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what a football coach can teach you about clothes

I’ve consumed a lot of football by osmosis. Because the game itself does not appeal to me, I’ve had to find other ways to get through the hours that Tom spends on the couch during football season, so I focus on things like how cold Pam Oliver looks when she’s on the sidelines during a Pats home game, or how alarmingly orange Kirk Herbstreit has gotten in recent years. Mostly though, when required to watch football, I focus on what people are wearing during the game. The uniforms are diverting, but the real fashion lessons are to be learned from the coaches.

1. Commit to your hat

I don’t know a lot about football, but I know this: Paul Bear Bryant knew how to pull off a hat. Look at that houndstooth, and the feather! With a paisley tie, no less. Kills me. It’s great that men these days are exploring hats as an extension of their outfits. The thing about a hat, though, is that if you are in any way hesitant about it, it’s going to show. And once you start doubting your hat, so will others, and all of a sudden, you’re the Guy Who is Trying Too Hard.

So you need to own the hat. It helps with the owning if your hat does not look so new that it’s obvious that it’s the first time you are wearing it. Do what needs to be done–stomp on it a bit, or throw it in your kid’s costume bin for a week or two. What you are going for is “Hmm, he looks cool in that hat,” not “Whoa! Now that’s a fedora.”

I have nothing on-topic to say about Woody and Bo here, except my husband insisted I include this photo, and I guess they are both wearing hats. However, I can point out five crimes against fashion between the two of them, how about you? You can start with the redundant undershirt on Woody. Go.

2. To tuck, or not to tuck

My boss is totally bothered when guys at the office do not tuck in their shirts on casual Fridays. As he tells it, some shirts are meant to be tucked in, and others are not. I think, in general, a good way to tell if your shirt was meant to be tucked is to look at the hem. If the hem is longer in the back than in the front, chances are the shirt was meant to be tucked in, although there are exceptions.

But whatever the shirt, you should tuck or not tuck in a manner that flatters your particular shape. Rex Ryan here is a generally odious man and has the honor of being my ultimate low in “Would You Rather,” meaning that I would rather have relations with almost any man alive over Rex Ryan. But I think it could be argued that in the photo above, Rex is dressing in a way that is as flattering as is possible for his figure. He is wearing black over the largest part of his body, it is contrasted with the white underneath, which draws even more attention away from his middle, and most importantly, the top is not tucked in. I’m not saying you can’t tell that Rex has a gut, I’m just saying that he’s doing a passable job of minimizing it.

Charlie Weis could take some tips from Rex Ryan on how to minimize his problem areas. To put it simply: Charlie is a tucker, when he shouldn’t be. The thing is, if you don’t hate Notre Dame as much as Tom does, you may not have had much occasion to watch Charlie Weis, and you might think that this photo captures him on a particularly bad day. But you would be wrong, because every time I have seen Charlie Weis, he is wearing this exact same outfit. And I can’t figure it out, because not only is this outfit not minimizing his figure flaws, it looks to have been designed specifically to call attention to his trouble spots. For example, his belt is cinched so tight that it makes me uncomfortable to look at him, so I can only imagine what it must feel like for Charlie. I like to imagine that Number 13 in the photo is imploring Charlie to loosen his belt, or at the very least, for the LOVE OF GOD, to pull his shirt out of his pants.

3. Suit up

I understand that the NFL no longer allows coaches to wear suits on the field, because it wants its coaches to wear NFL-sponsored gear. I didn’t cite-check this info, so if it’s wrong, you can contact Ethan Samson about it. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that coaches no longer wear suits during games, because I don’t care who you are–if you are a guy, chances are you are going to look better in a suit than in any other outfit.

A properly cut suit that fits right will broaden your shoulders while narrowing your hips and waist. I realize there are two big ifs right there, since a lot of guys buy suits in the wrong cut that fit too big. George Halas, above, is wearing a suit that I’d swear is 80’s Armani, except the photo is from the 1930’s. George is pulling off the too-big suit, but that’s probably only because he’s moving in the photo and the suit has great drape. I’d bet if he was standing still, the suit wouldn’t look half as good. And chances are, you aren’t gesticulating angrily from the sideline in your everyday life. In fact, you’re probably standing still a lot. So get a suit that fits. Like Tom Landry’s.

Or Mike Nolan’s. I don’t know a thing about Mike Nolan, but I like what he’s selling. He looks like he wandered off of L.A. Law and walked onto the football game on the next channel by accident, but that’s ok. He is also clearly doused in Drakkar Noir. But that also is ok, because I don’t care what you say about Drakkar Noir–that stuff smells bomb. The jacket is a little long, and the pants are a bit too big, but I’ll cut him some slack since I think this suit probably actually IS Armani. I don’t even mind the lining of his suit, which looks like it should be wallpapering the boudoir of a French whore. And news flash, guys: tie bars are back. So not only is Mike Nolan hot, he is on trend for 2012.

4. Layers are your friends, except when they’re not

How could you not love a guy whose name is Lovie, and who will wear that hat on national TV? I put Lovie here with Bill Belichick (at top) in the obvious category of how not to layer. Bill Belichick is, as usual, wearing clothes that I would paint my house in, but I actually prefer his outfit to Lovie’s, because Lovie has layered his sweatshirt over a mock turtleneck. What is the point, exactly, of a mock turtleneck? I’m serious–if you know, please share, because I am dying to know. I mean, if your neck is cold, go full turtle. If your neck is not cold, save yourself some grief and just go with a normal shirt with a normal neckline. I also object to Lovie’s decision to pair his ill-advised sweatshirt-mock turtleneck combo with Dockers that have a knife pleat in them. His outfit is the equivalent of a reverse mullet. Party on top, business on the bottom. So terrible.

Now that you’ve seen how not to layer, we’re going to go the other way, and Mike Ditka is going to show you how layering is done.

Ditka is lookin’ natty, and he knows it. I love the monochromatic mixing, which, to be fair, is probably because blue is the Bears’ color. I love the acrylic sweater over the shirt and polka dot tie. I love the windbreaker. My grandpa would KILL for that windbreaker. And the proportions are right. Everything fits. He hasn’t tucked his sweater into his pants. I love this man.

5. Be yourself

I read a long article about John Madden a few years ago in the New York Times that made him sound like a seriously quirky and lonely dude. Ever since that article, I’ve found him kind of fascinating. Anyway, I love this photo because John Madden is being John Madden, and it’s totally ridiculous, but it’s working. I like the white belt with the punched out hole detail. I like the Adidas. I even like the half-sleeve shirt, which says middle management in the worst possible way. In the end, you don’t really see the outfit, you see the man. And that’s what clothes, at their best, should do for you.

welcome to hell

No one likes to fly with kids. But most parents do it anyway, to teach their kids how to travel and in order to travel themselves. Tom and I are not those parents. We used to travel, to interesting places. No longer. Now, there is almost nowhere I need to be so badly that I am willing to fly with my kids to get there. At this point, I won’t even drive anywhere further than two hours away with my kids, because two hours is exactly how long a 90 minute DVD lasts after you’ve kept your hounds at bay for the first 30 minutes of your car trip using fruit leather and window stickers.

Finn, my older kid, has been interfering with our travel plans since he was in utero. A long-planned fifth anniversary trip to India coincided with Finn’s 12th gestational week. I ignored my doctor’s advice and got on the plane for the Subcontinent, where I experienced a sustained bout of nausea and vomiting the likes of which, I am convinced, have yet to be experienced by any other human. Not to get too graphic about it, but if one vomits too forcefully, they will break blood vessels in their face. That’s the kind of vomiting I’m talking about. I vomited that way for four weeks.

India is an amazing country, but it’s not the country you want to visit if you are in the throes of morning sickness. We had scrimped and saved to spend two weeks in a series of Oberoi hotels; I made it to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur before Tom put me on a plane for home halfway through our trip. I recall almost nothing about the trip except the Taj Mahal and the fact that each hotel had lovely and intricate tilework surrounding the base of the toilets. Because Tom was flying on to Kazakhstan for work at the end of the trip, he got to spend a romantic five nights in Mumbai, by himself.

Just as Finn started to reach an age where the prospect of flying did not make me want to gouge my eyes out, things got exponentially harder, because Tate came along. I say exponentially, because Tate, unlike Finn, is a bolter.

Here he is in his launch pose. Most of our other photos of Tate are blurry, or only include one foot in the frame. Combine Tate’s bolting with Tom’s generally distracted nature, and you have a situation ripe for traveling disaster. It’s not just Tom–I once turned my head at an airport and found Tate riding the baggage carousel by the time I turned it back.

But, I can’t avoid flying with my kids forever. Tom’s family has been kind enough to come out to Oregon for the last couple Christmases, and now it’s our turn. So, here I am, packing for North Carolina. And the dread I feel for tomorrow’s flight is palpable. The packing itself is stressful, as we have to make certain that we have packed each of the 39 codependency objects my kids require when they leave home. Like the sound machine. That’s right, a sound machine. You snicker, but try getting your kid to sleep without a sound machine when his cousins are out in the living room playing video games. Also essential: carseats, for the rental car that you’ll be driving when you land. Our carseats weigh approximately 80 pounds apiece, and were designed specifically to frustrate parents who have to lug them from the car to the terminal, as they have no handholds or grips. For those who have not had the pleasure, carrying such a carseat is comparable to carrying an 80-pound metal safe covered in Crisco that you can’t quite get your arms around.

Speaking of portability, don’t forget the ratty yet voluminous blankets your kids need in order to fall asleep, because sleep is the holy grail when flying with kids. My kids’ blankets trail behind them on the airport floor, picking up SARS and Ebola virus on the way. And it’s all for naught, because it turns out those blankets don’t work their magic on the plane. Your kids will be awake for the entire flight. If you’re tempted to try Benadryl to get them to doze off, don’t bother. God laughs at you. I tried it with Finn once and his system reacted like I’d given him speed. So why bother with the blankets, right? Right. Try leaving the blankets at home and see how your kids handle it. Just try. I dare you.

Once you’re on the plane, the fun really starts. If you don’t have kids, I’m going to explain something right now that may blow your mind. And that is this: there is no possible way to prevent a child from kicking the back of the seat in front of him. There just isn’t. It’s a bodily impulse for a kid that cannot be stopped. Before I had kids, I was the asshole who would recline their seat all the way back and then bitch loudly about the kid behind me kicking my seat. As a parent sitting next to such a kid, the best you can do is continually hound them to stop, even though you know he’s as powerless to stop as you are powerless to fly the plane. The hounding is not for you, or for your kid. It’s for your audience–the people around you–to indicate that you really are trying to stop your kid, even when you know you can’t.

So many other pleasures to discuss, but my packing awaits. I will end by saying that if you have a baby and the baby is flying in your lap, I have special sympathy for you. I flew to Cabo once with Tate on my lap, and he was a leggy one year old at the time with elbows like Bill Laimbeer. He kicked and screamed the entire way, much to the delight of the entire cabin. At one point I just let him walk up and down the aisle unattended, because I had no other recourse. None of my efforts to get him to sleep worked–until, that is, we landed in Mexico. Upon deplaning, Tate promptly fell into the deep, silent slumber that I would have given my left kidney for during the flight.

If you’re traveling with kids this holiday season, best of luck. I sympathize with you, and hope you will sympathize with me if I happen to be on your flight.

better half

We all know a couple where the disparity in attractiveness between the two halves is of note. I don’t need the difference in attractiveness between Tom and me to be that stark, but let me be frank: neither do I want it to be a close call that I am more attractive than Tom. I never want anyone to consider me the lesser half of anything, and that includes my marriage. I don’t want to be the less intelligent half, or the less funny half. I can probably take less athletic half, but even that makes me chafe a bit, because I am very good at step aerobics, and Tom is not.

Competitiveness, in general, is not a desirable trait. Competitiveness with your spouse, even less so. But it’s a trait I have, and these days, I have it in spades, because I’m feeling threatened. Tom and I started a health kick about six months ago, and while I fell off the kick in short measure, Tom actually stuck to it, and has lost almost 30 pounds in the process. When we first started the 21-day Clean Diet, I felt confident that Tom would make it 5 days, maybe 7 days, tops. Instead, it was me that folded like a cheap suit. The end, for me, looked like this: after a liquid dinner at Prasad, I walked into Little Big Burger alone and crushed a burger and fries like I hadn’t eaten in six days, which I hadn’t. I have a visceral memory of watching the line cook slowly turn the beef on the grill and talking myself out of reaching across the bar to cram the half-cooked patty in my mouth. Eating my truffle fries, I felt the shame that an addict must feel upon relapse, but alas, the deed was done.

After my collapse, I shrugged off my failure and began re-focusing all my efforts on sabotaging Tom. I began to think that I’d started him on the cleanse, and that, by God, I could take him off of it. A large part of me was incredulous that Tom could succeed at something where I had failed. But I had forgotten a key character trait of Tom, which is that he is goal-oriented in the extreme. He treated the cleanse like it was his own personal version of The Biggest Loser. Soon, the slight paunch he’d grown over years of long hours at the office melted away. So too, his late night eating. Pre-cleanse, I’d come downstairs most mornings and find my kitchen looking like it had been ransacked by a bear. No longer. Tom also started going to the gym regularly, in very tiny shorts.

As his weight got uncomfortably close to mine, everything Tom did or said became intensely annoying. Every time he asked for salad with a “squeeze of lemon,” I wanted to hurl his water glass across the restaurant. Every time he checked out his shrinking belly in the mirror, I had to physically restrain myself from kicking him in the nuts. I started baking more than usual, and when he would say “no thank you” to the fruits of my labors, I’d sulk, for hours. The more he said no, the less subtle I became:

To no avail. Tom’s still on the diet, improving himself. As for me, I’ve spent the better part of December eating one-pound bags of holiday Hershey’s Kisses and chasing the candy with fudge. I don’t want Tom to fail, exactly. I am happy that he is getting in shape and taking care of his heart. I’ve even stopped gritting my teeth at his smug demeanor when he’s denying himself something. It’s just that it’s hard when someone you live with and see every day continually improves, leaving you behind. But maybe this is how life partnerships are supposed to work. Maybe it’s not love that keeps a union going, but a mutual desire to better oneself, so that you stay ahead of the other. All I know is, January is in my sights, and Tom’s not going to know what hit him.

ways to wear: white jeans

You’re reading the title of this post and thinking that I don’t know that it’s December. I do. A NYC friend (thanks Kim!) recently mentioned that she loves her white jeans. Then I started thinking about my white jeans, and how I might wear them in the winter. So here you are: one pair of white jeans (Citizens of Humanity, Ava, $164, hemmed to 26.5 inches)–four doable winter looks. Doable, that is, provided the weather is cold and dry. I’d advise you not to try any of these outfits in the rain.

A word on white jeans. In terms of fit, white jeans rank right up there with swimwear in difficulty. If you haven’t sobbed or screamed in horror in a dressing room while trying a pair of white jeans, you are made of tougher stuff than me.

You should accept from the outset that your thighs and butt will look bigger in white jeans. What you should NOT accept are white jeans that are transparent or make your legs look dimpled from the outside. If you have jeans that are doing this, let me suggest that it’s not you, it’s the jeans. With white jeans, I think too much stretch works against you. I don’t know why, but that’s been my experience. Try a stiffer denim (one with a higher cotton percentage vs. the stretchy stuff). Also, you may look better in white jeans that are a size or two bigger than your normal size. I think the Citizens of Humanity pair shown here, in the color Santorini, are probably the most forgiving that I’ve tried in a while. They are still available online, at Nordstrom and elsewhere.

White on White

I love white on white during the summer, but it looks even cooler in the winter because it is unexpected. You can’t just walk out in a cotton shirt and cropped jeans though, so throw on a blazer or cardigan. Nothing too dark. Stay with neutrals and your outfit will look soft and cozy–the fashion equivalent of a mug of eggnog.

I bought this shirt at the Gap about three years ago for $48. It is a lovely, delicate thing that promptly fell apart upon first wash. That’s not the Gap’s fault, that’s my fault, for throwing it in with a load of towels. The embroidery is torn and the hems are frayed, and still I cannot let it go. I actually searched eBay to see if anyone might be selling the same shirt, but try searching “white shirt from the Gap” on eBay and see where that gets you. If, by chance, you own this shirt in a size large, I will buy it from you. Just name your price.

Work Whites

We live in an age of political correctness and workplace harassment suits, where management is understandably hesitant to get into matters of workplace dress with female employees. So take advantage. In my book, if you wear non-blue jeans with a top long enough to cover the jean detailing at the waist and pockets, they aren’t really jeans. To really throw your boss off the scent, though, I’d pair the pants with a buttoned-up top and work flats. I like this outfit because of the shrunken proportions and the graphic punch of the black, white, and orange-red.

Bundle Up

The sweater below is one of my favorites, although I can’t eat anything in it because of the sleeves. Who needs food when you have a sweater this awesome? That’s a joke. I do. I need food even with a sweater this awesome.

If you have a bunch of neutrals laying around, trying punching them up with some neon. American Apparel sold these highlighter tanks over the summer and I can’t wait for May so I can buy some more.

Ahoy Matey

I’ve had at least four people ask me why I look down in the photos on this blog. I look down because I want you to look at the clothes, not my face, which generally reflects the exhaustion I feel. In any event, white jeans always look good with navy, and stripes. Always. Since it’s winter, pile it all on, as I’ve done below. Going warm on top will distract you from your numb ankles.

Note: I wear cropped jeans year-round, and if there’s one thing that will kill a pair of cropped jeans, it’s socks. So I don’t wear socks most of the year, no matter how cold it gets. Sometimes style has to give way to comfort, and sometimes comfort has to give way to style. I refuse to wear thongs no matter how visible my panty line. Pick your battle, right? Anyway, if you don’t mind your ankles getting a little cold, a cropped length is great for white jeans because they won’t gather as much dust at the hem. If you choose to go cropped and insist on wearing the jeans with socks, go with God, and don’t say yoonanimous sent you.

pizza night

Sundays are a downer.  If Friday is anticipation, and Saturday, fulfillment, Sunday is…inertia.  The shadow of Monday looms over Sunday and makes the entire day a bit melancholy.  So in my house, Sunday is the perfect day of the week to turn into a standing pizza night.

No matter what day of the week it may be, I like the idea of having a regular pizza night.  Rituals are calming, and I appreciate that having one night devoted to pizza gives me one less dinner to have to get creative about.  Also, homemade pizza can be pretty healthy, as it tends to be lighter on cheese and heavier on fresh ingredients.  Best of all, kids enjoy making pizza, so you get a time-killing activity on top of the actual dinner.  Divide the dough into mini-pizzas, so each kid can customize their pizza to their exact specifications.  If a booger should fall into the cheese, so be it–you’re not going to be the one eating it.

photo by suzanne hallerman

Pizza night is perfect for low-key entertaining.  Just pick up enough dough for everyone, mine your fridge and pantry for toppings, and open a bottle of wine.  Your guests can bring a salad or dessert, and you’re set.

If you’ve tried pizza at home and were underwhelmed, a few tips.  Get that oven preheated early, and make it screaming hot (425-450 degrees, depending on the oven).  Make sure your dough has a chance to rest outside the fridge, for 20 minutes, to get it pliant and workable.  Don’t overload your pizza with too many toppings, or it will get water-logged.  And break out that Silpat you thought was only good for cookies.  My pizza was sometimes prone to burning on the outside and under-cooking on the inside, until my friend Suzanne suggested I stretch my dough on my Silpat mat.  The crust turned out golden brown, crisp, and amazing.

One last tip: I like to get the kids’ pizzas in the oven first.  The grownups can chat and assemble their pizzas while the kids are eating theirs.  Then the kids can play or watch a movie while the adults socialize over wine and their pies.  Doing the pizzas in batches also alleviates any oven space issues.

Below, my recipe for my favorite grown-up pizza.

finn's a sauce guy...his buddy alonzo digs on cheese

Pizza With Clams, Red Onion, and Arugula

One large disc of fresh pizza dough (store bought or homemade)

4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1/2 red onion, sliced into thin rings

3 6.5 oz. cans chopped (not minced) clams (I prefer Snow’s), drained

4 cups arugula (loosely packed)

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

crushed red pepper

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

olive oil

1. If your dough is refrigerated, pull it out of the fridge 20 minutes before you’re ready to start.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

3. Sprinkle some cornmeal or flour on your pizza pan, cookie sheet, or jelly roll pan, and stretch your dough evenly on it.  I use a 13 X 17 jelly roll pan with a Silpat mat.  If you are using a Silpat, you can skip the flour or cornmeal, because the pizza will slide right off the Silpat after baking.

4. Drizzle olive oil over the dough, and spread it with your hands until the dough is evenly coated, but without pools of olive oil.  Start with a tablespoon and go from there.

5. Sprinkle the minced garlic evenly over the dough.

6. Evenly distribute the mozzarella on the pizza.  Don’t place the cheese too close to the edge, as it will spread quite a bit.

7. Spread the red onion evenly over the pizza, and then the clams.

8. Sprinkle pizza liberally with crushed red pepper and black pepper, according to your preference.  Sprinkle with some kosher salt.

9. Bake somewhere in the top half of the oven.  Start checking it at about 12 minutes.  The baking time will vary depending on the oven.  You’ll know it’s done when the cheese is melted, bubbly, and beginning to brown.  The crust should be golden brown, as in the picture below.

10. While the pizza is baking, toss the arugula with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper–just enough to moisten the leaves.

11. When the pizza is done baking, pull out of the oven, and spread the arugula over the pizza.

12. Slice into wedges or rectangles, and serve with additional crushed red pepper alongside!  Pizza will serve 3-4, depending on appetite.

*Notes: Stores these days sell some great fresh pizza dough (I especially like Trader Joe’s), but if you have a bread machine, try using it to make your own.  Homemade dough is beautiful stuff–stretchy, yeasty, and pillowy.  I like Beth Hensperger’s recipes for cornmeal pizza dough and whole wheat pizza dough (shown above) in “The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook.”  If you’re making the dough by hand, you can Google any number of recipes.

If, like Rush Limbaugh and my husband, you don’t like arugula, try a cup of chopped flat leaf parsley instead.  You can cook the parsley right on the pizza, or sprinkle it on when you pull the pizza out, if you want to keep that vibrant green color.  

get a life

My Dad, who had always been the most constant and calming presence in my life, died in a car accident two weeks before my college graduation. There’s probably some psychological explanation for it, but one of the immediate and lasting effects of his death was that I became extremely anxious and unable to relax for any length of time. I think, in the beginning, I was afraid to sit and do nothing, because if things got quiet, I started thinking about my dad, or the reality of a life without him. But months went by, and then years, and I found it hard to watch TV, or to read a book, or to just be still. To this day, it is very difficult for me to watch TV unless I am simultaneously folding laundry or nagging my husband.

By my mid-20s, it began to occur to me that my inability to unwind was negatively affecting my life. Without the ability to decompress, I was as tightly wound as a bow, and as prone to snap. At the same time, I was struck by the realization that I had no hobbies, which suggested that I might be a loser. On top of my baseline anxiety, I now had real reason for panic. So, thinking that a hobby might help me learn how to relax and deliver me from loserdom, I began a fevered period in which I desperately sought to identify a hobby that would stick. The goal: to mold myself into something better and more interesting than the anxiety-ridden mess I’d become.

photo by ethan samson

First: photography. If you didn’t go through a period in your 20s when you walked around earnestly with a camera taking photos of piles of leaves, I would suspect that you didn’t have a 20s. I might have stuck with it, except that my photography teacher assigned actual homework, and I’d often run out of time and end up taking close-up photos of objects around my office, like my stapler. The week before I quit, I again ran out of time and locked myself in a bathroom stall at work to take desperate, artsy photos of my brassiere draped over the back of the toilet. When my teacher pulled me aside to suggest that my photos might benefit from more time and focus, I lost interest altogether.

Next: horse-back riding. I had read Black Beauty as a girl, and remembered liking it. More importantly, I liked jodhpurs, and thought the chances were pretty damn high that I’d look awesome in them. I think I took maybe 8 lessons total before I realized a) that I was expected to actually groom the horse, not just show up for rides, 2) that I might never get over the fear of being kicked by a horse sufficiently to allow me to groom it as required, and 3) that my head was too large for all the really cute helmets. I also realized that “posting” requires thigh strength that I neither had nor could ever hope to develop. My riding career ended as quickly as it had begun.

Then: knitting. I was actually a pretty good knitter, if you like tightly woven knits. It turns out that if you are a stress case, your knitting tends to reflect it. Everything I knitted came out half the size it was supposed to and looked felted, because I pulled every loop so tight. And if I missed a stitch, or made some other error, I was completely unable to get over it, and was apt to throw the entire project in the trash and hurl the can across the room in a fit of rage.

Most recently: rock climbing. My gym has a rock climbing wall, and my friend Katherine and I took lessons for a while. It was super fun, and boy did it feel burly to tell people I was belay certified. I liked it enough, and felt confident enough that I’d finally found my thing, that I actually posted this photo on Facebook with the caption, “Look who has a hobby now, hosers.” A better caption might have been “HUBRIS,” because I think I stopped going about two weeks after this photo was taken.

photo by katherine hu sasaki

I haven’t given up. I watched “White Nights” on cable once and have wanted to tap ever since. My friend found an adult class and I almost pulled the trigger, until I went on the studio’s website and read that you are required to wear tights or “jazz pants” to class. First, I don’t know what “jazz pants” are, but they can’t be good. Second, if you go with the tights option, they are presumably to be worn without pants over them. So, tights, plus a leotard, plus tap shoes. I want to tap, but not badly enough to expose myself to abject humiliation. I also have a fantasy of taking family Taekwondo lessons with all three of my guys. But I’m concerned that, because I am Korean and my boys are half-Korean, we’d all be a lot better at Taekwondo than Tom, who is very, very white. And that would cause unnecessary envy and acrimony in our relationship, which might increase my stress, not reduce it.

Have any tips for relaxing, or for a good hobby? Please share, I need the help.

the man who has everything

My husband’s not the only one in my marriage to have screwed up a gift or two. The year we met, I bought him a photograph of Charles Woodson playing in the 1997 Michigan-Ohio State game. I thought it was pretty damn thoughtful, considering that the only thing I knew about football up to that point was that football pants look hot on quarterbacks. Only problem is, I framed and matted it in red, Ohio State’s color. My thinking, which seems absurd today: so boring to frame it in navy, and maize wasn’t going to go with anything. Red seemed cheery and upbeat, and matched the uniforms of the other players in the photo. To describe the expression on his face when Tom saw the gift as “conflicted” would be a vast understatement. If memory serves, the gift is currently being used to even out a bookshelf.

Here are a few ideas for guys’ gifts that have gone over better than that photo.

Allen Edmonds

If your guy’s shoe collection looks like the photo above, it may be time for a serious pair of shoes. It pains me when I see an attractive guy wearing a solid outfit that ends in hideous shoes. There are so many ways to go wrong, but for starters–men: if your shoes are aggressively square toed, I beg you to rethink your position.

If you have a guy who wears a suit once a week or more, I think a pair of Allen Edmonds make a fab gift. They are well-built and don’t look Italian enough to scare him, and will never go out of style. I believe they are made in America. The best part is, when they wear down, you can send them back to Allen Edmonds for total refurbishing.

I’d recommend many of their styles, but Tom seems to get the most use from the three below. With these three pairs, you’ll have almost every possible iteration of suit covered–black, gray, navy, pinstripe, flannel, etc. The McAllister can arguably be worn with poplin and seersucker (although a purist might go for a pair of bucks), and there you have it–his entire year in suits, handled.

A couple tips: if the pair you choose are leather soled, make sure your guy goes out and puts taps and a rubber sole on them before he wears them. If you’re wondering why you would buy a leather sole just to cover it up, don’t ask me. I have no idea. But I’m assured that a serious shoe would only have a leather sole. My other tip is to buy a matching Allen Edmonds belt along with the shoes, if possible. You might think “walnut” looks a lot like “chili,” but they aren’t the same color, and it will save him from having to find a matching belt later. While we’re on it, an Allen Edmonds shoe polish in the exact shade of the shoes makes a great stocking stuffer. Done.

The Best Sweatshirt in the World

I buy a lot of clothing from American Apparel. The front of the store looks like a tawdry sex shop, but the back of the store has great basics, like v-necks and long tanks to layer. Their kids’ clothes are awesome. But the single best thing about American Apparel is this sweatshirt, which is owned by every person in my family. That’s right, even my 2 year old has one. Sometimes we all wear it at the same time, and we look really, really stupid.

The fabric is a cotton/poly blend that is the perfect gray, and it’s stretchy and warm to boot. It’ll remind him of that perfect Star Wars shirt he had when he was 8, that the hipsters would kill for today.

Latte Love

We were gifted a Nespresso Essenza, which we love. It is easy to use, makes great coffee, and takes up minimal counter space. But even better is the Nespresso frother, which produces frothy, hot milk in under 2 minutes. You put the milk in, push a button, and it begins whirring with a hushed, pleasing hum.  Next thing you know, you have the perfect milk and foam for a latte or cappuccino. We’ve used it with homemade nut milks and soy milk. Your coffee will taste awesome, and you’ll make him the star of your dinner parties. And isn’t the gift of popularity really the best gift of all?

Man Jewelry

I am grateful that Tom wears a lot of French cuffs for work, because cufflinks are fun to buy. They are also a great gift to pick up on your travels, because they pack light, and often reflect the local flavor of the place you’re visiting. You can find great vintage cufflinks online. Tom’s dad worked for Ford, and I dug up a vintage pair with the Ford logo on eBay for maybe twenty bucks. But I think this pair below are the coolest I’ve found yet. They are made with real, vintage typewriter keys. You can order them here or here in different letters or type symbols. I purchased these a few years ago with our son Finn’s initials. If I were buying them now, I’d probably do a “F” and “T” for both boys. They are personal, useful, and best of all–inexpensive.

Made to Measure

If it’s a big year or he just needs clothes, maybe consider a custom made suit. The thing I like about made-to-measure for men is that if your guy has any figure issue at all (and who doesn’t), your tailor can come up with the perfect fit, keep the details on file, and you can just keep ordering from that same set of measurements for years (assuming your guy stays relatively the same size). Tom digs his Tom James suits, not only for the fit, but for the details he can customize, like working buttonholes on the sleeves, and colorful linings. Give Mark Cleve a call and he’ll fix you up. Mention yoonanimous for $100 off a suit less than $1000, and $200 off a suit over $1000.

Nervous about committing to a full suit? Try a custom shirt or two. My husband is a 16 1/2 x 37, a shirt size that they don’t even bother stocking at a lot of stores in town. When they do stock a shirt in that size, it’s in solid white, or solid blue with banker’s collar, a style I find generally unflattering on most men. In Portland, John Helmer has dozens of fabrics and will advise you on body styles. Nordstrom also has a custom shirt service through its user-friendly John W. Nordstrom line. Depending on the guy, you might even go for a subtle monogram on the cuff or chest.

Man Art

When Tom and I moved in together, we had the ritual merging and purging of goods that comes with every union. When I say I purged, it was mostly his stuff, because when we met, he was really into late Kandinsky and other “art” like this:

The really tragic thing about the piece above is that Tom apparently carted that painting back from Bolivia, and then spent like $800 to frame it. And during that entire process, it never occurred to him that the guy playing the Bolivian flute in the picture looks a lot like a guy smoking a bong. Which is insane to me, as that is certainly the first thing that 99 out of 100 people are going to see when they look at that painting. Anyway, this setup here is to say that if you want to gift him with artwork that respects him and his tastes, you could do worse than buy a vintage poster of his college team. And if the artwork includes your school as well, so much the better. Because even when it’s about him, it should be about you.

Have a gift idea that’s gone over well with a guy? Please share!

sick guy

Three years ago, my husband complained of intense abdominal pain. We rushed to the ER, where he was diagnosed with appendicitis. The doctor immediately wheeled him into surgery, and Tom emerged shortly thereafter, feeling much better and bearing a tiny laporoscopic scar. Laporoscopic surgery is also known as minimally invasive surgery, and involves the surgeon fixing what’s wrong with a tiny incision and a pair of chopsticks.

Tom’s resulting scar was about the size of a dime. When he was wheeled out of the operating room, I felt the rush of relieved, overwhelming emotion that you feel only when someone you love wakes safely from anesthesia. That love shriveled up like a raisin as soon as he opened his mouth, though. Because, when I leaned in to smooth the hair off his brow and ask Tom how he felt, this was his reply: “Well, I feel ok, I guess. You know how it feels, because it’s probably a lot like when you had your c-section.”

I hate speaking in generalities, especially gender-related ones. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that only a man would compare a laporoscopic appendectomy with a c-section, where a doctor slices open your lower abdomen to extract (in my case) a stubborn ten-pound baby. My c-section scar is six inches long–but who’s counting–and constantly threatens to pop out of my bikini bottoms. His appendectomy scar is barely visible to the naked eye and is grown over with hair in any event. I’m not saying men are weaker, by any means. But I AM saying that only a man might proclaim that he’s staying in bed because he feels “sniffly” and has “a huge canker sore” in his mouth. I may know a man who actually said that to me last Friday, or I may not. You decide.

I’ve taken an informal poll of my girlfriends, and it appears that I am not alone in living with a guy who immediately turns into a 3-year old as soon as the first symptoms of a cold appear. In my instance, Tom’s preferred method of dealing with illness is to chug a gallon of Theraflu, reject all food by dramatically recoiling from it, and then shuffle aimlessly around the house in his pajamas, looking lost and pathetic. Since he happens to have started eating healthier a few months ago, I now have the added pleasure of hearing him repeatedly mutter to himself, “Why am I still getting sick?? I drink so many smoothies.”

It’s going to be a long winter.

lucy and hogan

I live in Portland, where dogs are treated like kings.  Here, “Person Who Gave Away Dog” ranks third on the list of reprehensible human beings, right behind “Driver Who Hit Biker” and “Non-Composter.”  So it is with no small measure of shame that I tell you that about a year ago, I gave away not one dog, but two.

“How could she do that?,” you’re thinking.  I’ll tell you exactly how I came to do that.  First, we misidentified ourselves as “dog people.”  Then, we bought a dog right after we got married, a time when you are delirious with happiness and suffused with the certainty that your life is going to go exactly the way you planned it.  Her name was Lucy, and she was a small yellow lab, with a pink nose and perky ears.  In those early years, we would take leisurely walks to the dog park, and lavish her with love and Greenies, which she would swallow whole.

Time passed, and we both started working longer hours.  We had less time for the dog park, and it seemed that any time we came home, Lucy was there, looking forlorn, judging us and our inability to make time for her as we once had.  I felt terrible guilt, but also, resentment.  I was tired and strung out, and Lucy was unhappy and bored.  She started peeing inside and wouldn’t leave our sides when we came home.  So we made the mistake that many do, and bought a second dog to amuse the first one that we were already neglecting.

Hogan was a walleyed Boston Terrier with a funny underbite.  He slept under our covers, tucked under Tom’s bottom or mine.  At night, he’d occasionally fight his way out of the duvet for air, pant loudly for 30 seconds, and then burrow right back in.  Lucy slept on top of the covers, on top of my legs.  Tom is 6’4″ and I’m 5’8″.  We had a queen size bed, and none of us got any sleep.  Also, we might have all had fleas.

Even before we had kids, it became apparent that our two-dog plan wasn’t working out.  Instead of amusing Lucy and keeping her occupied, Hogan began devoting most of his waking hours to chewing our furniture.  He whittled away all four legs of our dining table, and then our vintage Henredon coffee table, and then, after our kids arrived, all of their wooden toys.  We began socializing less, because both dogs would jump all over visitors.  I began calling them Cujo and Mini-Cujo, and only partly in jest.  The kids took up increasing amounts of time, leaving even less time for walks and trips to the dog park.

We could have kept going this way for a long time.  But a voice in my head kept telling me that my dogs could have a better life with others.  And instead of feeling guilt at neglecting them, I began feeling guilt at holding onto them, when I knew I couldn’t give them the time and attention that they deserved.  So we began looking for families to adopt both dogs.  Hogan, being a popular breed, received loads of interest, and we interviewed several families before settling on a childless couple who worked from home.  I felt good about them, knew that they would love Hogan and cherish him.

But for Lucy, there was no interest.  And until the day I die, I will feel sadness and shame that I did what I did, which was to take her to the Humane Society.  I rationalized the decision by reasoning that only people who really wanted a dog and could care for one would adopt one from the shelter.  I left her behind with her bed, her collar, food, and instructions that if she was not adopted, I was to be called, so that I could retrieve her.  But after four days, she was gone.  And I have to believe that she was adopted by someone who would love her and see her as I had not.

I miss Hogan a lot. His new owners send photos from time to time, like the one below, from Halloween.  And in them, he looks happy and well-loved, if a bit overdressed.

But it’s Lucy that stands there in my mind, the one I think about.  I remember how soft her ears were at the very top, where they joined her head.  I remember how pink her belly was underneath the fur.  I remember her fine, skinny legs, and her tiny, feminine feet, shaped just like wooden spoons.  I remember how sweet she was.  And if I close my eyes, I can see her there, waiting by the door, perpetually hopeful, but inevitably, always to be disappointed.  I think about her, and hope that she is loved wherever she is, and that she has forgiven me.

kids’ books i loathe

My kids, like a lot of kids, love books.  In the beginning, I used to read whatever they’d bring me.  But everyone has their limits, and I reached mine the night that Finn brought me “Corduroy” for its 817th reading.  Now, I take matters into my own hands.  I hide books, or just fail to find them, and sometimes, I refuse to read one altogether.  Mom’s done, kids.  Below, a shortlist of my most dreaded kids’ books.

1. Doggies, by Sandra Boynton

I dislike books that force me to make animal sounds.  Unfortunately, animal books are apparently a popular genre for the under-3 set, and this one seems to be especially popular, because what toddler wouldn’t love a book that forces their parent to bark their entire way through it?  The real problem with this book is that, like most humans, I have one standard dog bark that I use in all situations that require that I bark like a dog.  It sounds roughly like this: “rrrooooof.”  This book, however, requires me to produce ten distinct dog barks.  Life is just too damn short.  I keep this book on the top shelf, where Tate can’t see it.

2. Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss

You could really put any Dr. Seuss book here, but Fox in Socks is as illustrative as the rest.  I get Dr. Seuss, I really do.  I am charmed by his illustrations and the dude can rhyme with the best of them.  He generally seems like the kind of fellow that you wouldn’t mind being seated next to at a boring dinner party.

The sole problem with Dr. Seuss–and it’s a doozy–is the length of his books.  It’s not just that they are long, it is that they are sooooooo long.  I have a move that I call, simply, the Seuss.  It involves flipping one page with a chunk of pages behind it.  Your 75 pages can shrink to 23, if done right.  If it’s not done right, all hell is guaranteed to break loose, so I suggest that you first practice with the dog.

3. Waiting for Mama, by Lee Tae-Jun

I’m always trying to inject more Korean influences into my kids’ lives, so I was thrilled when my mom found this book for us.  The text is from a children’s book originally written in Korea in 1938, and it has beautiful and haunting images.  The story is about a little boy who is waiting for his mama to come home on the bus, in the dead of winter–presumably, an allegory of wartime loss.  We should have previewed it before reading it to Finn, we really should have.  But in our excitement, we didn’t, and it turns out that at the end of the book, the kid’s mom NEVER COMES HOME.  I have a clear memory that after Tom finished the book, he gently tucked Finn into bed, closed the door, and then came out into the hallway and hissed, “WHAT THE F%&*.”

4. Olivia Goes to Venice, by Ian Falconer

Olivia’s schtick has gotten increasingly unbearable.  She’s rich, she’s spoiled, and she’s a brat.  Why am I reading this to my kid again?  In previous books, at least her brattiness was limited to her family’s Upper East Side classic six.  In this installment, however, her brattiness brings about the destruction of St. Mark’s campanile, thereby making Olivia the world’s first Ugly American who is literally a pig.

5. Elmer and Friends, by David McKee

This book is really boring, and worse, it was clearly slapped together to justify an eventual Elmer line of plush toys.  How do I know it was slapped together?  Some pages don’t even have the requisite punctuation.  Whenever I get to the page below, I get so distracted that it is difficult to finish the book.  I mean, how little does an editor have to care, for a book with type this big to go to print missing a period at the end of a sentence?  And if the editor can’t be bothered to care about this book, why should I, or my kids?

6. The Complete Adventures of Curious George, by Margret & H.A. Rey

You might know it as the Complete Adventures of Curious George, but I refer to it to the Anthology of Pain.  The illustrations are great.  It’s just that there is zero narrative coherence to any of the stories.  For example, one of the stories begins with George accidentally flooding his house with a hose, moves to George stealing a cow from a farm, and ends with George becoming the first monkey to man a flight to space.  ???  I may be old-fashioned, but I like a bit of narrative arc to a book.  Anyone can paste together a bunch of random thoughts, but then you’d call that a blog, not a book.  And my blog is free.  The Anthology of Pain was not free.  It was like 20 bucks.

7. Have You Seen My Cat?, by Eric Carle

Saying you don’t like Eric Carle books is akin to blasphemy.  But I don’t like them.  You might be struck by Carle’s artwork the first time you read one of his books, but read them enough and soon the thought will inevitably occur to you that your 7-year old can replicate his art at home with some tissue paper and paint.  Story-wise, they are boring as hell.  The worst, for my money, is “Have You Seen My Cat?”  Every page of the book has the same line of text:

Let me repeat: every line in the book is identical.  Eric Carle calls that a book.  I call it punishment.  Also, I hate cats.  This book slipped under the couch once and I knowingly left it there for four months.

In case this post makes you think that I hate both books and kids, I feel obligated to say that I have the highest respect for a lot of kids’ books.  The book below is one of my favorite books, period.  Both the text and illustrations capture mood and a sense of place so beautifully that I am transported every time I read it to my kids.  Get me on the right day, and I will actually tear up while reading it.  Best of all, it’s fun to read aloud.