Monday, September 29, 2008

At Home with the Brangelinas

According to TMZ, Brad Pitt, father of the most beautiful, exotic six-pack on the planet, recently took his two oldest sons to Venice to promote his newest movie at the Venice Film Festival. (And, once again, George Clooney went without me. I’ll never understand why.)

So Angie was left in le Chateau Miraval alone for the week with four small children, an army of French nursemaids, and access to some of the finest cabernet in the world.

With Brad’s busy schedule, I bet they’re glad they moved their exponentially growing brood away from the hubbub of Hollywood to the village of Brignol, France. A village with a small-town-feel to it, I would guess, where nobody even bothers to lock their front door (or doors, or gates, or watch towers, or drawbridges) and where everyone really looks out for each other (I hear Angelina has offered to adopt every lost child who knocks on their security fence as part of her pledge as a new neighborhood block parent).

I imagine the whole town rallied as soon as the twins were born to organize meals, carpools, and babysitting for the blossoming family. Not to mention their Saturday Supper Club, who, I hear, had already made big pink and blue yard signs with Mylar balloons and streamers announcing the newest arrivals when the Brangelinas returned from the hospital with Knox and Viv. And how much fun must Maddox, Pax, Shiloh, and Zahara have every time they show off their new brother and sister to everyone they see with their mom at the grocery store. (I still remember the first time I went to Target right after Luke was born and Ellie saw a woman holding an infant seat walking in just ahead of us. She ran up to the woman and told her to look at our baby, because “our baby is cuter.” Do they have Target in Brignol?)

Living in a $60 million compound far away from the extravagance and excess of L.A., the Jolie-Pitt family will finally be able to enjoy the simpler pleasures in life they couldn’t possibly have found in any old 1000-acre property here in the States. The morning family brioche ritual just wouldn’t be as enjoyable without the dual citizenship they now have.

Yes, life is good for TMZ’s royal family living among the French, the people who love Americans the very most. It’s hard not to be a little envious of Angelina with her newly-renovated chateau, full staff that probably even mops her hardwoods, and Brad Pitt between the sheets every night. It would seem life has been a fairytale for the philanthropic princess.

But every time I find myself thinking about what a magical, perfect life she leads, I remind myself of the price Angelina has paid for her many blessings, and I can’t help but laugh.

No, I may never walk a red carpet, and I’ll probably always have to do my own laundry, but at least I can honestly say I have never been married to Billy Bob Thornton.

And I have far better taste than to shack up with a drop-out from Mizzou.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Disco (Really) Is Dead

Sitting at the dinner table a few days before school started, our family began the annual ritual of naming all the goals we had not yet achieved for the summer. Weekly trips to the library (we hit the pool), visiting museums (we saw “Wall-E”), cleaning out closets (did I mention the pool?).

And then Dave brought one up. “You never did Pioneer Week this summer, did you?” The kids dropped their forks and looked at me. They’d heard of my friend Susan’s summers with Pioneer Week, living without electricity or running water just for the experience, and they wanted no part. They held their breath waiting for an answer.

“No,” I told him, “I hadn’t even planned on it.” The kids simultaneously exhaled. “Do you really want to spend a week sleeping in the living room on straw beds with all our kids and no TV, PC, or A/C?”

“Oh, I was going to have to do it too?” he replied. “Never mind.”

Suddenly I had an idea.

“Maybe we should try ‘70’s week!” I announced. The kids looked confused. We’ve never had anything nice to say about the ‘70’s and they know it.

I continued, “We’ll watch 4 channels on the little tv in the basement and listen to the Commodores and rent a station wagon for the week!”

Four little jaws hit the table. They turned to their dad, hoping he’d get them out of this one.

“Now THAT sounds doable,” Dave agreed as eight little eyes rolled. “At least people had electricity and slept in their own beds. And you could dress like Farrah Fawcett....”

“And let my perfectly good Wonder Woman outfit hang in the closet all week?”

“That’s good too,” he conceded. “What will you cook?”

“You mean after Calgon takes me away? Oh, a starch with canned meat and gravy.” I heard Ellie gag. “But we’ll have Dinky Donut Cereal for breakfast and Moonpies for dessert!” I added. “So we’ll definitely need Pearl Drops Tooth Polish. It will make your teeth feel - - - “

“ - nnnnnng,” Dave finished. “Do they still make Tab?”

“I’ll look for Tab, Jiffy Pop, and B-O-L-O-G-N-A,” I sang. “And I will ask 7-11 let me pay 65 cents a gallon for gas in honor of ‘70’s week.”

“Go ahead,” Dave said, “But you might have trouble explaining to a cop why your kids aren’t wearing seat belts.” Then he added, “We could rent ‘Love Boat’ or ‘Happy Days’ for the kids, and I can probably TiVo some old ‘M*A*S*H’. Is ‘Rockford Files’ on DVD yet?”

“I don’t know, I think ‘Bionic Woman’ is. And ‘Captain Kangaroo’,” I said.

“That’s fine. Just no ‘Maude’,” he asked.

“I LOVE Maude!” I said, “….But I will leave Bea Arthur behind if you will go without ‘Kojak’.”

“What do you have against Telly Savalas?” He thought for a moment then smiled, “you know you’ll have to give up your cell phone.” Four little heads turned my way.

“Okay,” I conceded, “but you’ll have to give up your iPhone....and Fantasy Football.” Four little heads flipped to him.

“And Facebook,” his grin turned sinister.

The kids watched us like a tennis match.

“Ebay,” I threatened through a tight smile.

“Call waiting,” he mocked.

“Guitar Hero,” I retorted.

His eyes narrowed. “Did they have hair color back then?”

“What are you implying? My grandmother didn’t go gray until 1983.” I stated.

“When she was 68?” he asked.

“Yes, and it happened overnight,” I smiled, “And just so you know, it runs in my family!”

“What about Oprah? Wasn’t she still a news anchor in Baltimore back then?” he said.

“Whatever,” I smirked, “I’ll watch Phil Donohue. What will you do without Sports Center?”

“Two words: Howard Cosell!” he huffed. “But I bet your friends in Port Charles will miss you that week!”

“’General Hospital’ is 40 years old! And how did you know so much about Oprah?” This was getting ugly.

“No Matt Damon!”

“Or Jennifer Aniston!”




"Best Buy!"

“Tall soy mochalattes!”


“Sit on it!”

“Kiss my grits!”

“Mom?!” Amelia interrupted.

“WHAT?!” Dave and I replied.

“We’ve only got, like, three days of summer left. Couldn’t we just go to the pool like everyone else?” she said with the wisdom of Mr. Kotter.

Dave and I looked at each other.

“Fine,” I shrugged, “Anyway, I’m allergic to polyester.”

“Gloria Gaynor makes me puke,” Dave added.

So that settled it. And just like disco, this idea hit hot and heavy, but then a little punk came along and declared it was dead.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Summer Vacation Part II-IV: Clubbing, Ex-Boyfriends, and Hookers, Oh My! (Family-Friendly Version)

DAY ONE began with me and Maverick on a plane….this is how it ended, 15 hours later:

Midnight. Panic-stricken, but wearing a fabulous dress and hot sandals, I step outside a bar in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and into the rain to call my husband. Groggy voice on the other end lovingly says, “What’s going on?”

“I’m at a bar in Chicago with Michael (my little brother), Wheels (my best friend), and Ed (dear-friend-slash-old-high-school-boyfriend), and I think my wallet was stolen….I’M SO SORRY!”


“Ed’s with you?”



“Did you check with him?”

Remember, I’m standing in the rain.

“I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house alone, should I.”

“Probably not. I’ll check with Citibank. Don’t worry about it.”

I come back in to find another round of drinks on the table. Courtesy of Ed.

I get a text.

Dave: Did you get gas today?

Me: In our van?

Dave: In Chicago

Me: No

Dave: I’ll cancel our credit cards.

Me: Super. Thanks. Now go on back to bed and don’t worry about a thing. I’m in complete control up here and doing great. Love ya!

Knowing my husband could sleep soundly now, I resumed my position at the table. The bar owner narrowed down the night’s patrons to one suspect he described as “dressed like a hooker”. He offered me a shot for my troubles…I declined.

DAY TWO began without identity, cash, or sunshine. In fact, Cook County was under a tornado watch, and I was feeling rather vulnerable.

We made a quick stop by the Chicago Police Department to file a report so I could have proper paperwork in hand to board the plane home Sunday sans ID. Oh, and so the CPD could get right on that search for my wallet. I’m sure they’ll call any day now with good news.

“What can we do for you?” Officer Donohoe – a broad if ever there was one – asked.

“I need to file a report for a stolen wallet,” I replied.

“How do you know it was stolen?” she challenged.

Fair enough. “Someone started charging gas to my credit card about 30 minutes after I last saw it last night.”

She wasn’t easily convinced. “Where were you? Tell me the whole story.”

“Well, I’m here on vacation from Lawrence, Kansas. Last night we were at a bar, and my sister called at exactly 11:09 pm. She has a new a baby and never calls that late –“

“Speed it along, Dorothy.”

“Okay, I had a 15 minute window where my purse was open, and by the end, my wallet was missing and a Ukrainian Village hooker was buying gas with my credit card,” I said as fast as I could.

“Did she get your little dog, too?” she amused herself.

“Look, I just need paperwork to show airport security on Sunday so I can get on the plane to go home, since I forgot to pack my ruby slippers,” I amused myself too.

The Good Witch of the Southside granted me my wish, and Wheels and I motored to the W to get dolled up for a night of clubbing where I learned quickly not to make eye contact with any males. This is how every conversation I had with strangers that night went, and I am not kidding:

Him, with a cocktail: Hey, what’s your name?
Me, with club soda and a smile: Julie
Him, not remembering my name: Where are you from?
Me, not caring what his is: Kansas
Him, showing off his genius IQ: Are you on vacation?
Me, showing off my power to repel: Yes...I’m married and have four kids.
Him, standing there:
Me, leaving there: Nice to meet you!

DAY THREE I bought the most fabulous yellow giraffe-print purse thanks to my very patient brother who loaned me cash and drove me around.

Wheels, Michael, Ed, a few other friends, and I ended the night at a bar in Bucktown. I wanted to stop time and bask endlessly in the glow of the unadulterated bliss of reliving the happiest of my teenage years, but my plane was leaving in just a few hours. So Wheels and I hopped back to Wrigleyville for a quick nap at Michael’s where I weighed the possibility of moving to Chicago so I could buy a boatslip on Lake Michigan for happy hour and rock the street festivals every weekend.

Too soon, though, the Wizard showed up with his balloon to take me to Midway (okay, it was a cabbie). And after an uncomfortably thorough screening at security, during which I pleaded with the officials to let me on board in spite of the fact that the only ID I had was a very expired passport, a Facebook page, and a tattoo, I was sound asleep on my plane back to Munchkinland, where the Acting Mayor was waiting with open arms and four citizens in tow. Glinda was right, there really is no place like home.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Summer Vacation Part I: Cruising Altitude

As the mother of four kids, I was moved to tears this past Christmas when my husband gave me a trip to Chicago – ALONE! I planned for months, eagerly anticipating time away from my house and kids to play with friends in the Windy City this summer, but I didn’t realize the fun would begin before hitting cruising altitude…

I was 50 pages into a smutty novel about a dysfunctional fiancé who, at that point, was fighting with her mother about the wedding dress, when the plane began to taxi before takeoff. Just then a baby two rows up started to cry. I closed my eyes and smirked, happy to be free of responsibility for the weekend, when I heard the passenger to my right snicker.

I turned toward him with a grin and tried to respond, but when we locked eyes I was stunned to see a familiar smile on this stranger, that of Tom Cruise!

“You have kids?” he asked through his Tom Cruise smile and Tom Cruise eyes. My jaw hit the runway.

Can you handle the truth? I wondered to myself before regaining composure, “yes, I have four.”

“Wow! Four kids. I have one, a daughter. I always feel so bad for parents traveling with their kids, it’s so hard….” Do you know you look just like Tom Cruise, therefore I'm not listening to anything you say? “….but she’s a great traveler now. Do you work outside the home?”

“Oh, uh, no. I do enough inside the home right now. But my baby goes to Kindergarten this fall, so we’ll see what happens next.” You complete me.

“Raising four kids has got to be enough to keep you busy. My ex-wife…” Ex? When did that happen? What was Katie thinking? “…which keeps her really busy. Are you on vacation alone?”

Yes, do you want to come too? “Yes, I'm visiting friends. What about you?”

“I'm going on to Providence for a wedding. One of my buddies is getting married…” Where are your Ray Bans? In your carry-on? “… I've been in Kansas the past year for military officer training…” Hold on – a year? How on earth did I not notice? “…was just promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.”

“Where are you based?” Like, exactly what is your address, and how do I get there?

“I'm based in San Diego.…” I subtly put away my book. I would catch up with Fat Bride someday when Ugly Passenger was seated next to me. Right now I was all about Tom Cruise. “….Marine Corps for 16 years.”

“So, how did you like Kansas?” I attempted to joke. He laughed. I died. It took all my self-control to keep from jumping on my seat a la Oprah.

“It's a lot different from San Diego, for sure. I'm a fighter pilot, (of course you are) I fly helicopters. (of course you do) So pilot training kept me busy…” I bet you do your own stunts too. “…the thing I missed the most, though, was my motorcycle. I love riding it, especially along the ocean, but there’s no way I could have had it here in Kansas this winter.”

Fighter pilot? Motorcycle? Suddenly the theme from “Top Gun” was blazing through my head.

I tried to talk over the music, “My seven-year-old son wants to be a pilot, but he’s already in glasses.”

“I was too,” Tom confessed to me, pointing to his beautiful Tom Cruise eyes. “But I had corrective surgery…” hold on, I’m still riding with you on the motorcycle, “…there are two kinds of surgery, but only one is approved….” take my breath away “…get the military to pay for it.”

“How much longer do you have in Kansas?” K-Mart sucks.

“Just two more weeks, then I'm back home.” Two weeks?!? I feel the need, the need for speed!

The flight attendant came with the drink cart. Please sing to me about how I lost that lovin' feelin’ and then buy me a ginger ale???

He handed me my drink without a serenade. “I’ve got 4 years left before I can retire, and…” show me the money, ”…with my daughter, but there aren't any guarantees.”

”What will you do after you retire?” I asked, hoping the answer was along the lines of moving to Kansas where he'd spend retirement as my pool boy….although we don't have a pool.

He smiled at me again, with Tom Cruise’s lips and Tom Cruise’s teeth and Tom Cruise’s eye wrinkles and Tom Cruise’s hair, “I don't know yet, but I have a few ideas…”

That’s okay, Maverick, you had me at “hello.”

Monday, September 1, 2008

Endurance: The Interactive Update

After complaining for 2 ½ straight hours that she hadn’t seen any mountains since crossing the state line, Caroline was more than ready for her first hike. We meandered aimlessly around greater Colorado Springs, before stumbling upon Garden of the Gods where we finally stopped.

For the first (long) quarter mile of the otherwise very pleasant walk, the little five-year-old cross we bear provided running commentary on which rocks she would like to climb. I tried to explain to her that no one was allowed to climb the rocks because it was too dangerous.

“Then why is SHE doing it?” Caroline asked, pointing to a woman repelling back down from a 40-foot climb.

“Because SHE brought her equipment, crew, and permit,” I answered, “Did YOU bring a rock-climbing permit?”



“Do you have freckles in any of your armpits?”

We walked on until we came to a massive red rock formation where Caroline marched up to the guard rail and, using circular breathing, explained her deep desire to climb the several-stories-high rock before us with passion and conviction and without stopping. I gently, and with great love and patience, pointed to the sign she couldn’t yet read that clearly stated “No Climbing”, and we all continued along the path.

At least, five of us did. Caroline stopped in her tracks. “Fine. If I can’t climb a REAL mountain on a REAL hike, I’m leaving!”

At this point, we five remaining family members performed a very Brady pivot-turn in the direction of the rebel yell with such perfect synchronicity, there’s no way, even with rehearsals, we could ever repeat it. I swear I heard a family from Utah applaud for us. But Caroline missed the move as she was walking back down the path, I assume to the car where she was going to troll the parking lot looking for the ever-elusive Delaware license plate before putting in a movie and polishing off the rest of the Twizzlers, and was a good 20 yards away. We watched, frozen in disbelief as she kept on walking without looking back. In the 15 seconds or so that none of us spoke or moved while we watched her make her way closer to the parking lot, I deeply regretted the hours we spent on endurance training and longed so badly for the days when I could strap her in a stroller and keep moving. I also regretted heeding the pediatrician’s advice to leave the duct tape and Benadryl at home, lest I get tempted to use it for evil.

With our youngest child now 50 yards away and determined to leave, I finally broke the silence with words I refuse to put in writing. Let’s just say I made the family from Utah very uncomfortable, but in the end Caroline fully understood she was going to finish the hike – and the vacation – with her family who, at best, tolerated her.

And on we marched through the majestic red rocks while “Sweet (Mother of God Where Did This Child Come From?)” Caroline told all within earshot about what a scam hiking in Colorado had turned out to be.

“You can’t even climb any mountains and nobody gets to climb on rocks and there is dirt everywhere and it’s getting my crocs all messy…”

We soon found a trail that headed up rocky terrain, and Caroline, for the first time since viewing the Magpie Exhibit in the visitor’s center, was in her element. All four kids climbed fearlessly and without looking back at their parents, impersonating Bear Grylls all the way to the top but (thankfully) without eating any worms or drinking their own pee along the way.

The next day we made our way to Estes Park where, accommodations aside, we had a fantastic time doing all things Colorado from fishing and horseback riding to an evening with a John Denver impersonator who made my Mom cry when he sang “Annie’s Song”. Okay, he made me cry too.

By the end of our stay Caroline and her entourage had finished two more steep hikes in the Rocky Mountains like pros, both along waterfalls and both more beautiful than words or pictures could describe, so I won’t even try. John Denver nailed it when he sang about “the serenity of the clear blue mountain space” as every step really was filled with wonder, especially with Caroline leading the charge.