Angela Amman

I wouldn’t trade the towels

The beginning of summer The neighborhood pool opened yesterday. We didn’t make it there Friday night, in part because of other plans, and in part because Michigan weather dictates that 86 degree weather one day in May calls for the balance of 66 degree weather another day.

Despite only slightly better weather, we knew we’d make it there Saturday. I thought we’d go fairly early, but I got wrapped up in a book. I told the kids to do something besides Minecraft while I finished a chapter — that turned into finishing the book — and they decided to make slime. Two containers of glitter and 1476 squirts of kitchen cleaner later, we finally packed one of our many summer bags and made it to the (slightly chilly) club.

We don’t belong to a fancy pool club with cocktails and waiters and poolside pedicures. (I made up that last part, because oh my goodness, in the direct sunlight my feet desperately cried out for a poolside pedicure.) We go to a pool with diving boards and swim lanes, tennis courts, and basketballs, and a playscape in the sand that all the moms groan at during the first few weeks and then become accustomed to gritty mudroom floors for the rest of the summer.

We’re only second-year members, and I can easily say it’s become a happy place for our family.

It’s also become a place where my children turn into towel-using monsters. Towels to spread on chairs and towels to wrap around goose-pimpled bodies. Towels to twist into hammocks and towels to wrap wet hair. Towels for post-swim showers and towels for no real reason except they’re touching the other wet, sandy towels in the pool bag.

I look at them for a moment as the kids traipse to bed, a heap of dampness I feel compelled to wash, though the kids would never notice if I just tossed them in the dryer instead. For some reason, I smile as I toss them in the washer, their damp weight heavier than I remember from last summer.

Not every day of summer will present itself in the idyllic filters of the first day at the pool. Someone will get left out of a game and someone will trip and fall and childhood sassiness will tumble out of mouths in surprising ways. I’ll feel stressed about working while they’re home and guilty about nearly everything, and they’ll fight one billion times in the inexplicable way siblings argue, with quick fuses and unspoken makeups.

Still, I wouldn’t trade that load of laundry for anything in the world.

They carry more than water and sand, those towels. They whisper the music of summer moments: ice cream melting in dishes as we settle in for a movie night, heads that sag against my shoulders, damp hair smelling of shampoo even while errant grains of sand seem to find themselves on scalps and under fingernails.

That pile of towels carries the promise of summer. They carry the memories we’re making, the ones that linger far after I’ve folded the last towel, warm and soft from the dryer.

5 Things – Vegas edition

I freak out — for lack of a better phrase — a bit when Ryan and I fly on the same plane. While this doesn’t help my ability to fall asleep and let the plane time travel me to my destination in minutes, it gives me time to read. Thanks to several uninterrupted flying hours last week, I finished my latest library books more quickly than I expected, which is why there are two books in this five things.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

I can’t remember when I put this on my reading list, but I grabbed it when I went to the library before leaving for Las Vegas. I didn’t have to wait for it, and the copy I found happened to be paperback, most likely because it was published in 1966. With its baby pink cover and cast of lovely characters, Valley of the Dolls could have read like a campy throwback to the golden days of Hollywood and the way TV usurped the success of star-driven movie studio successes.

Instead, I found something else entirely. The campy feel weaves through the book, buoying the story with beautiful characters and shenanigans like gifts of mink coats and women who ply their looks — or downplay them — to go after what they want in life. The three main characters, Anne, Nelly, and Jennifer, each possess a certain quality that allows them to make their way in a world where men hold the power to make or destroy their dreams. Ambition, talent, looks, and quiet shrewdness mix together under their lovely exteriors and propel each of them to success. But the other side of that pinnacle lies waiting for them, a wasteland where even the most successful women depend on the love and support of men to keep them afloat — even as it destroys each of them.

Vegas tripA Champagne vending machine

Prior to leaving for Vegas, one of my friends brought up that a champagne vending machine lived in a hotel not far from where we’d be staying. Of course, in Vegas distance, “not far” isn’t the same as not far in other places. The six of us started walking, and kept walking, and I’m almost positive Ryan thought my idea was the worst idea ever. (It’s likely all of the men, who were NOT interested in trying the champagne vending machine, thought we were nuts to keep walking, but no one else was going to say anything.)

When we got to the hotel, we entered to find elevators and very little guidance about anything else — no friendly concierge or signs pointing to where we needed to go. A quick Google search pointed us back on track, and up we went. (Floor 23 is where you need to be. There, you’ll find a registration desk, and they’ll sell you the token you need for the vending machine. The machine lives directly across from the desk, so we didn’t have the opportunity to get lost again.)

I’d rate the machine a little overpriced (though not ridiculous by Vegas standards) but novel, fun, and a little bit silly. Since our only plans that night were loose and not time-based, I’m glad we went.

Purple Reign

Between the six of us traveling to Vegas, we’d seen a variety of Cirque shows, which tend to be what I want to see while there. Britney had the gall to be off during the time we were in town, and none of the men seemed all that thrilled about Boyz II Men or the Backstreet Boys. All six of us voiced enthusiastic consent of the Prince Tribute show, and I loved it even more when we actually saw it.

Getting there took a little work. We thought we had oodles of time, but suddenly we were booking it to the MGM Grand to ride the monorail all the way over to the Westgate. Someone tripped on the way (not me) and someone had to change into another outfit when we returned to the hotel because she couldn’t stand for one more instant in her heels (me). Purple Reign still gets two huge thumbs up if you’re looking for a fun show, especially if you’re looking for a decent deal. (We found tickets on Groupon.) Jason Tenner embodies Prince so well, from his voice to his mannerisms — and my friends say his guitar skills are pretty close, but I can’t speak to that. We danced and sang along and might have spent a few minutes wondering why the group of guys in front of us looked so grumpy the whole time. Seriously, check it out the next time you’re there.

Vegas trip

Fine, this is not a hotel bar, but this cabana turned out to be one of my favorite expenditures of the trip.

The allure of hotel lounge bars

Years ago, I would believe people when they mentioned Las Vegas as a cheap vacation destination. It never works out like that for us. I don’t gamble very much ($30 total this trip), so I don’t rack up those bonuses, including free drinks. Each time I check ticket prices for shows, they seem higher than our last visit. So when you’re sitting in a hotel lounge with your friends, nursing a glass of wine, and the singer starts playing some of your favorite covers, you grab a seat and enjoy it. Hotel lounges make for fantastic people watching, too. People on their way to somewhere else and people slinking home. Conference goers (everyone toting matching backpacks) whose conversations grow more and more animated as the night gets later. We ended our weekend in Lift, one of Aria’s hotel lounges, singing into microphones with the lead singer, staying up later than we expected, and appreciating (so much) spending time with people we don’t see nearly enough.

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

I loved The Interestings, a Wolitzer novel painted as a bit of an ode to the 80s and a lot as an exploration into artistic ambition, privilege, and the lasting impact of friendships that take hold during adolescence.

I read The Interestings in the summer, in the hazy days when everything stands still and everything seems like it might be a possibility. I read The Ten-Year-Nap on a plane, where a draft of a short story collection sat silently at my feet, when I harbored doubts and worries about what would happen to that collection. The mothers in Wolitzer’s story pressed pause on their careers (or jobs, in some cases) to raise their children. Now that their little ones are getting older, Amy, Jill, Roberta, and Karen find themselves a little adrift.

I’ve read some critiques of this novel claiming the women in the book take their worries too seriously, but I think that’s part of why I related to it. Leaving the work force to take care of my kids has been the greatest joy of my life, but it’s also shifted things irrevocably, and I know that’s true for many of the moms I know. Our educations and job experiences trail behind us, but they don’t seem to count for much. I’ve started filling out applications for certain things and stopped, embarrassed by the gap between what I used to do and what I do now.

The four friends find themselves struggling to emerge from the amazing, magical world of raising young children, a world with its own rhythms and languages, a world that sometimes seems trite and boring to those outside of it. When Amy’s husband’s eyes glaze over when she describes part of her day, she knows it’s happening — and I know that feeling. As Amy becomes enamored with and entangled in another friend’s life, a woman she believes has a grasp on relevancy she’s somehow lost, the reader sees how hard it can be to begin to balance motherhood, work, and a sense of self.

The Ten-Year-Nap might not be for everyone, but it fired along my synapses long after I left the plane — and encouraged me to take another step forward with my own writing.

Vegas trip

Aria

I lied. Vegas deserves a 6-item edition of 5 Things. We loved staying at Aria. Excellent restaurant options, a (relatively) good deal on a poolside cabana that absolutely made our Sunday, and large, well-equipped rooms and bathrooms.

I’m not sure we’d stay here again, though. Las Vegas is filled with shiny, sparkly things, and that includes the hotels. I have a hard time staying somewhere more than once, simply because I enjoy falling in love with a new resort each time we visit. Also, despite a tram stop located in the adjacent Crystals Shops, we found ourselves ordering Lyft more often than we expected when it came time to walk back to the hotel. Everywhere on the Strip seems far from everywhere else, but if you plan on leaving to eat or hang out anywhere but the City Center, consider Lyft/Uber/taxi costs into your vacation budget.

My favorite parts of the hotel were probably, in no particular order:

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on one of my links, I get a small (very small) commission. Alas, it only works on the books. 

Saturdays are for reading: 2 book reviews

Almost Missed You review

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

I can’t comprehend the idea of returning from relaxing on the beach during a family vacation to find Ryan gone with the kids, but that’s exactly what happens to Violet in Almost Missed You. The abrupt shift from a happy family dynamic to a horrifying nightmare keeps readers turning pages in Strawser’s novel. Piecing together the backstory of the main characters (Violet, Finn, Caitlin, and George) moves quickly, though the pieces shift as the story moves along. More questions arise just when readers think they have an answer they need to figure out Finn’s motivation.

Finn and Violet meet on the beach, but a long series of missed connections keeps them apart for a couple of years, years where each of the characters live their lives, forging connections and secrets that are only revealed bit by bit during the story. Finn and Violet aren’t the only ones with missed connections. The overall feeling of missed chances weaves through Almost Missed You, highlighted by the secrets we keep from one another and by the way making impossibly bad decisions doesn’t seem so impossible when you love or hurt with your whole being.

Protection, resentment, blame and forgiveness all play roles in the story, and I found myself impressed by Violet’s combination of steely optimism and capacity for empathy. As she works through her emotions when Finn takes Bear from her, I wondered if I could show the same strength as she does. I hope I never have to find out.

A Man Called Ove review

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I put this book on hold at the library forever ago, along with the thirty-some people ahead of me in the queue. Thankfully, I waited around for the grumpy Ove, a man absolutely bent on committing suicide to be with his recently deceased wife. I realize that doesn’t sound like the type of book (many) people might want to read, but A Man Called Ove gently wraps you in Ove’s life until you see how a simple man can be a special light in the lives of those around him. The book’s narrative jumps around from past to present, and the flashbacks aren’t always in a linear arrangement, but each time the reader glimpses a bit of Ove’s past, bits of his present make a little more sense.

Handy with everything mechanical and quiet except for sometimes-harsh comments, the grumpiness that first defines Ove gives way to an understanding about his personality and a look into his own brand of kindness and generosity. One time, we bought my dad a hat emblazoned with one of the 7 dwarfs and the scrawled moniker “Grumpy”. He wore it to Disney World when we went, and moments in A Man Called Ove reminded me so much of him I laughed and cried my way through the pages. Any of my friends and family members who found themselves on the receiving end of his “I don’t know if I can fix it, but I’ll try” statements will know exactly what I mean after reading this book.

I received a copy of Almost Missed You in consideration for review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

Leaving (for) Las Vegas – LTYM Detroit 2017

LTYM Metro Detroit

the photo’s blurry, but that’s kind of the way life happens some days

I’ve been writing my final LTYM recap since it happened, and it’s not finished. I also have a post in draft about our Vegas vacation, but that’s not finished either.

Life’s been a blur of end-of-the-year school stuff and maybe too maybe extracurricular commitments, and I seriously still haven’t finished the laundry from our vacations. And since my story in this year’s show was (sort of) about packing, I thought it would be the perfect time to share it.

Leaving (for) Las Vegas

I recently boarded a plane and soared across the country to celebrate my 40th birthday, my husband’s 40th birthday and the 40th birthdays of several close friends. I don’t actually turn 40 until August, which I like to remind people, as though the few months between now and then make a difference when it comes to crow’s feet, gravity, and the sure and absolute knowledge that I’ll soon be on the other side of that milestone birthday.

It’s not the first time we’ve left the kids for a weekend away.

Thanks to my pretty amazing mother, my husband and I spend a long weekend away once a year, a weekend the kids use to soak up relaxed screen time limits and to eat cake for breakfast.

They’re still young enough to share their cake breakfast stories with eyes wide open in wonder as they stare at the ever-boring low-sugar oatmeal I foist upon them most mornings. Grandma doesn’t worry about their sugar intake or say no to ice cream. She doesn’t tell them to hurry, and they love her in a way that approaches hero worship. My gratitude that they get to have that special relationship with her makes up for any amount of sugar withdrawals I deal with when we return.

We usually use the weekend to recharge a little. Las Vegas, though, isn’t the sort of city that lends itself to recharging. Lights and noise and the most incredible people watching teem from everywhere you look, at all hours of the day and night, and at almost-but-not-quite-40, I knew I’d need to summon up the sort of energy the kids show on a regular basis, energy they’d be using on their own while we were gone.

See, my mom decided she’d make the most of her time with them by driving them a little bit north and staying at an indoor waterpark for a couple of days. The kids practically bounced through the roof when I told them, and my daughter and I started making packing lists, because when I feel anxious about being too many miles to count away from my kids, while they’re careening down waterslides, I make at least 37 lists, do 17 loads of laundry, and clean every bathroom in the house.

We packed days before we left, even though some of my packing had to be done without my ultra-observant daughter in the room. Getting away from the kids means doing things I wouldn’t normally do. So I made sure the bedroom door was closed and swept my secret stash of goodies into the suitcase. My secret stash consisted of Starburst jelly beans and Cadbury mini eggs I’d scored during a post-Easter sale. I wasn’t sharing those, not even with a girl who made me not one, but two, friendship bracelets before we left — bracelets that matched the two she wore on her own wrist.

Even with everything checked off my lists, my stomach clenched at the thought of leaving. I knew the kids would be safe at the waterpark with my mom. After all, my son once said, “She’s like another mom, but probably more fun.” I knew she’d sooner don a thong bikini and do cannonballs into the lazy river than let any harm come to them.

I didn’t even worry — much — about our plane catapulting into the Grand Canyon, though in the days leading up to any flight my husband and I take together, I panic and consider buying one of us a ticket on another flight.

It’s just that, at 7 and 9, my kids are FUN to be around. They’re up for impromptu walks or bike rides around the neighborhood and they shout out sometimes correct and sometimes hilariously incorrect answers during Wheel of Fortune. They know enough not to shout out the curse words they hear on my unedited playlists but not quite enough to ask about some of the innuendos we sing along to on the radio.

We’re kind of at a sweet spot of parenting, and the hardest part of packing for Las Vegas was how much I worried about missing them.

I did, of course, miss them. And they missed us, in the way that led to some amazing hugs when we walked through the door, just before they fell over each other talking about their fantastic-most-fun-time-ever time. And we felt the same, I think, knowing the craziest part of the whole weekend might have been just how excited we were to get home.

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