From the archives: “Wanted: Mom Manager”


I was late for the meeting. Again.

With an armful of crumpled papers, I rushed down the hall. Sheepishly, I found a seat at the table, and began with as much authority as I could muster:

“This meeting is called to order at, let’s see, twelve minutes after nine. If you don’t mind, I’d prefer that these weekly sessions start promptly at the top of the hour. Now, without further delay, let’s get down to business.”

“The van still needs new brakes, and if you wait much longer, you’ll be paying for rotors too. Lilly has her driver’s test on Tuesday at 3:15, but you must somehow get her to the dentist at four. The checkbook hasn’t been balanced in three months, which might explain why you bounced a check last week,” I continued.

“Francis is on his last pair of clean underwear, so please put a load of hot whites in at your earliest convenience. Moby is due for his monthly flea and tick medication. You must write two articles this week. The repairman is coming on Thursday between eight and two to fix the fridge. And you need to get serious about that juice cleanse. Now, how do you plan to get all that done?” I finished, and took a slurp of coffee.


No one responded, because I was having my weekly meeting with myself, and as usual, I had no idea how to answer my own demands. I scribbled a “To Do” list, marked a few things on the calendar, and then went about my day, determined to get it all done once and for all.

But deep inside, I knew the inevitable pattern of my life would repeat itself. My week would start out productive. But soon, something would throw me off track – a school project, a sick kid, writer’s block. One item on my To Do list would collide into the next, and the ensuing pile up would become overwhelming.

By Friday, Francis would come home from work to find no dinner, unfolded laundry heaped on the coffee table, and me, dazed and unshowered, draped over my computer chair where I’d been surfing vintage Tupperware on e-Bay for the last three hours.

What fundamental flaw in my character has made it so difficult for me to keep up with my responsibilities as a work-from-home military spouse and mom?

After some thought, and half a box of Cheese Nips, I realized that I have always been a soldier, not a commander. An indian, not a chief. A workerbee, not the queen. I’m not lazy. I’m not incompetent. I’m not disorganized. I just need a supervisor, a boss, a manager to watch over me and keep me on track.

Ahh, how different things would be with someone to offer clear direction and guidance.

“Ms. Molinari,” my boss might say, “while it is clear that you are no stranger to hard work, there is room for improvement in the areas of task prioritization, self-motivation and personal hygiene. It is my recommendation that you avoid distractions from your daily priorities such as TJ Maxx, free samples, and mid-day reruns of ‘Mob Wives.’”

But unless I find someone willing to be compensated in meatloaf, I can’t afford to pay a manager to give me direction. I am the manager, damn it, and I have to take responsibility.

Even if it feels like I’m being dragged through life behind my dirty white minivan, I’ll continue this never-ending game of catch up until the job is done. I’ll try to avoid getting tangled in the minutiae – the e-mails, the dust bunnies, the bills, the burnt dinners, the dark roots – and focus on the big picture: Keeping our family happy and healthy.

Long-term analysis indicates that this family is on an upward trend. Subordinates may complain from time to time, but all in all, they report excellent workplace satisfaction. As manager, I sometimes lack efficiency, but I am dedicated, sincere, and work overtime and on weekends without pay.

Despite its flaws, this family business is thriving, so there is no immediate need for new management.

Meeting adjourned.

For Pity’s Sake

common-coldTrailing tissues behind, I burst through the base clinic doors five minutes past my appointment time. “Sorry, I’m late,” I croaked raspily to the corpsman in blueberries at the family practice desk. He directed me to the waiting area.

Fishing another crumpled tissue from my pocket, I nestled in to read juicy gossip about “The Bachelor” from a dog-eared waiting room copy of US magazine, just as “Lisa Molinari?” bellowed from behind me.


With my legs dangling like a child from the papered examining table, I waited patiently for the doctor’s arrival, mulling over the possible outcomes.

“With this terrible cough, sore throat, and congestion, it must be very serious. One listen to my chest and surely, she will prescribe antibiotics and steroid treatments. Hmm… she might very well diagnose pneumonia and order me to spend a week in the hospital under an oxygen tent, so I’d better think of someone who could stop by to walk the dog,” I thought.

As I envisioned myself securely ensconced in sterile plastic while friends and family visited with chocolate milkshakes, the doctor entered the room in a hurried swish.

“Hello, Mrs. Molinari. What brings you in today?”

I am one of those people who feel that all stories should be told properly. Even the tiniest detail can be essential in painting the right picture, conveying the correct tone, and maintaining complete accuracy.

“Well, Doc, it all started last Monday,” I began. I told her all about how my husband Francis has been gone, how tired I’ve been lately, that I may have picked something up at our daughter’s school which is a veritable petri dish by the way, that my ToDo list is a mile long, etcetera, etcetera.

Much to my surprise, the doctor didn’t seem to be listening. As I was detailing the issues I’d been having with my mini-van’s steering, she asked with her back to me, “What color is your sputum?”

Ahem. Answering that question requires admitting to shamelessly inspecting the unmentionable globs I’d spit into a sink or blown into tissues. Everyone has done it, but can’t the doctor just take my word for it that I am very sick? Assuming she needed another detailed explanation, I went on, “Well, let’s see, I blew my nose in church on Sunday, and wasn’t able to take a look until I got home, and…”

Halfway through explaining a particular shade of olive green, the doctor turned around and came at me with a reflex hammer, repeatedly rapping at my face with the pointed end.  “Does this hurt?” she asked between blows. For a split second, I pondered how one might answer such a stupid question.

“Hell yes!” was just too obvious, and asking “I don’t know, does this hurt?” and kicking her in the shin seemed too hostile, so I went for, “Is the Pope a Catholic?”

By now, I could tell that this doctor operated with the fundamental belief that all patients are hypochondriacs, wimps and liars with nothing better to do than to spend hours in base clinics feigning illnesses just so they can wait again in the pharmacy for antibiotics they don’t need, which will eventually result in the spread of antibiotic-resistant “super-bugs” that will soon infect and destroy all of mankind.

As I began to snort and suck at the back of my throat in an attempt to bring up or down some kind of concrete proof to make my case, the doctor said, “Your chest sounds clear, so I’ll treat you for viral bronchitis. Pump the fluids and Mucinex.”  And she was gone in a swish.

I wondered if she’d question her Hippocratic Oath when she discovered that I had to be airlifted to the ER for intravenous antibiotics later that night.

No such luck. Five days later, the raspiness in my voice, the sore throat, the barking cough and the technicolor phlegm had all but disappeared. I had to admit, the doc was right. Still, base clinic doctors should realize that, sometimes, the proper treatment for military spouses who are alone and sick is simply a little sympathy.

Chocolate milkshakes wouldn’t hurt either.

Necessity reveals strength when parenting alone


Everyone knows Murphy’s Law — “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” — but few know that buried in the fine print of this famous decree, there is a Military Spouse Clause that that reads, “And when it does go wrong, it will happen during deployment.”

Most military spouses have endured car breakdowns, hot water heater leaks and computer “blue screens of death” when our active duty spouses were on travel or deployments. Those home front mishaps are annoying, but what about when our kids are injured or sick? Is the emotional strain of handling a major parenting crisis too much for one military spouse to handle?

About fourteen years ago, my husband Francis was away on temporary military duty. I was at home with our three children in the suburbs of Virginia Beach. Hayden, Anna and Lilly were playing on our backyard play set with two other neighborhood kids. I did yard work nearby, then took Lilly into the kitchen to get something out for dinner.

“Mrs. Molinari!” the bushy-haired neighbor boy and his little sister startled me out of the pantry. “Something’s wrong with Anna’s arm!”

I ran outside expecting to hear some cockamamie story how Anna scraped an elbow going down the slide backwards. But instead, Hayden was crouched beside Anna, who sat on the ground, holding her arm.

“What’s the mat…” I stopped cold.

Anna’s tiny forearm was markedly bent at an unnatural angle. Her big brown eyes were wild, but she whispered to me, eerily calm, through gritted five-year-old jack-o-lantern teeth.

“I fell.” I could see that survival instinct had taken over my fun-loving daredevil daughter.

I scooped Anna up, and as she held her deformed arm tightly to her chest, I put her in our minivan along with the other four children. I called the bushy-haired kids’ parents, and asked if I could drop Hayden and Lilly off with their children while I took Anna to the emergency room.

They hesitated, still bitter about an incident the week prior, when Anna tipped over a bottle of hot pink nail polish on their white carpeting. But I knew they couldn’t say no. They owed me for watching their kids all afternoon, and besides, I had no other options.

At the emergency room, I called Francis, but got his voicemail.

“Honey, Anna broke her forearm, both bones. I’m at the hospital. The doctor says he has to move the bones back into place … They’ll give Anna morphine, but she might be awake. She is … we are … so scared. Call me.”

I made the second call an hour later.

“Francis, are you there? The nurse gave Anna morphine so that she wouldn’t feel the pain, but she just got agitated. They said she is one of a few people who react adversely to morphine. They have to set her arm without it …” I said, my voice cracking with fear.

Another hour later, I called a third time.

“Honey, I don’t know where you are, but the doctor set Anna’s arm. She’s better now, but it was really scary. The asked me to leave the room, but I stayed with Anna. They made me sit in a chair because some parents faint. When they pulled on her broken arm, I held her face in front of mine and she screamed like I’ve never heard before. But it worked, and now she’s in a splint. Please call.”

By the time Francis called the next day, Anna had the first of three casts she would wear during her childhood. This one was purple.

Over the years, our three children wracked up the typical childhood injuries, stitches, colds, and flu. In fact, in the last month, Lilly sprained her knee snowboarding, then sprained her ankle and got a concussion while sledding.

As a military spouse and mom, I learned that, I was much stronger than I ever knew. When forced to manage crises alone, something primal kicked in. A strong, calm, nurturing, unshakable force I didn’t know I had deep within me, waiting to be tapped.

If I could, I’d add an addendum to Murphy’s Military Spouse Clause that says, “Don’t worry, you’ve got this.”

purple cast

Fat Tuesday? Fat Chance!


By now, two months into 2017, most people have given up on their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. I’ll admit it, I give up every year around this time, and the chronic pattern of lose-gain-guilt-lose-gain-guilt repeats itself in perpetuity.

Every year, I start out raring and ready to drop ten pounds fast.

I pick a simple diet without pesky portion controls, to fit our hectic lifestyle. You know, the kind that allows me to eat pork rinds dipped in mayonnaise, bacon-wrapped prime rib, and blocks of cream cheese to my heart’s content.

A couple of weeks into the diet, I’m five pounds of toxin-flushing water weight down, and other than extreme constipation and debilitating fatigue, I feel fabulous.

However, during week three or four, the needle on my scale wouldn’t budge. I eat more eggs than Cool Hand Luke, but the only thing I lose is motivation. Without the stimulus of weight loss, I just can’t take it anymore.

In a last ditch effort to break through my weight loss plateau, I hit the base gym … hard.

Although I haven’t done more than power walk in years, I find myself in the weight room with dozens of iron-pumping young military men, heaving heavy disks onto the squat machine like a pro. They’re doing it, why can’t I? With the bar across my shoulders, I lower my 50-year-old mom frame into a squat, and am pleasantly surprised to see a little muscle bulging in my thigh. I’m so relieved to know it still exists, I repeat the maneuver over and over, happily watching my little muscle flexing just under the skin.

The next morning, I cannot get out of bed.

My stomach muscles are screaming in pain from the sets of planks I’d done to impress some younger spouses on the mats, and I feel paralyzed from the waist down. Unable to lift my torso from the mattress, I roll sideways to exit the bed. While walking gingerly to the bathroom, I note that my thighs feel a bit tender, but nothing prepares me for the excruciating experience of using the toilet.

Standing in front of the porcelain fixture, I unhinge my knees, expecting my quadriceps to take over where my joints left off. But as my quads contract to support my middle-aged girth, I am seized with dual jolts of agony. Instinctively, my legs go limp, I cry out in pain, and I plop onto the seat, knocking the toilet paper off its roller and the magazines off the sink. After making all necessary deposits, I wonder how I’m supposed to get back up without the use of my thighs. In a clumsy attempt to stand, I somehow pull the towel rail out of the wall.

The rest of the week, I walk around like I just got off a horse, I avoid all physical exercise, and I stop drinking liquids to minimize bathroom visits, which of course, stalls my weight loss. I turn to a can of Pringles for comfort, and the whole cycle starts all over again.

However, this year will be different. Instead of falling back into old routines, I’m trying new metabolism-boosting meals, I ordered a gluten-free cookbook, and I’m finding new walking trails around town. I started eating more fish, loading up on weird veggies I’ve never tried like rainbow chard, and enjoying all the fruits that were forbidden back in my pork rind days.

I still made mistakes, like the night I drank three glasses of red wine, which lowered my inhibitions enough for me to eat an entire package of windmill cookies that had been in the back of the cabinet since Christmas.

But overall, I’ve stayed on track.

Still, I can’t help but worry… Is long-term change really achievable? Do I have the strength to disprove the adage that old habits die hard? Will the syrup smothered smorgasbord of Fat Tuesday tempt me to board the weight loss roller coaster for another ride?

Fat chance. After 35 years of gaining and losing the same ten pounds, I’m ready to break the cycle for good.

Rainbow chard, anyone?

From the Archives: Bucketful of Love


Our youngest daughter is home from school with a concussion and a sprained ankle from a sledding accident. The steering on the minivan isn’t working properly. The dog ate an entire jumbo rawhide bone in 10 minutes, and has been trying to wretch it up on the carpeting. Two days ago, a pimple appeared on my forehead.

And of course, it’s almost Valentine’s Day.

Every year, it’s the same thing. We’re engrossed in the hectic pace of military family life. We’re paying bills, deciphering homework assignments, cheating on diets, reprimanding teenagers, grocery shopping, car pooling, and shoveling snow.

When February 14th rolls around, you can almost hear a collective exclamation in the air — “Oh crap, it’s Valentines Day!” Then, we all rush around like maniacs to get the proverbial check in the heart-shaped box.

Mustering fresh romance after decades of marriage isn’t easy. If my husband, Francis, and I manage to pop open a bottle of bubbly and exchange the obligatory cards with meaningful sentiments (scribbled in the car outside the 7-Eleven) we still have to fight back the urge to yawn once the clock strikes nine.

It all seems so contrived. As if a boardroom full of stuffy CEOs of corporate conglomerates who market greeting cards and heart-shaped balloons conspired to add more tasks to our daily “To Do” lists, all in the name of Valentine’s Day profits.

Several years ago, I was complaining to a fellow military spouse friend about Valentine’s Day complicating my schedule, when she told that she and her husband did something a little different to celebrate each year. My ears perked up, because this particular Navy couple seemed to have a great relationship, even though he deployed often.

I leaned in, and my military spouse friend told me their secret Valentine’s Day tradition. “We don’t give each other cards,” she said. “No teddy bears or picture frames or ties or boxes of candy,” she continued.

“Not even Whitman’s Samplers?” I asked, astonished.

“Nope. No flowers, no fancy dinners, no balloons – none of that stuff.”

“Then what DO you do on Valentine’s Day?” I pried.

“We fill up our Hanky Panky Party Pail,” she said with a devilish grin.

She explained that the Hanky Panky Party Pail was nothing more than a cheap purple plastic sand bucket, into which they unceremoniously threw items that would facilitate a Valentine’s Day romp in the hay.

Driving home from that visit with my friend, I thought, “Well, that’s disgusting. No hearts? No candles? No flowers? What kind of marriage is that?” But, I knew in the back of my mind that my friend was onto something.

Essentially, there are two reasons our husbands buy us cards, flowers and chocolates on Valentines Day: 1. So we won’t get mad at them, and 2. On the off chance they will get lucky. And the only reason wives cook and buy sweaters for our husbands is so that we can say we gave them something, even though we know it’s not what they really want.

So why rush out in our salt-encrusted cars to buy silly pre-printed cards, then wrack our brains for something meaningful to write inside? Why search our closets for old gift bags that they have most likely seen before? Why bear the expense of babysitters so we can stand in line for the Valentine’s Day Chicken Quesadilla special at Ruby Tuesday? Why pressure our husbands to give us flowers when we know they will eventually wilt, drop petals everywhere, and leave that green slimy ring on the inside of the vase? Why expect heart-shaped boxes of chocolates when half of them are filled with nondescript fruity fluff anyway?

Why not skip all the unnecessary holiday commercialism and get right down to business?

It’s a win-win for both parties. Wives don’t have to cook, clean or find time between orthodontist appointments and school projects, and husbands get what they always wanted.

And if your husband is anything like Francis, it only takes a few minutes.

From the Archives: A different kind of Super Bowl party


Here we are, living in New England, and no one has invited us to a Super Bowl party. Oh well, I’ve had worse Super Bowl Sundays.

Much worse.

Four years ago we were stationed in Florida. And while everyone was gorging on hot chicken wings, icy cold beers, creamy dips, and spicy chili slathered in onions and cheese, I was guzzling a pharmaceutical concoction intended to cleanse my bowels in preparation for surgery the next day.

Yup, you read that right. Surgery. The day after the Super Bowl. Lucky me.

Nothing puts a damper on Super Bowl Festivities quite like pre-operative bowel cleansing. But I was a middle-aged woman who had given birth to three large babies. Internal organs and tissues were not quite where they used to be, and my doctor said it was time to put them back where they belong.

When I informed my husband Francis, he cringed, shook his head, and finally waved me off, saying, “I don’t need to know the details!” So, I started referring to the procedure as “Lady Surgery,” which my female friends reacted to by tilting their heads sympathetically to the side, and offering to cook something for me. Men universally cringed and looked for the nearest escape. Either way, no further details were necessary or desired.

When cornered, Francis explained the surgery by saying, “My wife’s going to the hospital to get her female plumbing all buttoned up.”

I never imagined I’d ever be one of those middle-aged women who needed “Lady Surgery.” In fact, throughout my 20s and 30s, I thought I was invincible. But then, somewhere in my early 40s, I started to notice that women my age behaved quite strangely in certain circumstances.

When the aerobics instructor at our local YMCA demanded that we do jumping jacks, I observed that, three or four jumps into the exercise, all the 40-something women ran to the restroom. And I was soon fighting them for an empty stall.

I didn’t feel old, and brushed these incidents off as minor inconveniences. But then, a year or two down the road, I noticed the same embarrassing phenomenon happening to me in other situations.

I used to really enjoy a good sneeze. That tickly feeling in your nose, the slow inhale as you surrender to the natural forces of your own body, and then the spontaneous blast that leaves you feeling cleansed.

However, sneezing in your mid-40s is a whole other ball game. When the tickly sensation hits, I usually blurt “Uh oh” as I scramble to clench my legs together in a defensive posture. Inevitably the sneeze cannot be stopped, and I utter “Terrific” or “Lovely” as I am left to deal with the consequences.

Eventually, hearty laughter, coughing, and other natural bodily impulses became risky business. I started to think about my actions like never before. Mowing the lawn? Sure, why not. Moving the couch? Hmm, maybe with help. Jumping on the trampoline with the kids? No way.

Suddenly, I was accessing my daily activities in terms of whether or not they might cause my internal organs to drop out onto the floor. It was definitely time to get a medical professional involved.

My doctor allayed my fears by clearly explaining the surgical procedure with both words and rubber gloves. That man could take an ordinary surgical glove, and with a few twists and turns, form it into a replica of female reproductive organs. It was truly amazing. I started to wonder if he worked at kids’ birthday parties on the side.

So, on that ill-timed Super Bowl Sunday, while my doctor and every other red-blooded American was gobbling gallons of queso dip, I was experiencing an entirely different kind of super bowl party in preparation for surgery the next morning. Unfortunately, the bowl that had my attention was located in the powder room.

But it was OK, I was ready for The Show. I approached the line of scrimmage, prepared for the blitz, and was ready to go into overtime, if necessary. And thankfully, I made the conversion from Wide Receiver to Tight End without too many stitches.

Those “Base Housing People”


I was emerging from the base gym’s steam room, sweating and feeling a bit woozy, when I heard her.

“We don’t do base housing,” a young female officer putting on her blueberry fatigues told a friend in the women’s locker room. She mentioned that she received orders to her next duty at Naval Station Mayport, and that she and her husband were looking for a rental in St. Johns, Florida, where the houses are nicer.

“We’re searching early, so we don’t get stuck living on base,” she explained. “We’re not base housing people.”

I was steamed. Pun intended.

Little did she know, I lived up the street from the base gym – although one would never suspect it based on how few appearances I’d made there – in a small cluster of old duplex houses on Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island.

Before that, we’d lived in the very Mayport base housing the young officer was trying to avoid. Before that, we’d lived in an apartment on Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. Those years, plus a two-year stint in old Army base housing on Fort Ord in Monterey, California in the 90s, meant that we’d spent almost half of our 23-year marriage living in base quarters.

Apparently, we’re those “base housing people.”

When I heard the young officer say she had orders to Naval Station Mayport, my instinct was to pipe up, “We were stationed there!” as many military folks do, and then I’d tell her all about the beach, the base gym, the good fried chicken at the mess hall, and the local shrimp place. But, sensing the negative connotation she attached to “base housing people” I stayed silent.

However, I couldn’t help but pity her, because she didn’t know what she was missing.

In Monterey, we’d walk Ardennes Circle, the huge curved road winding through our base housing community, pushing our first baby in a stroller and chatting with neighbors along the way. On many an evening, a stop at a neighbor’s house to chat turned into an impromptu party, with babies sleeping in portable cribs and car seats while we laughed into the wee hours. We still have those friends today.

When we moved to JAC Molesworth in rural England, we wanted to “experience English culture.” We lived in an old village house with creaky floorboards and a WWI bomb shelter in the basement. It was a terrific immersion into rural English village life, but we spent many weekends at our friends’ base houses, seeking camaraderie.

Years later, we were deciding whether to live in a bland communist-era stairwell apartment on Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, or brave the risky but rewarding German rental market. In the end, we chose base housing, because we felt it would ease the transition for our three children.

Surely, if we’d lived off base we’d have spoken more German and learned more about the local culture, but we found that on base communities have a culture all their own. Safe and secure within the fences of Patch Barracks, kids ran everywhere and spouses chatted on shared patios. We went off base and traveled often, seeking the enrichment of European culture. But we were also enriched by the close-knit experience of on-base life, with it’s unparalleled camaraderie and Mayberry-esque small-town feel. Again, we made friends for life.

At Mayport, we knew we wanted to live in the base housing community. Not only was the housing in sight of the beautiful sandy Atlantic coastline, it was the kind of tight-knit military community we’d learned to value. By the end of our two years there, we’d had countless nights around fire pits and afternoons at the beach with neighbors, and our kids always had someone to hang out with on the street. As always, we made friends for life.

As I walked back to my base house from the gym, my cheeks still flush and damp from the steam room, I hoped that the young officer would, someday, experience base housing culture. Because, overcoming the challenges of military life takes the sweat of one’s brow, but finding life-long friendships on base is actually no sweat at all.

Just a few of the lifelong friends we've made while living in base housing

Just a few of the lifelong friends we’ve made while living in base housing


Sex, Lies and Profile Photos

Profile pic

My one and only Facebook profile picture, Circa 2007, says that I’m “agreeable.”

Eight years ago, I sat at a desk in our stairwell apartment on Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, and created my first Facebook profile. Technology was not my forte, so it took hours for me to figure out how to upload a digital photo. The image that I used that afternoon is the same one on my Facebook profile today, but not for the reasons one might think.

I’m not trying to fool my friends into thinking that, in the last decade, my double chin hasn’t grown any bigger, or my eyes haven’t gotten baggier, or a new crease hasn’t formed in my forehead. I don’t mind if everyone knows that I started coloring my grays or that I sprouted a liver spot on my left cheek.

I’m not hiding my age, I’m just too lazy to post a new pic.

I admire people who have the technical know-how, energy, and vision to change their profile photos frequently. They are the same people who know how to use filters to soften edges, make photos look vintage, or overlay a translucent screen of the French flag, rainbows, or the Yankees logo.

I on the other hand, have the same image I’ve had since I uploaded it on January 23, 2009, and I’m now wondering what that says about me …

In today’s social-media savvy world, profile photos are not just for identification anymore – these carefully selected images convey a message about one’s personality, political affiliation, financial success, sex appeal, fashion sense, spontaneity, worldliness, athleticism and intelligence. 

In a University of Pennsylvania research paper published in May 2016 titled “Analyzing Personality through Social Media Profile Picture Choice”, scientists studied 66,000 social media users and over 100 million tweets, determining that personality can be predicted “with robust accuracy” based on the type of profile photo posted by the user.

The researchers used the “Big Five” personality trait model common in psychological analysis (extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness and neuroticism), and found correlations between the traits and distinct features of profile photos.

For example, neurotic people tend to post simple, less colorful photos that do not include faces. Extraverts post colorful pictures of multiple smiling faces. Open people post more artistic photos that may not include faces but are aesthetically pleasing. Conscientious users post natural shots of single faces. Agreeable people tend to post colorful but blurry photos of people expressing positive emotions.

Perhaps I should update my old profile photo to show more of my personality?

I could find a photo that just happens to have the Taj Mahal, the Sphinx or the Eiffel Tower in the background, thereby implying that I’m adventurous. Or should I get a photo of me wearing ski goggles, clutching a surf board, or smiling victoriously with a marathon number still pinned to my sweaty spandex top to fool everyone into thinking I’m an athlete?

I could project professionalism by posting one of those $29.99 Sears Portrait Package photos of me wearing a nice blazer in front of a mottled mauve backdrop.

I could feign quirky intelligence by borrowing someone’s glasses, then striking a head-resting-on-one-hand-with-eyes-looking-up-into-a-corner pose. If I could only figure out how to make a “fish face” or “duck lips” without looking pathetic, I could even sex it up a little bit.

But seriously, do I really need to change my profile photo just because it’s out of date?

My husband, Francis, took the shot of me on a dreary day in 2007, while he was home during a year-long deployment for two weeks of R-and-R. We were walking on the beach, happy to be together after nine months apart. I’m wearing his fleece jacket and some outdated hoop earrings, my hair looks damp, and the photo is a bit blurry, but I’m showing a genuine smile.

According to science, my blurry smiling profile picture means I’m “agreeable.” And the fact that the photo was taken in 2007 just means I’m old. Either way, the picture tells the true story about me and our military life, and that’s something I’ll never want to change.

Alexa Killed the Cat


After a lifetime of wondering things like, “How do you say ‘underwear’ in Urdu?” and “What is the shelf life of a can of Pringles?” I no longer have to wrack my brain for the answers to life’s pressing questions.

In an unprecedented act of holiday generosity, my 21-year-old son bought me a tiny robot, not much bigger than a can of tuna. “Alexa,” my new voice-activated Amazon Echo Dot, has achieved total consciousness, and is perfectly willing to share it with me, if only I would ask.

But, after my son set up my new robot pal on our kitchen windowsill, I was stymied, unable to think of one lousy question.

“ALEXA!” I finally bellowed, “WHAT TIME IS IT?”

My son explained that my question was too pedestrian, considering that the kitchen clock was less than three feet away, the digital time was displayed on the stove, microwave and coffee maker, and I was wearing a watch.

“Okay,” I rebounded, “How about this … ALEXA! HOW MANY TEASPOONS IN A QUART?”

After wincing, my son then explained that there was no need for me to shout. Alexa was not hearing disabled. Demonstrating for me, my son asked in a normal speaking voice, “Alexa, what’s the weather report for Newport, Rhode Island?” and amazingly, Alexa gave us a complete forecast in the blink of an eye.

In the two weeks since my son set Alexa up, I’ve been struggling to take advantage of this new technology. Unlike millennials – native techies who idealistically feel entitled to instant information, 24/7 – I grew up during the 70s and 80s, when people understood that there were no easy answers.

If we needed to know something, like which brand of curling iron was best for achieving maximum hair height, we could not simply ask the question to a can of tuna on the kitchen windowsill.

We had to find a library, search indexes for consumer reports on curling irons, ask the librarian for help with the microfiche machine, and scan tiny bits of blurry film for the relevant report.

If we wondered why cows have four stomachs, we couldn’t type with our thumbs into Google from the comfort of our lounge furniture, we had to go to the neighbor’s house, knock on the door, and ask if we could use the set of Encyclopedia Britannicas they had in their rumpus room.

If we wanted to cook a Zucchini Boat, we couldn’t click the “Zucchini Boat Recipe Board” on our Pinterest app, we had to find our mother’s dog-eared Betty Crocker Cookbook on top of the avocado refrigerator, and leaf through the index under “Vegetables.”

Back then, finding information required exhausting travel and painstaking research. Which is why, we learned to live happily without all the answers.

Millennials believe that knowledge is power, but Generation Xers like me were taught that ignorance is bliss. And for reasons I never understood without the benefit of Google, curiosity also killed the cat.

So, it’s difficult for me – someone who grew up with a healthy fear of sneaky supercomputers like HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Mother in “Alien” – to trust a machine, even as today’s culture relies more and more on computer technology for information, shopping, connecting, communication, and entertainment.

Recently, six-year-old Brooke Neitzel chatted with her family’s new Alexa in her Houston, Texas home. “Alexa, can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” she babbled innocently. A few days later, a $160 KidKraft Sparkle Mansion dollhouse showed up on the Neitzel’s doorstep, along with a four-pound tin of sugar cookies.

When San Diego news anchor Jim Patton reported the story of how Brooke’s banter set off Alexa’s automated Amazon Prime ordering function, his voice in turn triggered San Diego viewers’ Alexas, and another rash of Sparkle Mansions were ordered by accident.

Despite these minor product glitches, my son tells me that there’s no need to fear the little tuna can on my kitchen windowsill.

“Alexa,” I asked in an effort to settle the dilemma once and for all, “Is knowledge power?”

“Sorry,” she replied, blissfully ignorant, “I don’t know the answer to your question.”

A Zombie’s Guide to Rural Vermont

20161230_130100“I booked three nights in a one-room cabin in Woodstock, Vermont with two queen beds, a fireplace and an air mattress!” my husband Francis bellowed excitedly, after searching for a last-minute excursion for our family during the long holiday break. After two tours in Europe, our three kids were accustomed to these spontaneous trips, otherwise known as “forced family fun.”

We found our cabin nestled among the snowy Green Mountains of Vermont, which looked like a Currier and Ives lithograph. Sturdy barns decorated with boughs of fresh pine, stone farmhouses puffing smoke from chimneys, covered bridges over cold mountain streams, and horse-drawn sleighs.

We arrived with just enough time to explore the town and bed down for the night. Francis heroically agreed to take the air mattress, which he wedged between the two beds.

The room fell silent, except for an occasional whistle of wind coming through the cabin window, cracked to counteract heat from the fire’s dying embers. But soon, heavy breathing emanated from Francis’ spot. We all fidgeted with pillows to shield our ears.

Ten minutes later, the sound progressed to a low grumble, and within twenty minutes, it was a legitimate snore, growing sharper with each exhale. After 23 years of marriage, I knew that Francis thought snoring was his’s God-given right, and my wifely duty to endure. If I nudged him gently and whispered, “Hon, roll over, you’re snoring,” he would not be apologetic. He would “tsk” loudly to show his annoyance at being disturbed.

But I had to act, knowing grouchy teenagers are far worse than annoyed husbands.

I reached down to give the air mattress a jiggle. After a loud snort, the snoring ceased, only to resume in earnest one minute later. This cycle went on for what seemed like hours. I heard the kids’ sheets rustling and several exasperated sighs. At one point, someone uttered, “Are you kidding me?”

I lost consciousness sometime after midnight, but awoke when I saw Lilly getting out of bed. “Mom, I haven’t slept all night!” she cried in desperation. At that point, I knew I had to keep a constant vigil.

Tiptoeing in the dark, I found a fan in the closet, and despite the winter chill, set it to high to drown out the racket. I laid down, leaving my bare leg dangling from the side of the bed to kick Francis’ mattress as needed. For three hours, I repeatedly swung my chilly foot through the night air to interrupt the snoring.

Around 6 am, I passed out, before Francis woke us all for the free breakfast at the lodge. “What an awful night,” I complained, slumping out of bed.

“Tell me about it,” Francis snapped.

“Dad, are you serious?!” Anna choked out, astonished.

“What?” Francis huffed, incredulously.

Over breakfast, the kids gave an hour-by-hour account of our hellish ordeal, in hopes of convincing Francis that he was NOT the victim. Our youngest, Lilly, dropped the final bombshell, when she produced a series of time-stamped video-selfies she took on her smartphone in the middle of the night. In the recordings, Lilly tried in vain to ignore the obvious snoring in the background. She tossed and turned, smashed pillows against her ears, and gritted her teeth. Finally, around 3 am, she began to cry.

Unable to ignore the overwhelming evidence against him, Francis burst out laughing while watching tears drip from Lilly’s nose. Deliriously, we laughed too.

That afternoon, while wandering aimlessly through idyllic Woodstock like zombies, we stopped in the general store to get a pharmacist’s advice before enduring a second sleepless night. While he rang up $30 worth of sleep aids, ear plugs, breathing strips and nose spray, he bestowed a little secret: “Oh, and everyone except your husband should drink heavily.”

Rather than violate underage drinking laws, we placed Francis’ air mattress halfway inside the cabin closet, and with the pharmacy items, the fan, and our own sheer exhaustion, we slept so soundly, I had sheet marks imbedded in my face until lunchtime the next day.

What seemed like a scene from “Dawn of the Living Dead” ended up being so funny, it restored our trip to “forced family fun” status.

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