Category Archives: My ghetto-fab life

How to Impress Your In-Laws.

Well, hi there! You haven’t changed one bit. I apologize for the unannounced summer hiatus– but now that fall is here, let’s get back to our normally scheduled programming, shall we?

We’ll pick up right where we left off: when my in-laws came to visit. Now, when I was in college, my Daddy would periodically sit me down, look me hard in the eyes and remind me that you marry the family. It was his mantra—honey, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your husband’s family. Make sure you like them. I am deliriously thankful that I genuinely adore the family that became mine when Kellan and I said “I do”—in no small part because the thought of pretending to enjoy people for the rest of my life is positively exhausting.

Russ and Gina arrived in Albany on a Friday night. Now, let’s you and I get one thing straight: there are only two men on the planet that I will make a Key Lime pie for, Russ and my Dad. Frankly, I have neither the time nor the inclination for dessert that isn’t chocolate, but for the fathers in my life I gladly make an exception. Thus, 10:00 PM the night before the Dickens arrived found me baking a homemade key lime pie with a mind-numbingly divine graham cracker walnut crust that made the whole house smell of heaven by way of Amish country. Unfortunately, one clandestine bite of the startlingly bitter filling had me promptly scraping the entire thing out of my cheery red pie plate and straight into the trash. I started all over again at 11:30 because PETERSONS DON’T MESS AROUND WITH THEIR PIES.

Russ and Gina landed, and proceeded to ooh and ahh over our [SPARKLINGLY CLEAN] new house. Gina graciously overlooked my wine box tv stand and barren white walls, gushing instead about the natural light pouring through our oversized windows. The next morning, I sleepily waltzed downstairs looking like something on sale at a consignment store, and discovered my amused Father-in-law with a wide grin on his face. Ash, I was just wondering…do you have any milk that isn’t rancid?

APPARENTLY, prior to their arrival I had been too busy scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush to check the date on our milk. As the color drained from my panicked face into my pedicured toes, I had an overwhelming urge to channel the old couple in Titanic, slink back to bed, and pretend it wasn’t happening.

We sorted out the milk [I DIE], and he then casually asked me where my toaster was.

The thing about toasters is ours caught on fire two weeks into our marriage, and I promptly threw it down the garbage chute and never bought another one because CHEAP. [Also, effort.]  Thus, every time you want toast at my house, you have to channel your inner Laura Ingalls Wilder, set the oven to 375 and wait seven minutes. The whole thing is very Little House on the Prairie, with fewer Indian raids and less cholera. Russ’ baffled eyes widened as I relayed this information, unable to wrap his modern mind around the wholesome, pioneer lifestyle that Kellan and I had unwittingly embraced. You’re getting a toaster for Christmas.

Well. Something to look forward to.

On Saturday afternoon, Kellan and Russ ventured off for some father-son bonding time while Gina and I shopped and drank outrageously overpriced iced coffees. Arriving back at the house, we collapsed on the couch where I proceeded to turn on “My 600 Pound Life” because I like to heckle the enablers that keep traipsing in the front door with oblivious smiles and sixteen Happy Meals in tow. Gina, however, was so horrified at the whole thing that she had to escape upstairs to take a nap. Meanwhile, I practiced looking penitent in case I had to explain to Kellan why I watched trash tv with his Mama.

On Saturday night, I decided to make Greek food—because if a gyro doesn’t make you happy, I can do nothing for you. Unfortunately, I became overly excited whilst chopping cucumbers, and ever so daintily sent an economy-sized container of feta cheese unceremoniously tumbling to the floor, causing the whole house to smell distinctly like a pack filthy hobbits with severe bowel troubles were squatting in the kitchen.

All in all, the weekend was a rousing success. :) We laughed until our stomachs hurt, and I took a thousand mental snapshots, bottling up memories to tuck away and savor for the rest of my life. There isn’t anything more dear to me in the world than spending time with my family.

…and not just because I’ll be the proud owner of a toaster come Christmastime. ;)

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Filed under Family, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00

Skirting the Edge of Scandal.

JCP_2338 bwMy Mama turned 52 yesterday.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t share that little nugget of information, given that women normally adhere to a very strict “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to obnoxious numbers like age and weight. However, it just so happens that Facebook announced her age to the watching world on account of the fact that she has yet to master the internets, and so I’m afraid that at this point the proverbial cat is quite out of the bag.

And really, I don’t think she minds all that much.

When I was in middle school, I desperately wanted to get my bellybutton pierced. Desperately. Unfortunately, those were the years that I fondly refer to as the dark ages, during which my Mama had an inexplicable affinity for startlingly big 80’s hair and dowdy jean jumpers. Never mind that it was 1997 and both had long since gone out of vogue. The potential coolness of a silver butterfly dangling from my naval was utterly lost on her.

My Dad was even worse. He simply furrowed his brow, rolled his eyes, and told me in no uncertain terms that nobody ought to be seeing my bellybutton anyways, so I certainly didn’t need any shrapnel in it. No amount of wheedling and cajoling and but-they’re-cute-ing could persuade my conservative, nothing-good-happens-after-eight-o’clock parents otherwise. Thus, it was firmly pronounced that the day I turned 18 I was free to desecrate my body however I saw fit, but there would be no vaguely whorish piercings a second sooner than that.  My best friend Melissa and I made solemn, little girl pinkie-promises to go get our bellybuttons pierced together on my 18th birthday, and settled in for what promised to be an impossibly long wait.

In a devastating turn of events, several years later at the end of 7th grade, my parents announced that we were moving from our little apartment on Ivana Kudri street in Kiev, Ukraine, to a yellow house in Budapest, Hungary. I remember crocodile tears filling my panic-stricken eyes as I looked at my Mother in utter disbelief and indignantly shrieked the only pertinent question: NOW WHO WILL I GO GET MY BELLYBUTTON PIERCED WITH?!

In a fit of dementia and good intentions, my Mama calmly looked me dead in the eyes, and told me to listen up. Honey, if you don’t have someone to go get your bellybutton pierced with when you turn 18, I promise that I’ll do it with you.

Like astonishingly dainty elephants, Peterson women never forget. And so April 19th of my senior year of high school found Cindy Peterson and I sitting in a rather suspect Raleigh tattoo parlor called Warlocks. And let me tell you, if anything in this world will force you to reevaluate the trajectory of your life, it’s sitting in a plastic folding chair at Warlocks staring at rows and rows of barbed wire tattoos.

My wise Father had long since given up trying to talk us out of the whole idea, having begrudgingly resigned himself to the sad reality that the trollops living under his roof could not be stopped from skirting the edges of scandalous. He had, however, made me swear on my college fund to get pierced first, confident that if I watched a blonde with an aggressively pierced face and rather menacing black gloves shove a giant needle into my Mother’s belly, I’d never crawl up on the table after her.

The next day I proudly marched into homeroom and showed off my VERY CLASSY silver butterfly bellybutton ring. [Sorry, Dad!] I’ll never forget my friend’s eyes widening as she gleefully gasped, Oh, Ash. Does your Mom know?

It was one of the great delights of my life to smirk back at her. Please. My Mama is my best friend, and she did it with me.

That’s my Mom. She’s a daring woman who drinks life to the lees, as Tennyson would say. She is a truth-teller, a problem-solver, a fighter and a chocolate-cake-baker. She taught me to love wildly, to lead with tender ferocity of spirit, and to always keep a secret can of fudge icing hidden in the back of the fridge for just-in-case purposes. She taught me to anchor my heart to the truth that God only gives good gifts.  And in a sensible world full of pressed khaki pants and 401K’s, she taught me that there was beauty and value in letting my imperfect flag fly.

So here’s to you, Mama. All 52, pierced years of you.

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Filed under Family, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00, Uncategorized

Let’s Give Them Something to Squawk About.

It started with a chicken.

I suppose to be more precise, I ought to confess that it was really the chicken population at large that did it to me. There I stood, standing in front of a glass case at the grocery store, staring wide-eyed at a veritable mountain of egg cartons. Sandwiched in between yogurt and the unsalted butter, they were speckled brown and milky white, extra-large and normal-sized, and there were a thousand different brands to choose from.

I have no explanation for what happened next, except to tell you that on most days, I feel like I am raw, walking around the planet without any skin. I am a raging bleeding heart, and quite without warning I suddenly found myself overcome with the plight of chickens everywhere. Cramped in filthy cages with little room to move, condemned to a sickly life of egg-laying day in and day out until their little chicken-ovaries dry up and they end up in a bucket at KFC. The whole thing sounded positively heinous to me, and while I had successfully navigated twenty-seven years of life without managing to give chickens so much as a second thought, without warning I became rather inexplicably stirred. Moved almost to tears, I felt deeply virtuous as I reached for a pretentious brown carton of “organic eggs”. I grinned, picturing healthy chickens happily waddling and squawking about the grassy knolls cheerfully pictured on the front of the carton. They were $1.83 more than the blood-eggs that I had been previously purchasing, but I consoled myself with the assurance that $1.83 was a small price to pay to afford chickens the opportunity to roam wild and free.

I arrived home feeling like Joan of Arc, and promptly informed Kellan that we were officially “happy chicken” people. He rolled his eyes, and decided that chickens weren’t a hill worth dying on. “Happy eggs” became a weekly purchase, and it wasn’t long before we couldn’t remember anything else.

Those were the good old days.

Several weeks ago, I found myself sitting around a brown kitchen table with friends in Amish country, PA. I was in Lancaster for a work conference, and Meredith, Isaac and Nick sat across the table from me as we chatted about life and microfinance over heaping plates of Mexican food. There was a distinct air about them—these were clearly the sorts of people that buy organic peanut butter and almond milk from health food stores that smell conspicuously of mulch and hamsters. The sorts of people that spend long weekends chained to endangered trees, and have involved conversations about the merits of 18th-century Russian novelists. They were so cool. It was clear from the moment that we sat down that at a table of French rose water macaroons, I was a shrink-wrapped, gas station Tastykake. A pearl-wearing, air-conditioning loving steak enthusiast sitting at a table with three vegetarian hipsters, and I desperately wanted to fit in.

Casually, as though I talked about this sort of thing every day, I breezily mentioned that I bought ORGANIC eggs. Because, you know, I CARED about CHICKENS.

Isaac looked at me with a sort of amused expression, as though I had just announced that I was going to be President when I grew up.

Undeterred, and quite caught up in a state of astonished appreciation for my own magnanimity, I proudly soldiered on. I really want the chickens to have space to play, you know? So I only buy cage free.

It was clear that the hipsters could take no more. They were silently exchanging incredulous, sideways glances, a delicate dance of who’s-going-to-tell-her floating through the sweet summer air.

Meredith, whom I have known and adored since our college days at UNC, looked at me gravely, as though I were the next of kin. Ashley, you know that “cage free” only means that chickens have ACCESS to the outdoors, right? Those “cage free” eggs that you’re buying from the grocery store all come from miserable, disease-ridden chickens packed tightly inside a warehouse. There’s a tiny opening in one of the walls so that technically, the chickens have access to the outside. But they’re not really cage free. What’s more, the chickens are so sick that the yolks are gray. They have to inject them with yellow dye so that people like you will eat them.

You could have heard a pin drop. I was so blusteringly indignant that I couldn’t string together a coherent sentence. After all, I had been SPENDING OUT THE YIN-YANG so that the blasted chickens could frolic in the sunshine!

Out to finish the job, Meredith grinned and asked if I wanted to know something else.

NO. NO I DO NOT. THE FREAKING GRAY-YOLKED CHICKENS AREN’T HAPPY AND NEITHER AM I.

Meredith leaned in, looking gleeful, as though she were about to share a delicious secret. She looked me dead in the eyeballs, and sinisterly whispered, The milk you’re buying at the grocery store? The cow’s udders are so infected that you’re essentially drinking pus that’s been cut with water.

I couldn’t breathe. Udder. Pus. Udder. PUS. UDDER! PUS! I had been drinking UDDER PUS my whole life and NOBODY HAD EVER BOTHERED TO TELL ME. The frantic thoughts running across my scattered mind were so terribly violent that I cannot bear to share them here, because they would make Mother Teresa drink whisky straight out of the dog bowl.

Meanwhile, the hipsters chortled unsympathetically in the background.

I called Kellan that night, and my voice sounded shrill even to my own ears. He could barely understand a frantic word that I said—did someone kidnap you? Are you in a trunk? I finally managed to eek something out about udder pus and miserable chickens and I have to find a local farm, and Kellan calmly mentioned that maybe we should do some research.

Um. I already did some research MY FRIENDS TOLD ME SO.

And so June finds us in search of a local farm, and drinking VERY expensive milk in the meantime because I CANNOT POSSIBLY HANDLE UDDER PUS.

Did you know about this? Bueller?! What else am I missing? Clearly, this is dire.

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Filed under First World Problems, My favorite people, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00

Keeping up with the Kims.

Once upon a time, a pair of starry-eyed newlyweds bought a yellow house with blue shutters.

Unhappily, just about every “once upon a time” that I’ve ever had the misfortune of stumbling across comes with it’s very own dramatic “dun dun duuuunnnnn”, which is precisely where our story finds us today.

You see, when Kellan and I moved into the heart of suburbia, USA, we hadn’t the foggiest idea what we were doing. And when I say “we”, I clearly mean “me”. I grew up in major European cities, where little league and white picket fences were merely the stuff of Hallmark movies. When my family moved  to North Carolina my senior year of high school, I was QUITE convinced that my very first day of public school would find me stuffed inside a locker dripping wet from a swirly, just like those kids on MTV. [Yes, Kellan spends startling amounts of his spare time worrying about how on earth we’re going to raise children in America when their Mama has NO earthly idea what’s going on. Thank you for asking.]

All of that to say, I’ve never had a white picket fence. There were no cul-de-sacs in my neighborhood, no local swimming pools, no cartoon-spackled ice cream trucks with tinkling songs merrily heralding their arrival. My family didn’t even own a CAR until I was in 8th grade, for heaven’s sake! Taxi cabs and bustling metro stations served as the soundtrack to a charmed childhood that took place against the breathtaking backdrop of historic European cathedrals and cobblestone streets. While my American compatriots were running barefoot across hot asphalt driveways to stop the ice cream man for drippy, popsicle-sticked ninja-turtle ice cream, my brothers and I were stopping at a local Ukrainian bakery on the way home from school for flakey cream puffs fresh out of the oven. [And at 28 cents a puff, our parents were in wholehearted support.]

Kellan and I moved into our yellow house on a snowy February night, and didn’t see so much as a glimpse of our alleged yard until some time in April. At the first, tentative sign of brown grass wearily peeking out from beneath the ice, my darling husband began to daydream out loud about his “plans for our yard.”

Which was vaguely concerning to me, given that I hadn’t the foggiest idea that one could have PLANS for a yard.

He began to make excessive use of words like mulch and aerate. I pretended to listen whilst dreaming about white chocolate baguettes, and before you judge me I’ll have you know that the man went on for HOURS. [Also, white chocolate baguettes are my WHOLE LIFE right now. More on that later.] Our yard became Kellan’s favorite topic of conversation, excited rants punctuated by a furrowed brow and serious reminders that HONEY, a man’s yard says a LOT about who he is!

Baguettebaguettebaguette.

About a month ago, things took a startling turn for the worse when Kellan burst through the front door with Nancy-Grace level rage and heatedly announced, WE ARE THE WHITE TRASH HOUSE IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD.

A brief walk outside confirmed his grave assessment: our brown, patchy yard [who knew you have to TURN ON your sprinkler system?!] was one port-a-potty short of a full-on Griswold family vacation. The unfortunate scene was only exacerbated by the fact that we live across the street from a sweet Asian couple named Mr. and Mrs. Kim. We are 98% positive that the Kims are running hard drugs so that they can devote their waking hours to planting tulips and lovingly fertilizing each individual blade of grass with the tender care normally afforded to endangered Alaskan wildlife. Meanwhile, the train wreck directly across the street masquerading as our yard looked like something one might see on a heart-wrenching commercial with Sarah McLaughlin singing “In the arms of an angel” dolefully in the background.

While the Kim’s immaculate yard is rather amusing to me, Kellan considers it a personal act of aggression.

I charmingly suggested that we simply embrace our new-found white trash identity, forgo our dental care and invest in some overalls, a couple of rocking chairs and a shot gun so we could spend our evenings shooting pigeons off the front porch. Infuriatingly, my ideas are enormously under appreciated in our household, and as Kellan determinedly marched back to our house he declared WAR on the yard across the street.

…I think we can all agree that I shouldn’t throw stones at the dramatic, but COME ON.

The man that I married quickly became one of those people that you’re deeply concerned about, but slightly afraid to speak to lest they become emotionally unhinged. He began to throw money around like we were the federal government, stock-piling mulch, grass seed and THREE DIFFERENT KINDS OF DIRT in our garage. [Don’t get me started. WE PAID CASH-MONEY FOR DIRT. WHICH IS FREE. ON THE GROUND. EVERYWHERE ON THE PLANET.] I muttered hateful things under my breath in the checkout aisle and briefly contemplated taking a hoe to the Kim’s rosebushes in the middle of the night and various other forms of suburban guerrilla warfare just to level the playing field. To add insult to injury, several days after arriving home with the dirt, Kellan had the audacity to march in our front door holding something called a GRASS TRIMMER, and I was all OHMYLANTA EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT OUR LAWN MOWER IS FOR.

If you’re waiting for a happy resolution to this story, I wouldn’t hold your breath because there isn’t one. Our sad little yard is looking slightly more hopeful, but the Kims are one good rainfall away from being prominently featured in Better Homes and Gardens. We will probably have to move. As we speak, Kellan is on his third Home Depot run of the week, and I am scouring the want ads in search of a second job so that I can pay for his newfound grass habit.

If you need me, I’ll be remortgaging the yellow house.

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Filed under First World Problems, Marriage, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00

Tales of a Failed Home Decorator.

It all started with a doormat.

I mentioned recently that Kellan and I made the move from our two bedroom apartment to a real adult house. A house that understandably looks rather barren, given the fact that our earthly possessions are comprised primarily of the treasures that independently, we both thought were valuable back in college. The whole scene is utterly idyllic if you need a set for a play that takes place in the Great Depression.

I’ll put it to you this way: the other day, my sweetly sentimental husband informed me that if I suddenly drop dead, there’s pretty much nothing that I brought into our marriage that he’ll want to keep.

What can I say? I married romance.

After we’d finished schlepping our boxes across town, the love of my life and I collapsed in utter exhaustion onto our couch and stared at the bare white walls that we could finally call 11.43% ours. Rubbing his aching temples, Kellan glanced my way and offhandedly mentioned that maybe, we ought to buy a doormat. We do, after all, live in New York, where it snows eleven and a half months out of the year and tell-tale snowy footprints follow friends through front doors.

I beamed. Of course. A doormat! An inconsequential purchase that wouldn’t break the bank, but would serve as a tiny step towards making our little house a home. A warm welcome into the gateway of our messy lives that would introduce us to the waiting world! Dreamy.

I took my doormat mission seriously. I wanted something cute, but not precious. [Is there anything worse than being precious?] Something different. Something that said, Hey, welcome to our home! We’re just tickled that you’re here. Especially if you’re holding a box of Girl Scout Cookies. Less so if you’re holding a Book of Mormon. Please come back when you have Thin Mints.

It wasn’t too much to ask.

I visited the usual cast of characters. Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Home Goods all left me hanging—everything was terribly underwhelming. So bland. So tacky. It was as if doormats on shelves everywhere had waved their dirty brown flag of surrender, heaved a collective, heavy sigh of relief and given up for the year. There was nothing worth the twenty dollars in my hot little hand.

Undaunted, I took to the interwebs. After all, we live in a world where you can order your toothpaste online—surely I could find a doormat that didn’t boast “I CAN SEE YOUR UNDERWEAR” in Times New Roman.

Days later, my bloodshot eyes were still scouring pages of doormats as I seriously contemplated the merits of hard drugs. Meanwhile, Kellan kept unhelpfully asking where our doormat was, blithely unaware that I was one more ugly chevron number away from burning our house down to the stakes and screaming Adele songs at our neighbor’s golden retriever.

In an act of utter desperation, I took to Pinterest. Tediously hand-painted, knitted doormats mocked me from my computer screen. Easy as Pie! they taunted, just so long as you’re comfortable breeding Alpacas in your backyard and hand-spinning yarn from the wool. Don’t forget to pick up the dye at your local Hungarian craft store!

Also, learn to knit.

Now, listen. I appreciate a good craft as much as the next woman, just so long as I don’t have to make it. I come from the “Buy it on Etsy and take credit for it” school of thought. I feel like the ability to craft is a part of our genetic makeup. It’s a gift, like being a size 0. And sure, there are things that we can do to help ourselves along, but at a certain point we’re at the mercy of the genes our Mama gave us and a steady supply of red wine. Also, the aforementioned Girl Scout Cookies.

Some women were born to spend their days hot-gluing eleventy-billion dirty acorns onto a Styrofoam ring and decoupaging their wallpaper , and other women are me. We do not own craft boxes. WE BARELY OWN IRONING BOARDS for heaven’s sake. You will not find us baking cakes with ART on the inside or constructing Mason jar chandeliers. You will find our grocery lists hastily scribbled on the backs of wadded up receipts discovered in the depths of dirty purses, not painstakingly lettered in calligraphy onto homemade kitchen chalkboards. There will be no murals of precious woodland creatures hand-painted on our children’s nursery room walls—in fact, if those walls are painted an actual color of the rainbow it’s an enormous victory meriting the pomp and circumstance normally afforded to chubby toddlers taking their first steps because THIS IS OUR BEST WORK.

Something inside my newly-minted homeowner’s mind snapped. Pinterest and the Alpaca doormats had broken my spirit. Defeated, I informed Kellan that if he wanted a decorated house, he was going to have to talk to one of the visiting Mormons about getting me a sister-wife.

[Preferably one that knows how to make Mason jar chandeliers.]

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Filed under First World Problems, Marriage, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00