black coffee, I look at that stuff, and I file it away in "No one really makes that," or "That would kill you," or "How to turn a kid into a sociopath in 5 easy steps!" or "IN THIS ECONOMY?!?!" I keep going there, thinking it will change, but it doesn't, and my pins are halfhearted, and I just know you can tell. So really, what I'm saying is, I suck at Pinterest.

And at going on vacation.


Did the internet do this to me? Divorced parents? Being an only child? Television?

Let's go with the internet. Thanks, Al Gore.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Marriage

I read last night that Dooce blogger Heather Armstrong and her husband have split. Well, I guess, "trial separation" is the more appropriate wording. I read Dooce pretty religiously when I was living in CA--her style really appealed to me as an ex-southerner living smack dab on the other side of the country. I stopped reading about the time of the "washing machine incident" which was about the time that the Armstrongs started getting fancy. It just wasn't palatable to me anymore and led to me feeling more pissed off after I read each post. I didn't need that in my life. But, still, I totally dig Armstrong's style with words.

I guess that is why this news struck me so strangely. I was up last night thinking about this shit, ya'll. And while my anxiety ridden mind will often find really odd things to get fixated on at 4:00 in the morning, I think there are other reasons why I'm sitting here at my desk, listening to Ryan Adams's Cry on Demand and feeling all together like a sadsack 14 year old. I know it sounds odd, but I have a strange idea (especially strange, since I am a child of divorced parents) that marriages, when they are entered into by smart, caring, modern people like myself and Armstrong and all three of you readers, are infallible. Love, as it is, will find a way and if you are quirky enough to accept the fact that the other person is wackily, oddly adorable and their faults similar, you are more than ready to accept the mantle of that lifetime commitment. So basically, to put it simply, marriage in my mind is a Zooey Deschanel movie. Sure, it can be irritating, but in the end, it is too wonderfully dorky to step away from. Seriously! Look at those eyes and walk away!

Of course, that is not true at all, and despite my heart's protestations, my brain knows better. People get divorced all the time, even if they are bright and spend their days looking at Tumblr blogs and clips from The Daily Show. Matt and I have had our rough patches, and none of them were caused by anything cerebral. They were all caused by complete and utter shit, the daily minutiae of life that eats at you like a bedbug. Take, for instance, last night. Alice is going through an especially trying sleep time right now, a problem that has caused me much (yes, even more) sleeplessness and has really threatened my sanity (for reals, ya'll). I couldn't get her to sleep last night, just couldn't do it, and Matt and I were both pissed at her for it. Yeah, we were pissed at a 2 year old. But she is an especially adorable little thing, and well, you shouldn't be pissed off at something that really can't control anything in it's life, even it's own bodily functions. So we took it out on each other. Finally, Matt took Alice and a stack of books off to the bedroom, and I sulked on the couch and thought mean thoughts about him until I fell asleep. Maturity, ya'll. I HAZ IT.

This kind of crap, day in and day out, that's what does it. Tears the adorable Zooeys into screaming Kris Kardashians. And people tell you all this stuff about marriage, that you have to work at it, that you shouldn't go to bed mad and all of that. And it is all true, I suppose, for someone's marriage. Not necessarily mine. In my mind, saying I have to "work at" something, means that I won't do it, just like I won't work at learning math or developing a decent skin care routine. So I don't think about marriage in those terms. And if I couldn't go to bed mad at something, nothing would ever get solved. I will stay up and argue until I am blue in the face--if I can just go to bed, get some sleep, however short it may be, when I get up, I will be much more pleasant, and probably, have forgotten what pissed me off in the first place.

So I don't know the answers. I don't even have a decent, funny platitude to write on the "Recipe for a Successful Marriage" card for my brother-in-law's wedding reception next week. But what I keep thinking about is this moment, right after my actual wedding. Matt and I ditched the hokey recessional and walked out of the Wren Chapel (like bosses, I might add) to Heroes by David Bowie. And there was this moment, when we were standing in the back in front of the big double doors, and no one from the rest of the wedding had moved yet, and we just stood there together with these big goofy grins on our faces and I can only describe the feeling going through my mind as "LOOK AT WHAT WE JUST DONE DID." It was definitely one of the happiest, most sublime, almost otherworldly moments of my life. And I guess, if I had to write a tip for marriage, if I had to boil it down to what I want and what everyone deserves to have, it would be to always be with the only other person in the world who remembers that moment. The only other person who was there, and who was there all those other times and has the same screwed up memories that I do. I want to be in my 80's and be able to look at the other person at the kitchen table and say "Remember when Alice was a newborn and she had a green tint to her butt-crack?" or "Remember that time we took the kids to New York and got Sam's stroller (with Sam in it) caught in a subway turnstile?"

So I guess that is why I am sad. I want that, and I want for everybody to have that, and the fact that Heather Armstrong, a person who I have never met and will probably never meet and will probably not really remember in 10 years might not have that, well, it fucks with me. I am not the most sane person on the block.

Marriage will make you that way, I suppose.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Experience with Mary Kay

So. Last night, in the grand tradition of treatin' myself for my birthday, I had a Mary Kay consultant come to my house and show me some foundation. The whole line to get to this point was arduous and fraught with issues--I had an appointment scheduled, then my daughter got sick and I had to cancel, then I got sick, then the consultant went to Atlanta, then I went to Gatlinburg, then....FINALLY, all of the ducks got in a row to where I could do this thing. And it was about damn time. I was almost totally out of the True Match foundation I was using, having to resort to doing an odd, gyrating dance to get the last bit out of the bottle in order to do my face this past week. Being from the South however, ya'll know there was no way I was goin' out of the house with no make-up on. This is the road, surely traveled, to wearing Eeyore pajama pants to the grocery store. HELLS TO THE NO. So gyration it was.

And I have to say here just want a complete darling my consultant was during all this. I had originally contacted her to get some of the Ultimate Mascara that I had heard so much about, and once we started having issues with scheduling, she dropped the stuff off with a friend of mine, no questions asked, along with a bunch of samples and catalogs to get me started. Plus she was super friendly and made the process so easy. Love her.

Anyway, so we scheduled for my birthday. We decided she would come to my house. Now, I'll just say (in the spirit of total honesty) that this caused me a bit of anxiety, as with a toddler in the house during the day, I never quite know what I will be walking into when I return from work. It could be relatively straight and nice looking, sure. Or I could have a pile of baking soda on the floor reminiscent of a scene from Scarface. You never know. I had this fleeting thought, just for a bit, that perhaps my children and husband (who was home before me) would think, "Golly gee. I love my mom. Perhaps I'll clean the whole living room to pristine nature before she returns home from work since it is her birthday and I desire nothing more than her happiness on this, the most special of days." And, of course, I was wildly wrong. When I walked in the door, the kids had sort-of, kind-of straightened up Alice's toys in the living room, but there was a pile of shoes in the area around the door, and an even more tenuous pile of jackets/backpacks/lunchboxes laying on the living room furniture. And there sat my lovely children in the middle of it, playing on their iPods and threatening each other with bodily harm. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM.

So I ran about, hanging up jackets. I went to a little side table we have that at this point is just a repository for Diet Coke bottles and books and thought that I would dust it and get rid of the strange assortment of books. There was a copy of Sartre's No Exit on there, along with a Spanish/English dictionary, some Raymond Carver short stories, and I believe, a history book about presidents. What would the Mary Kay lady, who had been so wonderful to me, think of us upon seeing this collection of tomes? I'll tell you what I would think: PRETENTIOUS, BILINGUAL JERKS. These are the things I worry about, folks. So I reach for the Sartre, and guess what? It is fused to the table. With what, I have no idea. There is a 2 year old afoot. It could have been anything: juice, a forgotten half-chewed fruit roll-up, HUMAN NOSE DRIPPINGS. Anyway, I just left it, hoped no one would look at the table, and made some of that Harry and David cream cheese dip that you make with the relish so that my kids and husband would hopefully be pacified while I got prettied (which, if you haven't tried, is kind of like crack but creamier). By that time, the consultants had arrived. And I had realized that in my rush, I had neglected to pick up the pair of Green Lantern boy's underwear inexplicably laying on the bottom of our entertainment center. F-U-C-K.

And I hope they didn't notice that I live with a bunch of wild animals, because I enjoyed the absolute HELL out of the time they were there. First, they took off all my make-up, and I used the Mary Kay products for cleansing and microdermabrasion. Again, total honesty here: I suck at any kind of skincare routine, even though it was on my 30 b4 30 list. SUCK. Skin care routines and me are like math and me. Sure, I get why it is important. Sure, I can get by. But for some reason, there is a block in my mind about actually doing it with any consistency. But by the time that I was done, my face felt so wonderfully soft and cool and just...nice, I started wondering if Mary Kay could be my skin care rehab. Maybe? The set they sell together is $90, and although I would have loved to go all in on that, I have a few products in my bathroom (a bottle of Cetaphil that isn't even half used, for instance) that I should get through first, and well, there's that whole "feeding my kids" that I should consider as well. But really, next month I am thinking about purchasing it. Especially since I am at an advanced age now. This is something about the Mary Kay experience that I didn't think I would like (washing my face in front of strangers), but I have to say, the products were pretty daggone good and the consultants gave me some tips that I had not considered before. I recommend doing a facial with them, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone a bit.

And then we get to the main event, at least for me, which was foundation. This is where I can't gush enough. I have a horrible time with foundation--HORRIBLE. I have very pale skin, but I have some red undertones, so a foundation that matches my neck might be much too light for the rest of my face. When I was younger, I used Prescriptives foundation that I adored and that really was the only brand that could truly match my problematic skin. But I have used three different formulas, and each time, the color or kind I used was discontinued promptly after I started loving it. I have also used MAC with some degree of love, but the last bottle I bought seemed to change colors on me in the middle of the day and the salesperson I bought it from was a touch rude and the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth (especially for the $40 I paid for it). Strangely, L'Oreal True Match is my go-to foundation, at least lately, but I find myself buying two different shades and mixing them, and for the amount of time and money that takes, I could get a prestige brand that I like more.

I tried to explain this to the consultant, so she started with at least five different shades, doing stripe tests on my cheek. She put me in different light, moving around the sticky table from above (GASP) to see how each worked. Then we got the shade down to two choices and we did half my face in each. And we let it set for a while, while I looked through other make-up choices. Then, finally, the three of us made an executive decision. I ended up getting a 5 in color! A five! Usually, a make-up artist just puts me in whatever is the lightest (usually a 1 or a 0) and goes from there. However, with Mary Kay, the gradation is pretty small within a certain tone (there are three tones), just varying slightly on tint. This makes it much easier to get that perfect shade. I felt so confident with my choice. No make-up artist has EVER taken that much time with me to pick a shade and I have never felt so sure that I was getting exactly what I needed.

The formula for the make-up is pretty rad. I'll admit that it took me a bit to get used to this morning when I was putting it on, mostly because I used True Match before that. True Match is a thin foundation, more like a veil of cover more than anything. The TimeWise Luminous Wear Mary Kay foundation is much creamier. I know this isn't likely, but you put it on and feel like you are doing something good for your skin, not just covering it up. It is a bit thicker too, more of a cover than the True Match. But the finish is luminous, and when I got it all applied the way I like, I could still see my freckles. I feel like I could up it a bit too, for more of a nighttime, DONE look. I am VERY happy with it.

I tried the other make-up too. I feel pretty confident that I'll stick with Nars Orgasm for blush, since I'm nearly married to it in a non-legally binding way, so I can't tell you much about the blush. It looked nice when I put it on, I'll say that. But I am partial to Orgasm (aren't we all?). The mineral eye shadows were perfectly lovely, and I liked them much more than the mineral shadows I've used before. Application was easy and not messy which is my numero uno complaint about any mineral product. Plus, the price ($6.50 per pop) is pretty nice and allows you to customize several different looks without a whole lotta cash. My consultant gave me one of the shadows as a gift, it being my birthday and all. Once I run out of the Benefit cream shadows I am using now, I plan to try some of the other colors. I liked that one of the consultants told me she used the shade I chose (the Honey Spice) as a highlighter both above and below her eyes and on her nose. She said this looks great in photos, and I plan to utilize this trip when I attend a wedding next week.

And since this is getting long, I'll add succinctly, the Ultimate Mascara comes really close to laying-in-bed-naked-with-a-chocolate-truffle-and-Liev Schrieber-levels of awesome. Reminds me a lot of Dior Show, although the brush is smaller and dare I say it, more manageable. Love it, love the price, and this might go on my list of things I will carry with me when I kill over from the horrible disease given to me from drinking my daily bottle (or 2...) of Diet Coke.

After the consultants left, my husband and I were making dinner together and he asked me why I had had the consultant over. He said it didn't seem like something I would normally do. I admitted that it put me out of my comfort zone a bit. I can be a bit standoffish in real life, believe it or not, especially if I don't know someone that well. Initiating any kind of contact that would put a stranger in my house, touching my skin, is not like me at all. But I did like it. A lot. And really, this is the happiest I have felt with my makeup in a long time. So here I am, getting old and trying new things.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to try to figure out how my 8 year old son has not figured out that it is not ok to leave his underwear on the living room furniture.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Treat Yo Self

I once read this thing for bloggers that said if you aren't around for a while and then you come back, you shouldn't mention it, that a "Holy shit, I'm sorry I haven't updated in a hot minute--um, six months!" post is purely amateur hour. But yeah, I'm purely amateur hour, so here you have it. I ain't been around. There are reasons for this. Reasons that I'll hopefully explicate in some detail in this post.

Life has really been weird these past....four or five months. No, nothing has really happened. I'm not pregnant, I'm not getting divorced, I haven't grown a tentacle or had my nose run off to join the army. Life has just been blah. Somewhere in the daily battle to curtail the never ending flow of laundry and get to work and try to be a somewhat decent human being, and oh, well try to decide what in the living state of SHIT I am supposed to do with my life, everything got a little lost. Truthfully, I got a little lost. And it is kind of hard to keep up with a blog when you can't think of anything in your life to do except complain. No one wants to read that, and if they do, well, there's Facebook. 24 hour a day complaining about everything from censorship to Starbucks to one's love life. It is truly horrible, but if you're like me, you have your phone glued to your hand all the time, ready to subject yourself to more of it. MASOCHISTS, ya'll.

These past four to five months, I didn't go shopping one time (at least not for myself). I quit reading a lot of my favorite blogs, I quit paying much attention to anything fun or interesting. It all felt a little pointless, I guess, and sad in a way. Empty. I fought with myself about the person I was, the person I saw myself becoming, the person I needed to be. Somehow, wrap dresses and denim trousers and boots didn't seem to fit into that. I started to gain weight, mostly because I've been eating complete and utter crap. We're talking Wendy's for lunch nearly everyday (for reals, ya'll, have you had the asiago ranch chicken sandwich with spicy chicken? OMFG, those things are too freaking good. I will end up with botulism or butt cancer or something because of my love for them over the past little bit, but despite it all, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for them).

And then, one night, I sat watching What Not to Wear whilst eating a chunk of Trader Joe's caramelized onion cheddar and realized that I was turning into the lady on the show, pre-makeover. She complained about not having time, she had circles under her eyes, her clothes were sad. I almost cried. I went to bed feeling defeated.

So now, here I sit. I am now 29 years old. I am not where I want to be, ultimately, but really, I have some plans in the works, and things are starting to solidify. And this past weekend, I went to the outlet malls with my mom handily watching my children, and I got new clothes. And yes, it is sad, but I feel like a different person. I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, wearing new crisp denim trousers and a cardigan (yes, it is a uniform of sorts), and I felt good. I felt like me. Which is an altogether different feeling than what I've been experiencing. Was it the clothes? Yeah, probably. But not just them. They, and a little bit of learning to accept myself and what makes me happy FOR BETTER OR WORSE is what did it.

I can't tell you how to live your life, because, well, if you took advice from me, you'd be stupid. I am, after all, a 29 year old mother of three who lives in a small town she alternately despises and is indifferent to, who does nothing to use her hard-won college degree and sometimes has a hard time differentiating between right and left. SERIOUSLY PEOPLE. RUN. But I'll tell you this: be true to yourself, no matter what that means. If you like lipstick and beer, fuck it, that's what you like. Don't overindulge to the point of messing up your life, but you know, enjoy those things. Don't fight it. Don't try to change things that have no business being changed.

And TREAT YO SELF. Life is too short to go through it wearing bad shoes.

I've put a lot of thought into this, and perhaps today is a good day to share this, what with it being my birthday and new beginnings and all of that: from now on, when I post on here, I'm going to be 100% truthful with you about everything that is going on with me (of course, leaving out anything that has to do with poop or health things or other people who might defriend me on FB, or you know, set fire to my house were I to share too much). I have never really lied on this blog, but anyone who uses the internet knows that absolutely no one is completely truthful about this stuff--we all share what would flatter us, what would make others think that we are amazing credits to the world. And I think this is a problem. It is hard to compare your behind the scenes daily issues with the highlight reel everyone else shows. So, I'm just gonna say it. I ain't perfect. My life ain't perfect. And if I can help someone else by admitting as much, hell, I'll be happy to do that.

And ya'll, as of tomorrow (after I eat the luscious dark chocolate raspberry Nigella Lawson creation that I have prepared for myself), I am back on Weight Watchers. And I'm going to talk about that some too, just to keep myself on the wagon. This is especially going to be tough here at the beginning, as I am going to Jamaica next week. More on that later when I have a bit more sarcastic jocularity to share.

So for now, happy birthday to me and thanks for reading this, if in fact anyone is. Treat yo self.