Thursday, December 1, 2011

In which I cram my Shakespeare (and other things that make my mother question my sanity).

"Forsooth! What news doth thou bring on this morrow?"

There was a long pause and, after a puzzled silence, my mother asked, "What?" Then, without waiting for an answer, she went on. "I need you to talk to your brother."

I racked my brain for a suitable, Shakespearean way of responding, but could think of none. "Why?"

She explained the situation to me, one which, in brief, involved his not wanting to pursue a winter internship that would potentially open some doors for him later, once he graduated college, and ended with, "And since he won't listen to me, you should talk to him."

"Ambition should be made of sterner stuff," I agreed.

"He thinks I don't know what I'm talking about."

It was a perfect lead. "A fool thinks himself wise," I answered, "but a wise man knows himself to be a fool." Then, after a pause, I said, "Children wish mothers looked but with their eyes, mothers that children with their judgment looked. Either may be wrong."

She seemed to disregard that. "So you'll talk to him?"

"No, I will be the pattern of all patience. I will say nothing."

After a moment, my mother sighed. "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit," she warned.

I nearly clapped my hands with glee, or would have if it wouldn't meant dropping the phone. "You got it!"

"Movies or plays?"


"All right. Call me when you're finished reading Shakespeare."

I grinned. "Okay," I promised. "I only have one play left. So until then... Farewell, my mother, fare thee well!"

I could practically hear her rolling her eyes as she said her goodbyes and hung up the phone.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Family Tree

One of the happiest memories from my childhood, and in fact one of very few drama-free moments with my mother, was the weekly dinner at my grandparents' house.  It wasn't the dinner so much as it was the time afterward when Mom, Nonna (my grandmother) and I would squeeze into the tightly packed galley kitchen to begin washing and drying all of the dishes.  Speakers over the fridge would pipe in whatever we had playing in the living room, so often our washing and drying system included sing-alongs with Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra.  Sometimes we'd sway and Nonna would go off-key, but for that glorious half-hour or so, we wouldn't be arguing or bitterly dissecting the latest family catastrophe.  It was almost as if we were normal.     

Last weekend, my grandmother had a bit of an accident in her house and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches and X-rays.  She was alright, but it left all of us pretty shaken.  My mother's been staying with her this week, and my Dad and I have both been visiting and checking in as often as we can.  It's been a very stressful time filled with questions regarding our family and my grandmother's future.  Tonight I spent awhile in Nonna's kitchen by myself cleaning up all of our dinner dishes alone.  It made me think about finding joy in simple, everyday moments.  Even with some awful situations at home and at work, these past six weeks have had a lot of good moments too, including some goal fulfillment.  Maybe it's the crisp chill in the air that makes us nostalgic for childhood moments or nature's way of telling us to slow down and look at the beauty around us, but fall's always been my favorite time of year.              

To kick off the fall season last month, Catherine and I went apple picking.  We did as much walking and reflecting as we did actually gathering, but it was worth it to feel the sunshine and take in the calmness of an apple orchard.  Since it was October and already late in the season, we met with lots of rotten apples, so the ones we found that were perfect and ripe and ready to eat right off the branch seemed even sweeter.  We made sure to pick apples that could be used for baking, as I had grand aspirations for working towards another goal as well - cooking something out of my realm.  I've never made apple pie before, so I hauled my 10 pounds of apples home and started sorting.

The pie baking venture was an all-day affair.  You see, I not only made pie, but learned how to make pie crust from scratch.  After a lot of flour and time in the freezer because the butter kept melting on me, I turned to the long task of peeling and slicing apples, which was a surprisingly calming experience.  I added my own spice mixture to the apples and rolled out the crust and trusted it to my rather untrustworthy oven.  When the timer finally sounded, I squealed in delight at my beautiful pie!  The crust was a bit dry and thick, but still delicious.  I've since made two more and fixed the density by tweaking the recipe, so now I can honestly say I have my very own pie recipe.  Who knew that something as simple as apple pie would be so rewarding?       

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In which we sample the local cuisine (and other forays into the intercontinental culinary abyss).

"Is this your first time?"

Amanda and I glanced to one another. On any other occasion, I may have offered her a mirthful smirk and she might have returned it with a grin. This time I just grimaced and she answered with a nod.

"Yes," I finally answered. "And we're a little nervous."

Our server smiled. "No worries. This is the best place to try it in all of Scotland. We only buy from the most trusted butchers and it's all done in whisky*."

"You had me at whisky," Amanda said. "Bring it on."

She sounded braver than I felt, that was for sure. We had decided early on while planning our two-week venture to Ireland and Scotland that while there we were going to sample the local cuisine and that, of course, included haggis.

Our guidebook swore that haggis got a bad rap, and that while it was an acquired taste it was nonetheless delicious. I had my doubts. Meat and I had a tumultuous relationship to begin with, and though my brief foray into vegetarianism had ended rather abruptly upon discovering I was borderline anemic and thus prone to dreadful nosebleeds if I didn't get enough iron and protein in my diet, I mostly stuck to chicken and, now and again, cheeseburgers. There were some exceptions to the rule, sure, but for the most part I simply didn't much care for meat.

Naturally, I assumed that, on top of the knowledge that I was trying to swallow sheep stomach, wouldn't do much for my appetite. To be safe, I ordered a very big glass of wine.

On the way to Edinburgh from Dublin, Amanda and I had already pushed the boundaries of our palates. I didn't care for either potatoes or onions, but when the soup of the day in Dublin was potato and chive, I dove right in. I even tried some of Amanda's mash and found I didn't absolutely hate it. In Galway, Amanda ordered the local specialty -- mussels. Then she ordered them the next night as well, and again at lunch a few days later. I had squid for the first time in Belfast. Amanda followed my recommendation and tried banofee pie.

And now we were going to eat haggis.

When it came, I took a big gulp of wine. "I can't believe we're going to eat this."

Amanda took out her camera and snapped a quick photo. "It won't be so bad. Think of it like meatloaf."

She sounded brave, but I noticed when she set down her camera she picked up her beer, not her fork. I was going to have to take the first bite. Which was only fair: I'd set the goal to being with. Then again, I'd suggested we eat blood pudding, which she'd vetoed, and that had left us with haggis. But since there was no use squabbling over the details, I took a bite.

"Oh," I said.

Amanda considered me a moment before she followed suit. She chewed thoughtfully, then set her fork down. "Oh," she agreed.

Our waitress came back. "Ladies, what do you think?"

We answered as one. "It's delicious!"

And it was. It was savory and cooked with scotch whisky and we ate our fill of it without hardly stopping to breathe. I ordered it again the next day for lunch, served on a chicken sandwich (a surprisingly good combo), and when we perused the gift shops in Edinburgh I briefly considered buying "haggis in a can", although after ten seconds of thinking about how gross meat in cans could be I changed my mind. It would have to remain an occasional, when-in-Scotland dish.

We tried a handful of new dishes over the course of the next week and a half, although nothing quite as adventurous as haggis, and it wasn't until we were back in Dublin that we came across a menu item that puzzled us. We had seen it before, but until now we'd never considered eating it.

"Okay," I said, frowning at the menu. "I really think I want the full Irish breakfast today. But I'm not sure what black pudding is. Do you know?"


We considered it for a little while longer before I nodded. "I'm going to get it," I decided. "I'll figure out what it is once I have it in front of me."

Amanda was quiet a moment, then nodded. "Me too," she decided, and went up to the bar to place our order.

It is important to note that while the word "pudding" in the United States typically refers to dessert, Ireland and the United Kingdom have a different use for the word altogether. While they do also use it to refer to desserts (or, if Wikipedia is to be believed, anything sweet served after the main course), it's just as commonly used in reference to savory dishes. Anything from popovers to sausage can be termed a pudding, so when we ordered the black pudding we really weren't sure what to expect.

In the end, our plates came out piled high with eggs, ham, sausage, beans, and toast, and we spent a moment considering the banquet before us.

"This one must be the black pudding," I decided, prodding a round patty with my fork. "Right?"

"It's the only thing I don't recognize," Amanda agreed. Then, after a substantial pause, "You try it first."

I did. All in all, it was different and nothing wholly remarkable, and I told her so. She tried hers and agreed with me, and we ate the rest of our meal. As we were preparing to leave, however, I half-remembered something I'd read a long, long time ago. Rather than bring it up there, however, I decided I would confirm my suspicion the next day, once we were back home, before telling Amanda what I suspected: that we had just eaten the one thing she'd refused to try during our entire sixteen-day excursion overseas. And besides, until I had the internet in front of me, how could I be absolutely sure?

Which reminds me: Amanda, we (accidentally) ate blood pudding. Surprise!

 * Not a typo! This is how they spell it in Scotland.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How I was almost eaten by the Loch Ness Monster

So how was the vacation?  I think I've heard that question a hundred times since my plane back from Dublin touched down.  Catherine and I spent two and a half glorious weeks in Ireland and Scotland, and the break from my daily life couldn't have come at a better time.  There is something wonderfully freeing about knowing you will be gone for a substantial amount of time at your office and all the stressing and all the preparation is finally done.  Letting go felt wonderful - letting go of work stress, relationship stress, responsibilities and more.  To paraphrase Amanda in my favorite chick-flick, The Holiday, a vacation means you're supposed to vacate your life, right?  Do things that are unexpected. 

Two years ago, I never would have dreamt I'd have the opportunity to take such a trip.  I'm a stressed-out person on a normal basis, so the overwhelming planning for a long vacation started to take a toll.  Add in the additional considerations of traveling overseas (for me, this was the first time I'd gone overseas aside from a family trip when I was 10), plus the fact that I had one week to train a new temporary worker at our company to cover for me, and I thought I'd have a breakdown before even getting on the plane.  Somehow I managed to keep it together, even with a delayed flight, a taxi ride to Philadelphia to make our connection in time, massive traffic, and running through the Philly airport to make our flight.  And then my very worst fear about traveling happened - they lost my luggage.  My precious, brand-new suitcase, so eager to see the world, had decided that Tel Aviv would be way more fun than Dublin.  Walking away from the lost luggage desk with my forms and contact info, all I could do was breathe.  A great calm washed over me - it was all out of my hands.  I did nothing wrong, I was not being punished, I had not been the one to make a mistake.  Stressing or crying or screaming wouldn't help my bag get to me any sooner, so I decided to just enjoy the trip as is.

Ireland and Scotland were far more beautiful than I had ever imagined.  There was just so much to see and do, it was hard to figure out just where to go first.  Catherine and I had done some preliminary planning and set up our itinerary, but other than that, we hadn't nailed down day to day activities, which suited both of us just fine.  My favorite day of the trip came while we were on the West Coast in the area of County Galway.  We drove through some of the greenest, most beautiful places in the world.  And even though the rain and gale-force winds started to blow, it took on a surreal sort of beauty.  At long last we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher, where I've always wanted to go.  It was the end of a lifelong dream to be standing there overlooking such timeless majesty.  I know I'm waxing poetic here, but there just aren't any words to explain how, for the first time since June, I felt totally, completely happy.  So happy in fact, that I braved the weather to climb the wet iron spiral staircase onto the top of O'Brien's tower.  Catherine and the guy selling tickets were in the tower at the base of the stairs telling me I was crazy.  But truth be told, I've never felt more calm or more at peace with everything than I did in those raging gale-force winds (clocked at 51 mph) and  stinging rain.  I braced myself on the ancient stone turret and just let myself enjoy it.         

View from the top!

It was around this point of our trip when I seriously considered never returning home.  Getting away from daily stresses put a lot of things in perspective.  Better still, Catherine and I also hunkered down in a sweet little B&B outside of Edinburgh, which forced us to walk more and also blocked us from using phone, Internet and television for a glorious weekend.  We even wrote a postcard to my boss back home saying I had "disappeared" somewhere near Loch Ness (which we didn't actually visit) and that I wouldn't be returning to work.  Although I wished we could stay forever, Catherine and I did return back to work and our normal lives.  But something had changed.  I had seen a life without stress.  A life where the hardest decision I had to make was which beer to have with dinner.  Plus my absence had brought about positive changes (for me at least) at the office and I am enjoying my job more than ever.  I promised my father I'd keep the "vacation attitude" for at least a week after getting back, and I'm trying to hold that promise still.  There's more I could write, but I'll have to save it for another post.  Before I go, here's a rundown of goals completed since my last post:
  •  #1: Travel - Ireland and Scotland!!
  •  #2: Road Trip - We've booked the hotels and ironed out the details of a New Years' road-trip!
  •  #3: I finished my 10th book on the plane back from Ireland
  •  #10: Bed and Breakfast - in Edinburgh
More adventures are to come!  Stay tuned for Catherine's new update on some of the fun (and slightly scary) stuff we ate on vacation :)     

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In which I prepare to become a member of the undead (and other tales from the crypt).

"I'm going to be a zombie!"

Amanda and I work with a great group of pretty laid-back people, but her exclamation still turned a few heads. It was so out of context, in fact, that it took me a minute to catch up to her.

"Ohmigod," I answered once it finally clicked. "You got the email? Why haven't I gotten the email?"

A few weeks before this, I'd run across Run For Your Lives, a 5K zombie obstacle course scheduled for late October and taking place just an hour or so north of me. Volunteers would run an obstacle course while avoiding other zombie volunteers -- a race for their lives, so to speak. Better yet, not only was the site looking for runners, but they were also looking for zombies. And when another friend of mine posted on her facebook that she'd volunteered to run... Well, of course I was going to volunteer to try and eat her delicious organs. I contacted the group to convey my interest and, after some persuasion, convinced Amanda to join me.

She talked me down from the verge of hysteria. "I just got it. They probably emailed you and it's just sitting in your inbox or something."

"It had better be. If they accepted you and not me..."

At this point, at least one of our coworkers and my boss's boss were looking our way with a mixture of interest and amusement. While Amanda rattled off a quick explanation, I went to check my email. I held my breath as I waited for the inbox to pop up, and when it did...

"I got the email! I'm going to be a zombie!"

This announcement was met with an eyebrow raise from my boss's boss and a bemused smile from our eavesdropping coworker, who demanded a few more details and, after finding out that the zombies were going to be professionally made up so as to add to the "realism" of the event, decided she was going to go, too, and take pictures.

"But just so you know," she said, "you guys are a little weird."

Our weirdness -- or at least mine -- wasn't exactly a secret. My desk was decorated with a string of ghost lights and toy dinosaurs (which I regularly distributed around the office), and I was well-known for my fascination with the walking dead. All kinds of zombie paraphernalia had been gifted to me by various coworkers, including a "What would a Zombie do?" decision wheel, a stuffed "Dismember Me!" zombie, and a large "Zombies vs. Unicorns" poster, and I had on at least three birthdays been presented with homemade cards featuring either zombies or zombie movie references and quotes.  My love for zombies had come up in conversation at a meet-and-greet for our new department leader a few months before, and we had spent at least ten minutes discussing the various pitfalls of horror as a genre as a result.

I only nodded. "Yeah," I answered her. "But how many chances does a person get to be a professional zombie?"

She considered that. "Technically, I think you're freelancing."

I made a mental note to add "Freelance zombie" to my resumé, and once we'd wrapped up our conversation and went back to our desks, I re-read the email again. There wasn't much to it -- it really boiled down to "Thank you for your interest in Run For  Your Lives!" and "We will contact you with the full details as soon as they are available". Enough to know that I was on the list and get me excited, that was for sure.

"This is better than some silly zombie walk any day," I told Amanda later, as we were heading out the door.

She looked at me skeptically. "You were really looking forward to the zombie walk."

"Yeah, but I didn't want to have to do all that work. Making yourself up to look like a zombie is hard. And messy. There's lots of cornstarch involved, I think."

Amanda just shook her head, but I convinced myself that she agreed with me (even if she wouldn't admit it), and when she looked at me again, I just grinned.

"We're going to be zombies."

She sighed. "You're going to make me regret this. I can already tell."

Considering we had a whole three months to wait before the event, this was very likely true. "Yeah," I answered, "but it's totally going to be worth it."

The event Run For Your Lives! takes place on October 22 in Darlington, Maryland. Runner registration ends on October 1, so sign up today! In the meantime... Prepare for the zombies.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Come Fly with Me

or How I Learned to Roller Skate, Sing Karaoke, Survive a Hangover and 
Oh Yeah, Fly an Airplane

Will’s voice crackled through my headset: “alright, you ready to take the controls?”  My stomach clenched as I looked at the plane’s gearstick between my knees.  Here we were at about 5,000 feet in the air, cruising over the Delaware Bay in a plane whose inside was smaller than my closet.  I had spent the flight over to Cape May blissfully snapping pictures from the back seat, windows literally adjacent to each of my elbows.  Will was directly in front of me, pointing out sites and listening to the radio communications.  He had mentioned earlier that if I did indeed fly with him, I would at some point have to take over so I could share in the experience.  I had thought he was kidding.  Until that moment.
            “Not really!” I said.
            “C’mon, it’ll be fine! It’s pretty smooth here.”
            I had in fact told him I would try, but that promise had been made with solid ground beneath my feet, not the thin floor of a Citabria and a long drop into the water. 

I think my hands couldn’t have clenched onto the gearstick any tighter.  I followed Will’s instructions and ever so gently started to push it to the left.  The plane responded just as gently and my heart jumped.  Why were we going this way? I kept thinking.  Oh God, did I tip it forward too? Are we going to nosedive?  I felt like I should pray, but only muttered “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” and pulled the stick back to center.  The plane did not stop banking left.  Now, I don’t know if you know this about planes, but in order to get one back to a straight flight, you have to pull the control in the opposite direction until the plane starts to straighten.  It’s a lot like paddling a kayak, though I wish I had realized that sooner.  I got it back to center and Will motioned for me to bank the other way.  I did, but got a bit freaked out with the rush of freedom and responsibility and the thought that I was holding our lives nearly in the palm of my hand.  I could imagine myself slipping and sending the plane into a downward spiral and even though I had complete confidence in Will as a pilot, I worried that I would throw him something he wouldn’t be able to figure out and then bam, there we’d go into the Delaware.  And I have a fear of drowning. 

That weekend and several weekends leading up to it all made me wonder just how much control I had in my own life.  About seven weeks ago (wow, where has the summer gone?), my friend Chelsea came home to Maryland for a short visit.  She came into Baltimore and met up with Jessica and me for a night on the town.  Chelsea wanted to try out a karaoke bar after dinner, and as it was on my list, I was game to try.  That night I learned a very important fact about myself – the amount of alcohol required for me to sing karaoke is the same amount required to make me quite sick that same night and hungover the next day.  (Side note: do not do shots of Jack Daniel’s.  You are not bad-ass if you puke outside of the bar you just patronized.)  But before I learned such a valuable lesson, the three of us did a number of shots and then rocked the whole bar while we sang “Carry on My Wayward Son.”  I think some air guitar was involved and some embarrassing photos on Facebook. And we had a blast.  Not only did I let my inhibitions go long enough to poorly belt out a rock song to a room full of strangers, but I realized how lucky I was to be sharing this with two of my best friends.  I felt a lot closer to these girls after that experience, especially since it was Jessica who held her liquor the best and got us safely back to her house.  She even ran to the store to get me Gatorade, pretzels and a McDonald's breakfast sandwich the next morning (which is how I survived the hangover). I’d do the same for her a thousand times over, though I hope I never have to do so. 

A week after my drunken singing debut, I flew out to Ohio to visit my friend Meghan.  I already wrote a bit about this in my concert post – the timing of the trip was based on my desire to go see Glen Campbell in concert.  While there, we decided to go roller skating at an old fashioned roller rink near Loveland.  Now, I hadn’t been skating since I was about nine years old or so, and let’s just say my center of gravity has shifted.  Considerably.  My hips are also slightly uneven (one’s higher than the other) and it’s something I am extremely self conscious about.  I stumbled out onto the rink and after only a quarter of a lap, I fell.  My leg curled under me and the whole skate hit me right on that area between my buttocks and hip.  An inch or two to the right and I would have had a fractured coccyx.  (I blamed my paranoia on those damned medical books at my office.)  I limped away and sat icing myself and watching my friends spin by and I couldn’t help but lose it.  The trip had been a very stressful one and, looking back now, it had not been the easy, stress-free vacation I had so desperately needed.  Recently my life had been (and still is) dizzy and out of control.  I was so deep in backlogged jobs at work that I felt like I was drowning every day.  My love life was promising but still haunted by those demons of self-doubt and low self-esteem.  I seemed to be careening towards a break-down and lost the cocky confidence that my 25th year would matter or that I'd even come out of it alright.       

What the hell, I then thought as the ice pack started to melt, I don’t know anyone in Loveland.  I can fall on my ass as much as I want and no one will care.  I waddled back onto the rink and rejoined my friends.  I kept skating and eventually worked up my balance and courage to make it all the way around the rink without holding onto the wall.  My movements were still stiff and uneasy, but I managed to do it.  Tears dried and the bruise faded after several days.  But that glimpse into a breakdown had left an impression. 

And then I found myself both terrified and thrilled to be flying a plane with Will a few weeks later.  For about two minutes, I held onto that control stick and guided us through the sky.  After banking to the right, Will wanted me to try another kind of turn where we’d drop a little, but my nerves gave out and I turned back the controls.  Maybe it hadn’t been enough to really impress him, but I had impressed myself and that was what mattered.  The old me would have completely chickened out; heck, the old Amanda wouldn't have even gotten into a biplane.  But this new version couldn’t say no.  That freedom felt amazing - I was Amelia Earhart tearing through the sky.  Who knew when I’d have such an opportunity again?  Will had mentioned that he also had his motorcycle license, and if I could find a bike to borrow, he'd take me for a ride.  Knowing another plane ride would be a long while coming due to expenses, I grew excited for this new promise of adventure.  After we had landed and Will fueled the plane, I thanked him again and drove away from the airport, still reeling a bit from the whole experience.  I looked up in the rear-view mirror and had to wonder just who was this beaming, confident woman driving my car?  

After giving Will the controls back - look at those clouds!
I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the way home, or even for the next few days.  Unfortunately the smile left after a day or two at work.  The unrelenting stress at the office started to build up and when it combined with some other personal stressors and disappointments, I felt myself starting to break.  I got into a very bad habit of working late, coming home, eating crappy food while watching even crappier television and going to bed an hour later.  I started to break down at work, usually in the aptly named break room or even at my desk.  For awhile I thought I might even be developing an ulcer from the twisting pain in my stomach.  I didn't understand until very recently just how dangerous burnout can be.  I asked myself when I had last been truly and completely happy.  And I realized it had been when I was on that plane over the Delaware Bay. 

Knowing when you can handle the controls and when you have to hand them over to someone more experienced is what life is really about.  Once I saw that, I started taking the steps required for me to get out of this depression.  I’ve talked to my bosses about workload and burnout and I’ve gotten a lot of support.  I started confiding in my friends and finding other ways to manage and minimize the stress in my life.  I still have a long road ahead before I’m back on course entirely, but I'm getting there.  Today I slowed down to check out a motorcycle for sale in my neighborhood.  I hope someday soon I'll even look up and see that woman in my rear-view mirror smiling again.      

Friday, July 1, 2011

In which I clean my room (and other prom dress-related surprises).

Near the beginning of April, I met my mother for lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. As we finished our shared chips and guacamole, she leaned over the table toward me.

"Your brother," she said, "is moving back in with us at the beginning of May."

I paused, considering that. I had two brothers: one in college and another living in a house he rented with a group of friends about thirty minutes away from me. I had no idea which one she meant.

"Well," I said, venturing a guess, "that's what happens when school lets out for the summer. The students all go home."

She looked at me oddly and I knew I'd guessed poorly. "No," she said, confirming it. "The other one."

"Oh. Why?"

"The man who owns his house is selling it once their lease ends, so your brother is moving back in until he finds another place." She scraped up the last of the guacamole and looked up at me. "And he's bringing a friend with him."

This brother had a lot of friends. I frowned at the empty dish of guacamole and instead covered my chip with salsa. "Is it anyone I know?"

"I don't know. I don't think so." She paused, perhaps weighing her next words. "We were thinking of putting him in your old room."

I smiled, which I don't think she expected. "Does he know the carpet is pink?" A hideous shade of pink, at that. I'd picked it out when I was seven, grew to hate it in my teens, and finally learned in my early twenties that seven-year-old me had made a number of bad decisions and I would just need to learn to laugh at them. In fact, I'd eventually just found myself grateful that the walls weren't pink, too. At least, not anymore.

My mother shrugged. "I don't know. Your brother may have mentioned it to him."

"Maybe his friend is colour blind."

She didn't answer that, instead going straight to why she'd brought this up in the first place: "I was hoping you could come by and clean out the closets and such so he'll have a place to put his things."

This wasn't shocking, or even unexpected. My mother had been nagging me to get whatever junk I'd left at their house out of their house for months now. I'd put it off just as long, not at all looking forward to it. I had never been good about throwing things out, much to my mother's dismay, and had developed some relatively impressive pack rat tendencies over the years. However, I had to admit that a strange boy living amongst the scattered remnants of my childhood made for some pretty good incentive.

I sighed. "When are they moving in?"

"First of May. Maybe a little earlier."

I went through my mental calendar and cringed. "I don't know if I have any free weekends this month, and I can't really do evenings..."

"You could always take a day off work."

"To clean my room? That's ridiculous." I took another chip. "I'm not going to do that."

But that was exactly what I did, and within just a few weeks I found myself driving to my mother's house so I could clean my old bedroom.

She wasn't home when I arrived, further rubbing it in that she has a more impressive social life than I do, so after I made myself at home and raided her refrigerator, I decided to get a head start.

"She'll be so surprised," I chortled to myself on my way up the stairs. "I bet I can get this done before she even gets back."

It was a nice thought. If I could get this chore out of the way within the span of a few hours, I'd prove once and for all that I was and always had been neat, clean, and orderly. Considering how often she'd nagged me to clean my room growing up, it would be a huge achievement on my part.

The bedroom itself was pretty well put together, heinous pink carpet and all. There was no clutter on the floor or on the surfaces, and everything was in place. My bookshelves were a little over-crowded, but even that wasn't so bad, and would definitely be better once I took out some of my favorites and brought them home with me. This was going to be a piece of cake.

Then I opened the closet door.

I've seen cartoons and sitcoms where people pile as much as they possibly can into a small space and then shut the door before it can spill out. It always ends horribly, though, with either the door breaking open or the person they were trying to impress opening it on their own, only to be met with an eruption of odds and ends.

It was a little like that.

Luckily for me, nothing actually toppled out of the closet, although it seemed like a few things teetered. Probably everything was packed too full for anything to really budge; somehow my childhood closet had turned into a sick game of Tetris where I'd filled up the board waiting for that one crucial piece that would clear it all away. Considering how much Tetris I'd played, I had to wonder if maybe I'd done that on purpose.

"How did I let it get this bad?" I asked aloud. I half-expected something in the closet to answer me, but thankfully nothing did.

My quick-and-easy chore had just turned into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, but the only way to get through it was just to start. Gritting my teeth, I carefully took things out of my closet and set them in piles so I could look through them later. Old writing notes went on the desk. Old toys and books went on the bed. Shoes went into a pile by the door. Other knick knacks found their way to other piles, and when it was finally at least kind of sorted, I eyed them all.

"Which of you is the smallest?" I addressed the piles. I was met yet again with silence, but luckily it was an easy answer: the clothes. I hadn't left much behind when I'd moved out, so it was pretty easy to go through them. Most everything was relegated to the "donate" pile, and I found myself both horrified and amused by my once-horrible taste in clothes.

"Really, teenage-me?" I asked the fish-net--sleeved black shirt with "LOVE" stamped across it in mesh. "Why did you ever think this was a good idea?"

Since teenage-me was not around to answer, I tossed the shirt into the "donate" pile, thought better of it, and threw it in the trash, considering it a favor to teenagers with bad taste everywhere.

I managed to get through the clothes relatively quickly until, at the very bottom of the pile, I found it: my senior prom dress.

I considered it thoughtfully. I could donate it, but would anyone actually want it? I'd only worn it the once and except for a small tear near the hem -- easily repairable, I knew -- it was in good shape. So yes, probably. But I'd loved that prom dress. I'd searched for it for hours (a hardship back in high school, when I'd hated clothes shopping) and had been thrilled when I finally found it. It was one of the first things I bought with my own credit card. Even without the prom, that dress and I had history.

But what would I do with it? Not wear it, that was for sure. I'd look pretty strange walking around the city streets in a beaded prom dress, and there were enough crazy people in Baltimore without my further enticing them. There wasn't much room to modify it or make it into something new, either. But then again, who was to say I wouldn't need a fancy prom dress sometime in the near future? Things happen all the time, after all, and even though I'd never had occasion for a fancy prom dress in the past (excepting prom, of course) there was no reason to think it would never happen.

It was a non-issue, I decided, already moving the prom dress to the donate pile. I was seventeen when I went to my high school prom, and eight years meant the stupid thing probably wouldn't even fit anymore. On a whim, though, I checked the size tag... and then I did a double-take. If all my latest shopping ventures were any indication, I still wore that dress size.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I put on my prom dress, stared at myself in the mirror, and found my cell phone.

'I still fit in my high school prom dress,' I texted Amanda

My phone buzzed a few seconds later. 'I hate you,' it read. Then, a moment later, 'Picture?'

The camera built into my phone was notoriously blurry and low quality, but I had to give the public what she wanted: I took a picture and sent it along. After doing a quick twirl in the dress, I started rooting through the pile of shoes still sitting in the floor of my closet. When my phone buzzed again, I nearly fell over trying to reach it over the pile of old riding boots and strappy high-heeled sandals.

'I want to see in person,' the message read.

I frowned at the message, glanced down at the dress, and then looked back to the "donate" pile a few feet away. Some similarly-sized teenage girl might really love to find a dress like this sitting in a consignment shop or something, but Amanda wanted to see it. And, anyway, it wasn't like I couldn't donate it some other time, after I'd shown Amanda. I still had to go through my closets at home, after all, so I could just add this to that Goodwill-bound collection. No problem.

'Okay,' I replied. 'I'll go put it in my car.'

So I did, along with a handful of other things I decided were worth moving from my parents' house to mine. My mother eventually returned to the house, marveled at my progress, and then for some reason kept trying to distract me for the rest of the afternoon. I did eventually finish cleaning the room and returned home, only to find that I didn't really have a place for any of the stuff I'd brought back with me.

"Well," I said to my cats, "I guess this is as good a time as any to do that closet purge."

They looked at me for a moment before the two of them stalked off to inevitably destroy something in my kitchen. I smiled after them.

"At least here I know I won't find any surprise prom dresses."