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All the old posts and my continued adventures can be found at It’s a Lovely Life.

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In Which Being a Grown-Up is the Worst

When I was a kid I thought grown-ups were so boring.

Either that or they were just pretending. Surely they were just speaking in some kind of unfathomable grown-up code. Nobody could actually be interested in the mundane topics they always seemed to be bringing up voluntarily, could they?

Wow Bob, looks like rain.

Sure do need it, Susan.

You know that’s right, Bob.

And how about that construction over on the loop?

Well it really wasn’t that causing the congestion this morning, Bob; it was that fender bender over there on Magnolia Street!

Was that James’s boy?

Sure was, Susan. Such a nice kid — just a shame.

Oh you know those insurance rates are just going to skyrocket!

Blah. Blah. BLAH.

I used to stand in a kind of stupor in the grocery store while my mom got roped into one of these types of conversations and try to slink away to find something more interesting to do. You know, like stare blankly into a freezer or read ingredient labels or pretend the floor was lava and step from tile to tile until even that got boring, and I began to wish that the floor would open up and swallow me into its magma-filled abyss, since that at least would be more interesting than the conversation that my mother and I were being forced to endure while shopping for sustenance for our home. Maybe this is why people farmed for so long–not because they couldn’t figure out how to industrialize, specialize, then package and ship goods to stores for retail, but because they’d rather get up at the butt crack of dawn and milk their own cows on a daily basis instead of getting trapped, shivering, in the milk aisle by some guy they vaguely know from a church they used to go to, so they can talk about the weather for so long that rain becomes just a vague recollection.

Honey Boo Boo isn't about this life either

So this is why I am ashamed to make this confession: Here I am at the tender age of not-yet-twenty-five, and I have begun the wretched transformation into one of these capable, intelligent human beings who suddenly, for no apparent reason, morphs into an unbearably boring zombie caricature of my vibrant self.

Yes. I am becoming a Grown-Up.

(Or a Grup, as my sisters and like to call them, based off this one Star Trek episode we really liked.)

Here are some things that I found not even remotely interesting circa 1998:

– Seasonal allergies

– Turning off the lights when you leave the room

– Pet dander

– Waiting until the dishwasher was full to run it

– How fast grass grows

– Traffic

– Zoning laws

– The cost of a gallon of milk

– When we might be getting some rain again, Bob

– Gas mileage (Although it is fair here to note that I did not have a driver’s license until 2006.)

As of 2014 I have some level of interest in every single item on that heinously mundane list. This is not okay with me.

But you know why all of the things on the list are suddenly interesting? It seems that my parents were sheltering me throughout my childhood from a very unfortunate reality about adulthood: it costs money. Lots of it.

Turns out the magic of childhood is not in the way that clothes appeared in my closet or sheets appeared on my bed or food appeared on the table, but the fact that I did not have to put them there, work for the funds that made them available, pay taxes to make them legal, or, most magically of all, ever wonder about any of the economic process whatsoever. And everything on that list in some way leads to something that ends up costing money.

I’m learning it’s not all doom and gloom, however. If you have a nice Manfriend, the two of you can have an extended conversation about which gender roles you will choose to adhere to in your marriage and decide how to assign tasks accordingly. I like to think of it as Domestic Utilitarianism.

For example, I don’t really like to cook, but Manfriend is really good at making Fancy Chef Ramsey Food, so he cooks, and I follow him around with a sponge and a bottle of 409 and do all the dishes, and at the end of the night we’re both fed, and I didn’t have to cook, and he didn’t have to clean, so we’re both happy. He cooks; I bake; clearly we’re both going to end up fat even though I don’t fulfill the traditionally female role of meal preparation. Just gotta play to our strengths. (And I’d say we’re both very gifted eaters. Why yes, I would like another scoop of spaghetti. Thanks.)

I invite you now to take special note of the “how fast grass grows” item on my list. This one is important, because it has implications beyond just the length of a lawn. It encompasses watering, mowing, edging, and fertilizing that lawn. It involves monitoring that lawn for pests and disposing of those pests accordingly. It involves understanding what type of soil you have. It involves maintenance. It is a gigantic pain in the butt. Guess which item on the list Manfriend volunteered for in order to properly maintain our level of Domestic Utilitarianism?

I am basically content to let the grass die. But my dad and stepmom came to visit over the summer and bought us some trees as a housewarming gift. Then my dad and Manfriend spent the rest of the weekend hauling bricks and deciding where to plant them and digging holes and basically doing a lot of things I dislike (moving heavy things outdoors in the heat in the dirt surrounded by bugs) while I got to stay inside. So I feel like I owe it to them to be a good steward of their gift by taking care of the trees.

Apparently this means watering the poor little dears every morning and every freaking night. Like what the heck. These greedy bastards are so scraggly and unimpressive and yet so DEMANDING. Even Betty is doing her part by providing ample fertilizer. Still this does not change the fact that I did not sign on for any freaking yard work but I’m out there twice a day–before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down–like some kind of non-mustached Lorax, trying to drown these damn agua-holic trees.

It is the worst. Just GROW UP ALREADY AND PROVIDE ME SOME SHADE.

Also when you are outside watering your helpless baby trees, you discover other unpleasant, nature-related things. Like fire ants. WHERE DO THEY KEEP COMING FROM. I think they’re growing inside the grass. Like at night the grass all gets together and has a secret meeting while I’m asleep about how it’s being neglected in Manfriend’s absence, and to teach me a lesson, it’s going to sprout ant beds every week in random places across the lawn.

“Oh? Not going to water us again, are you? Well, we’ll just see about that…” FIRE ANTS, GRASSHOPPERS, HORRIFYING-LOOKING LIZARDS. Bam, bam, bam. “Enjoy watering your lawn. …Bitch.”

Don’t tell me I’m being dramatic. My lawn is out to get me because it’s jealous that it doesn’t get watered every day like the lawn next door, which is owned by some zealous over-waterers who really need to calm down, since they’re making all the other lawns in the neighborhood jealous. It’s like bringing your kid Panera or Chick-fil-A for lunch every day when you know all his classmates are just getting soggy PB&J’s in hand-me-down lunchboxes. That’s just wrong.

And anyway, who really cares how green your lawn is, crazy neighbors? Are you competing in the Hey Everybody, Look How Green My Lawn Is Today competition that Fort Hood isn’t holding? Such a waste of time. Such a waste of money.

There are other wretched Grup topics that I foist upon innocent bystanders. I talk about how busy I am at work. I talk about my water bill. I talk about how high my energy bill is during the summer. These are terrible, boring, Grup-like things to do. I know it. I am confessing it to you here. BUT… If my stupid trees would become responsible adult trees and provide me some shade on my house I could have fewer conversations about my energy bill.

That is a lie.

I would have the same number of conversations about my energy bill, but instead they would just go something like, “It’s amazing how much less our energy bill is in the summer now that our house gets some shade from those whiny, high-maintenance Lorax-tended baby trees!”

I have to go now. The aforementioned trees are ready for their water. I can’t wait till they become tall, dependable, shade-providing, boring Grup trees that will bore the baby trees next door to tears. Lady Lorax out.

Lady Lorax

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ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL LIMITED TIME OFFER ACT NOW GUEST ENTRY: My Life is a Joke

Please enjoy this delightful break in our regularly scheduled but sporadically updated program for an entry by Sister #3. You’re welcome.

**

My sister has been pestering me to contribute to her blog since she started writing it. Alas and alack, the life of a royal like me is incredibly busy so I haven’t had time to contribute. Also, she never updates and who wants to contribute to a vessel of wit and wisdom that isn’t properly maintained?

[Blog mistress’s note: Cheeky little brat.]

I suppose that’s where I come in. As I contemplated an appropriate topic for my guest entry, nothing particularly clever came to mind. I am a philosophy major, and as such I am fond of writing dry, analytical essays intended to make the reader weep because they are so logical that their brains simply cannot handle the pure, unadulterated rationality so they must create emotion where there is none. In layman’s terms, they are, in fact, “bored to tears.” I shall spare all of you that pain and toss the old advice to “write what you know.” Who really knows anything about philosophy anyway? It’s a bunch of things that people made up in the first place, and then we are required to know the things that other people made up, so that apparently makes it knowledge. I will make up my own thoughts one day and they will be magnificent and students of future generations will curse my name as they are assigned epically long papers on my made-up thoughts and have to connect it to some inane topic.

BUT I DIGRESS.

I am not writing what I know. I will instead write what I do.

And what is it that I do, darling imaginary audience? Well, I live as a relatively functional human being. I bathe, I eat, I work out, I have social interactions. I also mess these things up and more on a regular basis. But those things are the primary functions I perform, so I will address those. Two of my dearest roommates used to listen to my stories endlessly, and we adopted a phrase to summarize as well as title all of these stories: “My life is a joke.” These stories sometimes really did seem to model themselves after actual jokes, but most of the time they more closely resembled really bad sitcom writing. Without further ado, welcome to an introductory episode of the terrible sitcom that is my life.

ON BATHING

The beginning of college held a lot of firsts for me, with one of the most disorienting being my first communal shower.

My college experience started with Cadet Basic Training, and all I was allowed to wear at the time were Army-issue glasses.

They are horrendous. I also had a strap that held them in place. Now, they did their job for the most part (except when they fogged up while I was trying to shoot), but they had no place in the shower. When I went to shower for the first time, my near-sighted self was thrown into a blurry, steamy box of naked female bodies with no way to orient myself to what was happening. This is not as erotic as it sounds. These females are checking each other for ticks, prickly heat, and the like. They are trying to move as quickly as possible so that everyone can conduct proper hygiene, but if you’re me, you’re stuck at the entrance to the shower trying to figure out where to go. I had a number of courses of action run through my head:

  1. Go back and get my glasses. I mean, I can only see like a foot in front of me. How am I going to get clean?
  2. Announce my presence to the girls in the shower: “Hello. I cannot see without my glasses. Will someone please help me find an available shower head? Also please do not stare because I cannot stare back and trying to start a staring contest with me without my glasses would be massively unfair.” Damn all of them and their 20/20 vision.
  3. Just go in and stand there and see what happens.

I went with number three and that worked out for me because I was naturally called over to the nearest open showerhead and bathing without vision wasn’t really all that difficult. Muscle memory. This option totally worked out because I still have friends. I wouldn’t be friends with the “girl who wore her glasses in the shower” or the “girl who announced her nearsightedness and demanded a Seeing Eye Friend in the shower” so I’m glad I didn’t go with either of the first two.

I’ve since mastered the whole communal shower business (aided by the fact that I got my contacts back at the end of Basic) and the only issue I’ve run into since is finding the showerhead with hot water. People say the building I live in now is haunted, so I’m pretty sure Moaning Myrtle hangs out in one of the girls’ bathrooms and pipes hot water only through like two showerheads.

This creates another one of those Awkward Situations for me when I shower in the morning. I’m usually the only one in there, or I only pass one person on their way in or out, but I always worry someone will walk in on my Hot Water Acquisition Ritual one day and I’ll have to explain, butt naked, what I’m trying to accomplish. You see, for some reason, turning on every single showerhead helps the water heat up in some of them faster.

So that’s what I do. I turn on no fewer than six showerheads and stand in the middle in my birthday suit and wait for my delightful scalding water to be ready. Sometimes I go flush a toilet for good measure, even though I understand literally nothing about plumbing. That always heated up our water in the shower at home, so maybe it’ll work here. Mostly I think it just kills time, but it also increases the risk of the Hot Water Acquisition Ritual being discovered, so I have to rush speedy quick back over to my shower. It seems to be working and I haven’t had to take a cold shower yet, so knock on shower tile that it keeps going well.

Non-Shower Glasses

Non-Shower Glasses

 

ON EATING

I have a small phobia of eating in social settings. I also go to a school where we eat family-style for two meals out of the day. This works really well for me when I eat at the same table every day during the school year, but in the summer your table mates will vary a bit more. I don’t feel comfortable telling a table full of variant table mates what I would to an actual table family. Normally I very aggressively tell people to “mind their own plate” because my stepmom taught me that. Baby Sister (who is actually 18) is very bossy and Stepmonster got tired of her telling everyone what to eat. I adopted the phrase and use it at school. However it is summertime and the variant table mates might silently judge.

I know I do, so I assume every time they glance my way they’re doing it too, so I’m thinking, “Okay, I know I ate 12 baby carrots and the bun for the roast beef but I didn’t eat any roast beef but I really like the bread of this bun and I didn’t want the weird roast beef and also I have a thing about roast beef every since my dad purchased way too many Arby’s Roast Beef sandwiches during my adolescence!” This thought is accompanied by what is probably a nasty look on my part, and the alleged judge-y person is all, “Could you pass the ranch?” And then I think, “Ew, you totes should not put ranch on that.” But I pass it anyway and continue to judge silently. Just call me Judge Foodie.

Judge Foodie Enjoying Carbohydrates

Judge Foodie Enjoying Carbohydrates

 

ON WORKING OUT 

This is another one where all the silent judgment happens. The difference here is that I’m usually staring at someone else because I’m curious about what they’re doing and wanted to know how it’s working for them.

Recent internal questions that I’ve had include: “How long have you been doing free-standing handstand pushups? Were you trained to do them as a child? Did you run away and join the circus before coming here?” and in the weight room: “Does grunting while you do bicep curls make you feel like a man? Should I try?” and back in the cardio room where the horrible climbing apparatus known as Jacob’s Ladder hides in the corner and some people seem to enjoy using: “Are you a masochist?”

Not that I can really talk. I too enjoy engaging in semi-masochistic behavior at the gym from time to time, but I also am looking forward to the day when I can power walk for fitness and it actually counts for something.

Normally I’m pretty smooth at the gym, drenched in sweat except for the outline of my sports bra (I can’t seem to break the barrier and sweat all the way through both layers), and only limping a little bit as I make my way to my next trick. The other day, though, I was cooling down on one of the stationary bikes and finished up and went to retrieve my water bottle. There was only one other person in the room at the time, also on the bike, and they were totally bored and watching the only other live activity in the room, AKA me. You know what I did? I went to put my things in my drawstring backpack all smooth-like because that’s my Gym MO, as previously mentioned, and I knocked down my water bottle off of the ledge and made a big mess. If no one else had been around I probably would have been like “eh, it’ll dry soon enough,” but I suddenly felt as if Lone Biker was judging me and I threw my sweat towel on top on it. Lemme tell you, the ol’ sweat towel ain’t no Sham-Wow. It didn’t do crap to absorb that water so I just ended up spreading it around. I gave up after a bit and stuffed the towel in my bag and left in shame.

This incident has led me to believe that I need a more reliable water bottle.

The author with the unreliable water bottle

The author with the unreliable water bottle

 

ON HAVING SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

This one is tough because it happens quite a bit. I’m generally quite good at these but I also struggle with quick and witty responses. Texting is a much better medium for the rate at which my brain processes things. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve answered, “Hey, what’s up?” with “How are you?” after a pause in which my brain should have realized I was asked first.

Walking and being greeted is especially difficult, as is being called out in a large area. I probably reply with the appropriate response at the appropriate time about 10% of the time. Because of this sad truth based on highly educated statistical analysis, I have developed a catch-all response. It’s the “one size fits all” of social responses and it is The Open-to-Interpretation Large Smile, which for our purposes we will call “OTILS” for now. You know the smile I’m referring to—you’ve gotten it from people who have no idea what you’re saying, who have no idea who you are, or have no desire to speak to you. You’ve also given it. I’ve perfected it. Witness:

“Hey what’s up?”

*OTILS*

“Saw you out at the restaurant/bar/library/movies/gym the other day!”

*OTILS*

“Oh haaaay gurl! I see you!”

*OTILS*

“I was just thinking about how *blah blah blah*”

*OTILS*

“You have to be at (insert place) at (insert time).”

*OTILS*

OTILS

OTILS

Are you seeing the genius?

It requires no commitment, garners no obligations, and creates an environment with very minimal risk for another Awkward Situation. It is genius, and I am sharing it with you because I am a nice person.

You’re welcome.

I hope this summary of what I do on a daily basis enriches your life. I hope you are able to learn from my actions as a functioning member of society and use those to help guide your own actions in life.

May you always be able to avoid the dreaded Awkward Situations and reach the ever-fulfilling punchline of My Life is a Joke.

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In Which I Am Forced to Join Border Patrol

If you know me in real life, or are friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Instagram, or have been within a fifteen-foot radius of me within the last two months, you are already aware that there is someone new in my life.

Her name is Betty White, Lady of Cadbury. She is a Miniature Holland Lop, my pride and joy, and absolute confirmation that I am nowhere near ready to procreate.

Behold:

IMG_3215

I’ll give you a moment to recover from her absurd level of cuteness, then I’ll elaborate.

(Wait, one more picture.

Now we can elaborate.)

First, I will tell you why making Betty a part of the family has meant I am basically a member of Border Patrol now.

– She can’t speak English.

Or, if she can, she’s doing a really good job of pretending she can’t understand what I’m saying. Sometimes I think she really knows.

“Betty, I love you. ” She responds by licking my face.

“Betty, you are the best bunny in all the land.” She responds by licking my hand.

“Betty, you have the cutest floppy ears in the history of floppy ears.” She hops away to demonstrate how floppy her ears can be when she hops.

It works in negative ways too, like when I catch her chewing on wires: “Beeee-eeetttyyy…” She scurries away, like, What? I wasn’t doing anything. Wires? What wires? I didn’t chew any wires.

Or when I can hear her digging in the corner on the carpet and I try to sneak up on her to tell her to stop. As soon as she hears me coming she freezes and curls up into a ball and twitches her nose really fast and pins her ears against her body and stares up at me like she’s trying to hypnotize me. You heard nothing. I did not attempt to dig a hole to China through the carpet. I did nothing. You are getting very sleepy. Stop monitoring my behavior.

But most of the time I’m like, “Betty, are you hungry? Are you hungry baby girl?” And I make a big show of feeding her and watering her and she can see it and smell it and knows it’s there. And she just looks at me like, “Um, no, I’m not hungry. Stop cramping my bunny style.” Then ten minutes later she’s all up in my business like she’s starving to death or something so I have to show her where her food and water is and she chows down. I don’t want to say she’s stupid because she’s my bunny and I love her; I just think we’re not speaking the same language. Hence my claim that she is a non-English speaker.

Unfortunately for us both I don’t know enough languages to figure out what language she does speak, so as a native East Texan I have to fall back on all of my East Texas stereotypes, hence the next reason I think she is an illegal immigrant.

– She does not appear to have a problem with water.

She lets me give her a bath every week without complaint. I towel her off and she gets all slick and grumpy-looking, then she gets all fluffy and licks herself and grooms ferociously for about an hour, then hops about merrily for the rest of the night. It is pretty delightful.

This is actually a pretty racist and inappropriate point to make to I am just going to leave you with this picture of Betty not enjoying Cinco de Mayo and move on to my next point about why she’s an illegal immigrant.

– She kind of looks like a terrorist.

This is probably unfair. But you know what, it is also unfair for any creature to be as adorable as she is, so tough toenails. Suck it up, buttercup. Betty magically develops gigantic-looking biceps when she wears a camo harness intended for ferrets (yeah, it’s true; ferret people are actually crazier than bunny people like me. You can visit any pet store to verify this statement).

Also she is conveniently ACU pocket-sized.

Two words, my friends. BUNNY. GRENADE.

You never saw that coming, did you? OF COURSE YOU DIDN’T. Because she will kill you with her cuteness and you will LOVE EVERY SECOND OF IT. She will lick your hand and nuzzle your cheek and lay her fluffy body across your lap and you will melt into a puddle of helpless love for her tiny, fluffy, adorable, perfect, gray, bunny body.

It is exactly like this:

And the final reason I am convinced that my beloved baby bunny is an illegal immigrant:

– She cannot produce absolutely any paperwork of any kind. None.

I’ve coaxed; I’ve wheedled; I’ve played bad cop. Still she has failed to produce any documentation proving that she is an authentic, blue-blooded, all-American baby bunny. I have begun to look into having her naturalized but I’m concerned that alerting the authorities to her presence could mean deportation.

I know. I’m a terrible border patrol agent. I’m too soft. But you’d melt into a puddle of love too if you got to feed her lettuce and watch her crunch it around her cute little bunny mouth. Nobody in the history of time has ever looked cute eating a salad until Betty the bunny. Weep, ugly vegans; the bunny has put you to shame.

She has made me aware of my limitations though; namely, that even though as soon as I see a baby my arms open up and my hip juts out ready to receive that squishy lump of kid, I am nowhere ready to have one of my own. Manfriend and I have talked about it and agreed we definitely want a few, but it is at least several years down the line (I can hear my mother wailing now, “Several? Several?” She wanted grandbabies like, yesterday. Betty is referred to as her grandbunny).

But here is why:

When I first brought her home, she didn’t eat for a couple of days. At least not in my presence.

“Kelley,” my mother tried to reason with me, “if she’s still pooping then there’s still something in her system and she’s okay. Just give her a little time to adjust and she’ll be okay.”

“Okay,” I said, and hung up, and immediately went back to lying on the floor next to her, willing her to eat. I left work early two days in a row and followed her around the house on my hands and knees while she hopped aimlessly, trying to get her to nibble on her bunny food, but she showed no interest in it. I thought her hopping was aimless because she was slowly starving to death, but now I realize it was probably just because she was a pound-and-a-half baby rabbit who didn’t know where anything was and was just trying to explore her environment but this annoying human was crawling around after her holding food up in her face every thirty seconds saying, “Please eat this, Betty, I love you.”

Clearly she’s still here so clearly she began to eat and drink on a regular basis so my fears were unfounded. But can you imagine how I’d be with a baby if I was such a psychotic ball of nerves about a rabbit? OH MY GOD THE BABY DIDN’T FINISH NURSING. HE/SHE WILL CLEARLY BE UNDERNOURISHED AND THEN BE BULLIED IN PRESCHOOL AND NOT GET INTO THE COLLEGE OF HIS/HER CHOICE AND LIVE A LONELY LIFE OF DEBT AND ALCOHOLISM, PLAGUED BY ANEMIA AND A TWITCHY LEFT EYE BECAUSE I WAS A BAD GIVER OF NOURISHMENT.

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t all bad. The pendulum swung dangerously far in the other direction as well. I used to (and still do) lie on the floor for hours and just watch her hop around. For hours. I let other, important, actually-need-to-get-done things go undone because I am lying on the floor watching my baby bunny hop and toss her bunny head and twitch her bunny whiskers and lick my hand and be adorable.

It is delightful.

This blog is a perfect example. There were many evenings I had time to write but I didn’t because it was a lot more fun to sit on the couch while Betty hopped from side to side, using my belly as a springboard, than it was to upload pictures or stare at the computer screen some more after staring at a computer screen all day at work.

My younger sister says she thinks I have a problem. Actually, all of my sisters have, at one point or another, voiced their concern for my mental health based on my affection for Betty. But honestly… I JUST CAN’T HELP IT. She is freaking adorable. Currently she is hopping around my feet, her little bell jingling merrily, her ears flopping, her nose twitching. And she is perfect. And I am not sorry.

You can follow her on Instagram @ladybettybunny.

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Why I Love Semicolons

I love a good ode to grammar.

apprentice, never master

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Semicolons:

1. Because I know how to use them, shy, beautiful things that they are.

2. Because there are a large number of people who don’t know how to use them, and they deserve a little love after that much comical and tragical abuse.

3. Because someone, once upon a time, in a land far away (which was probably inhabited by dragons or fairies or squid bears or some other fantastic beings), looked at a sentence he had just written and came to a crossroads in his life. He stared at his written page and was so concerned with whether a period or a comma – a hard stop or an anticipatory pause – belonged between his thoughts, that he threw his hands in the air and used both.

4. Because someone else (presumably a learned and influential individual) saw it, and thought, “Hey…

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And the Award Goes To…

When I was in first grade, I read 100 books.

It was some school thing and we had all year to do it. I finished early, thereby validating my misguided perception (consistently encouraged by my parents) that I was smarter and better than the rest of the unwashed miscreants with whom I was forced to receive my education.

Just kidding. Kind of. But I was pretty proud of it.

Photographic evidence of my tragically unattractive childhood.

I still have that t-shirt somewhere, but the butterflies are peeling themselves away from the fabric, trying to flutter to freedom, and going through puberty has effectively prevented me from ever being able to wear it again and subsequently funding the bra industry for the past twelve years. (You’re welcome, Victoria’s Secret.)

I am considering making a new one (size-appropriate and sans butterflies), however, because guess what?

I’VE DONE IT AGAIN.

Yeah, you read it right. In 2013, I read 100 books. I’m not talking about The Atlantic Monthly, whose articles I read in about eight sittings to better myself, or all those Cosmo articles I slorped down while I was couch-ridden and flying high on Percocet after I had my wisdom teeth removed. News articles, magazines, blogs, etc. didn’t count for the purpose of this nerdacious challenge I gave myself last January. (Audiobooks were, however, included.  You can’t put 22,000 miles on your car and still have time to read 100 books unless you have a chauffeur. Ain’t nobody got time for that.)

So in honor of Oscar weekend, I am doing my own fake awards show. I am calling it the Margos, because Oscar is a funny name and so is Margo and it’s fun to say. I’m not as funny as Ellen DeGeneres, and I can’t order pizza and feed it to Jennifer Lawrence, but we’re gonna give it a whirl anyway. There will be a bonus picture after each category.

Here we go!

Margo award

There are seven categories: “Best Re-Read,” “Worst Book Ever,” “Most Hipster,” “Least Boring Nonfiction,” “Best Listen,” “Most Thrilling,” and “I Read the Shit Out of that Book.”

The nominees for Best Re-Read are:

  • Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle

Yes, I re-read some of my childhood favorites. Guess what? They were just as amazing this year as they were in 1999 or 2005 or whatever year I first read these amazing books. I originally read them just because I was panicking about my numbers for the 100-book challenge, and I did read most of them in either a single sitting or two sittings. Regardless of their length, however, they affected me deeply even after having read them multiple times.

This year the Margo goes to Harper Lee, because I wish I could write just one perfect novel the way she did.

Bonus picture is me perusing some picture book with bunnies in it while Sister #1 makes some kind of horrible face at the camera. Yes we are matching. Yes that was normal. No I am not (quite) that Buddha-faced anymore.

**

Worst Book Ever

Here are the nominees:

  • Devices and Desires, K.J. Parker
  • The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick
  • Unveiled, Deborah Kanafani

I really thought Unveiled was going to be good. It’s about a Lebanese college student in America in the early 80’s who marries a high-ranking Palestinian diplomat working in the United Nations. He sweeps her off her feet and brings her into the company of dignitaries, world leaders, and international glamour. He also slowly isolates her from her old life, determined to keep her under his thumb. After her divorce, Deborah traveled to the Middle East to document the stories of other wives of Arab leaders, women like her who struggled and survived.

It could have been good. But…seriously…HIRE A BETTER GHOSTWRITER. Or maybe she didn’t use one. In which case, PLEASE, hire a ghostwriter. You need one.

The Silver Linings Playbook wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read; it just has the distinction of being one of the worst that I read last year. Awkward. Overrated. Movie was okay.

Finally, this is a synopsis for the other most egregious offender on my reading list in 2013, Devices and Desires: “When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance — one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others…

In a compelling tale of intrigue and injustice, K. J. Parker’s embittered hero takes up arms against his enemies, using the only weapons he has left to him: his ingenuity and his passion — his devices and desires.”

Okay. There’s a lock and a key on the cover. It’s called Devices and Desires. Somebody is going to take off their clothes at some point, right? Of course they are. There’s a lock and key! It’s about passion! The cover art is all Dan Brown “blade and chalice”! …Wrong. So wrong. It. Was. So. Boring. A friend lent it to me, and he will not be named here, but wow. Wow was this book boring. If you were really into simple machines as a kid or you want some endless descriptions of engineering and locks and other crap like that, this book might be right up your alley. The fact that it wasn’t sexy would have been okay if it wasn’t so boring. But alas, it was. And so the Margo goes to:

Don’t let the sexy lock and key fool you. Nobody will be getting down and dirty in the dungeon.

Bonus picture is me forcing my Grandma to read to me as I am dressed like the American Girl Samantha. (Molly is supervising over there on the left in her red-striped pajamas.)

**

Next up,

“Most Hipster Book”

This is the category dedicated to a book that I read before it was cool. There are no nominees. The Margo goes to The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.

I read an excerpt from a free e-book on my Kindle and was so obsessed that I actually bought the digital version so I could read it as fast as possible. Then because it was sublime I had to buy it in hard copy. Naturally. Get your tissues and get ready to become obsessed with John Green’s colloquial yet brilliant prose. That’s what happened to me at least. (This movie had BETTER BE GOOD.)

Bonus picture is me forcing Aunt Beth to read to me. I don’t know what that book is. I do know that the outfit I’m wearing exists in quadruple…because all four of us had a matching jumper. Dear sweet mother of the 90’s.

**

Now the award for Least Boring Nonfiction.

I don’t really like nonfiction. It’s not my thing. I used to dazzle people with my intimate knowledge of Roman dress, cuisine, and the chronology of the emperors in the first century A.D. Not because I’m some kind of genius/nerd who just remembers these kinds of details, but because I am obsessed with Roman historical fiction and have read way more than is probably healthy. So the years that Caligula was emperor aren’t just dusty dates; they’re a scandalous series of juicy gossip and opulent parties. It’s like a trashy magazine circa 40 A.D.

I learn through stories, so I don’t like nonfiction books because they don’t typically spin a clear enough narrative that my brain can process everything in the book in an orderly fashion. But last year I read a few keepers:

  • Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, Jon Krakauer
  • The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Killers Can Teach Us About Success, Kevin Dutton
  • The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
  • The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, Azar Nafisi

It seems appropriate to cut to the chase in a category dedicated to books that aren’t extended narratives. The Margo goes to:

The book discusses the line between being a successful, driven, hard-charging executive or business person, and being a serial killer. “Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.” It was interesting, and creepy. I was a fan.

Plus check out how creepy the author looks here:

Either he was going for this whole hipster-murderer look, or Professor Dutton needs to hire a new publicist.

Bonus picture is Sister #1 and me getting prepped to shove some fairy tales down Sister #3’s throat as soon as she is ready to be educated. She is probably hiding.

**

Onto Best Listen!

For a kid who loved to be read to, I really used to hate audio books. Over the past year, however, I developed a tenuous kind of affection for them, because I spent so many hours in the car and they kept me from falling behind on my reading each month.

The nominees are:

  • Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  • If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t), Betty White
  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  • The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
  • Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt

I actually disliked The End of the Affair, but it was narrated by Colin Firth, so it was actually pleasant listening to Mr. Darcy just talk at me for eight hours or so. Angela’s Ashes was SO DEPRESSING, but there was something really unique about listening to an author narrate his own work in a rich, Irish accent. Betty White is a delightful human being, and even though her book wasn’t really anything you’d tell your grandkids about, I listened to it while I was stuck on a jetway in Detroit for three hours and I’m pretty sure it saved the life of the screaming baby in the seat in front of me and the child behind me kicking my seat hard enough that I should have sued for whiplash.  Water for Elephants was narrated by an old man and a young man, depending on where you were in the story. The effect was magical; by the end I wanted to run away and join the circus.

But hands down, no contest, the winner is Jeremy Irons narrating Lolita:

There could not be a more fitting narrator. Eloquent, intelligent, smooth, slimy, psychopathic: Jeremy Irons (you know, the voice of Scar from The Lion King?) encompassed an incredible range within the text. I was so creeped out the whole book, but I couldn’t stop listening. I actually listened to it on the bike at the gym a few times, and I kept looking around guiltily at everyone else blasting J.T. through their headphones like normal people while I was listening to the extended narrative of a pedophile.

It seems creepy to follow this up with a picture of me as a kid, but I’m doing it anyway. Not sorry.

Bonus picture is me sitting on the floor like some kind of peasant child whose family owns no furniture. I think I’m wearing lime green legging-shorts. Yikes.

**

The next category is Most Thrilling! otherwise known as, Book that Made Me Gasp Every Other Page

The nominees are:

  • World War Z, Max Brooks
  • Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • 11/22/63, Stephen King
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

Margaret Atwood is really quite excellent, and I love a good dystopian novel. Stephen King’s book about the assassination of JFK was also fascinating – detailed, intricate, and a page-turner in the exactly literal sense of the word. In Cold Blood was my first experience with Capote, and I’m definitely going back for more.

But as much as I liked all three (and would read them again), they are not going home with the Margo tonight.

You have to understand something about me: I don’t get the zombie thing. Not only do I not get it, but I have this vague distaste for it, sort of like that green slime Nickelodeon used to dump all over people a la Carrie pig blood and it was supposed to be funny but mostly it was just gross. I feel the same way about the whole vampire trend. There are all these shows and books that are supposed to be so sexy and thrilling but mostly they’re just gross and cheesy and awkward. Zombie things are kind of like for me, except instead of the sexy factor they’re just grisly, and I don’t dig it.

Having said that, I loved World War Z (sorry Brad Pitt, but your movie adaptation was lame). Max Brooks tells the stories of survivors of The Great Panic, or The Zombie War (hence the Z). There are stories from all kinds of people all over the world who experienced the destruction the zombies wrought. He is unassuming, and truly takes on the voice of each person whose tale he tells, whether it’s a Japanese teenager who doesn’t realize what’s happened till his Internet is cut off, the crew of a nuclear submarine, a little girl fleeing to Canada with her family, a famous Hollywood director creating propaganda films, or a heroic member of one of the U.S.’s K-9 teams who fought the zombies.

Brooks examines geopolitics, economics, family dynamics, and basic human instincts (and the ability to overcome the lesser ones). It. Is. Fascinating.

The other top contender is Gone Girl. I bought this one to listen to while I was running the roads all summer, and I was so hooked that I actually carried it around with me in my apartment and couldn’t stop listening to it until I was finished. It is the morning of Amy and Nick’s fifth wedding anniversary and Amy is missing. Flynn tells Nick’s story in real time and Amy’s perspective is offered from her long, detailed journal entries. AT LEAST FOR THE FIRST HALF AND THEN YOUR MIND GETS BLOWN. The whole time I couldn’t decide who to believe. It was a fascinating account of the courtship and marriage of a sociopath and a narcissist, who had just enough forgivable traits that you could relate to them…which was terrifying in itself.

So the Margo goes to:

Bonus picture is me nerding out in this plastic chair for which I am precariously large while Sister #1 and Sister #3do normal child things, like play with our German Shepherd. I’m like, nah girl, you good, I got this book.

**

The final category of the night is dedicated to books I have been meaning to read for years and finally got around to reading in 2013. …And they were just as cumbersome and dreadful as I had anticipated.

The nominees for I Read the Shit Out of That Book are:

  • A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

I was actually really nerdishly excited about finally reading all these books. Turning them over in my hands I felt so educated and earnest, so ready to find out why they were so controversial or beloved or considered timeless. Mostly what I have taken away from this experience is that you have to kill a lot of characters and write annoyingly dense prose if you want people to keep banging their heads against a wall over your novel in years to come. I’m not sure if that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

My mother and Sister #4 are going to be throwing popcorn at the screen when they read this, because they have already informed me that it is a mortal sin that I didn’t like Jane Eyre. Let’s be clear about that, though: I liked Jane as a character; I did not like the novel. (STOP WRITING PHYSIOGNOMY EVERY OTHER PAGE, CHARLOTTE; NOBODY LIKES THAT WORD.) And, at the risk of alienating one of my brilliant, beautiful friends who adores it, the Margo goes to:

She is clearly smarter than I am for appreciating Tolstoy for 800millionbajillion pages; I simply couldn’t cope. When it was over I was so relieved I almost cried, because now I can finally, finally say I’ve read Anna Karenina, and pleaseohplease nobody will ever make me read it again.

Bonus picture for the final category of the evening is me in 2012 moving and cataloging all my books (I have over 600; for the sake of my back, I have really got to stop moving.)

I hope you enjoyed the first annual Margo awards, accompanied by a little trip down my literary memory lane. Send me your recommendations to add to my reading list! I will be working on it for at least the next fifty or eighty years, or however long it is before my eyesight finally goes. If you’d like the list of the full 100 books, let me know that as well! I’d be happy to send it along.

Thank you again for joining us tonight at the Margo Awards. Make good choices. Don’t party too hard tonight, kids! You know how those after-parties can be for book awards.

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In Which I Become Affianced

The time has come, dear readers — the time at which my Pinterest wedding boards become legitimate, and I realize I can’t afford most of the absurd things I think princesses should have at their weddings (fireworks, elephant rides, and a puppy as a favor a la Bridesmaids being the most disappointing).

Yep, I am interrupting this regularly scheduled program to announce that I have become affianced to Manfriend!

A lot of little girls spend their whole lives fantasizing about their weddings. I’m not really into floral arrangements or cakes that look better than they taste, though, so my wedding plan was basically this: I manage to look ethereal and virginal and old-Hollywood-sexy all at once. He’s tall (sorry short guys of the world, but you were just not a part of my wedding fantasy) and shmexy. My whole family is there. There is a ton of food and some of it is grilled cheese and all of it is delicious. Then there is dancing and merriment and probably ice sculptures and enchanted fountains. A fairy grants us three wishes for our marriage. Then we fly away on a magic carpet to start our happily ever after.

Really solid plan, right?

Regardless of whether or not the fairy godmother I plan on inviting can clear her schedule to make it to the wedding, I think I’m still off to a pretty good start. Also he asked me to marry him and I said yes, so now I can actually, legitimately plan a wedding.

I had some good reasons for saying yes too. Here is a list of things I like about Manfriend:

1) He’s tall.

Apart from this being an evolution-based indication of good health and the ability to defend our family, it is also terribly convenient because I can wear whatever height heels I want when we go fancy places without looking silly. It also means he can reach ALL THE THINGS.

“Manfriend? Could you please hang this plant for me on the porch? I can’t reach that chain thingy.” Of course he can.

“Manfriend, the plant is dead because I never remember to water it. Could you take it down and hang up this fake one instead?” Not an issue.

“Manfriend, be a dear and fetch the rum from the back corner of the top of the fridge, where I slid it and now cannot access it.” Then he pours shots.

“Manfriend? I can’t reach that book on the top shelf.” Book + boy = swoon.

“Manfriend, I can’t see the parade because America is obese and all these fat people are blocking the view of those of us with only borderline BMIs.” Then I get hefted up so I can see the parade.

“Manfriend, could you–” Then he’s like, STOP CALLING ME MANFRIEND, because it’s only endearing for so long and then he wishes to be called by his real name or whatever, but regardless. With Manfriend in my life I can reach/see/drink/forget to water all the things.

2) He tolerates/sometimes enjoys the company of my family.

I know everybody’s family is crazy and all that jazz, but Manfriend grew up with one brother and no sisters and his parents are really nice and have been married forever. I have three sisters as crazy as I am, a father who likes to run background checks on everyone, a stepmother that we called our Wicked Evil Stepmonster (her idea for a title), a mother I’m pretty sure has a compulsive holiday-decorating disorder, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Well, not the last thing, but Manfriend comes from a family that just has cats and dogs for pets and in my family we’ve had two kinds of birds, rabbits, five kinds of dogs, fish, mice, a desert tortoise, and a five-foot iguana. Zoo status, when you include the mood swings of four girls.)

Manfriend bears all these things with grace and humor, and looks really good doing it.

3) He’s secretly smart.

Because I can sometimes be an elitist, pretentious bitch, I used to think Manfriend wasn’t smart enough to keep up with me. He played video games and sports and never seemed to be reading for fun, and he occasionally demonstrated incorrect usage of your/you’re in our early text conversations. Clearly not somebody I could procreate with. Scoff. Hair toss. DIS-MISSED.

Then while I was busy being too smart for him, he charmed my family, convinced me to go to Disney World with him during my last spring break at West Point, and cemented our relationship when he stood up for me against an ex who made all kinds of wild, unflattering accusations about my family and me. He also made perfect grades on Physics exams at West Point, proving once and for all that he’s not a dumb jock, as much as he likes to claim he is. I, on the other hand, studied for hours and still only skidded by in Physics I and II with a B- both semesters. I neither remember nor understand anything about that class, except that if you copy down all the equations you might get some partial credit.

Now, to tease me for being a pretentious bitch in the early days of our relationship, Manfriend pretends to have a diminished vocabulary purely for the sake of driving me crazy.

For instance:

HIM: What are you doing?

ME: I’m being coy.

HIM: Oh, like the fish.

ME: No! Not like the fish!

HIM: Kelley, stop being koi.

Or:

HIM: I don’t understand.

ME: You’re just being intentionally obtuse.

HIM: You know I don’t like it when you call me fat.

…infuriating. Adorable…but mostly infuriating.

4) He’s a bazillionaire.

Just kidding. If he was we’d definitely have a roller coaster photo booth at our wedding. Also baby otters.

But he is good with money, and math, and carpentry, and electricity, and technology, and sports, and grilling, and being coordinated, and all kinds of other things at which I am hopeless. He also has a much higher internal body temperature than I do, which I really appreciate in the winter but requires the use of a fan in summertime. Basically he fills in the gaps in my life, which I think is a pretty important characteristic in the person you’re going to marry.

5) He’s dreamy.

But seriously.

Here’s how he proposed:

We’d been planning to get engaged this past Christmas for almost a year. We shopped for rings over Valentine’s Day weekend last year, and decided what we liked/didn’t like, price, etc. Then we didn’t talk about it again for months. Over the summer he told me to go get my ring finger sized, but other than that he gave no hints about what he was going to buy or when. By November I was convinced he still hadn’t picked one out, and I was worried he was going to spend too much money or wait too long and then we’d have to wait longer to get engaged and waaaaaaah.

Then, two days after Thanksgiving, my mom and youngest sister were visiting his house. His parents, his brother, and his brother’s fiance were also there. Manfriend’s brother’s fiance (the girlfriend-in-law, my stepmom calls her) announced that evening that they had done a bunch of work outside, and so she wanted everyone to get dressed up to take nice family pictures on the bridge over the pond in the backyard the next day. We all said, okay, whatever, and Manfriend seemed clueless/appropriately uninterested so I suspected nothing.

The following afternoon, Manfriend and I were taking our turn for pictures on the bridge. Suddenly, he stopped and grinned at me, and said, “Hang on. I have to go get something,” and leaves me standing baffled on the bridge by myself. He jogged to a nearby tree and grabbed something from behind it, then came back to stand with me on the bridge.

It was a book. Oh! A book! I love books! I tried to take it from him, starting to feel a little indignant that he would bring me a present and then not just hand it over. Holding the book away from me, he put his other hand on my back and stood close. (He was kind of rubbing my back like you might do with a skittish bunny or something, so I’m pretty sure he was trying to lull me into a false sense of security before he could strike.) Then he began his little speech. I started looking around and realized that every female member of our family watching was now crying. Then I realized that he was proposing. And our families were there. And it was being filmed for my big sister in Afghanistan. Then he was down on one knee, opening the book to reveal the ring inside:

It was basically the most magical thing ever.

So of course I cried.

And I said yes.

Duh.

And then my dad and stepmom and Sister #3 showed up and the whole big happy group of us had a belated Thanksgiving dinner together. There was even celebratory pie, courtesy of my future sister-in-law.

engagement2

This was the book Manfriend had picked out to use for the proposal:

And this is the bling ring he gave me:

Sometimes I make a disco ball on the wall when I’m bored during staff meetings, because examining the sparkliness (yes, that is important in choosing a diamond: cut, color, clarity, carat, and sparkliness) of my ring is a lot more interesting than who’s on profile and whatever we’re doing for training next week.

Now all I have to do is win the lottery or get a fat book advance so I can have elephant rides and a fireworks show to rival Disney World, and I’ll be set! After that I plan to spend a few hours coming up with witty retorts to the inevitable and unoriginal string of “lovely” jokes that I will endure for the rest of my life. That’s right, Manfriend’s last name is Lovely, and so after he graduates/commissions/we get married, we shall be the Lieutenants Lovely.

I invite you to stay tuned this year as I slowly morph into Bridezilla. I am now accepting donations to fund my extravagant fairy-tale wedding, complete with water slide.

tumblr_static_boom_baby

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My Favorite Squids

Well.

You all may have noticed a distinct upturn in readership as a result of my last post (I certainly did. I had to turn the Word Press notifications off on my phone after the torrent of Navy haters, Navy good sports, and Army supporters leaving comments woke me up in the middle of the night. And two hours before I had to get up for PT, too; somebody call the waaaambulance for me, please.)

But letting a few rude middies ruin it for the rest of them is like letting a couple of burnt kernels ruin an otherwise delicious bag of popcorn (I don’t know why the popcorn analogy. Probably because we’re fresh out of the Christmas movie season but I could still go for some theater-popped goodness covered in butter) and we can’t have that.

Several people lamented the way I poked fun at Navy’s mascot, uniforms, traditions, etc. blah blah blah. Aren’t we all supposed to be on the same team??? How can we defeat the terrorists if an Army officer makes fun of the Navy football team??? How dare you drink at a football game as a 24-year-old officer off duty! I’m a former Naval officer and graduate of the Naval Academy – but I can’t go to bed now, honey; someone on the Internet is WRONG!

I get it. We are all on the same team when it comes to being proud members of America’s armed forces. But unless we strike up a friendly game of football with Team Bin Laden or the Saddam Squad and Navy is playing them, I am going to root against Navy football. I just am. I want Navy to lose frequently, and to Army, always. Forever and ever, the end.

But, having said that, there are several former midshipmen and current members of the Navy of whom I am rather fond. Here are the ones topping the charts:

LYZZY

This lovely woman is Lyzzy, USNA Class of 2010. The Lord gave her a beautiful singing voice, luscious blonde locks, and the good sense to cross-commission into the Army. She actually did it since HUMINT wasn’t open to females in the Marine Corps at the time and that was what she wanted to pursue. She spent her first deployment as a source analyst working solely with human intelligence personnel.

Lyzzy was in Glee Club at West Point her first semester of her junior year while I was a plebe (freshman). She lived in the same building I did, and if I ever ran into her in the hallways she’d talk to me like a real person instead of the pond scum that plebes really are at West Point, and for that I adored her.

Did I mention she’s amazing?

And, per her request: “Ok! I hate to say it, but please include that I still love my Navy roots and will always cheer for Navy…no matter how sad it makes my husband and friends.” (Lyzzy married a West Point grad. Smart lady.)

MATT

Matt was an semester exchange from Navy who was in my company when we were both first semester juniors. He lived one floor below me and was actually Manfriend’s squad leader that semester. Manfriend benefitted from Matt’s leadership skillz, and I benefitted from his friendship. We sat at the same lunch and dinner table and he made life more bearable on crappy days.

Matt is currently being a badass as the Anti Submarine Warfare officer on a destroyer based out of Japan. He also told me he was a boarding officer onboard, which was “semi-interesting.” Actually, it’s really interesting. I had to look it up because he didn’t explain what it meant but one definition I found said it was “a naval officer detailed to board an incoming ship to provide local information (as to the ceremonies or honors expected, uniforms required, or facilities available).” Basically an ambassador of land to those at sea/pretty freaking cool.

Matt’s pretty easy to get along with. He even told me he did “not mind one bit to be one of your favorite squids,” which I thought was quite generous.

MELANIE

Melanie was another semester exchange middie that I met when she was in Glee Club the first semester of my sophomore year. Sometimes she gets these really adorably uncontrollable hiccups, which were only minorly disruptive when we were singing warm-up scales, but infinitely entertaining nonetheless. Last year Melly was the accompanist for the Naval Academy Glee Club when they sang for George Bush Senior.

She gets some pretty sweet close-up action in THIS video at 1:14 of the Glee Club singing at West Point on Veteran’s Day a few years ago.

Aaaand this is her with Patrick Stewart. (That sound was me collapsing into a heap of jealousy on the floor.)

BRANDON

I knew Brandon in high school, when we did Civil War reenacting together (yes, that is a real thing; yes, I participated; see, it happened:

Get over it). We had super big crushes on each other, but I went to West Point and he enlisted in the Navy and now he’s married and I’m engaged and so that ship has sailed (ha, ha). When I asked if I could include him in my blog entry he said of course, and as for the hate mail, well: “See Kelley? That’s what happens when Army loses and you all don’t let it go right away, hah!”

Brandon is now a Navy Corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class. Apparently in the Navy, they use their jobs as ranks, so he’s actually a Hospitalman 3rd Class (HM3). This means he deals with anything medical. They work in hospitals, on ships, and can be attached to the Marine Corps as medical attaches. Brandon currently works as a Navy Psychiatric Technician. When I asked for more details he told me to look up Navy Corpsman on Wikipedia. So much for interviewing and going straight to the source.

This is him and his wife, who’s also in the Navy:

Brandon is actually Canadian, born and bred, but he’s a smart Canadian, which is why he lives in America. He asked me to mention that he is “extraordinarily proud to be serving in the United States Armed Forces and to be serving her people.” Happy to have him aboard, eh?

HUNTER

I love this picture because this is how we all felt at graduation but only a few people actually showed it so clearly.

Hunter was a semester exchange student from Navy in the second semester of his junior year and my senior year. He was in the elective I took with a bunch of my friends, Film and Film Theory.

That class was delightful. We were a bunch of burnt out seniors ready to get the hell out of West Point with our undergrad degrees and commissions in hand, so we thought we’d watch a few movies and overwhelm the class with our senioritis superiority.

We were mistaken. The focus of the class turned out to be foreign films, so instead of just analyzing and discussing cinematography, camera angles, and soundtracks, we had to read the whole movie in the subtitles. I was a very attentive student; during one film “lab” when we watched the Kurdish war film “Turtles Can Fly” (no they can’t, and spoiler alert: everyone dies) I took some notes, read the movie synopsis online, rearranged my kingdom in Castleville, and filed my taxes. (Sorry, COL Nelson. I really did learn things, I promise.)

Anyway, Hunter was one of the few males in a predominantly female class (a definite rarity at the service academies). He later admitted to us when we were celebrating our end-of-the-semester project in a local bar that we had contradicted what he had heard about West Point girls (i.e., we’re all ugly). He then proceeded to accurately classify each of us as not-a-bitch, a bitch, and sometimes-a-bitch. (I was sometimes-a-bitch, in case you were wondering, and mostly due to my pretentious use of academic jargon in class.) His honesty about our personalities, his admittance that there were actually five attractive West Point female cadets in a single class hour, and his excellent sense of humor has won him a place on this list.

Hunter studied English (literature and poetry) at Annapolis and completed his senior thesis on Irish poet W.B. Yeats. He branched into the Marine Corps out of the Naval Academy instead of opting for a specific branch in the Navy. He’s currently attending The Basic School (TBS), which is similar to the Army’s basic officer leader course for the Infantry (IBOLC). “All officers go because every Marine is grounded in basic infantry skills,” Hunter explained. His course at Quantico, VA lasts six months. While at TBS, Marines compete for their specific job within the Marines. Hunter was just assigned as a Comptroller (Finance) and will report to his unit after he completes his finance-specific training.

Hunter loves America and the ladies of COL Nelson’s Film and Film Theory Class in Spring 2012 love Hunter.

**

Honorable mentions go to Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors:

‘Cause yay.

Happy 2014, everyone! Stay tuned for the story of how I recently became affianced to Manfriend and also read 100 books in 2013. Adventures abound.

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January 8, 2014 · 6:36 pm

Ten Ways Army Won

Here’s the thing about the Army football team: it’s reallyreally bad. As far as the score goes, Army has lost to Navy in one of the biggest rivalries in college football for the twelfth consecutive year. But if you look a little more closely, you’ll see that there are a few ways Army actually did win the game this past Saturday.

10. We didn’t wear flair on our uniforms

Navy flair...?

What is this garbage? This is not Applebee’s.

We don’t want to see your personality, Navy; we already know that it sucks.

9. We didn’t look like drunk toddlers during march-on

This happens every year. Everyone always says that Army wins the march-on, but it is so true. I’m honestly not expecting the midshipmen to look as sharp as the cadets; West Point has the Corps marching for a couple of hours each night (regardless of rain, wind or snow) the week leading up to the game to make sure they look good for the main event.

Based on Navy’s march-on performance, I’d say they prepare by giving everyone a shot of whiskey, injecting their legs with a numbing solution so they can’t walk in a straight line, then making them spin in circles for a few minutes before they get into formation.

Seriously.

This:

Compared to this:

Sloppy, Navy. Sloppy.

8. We didn’t look like sullen teenagers in the stands

To be fair, would you really be interested in hanging out in Lincoln Financial Field for nine hours straight in the snow when you knew you were going to win anyway? Probably not. But I’m not here to be fair. I’m here to talk about how much better Army is than Navy (at everything but football).

An anaology:

Army fans

Navy fans

It was pretty pitiful how much they didn’t care.

7. This

This didn’t happen at the game. But these guys are in the Navy.

I’m glad I’m not in the Navy.

6. Goats

The Army mascot isn’t something majestic, like a bald eagle. Or even something super exciting and exotic, like a dinosaur (this raises the point about why aren’t more mascots big, scary dinosaurs? but that’s another question for another post). But it does look pretty good at games nonetheless.

This demon-animal is Navy’s mascot:

Gross.

This is a cringe-worthy animal if ever I saw one. In fact, I’m pretty sure every time they showed the Navy goat onscreen at the game, there was a collective cringe from everyone inside Lincoln Financial Field unfortunate enough to see that scraggly, nasty thing blown up to the size of a barn.

Actually, there’s a long history of Navy mascots looking stupid next to Army’s mascots at the Army-Navy Game. Observe:

Sweet pants, Navy.

5. We weren’t bad sports.

If nothing else, losing has certainly taught us sportsmanship. Winning twelve years in a row has apparently only taught the midshipmen how to act like (pardon me) ass clowns on national television.

At the end of the game, when we sang our Alma Mater, despite the freezing rain coming down on their heavy, soaked overcoats, the cadets I saw all stood ramrod straight and sang along. Then, after it was over and we had to listen to the mids sing “Navy Blue and Gold” AGAIN, the cadets remained at attention and gave the appropriate respect to the other service academy.

Stay classy, West Point. Navy, you keep up your traditions; you don’t look at all ridiculous.

(For the record, “Navy Blue and Gold” is my least favorite song. Hearing it sung is more painful than listening to Taylor Swift songs on repeat while someone runs their nails down a chalkboard and a thousand microphones screech with feedback simultaneously.)

4. COL Ragsdale

Colonel Ragsdale loves Army football about as much as I love chocolate chip cookies, naptime, and Oxford commas…which is a lot.

You always win for high spirits when COL Ragsdale is at an Army game.

I plan on making faces like this someday when I’m in labor.

3. General Odierno

Another BAMF that Army gets to claim for their own. General Odierno was at the game on Saturday too, making everyone else on the field look like puny mortals (all football players included) and just generally being awesome. I think what I like best about General Odierno is that he takes the time to meet and speak with Soldiers, officers, cadets, and families and listen to their concerns and suggestions, but he could also turn around and kick a terrorist in the face. That’s what I want to be when I grow up: a well-groomed, friendly, badass motherfucker. I’ll have to settle for being a miniature version though, because I don’t think I’m going to grow another two or three feet in this lifetime.

Happy Ray

Happy Ray

Intellectual Ray

Intellectual Ray

Ray don't care

Ray don’t care

This is how I know he’s a good dude, because he rocks his ACU fleece with all his stars. I don’t have any stars, but I likewise enjoy wearing my ACU fleece in Arctic temperatures, such as may be found in my office at work.

Ray <3's his snuggy

Ray <3’s his snuggy

2. Former Army football players

Another thing that happened at the game that was special (and due entirely to Army being classy and full of badassery) was when these guys stood out on the field and GEN Odierno and SGM Chandler shook their hands while the announcers told the spectators who they were and what they had done. Each one was a combat veteran, and the fewest number of Bronze Stars any one of them had was three. One guy had SIX, and one for valor. Oh yeah, and they were all former Army football players.

General Odierno is a BAMF

Their stories (however brief) made me proud to be a West Pointer, an Army officer, and an American. Also I was glad (again and forever) that I’m not in the Navy.

1. Hot chocolate plus

Technically this point does not apply to Army, but since I’m in the Army and it applies to me, I’m including it, because this was my biggest win of the day (other than not being in the Navy, but that’s a win every day, hallelujah, praise the Lord).

Two years ago, when the game was in D.C., they sold hot chocolate with Bailey’s in the stadium. This year, in Philly, they did not.

But I came prepared.

Always ready

The only real upside that I found to wearing enough clothing to last me a week at one time just to stay warm was that there was plenty of space to hide miniature bottles of alcohol. Great success.

I alternated the whole game between this:

And this:

(click for animation)

**

Bonus point:

This hat.

Just no.

Just no.

I saw four of these at the game on Saturday. I don’t know why the Navy fans think it’s a good idea to wear this horrifying thing on their heads, but I was certainly relieved not to see any mules bobbing through the crowd on the heads of Army fans.

Manfriend summed it up pretty well: “That’s one of those things where you can’t decide if you should put a picture of it online so everyone can see it and know how not-okay it is…or we should burn them all, so no one ever has to see that hat again.”

The really bad news is that this is not a niche item. If it was one of those things that someone had made so there were only two or three of these monstrosities in the world, it might not be so bad. Tragically, however, these little horrors are available for only twenty bucks: it’s true!

We won just by not having any of our fans wear anything this horrendous.

**

Don’t get me wrong: I hate Navy. I hate their team. I hate their songs. I hate the way they whoop at us. I hate their ugly goats. I really really really want to hurry up and start winning. Not just winning either, but destroying them in the Army-Navy game while still being a bunch of classy ladies and gents.

Admittedly, losing sucks. I’m not here to offer excuses for Army’s poor performance against Navy for a gajillion years in a row. I just want to remind everyone that there are worse things in life…like being in the Navy. Beat ’em.

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The Top Five Most Embarrassing Books I Almost Wrote

I am a writer. And when I grow up, I want to get paid beaucoup bucks to write. I want to buy my parents new houses sans mortgage and I want to fly all over the world at a moment’s notice and never sit in coach again.

But until such time as my writing is supporting me in a manner to which I plan to become accustomed, I maintain a sense of humor about my changing ideas and abilities.

To that end, I present to you the five most embarrassing books I almost wrote.

5. The Playhouse

This one isn’t terrible, more like just terribly BORING. It started out as this wandering, reminiscent narrative about a little girl who gets a playhouse for her birthday. She lived with her mother in a small house in the poorer part of town, and her mother was working three jobs and barely making ends meet. The girl had never met her father, but he was out there somewhere, as evidenced by the beautiful, intricately made pink playhouse that arrived on a large truck the morning of her eighth birthday.

I don’t know why he sent it. I don’t know why he was rich and they were poor. I don’t know why he sent the playhouse instead of a freaking check since they were practically dressing like hobos but bearing their poverty with as much dignity as possible, but that’s what happened.

I digressed to discussing the decline of the neighborhood; the setup of their shabby but somehow charming home; how the mother was always so tired but hopeful that someday her daughter would have a better future. Really original. Really riveting stuff.

The mother was beautiful and hardworking and kind. The daughter was spunky and helpful. The mystery father was enigmatic but not in a “don’t go in that haunted house or evil spirits will chop you up kind of way.” More like a “oh look! it’s Casper the Friendly Ghost!” kind of way; you don’t really understand him, you just like him.

I have no idea where the notebook is that I filled with pages and pages of drivel about the beautiful, hardworking, kind mother and her spunky, helpful daughter, but all I can think is that she should have probably been pissed if this bad boy rolled up on her daughter’s birthday instead of a check:

Playhouse10_full

I mean, come on.

tumblr_moepwy5jKN1ru8w1ro1_400

Get out that checkbook and get with the program, Casper the Friendly Ghost/Baby Daddy, or Mama is about to chop up that sucker and sell it for firewood.

Also, get real, eighth-grade self. Your story sucks.

4. Untitled Bodice Ripper

I was in kindergarten when my youngest sister was born. My parents kept no secrets from us about the birds and the bees. They told us: you’re going to have a little brother or sister and this is how he or she got here. Well the sneaky part about all that up-front medical talk about eggs and stuff was that it was actually over my head, and so it was more theoretical than informative at the time, even if I did spend an unnatural amount of time calling my classmates “dummy” because they thought the baby was in my mom’s tummy and I knew it was in her uterus (real charmer I was).

I continued in my trend of theoretical rather than practical knowledge as I grew up. We didn’t have sex ed in school because I went to Jesus Schools and in Jesus School all they really tell you about sex is DON’T and if you have any further questions you may consult your parents or your pastor. Mostly what I had from my parents was scientific, and I preferred it that way.

So at a time when many of my peers were feeling each other up in dark movie theaters or ditching their v-cards before they had their drivers licenses, I was reading teen historical romance novels. They look pretty much the same as the adult historical romance novels and follow basically the same plot lines: smart, innocent (but secretly sexy) female lead is secretly/illicitly in love/lust with the hunky, usually tortured/secretive/rich male lead who is either a duke or a viscount or an assassin or something and their uncle or aunt or father or somebody doesn’t want them together and someone always almost dies but eventually they get married and there are at least three major sexytime scenes either pre- or post-wedding night (and one of them is often the wedding night, in which they consummate their burning attraction for one another. Caution: popping buttons and broken corset strings may follow).

The the major difference between the adult novels and the teen novels is that the teen protagonists mostly just get kissed passionately in carriages while the adult protagonists engage in actual intercourse in carriages. These types of books comprised the majority of my teen sex ed, along with a few doses of Cosmo and Redbook, which I actually found horrifyingly graphic and vaguely nauseating until I was about twenty-two. C’est la vie.

Anyway, my mass consumption of these novels (I could zip through one in an afternoon or so) resulted in me deciding to write my own Regency tale about a smart, innocent (but secretly sexy) girl who meets a hunky guy in a bookstore and OF COURSE he is taken with her immediately and wants to take her on a magic carpet ride and show her the world and stuff. Except it was in Regency London so instead he tries to dance with her at every ball during the Season and offers her a lot of punch and tries to get her to sneak onto balconies with him “to get some fresh air.” …riiiiiiight.

My book essentially amounted to a re-hashing of my favorite steamy scenes from various romance novels I’d read. The guys hardly ever even copped a feel, but all that heavy breathing and passionate kissing seemed pretty intense to me at the time.

(Fun fact, this one was my favorite for quite some time:

Anna and the Duke

Anna was a sassy mcsass skirt who read sexy Scottish poetry so I was a big fan. I also liked her silky ribbons and dainty gloves. I was also embarrassingly rather taken by Teen Fabio’s swishy hair and excellent coattails.)

This prose was discarded circa 2007 so no, you can’t read it.

3. I Can Hear Voices a.k.a. The One About Abortion

When I was fifteen I wrote what I thought was a heart-wrenching short story about a fetus who (spoiler alert) is aborted by his/her teen mother. Parts of it were pretty good but most of it was overdone and melodramatic. I probably could have turned it into something rather touching without losing its aestheticism, but instead I went the overdone and melodramatic route.

I expanded the short story so you could get more of the background about how the mother fell for the guy and had bad, evil premarital sex and then was impregnated out of wedlock, because obviously everyone who has bad, evil premarital sex will INSTANTLY BECOME IMPREGNATED and be left with no choice but to abort the baby.

I’m being a little dramatic here, but it is only to emphasize how bad and dramatic the actual story itself was. Someone probably could write a gripping account of a fetus listening to its mother discuss with other people about whether or not she should abort the baby. Unfortunately, that person was not fifteen-year-old me.

Another one for the slush pile.

2. Once Upon A Time

I started this gem in the fifth grade. It was originally intended to be a short fairy tale, but I kept it on a floppy disk and every so often all the way through sixth grade, I’d pop that puppy into the family Windows 98 and add a few paragraphs to the bloated Word document until the clever, heartfelt short story I began at age 10 had turned into a raging monster of flowery descriptions and prepubescent romantic longings of a very sheltered 12-year-old.

It started out as the story of two sisters, Grace and Estrella. (ESTRELLA MEANS STAR IN SPANISH SO ISN’T THAT A PRETTY NAME?! said fifth-grade self. Vomit.) They’re princesses (of course). Grace is blind and Estrella is not and since they’re twins I guess that’s how you can tell them apart. Except randomly in the story Grace’s parents pay for her to have a very expensive surgery in another country to restore her sight and then the twins are the same and neither one of them is blind.

Let’s pause.

This is a fairy tale. As in, a tale about magic.

And her parents…paid for an expensive surgery to restore her sight? No fairy dust? No genie wishes? No enchanted stream in an enchanted forest? I was an imaginative and romantic child, but I think this plot choice demonstrates a fatal lack of appropriate sentimentality in one of my early works.

Anyway the non-blind sisters go about their merry lives until one day the spoiled Prince Calvineero (because God forbid his name just be Calvin or Cal; it just had to be short for something) comes to visit as a potential suitor for one of the girls. Eventually through a series of sickeningly sweet and unrealistic encounters the three become friends, but love blooms between Calvin and Estrella. So when they get a little older they are married and Cal sweeps Princess It-Means-Star-In-Spanish off to his amazing kingdom. And there were no hard feelings about Grace being left to become an old maid, because the hot prince didn’t want her even though she wasn’t even blind anymore.

Then one night Grace is missing her sister who has gone far away with her true love to be a princess somewhere else, so she starts crying. You would think that crying in the privacy of your fancy princess bedroom late at night in your parents’ fancy castle wouldn’t be a big deal, but apparently Grace’s weeping disturbs an evil spirit whose origins go unexplained for the duration of this magical tale.

He magics himself into her bedroom (creepy) and starts hissing at her about her “pathetic sniveling” disturbing him or something. So to punish her he seals her lips. When he figures out that she was crying because of her sister, he says he will kill her sister (totally makes sense, right?). Then he disappears. Then Grace has to go on these quests to save her sister’s life because obviously she is super noble and brave because she had surgery to make her eyes better and also wasn’t even jealous when the hot prince chose her sister instead of her.

Let’s pause again. Around this time in real life, Star Wars: Episode II came out in theaters. My older sister and I were COMPLETELY INFATUATED with Teen Anakin/Hayden Christensen. I don’t know. Maybe when you’re twelve the pouting and sulking and whining and creepy staring he does at Amidala is hot. It sure seemed that way then.

Anyway, we saw it in theaters over and over and waited for hours while video clips of that hunky Anakin loaded (remember when everybody had dial-up and it really did take hours to load videos? But we were devoted and he was always worth the wait). And so, oddly enough, in my story, the brave questing Grace meets a stable boy who is training to become a member of an elite group of warriors within the kingdom. Of course they are not allowed to fall in love or marry or have families. So what do you think Grace and Hot Stable Boy/Warrior in Training do?

Duh, they fall in love.

And of course I write scenes inspired by classics such as these:

Star Wars love 1 Star Wars love 2

Because at the time, the costumes and scenery seemed incredibly picturesque. And naturally, there’s just somethin’ about good, old fashioned forbidden love.

I don’t know what ever became of Princess No-Longer-Blind Grace (definitely didn’t use that plot device to its fullest potential) or Princess Estrella (who evidently had ZERO personality, but maybe that’s what Cal liked about her), but I will say this: if you ever find this floppy disk, I feel sorry for you.

1. On Thin Ice

This is the most embarrassing and potentially dangerous admission of writerly failure, since this one was actually on the Internet at one point. The only good thing about the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2011 was that every single paragraph of horrible prose (and all the accompanying notes) were lost, Lord willing never to be recovered.

On Thin Ice was Harry Potter fanfiction.

Sister #3 and I went through an intense, vaguely disturbing phase between 2005 and 2006 in which we read as much Harry Potter fanfiction as we could find. And if you search for “Harry Potter fanfiction” you will quickly see that there is an absurd amount from which to choose. There are parodies, songs, stories about what would happen if Harry Potter characters were on game shows. There are crossovers between every imaginable book and TV show and movie. There are endless romantic pairings; some of them are sort of interesting to contemplate, while others are downright, abso-freaking-lutely NOT OKAY. (The one I always found the most disturbing was the Hermione/Snape. Yes. People went there. It was distressing.)

My story was about two sisters who transfer to Hogwarts from their magical school in the United States. The older sister was the same age as Harry and his classmates, but even though she was roomies with Hermione, Draco had a crush on her and was totes talking to her in the corridors all the time, because obviously that’s way more edgy than if she just met some nice boy or something.

There were a lot of bad things about this story. One of them was the absurd explanation about how their father had died and he was British or something and so now they were legacy kids or something and that’s why American children could now go to Hogwarts. Because….just because. Another bad thing about this story was how obnoxiously PEPPY the main character was, with her long, curly dark hair and signature red hair ribbon (not that I was sixteen with long, wavy hair and a propensity for wearing hair ribbons to match my school uniform. Nope.). It wasn’t even the inane conversation the main character carries on with her new Gryffindor buddies in the compartment on the way to school about “gits” and “prats” and other British slang.

It was the sport I invented.

In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, I’m basically a lost cause when it comes to sports. But apparently I thought I could just invent a wizarding sport and it would be pretty sweet. It was called Bellorum, which means ‘of wars’ or something stupid in Latin. It was played on ice, and it was fast and exciting, but MOST IMPORTANTLY the girls could wear leggings or swishy skirts and there were endless opportunities for my long-haired main character to whip her lovely locks around while playing this wizarding sport on ice and making all the boys drop dead with longing at her ice skate-clad feet.

ice skating

The combination of this aesthetics-rule-all sport and the stacks and stacks of cheesy romance novels that I devoured as a teenager suggest to me that I have an insidious streak of anti-girl power lying in wait somewhere within me.

OhmyGodwhatwaswrongwithme.

I am beginning to think that I overcompensated and attempted to quash these gooey, sentimental, girly tendencies by joining the Army. Whoops.

**

I issue to you an earnest request. For the good of both mankind and the future of literature, if you ever happen across any snippets of prose from the above tales, please destroy it immediately. Based on my descriptions, these stories sound pretty ridiculous, right? Badly written, indulgent and cringe-worthy. Well you know what? So are Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey and both those travesties of literature now have movie deals.

I want literary fame and a movie deal, but if the cost is the publication and subsequent adaptation of one of the above five books, I think I’ll just stick to Ramen and clipping coupons.

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