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GroupDots.jpgApparently I’m wrong. And I’ve been wrong for a while.

Here’s what: one is “one”. Two is “a couple.” Three is “a few,” and somewhere around six or seven is “several.”

Turns out that’s wrong.

According to Merriam-Webster,

sev·er·al adj ˈsev-rəl, ˈse-və-
2a : more than one
b : more than two but fewer than many

So three is “several.” And seven might be “many.”

I have spent the bulk of my life – I don’t know when I first used “several”… “Don’t touch my several Star Wars figures”? – not only misusing the word but judging others for using it too liberally to describe just a little more than a couple.

Well, “misusing” might be too strong. Six might still be several. “Limiting its lower bound,” let’s say, which is a lesser crime and no one is coming for me in a linguistic squad car. (Which would look like what exactly? A Prius? No – a Volt. With a supercilious air. Like mine when I read “several incidents” and find out the journalist means “three.”)

Isn’t “a few” three or four? Doesn’t “several” imply at least seven, given that they share almost all the same letters? And how is that not infallible logic? I didn’t take Latin, but wasn’t there something in third grade, or second, about root words? I think I’m right about this. Really. Someone back me up here.

And, even if it isn’t technically inaccurate, isn’t referring to three of something as “several” kind of an overstatement? If you can use “several” to describe anything from barely more than a few all the way up to, say, twelve, isn’t that like saying “I told you several times not to eat that crayon,” when really this is only the third time just now and who doesn’t want to suck on colorful wax, so back off already, I’m waterproofing my teeth?

All right: I’m soooo sorry if I have inaccurately judged you in the past for using “several” inaccurately when really I was wrong.

Sort of. We both know I’m kind of right still about that overdoing it thing. Kind of.

OK not. But give me a break: “several” to mean “more than one”? Really? “We owned several cars,” when we had a 1986 Corolla and a ’92 Camry? Really? Really???

High Road

high-altitude.jpgDear Altitude,

Quit it. Just quit it. Really. Enough already.

I got up early this morning, I got us packed, including 75 different snacks for our one year old – since she won’t eat the same thing from one day to the next – and enough hand wipes to clean the plane better than United did. I made pancakes for breakfast before we left, for God’s sake. That’s got to count for something.

Not in your book? Yeah, I figured.

Just so you know, instead of napping, A. ran around the Red Carpet Lounge yelling just at the moment when that quiet guy in the corner on his laptop in the business section seemed like he might be making some progress on whatever he was working on. Then she made me a glass of juice from all the available buttons on the juice machine. Then she poured water down the front of her shirt so she looked like we let her play in the pool before heading to the plane which I think reflects well on my parenting.

I’m just telling you, so you know what kind of morning we had.

Instead of napping on the plane, she was much more interested in talking to the three Japanese businessmen sleeping across the aisle than any of the other passengers who said, “Hi!” and, “Aren’t you cute?” Who needs those guys when there are three people paying no attention to you? All or nothing. Compliments from the willing are for suckers.

I know you don’t care, Altitude. I can tell by your cavalier distribution of headaches and dehydration once we got to where you are. But I thought you should know. Just so you have it in writing. Maybe someday you’ll look back and feel a little bit sorry? No? All right.

The rental car shuttle took forever, by the way. And then it rained. And the car seat the man who tried to get us to upgrade to an RV-sized tank for our three pieces of luggage just handed it to us like we’d know how to install a We-B-Cheap brand car seat. That kid is ours, dude. We like her so we invested in the giant gernade-resistant model that takes the strength of one of those male gorillas to install. The ones with the fangs. We have no idea what to do with this plastic shell that looks like it’s made out of Tupperware covered with ill-fitting velour from the craft store that always confuses me because there are so many, many bins of colorful things I don’t need. Do we need pipe cleaners to attach it to the seat? Safety pins? Whatever, dude. Whatever.

I’m telling you all this so maybe you’d just back on up off us a little. Sinus congestion and a nosebleed aren’t the, “Welcome to Colorado! We serve mixed drinks!” note I was hoping to end my day on.

The restaurant, when we got to our lodge, has a maximum age limit of 12 for their staff, so it took 90 minutes to get seated and I had to leave before dinner because A. was so tired. She fell down in front of me she was so tired. Just fell. No reason. Hard not to take that point. So I ate my now-take-out burger in our bathroom so she could sleep, poor tired thing.

And you know why she’s so tired? Because we’re at 100 billion feet in the air and we live at sea level, Altitude. The views are nice from here, I won’t deny it. But what’s with the thin air? And why suck all the moisture out of it while you’re thinning it out? We needed that humidity. We can’t breathe. God. Who’s mean to a little kid? She’s adorable. Why would you give her a headache? It’s like hating kittens, for cripe’s sake. Be a mensch.


OK. You win. I’ll find the aspirin in the massive pile of stuff unpacked from two suitcases in seven seconds in the near-dark to find A.’s pajamas. And I’ll find some water. And we’ll just pretend you’ll be nicer tomorrow, OK? You can have a word with yourself overnight and see if you can make it out of bed on the right side in the morning. We’ll talk then.

Yours truly,

Oh no!

cornpops.jpgHave you seen this list? I seem to read one every year. It’s about which brands will go under in the coming year.

If you’re in finance, I guess doing the list makes you a smarty pants analyst. I’m not in finance, so a.) since I am not a smarty pants in this particular area, I am irritated by people who are (if I were, I would, naturally, be impressed with myself), and b.) there are always some brands on the list that I can’t believe will go under because I need them, so I choose to not believe the list.

A couple of years ago, the list said Borders would go out of business and I was very upset. Borders is where I go to buy magazines, peruse the travel section for vacation destinations where I can go without getting immunization shots, and look at all the books I will then go onto Amazon to buy at a discount. Which is precisely why Borders is going under. But I still buy all those magazines. And coffee. Apparently not in sufficient quantities though because the list makers were right about that one.

This year, they’re predicting the demise of Saab, which makes me, um, well not, you know, but definitely feel sad. I think they’re going under because they drifted away from that retro Porsche-y almond-shaped sillouhette they used to have in the 1980’s. I wanted one of those cars. Also, I like the Swedes, so that’s sad for them.

With A&W on the list, I thought maybe the one root beer brand I can identify was going south, but no, it’s just their restaurant arm. I thought you had to have a time machine to go to the A&W restaurants, and apparently so did everyone else, because they’re going away.

I am not sorry to hear about Soap Opera Digest, which should’ve just cut over to reality TV a while ago, which is way more soapy than the dying soaps, and American Apparel, because I never liked their ads. Not because the billboards were overtly selling sex (who isn’t?) but because they were selling tacky underage1970’s runner shorts sex, which is not my kind of sex. So I better head to the local shop and get R. a bunch of those waffle Ts he likes and another couple sleeveless turtleneck dresses for me and say goodbye.

The brand loss that’s truly breaking my heart is Kellogg’s Corn Pops. Ah, Pops. I loved Corn Pops. When Fruit Loops and Apples Jacks changed their formulas to be less crispy-sugar-coated and more milk-susceptible, I could always turn to Pops to remind me of the good old days when I escaped the “no sugar cereals” ban at home and got my little box of Pops at camp and college cafeterias. Tasty, tasty Pops.

Pops were a staple of my pregnancy diet, along with fruit, which is probably why A. is so cute and awesome and I only gained 18 lbs. (For which I take no credit by the way: who has control over the foods they want to eat while pregnant? No one, that’s who.)

I just threw out my last box of baby-related Pops last week. They had merged into a single Pop in the humidity of the San Francisco rains. I wasn’t eating them fast enough. And now, soon, I may not be able to get more. I might have to look at the whole second child question from a new angle now if s/he will not have the in utero Pops advantage.

Reading further bad news, it turns out that the smarty pants(s) think Pops are on the way out because they aren’t healthy, containing both saturated fat and something called BHT, which doesn’t sound all-natural and turns out isn’t. It’s a component in embalming fluid.

Adding that little detail is just mean. How can I ever look at a Pops box with the same pure desire I had before knowing it has a little bit of embalming fluid in it? It’s like telling me Hugh Jackman kicks puppies. Why did you have to throw that out there on the mat? You’re ruining it for me. What I didn’t know wasn’t hurting me. Or rather, I didn’t know what was hurting me.

Come to that though, how do you know it’s hurting me? It doesn’t sound good, putting embalming fluid ingredients in food, but the smarty pants guys don’t say if they know it’s bad. It might be giving me nice supple skin. They use corn in ethanol, don’t they? Is anyone going after Orville Redenbacher for using an ingredient in auto fuel? No. They’re not. Maybe BHT is like corn: just another harmless ingredient that’s been vilified unjustly by smarty pants(s) taking it out of context.

Although the acronym isn’t helping its case. Acronyms in food sound sinister. Like CRN Pops. It sounds like something robot overlords use to keep their joints lubricated.

I hear people are hoarding old-school light bulbs in preparation for the cutover to fluorescents next year. Maybe I’ll go that route: go buy that retro Saab I’ve always coveted, load up the trunk with 200 boxes of Pops and cruise on over to A&W to get some milk for my cereal. I’ll just circle until they close or I run out of Pops, whichever comes first. Don’t worry about me: the embalming fluid will keep my stamina up.


lebowitz.jpgI’ve never wanted the kind of fame that gets you bothered on the street.

Good thing because I definitely don’t have it.

What I want is the kind of fame where I can do what I want. Like get good tables at New York restaurants and have a mostly bottomless bank account. (It doesn’t have to be completely bottomless. Making decisions is good for you. Sometimes.)

Fran Lebowitz seems to have that but I don’t understand how. Don’t get me wrong: I like her. She’s an excellent writer. Correction: was. She hasn’t published anything in thirty years. And she’s clever, which goes a very, very long way with me. But that smirk in her Wikipedia photo says it all. She’s getting away with something amazing: despite her lack of production, according to today’s Times, she can afford to maintain and garage a 1979 Checkers in Manhattan. And wear Savile Row-tailored suit jackets. WHAT IS GOING ON?

I saw Public Speaking, but nowhere in there did I see an explanation for her wealth. How much can speaking engagements unassociated with any product besides your own wit generate for Pete’s sake? If they do cover what sound like her considerable expenses, I need to get a piece of that. I’m witty. I am. Really.

She’s like the Paris Hilton for Manhattan. Show up, be you, get paid.


Maybe I’ll take the window table at my local cafe every afternoon and just start saying witty things to myself until a crowd gathers. I’ll know what to do after that, right?

Independence Day

My friend Lucie is British, married to Marc, an American, and mother to Ethan, age one.

Me: What are you doing for the Fourth?
Lucie: I don’t know. Dressing Ethan in the Union Jack and sending him out to have at it with Marc.
Me: Sounds uneven.
Lucie: If someone French comes by to help, that’d be fine.

The Best Laid Plans

plan_pool2.jpgI had to miss a baby shower this weekend whose invitation included a request that all the guests bring the expectant mom three beads to include in a rosary-like chain she would use for calming meditation during her labor. I was supposed to assign and then explain a meaning to each bead, for example, “This one represents your patience, which is one of the reasons I think you’ll be a good mom.”

I can see that, from one angle, this is a charming and useful idea. As a carrier of a tiny plastic fawn all through kindergarten, I’m down with security objects. And, against all odds, I’m a convert to meditation. (Don’t tell anyone.)

If someone had tried to give me such a chain when I was pregnant, I would have thanked them politely. I might have even taken it to the hospital with me as a reminder of my nice friends. I also definitely would have wrapped it through another chain of beads, each representing a readily available pain killer or surgical intervention my hospital offers.

I say, do whatever works for you, and what works for me is being as close to medical assistance as possible. I regularly discover bruises of unknown provenance on my arms and legs and the door frame between the kitchen and living room knows my clavicle pretty well, so it’s reasonable to expect that beads might not cover my needs while having a baby.

One of the hundreds of things that “Prepare Yourself for Your Baby!” web sites and books recommend you do before your nine months is up is lay out a birth plan. It’s a “what I want” list from the time you arrive at the hospital door to the time you leave, hopefully 48-72 hours later. There is generally a template included with spaces for preferences ranging from the absurdly specific (overhead lighting) to the pretty basic (painkillers or not) I filled one out. It prompted me to think through the specifics of the upcoming, er, blessed event in the order they would likely happen, and that was useful.

What is less useful is attaching yourself to any of those things actually happening. And if there is anything that the principles of Buddhism have taught me and the experience of parenthood have backed up, it is that the sooner you get comfortable with this reality, the happier you will be.

I know exactly one person whose birth plan went as planned. For everyone else, including myself, things started going off-plan almost as soon as they left the starting gate. I think this is pretty common across all plans – birth, career, life, vacation – and the key to success, despite the deviation (gross or minor), is to detach from the plan almost as soon as you make it.

It’s a neat trick, that.

In my experience, the more I plan, the more attached I get to that exact plan, and the more specific my expectations become. The more specific my expectations become, the more disappointing any divergence will be, even if it’s a really nice divergence. I mean seriously, who would not want to take a two-hour detour to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine? It’s right there for Pete’s sake. Forget your plan – go already!

Of course, it’s good to start with a plan – it helps clarify your desires and helps you think through details that might otherwise be forgotten. But the process of making it often leads to getting fixed on things happening in just that way. So, after years of Type A planning ending in feeling weird and disappointed – what I (try to) do now is

Plan. Not too complicated. Think through things step by step. (Type A extravaganza!)


  1. Make a note of the 2-3 priorities that actually matter. (Birth plan goal? Healthy baby. Vacation plan? Get some rest. See that one play with – whaddaya call him? – Spiderman? Oh – scratch that.)
  2. Related: if the 2-3 things involve reservations, make ’em. Also, book your flights.

Re-plan.Take the “not too complicated” part and your priorities to heart and remove half a dozen things to create some open space. (Hang gliding at 6AM? Maaaaybe…)

Settle down and get happy. Your “plan” = “desirable options.” Print it, put it in your folder and refer to it for reminders, ideas and course correction. But not self-punishment.

That’s my plan for planning. It works for me. But feel free to bead on up if that works for you. And if you just have to have a seventeen page birth plan including your own lighting system, a cooler of the sushi you haven’t been allowed to eat, and your personal umbrella holder guy, go for it. And good luck!

Evil Genius

9PM, our living room

Me: Dammit! I forgot to have dinner!
R: “Foiled by myself again!”

Go Bag

emergency.jpgIf you live along a tectonic fault line, it’s a good idea to show the planet who’s boss by packing a backpack of Band-Aids, canned tuna and an extra T-shirt and storing up some water in your basement. Also, get a wrench so you can turn off your gas line. That wrench is going to make all the difference when the earth starts shifting beneath you.

Ah, little humans.

Being one of those humans and, among them, probably on the high end of the liking to be prepared for things you can’t control, I have been planning my Go Bag for several years. Not packing. Planning.

I think I can say with reasonable confidence that I have an alarmingly comprehensive master list of “essentials” for every manner of emergency. I have considered chemical attacks, virus outbreaks and nuclear fallout, in addition to your basic fire and earthquake. I have looked up pricing for personal parachutes. Even though our house only has two stories, we are a flight of steps up from the street, so it seemed prudent to check. I’ve compared iodine tablets that clear drinking water to iodine tablets that counteract radiation. (Sadly, these are not the same product, so you will have to get both. Unless your drinking water is really, really dirty.)

I didn’t actually buy any of these things, mind you, I just researched them to add to my giant Spreadsheet of Terrible Possibilities. I’m not a complete idiot. I’m just worried.

So the spreadsheet sat there and then grew and then sat and then grew and so on until not too long ago when, without consulting it, I filled an old Gap backpack with a pre-made First Aid kit I got from Target, some granola bars and a rain poncho and put it in my garden bench on our deck where it promptly got soaked and molded.

That didn’t so much work out as an emergency plan.

It’s notable at this stage that, despite having a thorough, well-researched, printed checklist of all the things that should be in a Baby Go Bag when you are finally ready to head to the hospital, I did not actually have said bag out or packed when I went into labor. So this is kind of a thing with me, apparently.

Now that we live in a house, I have more room to expand on my Giant Spreadsheet of Disaster and have collected, at last count, four evacuation bags. One has food, one has clothes and baby stuff, one has tools and medical supplies, and then there’s a pile of water. A pile of containers of water to be more exact. Piling water is a waste of time.

There is also a small heap of tools that don’t fit in that bag. And there’s still a list of things I haven’t packed, like copies of essential documents and a T-shirt for R. who, should something happen right now, will be going shirtless. He’ll be like that hot guy on Lost who never seemed to have a shirt handy. He made it through our having-a-baby hospital stay in hospital scrubs though, so he should be OK. I mean R. should be OK, not the guy from Lost. That would be weird if that guy were hanging around the hospital the whole time we were there. And by “weird,” I mean “weird and flattering because, let’s face it, that guy is really, really good looking.”

I considered digging a bunker/irregularly shaped hole/ditch in the backyard to house all my Stuff of Calamity but I like our garden, so instead I’ve scattered the four bags in four different places throughout the house so it will be highly improbable that they will all be accessible in an emergency. My thinking is that it will also be unlikely that all of them will be inaccessible, so, “Mwaha!” to all of you who thought that it was stupid to split them up.

Now, after six years, I’m within reaching distance of the over-prepared finish line, and I’m having some second thoughts.

First, what if the lack of an earthquake so far in my tenure in California is because I haven’t finished my evac bag? Finishing might be the cue for the pending earthquake to strike. What if all these mini earthquakes we’ve been having are just, “What’s up with that Go Bag, Carlson?” reminder quakes and when I finally finish, I am inadvertently inviting disaster?

Here’s where I’m coming from: I was supposed to pack my Baby Go Bag for the hospital the week A. was born (a month before her due date). Maybe she arrived early because the universe sensed a packed bag on the horizon. (I ended up taking several pairs of socks and a bag of jellybeans to the delivery, which worked out fine because it was Easter that weekend and who really needs pants anyway?)

This theory might be excessively self-involved, so I’m trying to table that concern.

Things could go the other way after all. What would happen if there were an earthquake TONIGHT before the bag is complete? I have some time set aside tomorrow to finish up the packing. An earthquake tonight would be be the ultimate ironic game changer. I’d be out on the street – correction: in a doorframe/under a sturdy table – watching an unmounted bookshelf fall towards me without a copy of my most recent tax documents in my hand. Silly Emma. No potassium iodide. No parachute. Scanning my spreadsheet and realizing I don’t have tent stakes, that document would exist solely to mock me. Perhaps I won’t enclose a copy among my emergency papers and hope to survive in the coming wasteland on my wits alone. And a bottle of Similac Extra Sensitive, which I will share with my daughter and my shirtless fiance while I use my crowbar and ecologically sensitive plastic camping fork to dig out my First Aid Bag.

These are not cheerful thoughts. Perhaps I’ll go finish up that packing right now to catch the plates off-guard, and I’ll leave out one thing, just to keep the universe stable. I think I’ll “forget” the wax-dipped matches in a waterproof container and rely on a gas fire to toast my marshmallows because who knows how to to turn off the gas line even if you do have a wrench?

I might have forgotten a couple of things after all.

Roll On Redux

The wheelchair guy is back. Turns out he has a Chippendales torso silkscreened on the back of his chair. Hmm. That doesn’t look like standard hospital issue… Although this is San Francisco…

I’m not sure I feel so sorry for this guy anymore. If you can afford the mental energy and financial cost of having a mostly naked man applied to the back of your chair, maybe you’re just crazy in one way. The middle-of-the-street cruising way, not the, “I’m not sure where I’m headed way.”

Circling our block isn’t the way to Vegas though. Maybe he doesn’t have GPS. I’ll print out directions to Rio and run down with them. I’ll be right back.

Whole Foods Parking Lot

Thanks to ma bro for this one. Newly married too, what.