Thursday, March 31, 2016


Well, I survived a slightly whirlwind Easter weekend out of town with Mark and a large portion of his family (most of whom I'd never met before).

We went out to Hopkins, MO (go to Kansas City and turn right) on Friday after Mark got off work.  His parents had already gone with his sister and daughter earlier in the day, so we made the 6-hour drive by ourselves.  I brought along books and knitting.  Mark brought audiobooks.  We didn't need any of it, because, instead, we talked.  For the entire trip.  Non-stop.  We had to stop and get throat lozenges.  Because we're ridiculous.

The rest of the weekend went well, I believe.  I met tons of his family members and helped wrangle/entertain Kaylee (by which I mean playing catch with my shoes, playing hide-and-seek, looking at my old View Master, and coloring).  I know I was under scrutiny for being the "new girlfriend," and to see how well I fit into the future stepmom role.  But, with my newly earned title of Child Whisperer, I like to think I passed.  At the very least, she didn't drown on my watch while we were trying to teach her to swim in the hotel pool.  So there's that.  And she chose to sleep snuggled up to me instead of her dad, which was nice for my ego but pretty terrible for my sleep.

We drove back Sunday (Well, Mark drove. I watched movies in the backseat with Kaylee until we both fell asleep.), dropped her off, and went to my parents' house for Easter.

Well, I thought we went there for Easter.

What we apparently went there for was my mom telling Mark everything she always hated about my ex, his family, and the fact that I married him.

This went on for what felt like five hours, but that could have been because I was so embarrassed I was nauseous.

She detailed how she and my dad contemplated bribing me with a trip to England or downright kidnapping me before the wedding (until they saw an actual news story where parents were arrested for doing that exact thing).  She told him how they hoped that my ex would have gone to seminary when he was supposed to so that I would come to my senses, instead of him delaying his entry to seminary for a year so I wouldn't be on my own without him to keep an eye on me.

She talked about how she had contingency plans for everything, including me turning around in the middle of the ceremony and telling her I didn't want to get married.  About how his mom turned to her the day after we got married and triumphantly told her that Alec was my problem now.  How my mom was depressed and cried herself to sleep most nights before I got married.  How they didn't think I would make it more than five years.

(Well, ha.  I made it seven.  So take that.)

I'm choosing to believe that this giant pile-on took place because she actually likes Mark and not because she's subtly warning him that she's not about to let me make the same mistake twice.

I'm also choosing to believe that one day she won't feel the need to bring my wreck of a marriage up as often as she does.

But what I've learned over the past two years is that the inevitable thing about being in a relationship with someone after a prior long-term relationship ends is the comparison factor.  This is only compounded by the fact that we both ended long-term relationships.

Everyone is comparing him to your ex.  Everyone is comparing you to his ex.  You're comparing yourselves to your respective exes.

It can be a bit much.

I know I'm guilty of interpreting things my parents (and his parents, and our friends) say and do to determine how they compare our current relationship to our past ones.  And I know I'm guilty of seeking the validation that our relationship now is better than our past ones.

But why?  It's not like I need the validation.  I don't.  I may want it (who doesn't?), but I don't need it.  I'm better when I'm not worrying what people think of me, and I'm sure Mark is too.  I know I don't want him to worry about if he's doing something that my ex used to do.  And I don't want to worry about if one day my mom will be regaling someone else with the next rendition of "why did Ashley do that?" I want us to just be us.

On the other hand, it's all but impossible for a relationship of any kind to stand on its own.  We are all always building off our past experiences, off our past friends and lovers.  The past shapes us, whether we want it to or not, for better or for worse.  And I like to believe that even the worst of the past has made for a better present.

But that's just me.  You are, of course, free to make your own judgements.  And I'm free to (try to) not care about them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pretty Vintage Selfies

I have a clothing problem.

This is something you probably already all knew.

To be fair, it hasn't always been the same clothing problem.

Ever since I realized that what I wore could effectively set me apart from the rest of the unpopular crowd in high school, I've been a bit of a clothes horse.  I went from wearing oversized T-shirts and baggy jeans (sorry not sorry, there is very little photographic documentation from this period) to... shall we say, experimenting with fashion.  There's very little other way of putting it.  My style was eclectic at best, confusing at worst.  I wore what was commonly referred to as "Ashley pants," which were basically the most unique jeans I could get my hands on.  I had jeans splattered with paint, covered with sequins, inset with wide flares of contrasting patterns.  I wore socks with heels.

I had a perm (maybe two).

It was a dark (yet colorful) time.

In college, I refined my style (somewhat).  I grew up a little, and you can see the beginnings of my love of the more classic look.  Then again, you can also see where I wore legwarmers and heels.

Needless to say, I've been getting attention for what I wear for quite some time.

I started leaning more and more towards the vintage style around 2009.  I had gone through a few hair styles by then: chopping my hair off in an attempt at Sarah Jessica Parker's curly short hair, followed quickly by the Katie Holmes bob.

By then, I was bored with the mixture of eclectic/boho-chic I had established.  I was looking for a new style, and found it on Project: Runway when one of the contestants had a distinctly pin-up style.

I latched on, and the rest is history.

Well, there were a few hair colors in between.

I've been settled into my style (and my red hair) for a while now, and don't see any signs of change.  Quite the contrary: I just seem to be accumulating more and more clothes.  And, now that I've actually organized all my accessories and clothes, my outfit options are even more unlimited.

My boyfriend doesn't help.  He is, in fact, nothing but an enabler.  He combs through resale shops with me.  He fixes accessories I break so that I can keep using them instead of throwing them away. He helps me decide what shoes to wear.  And, to make maters worse, he says incredibly unhelpful things like, "You have a lot of earrings that would match that shirt," and "You'd rock that, babe."  

We were at Goodwill two weeks ago (his idea, not mine).  We went in looking for a women's skirt suit he'd seen the last time we were there (to turn into speaker covers, because the man couldn't stop coming up with projects if you put a gun to his head).  The suit was gone, but I walked out with two pairs of shoes, a dress, a shirt, and a jumpsuit.


But what am I supposed to do when I try a dress on, open the door, and get two thumbs up from the love of my life?  Put it back on the rack?  I think not.

Mark is probably my biggest fashion fan, and has been the constant recipient of my selfies for years now.  He is my partner in crime and in clothing, and he is one of the reasons I don't just live in leggings through most of winter.  I wouldn't be the pretty (vain) vintage girl I am today without him.

And, as if my vanity weren't bad enough, my job just makes matters worse.

There are currently two Fish Eye Fun rigs set up in the office, and, well...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

No Fairy Godmothers, Please

I've never really known what to do with kids.  I was an only child and was never around that many kids younger than myself growing up.  So little kids have always been this enigma, wrapped in diapers and tiny shoes and spilled food.  They have a language all their own.  They're generally loud in restaurants.  They don't exactly have much interest in books.  They watch the same thing on repeat.

Kids have usually liked me, though.  I blame this on the fact that I wear bright colors, lots of jewelry, and generally look different from most other people in the room.

But even if they did like me, I still had no idea what to do with them.  What do you talk about?  What do you do?  What if you drop them?  Do they bounce?  What if they get ahold of one of your poison apples?  What if you build a house out of candy and accidentally lure them into it?

Anything can happen, you know.

I played Cinderella's stepmother in my college production of Into the Woods.  So I know how this is supposed to work, in fairy-tale land.  The stepmother attempts to ruin her stepchild's life with menial, pointless chores that keep her from having any fun whatsoever.  In return, the stepchild gets a makeover, a new car, and a celebrity wedding.  The stepmother, in the end, starves to death.  Cheery.

So, when I found myself with a boyfriend who happened to have a kid, I was understandably a little concerned.  What if she didn't like me?  What if the first words out of her very small mouth were, "You're not my mom"?  What if I unwittingly force her to sweep the cinders from the fireplace and cause her to miss the king's ball?

(Enough with the wicked stepmother/witch comparisons, already.  I don't even have a fireplace.  Yet.)

So.  The three of us have been hanging out, off and on, for a while now.  And it didn't start out perfectly.  She was not one of those kids who instantly thought I was the coolest thing since sliced bread.  On the other hand, she didn't run away screaming, and I haven't noticed that any woodland animals help her do her chores.  So there's that.

She's shy.  I completely respect that.  I don't generally start talking to people I just met, either.  And if I could, I'm sure I'd hide behind Mark when meeting new people.  Unfortunately, that behavior is generally frowned upon once you're out of elementary school.

Lately, however, she's decided that she likes me.  She even wanted to sit by me at lunch on Sunday, which is a far cry from her peeking at me from around corners.  And I've finally figured out that I don't need to worry so much about what there is to do or talk about.  She generally figures out what we're going to do for us.  And she's almost five, so there's no end of things she wants to talk about.

For someone who previously never felt overly comfortable around kids, I'm enjoying weekends with her and Mark.  We have bookstore adventures, we eat a lot of Chick-fil-A, we color in the coloring books I bought for my birthday party (and which have obviously come very much in handy), and we have sword fights in the aisles of WalMart.  We also went to a three-year-old's birthday party, and the three of us struggled up the biggest bounce house monstrosity I've ever seen.  And I have half of Monsters, Inc. basically memorized now, which is obviously a useful life skill.

And, shockingly, Thunder likes her.  Thunder doesn't like anyone right off the bat.  Especially people who are unpredictable (and what's more unpredictable than a small child?).  But they met a few weeks ago, and he was an amazingly well-behaved dog.  He galloped around after her.  He played gently with her.  He didn't snap at her when she picked up his toys.  It was... unexpected and awesome.

Really, none of this is what I expected in life.  Believe me when I say that I never thought I'd be doing anything remotely like this, much less doing it willingly and liking it.  Being a stepmom-in-training was about as high on my to-do list as being a 29-year-old divorcee.  Then love came along and changed everything.  Like it does.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that life gets in the way of our best-laid plans, and of our worst-laid plans.  We find ourselves doing the opposite of what we intended, often with people we never expected.  And, it works, strangely enough.  It's not always easy, and it's not always fun, and you're not always sure how you got here or if you did the right thing along the way.  But, in general, it works.  (At least for now.  I know better than to make much in the way of definitive statements towards the future.)

But I really hope this kid never shows an affinity towards glass slippers or talking mice.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Daily Affirmations with the PVG

It's been a weird week.  Unexpected problems have thrown itself in the path of what I intended to accomplish, and my apartment is currently the home of the walking wounded.

Mark cut his hand on Sunday, glued himself back together, and is still bleeding every time he changes the bandage.  Then Thunder decided to be brave and try to chase a cat under the fence.  In the process, he cut his neck on the only goddamn pointy rock in the area.

Which leaves me as what? Ward nurse?  I don't seem to be a very good one.  I've handed Mark band-aids and attempted to take care of Thunder, which isn't easy because he's a giant asshole of a dog when he's hurt.  Mostly I've just tried to keep him from scratching at his neck and dropped him off this morning at the vet clinic.

And what did I intend to accomplish this week?

Oh, lots of things.  I wanted to finish putting away all my clothes and have the bedroom properly organized.  I wanted to clean and reorganize the kitchen.  I wanted to write.  I wanted to get back in the habit of doing yoga.

To be fair, the clothing/bedroom situation is far better than it has been in quite a while.  I started reorganizing the kitchen (to be even more fair, Mark started reorganizing it by moving the microwave and discovering a far more sensible use for the available counter space).

But there's an idealized version of myself in my head that's doing so much better than the real version.  The idealized version gets up when her first alarm goes off.  She does yoga every morning.  She is organized.  She's writing every day.  She's blogging every Wednesday.

The real version sets three alarms, because she knows she won't drag herself out of bed until absolutely necessary.  She hasn't done yoga in two weeks.  She's an unorganized mess who makes piles on every available flat surface.  She hasn't written this week.  She's a day late in blogging.  She's generally distracted.

So, there's obviously a pretty big gap between those two people.  I'm probably never going to be that idealized version of myself, and that's okay.  But I'd like to be a little better than the current version.

I'm also harder on myself than anyone else is.  I know this.  Mark gets after me when I spend my days off cleaning, because I should apparently be relaxing (whatever that is).  But then he's hard on himself when he "only" does x when he wanted to do x, y, and z.  And then I'm the one telling him that he shouldn't be so hard on himself.

So even though I feel like I'm turning into a bit of a hot mess lately, I'm probably really not that bad.  I can grudgingly admit I've made some small progress towards a more functional apartment.  I'm only one day late on blogging, instead of an entire week.  I've managed to put together whole outfits each day for quite a few weeks now, rather than running out of the house several times a week in leggings and a T-shirt.  I've kept Thunder mostly intact.

As I announced back in September, I'm not perfect, and I'm never going to be.  Maybe one day I'll come to terms with that.  Until then, I'm going to try not to be too hard on myself.  And I'm going to keep trying to figure out how to get my life together, if that's even possible.  More and more I'm starting to think that no one actually has their life together in the way they intended.  It's all either a grand illusion or my own false perception.  Or both.  I think the reality is we're all just sitting around wondering why we can't get our shit together the way we'd like.

In the meantime, it's important to remember the words of Stuart Smalley:

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Not Quite Raindrops on Roses

So.  Last week was a rough blog, huh?

Let's talk about something cheerier, shall we?

... Except I've been struggling the past two days with being entirely too grumpy for anyone's good.  It's a shame, really, because I'm coming off of at least one really excellent week of being more social than normal and having very few negative experiences at all.  Even coming home last night to a meal cooked by my boyfriend wasn't enough to drag me out of my mood.

But, all things in moderation and all that.  The most perfectly wonderful Monday off with Mark is balanced by a not-so-great Tuesday.  And that's the way it goes.  As I've said before, not every day is fantastic.  And that's ok.  I just have to remind myself of that.

And I can remind myself of all the things that do make me happy lately.  So I will.

1. Everything about this new dress.

2. Day date adventures.  Mark and I went to Meramec Caverns on Monday and ended up with a private tour.  And a pound of fudge.  Along the way, we ate a giant burrito, got free sopapillas, did some antique shopping and rescued a midcentury lamp that someone woefully decided to paint.  And we also ate at The Shaved Duck.  Which was, quite simply, incredible and perfect.  Like the rest of the day.

3. Finishing a book, which I just did (Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire).  And re-reading a favorite book, which I'm beginning to do (The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger). Or just looking at books.  I'm not that picky.

4. Being with someone who I'm so completely comfortable with, who lets me pout on the couch next to him, who encourages me in everything I do, and who writes the best love letters. 

5.  My friends, both old and new and everything in between.  

6. Margaritas.  Tacos.  Alright, food and drinks in general. Let's be honest here.

7. Having freshly red hair.

8. Routines. I'm an introvert, remember?  I like knowing what to expect.  This is not to say that I don't enjoy spontaneous adventures and spur-of-the-moment decisions, because that's not true.  But there's a definite reassurance for me in having several daily routines.  This is particularly reinforced by having a dog that also thrives on routine and knowing what to expect and a boyfriend who enjoys ending our evenings with a seldom-altered shared routine of getting ready for bed. 

9. My paperback book perfume.  Mark gave it to me a while ago when I was having a terrible day.  I've never before had a perfume that I really loved.  I'm highly sensitive to smells and never used to wear perfume, but this stuff is wonderful.  It's subtle and slightly sweet and I love wearing it and smelling faintly of great literature.

10. Puns and alliteration and nerdy jokes.

11. Comments on my blog or my Facebook blog posts.  I'm entirely shameless that way.  So please continue to cheer me up by telling me something that makes you happy.  

I'm feeling a bit better already.