The light is low, the hour is late
I lay my head down to ruminate
The house is clean, the babies are dry
Work still to do, I cannot lie
But I’m sleep deprived, have been for years
My far-flung friends can hear my tears
It’s not much I ask, oh god of sleep,
I offer gold, though my pockets aren’t deep
My savings, my vacation time, my 401K
For a few blissful hours of sleep in the hay
And if you comply, oh wise goddess,
I will do my best to promise you this:
Less visible road rage,
Less child wars waged,
Less undeserved yelling
Less memory failings
More home-cooked meals
More quality time with those I hold dear.
So what will it take, oh cruel master,
To get what I need to avert a disaster?
Must I just bide my time?
Commit a household crime?
Take colorful pills and nasty potions?
Resort to weird New Age notions?
Offer you riches and huge compliments?
Give you my first born and the infants?
Or will you be kind to a poor mom in need
And give me a little undisturbed SLEEP?
Thursday, January 31, 2008
The light is low, the hour is late
I heard a Democratic Strategist on the radio yesterday say that now that Johnathon Edwards has dropped out the race, "white men are going to have a hard time finding a candidate with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama." Really? White men can only "find" a candidate who looks like themselves?
It's true, they've never had to look for a candidate amongst a field of people who didn't look like themselves. And there was a time in this country's history when they didn't have to see anyone who didn't. But if people were only able to vote for candidates of the same race and gender as themselves, then white men would have been the only voters for president since George Washington took office in 1789. I know it started this way, but in the name of democracy, I thought we changed all that (finally) with those pesky 15th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution. You know, the ones that let people who weren't white and people who weren't male vote.
Of course, since those Amendments were passed we've all mostly voted only for white men because they were pretty much the only ones running. And yet, somehow, our non-white and/or women's brains managed to comprehend how white men might be able to make policies and govern in ways that could represent us -- more or less.
It was the less we didn't like so much. And that was the reason we slowly started to see, trickling into politics, faces that weren't male, weren't white. Presumably, those people who won the majority of the vote (isn't that what it means to get elected to office?) didn't do it by garnering the votes only of people who were the same sex and race they were. Because last time I checked, white women were not the majority of the population in Michigan, for example, and yet we have a white woman governor. So, some black women, or white men, or black men, or brown women, or someone else who didn't look like Jennifer Granholm must have voted for her.
So I ask again, REALLY? After nearly 220 years of presidents who were white men, and the assumption that white men were completely and thoroughly capable of governing with reason and compassion and intelligence people who weren't white and who weren't men, REALLY, white men can't imagine how they will find a candidate if there are not white male candidates? Either this political strategist thinks white men are all total and complete dumbasses with no imagination, or he fails to see why it is completely and thoroughly about time that someone who was not a white man got a chance to run this country. 'Cause lemme let you in on a little secret: the white man hasn't been doing such a hot job this last few years.
And although this strategist just sounds kind of dumb when I put it this way, I've been seeing permutations of this idea all over the place lately. Lots of people have publicly assumed, for example, that black women must be in a total and complete quandary over whether to pick the black candidate who is a man or the woman candidate who is white.
As if everyone in this country is such an imbecile that we are incapable of assessing a candidate on his or her merits and can only make a choice on the basis of how much we look alike. I can't tell you how much I resent this assumption without resorting to a lot of foul language. Because here's what the assumption implies: that if Hillary Clinton were elected president, she'd only think about stuff that mattered to white women. And that Barack Obama is completely incapable of seeing past the needs of black men. And that I will choose who to vote for as president largely on the basis of who is most like me on the outside.
And let me just say that if this is true, neither one of them deserves to be president. And I don't deserve to vote.
And for the record: these are racist and sexist assumptions that few people seem to have about white men. That is to say, the (white male) democratic strategists, and news anchors, and talk show hosts, and interviewers, and everyone elses that I've seen spouting some version of this voter dilemma have not recognized their own hypocrisy. They see white male candidates as appealing to and representative of potentially anyone, while the "black candidate" and the "woman candidate" have some kind of niche market. But here's the thing: If you assume black women are in turmoil between the black candidate and the woman candidate not because of their political differences but because of the skin-color vs. lady-parts question, then you also must assume that white male candidates only appeal to and are interested in the needs of white men. And if you don't assume the latter, then you are making racist and sexist assumptions about the former. And if you do assume all of this, then you are sadly selling short human intelligence.
Not to mention the fact that--give me a break--haven't we established pretty well by now that not all white women live the same lives and have the same needs? That not all black women are single mothers on welfare? That not all black men have the same interests? That not all white men play golf? That perhaps, for example, Henry Louis Gates Jr. has some things more in common with me (a white female academic) than with a black man on parole, despite the fact that both of them are black men? This is not to be presumptuous enough to suggest that I know what it is like to be a black man in the US today; I know that there are lots of ways Gates would argue that he and the parolee are far more alike than he and I. BUT it is precisely this level of complexity that I am trying to indicate here. Assuming Gates would vote for Obama only because they are both black men is asinine. Gates is smart enough to decide on the substance rather than the surface of the candidate. And so, I hope, are we all.
I don't care what your politics are. (Well, I do, but your politics don't affect this particular argument.) Regardless of your politics, I think you should vote for the candidate you think will do the best job of putting this country back on its feet again. And that means you should pick the person you feel is best capable of thinking about everyone who lives here. Not just about the people who look like you, or sound like you, or pray like you, or reproduce like you, or work like you, or play like you. But about everyone.
I would argue that people who have spent their whole lives self-conscious that they were not white men--knowing that they were being judged by this "standard"--might have a bit better perspective on what it's like to think about someone besides themselves than yet another white man president might. And I'd like to think that my white male friends, and my Arab American friends, and everyone else I know who isn't a black man or a white woman is smart enough to figure this out too. And if you disagree, I can agree to disagree with you on this one. As long as you are voting for the person you think will be best for us all and not just for the person who wears the same style of underpants and the same shade of foundation make-up under the camera-lights as you do. Because democracy means we all, each of us, get to think about things, imagine a future, and vote for the one we think will help us all reach that future. It doesn't mean we blindly vote for surface over substance.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
We love super-capes in our house. Son has a fantastic one courtesy of his Nana. It's a bright tomato red, made from a weighty fabric and cut on a circle so that it swirls around him when he runs. And, of course, it has a black medallion on it with his first initial emblazoned in gold. Daughter has one that was initially an infant present. A deep heathery purple color, hand knitted, with a hood, it started as a blanket cozy. It looks more like a Little Lavendar Riding Hood cape, if you ask me, but the kids are quite happy to call it Daughter's super-cape. And just the other day, Daughter pointed excitedly to something in my closet and announced forcefully, "Mama Soup-a-Cape!" She was indicating my new Christmas bathrobe--full, plush and very red, no doubt, but a bathrobe nonetheless.
Now, anyone who has seen The Incredibles, knows a few things about being "super."
(1) The real mom super power is the ability to stretch without limit--arms that can always catch a falling child, no matter how far away child is when she starts to fall, laps that can accommodate all the children who need to sit in them, patience without bounds. (Actually, we might have known this without watching the movie, but Mrs. Incredible makes it so perfectly literal.)
(2) Capes are a detriment. (If you don't know why, watch the clip from the movie, below.)
And yet, here we are with super-capes in our house. So I've been trying to figure out if is mine is an asset or a detriment. Things I've managed to do in this super-cape lately include: sorting tall piles of laundry in a single bound, using my x-ray vision to tell who started the fight in the next room, exercising my super-sense to know when someone who was completely silent was getting into trouble upstairs, carrying 73 pounds of overtired children up to bed in one trip, snatching a very ill fish back from the brink of death, and relying on my bionic hearing to let me know that the child who'd gone potty had forgotten to wash his hands.
Did the cape materially facilitate my success? Decidedly not. Did it hinder it? Only in terms of how sexy I looked doing all these things. I can't decide if wearing my robe until 2pm is the mama equivalent of being sucked backwards into a jet engine, but I think it might be.
Many days, I think to myself, "Self, you have the right to look nice, and put together, and grown-up, and not like someone afflicted with the flu who doesn't have the energy to get dressed." And so I try.
Other days, I wonder, if I lose the uniform, do I dilute the power? I will admit that, deep down, despite the ways it makes me look like a shiny, lumpy, stuffed, cozy, velvet lobster, I'm loathe to ditch the robe. I have a sneaking feeling that the number of years during which my children will think that I am all things Super has a limit. And I want to savor this a little. Besides there is something delightful about punctuating housework with bursts of flying through the house, swooshing over the mountains of dishes, and laughing with the kids at the bad guys. And since no one at work seems to be handing out capes lately, I think on the days I'm home, I'll parade around as Super-Mama for a little while longer.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This is a fork. It is for picking up food you would like to put in your mouth. Such as macaroni and cheese, or fruit salad, or chicken bits that you would like to dip into ketchup. I know your fingers work quite well for all these foods and have never let you down in the past. I understand, I really do, that nothing is funnier than sticking your thumb into a chunk of chicken and eating all around it and then licking the ketchup off your skin. If I'm not laughing at this great hilarity, it's only because I do not understand why raw baby carrots must, at all costs, be eaten with a fork, but cake with icing must not. And when I am confused I don't always laugh. Perhaps you can explain this to me, so we can laugh together as the carrots zing around the kitchen.
This is a spoon. I know that spoons have a pesky track record of turning upside-down on the way to your mouth and depositing yogurt and milky cereal in your lap. But, trust me, they are a better means of getting the last bits of applesauce to your mouth than are your fingers. You see, unlike a fork or your fingers, a spoon has no divisions in it for the applesauce to fall through. And although we switched to soup in a mug with a straw, I have to say that I'm not such a big fan of the straw as an applesauce-consuming utensil. I don't know why. It just doesn't look nice. Mama is not always logical.
I appreciate how much you have been doing lately to humor your little sister, who I recognize can sometimes be annoying (your word) in her insistence on following you around and doing everything you do. I will never forget the night that you complained about her copying you. I told you that she copies you because she wants to be big like you, and that when she copies you, you are teaching her things. After a long pause, you said wonderingly, "Do you really think so?" And I did, with my whole being, think so.
Now I know so. Only what she is learning at the dinner table lately is that forks make very fine hats. At least according to your sticky smiling face. And that bumping bellies is a hysterical mid-dinner reprieve from eating boring beans. And that all milk should be stirred before drinking. With a knife. You have learned, I see, that nothing in this world is more gratifying than a captive audience. And one who can't get off her own chair without falling is pretty well captive. I grant you, her belly laugh IS completely contagious. But could we talk about the knife thing?
This is a knife. Contrary to the recent surge in knife usage around our table, it is in fact not a utensil designed to stir milk. Or to "pew bad guys." You do an excellent job cutting your own waffles with a knife. And your little sister is learning this from you, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Last night, you spent quite a long time meticulously cutting your beans so that they would all be the same length. I applaud this precision and dedication (though I might have preferred it if all of the trimmings weren't handed to the dog). While I cannot say that I lay awake at night, pregnant with a little sister for you, hoping against hope that she would become adept at "pewing bad guys" with her cutlery, I am willing to admit that this is in fact rather a funny thing to see a pony-tailed toddler do.
However, this milk stirring is driving mama crazy, and it really must stop. I do feel badly that I lost my temper last night and yelled at you and made you cry. Over spilled milk. But, really, how many nights in a row have Daddy and I suggested that knives have no place in milk cups? I recognize that you are only just four years old, and that the world is a place in which to experiment, and that the use of tools is a great sign of human evolution. However, your glass of milk is the one and only food on the table that at all times I very strongly prefer should be consumed without the aid of utensils of any kind beyond the cup that holds it. Dipping your fingers into your milk to suck off the drips is not drinking. Dipping your knife into your milk to stir it around is not drinking. Pretending to cut your cup with your knife--though admittedly knee-slappingly funny--is not actually drinking. And now your sister is getting into the act. And if I have to mop up two glasses of milk every night at dinner for the next few years, I might lose my mind.
So, I propose a truce. You keep the knife out of your milk, and I'll stop nagging about the kitchen curtains. Which aren't actually made out of napkins.
Your always loving,
Monday, January 28, 2008
I've been painting miniatures--paintings, not figures--for about a year and a half, and have gotten really into it. For our anniversary this year, my darling Husband arranged for us to go to DC for the weekend to see the international, super-terrific miniatures show held by the national miniature society. I was sooooo excited. The in-laws came to take care of the kids, and we headed for the airport. And of course, since this was the first non-kid weekend we'd planned in almost a year, Murphy's Law naturally applied--we got hit by a blizzard. The airline put us on and took us off of SEVEN different flights in the eleven hours we were there. The final straw was when they took us off flight A to put us on flight B, then they canceled B and wait listed us back on flight A. I learned first hand what drives people to go postal, as I came close to reaching across the ticket counter and doing bodily harm to the agent. At 10 p.m. they closed the airport for the third time that day, canceled all flights, and we went home in defeat. I was in tears of frustration. I hate Murphy and his stupid law.
Fast forward a week. Husband and I arrange for me to go to the show alone. I would fly out Thurs morning at 6am and return Fri afternoon. In-laws would have the kids Thurs and sitter on Fri. The best laid plans...on Wed, Big Sis wakes up with pink eye. My mother-in-law, darling woman though she is, is mortally afraid of 2 things: pink eye and stomach bugs, so they refuse to come over. Will I miss the show again?? Is Murphy back with a vengeance? Luckily, several phone calls later, I discover that the Fri sitter is available Thurs too. Phew! I set my alarm for 4am and go to bed. At 1:30am, Murphy starts laughing and Minnie 2 starts throwing up. In her sleep. Without waking up. She finally wakes up choking on vomit and is having trouble breathing. Wonderful. After the 2nd vomit-in-her sleep episode at 3am, I give up and cancel my flight. Damn that Murphy!
Darling Husband agrees that I can go to the Miniature Society of Florida's international show a few weeks later--the only other big one of merit in the U.S. I find out that one of the award-winning artists is giving a workshop during the middle weekend of the show's run. "Fabulous!" I think, "maybe this will be even better than going to D.C." My in-laws are in FL for Jan and Feb, about an hour from the show and workshop, so we decide that I'll take Big Sis with me, fly into Orlando and do a day at Disney, and then leave her with the in-laws for the rest of the weekend. We were set to leave this past Wed. night.
Murphy, of course, has just been biding his time...Sunday before we leave, Husband picks up a bucket of chicken from KFC. By 3am, I have food poisoning. By 5am, I'm throwing up. By 5:30, he's throwing up. By 10am he's so dehydrated that I call an ambulance to take him to the hospital for IV fluid. The paramedics want to take me too, but dammit, I AM GOING OUT OF TOWN! I am NOT sick, at least, not that sick. I must stay home and take care of the kidlets. I must pack. I must plan. I AM GOING OUT OF TOWN! By Wed., I'm weak, but managing. By the time we leave for the airport, I've ingested 4 gallons of Gatorade and 2 handfuls of dry cereal. Kids are healthy and happy, house is clean and stocked, Husband is weak too, but says he can manage Minnie 1 and 2 while I'm gone. I AM GOING OUT OF TOWN. I will beat Murphy at his own game if it kills me.
We get to the airport and are told our flight is on time and the weather is good. Have I, perhaps, finally used up all my bad luck? Has Murphy gotten tired of stalking me?? We board, the plane heads to the runway, we are cleared for take-off and BAM! just like, Murphy is back. The control tower in Boston has lost their radar. Even though we're flying out of Providence, they have grounded all planes for the surrounding airports as well. We sit on the runway for 1-1/2 hours before finally taking off. We make it to Orlando, get our car, drive in circles 3 times around the airport trying to get the right highway out, and finally make it to the hotel. Big Sis and I climb wearily into bed at midnight. A little after 3am I hear a cough, a splutter, and "Mommmmmmyyyy" coming from the other bed. Big Sis has thrown up all over herself, the bed, the floor and the night stand. Oh nooooooo. Perhaps it won't be so bad. Perhaps she's not really sick, she just had too much movement and excitement with the plane ride, etc. Yeah, and perhaps I'm an alien. Murphy giggles and waves. By noon, she's thrown up 14 times. Yep, that's right. 14. And that doesn't even count the false alarm, "I think I'm going to be siccckkkkkk!" episodes. We give up Disney for the day, extend our stay at the hotel, and hunker down for the duration. I call everyone from the front desk staff to the cafe to the local Walgreens to find someone who will go get me Pedialyte, as I can't exactly take the vomit-machine into the rental car and go search for some. It is, apparently, against everyone's policy to run this kind of errand. In despair, I feed Big Sis teaspoonfuls of watered-down Gatorade. An hour later, one of the desk staff calls to say that he's going on break and would be happy to run to the drugstore for me. I tip him generously and thank him profusely with tears in my eyes. My poor, sick, darling daughter then refuses to drink said Pedialyte because it hurts her throat burned raw by 14 visits of stomach acid. I roll up my sleeves and prepare to beat Murphy to a bloody pulp--mess with me, and you piss me off, but mess with my kids and you're a goner!
I call Husband to update him on our misery. But his is worse than ours. Minnie 2 just threw up all over him, herself and our bed. I close my eyes and lean my head against the filthy wall of the hotel hallway. By dinnertime, Minnie 1 is throwing up too. Husband announces that he's done more laundry that day than he has in his entire life. By bedtime, Minnie 1 has thrown up 5 times, and Minnie 2 has thrown up 3. Husband has changed his own clothes 6 times. The family room carpet, the couch, the Lazyboy, the floor, their cribs and our bed are all covered in vomit. I am close to despair. Has Murphy won? No! I will not allow it! Husband rallies. I rally. $59 later I am armed with Gatorade, Cheerios, children's Tylenol and a Disney princess T-shirt from the hotel gift shop. I will nurse my child back to health. I will arrive in Clearwater in time to see the exhibit and attend my workshop. I will fight and I will win!
And I did. I think. We arrived home at 1am this morning. I am so tired I could cry. I have barely slept or eaten in a week. I am weak and slightly disoriented after having negotiated two strange airports and faithfully followed my GPS in circles for 4 days. But the girl was healthy enough to go with the in-laws to the beach on Sat and Sun (though my heart broke as I put her in their car Fri night and she cried hysterically, "Mommy, please don't leave me!"), and I DID make it to see the exhibit (though I only had 1 hour 45 minutes to see 823 paintings instead of the whole day), and I DID go to the workshop (though by the end of the 2nd day I was too tired to really focus on my painting). So did I really win? Or did Murphy, in his infinite wisdom, deem me an unworthy opponent and go elsewhere in search of a greater challenge? I'm not sure I'm up to the truth. If it wouldn't make my stomach roll, I'd go have a martini.
Do you ever have these moments? You are out somewhere -- a restaurant, a clothing store, an art fair -- and you eat/try on/see something fabulous...and then you think "I could totally make that at home." For me, this usually results in one of two options: I never try (who needs one more project?). Or, in a hair-brained moment of reasoning that of course I need a new silky skirt, I forget that I don't have time to make it, so I buy all the supplies and then never try.
But with chocolate martinis, it's completely different. You may have tasted a decent chocolate martini in the past. But unless you have been in Madison, WI, and gone to the Restaurant Magnus, and sat in the dimly lit bar, and tried to watch them make the concoction that will blow you away with its magnificence, you haven't truly lived the chocolate martini. Their recipe is so super-secret that the otherwise showy bartendenders pull down all the necessary bottles (there seem to be something like 6 of them) into the well behind the bar, and pour a little of this and a little of that beneath the edge of the bar so you can't tell what's going on. Then, they dust the rim of a very cold, very large martini glass with little crunchies of chocolate (like crushed oreos, al dente), pour in the concoction, and hand perfection to you over the bar. I have no idea what these cost. I don't care. You can't really drink more than one -- they are that strong and that rich, and yet somehow not cloyingly sweet. And if it's both drink and dessert, and perfection to boot, who cares what they charge?
Perhaps needless to say, I no longer live in Madison, WI. And I have tried, and failed miserably, to recreate this most heavenly of drinks. It might be that I'm not longer lithe and 25. It might be that memories of many nights of jazz have clouded the truth of this drink and turned its flavor, in my mind, into an ambrosia not possible to recreate on earth.
But I like to think I just need the right recipe.
And I'm guessing I'm not alone. Trust me, you need this recipe too. All mothers should have a martini cookbook. Some people like theirs serious and strong: pass the Stoli and don't let it even sniff the vermouth on the way. Other people like theirs fruity and sweet: pass the Midori for a melontini. Me, I tend towards something in-between: citrusy or light for summer evenings, chocolate heaven for dessert. Here are recipes for my two favorite martinis that I can actually make correctly. Please add your recipes in the comments.
And if you manage to come up with the Restaurant Magnus chocolate martini recipe, I will love you forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. And ever.
1 Tablespoon Chambord
3 oz Absolut Citroen or other lemon-flavored vodka
Chill a martini glass. Pour in Chambord. Shake vodka over a lot of ice to make it very very cold. Strain into glass by pouring over the back of a big spoon, so that it layers over the Chambourd. Garnish with one small strip lemon zest.
2 oz vodka
1-3 oz watermelon juice (depending on how hard-core you're feeling)
1-3 tsp sugar (depending on your sweet preference)
(for reference: I prefer a 2-2 vodka/juice ratio with 2 tsp sugar)
To make watermelon juice, buy fresh watermelon, and use the back of a spoon to press all the flesh through a very fine sieve. Pulp will remain behind (if not, the holes in your sieve are too big). Since 1 small watermelon can yield up to 2 quarts of juice, this is one for a party. Or, freeze the juice in ice-cube trays, and toss the cubes in a ziplock, so you can thaw just what you need any old time you want one of these. Put martini ingredients except mint into an ice-filled shaker, and go to town. Strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
And in the spirit of full disclosure, let it be known that I am not actually this chipper right now. Monday morning and I are never the best of friends. And today I have a sinus infection "hang-over," and my face, neck, and even my teeth, hurt right now. But I wrote this over the weekend, and I'm posting it in the hopes that the mirage of the perfect chocolate martini might get me through the day. Thanks for indulging me!
Sunday, January 27, 2008
...and yet the stores are filled with shorts. And I'm not talking "cruise wear" or whatever that weird February line of designer-couture clothing is called. I'm talking put the turtlenecks in storage, trot out the bikinis in Target. Thank goodness diapers aren't seasonal. I don't know what I'd do if I'd ventured out in desperation with two kids bundled up to their eyeballs and then found some red-shirted girl putting out the summer thong diapers three months before we can be sure the snow will even melt. I ask you: what are people supposed to do when their toddlers throw up on them while shopping, 15 minutes before the birthday party they're buying a gift for? Show up like this? ------>>
I get that bathing suits are the new all-the-time clothes. But, really? When it's 17 degrees out? I know, I know, "Many of the runway shots from the international spring/summer 2005 fashion shows reflect this changing sensibility." But could one reasonably consider "an Hermès bikini paired with a cashmere pea coat" an actual outfit for anything other than making the trek from your Reykjavik ice hotel to the blue lagoon hot springs? Now, you may choose not to take fashion advice from Forbes Magazine (from which I quote above). But in my mind, you should do so because you are fully aware that that outfit is sooo 2005 runway shows and not because Target has seen fit to change the seasons without informing the atmosphere about the corporate-wide compliance policy.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
"–Tell me, Eleanor. D'you ever think of the past?"
"Why do you ask, Simon?"
"Because I've been thinking of the past. I've been thinking of Lily, the woman I might have married.... Well, why are you silent? Do you mind my thinking of the past?"
"Why should I mind, Simon? Doesn't one always think of the past, in a garden with men and women lying under the trees? Aren't they one's past, all that remains of it, those men and women, those ghosts lying under the trees,... one's happiness, one's reality?"
- From Virginia Woolf's essay "Kew Gardens" (1921)
In a place like Kew Gardens, hot July afternoons have pretty much looked the same since 1899 when Decimus Burton's 1862 Temperate House (above) was finally completed. July is all glass-houses and arranged flower beds bordering paths filled with aimless people and snippets of conversation, ephemeral as air, overheard only by snails.
I took these photos in Kew Gardens a hundred years after these glass houses were built (to the left is a detail from inside the Palm House). They are, for me, the epitome of "old-fashioned" in that wonderful, philosophical sense Woolf's Eleanor expresses: that our pasts are always present, always part of our reality, always the foundation of our happiness. What is "old-fashioned" is appealing because it gives us a window into lives prior to our own, into pasts that were over before our memories began. And in this way, "old- fashioned" creates culture, a history against which to define ourselves, until the very things that we might laugh at for being hopelessly old-fashioned are suddenly, inexplicably, part of us. If we can only define ourselves by considering how we are not them--as one defines darkness as the absence of light--then they must be within us as well. I like to think, as I walk past nondescript buildings in modern cities, that the old-fashioned architecture of places like Kew Gardens is still vital, important, within us--for the only thing that makes the modern knowable is the past we choose to acknowledge.
Friday, January 25, 2008
So, I've just finished reading a book called Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog. It's not about dogs. It's only marginally about nuns. It is most thoroughly about English grammar and, more specifically, about the once-required art of diagramming sentences. It is part history, giving an overview of the development of this prodigious task of assigning all the parts of a sentence to their proper places on a series of horizontal lines marked with cross-hatches, back slashes, and long diagonal participle-phrase-slides. It is part hilarity, as she notes the changes in the kinds of sentences the grammar books so usefully diagrammed for students. How about: "The lame, the blind, and the aged repose in hospitals" or "Oh! We shall certainly drown" for cheerful 5th grade work on a sunny April day?
It is filled with impressively enormous diagrams of sentences produced by Henry James and James Fenimore Cooper and their ilk...huge, baggy monsters of sentences that this highly educated, grammar-loving copy-editor had to turn to a professional to diagram for her.
And it is part philosophical. The author postulates that diagramming did not actually make students better writers, and then sort of recants. In support of the theory, she gives plenty of hilarious (if you're a dork like me) examples of grammatically hair-raising writing that can be quite tidily diagrammed -- as well as, reassuringly, some fabulously evocative writing that simply cannot (think: Gertrude Stein). And yet she confesses to having loved diagramming the sentences Sister Bernadette offered her class because:
You took a sentence, threw it against the wall, picked up the pieces, and put them together again, slotting each word into its pigeonhole. When you got it right, you made order and sense out of what we used all the time and took for granted: sentences. Those ephemeral words didn't just fade away in the air but became chiseled in stone--yes, this is a sentence, this is what it's made of, this is what it looks like, a chunk of English you can see and grab onto (5).
In other words, diagramming made language accessible. Enabled a sense of mastery. Made sentences into fun. Offered a window into appreciating the structure and beauty and possibility of English.
I find this provocative because all the contemporary theory about the teaching of language says that prescriptive, rote tasks like this are absolutely the last way anyone should ever be taught writing. Or, not far from where I went to elementary school: Learning a bunch of rules don't learn no one how to use words right well.
But, as someone who also loved diagramming (d-o-r-k alert), and reading, and inventing stories, and writing them down, and torturing her little sisters with endless hours playing teacher, I have to wonder whether she might not have an important point here. The more familiar we are with language, the more different ways we are exposed to it, the more we are asked to take it apart and put it back together again (rather than just invent it out of our own heads and never analyze what any other head invents), the better we become at both reading and writing. I know that I can always tell my students who love to read from those who don't simply by reading their own writing.
And I really wonder what a whole lot of bright, writing people--like you, my readers--think about this issue. Do rote tasks, drills, and rules really do much for becoming a better writer? Or are there other more important ways to instill a love of language and a facility with it? (Like maybe she liked diagramming because she already loved language rather than the other way around...) What builds a great writer?
Or, if that's too heavy, how about this: What would you do if you were teaching a small class -- say, 12 students -- and there was someone in your class who was from another country, and she picked her nose all through class as if her finger were a spelunker exploring a newly discovered cave? Diligently, thoroughly, for prolonged periods, and often. And let's say -- just hypothetically, mind you -- that you found this distracting. And she was NOT a student, but a visiting instructor. In a college classroom. Would you say anything to her? If so, what?
Thursday, January 24, 2008
At last, the long-anticipated Rocket Ship Birthday arrived. Although we didn't go anywhere (Son very clearly explained to one parent present that this "is not a real rocket ship and can't actually fly"), the party was a success. As you may recall, two weeks ago I was eagerly awaiting NASA's return phone call for the planning of Son's fourth birthday. Sadly (shockingly!) I was unable to make arrangements with NASA for any type of astronaut, rocket ship, space suit, or even freeze-dried food to make its appearance at the party. Perhaps I left my message on the wrong person's machine. Anyway, we had to make due with what we could make ourselves.
For entertainment, we created a Pin the Alien on the Moon game using posterboard, craft papers, and clear contact paper. These charming aliens, also "laminated," were highly pin-able (using tape, of course, because who in their right minds puts pins into the hands of blind-folded four-year-olds?) Did they like it? Son was highly enamored. Two of his friends were persuaded to play along. One toddler who didn't know any better got into the act. My toddler who didn't know any better had a really good time pulling the aliens off the moon. Was it worth the effort? It was a lot of snippy little cutting. Fortunately, you can always trust in preschoolers to re-purpose what they do not love into something fabulous. We were glad we hadn't planned a lot of other organized games. All they really wanted was to check out Son's toys and run laps around the house with aliens stuck to their fingers shouting, "ahhhhhh....an alien is after me.......ahhhhhhh!"
Entertainment Stage 2 was, of course, The Rocket Ship. This was quite the construction project. Supplies included: a washing machine box, a "portable" wine refrigerator box, two sheets of red posterboard, two cans of silver spraypaint (the "chrome" kind produces a fabulously robotic shiny silver finish), and one can of red spray paint. Useful things I already had at home: a handful of twist-ties, three large sheets of white easel paper, poster paints, a craft knife, two strips of leftover wood flooring, tape. To get the boxes, I just asked nicely at Home Depot. Lesson: Don't be afraid to prostrate yourself for this one. They had nothing available when I first stopped in, but they offered to give a note to Brian in Receiving for me. My note of course mentioned both rockets and a young child's fondest birthday wish. Shamelessly. Brian called a week later with the boxes. Lesson: Unless you own a pickup truck, you don't really want a giant refrigerator box to make anything for your children. Unless you aren't afraid to be a complete road hazard. I, personally, am only willing to be a partial road hazard.
I turned the bigger box inside out, made it into a pentagon (one open side for a door), and taped easel paper inside for Son to paint control panels on the walls of the ship. He obviously needed to wear his space-helmet while doing this painting. Fortunately, Home Depot had come through in this regard as well. -phew- We lucked out, and our washing machine box came with a styrofoam piece shaped like a pirate ship's wheel. This was incredibly important to Son, who reasoned "It needs a steering wheel; otherwise, how could you steer the rocket?" I agreed this was a clear necessity. A very long bolt that screwed into a butterfly clip did the trick.
After cutting windows in both sections of the rocket, I took the pieces into the garage to spray paint. It was very cold, so I left the garage door closed. When I realized that the whole place was filled with a silver cloud, I figured it might be wise to air it out. The tricky thing is that paint won't really set properly if the temp is lower than 50 degrees. So you kind of have to fudge things a bit for a winter birthday -- and bring the whole ship inside for at least a day before the party for the paint to harden.
I assembled the rocket the night before the party. Because I'd left one side of the lower box open, I'd installed a cardboard archway for a doorway (see above). But this wasn't really enough support for the weight of a box stacked on top. So I ended up wiring in thin strips of wood flooring around the perimeter of the doorway for added support. This worked very well. If you don't have leftover floor lying around (really? who are you?), you could use cheap quarter round or other light but stiff wood strips.
My construction technique? Match up, or overlap, box edges that need to be joined. Cut parallel slits, about 1/2 inch long, in the two pieces, about 1/2 inch from the edge. Thread twist-ties through the slits in both pieces, and fasten tight. For the stacked boxes, I used the flaps on the upper box, spread flat (as they were when I painted them) over the box below. Then I cut pairs of slits through all the box layers, and wired through them. This is fast, lightweight, requires almost no tools, and creates something that can be unassembled and reassembled easily. This is particularly important if you intend to have a rocket ship that can't fit through any door of your house. Or even if you don't intend this but got some way-bigger-than-they-seemed-at-first boxes from Brian.
Did they like it? YES! Was it worth the insanely long time it took to reinforce at midnight so it wouldn't be an architectural collapsing hazard? Yes. As with the pinning aliens, it turned out to be only marginally interesting for its intended purpose. It did make a fabulous train shed and reached tremendous heights as a site for a present-opening frenzy. All the kids sat inside and "helped." It took approximately 37 seconds to open 7 presents. I have only the faintest idea who gave what. The kids were ecstatic, and when the tissue dust settled, the rocket ship did in fact look as if it had landed on another planet. One where the indigenous aliens are fascinated with dinosaurs who can steer rocket ships. Or trains. I project it will be used for years any time the kids need a "hut" or "ship" or anything else with a roof or sides or steering wheel or whatever. Yesterday, for example, it made an excellent dragon's lair. Sir Pology rescued Princess Salami from the fiercest of dragon puppets. Severally.
Here's the cake in process. One great thing I have learned from my sister, the excellent cake baker, is that doing a "crumb coat" produces a better looking cake--and is particularly important when the cake is chocolate. A crumb coat is basically the cake equivalent of priming walls before you paint them. You put on a thin layer of icing to glue all the crumbs to the cake. Don't worry if the cake looks polka-dotted at this stage. Then you refrigerate the cake for an hour or so to set the icing. Then you put on the second, pretty, layer of icing. And you never end up with awful chocolate crumbles in your pale blue sky icing that way. A book of rocket-ship stencils provided the model for the rocket on the cake. The finished product was satisfactory in the moment -- and, like everything else about this party, particularly irresistable in a slightly altered form. As, for example, when one might sneak into the kitchen and scrape off handfuls of icing which are ideal for spoiling one's lunch.
There were no fights over toys. The parents who'd never met got into fun conversations. And whatever didn't go precisely as planned (lesson: don't try to cook four pizzas in your oven at once--unless you really enjoy charred crust) somehow didn't mar the joy of turning four one bit. Which, day to day, in our house, looks like this:
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
So Minnie 2 has concluded lately, quite rightly, that helping Mama is nice. Of course, "helping" seems open to interpretation. She pulls the bookmark from my book, then shoves it back in again announcing, "help-a Mama...nice!" She "helpfully" re-arranges the pantry, and the cabinets, and the sorted laundry.
Knowing I'm leaving town for a few days, she's shadowed me all morning. Every time I go into the bathroom, she insists on tagging along. At 10am, she announces, "help-a Mama nice!" and hands me a wad of toilet paper to wipe myself. Yes, very helpful. At 2pm, she insists on helping again. But this time she feels a need to be MORE helpful. "Help-a Mama nice!" she repeats as she gets a mammoth-sized wad of toilet paper. "Thank you, honey," I say, "but Mama doesn't need that much."
"Help-a Mama NICE!" she insists, as she reaches for, you guessed it, the wipeable part in question. "Me wipe Mama's tush! Me nice!"
"No, sweetie, MAMA wipes Mama's tush! Thank you for helping!"
Holding the wad of paper waaaayyy out of my reach, she stubbornly repeats, "Me help-a Mama! Me nice! Me wipe Mama tush!" Luckily, she was pleased with wiping my belly.
-sigh- The indignities of parenthood.
I was taking the pretzel rolls out of the oven and turned around to find:
"SON!! WHAT are you doing?!" I said so sternly that he was shocked into standing still, one light-blue covered finger frozen on the way to his mouth.
"The icing just tasted sooo good," he replied--and burst into heaving sobs.
As he cried in anguish, I had to gather him in and hold him close. In order to hide the fact that my whole body was shaking with hysterical laughter.
Anyone want the last three pieces of very good leftover birthday cake? The chocolate is rich and delicious. The calorie count has been kindly lowered for you by my icing-loving son. Cooties and other delights that result from double-dipping thrown in for free.
We have a new bathroom. Mostly. There is one wall that lacks paint because I can't get the spackle smooth enough yet. And the closet door hasn't been returned to its hinges for two minor reasons. (1) It's now 3/4" too tall for the opening since we put in the new tile. Ah...say the professionals, this is what happens when homeowners lay their own tile and cannot restrain themselves from thinking more cement under the tile = better. And then they can't be bothered to go buy a circular saw just to cut 3/4 of one inch off one door. And (2) we can only find one hinge-pin. Details.
Also, the huge plate-glass mirror that was over the old vanity -- the old, dark-walnut brown vanity with the seriously pink sink, classy! -- is now 2" too tall to be mounted over the new, taller, maple vanity and under the new light fixture. Even if we could afford a circular saw, I don't think they're recommended for trimming glass.
So I hung up an antique mirror we got for our wedding that hasn't found a place in this house yet. It's a little small for an over-vanity thing, but it's really lovely.
Of course, Son can't see into it, even standing on a stool. The other night he was all ready to go, toothbrush loaded, when he paused. I thought he was missing the mirror, so I asked, "Do you want me to pick you up so you can see to brush?"
"No," he said, nonchalantly waving his toothbrush in the air. "It's okay. I remember where my teeth are."
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I have a cookbook given me by my grandmother about 15 years ago. At the time, she’d had the book for nearly 50 years. This puts the printing date sometime in the 1940s. This book is a treasure-trove of information. You can find any basic recipe for all-American food you could ever want. Whole chapters have titles like “The Preserving Contest at the State Fair" and "Salad Bowl Supper on Country Club Terrace" and "Midnight Raiding of the Refrigerator" and "Making the Kentucky Burgoo."
For the curious: Listed under the sub-heading of Vegetable Chowders, a "Burgoo for Small Parties" first requires making a broth using 2 pounds pork shank, 2 pounds veal shank, 2 pounds beef shank, 2 pounds breast of lamb, 1/4 pound salt pork, and 1 4-pound fat hen. If you know a small party of vegetarians you want to delight, let me know and I'll send you the full recipe.
There is a multi-page blueprint entitled “Father Carves the Fowl” that teaches one how to carve any piece of meat imaginable, at the table, with elegance. It’s the only part of the book devoted to the man of the house. Fortunately, there is a parallel blueprint section for Mother on “How to Embroider Table Linens.”
There are no directions for keeping one’s aprons clean, but plenty of fabulous line drawings that show you what Mother is supposed to look like around the house…in her shiny black pumps, seamed stockings, and neatly frilled cocktail aprons. I have a particular fondness for the one of these illustrations that shows what happens when Father tries to insinuate himself into the kitchen and Junior cannot be controlled from “helping.”
Fortunately, Mother is able to put things to rights. Everything in its proper place.
While many of the recipes are failsafe (if you like to eat kidney), the advice is…well…a bit past June Cleaver. To wit:
The clever hostess keeps her dining room and its appointments perpetually well groomed and always ready for the guest who just drops in. There should never be any feeling of a flurried rush to put things in order. The fragrance of well prepared food should not be mingled unpleasantly with the strong odor of furniture polish.
Another clever solution is plastic bags, which can be quickly filled with mountains of misplaced stuff and shoved under the bed. This does result in a feeling of flurried rush, however, when that unexpected guest wearing the “I’m Here For Dinner Unannounced” placard on his head starts up the front walk.
If your front walk is less than 40 feet long, there’s simply no time to whip out the Pledge and thereby ruin the glorious aroma of dinner when “IHFDU” drops by. Therefore you will automatically be spared that embarrassment. Or, if you own furniture that cannot be polished—things made from pressed board or high-tech plastics—then the fragrance of well-prepared food will always stand all on its own. Except for the strong chemical smell that leaches out of such furniture for the first few months you own it. There’s not much way around this. It’s touch-and-go whether you can pretend to be not home when “IHFDU” rings the bell. After all, who is not at home at dinnertime? At least your organza aprons are always clean.
Sometimes I have such a hard time containing my joy that I break out my furniture polish and go to town on the dining room antiques. This does prevent the unpleasantly strong odor from later mingling with the fragrance of my well prepared
chicken nuggets foods.
A good lunch is fresh. Your score is zero if you make up sandwiches the night before.
Your score is 700 if you never make up sandwiches at all. Your score is negative 68 if you cleaned the lunchbox with Pledge before packing whatever you did pack.
Perhaps my favorite bit of this book is the blueprint with detailed directions on “How to Build a Root Cellar.” Because of course in addition to making State Fair prize-winning jams, and polishing the furniture every morning, and joyfully reorganizing the fridge daily while the kids nap, and always having on a crisp white apron, the modern housekeeper will need to dig her own root cellar. In pumps and seamed stockings, no doubt.
But she will be so cheerful a hard worker about it in this time of having enough, this time that so vividly remembers rations and Fathers off at war, that it will be difficult to hate her for her perfection. Or for the rhymed couplets that accompany the grainy, ill-lit, almost indiscernible black-and-white photos that fill her cookbook, supposedly enticing one to cook . . . whatever-it-is.
A meat ring with
an array of sauces
Makes us soon forget
We just got a nintendo Wii from my brother-in-law for Christmas. We've spent the evening bowling (where I kicked their butts!) and boxing. This game seriously works up a sweat! I think I can start counting this as exercise if I'm actually and moving for more than 30 minutes at a stretch and my clothes are soaked in sweat, yes? This is WAY fun! I can see why it's all the rage! I *HIGHLY* recommend this as a fantastic and fun way to get a workout! Just think, for the cost of the Wii, you're saving all that gym membership that you won't actually be using (just paying for) anyways! (Funny how the endorphins from working out have kicked in.... hopefully I just boxed that bad attitude away for a while)
Guess What?! I got an Honorable Mention in January's Write-Away Contest hosted by Scribbit. I'm so excited. I never win anything. Not free sample-size boxes of new cleaning cloths, or hats with rubber animals on them, or raffle prizes involving sand art in canning jars. NOTHING. Just goes to show that it's totally worth having harrowing experiences in filthy bathrooms on night trains to Spain. Or that the stupidity of our 20s may be matched by the eloquence of our 30s. Or that dumb luck always prevails if only we wait long enough.
Monday, January 21, 2008
As mothers, we routinely find ourselves doing things that would have shocked our pre-child selves. Things that sacrifice our personal health, hygiene, dignity, or fashion sense. Things like:
* staying up all night with a preschool case of stomach flu, mastering almost instantly the single motion required to wipe a mouth clean and change the towel on the pillow.
* sitting on a public beach, sucking on the only binkie that came on vacation, in order to clean off the sand before giving said binkie back to the baby.
* defining a "matching" outfit based on its baby-urp content: a top and a bottom each with no baby-urp = a matching outfit.
* eating the scraps off the kids' plates while doing dishes, following up with a clementine, and calling that dinner.
* categorizing new shoes as "fabulous" not on the basis of their sexy kitten heels or stunning fabric but because they are comfortable, you can run after your three-year-old in them, and yet they are not made of canvas or rubber.
* using the toilet with a fractious infant on our laps because the poor child doesn't want to be put down.
* narrating the process of using a toilet with a fractious infant on our laps, in public, because the toddler is potty-training and curious.
Until last night, there was pretty much only one line in the sand for me. I won't eat the things my toddler chews for a while, thoughtfully considers, and then rejects and deposits into my hand. Even though when she hands them to me she invariably says "mama turn. bite."
Then last night at a party...just imagine this: We are visiting with good friends. We have had pizza, and brownies, and football. We are satiated and laughing. Daughter is sitting next to me on the floor, and I am nursing a nice cold refill of Diet Dr. Pepper and chatting. Apropos of absolutely nothing, she calmly removes her sock from her left foot, stretches out her chubby arm, and before I can even register what is happening, purposefully drops her sock square into my drink. She gets to her knees, peers deep into the cup for a long moment, looks at me and says with a smile, "Mama, coffee." And this mama, the one who has sucked sand from her binkies and nibbled the dregs of her cold macaroni and cheese, this mama refused to drink that soda. A mother should have standards. No dirty-sock drinks for me. I feel incredibly dignified as a result.
And yes, I have so much class that I came home from the party and re-created the offending image just so I could have a picture to put up here.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
My mother would have made an excellent soldier. Well, without all the killing part at least. And the fact that she would have engaged the enemy in a lovely chat about what they did for a living and what their family life was like. But that part aside, she did always have the enviable ability to fall asleep instantly, fox hole or no fox hole. My sisters and I have teased my mother for years about the fact that she could never stay awake long enough to read us a bedtime story. A favorite was The Rooster, The Mouse and The Little Red Hen. We joked that we never knew the end of the story because she was always fast asleep before she got to the third page. I don't know how she did it, and always assumed that it was one of those tricks that came with motherhood, like knowing when the kid's hand was in the cookie jar, even if you were three rooms away. But alas, it is not so.
I'm a clock watcher. I have discovered the painful difference between being "tired" and being "sleepy." I think it's fair to say that I have been tired for about three years straight. And yet, many a night I lie there, watching the clock and trying to convince myself that I am sleepy. Of course anyone who has ever done this knows that it's a self-defeating activity. The longer you watch the clock, the more frustrated you get that you're wasting precious minutes AWAKE when you could be ASLEEP. The more frustrated you get, the more awake you are, until finally you wonder if you have the energy to drag yourself out of bed for a cup of milk and a snack. Or a sleeping pill.
I remember reading once that the best way to fall asleep was to clear your mind of all thoughts. Yeah, right, like anyone with our lives can blissfully "clear" their mind at will...it's sort of like the old joke...whatever you do, don't think about an elephant. Yet, I discovered recently that one way to help "clear" my mind is to actually give it something absorbing to think about. Something fun and engaging, not the schedule for the next day, or the list of to-dos for the weekend, but a story I write in my head. I pick something I like (lately it's been about a Napoleonic-era me who is making my formal come-out debut in London), and I continue the story from night to night. Maybe it's the familiarity of the same tale that helps, but I rarely get passed the visualization of the beadwork on my gown and the handsome Lord Sort-n-such who asks me to dance before I'm nodding off. And while this works, oh, probably 80% of the time, I do find myself missing those pressureless days of stress-free slumber when I didn't feel like I had to fall asleep now, now, NOW because the baby would be up again any minute, and Husband has an early-morning meeting, and I will have to drag the kindergartener out of bed, through the morning routine and down to the bus stop by myself.
So until I learn to fall asleep in a fox hole, I will have to be comforted by one of life's fundamental truths: I will, in fact, have plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead. Ahh, something to look forward to.
I've done a good job of calorie counting this month. In three weeks, I've only missed one day -- and a quick review of my averages for the week shows good progress: moving from nearly 1900 per day to just over 1400. This is exactly where I want to be (around 1400) to lose a bit of weight, and I've actually lost 3.5 pounds since Jan 1. So I would seem to be on track.
Until we look at the exercise half of these goals. Hmmm... 4 days the first week, 3 days the second week, 0 days the third week. Yes, zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. No days of exercise for me.
Excuses? I've got plenty of those: school started, so I'm in start-of-semester busy-ness. I had a birthday party to plan (which included building a rocket ship big enough to play in). I've been trying to cook more healthy dinners, which takes more time.
But really, what it all boils down to is priorities. I would rather play with my kids than put them in front of the TV for an hour on the days I'm home with them so that I can work out. On the days I'm not at home with them, I am at work all day, pick them up at daycare just before 6pm, and then have to get dinner into them, and get them into baths, jammies, beds before they melt into puddles of exhaustion. Which, for my toddler, sounds like this, "ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," and occasionally means that she is literally too tired to eat. By the time these rituals are all over, and the kitchen is clean, it's 8:30pm, and I've been up since 6:15am and am too tired to think in coherent sentences.
Of course, the kicker is that if I do manage to exercise at this time of day, I get a great burst of energy and feel wonderful. Except then I have such a second wind that I can't fall asleep till 12:30. And then the kids wake me up at 6 again. And this cruel punishment for being good to my body is my Pavlov's dog moment...I've learned really quickly that, contrary to all sport science, exercise makes you tired. (See, I'm at least as smart as Pavlov's dog.)
Here's the thing: it IS important to me to exercise. I want to be in better shape. I even have fantasies of training for an August triathlon. But I don't know how or where to find the time. And I suspect that I'm so enmeshed in my own sense that it's just not possible to fit exercise into my schedule that I'm not seeing some obvious ways I could. So this is my plea for suggestions. HOW do you you fit exercise into your schedule without sacrificing family time, sanity, or sleep?
Saturday, January 19, 2008
I haven't ventured into the world of day-specific posts yet. I say this is because I don't think I can handle the pressure of coming up with 13 anythings for Thursday, or whatever. But the truth is more like: I'm too type-A to set myself up for failure.
But this one I love. It's a photo hunt. Each week there's a theme--interpret as widely or narrowly as you like--and you post a photo that fits the theme and explain why. It doesn't have to be a new photo or anything. THIS I can do. I love taking photos. I have lots of past photos on my computers so I don't even have to take one every week. I am getting a new digital camera for my birthday in a few months. So many things come together. Pressure's off. Hooray. So, this Saturday's theme is Important. Here goes:
What is Important? Family time. Being outdoors--even when it's chilly, windy, and overcast. Laughter. Silly hats. Remembering to put mittens on your infant if it's so cold that you need gloves. Not worrying about whether everyone's looking at the camera. Not caring if you're not as skinny as you were before you had kids. Being in the moment rather than worrying about any other moment. Family time.
To join in, click this:
Have you ever been annoyed because it took 27 hours to upload your videos to your blog? Or frustrated because you can't write a post and set a date and time for it appear in the future--so that you can, oh, I don't know, teach all your classes on a Tuesday and still have something new go up that day? Have you ever thought, "If only the idiots who designed this system had talked to me first!"
So then you do the only thing you can do. Call some other idiots. The ones whose job it is to help you out of this mess. Only, they think you are so stupid that you just need to plug in the computer and then it will work just fine. Or they speak a completely different language from you. Like, say, Norwegian. And they aren't interested in translating. Your warranty doesn't cover that.
Well, here's what they're saying. Apparently, they've been saying it for centuries. Either users of new technology just don't listen, or Help Desk people should ALL come with subtitles. Just like these Medieval ones.
Friday, January 18, 2008
There are 2 aspects of being a stay-at-home mom that I find really hard to deal with:
1. My job is 24/7. I get no holidays, no sick leave, no vacation time. I've never gotten a raise or a promotion, and even when my responsibilities increase, I don't get an admin to take care of my scheduling conflicts and order my lunch. There is no break from my job because I always take it with me.
2. There is little sense of accomplishment with my job. No one has ever given me an award. I never get to cross things off my to-do list. We never have a "launch" party at the beginning of a project ("woo-hoo, Mom started the laundry!") or an evening at the bar to celebrate a job well done ("woo-hoo, Mom finished the laundry!"). I find it frustrating that I can never look back on the day and think, "Phew, glad I got that project off my plate, now I won't have to do it tomorrow!" since, funny thing, the dishes get dirty again tomorrow, the kids want to be fed again tomorrow, the bills still have to be paid, the laundry has to get done, etc.
I'm not sure what to do about the above. After all, it's part of the job. I'm not sure that being a trash collector would be more fun, and I'm sure it would come with issues of its own. And I still remember my pre-baby white-collar-worker days enough to remember that my 9-to-5 job was never 9-to-5 and had a bundle of issues of its own as well. But that doesn't change my need for a mental-health day every once in a while, nor does it change the fact that I feel tremendous guilt now when I need one.
I think part of my problem is that Husband and I never wrote a job description for this job. I've argued with him about it every since. Ok, to be fair, the vast majority of arguments have been in my head, and his live presence was not required, but that doesn't change the fact that there's some angst here. So what is my job?
Am I a nanny/housekeeper/chauffer/chef/secretary? Or am I a nanny, and the rest of it is the shared responsibilities of running a household of 5 people? And this, my friend, is where the angst comes from. Anyone who's taken care of 3 small children full time realizes that THAT is a job. A full time job. As this blog has attested to, if all I had to do in a day was take care of my children, we would all be happier, more well rested, more educated, less-TV-watching individuals. I could come up with cool art projects. And fun make believe stories. I could spend hours teaching them the alphabet and helping them learn to swing by themselves. And I think I would be pretty happy. Unfortunately, since we have yet to hire the housekeeper/chauffer/chef/secretary crew, someone has to do those things too. And somehow it always ends up being me. What is a fair division of labor? It's hard to argue with Husband's logic of: I'm home and available to make phone calls, do laundry, etc. He's a lousy cook and if the cooking were left to him, we'd eat spaghetti every night at 8pm. He can't take the kids places because he's at the office all day. Is it really that big a deal to load the dishwasher while the kids eat lunch? He works hard all day and some weekends to bring home the paycheck that supports this family.
It's all true. It's also why I wear the Hazel hat. And I fall down on the job. A lot more often than I would put up with if I were my boss in the working world. I like to think it's because it's humanly impossible to do everything I have to do well, every day. 'Course, Hazel did it. (I hate her!) So what is the answer? Is there an answer? Am I just stuck in grass-is-always-greener land? Or do I just grin-and-bear it until the kids grow up some and life isn't so hard? Or do I smack my poor husband in the head when he comes home and yell, "Take that you lecherous beast! You did this to me!" which would likely be satisfying, but hardly fair? Hmm. Perhaps I should just go have a martini.
It sort of looks like the moon. But it isn't. It's Mercury. A planet 48 million miles from earth. 48 million miles. These photos just came back from the Messenger spacecraft three days ago.
It's all over the news. At least the news I listen to on NPR. And yesterday the scientist being interviewed for the story on this incredible breakthrough described, in a voice tremulous with emotion, looking at these photos as "like being a tourist where no one's ever gone before." It's hard to be completely in love with his simile: can you really be a "tourist" in a place no human has ever seen? I would define a tourist as someone who is part-voyeur and part-participant in a foreign culture--and cultures require people. Yet while I think the term for someone who sets the first human eyes on a place is explorer, and I wish he'd taken more credit on behalf of the scientific community for this exploration, I love that this scientist sought out evocative language to try to convey his awe to listeners.
It's not at all hard to love his sentiment. The last images we had of Mercury were sent back to earth in 1974, when it was only possible to see just under half of the planet. I can't explain the science for why the other half remained invisible. And I didn't know this before this morning. Or care. But I get that this is pretty incredible. All it takes, really, is looking at the photos -- and thinking 48 million miles away -- to get it.
The planet looks icy and yet lit from within at the same time. Like a smooth, cool stone one finds in a shallow mountain creek bed, lined with exquisite markings, shot through with sparkles. It doesn't look particularly hospitable as a planet. But as a good luck talisman, or something to put in my pocket so that its small, insistent weight would remind me of my connection to the world, it looks like perfection.
And then, if you look at the close-ups, it looks completely different. I am struck by the contrast between these images and photos of Earth from outer space--where the clouds and oceans and continents lay out so nicely in just the way we see them on maps, in much the way they look when we fly from Detroit to Jamaica in a small jet. Here, the long-distance version of Mercury shows something smoothly soothing, while the close-up is cratered and rough like coral. It reminds me of microscopic photos of bacteria, heavily textured with concentric circles and small rings. Although here, there is nothing of malevolence, I wouldn't want this in my pocket. But I would love it on my desk for inspiration...a thing to let my eyes meander over, exploring the dimples, wandering the planet in my mind.
I don't know how I feel about space exploration and the money we spend on it. Often I think it's a tremendous waste of resources that might more productively be used in curbing greenhouse emissions, giving people health insurance, or a hundred other ways. Though I, like everyone else, love tin foil and microwaving my kids' dinners in a pinch and all those other inventions that supposedly trickle down to us from space mission technology, I'm not sure those things are worth the expense.
But then I see photos like these, and hear the emotion in the voice of a scientist. And I stop for a moment in my hectic day and think, really think, about what it means to be human in such a vast, unknown, and unknowable universe. And I am in awe of the beauty, the peace, the not-knowing-ness of it all.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I'm sorry for having to post a rant.. but I can't help it. I have to tell SOMEONE who can possibly sympathize. My big problem is a Michigan winter - it dries the heck out of my skin to the point of cracking. This mostly happens on my face and especially my lips- it's painful and unattractive. For many years I sampled all sorts of different lotions. Many were too light - not enough to really protect my face all day long. Many of the heavy ones has so much oil that my mixed complexion skin had me feeling like an oil slick all day long. Then, one day, NIRVANA. L'occitane (a french store) had created PERFECTION in a bottle! It was a lovely face lotion that had shea butter in it. It was heavy without any hint of oil. I'd put it on in the morning and all day long my skin would feel as soft as a baby's bottom. It didn't matter that it was way more expensive than any other lotion I'd ever bought - you didn't need a lot and it kept my skin and lips acting like I was experiencing a Fl winter - not a MI one. I ran out recently. That's when the problem started. I went out to the mall last night to pick up my new fix and, lo..... THEY DISCONTINUED THE LOTION. Now, I can understand that different scents and colors change from year to year, but this was a basic skin conditioning lotion that was unscented. I asked why they discontinued - they said that they regularly come out with new products and so discontinue ones sometimes. HOW COULD THEY DISCONTINUE PERFECTION and what in HE** did they think would be BETTER than what they already had?? I knew that getting mad at the poor girl working on the other side of the counter was useless, so I held my tongue. Then I cursed all the way home from the mall. WHY do we, the consumer, have to pay the price for some uppity executive to change his mind as quick as the wind blows??
This has happened with bras, panties and lotion scents too - I spend years on a quest for the perfect item only for them to yank it away from me as soon as I get addicted. I can practically hear them laughing with vicious glee as they look at their sales record... "hmmm..... this one seems to be a popular product - YANK IT!"
So now I have to start the search again. I did buy an "alternate" product from the same store to try, but it's just not the same. I guess this means more research at the stupid makeup counters.
Does this happen to other people or am I the lone crazy chick out here?
Daughter (21 mos) wandered around all day yesterday repeating the following:
COO AH ESS PEE OOO BEE DUB-OO ETS WAAAH SEE
She really might be, as her grandpa asserts, a genius. Though so might I, because I actually figured out what she is saying. Yes, it's a real thing. If you can figure it out, you might be a genius too.
Or, you might just be a parent. Here's how to tell the difference:
A parent will immediately know how to respond in a way that will satisfy any toddler (not just his or her own child) who makes a request for "muh mik peas" or "sooz UFF" or "PB on" or "can-ee too." And knows that "satisfy" is not necessarily synonymous with "comply."
A genius will try to rationalize with said child about why "PB" is less stimulating than reading books or the "can-ee" is all gone.
A parent knows better than to try to rationalize with a toddler. Especially with one who has that pre-melting-puddle whine in her voice, that note that precedes the shrieking moment of protest lying under the kitchen table, the note that says, "give me what I want or my world will spin off its axis and take you with it, lady!" Except in toddler-speak, it sounds like "me muh can-ee! me can-ee too! can-EEE! bruh-er can-ee. meeee CAN-ee too! Caaaaannnnnn-EEEEEEEEE! ME can-eeeee!"
A genius will give in to the incredible volume of histrionic vocal-technics, logically reasoning that to provide ____ [fill in requested noun here] will quell the storm.
A parent never gives in. At least, not after having said no.
Except in a public place when the binkie was left in the car by mistake. Because a parent knows the difference between being a sucker and managing an emergency.
A genius thinks most parents these days are suckers.
A parent knows most geniuses are useless in an emergency.
Which does lead me to a question: If I'm generally quite good in an emergency, and yet I worry every day about being too much of a sucker, what does that make me? A parnius? A genient? And who can I ask to find out?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I gain five pounds every winter and lose it every spring. This is not yo-yo dieting. It is hibernation. This is what nature intended: in winter, our homes get smaller and our waistlines get bigger. We congregate in the warmest room in the house, pull out the lap blankets and read about knights and dragons. Our timetable is dictated by the schedule of bread baking. Our room is lit with the comforting glow of the television.
Oh no, I won't romanticize winter unduly. TV becomes my friend when I can't stand the kids' antagonizing each other for one more second without my head exploding. And my schedule revolves around bread baking not because I am such an artiste that I must time my kneading and punching down to perfection, but because supposedly if I am out of the house when the bread machine beeps, so that I cannot remove the finished loaf immediately, it will sink, sag, and moisten into inedibility. I have never tested this claim, since it is almost more than I can bear to imagine wasting a perfectly scrumptious loaf of home-baked bread just because I needed to get out of the house for a little while.
In short, while I could write whole sestinas (if I could write a sestina) about the glory of summer produce, there is something I find so comforting and lovely about winter foods. I gain five pounds because I rediscover the bread-maker and pull out the fabulous Bread-Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook. And I make steaming bowls of home-made macaroni and cheese (yes, the kind where you buy the pasta in one box, and the chunk of cheese in the refrigerator section, and then start with a roux and everything). And I make pureed soups. And lots of steamy, creamy things. And generally, I warm and comfort and cozy my family with food.
So. This weekend, the Weather Channel says, Sunday's HIGH will be 13. Yes, the one comes before the three in that number. Saturday's low will be 8. There's only one digit in that temperature. Now, if you live in Alaska, I know this does not seem cold. I went to college in Burlington, VT, where 8 is a winter's-barely-gettin'-started temperature. But this is Michigan. Where people don't own long underwear. Where windows can be leaky and no one replaces them. Where it's touch-and-go whether the garage is a safe place, from a "let's avoid salmonella" perspective, to store your Thanksgiving leftovers. In short: 8 is cold.
And you know what that means in my house? It's time for pot roast. So this weekend, I'll be trotting out a little gem I invented during apple season in the fall. It might sound weird, but trust me, it's incredibly delicious. So, if it's cold in your neck of the woods--however your neck defines that relative term--and you like yourself a nice tender bit 'o meat, you might want to try this too. And if you have some lovely snow on the ground, or just want to get out of the house for a while, I would imagine you could set this all up in your crock pot, leave it alone, and come back when you're hungry. No insistent beep will demand your attention at any particular time.
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups apple cider (the real, pressed kind)
3 cups vegetable broth
5 cloves garlic
2 whole ribs celery
1 onion, halved
2 bay leaves
1 cup chopped white/button mushrooms
1/2 cup dried shitake mushrooms, broken into small bits
2 T. flour
Thoroughly brown a 3-lb chuck roast in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Add wine and cider to pan to deglaze. Then put everything else to the pot EXCEPT the flour, bring to a boil, and simmer on low, tightly covered for two hours or so until the pot roast is very tender. (Do not salt until right before serving, as the salt flavor enhances during the cooking process.) When the meat is very tender, remove it to a plate. Remove and discard the celery, onion, and bay leaves. Place flour in a small bowl and gradually add small amounts of the hot cooking liquid, stirring constantly, until you reach a thin paste consistency. Add this flour mixture into the pot, and stir to thicken the sauce slightly. Ladle mushroom sauce over roast on plates.
This sauce is particularly delicious over egg noodles, which make a nice side dish. So does steamed broccoli or green beans sauteed with almonds. If you choose to make this in a crock pot, you could save yourself a lot of dishes by not browning the meat first. That's what I'd do. BUT, I've never tried that with this particular recipe, so if you do, I'd love a comment back here to let me know how it turned out.