Jul 29 2008

Just what I’ve always wanted.

kidsfeetThe clack of the wooden screen door.  A minute passes.  I glance at the clock.  9:08 a.m.  I dry my hands and poke my head out of the kitchen.  Was it someone coming or going?  I find a couple extra kids on the couch eating grapes, shoulder to shoulder with mine while they watch cartoons.  They’re all eyes and nubby bare toes.  

“Hi guys,” I say.

“Hi,” they reply without looking up.  

Jul 28 2008


swimSaint James and Supergirl did us proud on swim team this year.  The first day of swim practice they both looked like they were going to drown trying to do freestyle.  This, after hundreds upon hundreds of dollars spent on swimming lessons at Foss Swim School.  Nothing can be learned in weekly half hour sessions.  But throw them in the pool every morning of the summer with a bunch of other kids in goggles and the sweetest, most encouraging swim coaches you’ve ever seen, and suddenly they’re tucking away five laps, ten laps, twenty laps.  At the end of the season, Saint James emerged from the pool, water streaming off his tan shoulders, and panted that he had swum forty-three laps in practice.  Man alive!  I couldn’t do that if I was being chased by a madman with flippers and a hatchet.  They learned to dive off the blocks and glide before busting into their approximation of whatever stroke they were supposed to be swimming.  They learned that they rock at breaststroke (it runs in my family).  They learned about heats and times and what DQ means (not Dairy Queen).  They learned to lose, they learned to win.

And then there are the things that can’t be learned: some things you just bring with you.  We went to the swim banquet last night, which was hilarious in that it ended with nearly a hundred little kids in a dancing frenzy. I am so hiring this DJ for somebody’s birthday party when the time is ripe.  I kissed a girl and I liked it . .  The taste of her cherry chapstick. . . I can’t get this song out of my head!  I think some mothers found this wildly inappropriate for a bunch of children (it’s a girl singing), but you won’t find me getting all Tipper Gore.  Music is never the real problem.  It was a blast.  

So we were all basking in the afterglow of the kids getting their trophies topped with the little gold man and woman in start position, when all of a sudden Supergirl gets called up to receive the Team Spirit Award!  The little monkey!  First summer out of the gate, she’s one of the youngest kids on the team, can barely make it across the pool herself at first, yet she manages to give enough encouragement to the other water sprites to merit an award.  I never actually saw her cheering anyone on – mostly I saw her either eating Cheetos or Skittles or a cheeseburger flipped upside-down with one bun off – then again, I wasn’t really paying attention when the other kids swam (no team spirit award for me).  But, we’ve got the plaque to prove it, baby! 

I’m always quite touched and gratified when my kids are nicer than me.  When Saint James’ preschool teacher told me that he was the kid who was friends with everyone and that he was especially kind to one little shy girl with glasses and actually got her talking about movies, I just clutched my heart and sniffed contentedly.  So he’s not going to be a cliquey bitch like me, I marveled.  I think I actually did get the school spirit award in high school, but I was more of a Tracy Flick from Election:  the girl who insisted on planning everything because she had control issues.  Scary peppy. We’re going to have fun, or else!

250px-tracy_flickIt tickles my cockles that Supergirl’s team spirit just came right out of her own little self – unfiltered, unpremeditated, unforced.  Just pure joy and enthusiasm.  If the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, it must roll a little.

Jul 26 2008

Happy dominos.

tableOne thing leads to another.  On Wednesday night, I was planning on throwing some pizzas on the grill topped with nothing more than a little olive oil, fresh tomato, mozzarella and kalamata olives . . . maybe a little torn basil from the pot of it that’s growing gangbusters on my front step . . . cheese and pepperoni for the kids.  I also pulled some boneless pork ribs from the freezer with the intention of marinating them on Thursday morning to grill Thursday night.  When Saint James found out we were having pizza, he uncharacteristically squeak-groaned that he felt like steak instead.  I cannot say no to this boy.  And, moreover, I really cannot say no to someone who is jonesing for meat.  I’m like the kindly, weathered nurse at  a methadone clinic, but instead of rubber gloves and little plastic cups, I deal in oven mitts and barbeque tongs.  Maybe it’s the Argentine in me, but I firmly believe that if someone is craving beef, it’s because their body is in need of iron, protein, fat – whatever.  When you need a steak, you need a steak.  My mother flew to Boston after Saint James was born and what was the first thing she cooked for me when I got home from the hospital?  You guessed it.  It’s our comfort food.  So off to Kowalski’s I went, to purchase the prettiest ribeyes I could find, so that my little guy could get a belly full of beef.

So then on Thursday, I remembered the pork patiently defrosting in the fridge . . .  sigh . . .  I  wasn’t in the mood for  more grilled meat.  Plus, Saint James claims that pork makes him throw up.  Too bad for him.  Pig is neck and neck with cow in my book. If I had to pick one to join me on a deserted island, I would be utterly stymied.  I actually think I’d pick a pig.  A pig is smart and would probably be much better company up until the time I turned him into bacon and sausage.  He might even help me find some truffles before I ate him.  

In any event, I decided I’d cut the pork up and make a stew.  I sauteed some onions and shallots and garlic, browned the cubed pork, added some white wine and a few bay leaves, remembered some Spanish chorizo I had in the fridge and added some thin slices of that too.  Since it was turning out to be a Spanish-ish stew, I added some smoked pimentón and chickpeas.  And then I added some reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms for no other reason than they add a dark and dusky undertaste that I love.  So this big pot of toothsome stew is bubbling away, and I can tell it’s going to be good and way too much for us, so I decide to see if our next door neighbors, Red Vogue and Salt and Pepper Polymath, are free for dinner.  I know they would be cool with a last minute invite.  I also happen to know they like chickpeas.  Happily, they accepted and I inadvertently found myself tying my metaphorical apron strings and taking up the role of hostess again.  We haven’t had people over in eons because of this whole house situation, and truth be told, I miss it.  

Supergirl and Saint James went on a hunt for centerpiece fixings and came back with some pretty leaves and pine cones.  I had a bouquet that was half dead  from our last showing, so I threw it on the lawn with a couple scissors and told them to have at it.  They filled two tiny cups and a vase with their booty and the brilliant results are pictured above.  They helped me set the table and I, for one, ended up with a butter knife and a tiny coffee spoon, but no matter.  Doctor Dash picked up some olives and Manchego cheese on his way home.  I threw together a little salad with strawberries, gorgonzola and toasted pepitas.  Red and Salt and Pepper brought over a crusty baguette and a beautiful little chocolate torte from Rustica (man, do we have an abundance of good bakeries here in Minneapolis).

It felt good to set the table, to pull out my little bread plates and votives, the tiny ice bucket my mother brought me from Italy.  What a treat to eat in the dining room again “en famille.”  Dinner was its typical happy chaos, with the kids in full show-off performance mode.  They’re like the Van Traps, but instead of singing for our guests in pretty dresses and lederhosen, they climb the molding, jump off the furniture, wrestle with each other and otherwise cause a ruckus.  We were even treated to a school uniform fashion show.  Dinner parties at our house are never very relaxing and I imagine Salt and Pepper and Red went home and put icepacks on their heads, but they were fun, mellow, gracious and sweetly attentive to our wild children – good sports, as always.  

I suppose this is how our kids will learn to behave at a dinner party.  More importantly, I’m hoping this is how our kids will learn to treasure breaking bread with friends and family.  The ritual and comfort of planning and cooking a meal, of preparing the table, and of luxuriating over conversation, crumbs and sputtering candles will hopefully work itself into their little psyches.  If somehow this can become part of who they are, the simple act of sharing food will become almost reflexive, in times of celebration, in times of strife.  It will become a way of finding home, regardless of where their lives take them.  

And if anyone needed a reminder, it was me.  Sitting down to dinner is so essential to our sense of well being.  When I think about it, every dinner party we have ever been to or hosted has always, always filled us with a sense of bonheur and grace, of feeling part of something special and important.  

Here’s to feasts with loved ones.  Chin chin!

Jul 24 2008

Another of life’s pleasures.

yogamatAnyone who knows me knows I’m having a bit of a moment.  I generally exist on a relatively even keel, but these days, all bets are off.   (See last two entries for proof).  I was feeling so forlorn that I decided I would stay the hell off this blog until I had something positive to write about.  It’s simply boring to listen to someone rant all the time – just like it’s boring to see a slutty dresser in yet another slutty skirt.  But put a normally buttoned-up mama in a slutty skirt, and you’ll hear the heads swivel.  Va va voom!  

In any event, the solution to my pent up feelings of angst turned out to be rather simple: yoga.  I simply went to yoga.  Well, not simply.  I had to perform Nadia Comaneci-worthy scheduling gymnastics, but I stuck my landing:  I found a sitter and an hour and forty-five minutes before a swim meet in Wayzata to sneak away.  I love and adore yoga despite the fact that I am so bad at it – both mentally and physically.  I can’t focus and quiet my mind to save my life.  On the physical side, as far as I have been able to determine, there is a strength/flexibility yin yang to it all.  I list way to the strong side of things (although I don’t hold a candle to my friend Crackerjack, who is remarkably strong . . .) and I am highly inflexible.  I have further determined that it’s not my muscles that are tight, it’s my sinews – my tendons and ligaments, the way my joints are jointed – I’m kind of like the Tin Man.  This is why I started yoga about four years ago – I don’t want to end up like my grandmother who was about as hunched and stiff as the wooden cane she shuffled around with, but could lift a small car.  So I go to yoga when I can, and I try my hardest to open up all those tight areas on my body, to breathe into them so that I can reach into new space.  And in the process, I learn humility, patience, acceptance.  Or, at least I try.  But that’s not where I was going with all of this.  

What I was going to say is that washing my yoga mat is one of life’s pleasures for me.  I can’t imagine there are too many people who share this sentiment, but I have my reasons.  First of all, if I’m spraying down my yoga mat draped over my adirondack chair, it means I’m all blissed-out after having made it through a particularly sweaty and challenging class.  It also means it’s summer and I love summer.  It also means that now that I have the hose out, I get to water my herbs and flowers too and I love killing multiple birds with one stone.  Finally, and best of all, it means next time I go to yoga, my mat will not smell like cheesy biscuits.

Jul 22 2008

My existential howl.

shapeimage_2-4_4What exactly am I doing with this blog?  I feel as if I am just spewing words into the ether.  I suppose the black background doesn’t help matters.  Words plummeting into a black hole.  Also not helping is the fact that I have no way of knowing if anyone ever reads, except for a few of my sweet friends who, from time to time, reach out and let me know that they do.  I haven’t figured out how to put a comments button or an email-me button on this blog.  I haven’t figured out if I want to.  

The other day my neighbor, who has recently reentered the workforce after being home with her kids for many years, casually mentioned that she googled someone in preparation for a meeting.  I know this is common practice – I’m not that much of a yokel, but it struck a chord in me (a low melancholy one).  If someone googled me, there would be nothing.  Nothing.  I felt like nothing.  At least when I was working you would have pulled me up in Martindale-Hubbell, the lawyers’ directory, or on my firm’s web page.  

And have I googled myself to find out?  Good God, NO!  I am already teetering on the brink of despair and existential dread.  I would probably burst into tears at a response from Google like: Did you mean: Gabriela Sabatini?  Or worse yet, countless entries for another woman with my name, but with an alternate, interesting, exciting life . . . a foreign correspondent, a microbiologist, a ballerina, a large animal veterinarian, an avant-garde chef.  

If the Existentialists are right, and existence precedes essence, then my not existing in cyberspace leaves me feeling like a speck of dust, being buffeted around by the wind, visible to no one.   Peevish Mama exists, and I could easily type my name right here and set down a frail and tenuous root for myself, but that wouldn’t really solve anything.

If one’s essence is defined by one’s actions – how one navigates and acts in this world, then everything I do (and don’t do) in a day, cuts right to the core of who I am.  When I chose to stay at home with my children, I was ecstatic to step out of the rat race, to leave behind the machine, to extricate myself from the daily grind of law and commerce.  My children and my home felt like a haven from all of that stress and nonsense and I craved the comfort and the time and the leisure to simply exist in their presence without producing or accomplishing anything.  And to tell the truth, I worked long enough to know that I don’t miss it one bit.  I chose this life, eyes wide open, after ten years of law firm life.  

But just because one chooses something, doesn’t mean it’s all roses and daisies.  (I fully admit to being a chronic malcontent – that’s sort of my baseline.  But in my defense, I do question, I do wonder, I do try to make some sense of it all and I do try to be mindful of my blessings.  I really do).  It’s just that sometimes, when the only witnesses to your day are babies, you start to feel invisible.  When your accomplishments are intangible and non-detectable on a day to day basis (e.g., happy, well adjusted kids) or edible (e.g., dinner), you start to feel inconsequential.  What do I have to show for this?  I feel like I’m part of a shadow society – like illegal aliens – no one really sees or acknowledges or cares about what I do everyday, yet what I do everyday is essential.  Believe me, I know the comparison ends there.

Few people will say it out loud, but raising kids is a grind and although there are moments of true loveliness that bubble through unexpectedly, most of it is rather monotonous and a bit of a struggle.  It is HARD to listen to a seven and five year old fight all day long.  It is HARD to say no to a two year old when she wants a third popsicle – a two year old who will simply scream “pocolo” over and over and over for however long it takes.  She’s got nowhere to go, nothing else to do.  She knows she has more time than me, so she gets comfortable, throws herself on the ground and from her supine position, yells at me until I cave.

If I had a comments box, someone might write to me in capital letters: THERE IS NO JOB MORE IMPORTANT THAN RAISING CHILDREN!!  I know that, and I agree (at least for myself).  There is no job more important to me, than raisingmy children.  And yet . . . and yet, I can’t help but wonder . . .

Is this blog is my existential howl?  My attempt to bear witness to myself?  Before I disappear?

Jul 20 2008

Vitriolic Mama.

karymsky-volcano-kids-958763-gaOur neighbors had a conversation with the people who looked at our house this morning, the people for whom I cleaned for two and a half hours.  Apparently, they like the house, they like the yard, they like the location, but the dad has allergies so he’s a little disappointed that this 1921 house doesn’t have central air.  Waaah, waaah.  How about we throw in a year’s supply of Claritin, you fucking baby.

This whole exercise of selling our house has made me hate people even more than I did before.  I have moved beyond peevish, through livid and burned right into vitriolic.  These are troubled times and I am hell on wheels.  I have lava in my gut, hot coals between my ears.  If I yelled at you, your eyebrows would be scorched and you’d be left quaking in a swirling cloud of acrid smoke and believe you me, your knees would be clacking.  If we get one more comment about the lack of a first floor bathroom, I will move to Costa Rica.  I am not joking.  I will forever forsake this nation of toilet-obsessed, nature-averse, histrionic, asthmatic, incontinent, spoiled FUCKERS.  And to add to my red hot ire, the word “fucker” is underlined by my spellcheck.  Is it not a word?  Is it only a proper noun?  How am I supposed to express myself?


Jul 19 2008


shapeimage_2-6_4My friend, Lunch Lady Rocker Chick, wrote a piece about nannies, the gist of which is: don’t be a bitch to the kids you are being paid handsomely to care for because we mothers are watching you, we’re onto you, and just because you look better than us in a bikini, doesn’t mean we won’t take your sorry ass down and make you wish you had never gotten out of your canopy bed this morning.  I think, anyway.  She was telling me about her article after many drinks imbibed while watching a bad dad band (that’s a band, consisting of dads, who should, frankly, keep their day jobs.  Doctor Dash has had it with the dad bands.  “No one would burn a night out watching me play hockey just because I was decent in high school,” he groans.  He has a point.)  In any event, I will insert a link to her article when it’s published and I figure out how to accomplish that complicated technical maneuver.    

I have been outraged twice in the last two days by, not a nanny, but a granny.  These two sweet little boys at the pool are under the care of one mean fucking grandmother.  She yells at them, berates them, attempts to quash normal boy behavior, and wields the guilt scepter like the evil queen that she is.  A physical description is in order because she’s sitting right in front of me and I can’t resist.  Her hair is a carefully whipped blond meringue, the kind that gets washed and set once a week at her salon for old bitches.  It’s looking a little crushed in the back and I bet it’s starting to get stinky.  (I would stick my nose in it and sniff it for a hundred bucks, but not for ten).  She has huge white sunglasses with some faux bling encrusting the thick stems (I actually kind of like them in an Elton John – I don’t give a fuck if I look ridiculous kind of way).  She is wearing lots of gold jewelry, a white cotton v-neck sweater and navy linen pants, held up over her small paunch by a gold braided belt.  She is sporting a fresh manicure and pedicure (her nails are red squared-off talons).  Her lips are bright pink and she has drawn in the lips she wishes she had with a shaky, dark lipliner.  Nice.  The powdery scent of her perfume keeps wafting over to me from time to time.  In short, she seems better suited for eating cashew chicken salad at the Galleria Mall in her metallic sandals (come to think of it, I like those too) than watching two boys.  Yesterday as she was shooing the boys into her car I heard her screech, “A storm is coming and you only care about yourselves and we’re all going to get killed and then you’ll be sorry!”  Even my kids were aghast.  My only hope is that she doesn’t spend too much time with these guys.  But here she is again, barking their names from under the shade of an umbrella, cleaning the crud from under her nails with her other nail.  Oh, she’s too terrible.  A modern day witch.  

I’ve got my eye on you, lady. 

Jul 17 2008

Storm pleasure.

shapeimage_2-7_3A storm is brewing.  Could there be anything more delicious in the dog days of summer than a wicked, knock down, drag out thunder storm?  There’s the relief from the wet-dog-fur-coat humidity implicit in a good storm.  There’s the forced nesting – something we have too much of in the winter, but not nearly enough of in the summer.  I have a compulsion for being outside when the sun is shining.  If I’m inside, I feel guilty, like I’m frittering away a precious commodity.  We have all the windows open and the lights off.  Devil Baby is scampering about naked.  The wind is picking up and the trees are whispering in agitated voices.  The drumbeats are starting up in the distance, a portent of the tempest fast approaching.  Baby, it’s time for a show.

Jul 15 2008

Big Mother is Watching.

meI’m having a personal pendulum swing moment.  After years of watching my children like a hawk, not letting them go anywhere without me, hovering, ever vigilant, scanning the horizon for signs of danger – pitbulls, clowns, men in trench coats, fat ladies with puppies and candy, rusty vans – I am starting to mellow.  In my gut, I have been feeling like Saint James and Supergirl need a little space, a little freedom – for them, for me.  Maybe I’m just exhausted and the jagged edges of my catastrophe-addled mind are being worn smooth by the day to day struggle of keeping everyone fed, dressed, relatively clean and happy.  Or maybe, just maybe, I’m doing that thing that we humans do so well – I am learning.

Stranger danger.  There is nothing, and I mean NOTHINGmore terrifying than the thought of my child being abducted.  It is the stuff of nightmares and masochistic calamitizing.  (To calamitize is to imagine horrible scenarios, letting them play out in your mind in painfully vivid detail.  I thought I was the only one who did this, who could literally make myself cry imagining, for example, my funeral, my kids and husband sitting in a pew with their dear heads bent, sobbing, dressed like somber mismatched ragamuffins.  Then I started to ask some friends and it seems many women and girls do it – it’s not so much a guy thing.  Why would you do that? asks Doctor Dash, mystified by the strange and alarming workings of my mind.  I’m not sure why I do it.  Is it preparation?  An attempt to ward off horrible events?  You know, the whole if you think about it, it won’t happen theory?  Somewhere, I stumbled upon the term calamatizing and just having a name for these peculiar self-induced flights of the psyche appealed to my need to categorize things.)  In any event, the combustible combination of the media’s bloodthirsty, sensationalistic, scavenging coverage of abduction cases, muddled with my own calamitizing could easily send me over the brink, imagining pedophiles and kidnappers lurking in every nook and cranny.  

Fortunately, although I do have a vivid imagination, I have an adequate grip on reality.  I know that the incidence of abduction by strangers has not increased in the last fifty years, it’s just that we hear about cases in Florida and Nebraska on the news so it feels like it’s happening every day, in our own back yards.  It’s fear mongering, plain and simple, and I have been feeling the need to push back.

To me, the trick has always been to keep a watchful eye on my guys, without their knowing it.  If they can’t actually have the freedom we had to run around the neighborhood all day, returning home sweaty, dirty and mosquito-bitten at dusk, then they at least deserve to have the perception of freedom.  I have always felt this in my core, in an amorphous, non specific way:  there cannot be too much fear, or there will be no courage.  

And now I’m reading this book.  (You knew I was gearing up for something).  The book is called Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louve, and it is rocking my world.  It’s one of those books that is compelling and provocative and perfectly pitched for where I am right now.  Louv’s message dovetails with the vague stirrings I’ve been experiencing.  Embedded within his larger message about the crisis being brought about by divorcing our children from unfettered, unstructured contact with nature (more on that at a later date, for sure), is a discussion of stranger danger.  It is one of many reasons our kids are being shooed out of the woods and into their homes. 

What struck me most about all of this is that by attempting to protect our children, we may actually be putting them at greater risk.  In short, by keeping them safe inside, we are basically raising a bunch of pussies.  He didn’t quite put it that way, but that’s the gist.  Kids need real world sensory experience, idle dream time, space for imaginative play, opportunity for spontaneous socializing and conflict resolution.  These things breed self confidence, inner fortitude, street smarts, world smarts – the first lines of defense against bad people.  We don’t want our kids to be afraid of all adults – what kind of adults will they be?  We want them to be open, to be community minded, to be involved and engaged in the lives of the people around them, to be able to discern the good guys from the bad guys (and not just on a video screen).  If everyone is out and talking to and watching out for each other, it makes for a safer and healthier community.  How likely is a kid to care about the old lady down the street when he grew up with a joy stick in one hand and a bag of Cheetos in the other?

So in reading this book, I have shifted from believing that my kids need to experience perceived freedom to believing that they need real, actual freedom.  They need to brush up against the world, with all its potholes and dark corners, and feel empowered to navigate it.  I’m not at all sure how to go about this.  I haven’t even begun to figure this out.  I can only hope that in my awareness and intent lie the seeds of change.  We all want to keep our kids safe.  But at what cost?  

Jul 12 2008

Slipping. Slipping fast.

shapeimage_2-9_2This past week I was about ready to turn in my mother license.  I was horrible.  Crabby. Impatient.  Everything was annoying me, mostly my children with all their NEEDS.  If I have to rip open and dump another box of Annie’s mac and cheese into boiling water, I will start to scream and I won’t be able to stop.  Mac and cheese has become a total farce in our house.  I pretend to make them a meal (which I know I’m not because it’s just starch and fat and whatever corn-based Franken-glue they use to bind it all together).  They pretend to eat it (which they don’t, because they don’t actually like mac and cheese, and why would they?  It tastes like playdough vaguely infused with what an extraterrestrial would imagine tastes like cheese based on reports from planet earth).  I pretend that they ate it as I dump the congealed orange clumps into the sink.  And then we all pretend that the pretzels and cheese and popsicles and popcorn and watermelon and Doritos and granola bars and grapes that they eat the whole rest of the day are just snacks and desert, as opposed to actual meal substitutes.  Very bad.  Very bad, indeed.

But it gets worse.  The Tooth Fairy, that indolent, irresponsible, dental whore, has FOR THE SECOND TIME, failed to fulfill her duties to Saint James.  That slut was probably smoking a cigarette in bed with one of her cheesy dentists, her sack of quarters strewn over the shag carpeting in a fit of passion.  Or, more likely, she was on her hands and knees, her rump in the air, searching for all the baby teeth that fell out of her pockets when she was pretending to laugh at his teeth jokes.  The first time she forgot to show, I had to tell the kids to go back upstairs to look again and frantically threw a couple bucks into a big wooden urn thing we have by the fireplace, concocting some farfetched story that she probably had to rush out of here when Doctor Dash got up to pee.  Not that I needed any improvement, but parenthood has made me a pretty good liar.  Anyone who says they don’t lie to their kids is a liar.  

And this morning . . . this morning my heart is breaking because Saint James announced in a flat voice, scarcely moving his eyes from the Saturday morning cartoons, that the Tooth Fairy didn’t come.  Like he’s been burned by this dirty vixen one time too many, and now knows what the rest of the world knows: she’s a slovenly hussy and she can’t be trusted.  So, stupid, desperate, chastened me, I smuggle a couple bucks upstairs and throw them into his pillow, knowing it’s too late to actually take the tooth.  A few minutes later when I pretend to make this befuddling discovery, Saint James mutely takes the money and stuffs it into his red British phone booth piggybank.  

Best case: he’s puzzling over the possibility that she missed the tooth, like he missed the money the first time he checked his pillowcase.  

Worst case:  he realizes that the Tooth Fairy is a slothful slacker and a forgetful shit head.  

Worst-worst case: he realizes she is me.

Jul 9 2008

Duped by Dr. Scholl.

drscholllAbout thirty years ago, I got my first pair of Dr. Scholl’s sandals.  They were navy blue and I had to beg for them.  Everyone had a pair, including the mother of my Belgian friend, Effi.  Effi’s mom was, in retrospect, a very sexy Belgian.  She had long straight hair, high cheek bones, perfectly crooked teeth and (aside from her Dr. Scholl’s) many non-sensible shoes that Effi and I used to love to wear around.  (Her father also had a huge collection of Playboys that we used to pilfer and spirit away to the basement for sessions of neck craning naughty giggling, but that has nothing to do with Dr. Scholl.  Even then, I knew the presence of these magazines had something to do with them being liberal Europeans).  

Our favorite pair of Effi’s mom’s shoes was a high, high, stiletto sandal.  The heel was wood, or wood-like and the strap was suede, or suede-like.  They might have been Candies.  Ultra sexy.  Since there were only two of these puppies, Effi and I would split them, limping around until we grew tired.  Sometimes we would make faux long nails with Scotch tape painted with nail polish.  Then we would lounge on the couch eating buttered bread sprinkled with sugar (a Belgian children’s snack?), trying to keep our nails from sticking to the bread and languidly stretching our one grown-up looking leg into the air.  

Needless to say, big heavy clunky wooden slip-on sandals were not the ideal summer shoe for a child of eight, and I although I found them quite fetching, they were incredibly uncomfortable, so I never wore them.  Surprise surprise, my mother was right.

And now, thirty years later, I was casting about for an alternative to my poser surfer Reef flip flops and I remembered my Dr. Scholl’s from yesteryear.  Perfect, right?  For one thing, I simply adore the idea of an exercise sandal, one that tones and shapes your legs as you walk – one with therapeutic benefits for the phalanges.  Furthermore, that clunk, slap, clunk, slap they make is super sexy.  Now that I’m older than Effi’s mom was at the time, I figured I could probably rock the Dr. Scholl’s like she did.

So they came today.  In white, no less.  Very very nice.  Only, God dammit, these fiendish shoes are as uncomfortable as I remember.  They are heavy and awkward and although they look good in a bit of a retro way, they will hardly do for the quick surges I need to catch Devil Baby when she darts off in a parking lot.  The box says: “feel crazy good”.  But they don’t feel crazy good at all.  They feel crazy bad.  Man, am I a sucker.  Twice was I suckered by that shady foot doctor. 

Dr. Scholl, if you are still alive, you are so on my shit list.  Again.  

I’ve decided, however, they will be my Adirondack chair shoes, perfect for lounging, reading and drinking wine. So if you’d like to see them, drive on by and I will be languidly stretching my grown-up looking legs into the air (minus the Scotch tape nails and Playboys).

Jul 8 2008

I’m simply all a dither!

I just saw Kate DiCamillo, walking along my very own path by the creek!  There she was!  With a scruffy dog that looked just like Winn Dixie!  Wow.  She’s a hero of mine.  I once read that she started writing by promising herself she would write one hour every day, no matter what.  I think of her often.  She’s a perfect example of what a little hardheaded perseverance (and a whole hell of a lot of talent) can yield – beautiful magical books that manage to bewitch children and adults alike, fancifully woven tales chocked full with lessons about perseverance, loyalty, and friendship.  She’s great. 

despereauxAnd I can’t believe I saw her today of all days!!!  I just started The Tale of Despereaux last night with Supergirl.  Of all the gosh darn coincidences!  On Sunday we saw the preview for the movie, so I made a deal with Supergirl that we would go to see the movie after I read the book to her.  Saint James and I have done that so many times, but Supergirl has yet to experience the delicious sense of anticipation, the time and rigor involved in reading and savoring a whole big complicated book and the LESSON, that all important no-other-way-to-learn-it lesson:  THE BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN THE MOVIE.  (Not that I’m in any way dogging movies – I love movies!  In fact, if it had been Joel and Ethan Coen on the path today, an industrial-sized spatula would have been required to scrape up my swooning carcass.  I’m simply saying, if there is a source and a derivative, go to the source.)  After reading the first Harry Potter book and watching the movie, Saint James quietly observed that there is a lot more stuff in the book.  Indeed there is, young Jedi, indeed there is.  

So back to Kate DiCamillo, who is one of the people I mildly stalk out of sheer admiration (the other is Dara Moscowitz who used to write wildly colorful and entertaining restaurant reviews for the City Pages and has moved on to other things but who should come back because her successor is boring and bland and safe and makes me never want to eat out again.)  Kate was walking along in a brown t-shirt and jeans.  Imagine that!  Blue jeans!  On this hot steamy day.  Surely she was just clearing her head, having left her laptop open, the fan blowing on her empty chair.  Maybe she’s having trouble with a turn of phrase, an ending, a character’s motivation.  Oh, sooooo coooool!  I’m such a loser writer wannabe.

And what a perfect level of celebrity/anonymity!  Authors are virtually unrecognizable except to people who have read their stuff.  It’s a totally self selecting audience:  if you’re a successful self-help guru, the needy and suggestible will flock to you; if you’re Danielle Steele, slightly tacky,  overweight lonely hearts with fresh manicures and garish clothes will be your fan base; if you’re Martin Amis, borderline alcoholics with a penchant for dark, smart (sometimes sick, but always brilliant) humor will be the only ones to glance twice when you get your morning coffee.  Do you think Brad Pitt could have survived a fatwa?  

If you are recognized at all, it is for something that has come from your brain and your heart and your guts.  It is very pure, yet contained.  (O.K., I’ll admit it, I’ve daydreamed of book tours and signings, the gorgeous outfits I’d pull together to sit on a stool and read from my novel . . .  I would always bring a glass made of glass for ice water – no plastic bottles for me, please . . . she’s really cool and down to earth, except for her water bottle issue – she gets quite peevish about plastic, apparently . . . )   

I might have been imagining it, but Kate seemed to have a wary look on her face when she passed by me.  It could have been my crazy fierce arm pumping fast walking, my enormous smudged sunglasses, or the goofy look on my face.  Or maybe she’s used to women my age gushing all over her, trying to get her autograph for their children, thanking her for her lovely books full of whimsy and heart.  

I didn’t interrupt her walk.  I would never.  That’s what I love about fans like me . . . (But just for the record, if I ever become a famous author, please, please feel free to stop me and tell me how much you love me.)

Jul 7 2008

Oh sweetness.

fingerOn Saturday Saint James jacked his pinky playing soccer with some neighbors.  By the end of the day it was a swollen little sausage.  Yesterday Doctor Dash took him to get x-rayed and it was confirmed: a fracture.  Total nightmare for summer.  No swimming, no soccer, no piano, no tennis, no nothing.  My heart sank when I watched the little guy get out of the car with an enormous splint on his hand.  

So I did what any good mom would do.  I took him to a movie.  We were waiting in line for tickets to Wall-E with Supergirl and poor Saint James rested his splinted hand on my arm (it gets tiring to hold it up all the time).  His pinky and ring finger had been taped together, and I remarked that those guys were going to get to be really good buddies after this experience.  Saint James’ response slayed me.  “They’re already best friends.”  When I asked him why, he said, “They always move together . . . they like to stay near each other.”

Because talking to children is often like talking to a stoned person (in that you talk about really cool stuff, or really mundane stuff that seems really cool at the time, or you think about stuff in a really cool new way), the logical next step was to ask him about the relationships between his other fingers, since he has evidently given this some thought.  

Me:  So what about the thumb and pointer?  

Saint James:  They’re just good co-workers.


Jul 4 2008

Happy Independence Day.

July FourthOr as I like to say, Happy Cojones Day.  Our founding fathers had some big balls.  Seriously.  Although I took AP history with Sister Whalen, a nearly deaf, bewhiskered nun with a tremulous voice, I failed to appreciate at the tender age of seventeen, exactly what it meant to declare independence from Britain.  How scary could the British have been, with their bad food, bad teeth and dry wit?  Surely, they looked like pansies in their bright red uniforms, marching in stiff lines and columns.  Not very creative.  Not very scrappy.  I hated American history and spent my time making high humming noises causing Sister Whalen to fuss around with her hearing aid in a futile effort to correct the frequency.  

Then last summer a friend invited me to the Guthrie to see a show and I said YES OF COURSE! and then she sent me the link to the play and when I read that it was a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I groaned and resigned myself to a long night of torturous male a cappella zaniness (albeit in the company of fabulous women).  If I had had to concoct a play I was less interested in seeing, I would have been hard pressed.  I hate musicals (except for Annie and Grease).  As it turns out, it was phenomenal.  1776 was brilliant.  It was edifying, funny, romantic, smart.  I LOVED it and had an epiphany – American history is actually kind of cool!  Kind of really cool!  It’s not about memorizing all the presidents in order.  It is about ideas and ideals, about creating something new – a new baby country!  Heady indeed.

And it has taken the beautifully done HBO miniseries, John Adams, to really bring to life for me what was at stake – what those guys sacrificed and put on the line for what they believed was the right course for the colonies.  Doctor Dash and I haven’t finished watching, but are enthralled with Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of a taciturn, idealistic and often socially and politically clumsy John Adams.  Now there’s a hero.  And Laura Linney – a gorgeously transparent actress, the woman behind the man, such a smart, intuitive, steadfast and calming partner for those trying times.  Putting Hollywood aside for a moment (which is hard for me), the series shows the struggles both internal (with one’s conscience and with the delegates of other colonies) and external (our poorly equipped farm boys against the British forces).  It shows the backbreaking toil involved in the war effort on everyone’s part – man, woman and child, and the solemn deliberation and heated debate that preceded even deciding to take the precipitous step of declaring independence.  These people put their lives on the line.  They were committing treason, punishable by death.  It really is incredible when you stop to think about it.

Doctor Dash and I asked ourselves: would we have had the courage?

And the document, the Declaration of Independence, is so thoughtful and momentous, penned mostly by Thomas Jefferson.  Oh what beautiful words . . . Oh, Tommie . . .  Who knew he was such a tall, handsome, debonaire wordsmith?  Sister Whalen certainly never told us.  Maybe we would have paid more attention had we known.   The Declaration of Independence is perfectly imperfect, poetically flawed by compromise and deliberate omissions in order to reach a greater good, a new state of being.  The issue of slavery had to be shelved in order to get the document ratified.  It took nearly ninety more years and a bloody civil war for the repercussions of that concession to play itself out (arguably, still a rolling stone).  Many of them, Jefferson included, fully apprehended the danger and hypocrisy inherent in allowing the issue to remain untouched, but such was the struggle . . . mere men, trying to create something better than, inured to, and in the service of mere men.

They were brave our founding fathers – tenacious, intelligent, fine writers and orators, conscious of the weight of responsibility on their shoulders, wary of the power in their hands.  We should be very very proud of how this country started, and today might be a good day to think about how we can recapture that spirit in a way that goes just a little beyond wearing a red visor, red sundress and red sandals.  (OK, I’ll admit it, I was fuming at the two melon ass of a woman stuffed into a red sundress today at the Edina parade for no better reason than it was hot as hell, crowded as hell, and she was just too matchy matchy . . .  my grievance may have been petty, yes, but it was far from unfounded.)  

So Happy Cojones Day – may we all have the balls and fortitude to fight for what we believe in.


Jul 2 2008

General Hasty strikes again.

shapeimage_2_5In college my housemates called me General Hasty because, well, I was prone to hasty generalizations.  Apparently I still am.  I realize that a couple blogs ago, I managed to potentially offend Edina moms and lesbians in one fell swoop.  Not an easy feat, but I managed to stay on topic and hit both demographics with a big fat hasty generalization.  

First of all, I apologize for implying that all Edina moms dress their daughters exclusively in Lilly Pulitzer and beribboned pigtails.  Surely not true.  I have met plenty of nice, mellow, edgy, crunchy moms on that side of France Avenue.  Well, a few anyway.  Scratch crunchy though – not a one of those.  It’s just that, blow for blow, you will find a hell of a lot more smocking, pink and green, and proper sandals on the mini chicks over there than you do over here.  No judgment.  I’m just saying . . .   Second of all, I apologize for insinuating that lesbians don’t like to shop.  Anyone who watches The L Word knows that all lesbians consistently knock it out of the park when they dress, as well as accessorize like nobody’s business.  Never have I coveted so many kick-ass necklaces.  I sort of aspire to dress like a chic lesbian myself.  In fact, when I became entrenched in watching The L Word, it dawned on me that I might have gotten a lot more play on the Isle of Lesbos, what, with my boyish figure, my quasi-mullet, my boot fetish and all.  Alas, not in the cards for me.

So lest the Edina mothers and the lesbians unite and form an angry mob and come after me – excuse me a moment while I savor that image – I preemptively offer my mea culpas, olive branches and all the rest.  

What I write, I write with love, because truth is, I gotta a little of both of you in me . . .

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