‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the power of the pompom

Due to the wild success of my debut reading at one fundraiser (a person liked it), I was invited to read at a second fundraiser. This one was for Housing Assistance Corporation and is pure, unadulterated mayhem. Most of it is music, plus some funny stuff thrown in.

Lest I seem too calm about appearing publicly, now that I've done it once, one of the bands asked me to be in a skit they had concocted. I don't do skits, but I'm trying hard to not be the kid sitting alone on the playground, so I said yes.

In the skit, a kid asks his drunk uncle to tell him a story. The uncle comes up with something loosely resembling the Nutcracker. We did the opening party scene (I was a guest), the mouse vs. soldier scene (I was a soldier), Dance of the Snowflakes (snowflake, obvs), Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy (more on that in a minute), and the wildly abridged Land of Sweets (I don't know what I was).

I mention all this because a Christmas miracle occurred. 

Did I mention that it's mayhem? The parking lot fills well before start time. The room is huge and completely unnavigable. It's exactly the sort of thing I'd feign jury duty to avoid. When I am faced with a mass of humanity, I give myself fits trying to figure out how to get from here to there. I usually end up simplifying matters by figuring out how to get out and home.

Somehow I was elected Leader of the Snowflakes. As such, I led the pack through the crowd. It's amazing we didn't all end up in a cowering ball 5 feet from the stage. Our job was to get to the other side of the hall to usher in the Sugarplum Fairy, so cowering was not an option.

To make us look more like Snowflakes, we were each given two large tissue paper pompoms to wave over our heads in a snowflakish figure eight pattern. It was stunning. So off the stage I went, with all the other flakes behind me, waving my pompoms. 

Did you know that if you walk through a crowd waving large tissue paper pompoms, the masses part for you? They even smile as you pass. I almost had fun. In a crowd. 

SKITS ARE AWESOME.

We made it safely to the door, where we awaited the 6-foot-something man in a purple tutu to arrive. Believe me, once he showed up the masses parted even further. It was magnificent.

Yes, my friends, this is my life. 

So my holiday tips for you are A) don't answer emails from musicians, and B) don't leave home without pompoms. You won't believe the results.

I was going to get everyone week-long spa visit gift certificates for Christmas, but obviously tissue pompoms are the way to go. 

If you'll excuse me, I have some folding and fluffing to do.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My very first public reading!

Just when 2012 was on the verge of ending without anything truly thrilling happening, I was invited to read at a fundraiser. It was a benefit for Lower Cape Outreach Council's Fuel Assistance Program, which helps our friends and neighbors stay warm in the winter (by burning my stories).

This was the first time I read something of my own in public* and I have to say, audience response is wildly addictive. Pausing for people to stop laughing is my new favorite thing.

I was also terrified, but that goes without saying. I am Perpetually Terrified.

I'm sorry if I ruin the Nutcracker, Christmas and strippers for you.  These things happen.


*I've read at lots of weddings, but they never seem to want me to use my own material. Can you imagine?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving - the real version

I have deliberated for days whether to share this or not. On the one hand, it's totally airing my family's undergarments. On the other hand, I know we're not alone in this and maybe, just maybe, it will help someone.

No one actually wants to hear about your Thanksgiving when they ask how it was, so I've been going around saying it was great. Which is completely not true.

In the pro column, we had a small gathering of family and adopted family. My mom lives 2 hours from here, so I picked her up the day before and made her stay a couple days before driving her back.

From here out, I'm going to thinly veil this by calling our mothers Grandmother A and Grandmother B. That way one of them doesn't get profiled as an unspeakable jerk. Which one of them was.

In Grandmother A's defense, she hurt her back recently and is on painkillers. She struggles with memory anyway, and the painkillers made her even more confused. The confusion came out as antagonism.

(I am sugar-coating this. She is really good at being antagonistic, even on a good day.)

Nothing was right for her. She hated the cheese on the relish tray. We'd hand her something to try and she'd yell at us. And then she'd complain that no one was giving her anything to eat.

Grandmother B did like the relish tray, and was eating off the cheese knife. Fortunately for all of us, dinner was ready.

Because of the painkillers, I offered Grandmother A ginger ale. She made a face at me, so I listed the other options.

"I don't give a damn what you give me," she said.

That pretty much sums up dinner.

Grandmother B and our guest were horrified. Unable to deal with the sniping (though not directed at her), Grandmother B prayed loudly throughout dinner.

It was... great.

I couldn't resist sneaking off and sending World's Worst Thanksgiving texts to my sister, who found them hilarious. (Don't worry - her shift is coming up soon.)

In actuality, it wasn't the World's Worst Thanksgiving - by a long shot. We had plenty of food, a roof over our heads and - for the most part - each other. I worry about the kids, but the kids were only worried about getting the right kind of pie.

Intellectually, I know that Grandmother A left the building a long time ago. She's in a sort of survival mode, in which nothing is filtered. We're told she doesn't mean half of what she says (although she may truly hate Stilton with cranberries). Knowing that she won't remember what she said 5 minutes from now doesn't help as much as it should. I catch myself wincing when I hear her voice.

I cannot, however, say that she ruined Thanksgiving. You can't ruin Thanksgiving for anyone but yourself.

And that's what I came away with. Grandmother A sent the appearance of a nice Thanksgiving up in flames, but she couldn't touch the real thing.

Despite aggressively grumpy appearances, we have much to be grateful for.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Apocalypse (or, if you prefer, Thursday)


8am
Chris says the ground opened, which is what it feels like. Most of the lights don't work and the house smells like melted appliances. The ground opened, and in we fell. I didn't think this was supposed to happen until December.

Electricity is coming into the house at 220 because the ground wire went down in the latest storm onslaught. That's not a good thing.

We're not sure what survived, appliance-wise. When we open the refrigerator it looks like an alien spaceship is coming at us. (I mean the light, not the leftovers.) The kids are psyched because first everything was dark and then, just as they were done getting ready for school by flashlight, the house went into Demonic Possession mode. They'd flip a switch in one room, and a light would come on in another. It was awesome. I could barely get them out the door.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my mother-in-law has short term memory loss so we've been over what's going on a million times in the last 15 minutes.

Note: There is something uniquely horrible about not knowing what's going on and having to tell someone the specifics of what you don't know and have no power over, repeatedly.

We started with the long story, and then moved to the abbreviated version:

“There's no power.”
“Is someone going to make me some toast?”
(Rinse. Repeat.)

I think if we stabbed a piece of bread with a fork and then stuck the end of the fork in an outlet, it just might work.

NSTAR deemed it dangerous and advised us to throw the main breaker until they could send a crew.

(Long pause in which we wait and then give up, going to bed at 9 because what else are we supposed to do? There's no internet and I am all caught up on my counted cross stitch by candlelight.)

10pm
I wake up to an authoritative knock on the door. A tall, handsome NSTAR man is in my garden. Behind him, my lawn is crawling with utility workers in foul weather gear.

You don't realize how many windows you have until you are sitting in total darkness, with searchlights bouncing off every wall in your house from outside. It's like a movie. Let me just say that I really hope the people who are inches from my windows, scaling my walls and shining searchlights all over my lawn in the dark of night are always using their power for good, not evil.

If the neighbors ask what all the search lights were for, I'm going to tell them Sugarplum lost her gerbil.

Appliance death-toll to come. Stay tuned.

P.S. Thank you, NSTAR

updated:
Death Toll: furnace, oven, toaster, coffee maker, mother-in-law's radio, assorted lights.... (still taking inventory)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

mini van not included

We have no hot water and no one has showered. It must be very unpleasant to be a furnace guy. I bet he has a clothespin in his toolbox for the extra-stinky families. (I'll let you know if he uses it.)

In other world news, Sugarplum is signing up for soccer camp.

I have wanted her to play soccer since she was a tiny thing. I love watching soccer - and kids in cleats are freaking adorable. So we signed her up when she was 3, and stood on the sidelines with her when she turned into a paralytic lawn ornament, refusing to budge.

When she got to elementary school, she learned to play soccer at recess. They had no playground, so the kids had to entertain themselves. It was either soccer or chasing each other with sticks.

Then one day, out of the blue, I got a call from the new soccer coach telling me when Sugarplum should show up for practice. I explained about our little soccer-playing garden gnome and how she didn't want to compete, and he told me to chill the flip out and bring her to practice.

I don't know what's in those water bottles, but I want some. By the end of that practice, I had a soccer player on my hands.

She is so into it that she asked to be on the travel team, tryouts for which were last night.

We showed up and it was like a cocktail party - one group of mingling kids who knew each other and one group of mingling adults who knew each other. And then there was us. Once we found Sugarplum a ball, she was fine chasing it around the field - a small oasis of quiet among the bustle. I stood in what would have been the corner had we not been outside.

Note: I hate cocktail parties.

Every fiber of my being was yelling "may we please go home now?" And it dawned on me that the paralytic lawn ornament did not fall far from the paralytic lawn ornament tree. Except now she's got a soccer ball and is completely at ease. Soccer balls are like cigarettes for people who like to run around.

I couldn't go home because I owed it to my kid to sign her up for this thing she really wants to do - no matter how much I don't want to do it. But I also couldn't sign her up because no one seemed to know what was happening.

A very helpful volunteer-type person appeared just as I was considering a drive to the library where I could sign up in the privacy of the internet, and handed me a clipboard. Clipboards are like soccer balls for people who don't like to run around and don't smoke.

Tryouts started and, seeing Sugarplum was happy as a pig in poop, I resigned myself to a life of sideline garden gnomedom, admitting that even I might make friends with those gregarious, flamingo parents.

This morning, back in the comfort of the internet, I researched the club we signed up with and found the "10 Commandments for Parents." This is my favorite:

Thou shalt place your child first. Ask yourself if you are trying to live your life through the successes of your child. If her success means more to you than it does to the athlete, you are in serious risk of pushing your child too hard. If you want to be that driven, go out and play a sport yourself (you are never too old!).

I have to admit, I signed her up for soccer that first time because I never played a team sport. But at this point, we've moved beyond me living my life through her. We've moved into this weird new territory, where I have to push myself in order to support her properly.

And as it turns out, it was all fine once I showed up for practice. 



Friday, September 28, 2012

Of course I'd demand an open casket

Everyone who had a vanity-related near-death experience this morning, raise your hand.*

This morning as I was rinsing the brown hair dye out of my totally naturally brown hair, I realized that I had a nose bleed and would probably end up with a Darwin Award for not getting out of the shower because I wasn't finished with my attempts at not looking my age.

I have never tried to slit my wrists, but I know that if you do, you're supposed to be in warm water to keep the blood moving quickly and efficiently out of your system. I think a shower would be good for that.

When you discover you are probably bleeding to death, you have decisions to make. Here is a flow chart:

Do I rinse these toxic chemicals out of my hair?
If yes, continue
If no, you now have chemicals in your eyes and hair dye all over the bathroom. Get back in the shower you stupid ninny.

Now that the chemicals are out of my hair, do I continue with the conditioner or deal with the fact that I'm seeing stars?
If yes to conditioner, continue
If yes to stars, good luck getting a comb through your hair ever again.

Do I leave the conditioner in for the whole two minutes?
If yes, you have a longer attention span than I do and are good at following directions. You may also be dead, but whatever.

I did call Chris for help at one point, but only because I couldn't get the packet of conditioner open and needed him to bring me scissors. I could have gotten the scissors myself, but then I would have bled all over the bathroom.

He didn't hear me anyway - at which point I thought maybe I should get one of those necklaces my mother-in-law wears. You know, the I'm bleeding to death in the shower and can't get the conditioner open necklace.

Except then you have a bathroom full of paramedics who now know more about you than either of you would like.

This way, my secret will be safe to the grave.

*Please tell me all about it in the comments.

Monday, September 10, 2012

the careening career


A few months ago a writer friend asked me what my plans were for my career.

I didn't have an answer because I haven't planned for my career since I was in middle school, deciding I wanted to train wild animals. After that I wanted to be a photographer because apparently all girls at some point a) want a horse and b) want to be photographers.

I had exactly one exhibit of my photography, which was so awful it still makes me wince.

It's safe to say that I haven't planned my career so much as my career planned me. After college I took a job as a photographer at a ski resort because if you answer an ad in a ski town and arrive at twilight, as all the twinkly lights are coming on and the mountains start to turn blue, you will say yes to working for $6/hour and decide you have always wanted to live on malt-o-meal.

Likewise my move to the beach: Move first, juggle livelihood later.

Between the "oh look! I have no money!" moments of career-panic, there have been other breeds of panic. These lead to a career that careens.

If you look up the word "careen" (because you've looked at it so long it starts to look weird and you want to make sure you're spelling it right) you find:


1. To lurch or swerve while in motion.
2. To rush headlong or carelessly; career:

That completely describes my career.

Career-panic has led to changes big and small. The latest was quitting a full-time job because it made my soul hurt and gave me a rash.* I didn't cite those reasons specifically in my letter of resignation, but only because I didn't realize the work and the rash were related until they went away simultaneously.

I think (and hope) that was the last lurch in my path. It's time to stop careening and start careering.


Career:
1a. A chosen pursuit; a profession or occupation.
1b. The general course or progression of one's working life or one's professional achievements: an officer with a distinguished career; a teacher in the midst of a long career.
2. A path or course, as of the sun through the heavens.

You know I'm going with #2, right?

Because that's what I think it should feel like. We find our careers by fine-tuning the direction we're going until we discover what we can contribute that makes us and the universe happiest.

It's that simple. Are you contributing? Are you happy doing it?

When we choose our career paths, we're choosing what we're good at - except that's not something many of us choose. It's something we discover.

The problem is that "career" is a noun, but it works best as a verb. Unless you do something about it, a career is either wishful thinking or a careening series of paychecks.

When people say things like this, I want to punch them, but here it is: listen, trust, do. You can't have a career if you don't do your career.

To figure out what that is you're supposed to be doing, listen to people who tell you when you're on the right track (including yourself). Listen to the message until you know it's true, and then start practicing whatever it is.

A lot of us have to have a day job while we practice. Some of us have two or three day jobs while we practice. (I like two or three day jobs, because then when the work you're aiming for starts to take hold, you can peel off the extras. It's like shedding floatation devices when you're learning to swim.) Do whatever you need to do to make it possible to fulfill your job on this planet.

Meanwhile, I can't help but go back to "as of the sun through the heavens."

Maybe our careers aren't a path at all. Maybe they're already exactly where they're supposed to be.

Shining.

*I understand that leaving a job is not always an option. I also understand that when you do things for the right reasons, doors open.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Signs of the Apocalypse: Central Air

We have central airconditioning.

I know for most of you this is normal, but for us, it's akin to Pa coming home from Town and saying "Caroline, get the pigs out of the kitchen garden. We need a place to put the compressor. And we're bartering it for 3,000 jars of pickled green beans, so get canning."

Our house is not old enough to be historic - just clumsy. We couldn't put a screen door on because the door frame isn't true. Most of the windows don't open without a great effort. We've slowly replaced things as we've been able, but airconditioning seemed a bridge too far.

Meanwhile, Chris has been renovating his studio. And while the dehumidifier has been very helpful, he checked into air conditioning for climate control.

One of his clients, who has an HVAC company, deemed the project do-able.

This client is also a family man, and saw the wisdom of not restricting the airconditioning to the studio area. This is a shame, as I could have gotten a lot of mileage out of Chris sitting in air-conditioned splendor while the rest of us lay perishing of heat stroke. Sometime remind me to tell you about that time in July when he took the (only) fan out of the living room and moved it to the basement to keep a Linux machine from overheating.

We've had a fleet of nice young men working at the house on and off over the last few weeks, installing things I thought were only for making robot Halloween costumes. I'm never sure when they're coming, but since I'm sitting on the couch in my pajamas right now, it's quite likely they'll drop by to make sure it's working okay.

Believe me, they don't time it that way on purpose.

They won't need to come in, because it's obvious from the street that it's working. Not only are we not lying on the grass under the tree to keep cool, but all our windows are closed.

It's very strange to sit inside on the first day of September with the windows closed. It makes it seem like fall is really here. It's quite likely that I'll put on a sweater, jeans and clogs to go out later. I'll then take five steps and fall over dead from heat exhaustion.

Unless we had airconditioning in the house we lived in when I was five, I have never lived in a house/apartment/renovated garden shed with central air. I'm having an identity crisis.

People like my sister have airconditioning. People with houses they bought on purpose and with a plan. People who have kitchen cupboards with doors and drawers with pulls.

I'm sitting here thinking thoughts not my own. Thoughts like "maybe I should take that huge stack of pizza boxes to the dump."

It seems a bit late to get around to that "growing up" thing I've heard about, but maybe there's some middle ground we can inhabit. Airconditioned middle ground.

In the meantime, I'm going to need warmer pajamas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

this post brought to you by abject terror

Yesterday I helped out a friend who had to leave town not completely unexpectedly. I should mention that there was no law enforcement involved in his decision to leave town - which is a refreshing change.

I took over for him as house manager at a children's theater. It seemed pretty straightforward.

I had a moment when all I could picture was unhappy patrons with no place to sit, strangely well-equipped with torches and pitch forks. You'd think if you're prepared enough to pack a torch and pitchfork, you could manage to fit a folding chair in there somewhere. But whatever.

The first night went off relatively hitchless; except my friend forgot to mention there was public speaking involved. In his defense, my idea of public speaking includes "may I help you find your seat?"

My daughter said "you'll be great! Come on, you're a writer."

Which is precisely why I would not be great. Just because you're good with words in a public forum doesn't mean you can make them come out of your mouth at an appropriate time or in an appropriate order. In fact, it seems the opposite is often true.

But I've been hammering into her that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I've been encouraging her to be fearless.

It was time to put up or shut up.

The first time I addressed the audience it was a no-brainer. Ten minutes before curtain, I'm supposed to tell everyone to go use the bathroom. I tell people all day long to go use the bathroom.

The second one was trickier. It's that "turn off your cell phones," "no pictures or Sleeping Beauty will go blind and fall off the stage and die before the evil fairy has a chance to curse her," "stay out of the aisles or you'll be gored by a prince who's a little sword-happy" speech.

That's a lie about Sleeping Beauty falling off the stage before the evil fairy curses her. At that point she has a Cabbage Patch body double covering for her, and everyone knows Cabbage Patch body doubles adore flash photography.

Anyway. The intro music fades and I step onto the stage. House lights go down. Stage lights go up. All eyes are on me. Everyone is listening to what I am about to say.

And I have an epiphany.

It is this:
Parents need lighting and sound designers. Can you imagine if every time you got ready to say something like "go find your shoes" all the lights went off except the one that was on you? And if there was the kind of music swelling in the background that foreshadowed exactly how it was going to go down if the shoes were not found? You would never be ignored again.

I used to think I'd like a personal assistant and a sous chef, but now I'm leaning toward a run crew. They make you disappear when you want to disappear. They put the focus on you when you need people to pay attention. They fix your broken zippers and make sure you are where you are supposed to be.

Can you imagine? My lord, just having someone tell me when it's time to get dressed would be huge. (And then the Peapod delivery guy might agree to start coming to our house again.) It is amazing I've made it this long without one.

I have to tell people about the flash photography and death-by-goring again tonight, but I think I'll be okay.

I can do anything I put my mind to. I am fearless.

And the crew's got my back.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Haiku

The first line is five
The second line is seven
The third line is five


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Apple pie recipe not included

"Don't ever get old," my mother-in-law tells me.

I tell her I don't like the alternative.

She says, "well, you're set up pretty well." I start to argue (she's my mother-in-law. It's my job), but she's wandered off so I'm stuck arguing in my head. How is my setup different from hers? I have good kids, but so did/does she. What's so great about what I've got? What's so wrong with what she's got? And is there really a landing pad between growing old and croaking?

I have nothing better to do today - it's very hot and I'm sitting really still, trying not to perish from heat stroke - so I gave it some more thought. And I realized that I am set up pretty well, at least for now. The trick is keeping our balance as everything changes around us.

My best friend, who is also dealing with aging parents, has been noticing what differentiates an annoyed/annoying old person from a pleasant/pie-baking old person. Here are a few things she's come up with:

Be flexible.
Cranky people get stuck in their ways early on. If you want to be happy later, practice flexibility now. Try new food. Guard against dismissing ideas out of hand. Remember that change has always happened and it's not something new that's designed specifically to piss you off.

Be nice.
This comes to some people more naturally than others, but it's never too early to start cultivating your inner nice person. I don't mean to lose your love of taunting your kids with embarrassing childhood stories in front of their friends. File that under "Joie de Vivre" and have at it. It's the taunting that goes on inside your head you have to be careful of. Watch the inner monologue because that stuff is going to come out loud and clear on down the line. Admit it: your filter's going to get clogged and you're just going to chuck it. Start filtering out the crap now so what comes out later is what you really want to be saying.

Start figuring out what's important.
I am not high maintenance. I am not a neat freak. I have not once been mistaken for Miss Manners. But sometimes I flip out. And it's stupid stuff I flip out over.

Nobody likes to be nitpicked, henpecked or micromanaged. It's not a matter of stopping the flow of criticism, it's a matter of not letting stuff get you. My friend gives things the Five Year Test: if it won't matter in five years, let it be.  "Don't sweat the small stuff" is cliche for a reason.

There's stuff that's important now, but won't be later. If by the time my children reach a certain age they are still not putting their underwear in the hamper or are going out with their hair unbrushed, it's their spouse or friend or footman's problem. Not mine. My job of polishing the outside is done. It's time to enjoy what's inside.

Trust people who are trustworthy. 
Figure out who these people are before you start forgetting if you've had lunch or not. This is hard because the person you choose to help you make important decisions may have their own brain eaten by a zombie and start suggesting things that are not in your best interest. Do the best you can.

It's not about you.
Another friend recently told me that people do what they do because over time they become more and more self-centered.  It's like your fingers freezing off when you get stuck in the arctic (work with me here. There's a parallel that made sense when I typed it. See reference to "heat stroke" above).

The trick is to A) not get stuck in the arctic and B) become less self-centered so there's a greater margin for error on down the line.

Remember all this.
Write it down. Mark it on your calendar. Put sticky notes on your head. Write a blog post in which you refer to yourself as "you." Do it until it's easy.

Old is as old does. When my mother-in-law tells me not to get old, I'm pretty sure what she means is to not get to the point where I can't get out of my own way, mentally. I figure I should start practicing now if any of this is supposed to do any good in the future. And if it doesn't? Then I will have been unnecessarily nice and friends will decide that zombies have eaten my brain.

Monday, June 4, 2012

happy birthday from the fishy afterlife

In honor of my sister's birthday, I regaled the children with stories of how stinky she was when we were kids. Those are their favorites. I told them how she made me eat dog biscuits, and how she and her friend told me scary stories until I couldn't blink, much less sleep.

But my favorite story (at this particular moment) is one in which she was not a stinker.

When she moved across country, I helped her drive (you would too if your sister made you eat dog biscuits). In the car we had all her worldly possessions and Sparky the goldfish.

Sparky's bowl sat on the floor of the passenger's side. Whenever the driver saw rough pavement ahead, she'd shout "fish!" and the passenger would wake up and shock-absorb the bowl. We traveled 2k miles this way.

When we arrived, we got my sister and Sparky settled into their apartment - my sister in her comfy new bed, Sparky in his bowl, and me on an army cot in the hall.

I told you.

In the middle of the night, I awoke from a rock-solid-dead-to-the-world sleep because I felt a splash on my face. Sparky! I thought. I groped around the top of the bookcase in the dark, found the suicidal little fish, and tossed him back in his bowl.

Fast forward to now: I have just spent hours and hours watching BBC documentaries about the ocean with the kids. And then I told them about Sparky.

Which explains how, 20 years later, my 6 year old solved the whole mystery.

Studley: "Maybe he was laying his eggs."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend, or why I have marshmallow in my hair

Here's what I meant to do: Hide in the basement until all the holiday traffic cleared.

Here's what I did: Everything.

I live in a summer resort area and am anthropophobic. My idea of a fun holiday weekend involves crawling under a rock until it's over. Vacationers see beaches and fancy cocktails with monkey straws. I see people everywhere and no way to take a left turn.

For some reason, being able to turn left is inexplicably tied to my happiness.

I navigate crowds by getting places early - like hitting the grocery store at 7am. I went to a play on Thursday while it was in preview, rather than waiting until it opened on Saturday. All was well.

From there, I went to my favorite nightclub, which is housed in an old life-saving station right on the beach. They open the Thursday before Memorial Day with a locals' summer bash. As usual, I got there early to beat the crowd.

When I arrived, the short road leading to the club looked like this:

Close Encounters of the Vacationing Kind

There were cars waiting for spaces to open up in the parking lot. There were less patient cars parked along Ocean View Drive (all of whom were ticketed, which hopefully means the town can afford fireworks this year). There were headlights and people and ocean fog.

I went home.

(But don't get me wrong - I love fog.)

I can't remember what we did on Friday, but on Saturday my friend texted, asking if I was going to the elementary school fair. He did not ask because he wanted our company, mind you. He asked because he needed someone to watch his kids at the fair. Knowing that I would at some point want him to watch our kids, we went.

When we drove up, Chris said "what have I been roped into?" and I said "this is AWESOME."

The fair, which is usually a pretty lame affair, had huge slides and a giant inflated giraffe. There were spinning teacups and a Viking Ship. There was ice cream and cotton candy and a line-up of bands that played music you'd want to listen to on purpose

We took good care of our friend's kids.


(That's the bay in the background. Neato, huh?)

Then we went to a party and were fed lasagna while someone else watched our kids.

On Sunday another friend needed a ride to see the first rehearsal of his play, so I piled the kids in the car and off we went to "help our friend." (Read: eat burritos and ice cream at the harbor.)

By Monday I figured we had done enough (albeit accidentally) to call it a holiday, and had just settled in for a long Memorial Day nap, when we got another text - this time inviting us to a cookout on the lake.

And that is how I overcame my fear of people. The end.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Goat Bomb

I'm sensing a theme here. One day I write about how we give each other stuff, and the next day we almost literally trip over a pile of speakers and a giant subwoofer.

On Saturday I wrote about how I'm trying to be a better person and not hate on things arbitrarily, and on Sunday the universe gave me something to hate arbitrarily.

Some history: Years ago my mother bullied us into going to the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont - run by a family who wears play clothes made of curtains. I went despite my aversion to musicals, (especially Rogers and Hammerstein musicals). We survived.

We had to get a trailer for the trip home to carry all my mom's Sound of Music souvenirs. I repeatedly declined her offer to buy us the video, piano accompaniment to all the songs and lederhosen for the kids.

It's been over five years since we went, so we never saw the goat bomb coming.

video


Chris: "I wonder if we can replace the chip and give it back to your mom."



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not in this house you don't.

We are all bigots. Quit trying to deny it.

My parents, while they are really pretty decent in practically every way, didn't appreciate certain things and certain types of people. I won't tell you who or what (but for some reason it included water ballet, which.... really? Water ballet?).

I am fine with the things they were not fine with, which makes me wonderful while they are bigots. OBVIOUSLY.

Except there are things I don't like, too. My hang ups are just different from theirs.

I try really hard to be fair and balanced when I deal with things I don't like. When the kids ask for Lunchables, I explain that the food's been in plastic packaging a really long time and so it's not as delicious and there's hardly any of it anyway so they'd need two. I don't add "and our people don't eat Lunchables." Which we don't (but mostly because we're cheap).

I've asked Chris to stop calling the man down the street a Survivalist Rethuglican Knuckledragger. This is because he's a pretty big dude and I'm scared of him, but also because I would be appalled to hear the kids calling anyone that.

When Studley came home from school singing a Pantera song I did not have him transferred to another classroom, as tempting as it may have been.

See? Fair and balanced.

So now Sugarplum (who studies ballet! how civilized!) is in a recital this weekend. She got to watch the other classes during the dress rehearsal and came home out of her mind with excitement. 

"You would love it, mommy! They had great costumes and fun music and it's called musical theater!"

Please dear God in heaven, no.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

From this mother to her daughter

This has been circulating:
Letter from a Mother to a Daughter: "My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago”... Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep. When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl? When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don’t look at me that way... remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life’s issues every day... the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If I occasionaly lose track of what we’re talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can’t, don’t be nervous, impatient or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you. And when my old, tired legs don’t let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don’t feel sad... just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I’ll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I’ve always had for you, I just want to say, I love you... my darling daughter. "

Here's my letter:

 Dear Sugarplum,
There are a few things you need to know, as well as a few things I need to remember.

First, you owe me nothing. You have always made my life a better place to be. Your work here is done.

If I am nasty, remind me what I always told you about how people will not be friends with you if you are mean to them.  Somewhere along the line I may lose my common sense.

If I am slow, it may seem like I am paying you back for all the times I hit my head repeatedly on the steering wheel while it took you an agonizingly long time to get settled and buckled in the back seat. Please know that I'm not doing it on purpose.

Remind me that tantrums are not okay at any age.

If I expect you to not be frustrated with my memory lapses in the future, I need to start paying attention to you now. I need to listen so you know how important you are. If I listen to you now, you'll be able to tell the difference later between a memory lapse and just not paying attention.

I know I let you get away with some crazy outfits but please, reign me in early and often.

If you need to hang out with me for more than a few minutes, bring a book. I won't mind. I just want you with me. I used to do that when it took your brother 45 minutes to eat his lunch.

When it's time to stop driving, remind me to believe you.

I'm a little nervous about the technology thing, frankly. Remind me that change is good and that it will continue to happen no matter how perfect I think something was.

You were always fine with showers. It's your brother who screamed like it was holy water and he was the devil himself. Make him deal with me if I develop a fear of bathing.

Feel free to add your own stuff to this list. I probably won't remember anyway.

But I won't forget how much I love you.

Love,
Mama

Thursday, April 19, 2012

falling from the sky

We went on vacation about half an hour from our house. We were going to go to Nantucket, but then we realized that  it would cost about $260 to get us there and back. Since we only had the afternoon available, we figured we'd go when we could spend more time (and money). We're not very good at math, but we  managed to figure that one out ourselves.

The kids wanted to eat and look in stores, so that's what we did. Chris was a remarkably good sport about it.

He was such a good sport about it that the universe threw him a cookie - in the form of a pile of speakers and subwoofer.

I was in the car when it happened, finishing up a phone interview that was the only work-related thing I couldn't weasel out of. I got off the phone and Chris rang through. He said "Your friends with the theater do they need speakers do they have a truck I can't fit it in the car but it looks like they work and maybe I can stash them up the street until we can get back with the truck can you call your friends and then just come how fast can they get here?"

If you didn't understand any of that, my work here is done.

The road between us was closed (this is not a figure of speech, exactly), so I tried to go around and he, sensing that I was being a detour sissy, called back to tell me to stop being a sissy. "JUST GO AROUND THE CONES" he said.

I didn't know what he had in mind but apparently a bunch of speakers had just been left on the curb with a "free to good home" sign and he was intent on not letting them get away. I pictured him protecting them bodily, starfished on top of the pile and chanting "mine mine mine mine all mine" while waiting for me to swoop in with a stencil of our logo and a can of spray paint.

Note to self: purchase stencil of logo and can of spray paint.

I went around one set of cones and then another set of cones, while a policeman eyed me with a "wow, you really are the goody-two-shoes sissy your husband made you out to be" look. And then I spotted Chris, waving his arms in front of a pile of speakers and a subwoofer. For scale, I could fit inside the subwoofer.

As luck would have it, a friend of ours happened to walk down the street just as we were drawing straws to see who'd get bungee corded to the roof. His car was big enough for a subwoofer, with or without me stuffed inside.

Which is why we have souvenir speakers instead of t-shirts.

The end.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fluke (noun): A surprising piece of luck

We live near the ocean in a fishing town that's become a tourist destination. In the summer it's party, party, party. In the off-season, we huddle together.

I've lived in all of two tourist towns, so I can say with absolute authority that tourist towns breed bartering. In a ski town, you can get nearly anything done for a six-pack of beer. Here, we're more creative. Or older. One of those.

At one point we had a major-label recording artist babysitting our kids in exchange for studio time. But most of what we exchange is on the fly. It's more "you need that? I've got it." The person you give to is often not the person you get from, but somehow it all works out. I think we do this because tourist towns are expensive to live in and most of us can't afford it. We take care of each other. It's also friendly, and friendly is good.

Last weekend we went to a friend's house and transplanted the peach tree they had offered us. We have not killed it yet. In about three years we will be silly with peaches - which we will give to the neighbors and make into peach jam.

Yesterday I had a call from a friend who is a fisherman. He had a ridiculously huge bag of fluke and asked if we'd like some. I hardly ever say no to offers of food so, not having the slightest idea how to cook it, I ran right over.

I took a gallon ziplock bag. He filled it nearly to the top with fillets.

Now I'm a little miffed that the peach tree isn't giving us peaches right now, in April. Because how great would it be to serve fluke with peach salsa?

This kind of thing isn't for everyone. You often get what you want, but you just as often get what you didn't know you wanted.

Here's a tip: people give to people who are easy to give to.

Did you get that? When I lived in the city, I had a friend who worked for a performing arts center. He frequently had comp tickets to plays and, knowing that I would always say "yes please" he gave them to me nearly every time. It got so he just left them on my desk. It was like being visited by the Culture Fairy (it may interest you to know that the Culture Fairy is over 6' tall, with a very large, black beard).

I, in turn, got to the point where I'd make one phone call to invite a friend to join me - because she always said yes. We saw a lot of things we had never heard of - and would be sorry to have missed.

So when the call came about the fluke yesterday, I did not tell him we were cooking haddock that very minute and ask him to call back when he had some striped bass. If I've learned one thing, it's that you don't look a gift fluke in the mouth (although if you do, you discover that they have teeth). You invite your friends and feast on fluke.

And then you make fish cakes with what's left.

And fish soup with what's left from that.

Fluke. It's the new zucchini.

(pictured: fluke platter, made by my friend Rosalie Nadeau and given to us by our neighbor when we got married)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dietary Modification

Shortly after letting the chickens out to free range, we found these flyers nailed everywhere. 

(This explains all the chicken tracks around our color printer.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

we all gotta sing

This morning another friend shared the Britain's Got Talent video of Jonathan and Charlotte blowing minds and spurring the sales of thousands of boxes of tissues. So of course I had to watch it. Again.

And then I made Chris watch it so I could watch him pretend he had something in his eye.

What is it that we love so very, very, very much about videos like this? (If you haven't seen it, scroll to the bottom, watch the video, and come back. I'll wait.)

No matter how rich our actual and for-real lives are, we also live vicariously through others. We love watching people find their voices and be who they are. And when someone surprises us out of our tendency to pigeon-hole, a little piece of us gets un-pigeon-holed. We are more than we appear to be. When we see someone else shine, something in our subconscious assures us we can, too.

We all have a Jonathan voice in there somewhere. Ours may not be discovered on Britain's Got Talent and circulate the internet, but that doesn't mean it's not there.

If you've ever heard me sing, you know I am not speaking of "voice" in a literal, singing sense. It's whatever you do that makes you feel completely you. It's that thing that makes you forget your fears and self-condemnation and lets you... sing out.

In Jonathan's case, he's probably pretty accustomed to not getting a chance. If this video is any indication, he's judged right out of the gate. Turned off. When he does get his chance, though, all shyness and self-consciousness falls away. Who doesn't want that? Who isn't grateful that another human being has had this moment? Who can watch someone's whole life crack open like a sprouting seed, and not need a tissue?

And then there's Charlotte. Oh Charlotte, you are my hero. If you take the bushel basket off of someone else's candle, the light shines on you, too.

If it weren't for you, Charlotte, my husband wouldn't have been able to flush out whatever was in his eye.




Thursday, March 29, 2012

Eyesight is wasted on the young


The person who is reading the directions would do better with the larger type. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Culinary Prowess

Sugarplum loves to cook. She loves to cook because she loves to eat. I don't know where she gets it.

She is still in single digits, but this has already been going on for years. When she was in preschool, she created our familial go-to: tofu salad made with chutney. She also insisted we put capers in her scrambled eggs - which is delicious. Her first cookbooks were Pretend Soup and Salad People, by Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood fame). If you want your kids to cook for you, start them with these books early. It's worth the investment of time and inevitable stickiness.

I mentioned in a previous post that she made cobb salad wraps, broccoli-walnut polenta and baked oatmeal during my yoga retreat. She followed that up with french onion soup one night, and the world's biggest heap of Vietnamese fresh rolls the next. We are truly blessed.

Someone asked if everything she makes is edible. "Of course," I said. She's a good reader and follows directions carefully. I forgot about the experimental dishes she sometimes concocts. Luckily, she takes notes. Detailed notes:


So if you're thinking of making a cocoa powder, water, mango & pineapple smoothie, don't.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hobbies

An acquaintance asked today if I had any hobbies.

Of course I have hobbies. I like to play operas for people who don't like opera, tweet as other species and pretend I'm a Jedi in training.

"I like to read," I told her.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fauxpalu

I can't plan my way out of a paper bag.

We tried to go to Vermont during February vacation, but it turns out you have to plan a bunch of stuff, including (but not restricted to) finding people to do all the things you'd be doing if you were not blissfully out of town.

Vermont went down the vacation toilet. But! In the spirit of Pollyanna (which Sugarplum is reading at the moment), I decided to make the most of being stuck at home - in the company of friends who were also stuck at home.

The Aunties and I had talked about doing a Kripalu get-away before things get crazy for us in the summer. It sounded swell until we got to the "finding people to do all the things we'd be doing" part. Two of us have kids and the third has me to keep from walking into traffic or getting frozen to the ice cube maker. We have our hands full. Yes, we could leave the kids with the spouses, but then we'd owe them and we like to keep the You Owe Me Big Time anvil hanging over our spouses' heads, not ours

So we decided to go to Fauxpalu.

Fauxpalu is where you sign up for yoga classes, eat great food and maybe get a massage if you play your cards right. It looks like home but is totally, totally not, assuming you are really good at self-deception. 

We planned our meals (first things first), and signed up for four days of yoga classes - one Kripalu-style class, one flow and two Jedi Training classes. 

We've been at Fauxpalu for three days now. It's going great.

While we were in class today, Sugarplum made us baked oatmeal and had breakfast ready for us when we came back to the Towers:



For lunch she made us Cobb Salad wraps. The first night she made broccoli and walnut polenta (from the Kripalu cookbook). It's pretty fabulous. 

I still have to do things like grocery shopping and laundry - so I'm pretending it's a work exchange program.

The deception is aided by the fact that our Jedi Training coach sounds like my favorite favorite favorite teacher, Susan Maier-Moul, whose class I took at Kripalu during my last sanctioned release. In fact, we were so convinced we were in the Berkshires, we made it snow briefly after class yesterday.

All of which begs the question: What is so great outside this paper bag, anyway?

Bon Appetit.

Namaste.

Go Faux.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jedi Yoga

I get through yoga class by pretending it's Jedi training.

I do this because I think it may actually be Jedi training. Why else would people do it? It's the only way some of the stuff they make us do makes sense. It's also the only way some of this could possibly be possible. You have to use the force rather than just plain forcing it, or you fall over.

You know you're in Jedi training when you hear something like "float your left leg up toward the ceiling." I don't know about you, but my legs do not float anywhere. How does this phrase make any sense at all unless it's about Jedi mind tricks? Like when you can't get the waiter to bring you a clean fork so you float one across the restaurant from the wait station yourself.

Speaking of forks, I sometimes combine my Jedi training with being The One. You know: There is no spoon. I figure the only way my teacher gets into that twist where she looks like a pretzel and I look like a squashed bug is by knowing there is no spoon/body. There is no yoga teacher and she's not actually doing the pose, she's just visualizing her body all twisted up. Et voila. When I do this I picture my actual, physical body curled up in bed while my Matrix body mirrors my teacher.

When I do Ashtanga (or, more accurately, when I do whatever it is I do when in an Ashtanga class) I sometimes imagine I'm sparring with Laurence Fishburne. At the very least it entertains me to the point of not wishing for instant death.

I've experienced varying degrees of success in my training. I have yet to float anything anywhere and Morpheus is still laying me flat. But there are moments of Jedi glory. Just this morning, in fact, I walked into class and noticed another woman heading toward my favorite spot. I said "that is not the place in class you seek." She looked at me briefly and headed off to the far corner.

It's totally working.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

the perils of legible handwriting

Sugarplum's homework last night was to neatly copy her New Year's resolution onto a piece of colored paper and hang it in the hall at school. Her resolution is to clean up the house "because it's really messy."

You got the part about hanging it up in the hall at school, right?

On the bright side, Chris will be teaching a course in building robots at her school soon, so as the teachers and visiting parents discover we are slovenly heaps of humanity, the kids' coolness ratings will soar. Maybe the combination will earn us a reputation among the elementary academic community for being geniuses. Geniuses are often messy.

For the record, my resolution is not to clean up the house. My resolution is to make sure Sugarplum sticks to her resolution.

For the last several years I've replaced resolutions with watch words. I've also replaced cleaning with living, but that's another story for another day. I can't tell you what my watch words are this year because that will jinx it and all hope will be lost. I can't tell you what they were last year, either, because I've usually forgotten what they are by April.

In my defense, I forget what they are by April because I've more or less incorporated whatever it is by then and/or gotten annoyed at my own henpecking. I do wish I could remember what they were because they were really good. Things like "courage" or "listening," for example.

I cheat and pick ideas that are already in the works. My biological New Year* starts sometime in September, so I get a sneak peek at what the theme of the year is going to be.

I think I can safely tell you, without jinxing anything, that this is the year in which I do things that scare me. I noticed this a few months ago.  I said yes to projects that usually would have made me hide under my bed. I made scary decisions based on nothing more than the knowledge that something had to be done. I asked for and received things I hadn't asked for before because I was afraid I'd get them.

It seems to be a trend, this doing-scary-things, thing. I expect to spend the next several months weaving in and out of abject terror. Hopefully by April it will be old hat. I'll be so brave, nothing will phase me.

Which will come in handy if the world does in fact end in December.

I think that's why we make resolutions. Not because the world will end in December, but because we do things in cycles. New Years is when we give a nod to things that come and go. We put on extra layers in the winter, we shed them in the spring. We learn and then we practice. We fear and then we embrace. We are messy and then we clean up.

We teach our children the value of order and then we take a nap while they tidy up the place.

*I have no idea what a biological New Year is. I made that up.
** The end of the world throws resolutions into a whole different tail spin. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that I did not resolve to learn how to make my own clothes from milkweed pods.