Classic rock and corn dogs*

We bought tickets to see Journey at the Minnesota State Fair from my phone on a grassy hill at Claire’s birthday party. This was meant to be our only foray into the “big Minnesota get together,” or whatever folks call it. As you know, we ended up going twice.

For the second trip, we had five goals:

  1. Eat a steak sandwich (Joel)
  2. Eat a funnel cake (me)
  3. Ride the Skyflyer (me)
  4. Ride the ski lift tram thing (me)
  5. Get our Journey on with Arnel and those other guys (both)

We accomplished four out of five! No one else was very excited about the sky tram, so we skipped it. Next year I’m going to insist, because it’s one of the only ways to get out of the crowds and relax.

Sausage by Cynthia at Minnesota State Fair

We rode the Skyflyer first and both felt super queasy after. It doesn’t even go that fast! I think it’s the angle at which you’re spinning around, sort of under and over the horizon at the same time. Somehow it seemed right to use these sausages to settle our stomachs, which might seem like an odd choice, but it worked. This sampler included the wild rice with jalapeno and cheese, the Tuscan (with mozzarella) and the Swedish (with potatoes). Maybe it’s another sign that I’m a real Minnesotan now, ’cause the wild rice sausage was my favorite.

Minneapple Apple Pie at Minnesota State Fair

The pumpkin pie was so good, we went back to Minneapple Pie and tried the apple.  I was expecting the filling to be gooier, and this one was surprisingly dry. Nothing was wrong with it, per se – the apples were tender, the crust/ice cream were still delicious – but the pumpkin pie wins for me by a mile. If my grandma’s pie recipe weren’t so good, I’d consider driving out of the way to go eat it.

Frozen apple cider at the Minnesota State Fair

Andrew Zimmern’s yearly list of foods to try at the fair took us to the horticulture building, where we got these frozen apple cider pops. There’s nothing in there but fresh apple cider, and it was only $1.25 a pop. That, my friends, is a DEAL. (The Minneapple pies were $6 each with a scoop.) It was perfect on a hot day, and made me crave fall and apple cider donuts.

Dahlias at the Minnesota State Fair

I am so, so glad we went to the horticulture building, because there was an entire room full of prized dahlias. Dahlias! I didn’t even know how much I loved them until I was in a room of them. Each and every one was simply stunning, but I loved the pink ones with yellow-orange centers the best. If you’re ever sending me flowers (hello, Joel!), please send dahlias.

Milkshakes at the Minnesota State Fair

I’ve never been much into milkshakes, but they’re a favorite of Joel’s and his brother (seen here in his Befuddled Stepmonster debut) was dying to try one of the new fruit flavors. I dunno. They got these at a stand in the side of the cattle barn, which signals that the milk is really fresh. I’m pretty sure it was just Clover out of the gallon jug, and Joel’s vanilla tasted pretty standard to me.

Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar at Minnesota State Fair

Okay. We need to talk about these Sweet Martha’s cookies. Sure, they are freshly baked on the premises (from dough you can buy at the grocery store). And sure, you can buy a giant tub of them with a handle and carry it around all day eating cookies until you burst. Yes, they serve milk, which is a very good thing. However. People wait in line for these cookies forEVER and they cause major traffic jams. On the first day we went, we passed by this exact same location on our way out of the fairgrounds. The crowd was easily triple, and it took us 15 minutes to get through it.

It’s just cookies, people. Can it really be worth the wait? And, let’s be honest, do people really need to be eating a bucket of cookies? IT’S A GIANT BUCKET. When we passed by after the Journey concert there was still a giant line, and they had run out of buckets. I thought someone was going to set the building on fire in protest, and I’m only sort of kidding.

Steak sandwich at Minnesota State Fair

Joel started planning how we would eat this steak sandwich for dinner before the concert about 10 minutes after we bought the tickets. It’s a pretty good steak sandwich, as these things go. There’s onions, peppers, cheese sauce from a can (I’m just guessing) and a giant pile of meat on a super soft bun. All things considered, I’d rather have eaten another corndog, but only because I can make a better steak sammie at home. I followed this with a roasted corn chaser, but ya’ll have already seen that.

Funnel cake at the Minnesota State Fair

In my opinion, a fair just isn’t a fair without a funnel cake. At the end of the day, they aren’t even that delicious, but I always had them as a kid and I always get them now. Truthfully, this one was sort of mediocre. If Joel’s brother hadn’t helped, we would have thrown half of it away. I’m sure I’ll still get one next year.

Me at Joel at the Journey concert at the Minnesota State Fair

We bought the best available tickets for the Journey concert, but didn’t pay attention to the seating chart, so we were all sort of surprised when we got there and walked up and up and up and up to the very last row of the sold-out show. Thank goodness for jumbotrons.

Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair

You would think that the view from the top of the grandstand at night would be spectacular, but aside from the marquee itself, it was pretty underwhelming. The grandstand is situated to the side of the midway, so we couldn’t really see the rides at night, and as things started shutting down it was barren beneath our seats.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a music critic, so about the concert I will only say this: there are a lot of guitar solos in a Journey concert. Depending on your feelings about guitar solos, that’s either a positive or a negative. For me? It was a lot of guitar solos.

The true bummer about the whole evening was that we were unable to see the giant fireworks display at the end of the concert. Our seats were so high that the fireworks were above the roof on the grandstand, and there were so many people between us and the lower levels that we all sat there forlornly craning our necks. At the last moment we ran down and caught the finale, which was cold comfort.

On the way to the car, we stopped for one last cream puff. They had run out of whipped cream right before we got there, so we stood outside the stand and watched them dump gallons of cream into a giant Hobart mixer. If possible, the second cream puff was more creamy than the last, enough cream for a family to share and be satisfied. And that’s what the fair is about, right? Creamy, indulgent, excess. Yum.

*To be clear, we didn’t consume any corn dogs on this day, but the title was too good to pass up. My apologies for getting up your hopes about hot dogs and fried cornbread on a stick.

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The big stuff

Claire and I had a couple of days all to ourselves this week while Joel traveled. Though I always worry if she’s going to be bummed out that she’s stuck with me when he’s not here, we had a great time. The first night we curled up on the couch and watched So You Think You Can Dance – we still haven’t seen the finale, so shhhhhh – and the second night we went out to dinner with my friend Erin and her twin six-year-old girls. Claire is just enough older that she feels responsible for big sistering them, and Erin and I are both grateful that they get along well enough that we can just sit back and have friend time when we’re all together.

There were many moments of silliness in those two days. We played a rhyming game over dinner one night. We looked at pictures of antique beds and “old times” people on Google images. Poor Cooper was wrapped in more than one winter scarf.

Cooper the pitbull in a winter scarf

Not that I think he minds all that much. He didn’t even protest the sunglasses she made him wear right after this. (Photo on Instagram, if you’re dying to see a pitbull in sunglasses.)

In between all the fun, though, were some very sobering moments. Some, “holy crap this kid is too young to be thinking about these things what in the heck am I supposed to say” sorts of things. “Amanda,” she would say, more tentative than the times she wants to make me choose between, like, bananas and grasshoppers as my favorite snack. Each and every time I reply “Yes, Claire?” And when it’s serious she starts the sentence with “welllllll…I was just wondering…” and then out comes something new and very serious she’s wrestling with.

Last week our sweet male cat Toby had a urinary obstruction that led to hospitalization. When he got home, he spent a lot of time licking his junk, which was probably sore from the catheter. Toby licking his junk spurred a lot of talk about male/female anatomy. Claire doesn’t like to have these conversations with Joel in the room, so she’ll find me wherever I am, close the door, and ask me questions until she’s embarrassed and runs away.

In addition to lady parts and boy parts, in the last seven days we have also talked about:

  • Whether or not it’s okay to get homesick when you’re at a sleepover.
  • Whether or not it’s okay to have one best friend that is more of a best friend than other people, even if you only see that best friend at recess and are worried she won’t always be your best friend.
  • How sad it is that some people cannot afford houses and don’t have family or friends to help.
  • How sad it is that some people with differently colored skin don’t have the same advantages as us.
  • How sad it is that some places don’t have enough water and how droughts kill animals and plants.
  • How sad it is, sometimes, to watch people cut up meat, because we think about how it used to be an animal and killing animals is sad, and maybe it would be okay to be a vegetarian if only we didn’t have to give up salami.

You guys, that’s a lot of -isms to cover in a short period of time. My guess is that the entire third grade is struggling with these things right now, and I want Claire to be able to ask me anything, even if it makes me squirm. I definitely don’t want her learning about racism from another eight year old, you know? But I’m also super sensitive about the fact that she’s only eight. I want to always tell her the truth, but there’s only so much truth you can ingest at that age.

I’m in completely new territory and am definitely muddling through. Any stories you want to share about your own experiences are very, very welcome!

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No summer is complete without the Minnesota State Fair (or so they say)

Around these parts, the State Fair is a Big Deal.

You know this is true even if you don’t live in Minnesota, because it is impossible to exist in social media without coming across the much-heralded list of new (fried) foods to eat, followed by dozens of pictures of people eating said foods. It’s also likely that you’ve heard of Princess Kay of the Milky Way, even if you didn’t know her name. She’s the one carved out of butter.

I first went to the State Fair with Joel and Claire a couple of years ago, before I had even agreed to move here. I ate fried cheese curds for the first time – scalding, greasy, salty, delicious – and marveled at the all-you-can-drink milk for $1. Plain or chocolate! It’s a real steal! Claire was at an age where she got bored easily, begged for us to buy inflatable toys/stuffed animals, and got flustered at the crowds. We lasted about two hours, at which time the skies cracked open and poured on us for 10 minutes before the sun emerged and everything was muggy and stifling once more.

No experience including a Fair-fried corndog could possibly be terrible, but I don’t remember it being an especially fun time.

I have never been much of a fair person. I grew up in Springfield, Mo,  and they had a decently sized one, but all I remember about it is that it was too expensive for us to go – at least, if we wanted to eat all the foods and ride all the rides. Speaking of rides, I don’t really do them. I’m scared of heights, get motion sickness easily, and don’t trust an apparatus that gets taken apart and reassembled dozens of times in a summer by people working for minimum wage. Also, I get annoyed in crowds and don’t like to be hot. So. You can see why fairs and I aren’t on great terms.

This year, we bought tickets to see Joan Jett and Journey at the grandstand on the last night, a Monday. Our initial plan was to arrive a couple of hours early to eat nasty-yummy foods and then go to the concert. But then Miss Claire intervened. Suddenly, she was DESPERATE to go to the State Fair. So we got roped into going on Saturday, too.

Minnesota State Fair crowd

This particular Saturday happened to be a record-breaking day for attendance. More than 252,000 people were at the fairgrounds that day, and let me tell you, by the time we left in the late afternoon it felt like we had shoved past every single one of those people in order to get down the street. Luckily, we arrived at 10AM and parked in University of Minnesota parking several blocks away. We had maybe an hour of enjoyable fair time before the masses started arriving and we didn’t get stuck in a traffic jam like Claire’s poor mom, who sat in traffic trying to park for an hour around noon.

Our primary objective was to eat. Well, that was mine and Joel’s priority. Claire’s priority was to go on the giant slide, which she did later after meeting up with her mom.

Blue Barn Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz

We started our day off with Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz from the Blue Barn. When I was a kid, my mom used to make the most amazing corn fritters, but hers never had blue cheese in them. Turns out, the blue cheese is EVERYTHING. This is probably the most delicious thing I ate at the fair on both days we went. According to this article, these fritters are supposed to be a staple on the menu of this chain of restaurants. I’ll be damned if I could find them on any of the menus, though. I’d definitely drive out of my way to eat them.

Minnesota State Fair Cream Puffs

Next up: cream puffs. I would personally never give these a second glance, but Joel has a serious whipped cream problem, and these are about 15% pastry/85% fresh made whipped cream. There is so much whipped cream that it’s impossible to eat without making a mess, as seen here. Claire and I both had a bite or two, but Joel took most of this down on his own. (He also ate one after the Journey concert on Monday night.)

Minnesota State Fair old times picture

Claire spends most of her playtime with friends dressing up like she’s an extra on Little House On The Prairie, so as soon as I saw the old-timey picture booth, I knew we had to do it. The problem was that all the girl costumes were super girly. The options were Victorian (with giant feathered hats and satin gowns), Civil War (with an odd lace parasol), Western (saloon girls), Formal Western (like Victorian with different hats), and Roaring 20s (flappers). Claire didn’t really like any of those girl costumes, so we decided we would all be outlaws.

Real quick, we were in line behind a woman and her daughter, both in the saloon girl costumes. When Claire was dressed, the little girl – probably about Claire’s age – turned to Claire and said, “I look pretty, not silly.” I was so taken aback that I just pulled Claire away. Little girls are so mean!

Anyway, we had so much fun doing this. It’s stupid expensive to get prints, and they have a total racket going on “accidentally” printing extras that they’ll sell to you for a “reduced price,” but it was worth every penny. Claire was really into making sure we all did the non-smiling old-timey pose. Look at her face! I was so amused I at least had to smirk, which Joel says makes me look like I’m very pleased with my wacky family.

Minnesota State Fair Corn Dogs

No fair would be complete without a corn dog. I love corn dogs! And though you can’t tell from this picture, these are gigantic. Eighteen inches, I think. It’s so much corn dog that even I, a corn dog enthusiast, had to abandon the cornbread wrapper toward the end in favor of eating the naked hot dog. Claire ate all of hers.

Minnesota State Fair kids bungee jumper

And after she ate that corn dog, Claire went on this bungee jumping thing. It was probably a blessing that we had a 20ish minute wait before her turn, as I was honestly fearful of her losing that corn dog all over the trampoline. Because she’s so skinny, Claire was in line with a bunch of much younger kids. They all kind of pussed out with the jumping, but Claire wasn’t afraid to really get up there. (She was too afraid to do the backflip she was bragging about, but who can blame her?)

Minnesota State Fair goat barn

By the time Claire got off the bungee jumper, the crowds were starting to get crazy on the midway. We hightailed it out of there and went to see the livestock. I was never in FFA, but I have always admired how handsome all the animals looked at the fair and feel a little regret that I never asked my parents to let me raise something all on my own when I was a kid. (Sporadically feeding the cows you named after the meals we would eat them for doesn’t count, mom.) After several failed attempts at petting nervous horses, Claire found a friend in this fine looking little goat.

Minnesota State Fair orange cream soda

I would normally never drink anything this orange, but I am a sucker for an old-fashioned soda and extra fond of the orange cream variety. We met up with Claire’s mom at the goat barn and conducted a kid handover, so Joel and I got to roam around a bit by ourselves. All that walking makes a girl thirsty, so our first stop was Spring Grove Soda. Our second stop involved getting a water, because nothing this sugary can ever quench your thirst.

Minnesota State Fair Minneapple Pie

How stinkin’ cute is this Minneapple Pie stand? It was easily the most adorable structure at the fair, and even if Andrew Zimmern hadn’t told us to eat one of these hand pies, I would have eaten anything with such good branding after all the other garishness I had seen all day.

Minnesota State Fair Minneapple pumpkin pie

Joel and I both opted for the pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie was hot and crispy and totally delicious, and I’m not going to lie, we went back to Minneapple Pie on Monday to try the apple. (Pic of that in the next post.) I’ll definitely be looking for Kemp’s cinnamon ice cream next time I’m at the store. I bet it would be delicious on chocolate pecan pie for Thanksgiving!

Minnesota State Fair corn on the cob

I have learned that no one in my family loves roasted corn on the cob as much as I do. I love it a lot, and getting a freshly charred, buttered, salted ear is one of the other positive things I remembered from my first visit to the Minnesota State Fair. I insisted on getting one this trip, and it was just as good as I remembered. We found a seat on a ledge right next to the stand, so close that ash from the fire rained down on our heads as we ate. I also ate this again on Monday. (And let me just point out, I had corn on the cob twice and my darling man had the cream puff twice. That pretty much sums up how we eat at our house, even if I do also have a sweet tooth.)

Minnesota State Fair photo booth

Around 3:30PM, the crowds became so terrible that everything moved at a snail’s pace. The morning cloud cover gave way to a blistering sun, and after learning that the wait for the Skyway across the fairgrounds was at least 45 minutes, Joel and I gave up and began the slow slog back to the car. At the last minute I spied a string of photo booths in an open-air arcade, and we slipped in for one last picture.

Just two days later we were back for more food and some fine classic rock, but that’s another post.

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The time I was of advanced maternal age

Without getting all TMI on you guys, my ladyparts have been malfunctioning a bit lately.

Nothing too alarming, but my cycle is all out of whack and I’m having some funky PMS symptoms that are either different or worse than I’ve ever had before. As Joel pointed out to me – smugly – this week, I’m terrible about making doctor’s appointments. I wasn’t always this way, but over the last decade I’ve wasted a lot of time in doctor’s offices only to learn there’s nothing to be done about my cold/flu/illness, and been given a lot of medication that either didn’t do anything at all or made me feel worse. So when it comes to lady problems, I just assume the doctor will be all “them’s the breaks!” and send me on my way.

However, after the fourth straight month of everything being ALL WRONG, I bit the bullet and set about finding a new OBGYN. I can’t even get into how frustrating that was, how I got referrals from friends for doctors that were covered by my insurance but couldn’t see me until Christmas and how I ended up at a clinic between a Dollar General and a Marshall’s. Modern healthcare, folks. The end result is that I did end up in front of a doctor (in said clinic that was like a depressing version of Keystone Cops), and the first thing she did was tell me that I am of “advanced maternal age” and that if I want to have babies it will a) be hard, b) be potentially dangerous for me and my potential offspring and c) I HAVE TO START RIGHT NOW OR ALL HOPE IS LOST.

Now.

I’d like to believe I am fairly intelligent, and I am also very Internet literate. At the first sound (several years ago) of my biological clock clanging away, I started looking into the stats behind having a baby at my age. Once Joel and Claire happened, and I realized that maybe one day I might want a child of my own, I started paying even more attention. I’ve read all the facts and figures and success stories and horror stories and forums on BabyCenter & etc. I also know that every woman is different, and there is no telling what it would be like for me. I also also know that having wacky periods isn’t great for future babymaking so, yes, I was planning to ask the doctor for advice on things to think about.

But.

Man.

I was not expecting the barrage of Very Serious Things to come flying at me. I was not expecting my entire appointment – which truly was about these weird periods and awful PMS – to become all about my fertility. I was not expecting strange advice from overly familiar nurses and weird tension about peeing in a cup to get a pregnancy test that I knew would prove false because, hello, I’ve had 10 periods in three months.

Prior to this appointment I was mildly concerned that I had missed my childbearing window. Suddenly, something that seemed like a nice-to-have now feels like a Very High Priority. “RED ALERT! Try to have babies now or perish!”

It feels so unfair that there’s all this pressure on us, when Joel and I have only had 10 months living in the same state. Now, on top of making decisions about what color to paint the bathroom we have to think about how seriously we want to consider children together. It’s our decision, of course, and we can choose to slough off the pressure and take our time. But it sucks that the pressure even exists in the first place.

P.S. For the record, Miss Claire has shown a lot of positive feelings about a new baby. For the first few months we lived in our house, she told everyone the upstairs spare bedroom was the baby’s room, and she’s asked me half a dozen times if I want to have a baby, and when I’m going to decide. I’m sure that her interest, like mine and Joel’s, is just a theory. When it comes right down to having a new baby (or not having one), my guess is that our feelings won’t be so cut and dried.

 

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REVIEW: Birchbox (the summer edition)

Lest anyone worry that I’ve given up my obsession with monthly subscription services, let me put your minds at ease and say that isn’t the case. Rather, I got a wee bit overwhelmed back in the days of the kitchen remodel and let things pile up. And since I don’t think it’s useful to anyone to simply post what I got without being able to give a truthful review of it, I’ve held back until now to give you the scoop.

Sure, I could drag this out in three posts, but that would just delay us further. Let’s face it, August is almost OVER people. I need to get this out of my queue so I’m ready for all the stuff that will show up in September! (Sigh. September means another Minneapolis winter is just around the corner, and I am SO NOT PREPARED.)

When you look at three months of Birchbox all in one place, it’s kind of amazing. Look at all these products I’ve tried! All these new brands of which I’m now aware! If there was ever any doubt about why it’s addicting to get these boxes in the mail every month, feast your eye on these fun things.

June Birchbox

This is the June Birchbox. It included:

  • Supergoop! Everyday sunscreen SPF 30. Birchbox sure does love themselves some Supergoop! products. How many times have they put it in my box? Half a dozen? I’m pretty sure I’ve given it a so-so review every time, and I didn’t even use this tube before putting it in the reject box. My skin is too weird about sunscreen.
  • Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. I’m really into the idea of a face cleanser that you slather on like a lotion and sponge off. Mostly, it’s because I’m lazy. Also, I hate making a mess in the sink with lathering and splashing. Seriously. I know it sounds crazy, but I hate it. Sadly, this cleanser didn’t work for my skin – even though it claims to work for everyone. My skin didn’t feel clean after, and half an hour after washing it felt sort of oily. I gave it a fair shake, but in the end it just wasn’t meant to be.
  • Harvey Prince Hello eau du parfum. I love this! I was just saying to someone that one of the things I miss most about California is my Meyer lemon tree. It produced dozens of lemons a month year-round, so I never had to buy lemons. I’d just walk outside, snag one off the tree, and be ready to go. Man, I miss that tree! This parfum has a Meyer lemon base with just a tiny hint of florals, which is perfect for me. I’m not committed to wearing a fragrance every day, but I’ve been using this on special occasions.
  • Cynthia Rowley Beauty Eyeliner. Yep, it’s another eyeliner. Straight into the reject box!
  • Davines OI All In One Milk. It’s hard to know how a haircare product will treat you with only one application. I have a lot of hair, so the sample here was only good for one go-around. I put it to the ultimate test and didn’t use anything in my hair after the shower to see how it controlled frizz and/or added shine, and I was pretty underwhelmed. My hair didn’t curl at all – which it will, with even a dime-sized dollop of my leave-in – and it was super frizzy. Maybe it could be better with repeated use?
  • Davines LOVE Lovely Smoothing Shampoo and Conditioner. These samples were big enough that I got two uses of the conditioner, and could have washed my hair with the shampoo for a couple of weeks. However, this is another of those non-foaming shampoos, which I’ve already said I don’t like.  I tried to put that bias aside and used the combo of these two products for two shampoos, and it was not good. I could barely get a comb through my hair after each time, and my hair felt like straw for the two days before the next wash. I love the branding on these products, which they sell at my salon, and have always wondered about them. I’m sad they aren’t for me.

July Birchbox

This is the July Birchbox, brought to us by Women’s Health. It included:

  • Real Chemistry Luminous 3-Minute Peel. I love getting samples like these because using them feels like having a spa day at home, but something went seriously wrong here. Admittedly, the directions say to apply to dry skin. Without thinking about it, I splashed my face in the shower, and then patted it dry before applying. I guess it was still a little damp? Maybe that’s what happened? When I began to massage in the gel, it started beading up into tiny little rubbery pellets. I kept rubbing. The pellets kept forming. And when I rinsed it off, the pellets were stuck in the fine hairs along my jawline. It was so bad I had to scrape some of them off with my fingernails, which pulled out some of those fine hairs, and it hurt. Like, really hurt! I couldn’t even get them all off with water, I had to scrub with my towel to get them to come lose. I’ve read a bunch of really glowing reviews and haven’t seen anyone with this problem, so I’m willing to admit user error. But would slightly damp skin really cause this? It was such a bad experience I threw the rest of the sample away.
  • Coastal Scents eyeshadow sampler. I almost never wear makeup, but in a former life I was part of a performance community that required exaggerated eye makeup, and Coastal Scents was my go-to brand. Their eyeshadows are high pigment and never flake. Mixed with water, I think they are every bit as powerful as MAC products (though, seriously, I know very little about makeup). I’ve recently thrown all of my stage makeup away – it was way past its six-month prime – so this little palette was a welcome hit of nostalgia. I used it for the first time on my birthday, and the colors are perfect. We’ll see if I have eyeshadow-worthy events before it gets too old to use again!
  • Beauty Protector Protect & Treat hair mask.  I received two little jars of this in my box, and had already used one – in two applications – before I took this picture. My hair felt really lovely after, soft and shiny. I just used the last bit of a different mask, and I’m very tempted to buy this one!
  • Naobay Body Radiance Lotion. The fragrance in this lotion is so delicious, a light citrus, so I really wanted to love it. However, after using it every day for a week straight, my arms (and, strangely, the insides of my knees) broke out in little bumps. They’re gone after a week back with my Aveeno Daily Moisturizer, so I feel pretty confident blaming the Naobay lotion.
  • Marcelle New-Age 8 in 1 Power Serum. Am I the only one who thinks “8 in 1″ should be hyphenated here? Anyone? It’s kind of making me crazy! I will admit that I’ve only used this serum once, and not because I didn’t like it. It’s because I also got a serum in the August box, and I also just got a full-sized bottle of Philosophy’s Time In A Bottle, which I have always wanted to try and  gets crazy-good reviews. My skin felt great after one use of the Marcelle product, though, so I’m looking forward to giving it a better shot.

August Birchbox

This is the August Birchbox. It included:

  • Neil George shampoo and conditioner. I’ve used this combo a couple of times now, and all is well. I wouldn’t say it’s been an amazing experience or anything, and I’m not going to be in the market for shampoo/conditioner for a little while, but I’m going to put these in my travel bag and be happy to have them on my next trip.
  • Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate. I’ve been giving this a try instead of the Marcelle serum from July. In the morning I’m using the Philosophy and at night I’m using this. Do I really need more than one product? Will I even be able to tell which product is making me look fabulous, should I actually look fabulous after a couple of weeks of use? I dunno. This gel does have an off-putting chemical smell, and my skin feels a little sticky until it’s totally absorbed.  I can’t see myself falling in love.
  • Benefit They’re Real! push-up liner. Okay. There is one exception to my no-eyeliner rule, and that is for liquid liner. I love a good liquid liner, and mine is about past its prime. I’m not sure I’ll get along with this one, though. I’m not very skilled at applying eyeliner, and the tip on this is a bit unwieldy. I found the size of the sample hard to hold onto. My first application did not go well, unless Sad Clown is on trend right now.
  • Dr.Jart+ BB Dis-A-Pore SPF 30. What a hilarious randomly punctuated name for a brand. The marketer in me weeps, truly. I’m not sure how I’m going to sample all these skincare products in a way that gives me any indication of their longterm benefit. I have this and the Marcelle waiting to try, and if I don’t give them at least a couple of weeks – or until the sample runs out – I don’t feel like I’m learning anything about it. I tried this once, and felt vaguely oily. It’s been hellishly humid here, though, so it’s possible I would be oily anyway. I’m putting this in line behind the Marcelle, and hoping I don’t get more competing products in September!

Whew! That’s so many things!

This month I also got rid of all the samples that either didn’t work after one/two tries or which I never used (like eyeliners). I brought it all into the office and sent an email to my female colleagues, and they snapped it all up within an hour. It was nice to be able to share!

 

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REVIEW: July StitchFix + Milestones

Today is my 39th birthday. I thought perhaps I would have a lot of thoughts about this, perhaps enough thoughts to generate an entire post. But the truth is, I’ve never really cared that much about birthdays. I mean, I like presents and special meals and attention. I took today off, got out of bed late, ordered pancakes and chicken fried steak and eggs and fried potatoes for breakfast, went for a long walk around a lake holding hands with my man, took a nap, and am now sitting on the couch with a dog at my feet and all the windows open. It’s a good day. But I don’t have a lot of stress about getting older. I might even like it!

When I logged in to start this post, I also realized that my last post was number 100. That seems significant in some way, like I should write a “things I’ve learned” post or make a goofy GIF or something. Since it’s my birthday, I think I’ll just celebrate with a glass of bubbly and cake at my fancy dinner tonight.

In lieu of any deep thoughts about getting older, I figured I would finally get around to talking about my July Stitch Fix. I skipped June so I could enjoy my summer vintage wardrobe – which is, admittedly, bigger than I had remembered – and honestly could have skipped July, but I forgot to cancel it. It was fun to see the box on the front step, and just as fun as always to dig through its contents.

At this point I can only justify buying pieces that are perfect. I have so, so many dresses. I have an entire rack of cardigans to go with them. This is pretty much all I wear in the summer so I honestly don’t need much, and I’m trying to be responsible with buying. Because of this I might have been a tad more picky about things this time around, so I only kept one piece.

 

Angie Tenessy Chevron Print Maxi Dress

Not shocking that the one piece I kept was a dress. This Angie Tenessy maxi dress is so perfect. The straps are wide enough to hide my bra straps, the waist nips in without a belt, and it’s long but doesn’t drag the floor. I love chevron stripes, and I love the green. It looks great with flats, casual sandals, and espadrilles. It can be dressed up with the right jewelry, and is insanely comfortable. I’ve already worn it twice.

Cooper and Toby refused to get out of the picture and refused to cooperate with posing. Pets!

Pomelo Spencer Striped Jersey Dress

This Pomelo Spencer dress is really cute, but has two marks against it. First, it’s really short. It’s not the kind of short that looks bad. In fact, I feel like my legs look pretty great in it! But it is the kind of short that shows my entire behind if I bend over. Second, it’s a little short-waisted and fitted in the bodice. If it shrunk even a tiny bit, I would look like a 39 year old wearing a little girl’s dress.

Pixley Dafanie Diamond Ikat Print Soft Short and Black Side Ruched V-Neck Knit Shirt

I am not a shorts girl. I haven’t worn shorts comfortably since I was a kid. I try them on every year, and last year I even bought a pair that I never wore. Still, I tried these on with hope. These little silky boxer shorts are all over the place, and I’ve been wondering if they might work for me. They don’t. These Pixley Dafanie shorts don’t look too bad in the picture, but they’re not comfortable at all. They’re actually too tight in the thighs and too short waisted.

The Pomelo Blake side-ruched shirt was another no-go. I have carefully adjusted the draping over my belly for this picture, but without such fussing the tee is tight enough that you could see my belly button.

19 Cooper Clemency Solid Tab-Sleeve Tunic

I love the color of this 19 Cooper Clemency tunic and the drape of the sleeves, but I don’t love how plain the neck is – it feels like there should be some sort of embellishment there to break up all the turquoise. It was also too tight in the hips, which has happened a couple of times now with these tunics. I simply can’t wear the ones that are straight up and down.

My August box should be arriving in the next week or so, and I’m not sure what I’m hoping for. Dresses are always welcome, but maybe it’s time to start thinking about fall? Everyone in Minneapolis keeps talking about how summer is always over, which is depressing! I want to be warm just a little while longer.

For my birthday, Joel bought me a great camera so I can start taking better pictures for this blog. Out with the camera phone, in with 20 megapixels!  I’ve still got a handful of posts to go up with photos from my Galaxy S4 or Joel’s iphone, and then we’ll give the new way a whirl.

 

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8 thoughts on 8

Claire, Huck and Cooper at age 8

This summer, all my kids are turning eight. Cooper in June, Claire in July, Huck at the end of August.

And while it might be sacrilege in some circles to equate dog birthdays with kid birthdays, my dogs WERE my kids until Claire, so I feel like I should get a pass. At least for a minute, okay? She’s growing more mature and vibrant while my sweet pups are finally starting to slow down. (Ten minutes after we snapped the picture above, though, all three of them were draggin’ their wagons on our hike.) Huck is starting to get more white on his muzzle, and Cooper hobbles around like a little old man when he first gets up from a nap. A three-mile run is getting to be too much for Huck, and a three-mile walk in the summer heat leaves Cooper panting the entire car ride home. Soon, we’ll have to ask the dog walker to ratchet down their exercise even more than he already has over the last eight months. It’s sad to think about, so I try not to.

Meanwhile, Claire is busy growing into something different, but not. She has been eight for two weeks, but sometimes when I look at her she might as well be 18. Joel was traveling this week so I didn’t see her for four days, and I swear she looks different than last time.

I hear people on the Internet like lists, so I thought I’d commemorate Claire’s 8th birthday with a list of observations:

  1. Eight has ushered in the age of secret-keeping. At some point in the middle of the last school year, Claire and her best friend started writing down secret things in an Ivy & Bean diary that we were NOT ALLOWED TO SEE. Claire carried it to school and back and wrote in it with a pencil. At a recent sleepover, she and the same friend closed the door to the TV room to do secret things, which turned out to be playing Minecraft. She has started cornering me and asking me questions about body functions – have you ever eaten so many beets that your poop was red? – and then tells Joel it’s “secret girl stuff” when he asks what we’re whispering about. She closes her door most of the time when she’s getting dressed. I am prepared any day now to learn about a secret boyfriend.
  2. I had forgotten that adult friendships and kid friendships are not that different. Which is to say: complicated. Claire has her very best friend who she will choose over all other people at any time. Sometimes, when those two are around other kids, you can see the outsiders sort of trailing along behind trying to figure out how to fit in. I’ve tried tried to talk to Claire about including everyone, but she doesn’t really see what’s happening since it’s not something she would ever do on purpose. We are presently trying to get to the bottom of what happened to Claire’s new friends in our neighborhood. For two weeks we never saw her. She would get to our house, dump her stuff, grab her scooter and off she’d go with E1 and E2.  E1 even left her a gift on our front step one day with a note about how awesome Claire was and how happy she was that they were friends. Something happened over the next couple of weeks, and we haven’t seen E1 or E2 since. Claire hasn’t asked to go over to their houses, and they aren’t scootering/biking around the neighborhood. Apparently, E1 is sort of bossy (I told you!) and never wants to play what the other girls want. But what happened to E2? Claire doesn’t want to talk about it, and seems to be hiding in the house, declining to ride her scooter on her own. We only know the other girls’ parents in passing, so how do we find out? Yesterday Claire went across the street to a different neighbor’s house and ran through the sprinkler with their kids, a 9-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy. Those kids don’t seem to be allowed out of their yard without a parent in tow, but we’ll see what happens.
  3. Last year we took Claire and three friends to an amusement park for her birthday. The aforementioned bestie, the boy from next door, and a girl who I can only describe as “challenging.” It was a rough day, freezing and rainy in July, and the kids all wanted to sit by Claire, who only wanted to sit by her best friend. At one point the kids overruled Claire’s objection to a certain ride, so she bravely stepped up to the line with them and got on. It was a mistake. She HATED IT and came off in tears. (I don’t blame her at all, I hate those rides, too.) The boy next door took a bottle of water and dumped it over his head to make her smile, and in that moment he became my absolutely favorite. I just get to see him in snippets, but he has always been so sweet and careful around her, even when they’re calling each other dumb names and chasing each other around the house. They have sleepovers and play bows and arrows and he gave her a hug and a high five after her second circus performance. At her birthday party this year, it was once again the boy next door, the bestie and a third girl friend. This time, the poor boy got locked out of the bedroom, locked out of the tent, and often told he couldn’t do something because it was “girl stuff.” And, thus begins the era of boys having cooties – at least when other girls are around. I’m sure Claire will still love him when they’re all alone, but I felt really sad watching him stand outside her bedroom door waiting for them to come out and play. They have to make it through adolescence and then teenage hormones before they can just be whatever they’ll be in life. I’m rooting for that kid!
  4. Here comes the bullying! I don’t remember getting harassed at school until I got glasses in the 5th grade, but last year Claire and I had to have a chat about how it’s not nice to make fun of kids who have “funny” voices – “but he knows his voice is weird, we’re not being mean!” – and about a month ago I found her standing in the bathroom mirror, holding her bangs back and staring at her forehead. I asked if she wanted help pinning her hair back, and she said some kid told her she had a big forehead. She most certainly DID NOT want to pin her hair back, because her gigantic forehead would then be exposed. I assured her that her forehead was just fine, and assured her again and again over the following couple of weeks whenever I would catch her looking at it. It seems to have passed, but now I’m paranoid any time I find her looking in the mirror for longer than a second. Joel just wants to find that kid and punch him/her in the face.
  5. One of my favorite parts of Claire growing up is that I get to share some of my own favorite things with her. For instance, she has gotten hooked on So You Think You Can Dance, so I save the episodes until she comes over and we can watch together. We sit on the couch with popsicles or popcorn and worry about our favorites getting kicked off the show. (Claire loves Casey and Jessica, for the record.) I usually fast forward through the judges, but Claire has started demanding that we find out what Mary has to say. Last week she wished Mary was her grandmother! It’s so fun to hear her talking about the dances – “this is hip hop, right?” “will Mary like this ballroom?” The dancers are so acrobatic and flexible and strong, which I love for her to see. She’s starting to see the connection between dance and her circus training, which is also fun. We’re planning to see the SYTYCD tour when it comes through Minneapolis.
  6. While I am guilty of expanding her dance vocabulary, I don’t know where she’s getting all her other words. I’ve never thought about dumbing down my own vocabulary to talk to her, but until recently I had a lot of explaining to do. “What’s that mean?” All of a sudden she’s operating on the same level as the rest of us, pretty much, and every now and then she pulls out a word that astounds me. Recently we went on a cave tour and she already knew half the terms. She knows biological names of insects. She understands complex concepts. She may still get stumped on silent e’s when she’s reading, but her spoken vocabulary has grown leaps and bounds in six months.
  7. Speaking of words, color me officially freaked out by the lyrics in pop music. I know! Who is this person? I’ve actually changed the channel on Ed Sheeran twice in the last week. Claire may not understand the words she’s singing from the back seat, but I do. She doesn’t know who Mick Jagger is, nor does she understand his moves, but I’m not ready to have a conversation about why you need to rub Christina Aguilera the right way. At the age of nine, my best friend Chastity and I would dance around her bedroom singing “Like A Virgin” into hairbrushes. How weird was that for our moms? There’s no way I knew what a virgin was, right? Do we switch off the radio and back to Kidz Bop? I don’t know what to do!
  8. I don’t know anything about eight or any other age, but it seems like a strange transitionary phase. One day Claire is coming home with braided bracelets around her ankles that make her look like a 14-year-old surfer girl (kid is TAN) and the next day she’s conning her grandma into buying both the camper trailer and the stable for her American Girl dolls. One day she’s talking to me about the importance of getting cars off the road to preserve the environment, and the next second she’s asking me if I’d rather be a banana or a piece of spaghetti. In a pair of short eyelet shorts and a lace-backed tank top Claire looks like she should be going off to high school, not the 3rd grade. When I met Claire she was four and a half and well on her way to independence. She still had a little baby belly and baby cheeks, but she was eons beyond babyhood and nowhere near toddlerhood. She’s not a tween. What is this weird middle phase called?

Last night we were on the couch watching “the regular show,” as Claire has started calling SYTYCD, and she wrapped her arms around me and put her head on my shoulder and asked me why I have started calling her “my love.” “Is it because you love me?” she asked. The truth is, my mom sometimes calls me that, and just like “kiddo” I’ve picked up a lot of her momisms. “Yes,” I said, because that’s also true.

Half an hour later she was on the other end of the couch shoving popcorn in her face and asked if she could hold my hand. “I love you,” she said without looking at me. I squeezed her hand and fast forwarded through Tara Lipinksi, who we both agreed was a worthless guest judge. I’m not sure what age nine will bring for us, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

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Setback or opportunity

Five weeks ago I went to a session of Moms on the Run – a running club I joined, kept meaning to write about and never got around to – and I had a mediocre run. We were doing sprint intervals. It was 6:30PM and still in the low 80s/upper 70s and it was humid. The mosquitos were out in full force. And even though I knew it would probably be a bad idea, I brought Huck along because it had rained for three days and was finally sunny and he looked super sad.

So, mediocre run. I haven’t really adjusted to the heat yet and am allergic to mosquito bites (which means they LOVE TO EAT ME), and Huck wanted to stop and pee on everything. I was the very last person to get back to the starting line, and the running coach came to look for me, worried something had happened to me back on the trail.

I probably ran six times with MOTR, and every other run was pretty terrible. The heat was a doozy, but I also had trouble with my asthma – stupid Minnesota spring/summer and all those pollens I’m not used to – and also struggled with the mild rolling hills on the trails we ran.

However, the not-bad runs were great and motivating. I ran faster than I ever have before. On a couple of occasions I was the first back to the starting point, and one time another runner told me I was an inspiration. As someone who had to walk part of the mile for the President’s Physical Fitness test in middle school, that was a pretty cool moment.

The good runs were enough to make up for the bad ones, and I started out on the trail every time believing it would be awesome. I was convinced I could find a home with MOTR, a group of women for future happy hours and commiseration about our kids. I’ve been sort of aimless on that front since moving, and I really, really wanted it to be true.

So when I woke up on Monday morning after that last terrible run with a stabbing pain in my heel, it was a blow not only to my fitness goals but also to the baby steps I had taken to find a personal network in Minneapolis. On Wednesday, which should have been another MOTR day, I instead took a slow walk on our treadmill. The pain got even worse. I use a standing desk at work, and by that Thursday was spending 80% of my time sitting in a shared workspace. On the weekend I tried more treadmill, had more pain, and turned to Google. What I have seems like a textbook case of plantar fasciitis, and everyone I’ve talked to says it’s a real doozy. It can take forever to heal, and at least one runner I talked to says it can be managed but never really goes away.

For the last five weeks the pain in my heel has been constant, to varying degrees. Instead of running I’ve been taking a barre class, walking inclines on the treadmill and swimming. Some days I wake up limping and some days I’m fine until I sit down for any length of time and then try to walk somewhere. After two weeks it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to run the half marathon that happened on August 2, and now it’s clear that I’m going to lose the last half of my MOTR summer session.

This is not the first time I have had a setback with running. In 2001, when I was first starting to be serious about it – meaning I was registering for 5Ks and making it my main form of exercise – I stepped off a curb and suffered a bad sprain. A dozen minor sprains followed, leading me to an orthopedic surgeon who told me the problem was actually in my knee, which led to minor surgery and physical therapy. Eventually I would run my first half marathon, stopping for a block at mile nine to stretch what felt like fluid out of my knees. A few years later I was spraining my left ankle every time I stepped on a crack in the sidewalk, which led to a full ankle reconstruction and three months in a cast. I’ve had terrible blisters and lost a toenail. I have asthma. I have pain in my hips after running hills.

Basically, I should stop running before it kills me.

But I love it. Nothing else feels as empowering to me as completing a long run with enough energy left to sprint to the finish. I love that feeling of running as fast as possible to the stop and the way my heart pounds and my breath comes out in ragged puffs. I like the sweat.

I’ve called myself a runner for so long that it has become part of my self definition. And, like so many other parts of me that have been redefined over the last year, I’m trying to get to a place where I can feel healthy and happy without relying on races to make me feel whole. At first I was super dramatic, like, I WILL NEVER RUN AGAIN, but that was just the heat of the moment, I think. For the last month I have tried to do something every single day, whether it’s a barre class or a hike with Joel and the dogs or a swim or walking hills for an hour on the treadmill. I’m trying to let go of the frustration of not running, and to redefine how I get healthy and feel good about myself. I’m trying to be okay with running as a sometimes sport instead of the only sport.

I’m doing okay, but every time Joel goes out and runs I want to punch him in the face. It’s not his fault that he’s built for it, that he can not run for months and then do three miles at a 7:30 pace. But I mentioned I’m competitive, right?

I just need to get over myself and get on with it.

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Explanation of absence

The fear of starting a blog is that there is never time to blog. Since the advent of the modern Internet, I’ve tried All The Things, from a personal Geocities site back in the 90s to LiveJournal in the early 2000s. I used Myspace. I was such a devoted member of an online community dedicated to a certain TV show about a teenager fighting (and loving) vampires that I wrote a book about it. I have a Tumblr, a Twitter, a Pinterest, an Instagram and a Facebook page. I connect with people on RunKeeper. I cheered on friends in the Fitbit community until the Force recall.  I have online profiles without numbers or spaces, if you get what I’m saying.

In Internet terms, I’m an old-timer. So I know how easy it is to join/start things and then stop doing them.

At the start of this blog it was easy to update, because my life hadn’t really started firing on all cylinders and I had so many feelings about so many things. Around the start of the kitchen remodel, life got real. The good news is: I’ve figured out how to prioritize writing time, and hope to update more regularly. The bad news is: there is no bad news, really.

Here’s what’s going on in our neck of the woods:

  • The kitchen/dining remodel is 92% done. We had some leftover backsplash tile and decided to use it in the corner behind the coffee maker, so a guy is coming at some point to do that. The electrician needs to come back and put in some under-cabinet lighting (also a light in the front hallway and ceiling fans in the bedrooms). We’re putting cabinet doors on a bit of open shelving, and we need to put shelves into the cabinet under the range. We need to spackle and paint the mudroom, and we need to frame/hang some art.
  • The next big house project is to eradicate all of the grandma wallpaper that still exists, and paint. I took a whack at the wallpaper in the hallways, but still have the final layer to scrape and need to hire someone to come and take care of a hard-to-reach space over the stairs. The walls of the downstairs bathroom are still covered in paste, and we need to start in on our room and Claire’s. We are mostly agreed on paint colors, except for our own bedroom, which will probably be the last frontier.
  • Claire turned 8 on July 31. Like, whoa. I have a post in progress about that.
  • I had a very disappointing change of direction in my job, which knocked me off my game for about a week. I am mostly over it and embracing new opportunities. Last week I had meetings almost every hour of the day for five days straight, which is both exhausting and stimulating at the same time. I either slept like the dead or didn’t sleep at all. At this point, I think Real Talk about work is off-limits here, but it’s definitely contributed to my writer’s block.
  • My veggie garden is not going well. Admittedly, I didn’t do any planning and was sort of haphazard in my planting. Also, I suspect everything needs more water than I’m giving it, even though I have the best intentions to be good at it. There are critters eating my leaves and other critters digging everything up on the daily. It’s too soon to call it a failure, but there are things I need to think about before undertaking this again next year. Expect a post on that soon.
  • It’s summer in Minnesota. While it is hot as blazes sometimes and the humidity is stifling, summer is pretty great. We bought tickets to see Journey and Joan Jett at the Minnesota State Fair on Labor Day, which feels like the most Minnesota thing ever and also the most appropriate summertime activity.
  • I could have sworn I posted about a new running injury, but I just checked and its been sitting in Drafts for two weeks. Oops. The lack of running has added to some body issues I’ve been struggling with recently. I try to struggle in private, because Claire doesn’t need to hear me bitching about being fat, but recently I lost it on Joel who just wanted to take the family out for ice cream. So. Those posts are also coming.
  • A new work friend invited me over and we sewed a skirt. I haven’t sewed since home-ec, but my mother gave me my grandmother’s sewing machine, and I am very interested in learning how to use it. (Claire got a sewing machine from her grandma for her birthday, so potentially we can learn together.) My dream is to be able to make lots of novelty print skirts and 50s-style fit and flare dresses. It would also be nice to feel confident mending my massive vintage wardrobe, which always needs mending! Sewing classes seem like a perfect autumn activity.
  • Speaking of autumn, I’m going to be hosting Thanksgiving for Joel’s family. This is v. v. v. exciting. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year! I love buying all the magazines, planning the menu, creating a schedule for cooking, baking pies, the whole kit-n-caboodle. I am GIDDY with the thought of using my new double ovens. GIDDY. I will make Grandma Shirley’s pumpkin pie and my favorite cornbread stuffing, but everything else is fair game. Oh, man. I am so excited to get started!

All these things have been happening, but most recently, my number one reason for not writing is that I’m television binging. I am a binger. I can binge like very few people I know, and I love every second. I’ve binged The X-Files and The West Wing and Sports Night and Greek and Orphan Black and Signed Sealed Delivered and, strangely, The Big Bang Theory. I’ve binged shows I’ve forgotten I binged. Right now I am binging The Good Wife, which has been on my list for a while, but only recently became available back to the start On Demand. I started it on the treadmill almost two weeks ago and have already taken down season one and half of season two. I’m obsessed. I want to watch it all the time, every spare minute.

Toby loves it when I binge, because I sit in the basement with him on my lap. Joel and Claire don’t like it much at all, because I sit in the basement without them. (Joel watched about 20 minutes of one episode and walked away, so I don’t think that’s happening.) I love my family, so am doing my best to restrict my binging while they’re home, but Joel has a lot of work travel this month and I am going BINGE THE HELL OUT OF THIS SHOW.

I solemnly swear I will also blog, in between life and TV. Pinky swear.

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A bad step-parenting analogy

Being a stepmother is like coming in to produce a movie after most of the major decisions have already been made. The director has been hired, the cast has been chosen, the locations have been booked, the financing is taken care of. Your job is to make sure the movie happens on time and on budget.

You can make suggestions along the way, and some of them will even be implemented or taken into consideration. You get to make the call on some things, like which caterer to hire for craft services or which limo service to use. Some days you’re the head honcho in charge, but at the end of the day the vision is the director’s.

Yet, you love the script. The script is TOTALLY AWESOME. You may never get to work on such a great script ever again in your life, and it is life-changing. You wouldn’t give up working on this film for anything in the world.

Just. Sometimes you wish your opinions had more weight, that you could express your opinion free of worry that it would cause a ruckus higher of the food chain, that you didn’t have to think so damn much before opening your mouth.

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