Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Dress

“Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one." --Godey's Lady's Book, 1849

I started my wedding planning with the most logical step: trying on pretty dresses. It's no secret that I'm a 36 year old woman planning my second wedding. Both of these things made my perspective different than the 20-somethings with whom I shared dressing rooms last Friday. Because I live 2,000 miles from my sisters and mom, I asked my mother-in-law to-be to accompany me to the dress shop and offer second opinions. We were greeted by three saleswomen as soon as we walked in the door. They immediately asked to see my ring and the gushing began. As I perused racks and racks of gowns, I got caught up in the excitement of it all. I'm going to be a bride! I'm getting married! Every kind of wedding dress, from less formal destination gowns to real-life princess dresses with poofy skirts and cathedral trains, hung in waiting! Thankfully, the 30-something in me remained in tact and I narrowed my search within minutes, ruling out anything with big skirts or big price tags.

There were two other brides in the dressing area and both appeared to be early-20s. I wanted to say what my biology professor said on the first day of freshman lecture to drive home the idea that it was a hard class designed to weed out the not so smart kids: "Look to your left, now look to your right. Only one of you will be here next semester." With only a fifty-percent marriage success rate, this dressing room was like a freshman lecture hall--one of these dresses would no doubt end up on e-bay within two years. I returned to my own fitting and ran interference on the over-zealous clerk who tried to bring a $1,700 dress into the room. I told her I didn't want to try on anything over $500 because I would end up liking the most expensive one. "Maybe just to see the style?" she replied. I smiled and channeled Emily Post, saying, "I have a specific price point in my budget that I'd like to stick with."

I tried on five dresses that afternoon and discovered that I liked sleeveless bodices with ruching on the waistline, a-line skirts, and just a sweep of a train. The wily saleswoman slipped in a $700 dress that indeed turned out to be my favorite. It was a good start!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Arrival

I've told everyone but the AP wire service by now that I am engaged to be married. I'm stil in that giddy, starry-eyed phase before the real planning begins; the perfect time to pause and appreciate the moment. Sometime last year--it's hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened--I crossed the threshold into a balanced and happy, quasi-normal life. The better part of my 35 years has been spent pursuing perfection and feeling like a failure. No matter how hard I worked, or how much success I had, I felt like a fraud waiting to be discovered. I drove myself, and at times all those around me, crazy. Finally, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, combined with some really great therapy and a change of scenery, I truly believe what my parents told me: that just being me is enough.

A dear friend once told me that I needed to view myself as a woman who stands at the doorway of a beautiful home that I call my own. And when a man wants to meet me, they have to walk up the driveway and knock on my door. Sitting by the window, and then rushing down to meet the first person that pauses at my mailbox will never work. This was the best advice. It was only when I felt at home with myself that I could invite someone over. My fiance is just that person. He is good and kind and warms my heart and hearth with love and laughter. I feel as comfortable with him as I do with my friends and familiy. In short, I finally feel at home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Political Crush

I am in love with a complicated, charismatic man with a very high profile career. As such, I have to share him with audiences around the world, his constituents both local and across the globe, and wait hours on end just to have a little, as they call it in the business, "face time." So, when President Clinton made a stop in Iowa City to campaign for Hillary, I was beside myself. He was coming. To my city. No admission fee. I started planning my wardrobe immediately. I wanted to look classy but liberal; feminist chic. My boyfriend is a fervent democrat as well, and, though he'd never admit it, has a secret crush on Clinton as well. He got the night off so we could go see Bill together. I felt like a girl with two prom dates; one would pick me up and I'd meet the other at the dance.

After we parked the car, got frisked by security, and found a spot among the standing room only crowd in a ballroom adorned with "Hawkeyes for Hillary" banners, we joined the liberal buzz and waited for Mr. Clinton to arrive. He was 45 minutes late due to an early midwestern snow storm, but we didn't care. When he finally arrived, the crowd went wild. He was a rock star back in the days of MTV campaign appearances, and he was a rock star now, albeit a grayer, more work-worn version. I craned my neck and stood on tippie toes to see the podium while my 6'4" boyfriend snapped photos above the crowd.

For the next 50 minutes, we were taken back to the days of his State of the Union speeches. He spoke without notes, crafting an articulate argument for electing Hillary and demanding change for our country. In classic political style, he also led us down democratic memory lane, recapping some of his achievements in office. It was a brilliant combination of humility--"I'm just here to tell you what I know about Hillary" to the cocky, "Everyone knows I'm better than you, George Bush."

Because it was his last stop of the night, he promised to stay and shake hands. As the crush of democrat groupies made their way to the stage, my aforementioned 6'4" boyfriend cleared the way for me. I brought my copy of Giving, his latest book, and waved it in the air hoping to make eye contact. And we did! He raised his head (in recognition?) and beckoned me to the front with his large powerful hands. Oh my God, he is beckoning me to the front. People looked back to see who the President had selected from the crowd. I was Courtney Cox in the Bruce Springsteen video! My mind was racing, searching for just the right thing to say to my political crush. What could I say? "I really appreciate what you did for the Kosovars" or the standard Emily Post, "It's an honor to meet you Mr.President." I was almost within reach, flashing an expectant and giddy smile and passing my book to him, when a secret service agent stepped in front of me, grabbed my book, and said, "I need to take that please." But wait! I wanted a personal autograph! I wanted us to have our moment where I say my line and then he asks me my name. I wanted him to reach into his suit coat for a pen and inscribe my book with a personal message while I stood in deference. But Secret Service man left me flustered, so much so that when President Clinton reached out his hand, I pointed to the agent behind him and said, "He took my book!"

He took my book? That's what I had to say to the former most powerful man in the world? Not missing a beat, Bill shook my hand, smiled, and thanked me for supporting Hillary before moving on. I was frozen. I wanted it to be special, memorable. I moved away from the crowd, stood on a chair and searched for my boyfriend. I found him standing at the other end of the line, waiting for his turn with Bill.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Alone, together

Even though I live with my boyfriend, one of my favorite times of day is 6:00 a.m., when my alarm goes off and I have the house to myself before my partner wakes up. I know, I know--I spent years living alone and am so happy to share my life, home and time with someone else. But I still need my time alone. Just as he needs to wind down at night after I go to bed by killing Germans in an X-box simulation of WWII (News Flash: We won the war), I like to wind up by taking the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, pouring my first cup of coffee, watching the previous night's re-run of Sex and the City, writing emails, doing homework, and whatever my solitary self desires. I have never expressly told my partner that I have a morning "routine" that does not involve him; it's just what happens. He sleeps in, exhausted from the battle theater, and I wake up, ready to live a faux single life.

You can imagine my surprise when, a few days agoe, I returned from walking the dog to hear someone whistling in my kitchen. I peered around the corner and it was him. In the kitchen. At 6:30 a.m. He smiled and said, "Good morning, honey, I made your coffee!" I pasted on a smile and said, in a thin voice, "Oh, that's sweet. Aren't you tired?" Read: "What are you doing in my house?" He thought it would be nice to spend some time together before we started our day since we'd had an especially busy week. There was no way to counter that with, "I really prefer to be alone with my thoughts until I've had two cups of coffee" without sounding like an asshole. So, we made breakfast together, I took a deep breath and pulled two coffee cups from the cupboard, and spent the next few hours waking up with my loved one.

And this is the best and worst part about growing older. I spent my entire 20s doing anything to not be alone and grabbed onto anyone who would fill the space. And then, just when I have this whole "being true to myself" and being comfortable in my own skin thing down, I meet another evolved 30-something that I really dig. Ultimately, I feel that I have the best of both worlds. I have a partner with whom I am comfortable spending time together, doing things together, or sometimes just sharing a space. And I have to admit: Even when I am downstairs living my faux single life, it's nice to know there is a real partner upstairs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wish Lists

Last night my sister MaryAnne shared her kids' (ages 8, 9 1/2,and 14) Christmas wish lists. These lists say so much about each of their personalities. Brody, the 9 year old, is an outdoor enthusiast, Bridget, the 8 year old is the sassiest girl you'll ever meet and fully expects to get whatever she asks for, in life and under the tree! And Jessie, the teenager's list is just what you'd expect from any girl that age--No toys, just skinny jeans and Hollister tees.

They reminded me of my own childhood, writing letters to Santa and then putting them in the woodstove where they would float up the chimney, out into the night sky and blow to the North Pole where Santa would magically piece it back together to fill my wishes. Or so my mother told me.

If you're thinking of making a wish, follow these kids' advice and include whatever your heart desires. Santa just might take note:

A 9 1/2 year-old wish list:
1. Webkins Bear or Lion
2. Red Dirt Bike chest Pads
3. Red Dirt Bike Boots
4. Gold Kit (panning)
5. Animal Skinning Kit
6. Books
7. Wii
8. Knifes
9. Pup tent or a big tent
10. clothes
11. bow
12. Drum Set

8 year-old Wish List:

1.Christmas Brat doll Cloe
3.razer cell phone/camera phone
4.Wii for me
7.New Shoes
8.alarm clock
9.cds Bed Spered/plow+sheet+skirt
11. real make up not lil girl kind iteams items
14.don't give me so much candy
15. I know you are my Parents

14-year old list:

1. Clothes

Sunday, November 25, 2007


This afternoon as I headed to campus to study for my statistics class and officially say goodbye to Thanksgiving break, I got pulled over. As soon as I saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror, I knew I had been speeding. I also happened to be talking on the phone, which probably didn't help my case. In my defense, I was talking to the director of the Iowa College Foundation where I volunteer my time as a College Coach to high school students. Yes, that last sentence is a shameless plug to prove that I am a good person in many ways, if not a prudent driver.

At any rate, I pulled over and reached into my glove box for my registration and into my backpack for my license. The funny thing is that, unlike the other few times I have been pulled over in my life (for speeding as well), my heart would race, I would get teary and begin pleading as soon as the officer walked toward my car. This time, however, I was calm. When asked if I knew why I had been pulled over (why do they say that? Are they baiting us? Hoping we'll say, "Ummm....because I haven't paid taxes in ten years? Have a warrant for my arrest in another state? Going 27 in a school zone?) I said, "Because I was speeding and talking on my cell phone while doing so?" Yes, exactly. I handed over my registration and he said that he was giving me a ticket because I passed two signs telling me the correct speed. I said, "Fair enough" and waited for him to write the citation.

In years past, I would have tried a combination of ignorant victim and used my feminine wiles to try to get a warning instead. But what's the point in that? I'm not a victim and I certainly don't want to be a cliche woman in distress. I was driving a Chevy Pickup for God's sake; I'm hardly a weakling. The only thing that makes me nervous is the thought of going home and telling my boyfriend, who works in the auto insurance industry, that our fabulous insurance rate is going to increase. I may need those feminine wiles after all...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Home for the Homicides

In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous, and therefore a television series highlighting such crimes should be aired over the Thanksgiving holidays. Wednesday night, as I sliced apples and spiced pumpkin for pies, TNT announced a Law and Order SVU marathon to air all day Thursday. Homicide for the Holidays? I am a huge Law and Order fan, and was excited at the prospect of 24 hours of Benson and Stabler apprehending sexual predators with the help of Ice-T. But as I watched the first episode (Benson goes undercover to catch a recently paroled rapist) it didn't feel quite like the holidays I remember from childhood, sitting at the table watching my mom make pies and homemade hot rolls. Ok, that part isn't true--we weren't allowed in the kitchen when my mom was cooking lest we screw up her perfectly-timed cooking schedule. She had not discovered the joys of Zoloft yet, so we didn't enter that room unless we were packing heat like Detective Benson. Aside from that, the holidays were lovely.

This Thanksgiving was the first in my new house with my new boyfriend and his family. I was up early, prepping the turkey while watching another episode of SVU. It seemed appropriate to watch crime on television as I proceeded with the blood-letting of a giant bird. As the relatives arrived and I pulled my first turkey out of the oven (it was perfect thanks to mom and MaryAnne's expert advice), however, I changed the channel to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. There may be heinous acts on this show as well--think High School Musical in Santa hats--but it's tradition. And I'm thankful for that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

About that Chicken

As usual, I somehow managed to turn a simple roast chicken into a near mental breakdown. All was well on Saturday afternoon, watching football with my beau and his parents while preparing a lovely fall dinner of roast chicken, roasted brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes with pumpkin ice cream from our local ice cream shop for dessert. I trussed and salted the chicken and set the timer for an hour. One hour later my world caved in around me. I asked my beau's dad if he would carve the chicken and, in the process, he remarked that "this one must be a stewing hen!" followed by, "My dear, the blood has settled in the thigh and she's not done yet." What the hell does that mean? Stewing hen? Settling blood?

Immediately, I started spiraling in a self-loathing tornado. Tears pooled in my eyes much like the blood in the chicken's thighs. I swear if that chicken's head were still attached, she would have looked over at me and mouthed the words, "Yes, you fool, the sky is falling."I pulled my beau aside and whispered, "I have made this twice before and this never happened and now it's ruined when your parents are here!" to which he replied in his logical tone,"Honey, it's fine. We'll fix it," to which I replied, "It's not fine; it's ruined and now what are we going to eat?" Just then, his dad turned to me with his hands full of chicken entrails and said, "Well, here's part of your problem: You forgot to clean out the cavity and she's a big one!" His mom commenced with the chicken triage, saying, "I do this all the time" while she heated the undercooked parts.

I'm still standing in the middle of the kitchen fighting back tears while Kyle looks at me. I know what he is thinking but afraid to ask, so I answer his silent question, "Yes, I took my medication today. The pre-medication Sherri would have thrown the chicken in the garbage, run upstairs and flogged myself Medieval-monk-style." He smiled at me and at that moment, I managed to dosomething that I have just recently learned to do in the face of failures large and small: I stopped spinning, wiped my tears and shrugged it off, realizing that a four-pound undercooked chicken with bloody thighs is not the stuff that failures are made of.

Dinner turned out fine and I was reminded that while I may never shed all of my hard-wired, uptight, emotionally intense personality, I have learned to put things in perspective with a little pharmaceutical help and a partner to laugh with me.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


This is the first day of a ten-day Thanksgiving break. A break from class, teaching, statistics, research, and catching the bus. This semester has flown by and while I still have to do homework over the break, I am giving myself the weekend to relax and enjoy some simple pleasures. Watching E! News Weekend while drinking a pot of coffee (I didn't say I was taking a break from my caffeine addiction!), playing with my puppy, and, my favorite, pouring over my cookbooks for new winter recipes. Most of my girlfriends are fellow foodies, and I call on them when I have questions or need ideas. When I need a fabulous veggie idea, I call Sharri, Tenley is my go-to for simple dinners and fun appetizers, and Christian is my gourmet guru. Earlier this fall when a fresh chicken stared me down in the freezer, I called Christian for a recipe. Appropriately titled "My favorite simple roast chicken," this recipe reminds me that the most delicious things are often the most simple to prepare.

And it was! I was skeptical at first, thinking surely it needed garlic, onions, some other spice. But Christian, knowing my obsessive tendencies, admonished me to just follow the recipe and not mess with it! So I did. And it was perfect. Now, it's part of my repertoire and one of my boyfriend's favorites, which also says a lot since he is from the Midwest and considers chicken "vegetarian."

So, I'm off to pat and truss my chicken!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Puppy Parenting

Last spring, after years of dog allergies, I found the perfect, hypoallergenic puppy and immediately took him home. Before I became a dog owner, I was annoyed by people who would refer to themselves as "mommy" or "daddy" when referring to their relationship to a canine. A dog is a dog, not a human, and should be treated as such. But from the moment I took little Cooper out of his cage at Petland, he was mine. Perhaps it was the fact that he was half-price, or that he licked my face (another thing I swore I would never let happen!), but I loved him instantly.

Cooper and I take regular trips to Thornberry Dog Park, where he runs with other dogs under 18" tall. I let him off his leash and sit with the other "mommies" on a doggie play date. And, like moms whose children have opposable thumbs, the conversation centered on toy safety and potty training tips.

Last night, as he chased and sniffed and performed other dog rituals, I found myself watching and worrying. Do the other dogs like him? Why isn't Cosmo the Cockapoo playing chase with him? Why is he running along the fence all alone? Is he happy? I realized that I wanted him to be a cool kid on the playground, and to be cool involves being in the thick of the pack. For the next 45 minutes, I obsessesed over Coopers socialization. Surely dogs need validation from the pack to feel accepted and valued, right? Or, should I be proud that he is confident enough to run on his own, discovering all kinds of leftover scents along the perimeter?

Thankfully, before I obsessed any further, I looked up to see him engaged in a full-blown game of "Who's the Dominant Doggie?" I sat down and watched him play until he ran up to me, signaling that he was ready to go home. Good boy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Facing my Failure Demons

It was a dark and stormy night. Millions of bloggers sat at their computers, fingers flying in stream of consciousness writing. They paid no attention to the raging wind outside because they had stories to tell, observations to share, rants to rant, and yes, posting photos of little Jimmy wearing his first real lace-up shoes for relatives far and wide to see. On this same night, I was also at my computer, but instead of writing, my fingers were frozen with fear. Were there ghosts on the keyboard? A trip wire in the motherboard? I ran from my computer and looked in all my closets, turned on all the lights, checked for burglars in the basement. Alas, the house was safe. I returned to my blank laptop screen and the chill returned. The demon wasn't in the house, it was in my head. And it was that old familiar ghoul: A big, hairy, googly-eyed monster that lurked in the back of my mind, whose only words were "You're a failure! MOOOUUUHHHAAAHAAAAA!"

What is so scary about writing a blog entry, you ask? Good question. A year ago, I started a blog as a way to process my emotional journey preceding the move to Iowa. I'd been through a psychological and emotional ordeal and needed to use my old stand-by humor as a way to make sense of it and move on. I enjoyed writing and shared it with my family and friends. And then, that pesky homework got in the way and I was immersed in school. I didn't have time to write and revise regular vignettes of my dating past and evolving present. So I stopped. Wrote nothing. Because if I couldn't do something perfect, I wasn't going to do it at all, right? And, what's more, I had determined that my blog was going to be a certain way and, again (notice the pattern, Dr. Rice?), once I start something, I can't change it. The same thinking that had threatened to destroy me a few years ago was rearing its ugly head in even the most mundane tasks. My sisters and friends kept encouraging me to "just write something," but what if it turned out like my childhood journals that I destroyed ten years later when I read them and thought I was stupid? What if, horror of horrors, it wasn't good enough? The other part of this frightening mindset is that I couldn't tell anyone my fear that my blog was a failure. I was lurking in the shadows of my own self-defeating attitude. And that, my friends, is the scariest part of all.

Last week I had the good fortune to see a dear friend and confidant and she asked about my blog. She is one of those friends with whom I've shared absolutely everything. I finally admitted that I was afraid to be a blog-failure. Once I said it out loud, I realized how silly it seemed. Who was I going to disappoint? A blog is basically a diary. I don't have a national circulation; there are maybe five people who read it besides me, and half of those are relatives. So, here goes: I'm saying BOO! to my inner self-doubt and will use this blog as I'd orginally intended--to chronicle my journey toward getting my PhD, living with the love of my life, and housebreaking a puppy. And that's not scary at all.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nailing My Self-Esteem

The moment had come. After years of poor decisions and disappointing romance, I had a real date on a Friday night. A nice, attractive, funny, intelligent, gainfully employed man my age was taking me to dinner. I had not been on a real date in four years. After I hung up the phone, I commenced the preparations. In just one week I would have my coming out as a 30-something who dates. A dating debutante, if you will. Where to begin? Even in my darkest hour, I always managed to maintain my roots and get a healthy cut every 6-8 weeks. I had "these make my butt look good" jeans, strappy sandals, and fun dangly earrings. And then I looked down at my hands. After digging my way out of a dark and muddy depression, I looked down at my cuticles and found that all this clawing had made them ragged. What better way to usher in a new chapter of self-love than a manicure?

Feeling hard-as-nails a' la Sally Hanson, I decided to forgo the usual filing and polish and get a whole new set of nails. You know the kind: those clean, french manicures with perfectly straight tips and a tough acrylic finish. I called around for an appointment and found that the best salons were booked through the end of the month. At this point, I reverted back to the old Sherri. If the best required a wait, I would work my way down the list until I found someone who could give me what I wanted right away. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that my old "walk-in self-esteem" was driving my decisions until I found myself flipping through back issues of Hairstyle magazine at La'James School of Cosmetology. Suddenly, I felt as thought I was lying in sheets smelling of stale cigarettes when I'd booked a non-smoking room. I was not where I wanted to be.

My nail technician greeted me in the waiting room. "Come on back and let Tavita take care of you!" TaVita was a 45 year old divorcee with four children who specialized in airbrush nail art. Her own nails reached nearly 1/2 inch ("business length") and were adorned with delicate butterflies and a tiny spider on her pinky nail, complete with a web. Because it was my first visit, she offered to paint my own eight-legged friend on the nail of my choice, complimentary. My new, enlightened and self-loving brain wanted to say "No, thank you, I don't care for nail art," but I chickened out and told her I suffered from arachnophobia.

For the next hour, I listened to her life story, which included heart failure at 35 ("I died on the table three times, thank you Jesus, he brought me back!"), her boyfriend who didn't like her going out with her friends ("Man's 45 years old and act like he can't open a can of beans without me"), and her frustration that she has to get a license to practice what she's been doing for years ("Been doin' my cousins' nails since I was 16). Instead of sitting back and being pampered, I found myself counseling her, agreeing that it must be frustrating to have to pay for a license to practice what she already knew, but now she could be official, open her own business, and have an excuse to get out of the house (wink, wink). We also talked about her penchant for Burger King and I suggested that even "flame broiled" may not prevent heart disease.

As she painted French tips on my new acrylic nails with what I can only guess was a bottle of white-out left over from her days at Trend Business College, I realized that I was doing it again: Building a relationship with someone I barely knew, who had not asked me anything about myself, and hoping I could change her. I looked around the room at the other beauty students realizing their foil-wrapped and highlighted dreams, and knew I had settled once again. No one in that room knew who I really was! Tavita might have experienced near death by Whopper, but I was a survivor too! This morning in the salon was supposed to mark my debut as a new, long-wearing woman!

Tavita snapped me out of my reverie when she took my hand and said, "Come on, you sure you don't want a teeny little spider on your pinky?" I stood up and said, "No, Tavita, I don't want a spider on my pinky. It's just not my style." After fishing out enough bills to pay because my nails were too long to pull my credit card out of my wallet, I walked out the door, got in my car, fanned my hands out in front of me and burst into tears. Was I just destined to settle? Was my low self-esteem as stuck in my psyche as this acrylic was to my nail beds? And then, I did something I'd never done before when I was in the throes of despair: I called someone for help.

My sister Sara answered on the second ring. For those of you who don't know Sara, suffice it to say that she always knows what to do and has enough self-confidence and take no prisoners attitude for the both of us. If I wore those goofy rubber bracelets, mine would say "WWSD" What Would Sara Do? I explained my situation and, after she finished her raucous bout of laughter, she said, "Ok, here's what you do. You hang up the phone, dial 411 and ask the operator for the nearest nail salon, and then call me back when you get there." Ok, ok. This was a plan. I stood in front of "Modern Nails" and rang Sara. "Modern Nails? Are there Asian nail technicians? If there is someone whose name is Nguyen or Tran, go in." Anh Dung, the Vietnamese nail technician (whose name, incidentally, means "heroic"), greeted me with, "You need nails?" I sat down at his station and held my nails out for his inspection. I was ready to launch into a long explanation when he interrupted me, looked me in the eye, and said, "Where you get this?" I told him in a barely audible whisper, "La'James Beauty School" and he clicked his tongue and said, "Criminals." For the next 30 minutes, I was treated to an expert manicure with perfect acrylic french tips. I paid my $26.50 and called Sara to tell her it was a success, to which she replied, "Of course it was, dumb ass. Now don't ever settle for beauty school again."

At 7:30 on the dot, Mr. Real Date walked into the restaraunt. I reached out to shake his hand, praying he would notice my shiny new nails and good butt jeans. And then he did something that hadn't happened in a very long time. He looked me in the eye and said, "You look beautiful." Finally, I nailed it.