Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Officially a Bad Mom

A warning for those prone to judging other mothers: The following episode includes Threats of Child Abandonment and Refusal of a Child's Request to Eat Carrots.

I took our kindergartener to Target on Saturday. Really, the trip went well, with all shopping missions accomplished, except that my daughter, a daydreamer and wanderer, had trouble Staying With Me In The Store. Now there's a skill any self-respecting mother expects her children ages four and up to have acquired and practice regularly. Alas, I rarely take my children shopping, both for their sake and mine. Hence the World of Target is fascinating to Daughter #1 and she wanted to linger in each and every aisle.

See, I have little patience for shopping to begin with, and after urging my daughter to, "C'mon, we're going THIS WAY," and hearing in response, "But Mommy, wait...come look at THIS," for the umpteenth time, I was like, "Look, you're going to get LOST, and I am going to have to LEAVE you here, and then you'll spend the NIGHT in Target."

Daughter blinked at me as if to say, Really? Sleep in the toy aisle, with the Bratz dolls you hate so much? Hunh...

We spent the remainder of the shopping experience with me, moving on just after kindly warning my Littlest Pet Shopper that I was soon to be out of sight, and her, somehow finding me right before she or I panicked. Okay, yes, I was pushing it a little; I needed to get my shopping DONE.

Today I took her to Cost Plus World Market for some Christmas Eve Eve recon. And it wasn't long before she was bugging me with the "Mom, can we buy one of these? How about just ONE of these and I can have it later? Mom, Mom, Mom! Pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaase?" I reminded her that we could head on home and review our copy of The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, because she was behaving just like Brother and Sister Bear at the supermarket.

She was carrying around some ridiculous piece of candy I would never buy--probably a cosmopolitan confection, given that it was Cost Plus--and I told her, "Go Put It Back. And then I will be right down this aisle." And I pointed.

I strolled down the aisle and waited. After a moment or two, just past the moment I thought my daughter should be reappearing, I poked my head around the corner and saw a World Market employee marching toward me, with my daughter and a concerned-looking couple (including pregnant woman) close behind.

"Are you her mother?" the Cost Plus Man asked.

"Yes..." I sighed, exasperated and without the tears of gratitude I am sure were expected at such a reunion of mother and child.

"See! Your mom was just a little preoccupied," offered the employee to my noticably UNemotional daughter.

"Wait, wait, wait," I argued. "As a matter of fact, I would say she was the one who was preoccupied." And I pointed at my firstborn.

The husband/partner in the pregnant couple kneeled down in front of our daughter. "I told you, your mother would NEVER leave you in a store all by yourself." He nodded at me, and I cocked my head at my kid to see if she might remember my threat from only three days before and give me away. But she only nodded silently. The World Market Man and the couple resumed their prior engagements, triumphant at a good deed done for the day.

Daughter and I hissed recriminations at each other: "You took too long! All you had to do was Put It Back!" "You were NOT where you said you would be!" "If you had stayed with me from the start..."

Before we left the store, we chanced upon the same couple and I suggested that my daughter could thank them for helping find me. She did, and we commenced some small talk in the bedding section.

I pointed at the pregnant woman's bulging belly and observed: "They're a lot easier to keep track of when they're inside, ha ha!" And then more seriously, "When are you due?"

"Early February," she replied.

Her eager husband/partner jumped in with, "So, what do you think: epidural or not?"

Whoah. You did NOT just ask a Random Woman in the store for labor advice on behalf of YOUR WIFE? Dude, please.

I have to say, it made me feel much better about my lost kid in the store. Bad Mother, meet Bad Husband. Of course, Bad Husband didn't even know he should be ashamed.

"You know what?" I generously replied, "I am a big fan of Having a Plan, and then being prepared to Go With The Flow" (or the lack thereof, in my own personal experience).

They are so lucky I didn't actually have a strong opinion on the matter. Probably he's really lucky.


Fast forward to the end of the day, when Littlest Daughter has been tucked into bed and her Big Sister is getting perilously close to her own witching hour: "Can I have just one more cookie?" she begs.

"Nope. You already had some. If you want something now, you can have carrots."

"Hmmph." She burrows back into the couch. Ten minutes later she emerges.

"Can I watch something?"

"Nope. It's very close to bedtime."

"Can I have carrots, then?"

"Well, now it's too late."

"But, MOM! You offered me carrots! You can't just take that away!"

"Oh, yes, I can. Offers expire."

Silence. What does expire mean?

"Offers don't expire!"

"Yes they do. I can even show you an offer I wanted to use that quite unfortunately expired."

She sputters, "That is SO unfair!" Pause. "You know, I worked SO hard All Day Long, and..."

"What??? You worked hard...what? Making gingerbread men? With candy? While eating it? Really?" And I am laughing very, very hard.

Daughter, now sobbing, angry that I am enjoying a comical moment at her expense, seeks solace with her sympathetic father, who puts her to bed.

"She wants you to kiss her goodnight," he says, emerging from the bedroom.

"Are you sure? She was really mad at me..."

I find her lying in her bed, looking at me a little circumspect. "You laughed at me," she whispers.

"I know...I'm sorry, honey, but I just didn't think you had a really hard-working day...I mean, most of it was fun..."

"Well, Mom, it was kind of hard work following you everywhere in the store..."

I paused. "You know what, kiddo? I'll give you that."

We apologized to each other and made a deal, both to stick with each other and to also look when the other one points.

So we don't miss anything, after all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It All Just Seems to Come Together...

We have ants. AGAIN. There's an ant crawling on my computer as I type. He's not part of a crowd, like the parade of ants continuing to prepare for the Rose Bowl in our kitchen. He's indicative of the degree of ant entrenchment around here. Ants own the place. They're so comfortable they veer right off the trail and march solo.

We still have lingering eau de skunk as well. Or at least I do. This has been confirmed by my boss, whose comments about my scent I could dismiss as his giving me a hard time, except for the fact that when I visited a classroom last week, a student sniffed the air and asked who brought the stench.

I have never been a believer in, subscriber to, or user of air fresheners. I like candles, and scented ones are okay, but because of my keen sense of smell, they simply add a layer of perfume to our home which already smells of old house, middle-aged dog, whatever we last cooked, that yucky floral detergent the sample lady at Costco talked me into buying against my better judgment, and quite possible cat pee. Not to discourage you from visiting or anything!

Right about now, though, I am willing to do anything to disguise the skunk smell from at least myself. I've been lighting incense and candles and assembling diffusers. We're going with Skunky Pear 'n' Patchouli as the scent du jour.

I've been trying to clean the house all day--my first day off for the holidays. Cleaning has looked like this: clean off a counter, then spray ants with vinegar, then wipe up ants, then move toys around, then tell the kids to stop messing up the room I've just cleaned, then fill up the washer with skunky smelling clothes, then curse at the ants who appeared in the spot I JUST CLEANED, then transfer one pile to another locale, then tackle the dishes, and then tell the kids, You know what? Just stop playing already. I can't take any more messes.

It's been a great day!

What made me feel marginally better, though, was breaking out the caulk gun. That may have something to do with the fact that it is called a gun. But if you have a house as holey as ours, sealing up a few cracks engenders a satisfying "I'm So In Control of My Environment Right Now" feeling in an out-of-control woman. I caulked holes below window sills and corners of baseboards, huge gaping crevices between our French doors and the Great Outdoors, and some cracks in the stucco outside, too, just because I was there, gun in hand.

In the midst of this warfare against wildlife of all varieties including human under the age of 6 (my husband might argue that the real range includes 41-year-olds), my buddy and the kids' godmother came over with a gingerbread house kit.

What I love about this lady is that I didn't even need to suggest that they build it outside. She headed out there of her own accord, and then worried about candy pieces on the ground attracting ants. Girlfriend, PLEASE attact the ants to the outside patio! Maybe they'll vacate the SPOTLESS counter by the sink in favor of a stray Skittle on the back porch.

What I don't love about this lady is that she left me with a gingerbread house that had not exactly stayed together as the directions and incredibly sticky frosting glue would suggest it should have. She took our kindergartener to the Nutcracker with a sheepish request that if I could please stick their creation back together, that would be great.

So I spent a rather inordinate amount of time trying to reassemble the goopy cottage in what I hoped was a safe place to be playing with sugar in my own ant-ridden abode.

It wasn't until the walls and roof collapsed for the third time and I stopped again to clean up stray sprinkles from the floor before ants got the whiff that I spotted the Caulk Gun...

And now we have a gingerbread house, assembled! Don't be tempted to take a bite.

Unless, of course, you're an ant. Why let a little caulk stop you NOW?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dear Santa II

This is probably Santa Letter Version 3.0. As with iTunes updates, the most recent missive seems to arrive before we've fully translated the previous one.

In this correspondence written on behalf of her sister, Daughter #1 reports that her sis is requesting a "Sindrely toy and a BrB" (Cinderella toy and a Barbie). "[Her little sister] has ben good thsa yer me too," she adds persuasively.

This is the little sister who asked me to call Santa on the phone in lieu of requiring her to sit on his lap. "I don't have his number," I replied.

"Mom," my two-year-old sighed, "He's the one with a red shirt!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Not the Smartest Bears in the 'hood?

This morning as I was getting ready for work our cat joined me in the bathroom. I applied mascara and then watched as the cat appeared to settle herself down on the bathmat to my left as I stood at the sink.

Settling, settling...no, wait, that's CROUCHING. Mascara wand in hand, damned if I didn't helplessly observe my feline lift her tail and spray urine all over the alley between the bathtub and vanity, covering the shower curtain, the tile, the side of the cabinet, and the bathmat. Her litter box lay pristine only one foot away.

I should have known right then that today might be a pisser.

Flip ahead to 10:35 PM. I've survived a workday of solving problems, supporting staff, nodding agreeably at angry parents, and suspending students. I carpooled to the admin. staff party and back and I have poured myself a glass of wine. The cat is perched on the arm of the couch to my right; our neighbor's daughter and mine are asleep on the floor in the living room; youngest child is tucked in; husband is contentedly flipping through the newspaper on our bed.

All appears calm at the ranch. But if you lean in close for a sniff, you'll smell the skunk.

I'm talking about the skunk who lives under the next-door neighbors' house. The skunk whose cute little babies sprayed our dog this summer. The skunk who regularly digs in our garden. The skunk who has made us wary of letting the dog out at night. The skunk I forgot about tonight.

Until that familiar scent wafted through our window.

"Where's the dog?" asked my husband, nose wrinkled. "Is she out?"

I gulped.

He let her in. The three children in our house began wailing: "Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!"

"Yep," Husband shook his head. "She got sprayed."

Last time this happened it was 5 AM and it was summertime. We accidentally, sleepily, let our pooch into the house and discovered her malodorous state too late. Then we sequestered her until we could take her to the Dogwash, where I knew they would have a skunk solution. They did; I swear our dog never smelled so fresh.

But this time it's Friday night at 10 PM and it's cold outside and I'm tired and I already cleaned up cat pee once today. I can't put the dog back out to duke it out with skunks all night. THE SKUNKS WILL WIN.

So that is how our dog wound up in the shower tonight. And why, for lack of better ideas, we doused her with Target-brand body wash and the one little can of V8 we had on hand. And then sprayed her with hair detangler. That is why we have a cold, wet, still-smelly dog curled up on her dog bed, looking gloomy and sheepish.

As for me, I am done with wildlife for the day. Even though I smell like a second-class skunk (with detangler).


I'm back! With an update from 4 AM:

Dog begged to be let out. Husband's good idea was to go out in the backyard with her to ensure her Safety from Skunks. Husband watched dog doing her business...and then, unbelievably, WATCHED A SKUNK STREAK UP TO HER AND SPRAY HER IN THE FACE.

All three of us trooped back into the bathroom, where we did a 3:45 AM job of cleaning the dog. We had no more V8. Husband produced a mega can of diced peeled tomatoes. It was O'Dark Thirty. We were both grumpy. I looked at him incredulously, and asked, "Really, honey? In the shower? Tomato chunks aren't going down the drain." His only feeble defense, poor sleepless, skunk-victimed man, was, "I thought I'd ask."

So dog still smells terrible. Whole house reeks. No adults could sleep.

Now it's morning; the kids are well rested and curious about the stench.

As for me, I've become one with skunk. I am past the point of caring.

Which means you probably don't want to come over.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dear Santa, Don't Listen to My Mom

Dear Santa,

I am churning out Santa letters every day. I write; I fold; I enclose each letter in an envelope; I lick them shut; I write your address ("Santa CLos, Nrth Pul"); and I ask my mom for stamps. My mom takes my letters.

Today she took one to school because the scanner part of our printer doesn't work. She asked one of the secretaries to help and now she has a .pdf version of my Santa Letter and she can't figure out how to upload it to her blog. Maybe you will see it tomorrow. Maybe she will take a picture of it instead. Maybe she will mail it to the Nrth Pul.

I am writing letters to you for my sister, too, who is outsourcing all her Santa contacts. She is afraid of you: always has been; still is. When my mom and dad ask her about telling you what she wants for Christmas, she blurts out, "You can tell him." She does not want to go anywhere near Santa. Sorry.

But I have no fear of you. I love Santa, as I have loved all Disney characters and even stuffed Sea World creatures of unknown genus and species that we encounter at that theme park. I have been known to stand in line patiently and quietly for hours to talk with you, particularly at Disneyland when I was two, even when my mom and dad wanted to get out of line and go get a beer, already. Disneyland doesn't have beers. Which is why we go to California Adventure now instead.

Santa, my letters will tell you everything, including what my mom and dad want for Christmas. My mom wants a "noo cooompueud" (Ed.: "new computer"? Not...) and my dad wants a "noo foon" (Ed.: "new phone." Also, NOT.). My parents have been saying lots of things about you might not come, and you are watching, and you know if I am naughty or nice. Well, I am good. I am a good girl, and they should be glad I am not doing drugs or smoking or sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night.

Because you are watching you know that I am not doing those things. Only once in a while I am bossy to my sister and sometimes I yell too loud and I even don't cooperate. Otherwise, I am perfect.

My mom needs a new computer because she does not know how to post my Santa Letter. Help her out, Santa. Besides her being bossy and yelling too loud sometimes herself, she's pretty perfect, too.


Daughter #1

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Hour

Yesterday afternoon the bridge out of town was closed for over three hours during evening rush hour for a woman deliberating a midspan jump off the ledge. Before traffic was diverted in both directions, one friend of mine spotted her sitting on the wall, legs dangling over; another witnessed her standing, arms outstretched and wobbling as she balanced herself on her precarious perch.

I know the reason the bridge was ultimately closed down completely is that some passersby encourage jumpers to do the deed, to follow through, to jump already. I suppose those kinds of glib remarks are easy to make from the safety of a speeding car.

I've always claimed to be willing to wait in traffic if someone's life is on the line. I'm not convinced that I can credibly declare that where I am heading or what I am needing to do or even My Rights As An Individual trump someone else's mortality. If being delayed or being diverted helps someone be helped, I can ungrit my teeth and manage my frustration. Of course, if traffic is caused by mere rubbernecking (i.e.,Look! There are some minorly crunched cars on the shoulder that we're all slowing down to look at!), well, I get pissed. Unnecessary traffic slowing irritates me.

Completely closing the bridge over the bay, the main thoroughfare into and out of the city in which my husband and I both grew up and work, is pretty unprecedented. And while the two of us were stuck on one side of the bridge for hours, both our daughters were on the other. Yesterday I had to enlist the help of my sister-in-law to pick up Little One, or she would have been stranded at preschool until way past closing.

Nevertheless, I marveled at the procedural accommodations made for this woman who contemplated her fate atop the bridge. I imagine the personnel--the individuals--who spent three hours with her yesterday afternoon and evening, ultimately saving her life. While they were there, doing what they do, negotiating, surrounding her, using extra care and research-based techniques to talk her down, the sun set, probably gloriously, as it did as I crossed the bridge on my way home this evening.

But they focused their attention on one life, one woman, one fellow human and her suffering. They must not have given up nor turned their backs nor shown their frustration at her obstinacy or ambivalence, or I suspect the outcome could have been different. Thousands of people were inconvenienced, but there was no apology, no public acknowledgment of the sacrifice made for our suicidal compadre. It was as if the unspoken statement from the authorities was, "This is what we do. And while we do it, you will wait."

I don't know why, but I find that comforting. I suppose it's possible that I could die quietly on the streets of a downtown American city if I looked like a homeless person sleeping in a doorway, but if I were to consider taking my own life from atop our city's bridge, people would take that seriously. They would stop the world for me. And try to make eye contact. And give me three hours of their undivided attention.

Is it at all a wonder that someone might want that kind of acknowledgement? Or desire proof that people care, whether or not that caring is what they're paid to do?

Ten years ago I was inspired to write a poem after I drove past an empty car on the bridge and heard later the driver had jumped:

Happy Hour

I drove over the bridge at 3:15 yesterday afternoon.
Squinting through the windshield, I marveled at the day. A huge white sail disappeared beneath the blue expanse,
and I imagined the cars in my lane teeming toward happy hour.

Then I passed your red compact car
abandoned at the edge,
a Sisyphean backpack of troubles left on the front seat.
You had just leapt, dropped, flown
from the ledge
and that realization changed the scene around me
like the opening and closing of a shutter.
I saw a sailor gasping in wonder at your plummeting body,
self left behind.
I saw harsh sunlight,
white knuckles on the steering wheel,
and too much traffic.

I saw your car,
the carcass of a wildebeest
who stumbled and fell
in the heady migration
of people
getting on with their lives.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flip Flopper

Studies apparently show that people perceived to be more beautiful by others have more symmetrical, balanced faces. This report suggests that symmetrical people smell better, too.

So I guess I am ugly and stinky, cuz I ain't symmetrical.

One way I know this is because at our local science museum, there's a gizmo that takes a picture of your face and then duplicates half of it so you can see what your "symmetrical" face looks like. Both sides of my face, when doubled, look very different from one another. (Here's an online tool, The Symmeter, you can use to try this at home. In an effort to make you feel better, it will show you how some celebrities--aka Beautiful Symmetrical People--look when halves of their faces are doubled too. Helpful Note: quality and hilarity of results are dependent upon how you "adjust the centerline.")

Another way I know that my face is not symmetrical is that it is obvious in any picture of me (and maybe to those of you who look at me everyday) that I have two differently-shaped eyes. One is round and one is almond shaped. I like them both equally, though one gets droopier when I am tired (even my droopiness is not symmetrical, alas).

And finally, I have one ear that sticks out markedly farther than my other ear. This ear, my right one, is my Flop Ear.

I am not sure when my parents first noted that one of my ears was looser feeling and stuck out, but early on I began sucking my left thumb while I used my right hand to flip my less-cartilaginous right ear. As it became more of an object of attention and affection, my ear became known as Flop Ear.

You can come over right now and look at, as well as pull on, both my ears for proof. My left ear bends closer to my head and willfully snaps back against it when it is flipped. The other ear...well...flops. And sticks out more. My parents claim that my right ear must have been folded over in the womb. I guess that's possible, if fetal me stayed tucked in one position longer than any baby who inhabited my womb.

I have never been at all self conscious about my Flop Ear. But the thumb-sucking connection to it became problematic, and when I was four, my parents offered me an incentive to quit sucking my thumb (I believe I was permitted to continue flipping my ear): If I relinquished my habit, they would buy me the doll I coveted. So I quit cold turkey, just like I stopped being OCD on a dime in middle school when my parents suggested I should go see a psychiatrist about my problem, which included vacuuming my room everyday (seriously, that was a problem, folks? Could I have that problem back now?).

It turns out I am highly suggestible to behavior modification. I earned that doll and I never even licked my thumb again (of course, it occurs to me now that I could have faked quitting, gotten my doll, and then sneaked the thumb sucking, but I was either too honest or that was too complex of a plan for me to pull off back then).

But the point of this story is that my new little brand-new niece has a Flop Ear, as her father proudly pointed out to me recently. It's a cute ear that sort of bends out of shape by itself, because it's looser than the other one. My brother is now convinced there is a genetic mutation for Flop Ears that might appear randomly in our family.

All I know is, my niece is not symmetrical, because of this ear. And yet my niece is undeniably beautiful.

There's hope for me yet. But I think I'll tackle my stinkiness first.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pot of Gold

We are grateful for the rain that drenched our semi-arid city this week, and for the rainbow we caught on our way to my parents' for Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.

I am pretty sure this rainbow ends at our little house, where we are lucky to live and have so much to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Decided to Forgo Orgo (and that has made all the difference)

Today I caught up with a colleague whose daughter is in her first year of medical school. While we watched students throw bowls in the ceramics studio, he shared with me that she was struggling with her anatomy class, and really questioning herself. You may not know this, I told him, but:

Once upon a time I was Pre-Med. I wanted to be a doctor as far back as I can remember. Both of my parents are in the medical profession, and I grew up around hospitals and clinics, with many dinner-table conversations about anatomy and symptoms. And because our father occasionally brought home drug company freebies, my brothers and sisters and I also sported pencil holders, bags, and notepads imprinted with birth control brands and STD treatments.

One of my favorite household books to peruse was a thick purple Pediatrics text. I consulted it when I was curious and when I suffered vague ailments. My use of this tome as a resource for diagnoses from scarlet fever to neurofibromatosis was tiresome to my parents and led my mother to plead with my father to throw out or hide the book forever. I was their favorite hypochondriac. And only a favorite because I was their daughter and they had to love me.

At one point in high school I narrowed my ambition to Neonatologist: I wanted to care for sick and premature infants. A March of Dimes summer internship in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit quickly taught me it was the nurses, not so much the doctors, who bonded with the babies. I filed that observation away.

In high school I was what I would describe a "generalist." I claimed neither the sciences nor the humanities as my true passions; a glimpse at my transcript suggested I was adept in most disciplines except for Typing.

Continuing on my Pre-Medical trajectory, with the only hiccup that I spelled my career intentions "medecine" everywhere on my college early admissions application (causing my father a near conniption fit and my application a heavy dose of Wite-Out), I declared my major Biology and flew across the country to begin my undergraduate odyssey.

I quickly discovered that one needed not be a sciences major to be Pre-Med. One needed only to take Pre-Med courses, including Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. Therefore, I was a Biology major for only the summer preceding my matriculation into college, and thereafter Undeclared until second semester of my junior year, when I literally counted the credits I had accrued in each of my favorite subject areas to determine where my major would fall: History, by default. And because I was never a true historian, having treated my college course selection like ordering from a tapas restaurant menu, even my senior thesis was not "historical" enough.

My sense about my Liberal Arts Education was that it was for exploring that which could only be learned there; I wanted to know about Sociology and Political Science and African-American Studies. Pre-Med requirements were just that: requirements. I resented my required math course, a repeat of high school calculus and a waste of precious time I could be spending taking Anthropology, Art History, and Gender Studies courses--disciplines which were non-existent in high school. Chemistry constituted another unenlightening duplication of high school science, save for the labs, marked by anxiety-inducing titrations and laborious write-ups. Our lab T.A. had a long pinkie fingernail on each hand, I remember. Someone suggested it was for scooping cocaine. That I remember, instead of anything much about Chemistry.

Due to credits earned from Advanced Placement exams, I had the option of taking higher level Biology courses in lieu of Intro Bio, so I chose Genetics and Reproductive Biology. I excelled in neither course, happy to sit atop the curve versus beat it, but I loved the learning. I was required to kill some mice for the lab portion (I tried to get fellow students to do my dirty work, but hired assassins were not allowed); my technique was terrible, making the experience all the more traumatic for me and the hapless rodents. Nevertheless, I successfully in-vitro fertilized a mouse. An uncomfortable highlight from Reproductive Biology was viewing film clips of Masters' and Johnson's research on human sexual response. In a lecture hall full of hundreds of peers seated in uncomfortable chairs we watched men and women climax on camera.

By junior year I had knocked out three of four of the year-long course requirements for medical school. I saved the worst for last: The Infamous Organic Chemistry, separator of wheat from chaff, weeder of wimps not fit for physicianhood. I had heard of its horrors: hours of memorization, flash cards, endless formulae, and cramming for exams. There was no part of me that wanted any part of Orgo, except the part of me that wanted to help people, care for people, heal people.

I made it impossible for myself to take Orgo my junior year, as I planned to take second semester off to study abroad in Italy. My moment of truth came that spring: in which courses would I enroll my senior year, with which destination in mind? Having only recently declared my major History, having added some intriguing History of Education classes onto the list of possibilities, and knowing this was my last year of the luxury that is Liberal Arts, Orgo was looking more and more like an intrusion into What I Really Wanted to Be Doing.

But this was no minor decision: Forgoing Orgo was about changing my identity. I was for so many years, to myself at the very least, She Who Would Become a Doctor. Without that, I was She Who Would Wonder...What the Hell She Would Become. I reassured myself that I could take Organic Chemistry somewhere else, some other time, if being a doctor was truly my goal, after all.

I think in the back of my mind, however, I knew I was giving myself permission to consider other options. So throughout my senior year of college, besides throwing the proverbial caution to the wind in Oh So Many Ways, I reflected on who I was and what I had been doing.

I was a Freshman Counselor (and not a perfect one, mind you!). I was the big sister to four younger siblings. I was a Big Sister to a local girl suffering from leukemia. I had volunteered in a school for pregnant teens and in the emergency room. I had joined a Children's Theatre Troupe.

Truths emerged: I enjoyed relationships. I enjoyed mentoring others. I didn't relish lab research, nor research in general. I didn't like competing with my peers for grades. I had a passion for learning that was about discovery and sharing versus delving deeper on my own.

My parents, doctor and nurse, weren't fazed by hints that I might veer from my pre-medical track. They had never pressured me to follow their career paths; looking back, I am not sure they ever explicitly persuaded or dissuaded me from that goal. They consistently demonstrated faith in my ability to lead myself in the right direction.

By the winter of my senior year, it had become clear to me that I was redefining myself. And I will never forget the relief and excitement expressed by my mother when I mentioned that I might try teaching.

I applied for Teach for America and was accepted, despite my inability to explain how airplanes fly during the interview ("Something to do with thrust?" I suggested. Now, I will never forget Bernoulli's Principle). In an ironic twist of fate, my Pre-Med adventure minus Orgo deemed me "qualified" in the eyes of TFA to teach middle or high school science. So my first teaching assignment was 7th Grade Science Teacher at Abraham Lincoln Multicultural Middle School in Washington, D.C.

In essence, I have never looked back. I am a teacher; I am an educator, and that has always felt right, even when I have been called a "Chicken-Legged White Bitch," even when my students have hated me, even when I have floundered. That is not to say that the smell of hospitals doesn't get to me in a visceral, familiar, where-I-belong kind of way. That watching ER doesn't make me wonder What If?

I have rationalized my choice of education over medicine as being, to a certain extent, about lifestyle. But it's not lost on me that I now know women who are doctors, who work part-time, who have more money AND more time with their children while they are helping people and improving the world.

Nevertheless, it's the relationships I grow daily in my career that sustain me and justify my choice to work with young adults and other people who believe that teaching is art as well as science, that teaching is a verb not always attached to subject matter as indirect object. I teach. Every day, in every context.

It's clear, to a certain extent, that I don't know what I will do next.

But being an educator? Well, that's just become non-negotiable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Survey Says! (Surveys are Silly)

In the past two weeks I've received several versions of the emailed personal survey. You know, the "2008 Version of Getting to Know Your Family and Friends" (I was thinking that was called, "How are you voting in November?").

I am always mystified by the questions. Who makes these things up? For example, new to the 2008 version: the blue cheese query (below). And, c'mon, some of the questions are just dumb or boring.

But as a tribute to the inherent narcissism of such surveys and of blogging itself, I've copied and pasted one survey (the 44-question one that's going around), appended parts of another...and then I've added and answered my own questions.

Enjoy! Or be terribly bored. You get to decide where I'm lying.

1. Do you like blue cheese?
Yes, I do. Especially with a wedge of iceberg lettuce and caramelized onions.
2. Have you been ever drunk?
Is this a serious (sober) question?
3. Do you own a gun?
No way. Super scared of guns. Moreover, though I've never been seriously suicidal, it's seems like having a gun available when you're in the abyss stacks the deck against you.
4. What flavor Kool Aid was your favorite?
I used to like Crystal Light. Before that, I was a Hawaiian Punch fan. Now I drink water, when I am not drinking ___ (question #16)
5. Do you get nervous before doctor's appointments?
Actually, I do. And I tend to feel like I am on the verge of tears. I think it's because I've realized people younger than I am ARE old enough to be doctors.
6. What do you think of hot dogs?
At a ball game? Required.
7. Favorite Christmas movie?
Miracle on 34th Street. My parents made me watch it to prove to me that Santa was real. I still find the argument compelling.
8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?
Coffee, with milk.
9. Can you do push ups?
I used to do them daily, and now I won't even try.
10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry?
I have three: my engagement ring, which was my great aunt's; a vintage butterfly necklace which used to be my grandmother's, and the daisy/diamond earrings my dad gave me right before I walked down the aisle.
11. Favorite hobby?
12. Do you have A.D.D.?
No, but I multitask when I am supposed to be paying attention...
13. What's your weight?
Currently more than I would like it to be.
14. Middle name?
Catherine. I knew it was Catherine before I could read or spell. So I wrote it "Catheren" and was seriously irritated when my mom told me it wasn't spelled that way.
15. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment??
My almost-three year old is pesky!...I ate too much dinner...why is it so hot in November?
16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink?
Let's see, what did my daughter once tell her preschool teacher? Wine, beer, and coffee.
17. Current worry?
Our house's foundation is sinking.
18. Current hate right now?
That Proposition 8 passed.
19. Favorite place to be?
Snuggling my daughters. Especially when we're sleeping.
20. How did you bring in the New Year?
Drinking pomegranate martinis and helping daughter recover from STING procedure.
21. Where would you like to go?
Back to Africa, this time with my family.
22. Name three people who will complete this.
I do not like this question.
23. Do you own slippers?
Yes, two pairs, and I wear them primarily in the winter. I come home from work and put them on and I become That Dorky Lady Wearing Slippers (proudly).
24. What color shirt are you wearing right now?
You know, as I started to describe my shirt, I realized this is a boring question, too.
25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets?
I don't think I ever have, and I don't think I want to.
26. Can you whistle?
Not very well. (Umm, who cares?)
27. Favorite color??
Purple. But I believe in Appropriate Use of Purple.
28. Would you be a pirate?
No, but in my younger years I could have probably fallen for one....
29. What songs do you sing in the shower?
I sing while I run. I think about the work day ahead in the shower.
30. Favorite girl's name?
I am going to say Ruby or Tula. Two names I liked that were never going to be my daughters' names.
31. Favorite boy's name?
Zephyr (could also be girl's name)...and another one I won't say for my unconceived, unborn, unlikely son.
32. What's in your pocket?
A receipt for a trashcan I returned. Yes, even some trashcans are not good enough for me.
33. Last thing that made you laugh?
My daughter, on our way to my brother and sister-in-law's wine, cheese, and Chargers' game party: "I don't want to drink wine. I don't want to eat cheese either. I don't want to watch the Chargers' game. What the heck am I going to do there?"
34. Worst injury you've ever had as a child?
Injury? Lucky me: a mere tire swing hitting my already skinned-up knee. Illness? Meningitis in the 6th grade.
36. Do you love where you live?
I believe we live in one of the best neighborhoods in America.
37. How many TVs do you have in the house?
Two, one with cable in the living room and one in our bedroom for videos on Mama's bed.
38. Who is your loudest friend?
I have a few of these...with volume dependent on volume of vino consumed.
39. How many dogs do you have?
One awesome, faithful, sweet doggie.
40. Does someone have a crush on you?
Our almost-three-year-old is a Mama's Girl.
41. What is your favorite book?
Tough one--there are so many...I wrote about Franny and Zooey for a college essay, and I still love it. A personal favorite: Goodbye Without Leaving, by the late Laurie Colwin.
42. What is your favorite candy?
Dove dark chocolate.
44. What song do you want played at your funeral?
I have an iTunes playlist for this very occasion, entitled "She Goes On."

Here are some more or less intriguing questions from another email survey:

What is your occupation right now?
High School Vice Principal.
What are you listening to right now?
A Fraggle Rock episode.
What was the last thing that you ate?
Homemade pizza.
Can you drive a stick shift?
Yes. Well, I could. I don't really relish the opportunity now.
Last person you spoke to on the phone?
I accidentally sent a text message to a new friend's landline. Does that count?
What is your favorite sport to watch on TV?
Survivor challenges.
What is your favorite drink?
Strong coffee in the morning. A nice glass of red in the evening.
Favorite food?
What is the last movie you watched?
Last one I can remember? A Mighty Heart.
Favorite day of the year?
How do you vent anger?
By running...and by venting.
What was your favorite toy as a child?
Dolls. Dollhouse my grandpa made. Legos.
When was the last time you cried?
Oh, I cry often. It's just Who I Am. Ask my dad. Ask my boss!
What did you do last night?
Ditched the Homecoming Dance.
What are you most afraid of?
Losing people I love. And falling.
Plain, cheese, or spicy hamburgers?
What is a spicy hamburger? Please! I prefer turkey burgers.
Favorite dog breed?
I have favorite dogs. This is like, "What's your favorite breed of man?"
Favorite day of the week?
Thursday, in the evenings: there's hope, people; there's hope!
How many states have you lived in?
Four states: Hawaii, Connecticut, California, Louisiana. One non-state: Washington, D.C. Three countries: U.S., Italy, Africa.
What is your favorite flower?
Gerber daisies are my wedding flower. Tuberose smell wicked good on my desk.

And here are Fer's Contributions:

A) Three things you don't understand:
1. Most technology: how does the internet work?
2. What's up with death threats? Do people really take time out of their days to make those calls?
3. The brain. It looks like mush. And it invented the internet.

B) Body part(s) you'd fix if you weren't too poor or down-to-earth for plastic surgery:
My webbed neck, and my drooping eyelids.
c) Some memorable acts of kindness bestowed upon you:
1. While I was studying abroad: A man in Italy went way out of his way to walk me from the bus stop to the hotel where I would meet my visiting parents, late at night.
2. Friends Mark and Carol, waiting for us on the curb with a six-pack of Pacifico on the day we drove up and opened our newly-purchased first home.
3. A homeless man changed the flat tire I discovered when I returned to my parked car downtown, even after I tried to convince him I was a Tough Broad who could do it herself. And wouldn't accept any money from me.

D) Something you witnessed or experienced that you still can't explain:
It was 6:30 AM, and I was walking the dog with my then-boyfriend. A guy with a U-Haul, which was parked along a red curb, asked me to get in and move the truck ten feet forward to a legal parking spot "before the cops arrived." He said he wasn't licensed, and the driver wouldn't be back soon enough to move it--he was stuck; could I help? Something was fishy; I am sure it was a con of some sort, so I said no...but I still wonder about it.
E) Something you've given up?
Scuba diving. Turns out I don't like anything that messes with my ability to breathe.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ignoring Friend Requests (Kind Of)

I joined Facebook. I succumbed to Facebook.

Peer pressure and curiosity won out. I joined, late Friday night, and went to bed with a little pit in my stomach. I already exist in enough public arenas, and here I was willingly subjecting myself to more scrutiny. Tweeting and blogging are anonymous enough, but FACEbook? The idea is to post your FACE, and Your Real Name. Egads.

Just last week I was suggesting to a colleague that our students' social lives, it seems, never sleep.

Back in The Day, we had one-on-one phone time (unless you had or knew how to use a Party Line) and notes that we folded up and passed during or between classes. Sure, such missives were confiscated, dropped, and their contents divulged. But what kids do today, between texting and MySpaceing and Facebooking and LiveJournaling, amounts to continual live broadcasting, through class, through the night, with rumors and love declarations and disses delivered en masse and at warp speed.

It's got to be stressful.

Of course, the thirty-somethings I know are jumping on the social network bandwagon with enthusiasm. Somehow, though, I am guessing the stakes are not the same. No one (including Myself) could ruin me on Facebook now, I hope? My blog won't get me fired, right? Please?

Perhaps the good news is that I can't access Facebook at work, because of our Filter. That makes me the Only Person at work who can't access Facebook at work, because I know for a fact that students have found proxy servers and other beyond-me ways around our school district's security features. Last year I asked the Tech Department for temporary access to MySpace so I could use my dummy page to verify that a particular student had changed her rather inappropriate profile photo, only to find a) she was still there, in flagrante, and b) she was ((ONLINE NOW!)), during 4th period.

I'm a little scared. I do not want to beFriend students. I want to ignore Friend Requests from people I genuinely do not know, even IF we have three friends in common. Is that rude? I know how to not be rude in Real Life, but I'm not sure what signals I send out on Facebook.

[And dammit, I just added a Friend I do not know by accidentally clicking on the Confirmation. I am so not in control of my Facebook Peer Group].

So far, Facebook is proving to be a source of endless Amusement, Bemusement and Consternation. There's the "nudging" and "poking" (give me a break). My sister and her Friend keep accepting "Fresh Lumpia" and "Adobo" from each other "via Filipino Food." One of my Friends just joined the Group, "Bitch Please...I am From Poland." And I just learned that I can add "Pieces of Flair" to my Facebook Page, a la Office Space. You're kidding, right?

I am in way over my head.

Meanwhile, coincidentally, something moved my daughter to make her very own Facebook page equivalent yesterday, a list of "Pepl I Like." There were only three "pepl" on this list, including her sister, under the category of "Kind Of" (spelled "ciav") and her cousin and a classmate, under the category of "Really" ("rile").

Facebook allows no such distinctions, which is why I am Really Friends with a guy I do not even Kind Of know. *Sigh*

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Year of Blah Blah Blogging

It's been a year since my first freakin' post on this blog.

During the last twelve months, I began(and contemplated) my third year as a High School Vice Principal. I watched one woman run for Democratic Presidential Nominee and another woman vie for Vice President, confirming that leadership can be a bitch.

I did a fair amount of freaking out. I wondered what the heck I was doing. I pondered the possibility of a third child, while some people thought I was already pregnant.

My fits were only upstaged by my daughters' tantrums, over walking around the block, over Polly Pockets, over medication, over math, and over suppositories (okay, fair enough). There were enough of these episodes for us to fear that our neighbors might call the police.

Our youngest daughter conquered the pacifier and a fungus and demonstrated she likes to say butts; she cannot lie. Actually, yes she can. So can her elder sister, but at least our kindergartener found her conscience, and also God.

Thankfully, our firstborn's kidney issues were resolved, after inaptly named procedures and surgery.

We welcomed frogs and chickens into our home but certainly not the ants and bees.

We were saddened by personal, political and global events.

But all in all, it has been a year of rather simple pleasures and good times. We went skiing in California mountains and hiking in Colorado , in the company of great friends. We chased pigs at the County Fair. I bought myself some snazzy kicks, paid my annual homage to the Indigo Girls, whirled with my girls at a Drum Circle, was inspired by students and my husband, and wrote some limericks.

I've got a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to.

Happy New (blog)Year! Here's to 2009.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Our country appears to be leaning blue, at 7:45 PM PST (do some of you go to bed on the East Coast with our nation somewhere on the spectrum between lilac and magenta?).

But before I sound a "barbaric yawp" of celebration...

This morning, all I knew was that Change was a Sure Thang, and I was in charge of providing Snack for our Staff Snack Club. We take our snacking seriously. Sometimes it's the highlight of Tuesday.

Below, find my "recipe" for Bipartisan Snack, as well as our high school's Snack Club Manifesto (it's goofy, I know--written by me The English Teacher, several years ago, when CLEARLY I had tons of essays to grade).

Bipartisan Snack

· Blue Corn Chips with Red Salsa and Black Bean Dip

· Red Peppers and Tomatoes with Blue Cheese Dressing

· Blueberries and Red Raspberries and Strawberries with (Majority or Minority) Whip Cream

· Lollipops: Red and Blue (But they’re all Dum Dums)

Served on Purple Battleground State Plates

The Snack Club Manifesto

Snack Club Time shall consist of:
a) converging upon the Library
b) on Tuesdays
c) during the period of our High School’s “Nutrition Break”
d) to eat Snack.

Membership of Snack Club is to be determined by one or more of the following:
a) consistently loitering in the general area,
b) being of age older than 18
c) contributing Snack (by rotation, on the calendar)

Leadership and Procedures:
The leadership of Snack Club generally resides in the hands of the bossiest, most controlling member.

Conditions of Snack Club Membership

Snack Club members must adhere to the following rules (or see consequences below):
a) consistently show up for Snack, asking who made it and what is it
b) provide Snack at appropriate date and time
c) participate in Baby-Jesus-Cake-Epiphany Event (Your chances of getting the Baby Jesus increase exponentially if you don’t show up on time that day in January…we’ll save you a piece of cake!)
d) eat Snack.

Nature of Snack

Snack must have the following characteristics:
a) be food-like in appearance
b) be abundant in quantity
c) be homemade, store-bought, salvaged or borrowed
d) be sweet or savory or both
e) be healthy or unhealthy; fat-laden or fat-free***
f) be delicious or not-quite-so; we’ve even been known to eat just-plain-not-so-good.
Note: Snack need not be holiday-, season-, or time-of-day-appropriate.

If You Wish to Remain in Snack Club, Please Refrain from the Following:
a) forgetting Snack when it is your turn
b) unilaterally canceling Snack Club Time(s)
c) insulting Snack Provider
d) failing to appear at Snack

Consequences of Infractions

Failure to appear at designated Snack Time, to provide Snack, or any of the above, will result in:

a) First infraction: disdainful talk about you in your absence, jokes at your expense (if in your presence, it is appropriate to place blame elsewhere or otherwise manufacture a scapegoat for your oversight)****
b) Second infraction: Snack Probation. We are not sure what this means. It is marked mainly by heightened disdainful talk, more jokes.
c) Third infraction: It is our experience that members of Snack who go this far to distance themselves from Snack opt out of the Club voluntarily, which is wise, due to the potential for mob mentality and security concerns.*****

*day of week and time of Snack subject to change according to needs of membership and unforeseen schedule changes.
***Perhaps not our first choice.
****It is not OUR fault YOU forgot Snack! Quit sniveling about the abuse you’ve suffered as a consequence and resolve to do better next time! Or else!
*****Once you are in Snack Club, it is VERY HARD to get out without being subjected to deprogramming procedures.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

We had a little Black Cat (who couldn't find her ears and caused a last-minute search) and a littler Grey Mouse (who wouldn't wear her costume because it made her "sweaty"--hearkening back to last year when she insisted on wearing her only jammies and pigtails to trick or treat...) and a Mommy who raided her daughters' dress-up box and pieced together a Strawberry Shortcake costume, and a Daddy who dressed as a Harried Daddy. We converged on the cousins' house for our traditional trick-or-treat homebase and potluck party.

Little Grey Mouse and I handed out candy on the porch while bigger kiddoes dispersed with their parents down the block. She refused to serve any trick-or-treaters with scary costumes, however, so we weren't exactly equal opportunity. She chose individual treats for princesses, cheerleaders, cute furry animals, and Spidermen, and I tossed chocolate into the bags of vampires, witches, Screamers, gorillas, and monsters.

A pretty successful Halloween, all things told. Hope yours was spooktacular, too!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Going Batty (in Honor of Halloween)

Yesterday our kindergartener came home with a little book she made at school called "All About Bats." In lieu of reading the book to me (she was over homework by then), she gave us a synopsis, explaining that bats hang upside down and eat harmful insects.

I'll admit to having some Bat Fascination. I can immediately tell you where in my life bats and I have intersected.

From a literary standpoint, there's Stella Luna, which was read recently in kindergarten and served as the inspiration for daughter's handmade book; Bats at the Beach, which our two-year-old deemed "too scary" to read tonight; and one of my preteen favorites, There's a Bat in Bunk Five, which is set at summer camp, where the reported "bat" in Bunk Five is revealed to be of the baseball variety. (I loved that prank!)

There's a beautiful old bridge over a freeway in our city. We drove under it often when I was growing up; rumor had it there were bats galore beneath its arches. I would crane my neck each time we passed underneath that bridge, certain that the shadows I glimpsed were bats. Creepy, cool bats.

When I was living in Washington, D.C. after college, friends and I attended an outdoor concert on the Capitol grounds one summer night. Lying on my back on a blanket, I watched swarms of birds frenetically circling the Capitol building. Those were no birds, my friend smirked: bats! Bats, outside, flying around! Eating harmful insects! Fascinating stuff for a Southern California girl.

But my most intimate bat moment was in college. Senior Year, I was a Freshman Counselor for my dorm. And one quiet Friday night when I was in my room watching a movie, Freshman Gregg knocked on my door with an emergency.

"There's a bat in Entryway F."

"A what?"

"A bat."

Stumped, I called the campus police. "Um, I am sorry I am calling the emergency number for this, but you see...there's a bat in Wright Hall."

"You're kiddin'." Pause. "We'll send someone right over."

Gregg led me to the bat-infested entryway. The bat wasn't flying around, as I had anticipated. Where was it? Gregg walked slowly up the stairwell and suddenly yelped. "Okay!!! Yes! It's there! Yes, it is!"

I peered around the landing and my eyes settled on a little brown furry thing I would not have believed to be a bat had I not been told there was one Right Over There. It lurked on the tile floor, hardly moving. Gregg and I spent the next couple of minutes dashing in and out of the entryway, not really wanting to Hang Out with the bat, but not wanting anyone to descend the stairs and unwittingly send it flying again.

When the cop showed up he immediately informed us he was not prepared to deal with a bat. He suggested that we secure a blanket, throw it over the creature, and let it go outside. We thought he was a great candidate for that endeavor, but he looked at us and waited for a volunteer.

Gregg knocked on the door of his friend Franklin's room, right there on the first floor of the entryway.

"Hey, Franklin, do you have a blanket we could use?"

"For what?"

"To capture a bat."

"No way. Bats have Bat Lice. I don't want Bat Lice in my blanket. I suggest you get a gun and shoot it."

We looked pointedly at the policeman, who shook his head.

Franklin compromised and supplied us with an old towel.

Gregg crept up the stairs and weakly flung the towel at the bat. He missed. The startled bat came swooping down the entryway and we all ducked. Gregg brought his head down hard on the metal stair railing, giving himself a bloody nose and--thankfully--our only bat-induced injury of the evening.

The bat flew in confused circles and flapped into me. I shrieked, and it landed conveniently in a corner of the stairwell.

The policeman snatched the towel and made another attempt to apprehend the bat, who was making strange chirping sounds. The cop half-dragged, half-nudged the bat, wiggling beneath the blanket, down the stairs. I flinched at every maneuver and made weak bat jokes.

Our Batman made it to the entryway door, frightened bat in tow. When we burst that door wide open, the bat flew off into the starlit sky.

The policeman rubbed his hands together to signify a Job Well Done.

Gregg ran off to ice his bruised nose. I returned to my room, blood still pumping but triumphant, to finish my movie.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Note on Discretion

The difference between journaling and blogging is audience. The potential of audience is what makes me want to write a little better, a little more often, and a little less repetitively.

I think part of the reason I wasn't ultimately successful at consistently maintaining a journal was that there was too much temptation to vent. And venting gets boring, particularly when I am the only one listening to me and I know exactly what I am going to say next.

This week was a rough one, but besides falling down on my hands and knees while running on both Saturday AND Sunday, the truth is that most of the rough parts didn't happen to me directly. They happened to people in my Extended Network, and though I try to be conscious of not claiming others' traumas as my own, I think it's fair to say I was--am--affected.

When people around you are suffering, you suffer some too. You put your life and worries on hold for a bit, until your little worries compounded with others' Big Worries cause you to have a little breakdown. But you pull it back together and continue to be a help and a support.

In the meantime, people wonder where you've been. And here's the blogging challenge: what to write about under these circumstances. Sad things happened at my school this week, and tragic things happened to people I love, but these are not my stories to tell. So I won't go there, out of respect and love and an acknowledgement of appropriate boundaries.

To blithely blog about the rather mundane goings on in my personal universe seems insensitive without making that disclaimer. But when the world is falling apart, it seems, for people around you, the mundane routines we take for granted assume greater significance.

For example, I am happy about the soup my daughter and I made tonight, which we shared with my brother's family. It's a tasty fall recipe, and I offer it to you (with apologies in advance for the vague measurements--I cook to taste and add stuff as I go...):

Potato and Corn Chowder with Sausage and Kale

Clean and cube (don’t peel) about six large potatoes.

Chop one onion and two long stalks of celery.

Melt half a stick of butter in a large pot; add ingredients above, and stir and cook for ten minutes or so on high heat until onions are translucent and potatoes are cooking on the outside.

Add about a teaspoon each of turmeric, cumin, and salt and pepper. I also added about a teaspoon of mustard seeds (not necessary).

Slice four sausages (I used apple chicken sausage) and add to the pot.

Pour in chicken broth—two cans.

In a small bowl, gradually add a teaspoon of the hot broth to a tablespoon of flour. Stir into a paste, adding more broth till the mixture is a little runny.

Add a little half-and-half to the broth and flour. Pour remaining pint of half-and-half into soup pot and then add thickening mixture. Bring to a boil and then keep on medium heat till potatoes are soft.

Add a bag of frozen corn—Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn gives the soup a nice smoky flavor.

I had kale and basil in the fridge so I chopped handfuls of each and threw them in. Cilantro would be good too!

I needed to add about two additional cups of milk to make the soup my desired consistency. I also added more chicken bouillon paste and pepper to taste.

FYI: We had mochi balls for dessert. A new treat for the kiddoes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Indecent Proposition

I live in California, where each election seems beleaguered by a variety of confusing propositions. I've known people to host Proposition Parties for the purpose of sharing research on the facts and feelings associated with these ballot initiatives, as figuring it all out individually can be daunting.

The first thing a California voter might do in order to gain clarity on the issues is replace in her head the blandness of proposition numbers or letters with the true flavor of what these potential laws aim to do. For example, in our city an initiative to issue bonds for school repair and safety is Proposition S, or in my mind, "Slam dunk."

And I could also rhyme Proposition 8 with HATE.

I feel strongly about this proposition against gay marriage, if for no other reason because I can't understand why Anyone would feel strongly about Someone Else's marriage to another consenting adult, particularly when that Anyone does not even know the Someone Else getting married.

To me, this initiative represents way TOO MUCH initiative, as well as time and money spent attempting--actually going out of one's way--to block people's rights to express love and commitment. More people loving and committing can only make the world better, right?

I am utterly perplexed by any single person's desire to claim ownership of the institution of marriage. I subscribe to this institution, knowing that each individual's and couple's approach to marriage may be something different, and looks and feels different, too.

An individual voting YES on Proposition 8 is in effect exercising a perceived right to decide for another individual the extent to which he or she can exercise free will to love and commit to a partner. A kind of free will that doesn't trample on anyone else's liberties.

The conundrum created by propositions is that they can pass by a voting populace even if they are inherently UNCONSTITUTIONAL. In the gap between a proposition becoming law and that law being declared unconstitutional by the courts, good people potentially lose their rights. One would hope that the public wouldn't allow this to happen.

The notion that the right of homosexuals to marry somehow diminishes the institution of marriage or one's own matrimony is just pure malarkey.

I love chocolate. I have a personal relationship with chocolate and a preference for the dark variety. Knowing that people I don't agree with love chocolate too--that they buy it or eat it or smear themselves with it--does not affect me. Other people eating chocolate has nothing to do with my chocolate.

I mean, I'm not going to invite just anyone over to have some with me, but I don't really care who enjoys chocolate as long as they don't eat mine without asking. I am not afraid that sharing a passion for chocolate with people who aren't exactly like me somehow reflects who I am.

Actually, it should. Because chocolate can be for everyone without hurting anyone.

I don't own the chocolate industry; I don't control chocolate. I don't desire to as long as I can get me some. I've got chocolate's back, but I don't think chocolate needs protection.

And I would not propose to give up chocolate for--nor hoard it nor ban it from--anyone.

Even supporters of Proposition 8.

My wish for all of us is: if we're going to put our money behind something--our energy and INITIATIVE, for Pete's sake--let it be something that helps, something that increases love and caring rather than diminishes it.

People I love want to officially commit to love the way I can. And people really want to stop them?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ifs, Ands, but no BUTTS in our Household

There is a list of parental approaches I adopted from my own upbringing. Among them: the approach to Rear End Nomenclature. My mom couldn't stand the word "butt"; hence (genetic hence, I guess), I am no fan of it either.

Determining the name we would use in our family for hindquarters was a bit of a challenge, though. The term had to go well with "my," since, after all, on any given day somebody has something to say about his/her netherparts. "Rear End" is long and awkward; "Behind" is too much of a preposition; "Booty" comes with a little naughty edge to it; "Tush" is cute but a little Too Cute; "Ass" is too crass for kiddoes; "Glutes" is too technical.

We settled for "Bum." Short and innocuous and lengthened to "Bum-Bum" at times.

Reassuring me that she is paying attention to our Terminology Guidelines is our kindergartener, who, having recently memorized my cell phone number, left me this message on my voicemail this morning:

"Mommy! Everybody is saying 'butts' in our family.

"Like, your bum? They're saying 'butts.' Only one time Daddy said 'butts,' but [little sister] keeps saying 'butts' at breakfast this morning.


"I love you; bye!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Hard Out Here For a Dad

My closest friends and I, who are pretty Strong-Willed Women, married Really Nice Men. To a certain extent, I mean this As Opposed to the Men We Dated, who were not necessarily Not Nice, but who perhaps didn't keep our best interests in mind in quite the same way that our spouses do. I've been appreciating these Nice Men lately.

When I hear a parent of young children bemoaning the loss of the Life he/she Once Had, I tend to agree that we're in The Trenches. Despite the picture suggested by smiley, sweet holiday photos of families with small children, these are not very easy times. Most young-family parents I know are either still growing their careers or abandoning them for the time being, while balancing the desire to have the right housing for their family with the goal of remaining financially solvent.

We're also wistfully remembering when we used to exercise. When we used to excel at something or have hobbies. When we used to sleep and read books. When we used to give attention to and spend time with people taller than four feet, including one another, our friends. And our spouses.

We're not exactly feeling sorry for ourselves; I think we all have reasons to feel fortunate.

But we complain on occasion. Women in particular, we Moms and Wives, have some pretty nifty mechanisms for griping. The Old Friends Network is primary, of course. We've been keeping up with hometown, high school, college, and/or neighborhood friends by phone and email for years. And we've added playgroup and work friends, and maybe even friends we made in the grocery store or doctor's office. Blogs and online discussion boards have more recently emerged as popular means for Moms to express themselves and connect with others.

Let's face it: all of us could probably benefit from more healthy soul-searching and honest expression of how we're really feeling. But women have some outlets. We have places to vent and sympathetic ears waiting. And our sympathetic company tends to be fully clothed, and our interactions free and legal.

Dads, on the other hand, have some challenges. Sure, they catch a break not having to be pregnant and breastfeed, but there are some bonding benefits for Moms associated with those not-always-rosy experiences. There has to be a helpless feeling that comes from Dads knowing they're sidelined for these parts, too: they can't exactly take on the stretch marks for a while. They're not so helpful with sore nipples. And none of the females in their lives are sympathetic.

Moms are exhausted. Moms are trying to do it all. This is true, and this is well documented and publicized. But the Dads like my husband and many others I admire are full 50% or more Partner/Parents. They bathe, dress, feed, change, teach and snuggle their children as well as prepare meals, do dishes and laundry, and clean bathrooms, because that's how they roll. It's (MOSTLY!) not a contest for Who Does More in partnerships like these. I appreciate Nice Husbands who put their heads down and work really hard with their kids and families even though they are bound to occasionally screw up and get crap from their wives. It's not that they're not sometimes giving their wives crap, too...it's just that they're not getting IT as often anymore, either.

If you know what I mean.

Which is why I'm thinking my husband and others like him have sacrificed a lot during these Young Children Years, AND they've done so relatively quietly in comparison with their wives, who talk about all this stuff a lot more, and with more people (and then feel better as a result). The women I know recognize that they don't have much time for themselves and then seize opportunities when they arise. The men I know recognize that their wives are spent and emotional, and their children are needy and, well, immature. And that everybody needs them to suck it up and help hold it all together.

So, I'm not arguing that there is a contest of martyrdom which the Dads are winning. I'm not calling for a Daddy Pity Party. I'm just saying, (invoking Bud Light's Real Men of Genius ad series), here's to you, Mr. Patient Dad of Young Children (and Dutiful Husband) Guy.

Today we salute you, with this rewritten rendition of Three 6 Mafia's Oscar-award-winning song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp":

It's Hard Out Here for a Dad

You know it's hard out here for a Dad (you ain't knowin')
When he tryin' to get this money for the pad (you ain't knowin')
For the diapers and the carseat money spent (you ain't knowin')
Because a whole lot of mothers talkin' smack (you ain't knowin')
Will have a whole lot of wives jumpin' ship (you ain't knowin')

In my eyes I done seen some crazy tantrums in the streets
Gotta couple grannies workin' on the whinin' for me
But I gotta keep my eyesight on the remote for game night
But like takin' from a baby don't know no better, I know that ain't right

Done seen babies poop, done seen kids who can't deal
Done seen myself lose it when my peeps won't eat their meals
It's messed up where I live, but that's just how it is
It might be new to you, but it's been like this for years

It's spit-up, sweat and tears when it come down to this prize
I'm tryin' to get some sleep 'fore I wake up to someone's cries
I'm tryin' to have time but it's hard fo' a Dad
But I'm prayin' and I'm hopin' to God I don't slip, yeah


Man it seems like I'm duckin', dodgin' diapers everyday
Wife hatin' on me cause I got no breastfeeding in my day
But I gotta stay cool, gotta not let it bother
Can't keep up with my offspring, that's when stuff gets harder
Sports Bar is where I'm from; now I'm playground bound
Where fathers all the time end up lost and never found

Man these wives think we demand thangs, we sleep alone instead
They come naggin' every night, they lucky we ain't dead
Wait I got a kindergartner, and a toddler, too
If I pay the right price, can they spend the night with you?
That's the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly even
Gotta have my hustle tight, makin' sure no one's leavin'...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Spirit of Secret Elf

To read about how our Secret Elf Project turned "Phantom Ghost," click here.

Meanwhile, Halloween and the specter of the Phantom Ghost are providing new fodder for Sparklemist Stories. I am making them creepy enough that my daughters have requested "no more scary noises in your stories, Mommy!"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

We're Late, We're Losing Letters, and We're Encroaching

This post will serve mainly as an update on previous conditions...

1. I oversee attendance at our school. I am not the Attendance Lady, but I am the Attendance Enforcer. I assign detentions, Saturday Schools, and send late kids to the office for a pass when they try to scuttle off to class under the radar. So imagine my dismay when I received the phone call this morning that my daughter was not in school.

"Yes, she is," I argued with the Attendance Lady from my kindergartener's school. "My husband dropped her off." I spoke with the assurance of a wife who had touched base with her spouse after school started.

"Well," she offered, "we don't know that unless he brings her to the office when SHE'S LATE."

Late? Scandalous!

As an explanation, Husband let me know that he was not going to continue to Freak Out in the mornings when his daughters caused late departures with last-minute wardrobe changes, etc. He was just going to go with the Slow Flow.

Besides wondering aloud if my husband's cover-to-cover reading of the newspaper each morning might contribute to Slow Flow, I kept my mouth shut on this new philosophical approach.

2. But we took the opportunity at dinner to broach the issue of Morning Cooperation, so Mom and Dad won't get busted by the elementary school front office.

"Okay," agreed our daughter. "And I forgot to tell you that I also got part of my name accidentally erased by the teacher today."

"What???" We stared, agape, at our daughter. "For what?"

"Well, I accidentally...okay, not accidentally..." She paused to eat some taco. "I threw my classwork at the teacher."


First, I pictured paper airplanes. And then I imagined Indignation. Outrage. And my little innocent-looking kindergartener exhibiting those emotions outside the safety of her own home, where she lets them fly freely on a regular basis.

"Were you...being naughty? Or mad?"

"I was mad. I was mad, because the work was TOO HARD! It was math, and it was TOO HARD! I couldn't do it!"

"So you threw it at the teacher?" And then I remembered. "Wait...did you throw it at The Substitute?

She nodded.

Fascinating. I pleaded with her to show me just how this went down: "Here [handing her a piece of mail off a pile on the dinner table], show me what you did..."

But she shut down, with vague "I can't remember" statements she learned from CEOs and Politicians on TV.

We reminded her that there's a certain mechanism called "Asking for help" that might be employed in similar frustrating circumstances.

Husband will ask the teacher about the event tomorrow. But it's quite possible that what happens with the Substitute stays with the Substitute, and it won't be till Geometry in 10th grade that she lets another math paper fly.

Stay tuned.

3. In more good news, we received a letter in the mail today from The City about our bougainvillea growing against the fence along the alley. Specifically, it reads: "A recent inspection shows that Vegetation Growth along the rear of the property at [OUR ADDRESS] is encroaching over the alley. This is creating an Encroachment Problem [ed.: a little redundant, wouldn't you say?] and is in violation of...Municipal Code Section...and/or...California Civil Code..."

The dilemma is that Husband only weeks ago trimmed said "Vegetation Growth," so I do not know if he has nipped our Encroachment in the bud (pun intended) or basically accomplished nothing in this endeavor. He plans to call and find out.

I plan to call and direct The City to the alley behind my brother and sister-in-law's house a few blocks away, where a Strong Smell of Marijuana Growing Under Heat Lamps encroaches on my sense of What Constitutes Legal Vegetation Growth.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

List: 10 House Projects I Could Tackle

After three weeks of my single parenting on the homefront, Husband abandoned the traveling sailing team this weekend and I abandoned our kids to go visit my Dear Friend From Fifth Grade and her two chilluns, one of whom is pretty Brand New.

The plane ride was just long enough for me to read a novel on the way to and fro, satisfying my need to digest something remotely literary beyond email and half a Newsweek article (average daily reading before falling asleep). Thank you, Jodi Picoult. Meanwhile, I am intimidated by my Book Club's book, Team of Rivals, which, like a wholesome meal, will be good for me, but which, like a five-pound weight, looks too heavy at the moment.

At my friend's house, I got to snuggle Baby G, who was showing off his new smiliness (and I swear he laughed for the first time today, too); make goblin paintings with Sy, my buddy's three-year-old daughter; and bond with her husband, with whom I've shared pithy ponderings recently via Twitter.

But the best part was reconnecting with my friend, who was navigating adding a second child to her nest. And also balancing wanting a new pair of pants and a clean house and a preschooler who eats a square meal. It was so great to leave my own issues behind and help her (and while I was gone, Issue #1 slapped Little Issue #2 Right In The Face).

Among her many talents, my friend has an interior design degree and fabulous taste, and her children's rooms are zen havens of cool colors and coordinating textiles. But like any self-respecting Keeper of Hearth and Home, she has a million plans and fantasies for transforming the rest of her house.

Back at our bungalow (and all across America?), Big Ticket Projects like installing irrigation systems, remodeling the kitchen, and adding on new rooms have slipped behind the hills of Mounting Debt. So I satisfy my urges for home improvement by painting things. Changing out light fixtures. And throwing crap away.

But sometimes I have trouble prioritizing. My little idea is that I should swallow my pride and invite five different friends over, asking each of them, if this were your house, which ten (cheap) projects would you tackle first? I mean, when you enter our manse, which piles of papers or lame lampshades bug you? Tell me, because I will be motivated to take care of them.

When I shared this idea with my friend, she got that hungry Bring It, Sister look on her face. So I meekly started pointing, and in between entertaining and feeding a baby and preschooler, we spent Sunday reorganizing bookshelves, cleaning her kitchen, and making lists and piles. And when I got overly aggressive with the trashbag, she bravely fought back.

Now I can't wait for her to visit. My bedroom needs a makeover and there are some cupboards and drawers waiting for her discerning eye.

Here's what I'd like to Presto Change-O at our house:

1. Replace carpet in bedrooms, hallway
2. Replace monstrous fluorescent lighting box in the kitchen with recessed lighting and/or skylight
3. Paint kitchen a slate blue
4. Paint bedroom some elusive, perfect color
5. Replace bathroom vanity (which is crumbling away in the corner. Stop splashing in the bath! Sheesh)
6. Permanently close up chimney (which is apparently detaching from the house)/replace with energy-friendly heating device
7. Buy a new stove (unfortunately--or fortunately--not necessary yet)
8. Replace gross kitchen linoleum
9. Repaint peeling doors
10. Get rid of crib in kids' room, rearrange furniture

You're welcome to swing on by! Give me your top ten! And when you suggest deep-sixing my favorite piece of tchotchke, I'll just ignore you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Because An Artist is a Person in Your Neighborhood

One way I drive into my neighborhood takes me past a house that has intrigued me for a couple of months. The driveway is short; the house sits close to the street, near a busy corner with a liquor store and flower mart.

Last spring I noticed a table saw set up adjacent to the garage, and over summer weeks, three-to-four-foot wooden obelisks being assembled. One night as I drove by, I could see a man at work in the driveway in the dark, a tarp overhead and a string of light bulbs illuminating the space. I began admiring his mysterious project.

It appeared to me that his painstaking process involved gluing together boards of wood and then shaping or sanding them down. More recently the vertical, cylindrical pedestals were topped with wooden globes, and I imagined them to be crude sculptural representations of people.

Tonight I made up for my missed weekend run by heading out on my usual route at 6:15. It was darkening already by the time I reached the midpoint at 6:45--the bottom of a hill. I don't much like running in the dark. Although I know I run faster at night, I feel unsure of my footing--and kind of drunk as I estimate the sidewalk below me. I also have a healthy fear of running down dark, empty blocks. So I chose to go straight up a more oft-traveled street on my way home versus turning right through a quaint neighborhood.

Not far from home, I remembered that the next corner I rounded would take me past the sculptor's house. I vowed to stop and ask him about his constructions if he was outside at work.

Hence, the serendipitous encounter this evening that has me feeling thankful for where I live:

I stopped, sweaty, and introduced myself to James, who was hammering copper onto one of the obelisks. The other three pillars surrounded him: cylinder bodies with wooden globe heads. Clearly a family.

He confirmed my guess by explaining that his work represented himself and his three children, 24, 21, and seven years old (the latter adopted). The sculptures are versions of Japanese Kokeshi dolls, but he adds scrap metal in sun, moon, and other archetypal designs to depict each individual's connection to the myths of man.

I couldn't have been more excited to hear the intent and symbolism behind the figures I had watched evolve in his driveway. He talked more about his work and the influence of mythology on his art, pointing out additional pieces in his garage. I shared that students at my school read The Power of Myth before delving into world literatures.

"Ahh, Joseph Campbell!" he exclaimed. "Of course!"

I discovered that my neighbor is a former teacher and currently the building manager at the city jail--a job which affords him more time with his art. He has taught younger children and older, in elementary and high school and even court and community schools, where he made puppets with at-risk youth. Through art, he helped them learn to see--and represent--themselves in new ways.

And so our neighborhood has this privilege.

Before we parted, I asked him if he ever spoke to school groups. I imagine him talking with our students about art and mythology, about his career path and influences.

And I thanked him for inspiring me. What a wonderful Wednesday.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Election Hinges on the Sea World Issue

Here is a transcript of the conversation between me and three girls, including my daughter (five years old), and two friends/sisters, ages five and seven, in the minivan on our way to soccer games this morning:

7yo: What is that sign in your front yard?

Me: Well, there are elections coming up...

5yo: What are 'lections?

Me: It's when people vote for leaders.

7yo: Who are you voting for for President?

Me: I am voting for Obama.

7yo: (nodding) Yep, that's who my family is voting for.

Daughter: Who's that other guy who is never going to be President?

Me: (laughing) Well, that other guy could be President, and his name is McCain.

7yo: He's going to do it just like President Bush.

5yo: I couldn't remember 'Bamo's name, so I was cheering for the white-haired guy, but then I remembered it, so I started cheering for the brown-haired guy.

7yo: The reason I don't like President Bush is he took out the bestest part of Sea World and put in the Elmo stuff.

Me: (laughing again, and trying hard to commit this dialogue to memory) So, President Bush is the reason they changed Sea World?

7yo: Yeah. He ruined it. But...if Oback Obamo is elected, he will put in some more parks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Purse Strings

Our kindergartener came home from school this afternoon with a foreign object: a small black velour purse.

"What's that purse in your backpack?" I asked our daughter, who was busy making the non-alcoholic sangria I promised she could have since she lusted after the real kind I made for a shower on Sunday.

"Oh, that's a purse Mr. D found." Fork in hand, she mushed up the oranges in her cup.

"Who's Mr. D?"

"He's the man who cleans our school. He came in our class and asked if the purse belonged to any of us."

"And you said it was yours?"

She looked at me wide eyed and nodded.

"But, honey, that's not your purse."

"I thought it was." Her head down, she focused on furiously smashing fruit.

"Sweetie, did you really think it was your purse, or did you really want that purse?"

And then big tears welled up and overflowed onto her flushed cheeks.

So we had a little talk about lying, and returning that purse and, well, confessing to Mr. D or Ms. D, her teacher (no relation).

"But then Mr. D will know I LIED..." she wailed.

"I know, honey, but if you bring the purse back, Mr. D and Ms. D will understand that you want the owner of the purse to have it again, and that you're sorry. You learned something important, right? Everything will be okay, I promise."

But I could tell she was not convinced, and her wheels were turning.

Next I found her rummaging in her "office" for a piece of paper.

"What are you doing, sweetie?"

"I'm writing a letter to my teacher. I don't want to tell her I lied, so I will just give her a note." She began sounding out the letters.

A few minutes later, she presented her confession, written in black crayon on orange construction paper: "UM I THOT DAT PRS WUS MYN IM SRE MES D" [the rest of her teacher's name crawling up the side of the page].

She read aloud, "Umm...I thought that purse was mine. I'm sorry, Ms. D."

...maybe next time she semi-truthfully confesses her sins we will suggest that opening an admission with "ummm" slightly diminishes the strength of the message...