Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Underachiever's Career Guide

This week's Girl Talk Thursday topic: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

I've always been an animal lover.  When I was growing up, we always had a family dog.  When I was 7 or so, my parents bought me a chinchilla--and with heavy persuasion from my brother who was deep into the Lord of the Rings series at the time, I named it Frodo.  When Frodo passed away, I got a grey, fluffy, lop-eared rabbit (this time I wasn't going to bow down to my brother, and oh-so-creatively named it 'Fluff'; so there!).  I had a ten-gallon fish tank in my bedroom.  I dreamed of animals and every creative writing piece written during my elementary years had the basic premise of a girl who found a rock (or other object) and spit on it (or it got rained on), and it turned into some fluffy creature.  Magic!  You'd think after that brilliance, my career aspirations would certainly involve writing, but I wanted to be a veterinarian.

Once junior high and high school came around, anatomy piqued my interest.  The teacher in my high school's Anatomy class took a small group of students with the highest grades each year to see an autopsy, and I made sure I was part of that group even though my grades weren't the highest--I can be...persuasive, when I care about something.  The stress of helping someone who was alive but sick or in an emergency didn't appeal to me, but I loved the idea of finding out why someone had died (and then going to court to testify in front of a rapturous jury; that sounded awesome).  I took another Anatomy class while in college, and it was the only undergraduate program in the country at that time that had six whole cadavers to study each semester, just like in medical school.  I loved the class, but I got a D.  Do you know how many veins and arteries and nerves and lymph nodes are running up through your armpit?  It's like a crazy 16-lane highway traffic jam in there.  I can show you where your anatomical snuffbox is, though. 

You see, I'm an underachiever. When I was young, I learned how to play the game and get great grades by doing the bare minimum.  It worked pretty damn well for me in my youth, but it didn't go over very well when I got to a college that had higher academic standards than the good ol' Dade County Public School system.  Thomas Jefferson was a student at my college, and I'd bet he wouldn't be pleased to know I was lowering the school's reputation.  My sincere apologies, Thomas--founding fathers deserve more than that.  So, my career choices of veterinarian or medical examiner hit a brick wall when I realized veterinarians were like, doctors, but for animals. And being a doctor meant going to medical school. And medical school seemed like an awful lot

At this time, I had read a lot of true crime stories and I really, really wanted to be a Profiler for the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit.  I scored a few days' externship at the FBI training facility in Quantico, and yes, it was even cooler than you'd imagine.  They had a whole fake street set up with a bank, pool hall, apartment building and the like to practice skills.  The only gun I've ever shot in my life was blanks from the FBI's Glock that we used to practice clearing rooms that day (think sliding slowly with your back pressed against a wall, looking quickly around the corner with a pointed gun, the whole bit).  This was it; I thought.  I'm going to be an FBI agent.  But then I heard about that pesky lie detector test part of the interview, the one where they ask you if you've smoked pot more than 10 times in your life.  Ten?  Um, who can answer that truthfully and be in the FBI??  I'm not going to come out and admit any drug use right here, but let's just say that I'm a terrible liar.  So I didn't bother applying.

I managed to graduate college in four years, albeit with terrible grades.  Hah!  Who cares, I thought--my dad (a Dartmouth grad with less-than-perfect grades) told me that people only cared about your college grades when you were looking for your first job.  It wasn't like I was going to go to grad school!  And then I applied to grad school (my job as an Activities Director at a nursing home was the best I could do with my undergraduate degree in Psychology, and I lasted there a month before wanting to poke my eyes out).  Luckily for me, I'm a good test-taker, which balanced out my mediocre grades and a law school took a chance on me.  I figured my talent in persuasion could be put to some use.

Fast forward a few years, and my underachiever self who couldn't fathom the thought of medical school had a law degree.  And had been the Managing Editor of a law journal.  And had one baby and was pregnant with the other while studying for (and passing the first time, to my mom's shock and amazement!) the Bar exam.  All while fixing up an old house in a developing neighborhood (okay, it was a total shithole in the 'hood, complete with a neighborhood prostitute and crack house). 

I may be an underachiever, but I certainly am an adept multi-tasker.  And my evolutionary biology-minded friend recently described my underachieving nature as something to the extent of 'a wise evolutionary strategy because of the effective use of energy and resources'.  Sounds good to me!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Photographic Evidence

A few weeks ago, Sam dragged out our old manual camera that had been tucked away in the back corner of his closet for the last 5 years and developed a few rolls of film that had been hidden in the case.  The pictures were mostly of one of the two summers we spent at my in-laws' property in northern California, the summer Sam's mom lost her battle with cancer.  I immediately began crying as I thumbed through pictures of 2-year old Jackson getting a haircut from his grandfather, Jackson standing in only a diaper with his toddler belly bulging, one of an infant Alex smiling on my lap.  Do all mothers have this feeling when they look at pictures of their oldest kids as little ones?  I'm thinking my visceral reaction may be because although I did fine going through it, in hindsight, this was a fairly overwhelming period of my life being in law school, having two children 19 months apart, and witnessing my mother-in-law's terminal illness. 

Sam came down with the camera bug during our weekend in Santa Fe and has been constantly walking around snapping pictures of the boys ever since.  We spent this past weekend working on the main floor powder room(considering its miniscule square footage, it must be the longest project in the history of bathrooms) but in between measuring and cutting baseboards (and while deflecting my nagging comments to GET BACK TO WORK!), Sam was capturing moments.  Last night, he emailed me--please join me in pausing for a moment to reflect on that, because this is a miracle in itself, I tell you in all seriousness--a link to the pictures the camera store had put online. 

This?  It's my life, my everything, and I'm so thankful I am living it and that Sam is capturing it.  As far as I'm concerned, this is my Mother's Day present right here, but since Sam doesn't read this blog I'll also be happy with whatever else he comes up with. :)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Road Trippin' on a Dime

I'm a big fan of road trips.  Years ago, we trekked with one-month old Jackson and Winston the Wonder Weimaraner out to California in our 1985 Land Cruiser.  And no, I did not keep my baby securely strapped in his car seat the whole time; I freely admit that.  With an exclusively breastfed newborn eating and pooping constantly, there were plenty of in-the-lap diaper changes and feeding sessions.  For any of you that are now dialing Child Protective Services in an effort to protect my children from their neglectful parents, I vividly remember road trips as a child where my brother and I would press our eyes against the rust holes in the floor of our parents' VW Bus so we could watch the road whiz by underneath us.  Miraculously, my brother and I made it to adulthood with our eyes intact.  My point?  Neglect is a genetic disorder; don't blame me.

Two years later, we made the same trip to CA with a 2-year old Jackson, a 6-month old Alex, and Winston (by this time we had sucked it up and resigned ourselves to owning a minivan).  Despite driving a minivan, there is something freeing, adventurous even, about driving somewhere other than Target or to a child's birthday party. 

I don't require high-end luxury when traveling, but I do make all efforts to stay in hotels that don't have the Gross Hotel Blanket.  You know, the one that you use tweezers to immediately peel down when you get in the room so you don't have to actually come in contact with it (I have seen too many Dateline NBC shows exposing the filth on those blankets...).  My efforts are not always successful, though--between Salt Lake City and San Francisco there are not a whole lot of overnight options, and we spent one memorable evening at a hotel that had a dead rabbit in the parking lot and a condom stuck to the side of the building.  And one night in a room with moist, matted shag carpeting so foul that Sam laid down a towel path (think of the Follow the Yellow Brick Road scene, but absent the happy song or the crowd of happy midgets) to walk from the shower to the bed to avoid actually stepping on it.  Good times.

We now have three kiddos (and sadly, no dog), and I decided on a whim that we should take a weekend road trip during Sam and the boys' spring break.  We don't have a lot of cash these days ('these days' meaning the last, oh, 6 years) and I'm definitely what you would call 'thrifty'.  I decided on Santa Fe because it was relatively close (6 hours' drive)...and between you and me, I read about this really great chocolate shop that I wanted to check out.  Here is a recap of our weekend vacation on a budget, listing some tips that I found helpful and rough prices (*modestly patting myself on the back as I write...*).

1.  Last-minute vacation-rental deals!  Hotels can be expensive, and staying in one hotel room with three children?  Not fun.  My kids go to bed at 7:30, so sitting perfectly quiet in a hotel room is not our idea of a vacation.  Has anyone used
I found a number of vacation rentals that were still available 5 days before our trip, so I wrote requesting a total lowball, last-minute deal.  I chose this gorgeous, 3-bedroom place a few blocks from the Plaza.  It was advertised at $315/night, and we paid $125.  Even with the cleaning fee and rental tax, it was less than what we would have paid for a hotel suite and had so many more amenities!

2.  Plan some make-ahead meals!  Eating out every meal (with three growing boys) can get expensive very quickly.  My husband, with his hummingbird metabolism (damn him!), snacks constantly and the boys follow suit.  The night before we left I spent a few hours in the kitchen, but it saved us tons of money.  I made:
  • breakfast burritos with egg, bacon, potato, and cheese--just wrap them up in a paper towel and freeze.  When you're ready to eat, pop them in the microwave for 2.5 minutes, and open up for a sec to spread a little salsa.  They taste awesome, and are a nice, filling breakfast before sightseeing.
  • cardamom granola bars--these have become a staple snack in our house--SO good!
  • vegan blueberry muffins--don't let the word 'vegan' scare you, they are delicious, I swear!
I also packed up cereal, milk, yogurt, fruit, and peanut butter-n-jelly sandwich stuff.  Cutting back on the meals out allowed us to enjoy an authentic New Mexican meal, complete with green chile, at Maria's New Mexican Kitchen (known for their margaritas!). ($50, including a house margarita each)

3.  Use the internet to make a rough itinerary.  On the way down, we stopped for dinner in Trinidad, Colorado, famous for being the sex change capital of the world.  Yes, the world.  It's not known for much else, and wanting to ensure we didn't end up at the local McDonald's for dinner, I used Yelp to decide on a restaurant ahead of time.  This also cuts down on the driving around aimlessly factor.  With such a short trip, Yelp also came in handy to get a feel for how we wanted to spend our time.  I thought for sure Trinidad would have some amazing people-watching, or surgeon's offices on every corner, but there was literally no sign of anything interesting going on.  At all.  Luckily, the brick-oven pizza we had was really good (and the oven actually came from all the way from 'It-lee', as I learned from a Trinidad bank teller). ($30 for pizza and salad)

4.  Scope out the free entertainment. 
We arrived in Santa Fe on Friday evening and had all day Saturday to explore.  I had a delicious mocha from Ecco Espresso (scoped out from Yelp) before browsing the offerings from the Native American Vendors.  We bought Alex a metal guitar pick with a cool hunter scene stamped on it (and amazingly, there was no word from Jackson about wanting something as well).  We also briefly checked the St. Francis Cathedral as they were preparing for their big Easter shindig (since it was right there; I'm not a big cathedral goer). ($24 for guitar pick, coffee drink, and tamales) 
After lunch and rest for the kiddos, we drove a little ways out of town to Shidoni, an art bronze foundry and sculpture garden.  I had contacted them ahead of time to find out when they were pouring, and we got to see them pour the liquid metal into the molds.  We all enjoyed walking around the sculpture garden.   There is also a glassblowing studio next door, which would have been another great activity if we had timed it right ($0!).

The highlight of my day was our trip to Kakawa Chocolate House.  We all sampled different styles of their handcrafted European and Mesoamerican Aztec drinking chocolate and split a piece of a delicious chocolate-covered caramel with smoked sea salt on top.  I bought a package of one style to bring home with me, and there's no way I'm sharing with my family ($22).

5.  National Parks/Monuments are cheap and awesome.
The next morning we packed up and made a slight detour to the southwest to Bandelier National Monument for a hike and to check out the Indian ruins.  We paid our car's $12 entrance fee and spent a couple hours on the Main Loop Trail.  Our friend Joel (who is living with us in Denver for the time being) sprung for the $1 guide book that provided information at numbered spots along the trail.  This monument is amazing--an easy hike and so many interesting things to see!  We all had a ball climbing the ladders up into the cavates to see how the Ancestral Pueblo people lived.

All told, the trip cost us under $500, which is just a hair over what Sam and I pay for a dinner and movie date and a babysitter.  I totally have the bug for weekend travel and am itchin' to camp at the Great Sand Dunes this spring.  I can hear my yard quietly weeping, because it was really hoping I'd get off my ass and pull some weeds.  And I know my half-finished bathroom would appreciate being dressed with some baseboards.  And a doorknob for said bathroom might be nice.  And I bet my neighbors would appreciate Sam chopping up the huge pile of free wood that is sitting at the top of our driveway.  sigh...Life slips by too quickly, but I hope to squeeze in little family adventures like these more often.