From the DMV to the DMZ

David driving lessons

My son the math genius and I were rushing to his driving test, so I was surprised when he flicked on the right blinker for a detour.

“I’m just going to practice backing in for a minute,” David said.

Despite having 18 months to prepare, he needed to practice now. I obliged, but he was rude when he thought my instructions weren’t precise enough. “Google it!” he yelled, so we spent 15 anxious minutes on eHow while he missed the parking spot by a good three feet.

He finally got it, and we made it to the test one minute after his 5 p.m. appointment.

I handed over the paperwork.

“The VIN doesn’t match,” the DMV worker said.


“The VIN on your insurance card and your registration don’t match.”


“That card’s not for this car.” She handed me the DMV’s fax number. “You have six minutes to have your insurance company fax us your insurance card, or you’ll have to reschedule the test.”

Months before, my husband had handed me my insurance card for my Saturn, or rather, he had accidentally handed me his insurance card for his Saturn. My insurance card was in his car, at home, where I would have been, possibly with a glass of wine in my hand, if he hadn’t gotten stuck in traffic.

I called the insurance company at 5:05 and got a recording that their office closed at 5. No driving test.

It was a long ride home. I was angry at my husband, but I also groused to David that we would have had time to get the insurance card faxed over if he hadn’t failed to practice for 18 months.

“You share the blame equally,” he said, “because you should have checked the VIN, and you shouldn’t have let me practice backing in.”

I resisted the urge to plunge my hand into his chest and pull out his still-beating heart. I said, “That’s unacceptable. I’m not talking to you until you apologize.”

I knew this was a stupid thing to say, but there we were, and several days of cold shoulders passed.

I reopened the conversation thinking he would at least admit it was ridiculous to blame me for letting him practice. By then, though, he had spin-doctored it into a logical proof that went something like this:

“If Mom checked the VIN and David practiced backing in, then test; if Mom didn’t check the VIN and David didn’t practice backing in, then test; ergo, Mom and David bear equal responsibility. Q.E.D.”

Driving test Venn diagramI insisted I was blameless.

David then offered to make me a Venn diagram if it would help me understand. I stared at his heart beating in his chest. We were not ready to make up.

After a few more days, I tried a new approach.

“I’ll give you 5%,” I said. “Dad: 70% of the blame, you: 25%, me: 5%.”

We went back and forth. He offered: “Dad: 70%, me: 17%, you: 13%.”

I grasped his hand and held it for a moment. “And it was ridiculous to say I shouldn’t have let you practice backing in.”

He countered: “And my statement was poorly timed and poorly phrased.”

We shook on it.

“Dan,” he said to his brother, “did you see how I got Mom up to 260% of her initial offer?”

I added: “And did you see how David admitted he’s a doofus?”

We all laughed.

And that’s how you restore the peace mathematically. Who says you don’t use math in real life?

Related post: Driving Lessons

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Travel theme: Strong

{Linking up with Travel theme: Strong}

Jenever tasting bar Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, my husband and I got a tip about a tasting bar nearby, and we were enchanted by its strong adherence to tradition. The ancient bar was stark–no music, no decorations, no beer or wine, just an entertaining bartender who told hilarious stories and kept the Jenever flowing. (Related: Absinthe in Amsterdam)

Fez medina tanneries

Mint Moroccan gas maskThe strong smell of the tanneries in the Fes medina, Morocco, was formidable. Men toiled inside little vats to work the animal hides with their feet. We were at least offered a “Moroccan gas mask” to deal with the smell, which ended up being a sprig of mint to sniff. Surprisingly, it helped. (Related: Fes Medina video)

Rocky steps collage

You have to go strong or go home when you face the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We ran up them like Rocky and then jumped in triumph. Well, a slow jog would better describe my feat, but the kids tore up those steps like the Champ. (Related: The City of Cheesesteaks and Brotherly Love)

hiking Inca Trail

During my Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, I was repeatedly amazed by the strength of the porters. With towering loads strapped to their backs, they would silently breeze by me as I huffed my way up the trail. I would make it to camp hours after them, and they would have everything set up and greet me with a glass of juice. (Related: Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 1)

Puno cathedral crucifix

Finally, in the lovely crucifix outside the Puno Cathedral in southern Peru, the strong influence of the Inca was evident. It featured a chicken, a pair of dice, a sun, and a moon. (Related: In Peru, the Inca are Everywhere)

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It wasn’t the horses

David Jan Dan fireworks display photo

Decades of tension evaporated
when she loved her grandchildren,
my children, so she came along
to the dude ranch with us.

She thought the horses caused her backache.
It wasn’t the horses.

So, newly close,
I could help her die,
in peace.

Jan horseback riding 2004

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Riddle on a Plate: What Am I?

Stone walls Aran Islands Ireland

Vitellus stares out from its wreath of albumen;
cured and smoked belly strips dare.

Fermented endosperm thanks magical fungus;
lycopene flaunts from its sphere.

Tuberous nightshade’s with musical fruit;
spore-bearing wonders are near.

Sliced pudding’s sincerely iron-ic.
Clearly, there’s plenty to share.

{Update: The riddle is explained in the comments, and you can check out a photo here: Gargleblaster page, #24 of 42}

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An Invader Crept

View from hotel Todra Gorge Morocco

I’d thought my boys
were locked in snug
against that hostile land,
and sleep in the empty night
would restore us,
but they hadn’t been secure;
an invader crept.

Crushed under an angry heel,
the menace turned to dust;
my dread lingered.

Scorpion Todra Gorge Morocco

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Fitbit to be Tied, Part 2

Fitbit activity tracker{Previous post: Fitbit to be Tied, Part 1}

Strapping on a Fitbit activity tracker did indeed make me more active this summer. I’ve worn a pedometer in the past, but the Fitbit offered a new twist in the form of social connections.

I linked up with some friends who also have a Fitbit, and our names climbed up and down the leader board, which shows how we all rank for total steps for the last seven days. It’s motivating to take a peek (on an app on my phone) after lounging around all morning and see my friends’ totals have climbed above mine.

Fitbit leaderboard

I’ve been getting over 10,000 steps a day, thanks to a lot of tennis and walking. This month, I completed a special mini-goal to get at least 15,000 steps for five days in a row while my husband was away, and I rose to the top of my leader board for the first time. I was excited to break 20,000 steps on a couple of days, too.

Wearing the activity tracker helped me avoid long stretches of lethargy, which has been great, but it can get ridiculous at times. Once when I took my Fitbit off to charge the battery, I caught myself not wanting to get up to get another cup of coffee because my steps wouldn’t count.

And then there was the time I joined a friend to walk a few miles in a full-on downpour. (We thought the rain had stopped when we set out.) A mutual friend saw us from her car and pulled over to laugh at us. It was pretty funny to be soaked to the skin and sloshing through puddles. We got in our steps, though!

activity tracker quotation

Overall, I have increased my activity and my fitness. I remember back in early May, I got sore after only one set of tennis, while last week, I played three sets against my teenage son, and then I took a long walk.

I also am avoiding the obsessiveness that made me stop wearing a pedometer in the past. After all, my body is the ultimate activity tracker, and it’s feeling stronger.

{I have no affiliation with Fitbit.}

What do you think about activity trackers? Anyone want to link up as Fitbit buddies? (Email me at

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Might have been the fish tacos

Atlas Mountains Morocco

For ten miserable hours,
I leaned my weary forehead
against the cool glass of the van.

You don’t want to know what happened
in every squat toilet between the Atlas Mountains
and the sea at Essaouira.

Let’s just say I tipped generously.

Blue boats, Essaouira Morocco

#22 of 42 (Gargleblaster page)

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Pura Vida Cruise

Dolphin Costa Rica

We ignored dark clouds in the distance,
snorkeled drenched in sunshine,
cheered dolphins that torpedoed by.

The sky blackened
and unleashed a whirlwind,
thunderclaps and lightning
booming, slamming, smashing.

I cowered,
but they cranked the music
and danced Salsa on the deck.

Related posts:

#21 of 42 (Gargleblaster page)

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I Peppered His Feet

Reading the classics

I explained an idiom,
but he brushed me off,
pretending he’d already learned it.

‘Cause he knew it all,
that old Swiss boyfriend.

My greatest victory:
He told a new friend,
“That really peppers my feet”
and thought it was perfect English.

One of my favorite scenes featuring another know-it-all, although apparently he really did know it all, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

(Video link)

#20 (Gargleblaster page, with my favorite comments and Gargleblasters from the grid) What is a Gargleblaster? Respond to a prompt in exactly 42 words.

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Abandon All Subtlety


Languishing in a boring bank,
we talked music for hours
and grew close through mixtapes
we shyly exchanged.

From “Purple Haze”
to “Dixie Chicken,”
friendship crept toward
something more.

How’d my next one end?
“Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”


#19 of 42 (Gargleblaster page, with my favorite comments and Gargleblasters from the grid) What is a Gargleblaster? Respond to a prompt in exactly 42 words.

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