About Unskilled Perfectionist

Figuring it out as I go along...

Baby Steps

After four decades of being an all-or-nothing person and frequently ending up on the nothing side of the equation, I’m beginning to think it’s time to re-evaluate.

I’ve always been enamored with the grand gesture: romantic weekend getaways, well-planned dinner parties, a six-hour block of writing time, a diet healthy enough to put the Bundchen-Brady household to shame. Unfortunately, when the stars don’t align to facilitate a grand gesture (which they never really do), plans are abandoned instead of simply readjusted. I’m learning that sometimes I need to ditch the idea of spectacular and embrace good enough.

With that in mind, I’m allowing myself one more grand gesture at the start of 2018, which is to dramatically declare this the year of… baby steps.

This means I’ll do whatever I can with whatever I’ve got. Instead of wishing for a kid-free weekend with my husband that probably won’t fit on the calendar until April (of 2024), I’m going to look for daily pockets of time for what relationship experts have dubbed the “micro-date.” Similarly, squeezing in 30 minutes of writing every day will eventually add up to more pages than holding out for the occasional large uninterrupted block of time. Starting paperwork to renew my passport gets me one small step closer to that trip to Europe I’ve been talking about for years.

Like most things in life, it seems the key to taking baby steps comes down to mindfulness. I need to be paying attention in order to find opportunities to squeeze in a baby step. If I half-heartedly fill downtime by absentmindedly scrolling through my phone, I’m missing several opportunities a day to inch forward towards a goal.

I realize that none of this is revolutionary, but it’s not supposed to be. I’ve tried revolutions. They fizzle out pretty quickly. At a time of year when the world is telling us to sprint towards self-improvement, I’m pulling back, channeling the tortoise instead of the hare, and taking one small step. Happy New Year, friends.

Weddings, Then and Now





I’ve been married for so long, the adorable little kid who was the flower girl at my wedding was the beaming bride this weekend at her own wedding. In an effort to keep myself from dwelling on how damn old that makes me, I’m choosing to focus my attention on love, in all its iterations – from shiny and new to comfortable and timeworn.

Firmly in the comfortable camp is my husband and I who are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary on Tuesday. Unsurprisingly, we won’t have a chance to acknowledge the milestone until later in the week during a break between basketball carpool and volleyball games. At this point in our lives, an hour together with a strong drink and an uninterrupted conversation that doesn’t devolve into coordinating our calendars qualifies as a date.

I’m beginning to understand the wisdom behind the adage that the first 20 years of marriage are the hardest. I don’t know who said it or when – it was probably meant as a joke – but the idea actually makes sense. There are a lot of difficult marital miles that need to be navigated in those first two decades.

We’ve faced the typical bumps in the road: cross country moves; stressful jobs; a health scare; kids; vomiting kids; kids who refuse to sleep; kids who go through an Elmo phase; kids who turn into moody teenagers; kids who… you get the picture.

Fortunately, we’ve also developed skills to help smooth the path. We can still make each other laugh. We’re good at picking up the slack when the other person needs a break, ensuring there’s at least one patient, organized and upbeat spouse at any given moment. I’m good at ignoring the near constant din of sports on TV and he’s good at ignoring the basket of clean laundry that sits unfolded for a week. I think that might be the key to our longevity: focusing on the few things that are truly important and offering each other grace with everything else.

The happy couple who got married this weekend is still giddy and glowing and marveling at their good fortune of having found each other. Love was such a tangible presence at their wedding, it probably should have showed up with a gift from Crate & Barrel like the rest of the guests. I found myself emotional (and maybe ugly crying a little) as I witnessed not only the shiny new love between the bride and groom, but also how their parents, family and friends cared for them so deeply and wished them well.

I hope the honeymoon phase of their relationship lasts a long time. But I also hope they grow to appreciate the little acts of daily marital maintenance that help sustain love over the years. My husband making me a cup of coffee just the way I like it or texting me a link to a story that he knows will make me laugh can feel more romantic than the rare candlelit dinner.

Lest we get complacent, I also hope the comfy sweatpants stage of our relationship can be reinvigorated by the newlywed love we saw this weekend. The logistics involved in keeping a family sheltered, clothed, fed and relatively happy can snuff out the levity and spontaneity that fuels romance. And since a marriage can’t be sustained by coffee and Onion articles alone, we need to flirt with the person we fell in love with, not just appreciate our hardworking partner in the journey.

Perhaps the best thing about being in love is that even though it will change over time, if the person in your life can make you laugh, make you think, make you feel seen and understood and desirable, then you’re with the right person — whether it’s been one week or almost 20 years. Congratulations to the newlyweds and happy anniversary to my love.





72 Degrees

FullSizeRender-4She hurls herself into the front seat, always juggling accessories: phone, backpack, shoes, an open container of yogurt. She turns the radio off, no matter the song, because mom music sucks unconditionally. She then punches the sync button, undoing the setting linking driver and passenger temperatures.

She adjusts her side of the car either all the way up to HI or all the way down to LO. Fiery hot or icy cold; there seems to be no middle ground for a teenager.

I drive in silence, reminding myself that this insistence on autonomy is a necessary part of growing up, and that my music, in fact, does not suck. I’m also confident that someday our settings will be synched again at a pleasant 72 degrees. I only hope we don’t have too many more miles to go before we get there.


FullSizeRenderI turn the volume up as soon as I hear the opening riff. I match Robert Smith word for word while driving my daughter to volleyball practice:

Show me show me show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream, she said
The one that makes me laugh, she said
And threw her arms around my neck

Show me how you do it
And I promise you, I promise that
I’ll run away with you
I’ll run away with you

Wistful, I sigh. Unimpressed, she groans.

“What a stupid song about magic tricks,” she says.

“What? No, it’s a love song. The trick isn’t literally a trick, it’s a kiss or maybe just that butterflies-in-your stomach feeling when you like someone.”

“Nope. It’s about a magic trick. Thanks for the ride. See ya.”

The car door closes with a solid thunk and she runs to the gym, leaving me with memories from long ago and the accompanying soundtrack.

I can hear Belinda Carlisle belting Mad About You as I fall hard for a cute boy in junior high. Unfortunately, I hear Whitesnake questioning Is This Love during my first kiss. (Don’t judge. MTV was on in the background)

I remember panicking as I realize I’m in over my head at my first concert: Oingo Boingo. Sporting a seafoam green turtleneck, a short black skirt and tragically, black and white polka dot suspenders, I spend the bulk of the show worrying about the possibility of getting high from secondhand smoke. Nancy Reagan’s admonition to just say no reached at least one kid in the late eighties.

Fortunately, by the time Depeche Mode’s Violator tour came to town a few years later, my friends and I were seasoned concert veterans, a tight group of high school seniors naïve enough to believe the lyrics as we sang along:

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms

 At prom, we busted a move to, well, Bust a Move and then later slow danced to Wicked Game. We rebuffed boys who thought whispering the lyrics to More Than Words would be their ticket to getting lucky. And finally, we said goodbye to high school with a rapid-fire sing along in the car to It’s the End of the World as We Know It while driving to graduation.

It’s all there, the entire beautiful, gawky experience of growing up, woven between lyrics and melodies of songs that I will never forget.

And yet my own kid thinks Just Like Heaven is about a magic trick.

Jolted out of my reverie as I pull into the garage, I don’t bother getting out of the car before turning to Google. I read segments of an interview with Robert Smith while still sitting behind the wheel.

The song is about hyperventilating – kissing and fainting to the floor.

Exactly. Feeling relief that love is not dead, I keep reading.

The opening line of the song (show me show me show me how you do that trick) refers to his childhood memories of mastering magic tricks.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

So… I guess we’re both right?

I was fourteen when Just Like Heaven came out, the same age my daughter is now. I suppose there’s a chance that when I first heard the song I, too, thought it was about pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Maybe songs aren’t infused with meaning until we’ve lived with them for a while and they become tangled with memories. The time, place and people around us become as integral to our experience as the tune itself.

Feeling melancholy, I make a Spotify playlist featuring almost four hours of music from back in the day. It’s a nice distraction while attending to the mundane tasks of adult life – cooking, cleaning, errands – but it isn’t necessarily a place I want to linger. Nostalgia has a way of obscuring our view when given enough psychic real estate.

I will, however, revisit songs from high school when I need to muster empathy for my teenage daughter. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to navigate intense joy, heartache and camaraderie all in a single morning, usually while sporting a chin zit. I think listening to The Smiths might make it easier for me to relate.

And while I can’t expect my daughter to like my favorite songs from twenty-five years ago, I can enjoy watching her cue up songs for her own playlist. I just hope the mix contains something similar to Just Like Heaven, paying tribute to both the love and, yes, magic that is part of being a teenager.

Feeling like a moody teenager? I’ve got a playlist for you:

How To Break Your Heart in an Afternoon


Drag your family to San Francisco’s MOMA for one of your infamous Forced Family Fun Days.

Endure eye rolls from your daughter who is running on two hours of sleep thanks to a slumber party the night before.

Give your son the stink eye as he wanders from gallery to gallery stating loudly, “THAT is not art.”

Gasp as your son mistakes a ledge with a sculpture on it for a bench, and almost sits on the art.

Apologize profusely to the museum security guard.

Snap a photo of your daughter, long legs, waterfall of hair, and realize she is the most radiant piece of art in the room. Feel a lump in your throat as you see her, perhaps for the first time, as the young woman she is becoming instead of the child she once was.

Watch your son masterfully create a photo at the art kiosk and know that, despite complaining, he is enjoying your adventure. Smile as he hands you a printout of his creation for safe keeping. Feel grateful he still trusts you with his treasures.

Convince your kids that the giant rust-colored sculpture on the ground floor is entitled “Cinnamon Roll.” Wander through the spiral labyrinth laughing, losing your family along the way. Remain confident that if you keep going, you all will find a way back to each other. Cross your fingers and hope that’s true forever.

Walk outside and spot the tapas bar that was your old hangout when you lived in the city. Realize that you and your husband started meeting there after work almost 20 years ago. Tell the kids that you’ve changed your lunch plans and lead the way into the restaurant.

Feel a pang of nostalgia when the sangria and patatas bravas are just as good as you remember. Watch your kids adventurously taste everything you order. Feel pride that they like to cook and eat and try new things as much as you do.

Think back 20 years to your old job and your old colleagues who’d gather at the restaurant’s long bar after a long day. Remember the good times you had drinking pitchers of beer while playing darts. Question the wisdom of combining beer and darts.

Remember how much you complained about your job back in the day. Realize that you were lucky to be doing interesting work with great people. Understand that petty annoyances are quickly forgotten while memories of the good times endure.

Acknowledge the same thing is true for parenting.

Forgive the eye rolls, the endless bickering, the declaration that, “I’d rather be shopping.”

Recall how 20 years have passed in the blink of an eye – a blur of exciting days and wasted days and heartbreaking days and joyful days. Fear that the next 20 years will slip away even more quickly. Vow to pay attention, focus on the good, appreciate moments of happiness, write it all down. Smile at the three people you love the most in the world and start planning your next Forced Family Fun Day.

Sorry Kids, This Election is the Worst

Dear Kids,

The adults of this country owe you an apology. We need to take responsibility for this toxic election, starting at the top with the candidates and continuing down to the way the citizens of our country speak to one another. We failed you.

Specifically, we’re sorry…

  • For creating a culture so tied to our phones that political statements are reduced to tweets and memes. Our electorate seems to no longer be capable of diving into the issues and reading anything more detailed than a simple headline.
  • For living in a world where our political news comes mostly from social media. We surround ourselves with people who look like us and think like us, so we end up being spoonfed news that only confirms our beliefs. We’ve become unwilling and perhaps incapable of considering the opinions of the other side.
  • For introducing new words into your vocabulary, starting with the relatively innocuous “bigly” and “deplorables” but then quickly devolving to “rapists” and “pussy.” And don’t get me started on how awful it is to try and explain Weiner with a capital W.
  • For ruining Skittles and Tic Tacs. For exposing you to a discussion about small hands and everything that it implies. And for needing to explain interns and affairs and impeachment.

I hope that, despite all the noise, you’ve been able to realize this election poses some big issues that don’t have easy answers.

You know how at the dinner table we can discuss a topic like immigration or taxes or gun control and take you down a path that leads you to one opinion – but then we start asking questions that get you thinking and perhaps changing your stance? It’s hard, right? But it’s also interesting and important and what our country so badly needs to do right now.

You are thoughtful kids with great ideas, and we know your friends are too. At this point, I just hope the election has taught you how important it is to be informed, ask questions and truly listen. I also hope you’ve learned how ugly and ineffective name-calling, insults and gross generalizations are.

Like we always tell you after you’ve made a mistake: learn from this experience and don’t repeat it. The adults of this country have made a huge mistake this election. Let’s hope we learn from it and do better next time.


The Sleepy Apple

“No, no, no. God no,” she screamed, as if I’m an ax murder slowly walking towards her while menacingly sharpening my blade.

At first glance, it could be a scene straight out of a cheesy slasher film, complete with a beautiful starlet in distress and a deranged knife-wielding killer.

Except in this case, the distressed starlet is my daughter and I’m the psycho causing terror by slowly walking towards her wielding…wait for it…

…a box of Cheerios.

Welcome to our world. A world in which a mother and daughter, neither of whom are morning people, try to wake up while it’s still dark outside and function at a level high enough to get the daughter out the door in time to catch the bus to middle school. We’d make an entertaining reality show; the Kardashians got nothing on two groggy Davis ladies.

I envy those preternaturally cheery types who greet the day like a Disney princess. Unfortunately, I’m the opposite, starting every morning by cursing the alarm and crawling to the coffee maker. Those who love me know to hold all nonessential communication until the second cup has hit my bloodstream.

Sadly, since the sleepy apple doesn’t fall far from the sleepy tree, our mornings are rough – especially when the sleepy apple decides to go on a cereal boycott.

With only three minutes to ingest something reasonably breakfast-y before running out the door, my daughter requested I quickly whip up a batch of French toast. And since I’m 1) not a morning person and 2) sometimes a little bit of a bitch, I laughed and said, “As if.”

Not my strongest parenting move.

The argument quickly ricocheted from the merits of Cheerios to the classification of yogurt as a breakfast food. For the record, yogurt is unequivocally a breakfast food. Duh.

She stomped out of the house and I still don’t know what she ate for breakfast. I think she tucked a yogurt into her backpack. Maybe she ate it for brunch just to prove me wrong.

After my third cup of coffee finally did its job and cleared the mental cobwebs, I realized how funny this morning’s fight was and hope the sleepy apple agrees when she comes home from school today. I also decided to mix up a batch of overnight waffles as a peace offering and a way to ensure that tomorrow morning goes a little more smoothly.

These are my family’s favorite waffles: crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and simply delicious. Making them couldn’t be easier – mix 90% of the ingredients together the night before and let the yeast do the work while you snooze. Then in the morning, curse your alarm clock, crawl to the coffee maker, fire up the waffle iron and enjoy an awesome breakfast, not a Cheerio or yogurt container in sight.

The internet is loaded with recipes for yeasted waffles, I like this one by Emma Christiansen over at thekitchn.com It makes a lot of waffles – freeze the leftovers and reheat them in the toaster for an easy breakfast that’s ready even before the first cup of coffee kicks in.

Overnight Yeasted Waffles

Stir 1 tablespoon active dry yeast into 1 cup of warm water, let stand for a few minutes until the yeast has dissolved. In a large bowl (like, really large because the batter is going to at least double in size) combine 2 sticks of unsalted butter (melted and cooled a little), 4 cups of milk (whole or low fat is fine) 2 teaspoons of salt and ¼ cup of sugar. Next add the yeast mixture and 6 cups of flour. Stir just enough to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let the batter sit on the counter to rise overnight. If you’re concerned about milk sitting out overnight, you can let the batter rise in the refrigerator instead, but come on, live a little.

The next morning, whisk 4 eggs and 1 teaspoon of baking soda into the batter.

After that, simply fire up the waffle iron and get to work.

This recipe makes about 16 Belgian-style waffles.