Thursday, October 30, 2008
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
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."
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?"
"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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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."
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?
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.
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
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
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.