Saturday, May 29, 2010

the joy of discovery

"I just discovered something, Mommy. Wipe-off markers don't wipe off wood."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I can remember being on a flight once – pre-kid – when I was looking forward to viewing a movie, or, as they always like to suggest, to “sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.” Woe was me when I discovered the movie choice. A little flick by the name of “Lilo and Stitch.” You might be remember it. An animated film set in Hawaii about a freaky little alien beast who lands on Earth and tries to pass itself off as a pet dog. The young girl it attaches itself to is smitten and despite the penchant for trouble and insane habits of this repugnant creature, falls in love.

I was pissed off that this was going to be my movie, to the tune of an eye roll and an “Aw, geez! A kids' movie?!” Eighty minutes later I was wiping away a tear mumbling something about “Ohana means family (sniff)...”

Now I am not going to sit here and tell you that I have fallen in love with the evil poodle. Nor would I be surprised to discover it had connections to alien life forms. But I will admit that after eight days of feeding her and throwing her ball around the yard, she is almost, kind of, a little, cute when she bounds back with the slimy tennis ball and her ears bouncing; she likes to sit in my lap; and she's stopped barking so damn much. Mrs. Johnson is home. My flight has landed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

farmer's market day: an economy all its own

"It's really cool, Mommy, how when you give the farmers money, they give you back MORE money, so you can buy more things!"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

animal aberration

My neighbor, the famous cream puff-making, Isaac-spoiling, 83-year-old Austrian lady, is in the hospital. She fell hard on her knee in the yard and got one of those kick ass fractures reserved for people over the age of 65. She'll be in the hospital for a couple more days or so and then in a brace for six weeks. Kind of sucks, right? But it's at times like these that you find out things about yourself and others.

My neighbor's friend, Rose, has been over and under and all around helpful. Rose called Mrs Johnson's niece in Salzburg so she wouldn't worry when she made one of her twice weekly calls and didn't reach her aunt. Naturally, Ray will have to be notified. He'll be concerned about her. We also called Rich, a man who used to live in our house here and whom Mrs. Johnson has talked about many times. He has his own contract business and Mrs. Johnson needs a railing. He came over to access the job right away. This morning, its not yet 9:00 am and he's been there an hour already working on the project. “I'll always make time for Mrs. Johnson. She's good people,” he told me. And, of course, here I am right next door, obviously I'm going to do whatever I can to help. It's so interesting to witness what someone has built in their life. Looking at the trail of people waiting to assist this woman, I only hope I have a treasure chest equally full when I'm that age.
And help we will, even if it involves ... the dog. My widowed, childless, foreign-born neighbor's sole companion in the house that forever smells of those long brown European cigarettes and knitted afghans, is a white toy poodle.

Let me preface this next part by saying that I love animals. Except my neighbor's dog. That pretty much goes for our whole little crew.

The last time Mrs. Johnson was in the hospital, for something more serious, Rose took the dog home with her. “I'm not having that animal in my house again!” she says. “Crazy-ass dog,” Rich mumbles, shaking his head and trying to walk forward without crushing the hyper nutball under his boots. “If she keeps yipping like that, I'm afraid someone is going to shoot her!” I tell Mike, as I go to put her from the yard back in the garage again. “And I'm afraid it's going to be me!”

In a matter of 24 hours, she's crapped all over the garage, despite a doggie door, and covered herself in mud trying to tunnel her way out under the fence. I can't let her in the house because she'll eat the curtains. I can't let her in the front yard because she'll plot more ways of escape. She has an ear-splitting bark, no ability to stay still whatsoever, and no redeeming qualities at all, but for the fact that Mrs. Johnson loves this stupid dog like she's her daughter.

I always find this phenomenon curious. How people we otherwise think are great have some bizarre habit or desire, some passion or affiliation that we consider completely anathema to our own ideas or the rest of our lovely friend. Humans are multifaceted, that's for sure. Somewhere there is a man who knocked off a liquor store last night kissing his children goodbye at the school gates. (Yes, I have compared the love of a poodle to a life of crime, I would have gone farther if I thought I could get away with it. You have not met this beast!)

It's more than a little pressure trying to take care of something that is stressed out, prone to escape, and WON'T EVER STOP JUMPING.

At this moment, she's been quiet for 10 seconds and I'm worried she's dead. She's probably shimmied under the fence and burst into morning traffic, all 4.3 ounces of her poodley self, and run right under the wheels of a large square bread truck. But enough about my fantasies. I am praying for Mrs. Johnson to come home soon. Because I know she hates the hospital...and because cleaning up urine-soaked newspapers are not my favorite way to be neighborly.

Monday, May 17, 2010

school search, part I

I take in the scene and mumble under my breath. “Well, look at us now.”

We are standing in the middle of a 14-acres campus. There is an arch from nowhere to nowhere, bedecked with vines and sunflowers – all of them real and grown on the property. Plastic bottles have been cut into flowers and strung above the field. The play structures are adorned with colored ribbons; there is a maypole in the center, it's extended streamers of red, gold and green braided at the ends and awaiting small hands to dance with them around and around. People stand at tables making wreaths of cut flowers, selling all-natural popsicles for four tickets each. Most of them are wearing flowing, layered clothing and strappy sandals or no shoes at all. They give off a feeling vaguely reminiscent of a Renaissance Faire, only this is their everyday attire. Here and there a hand-painted sign is tacked up that reads something like “Kindness” or “Equality.”

Have we cracked up completely? If US Airways didn't still owe us to the tune of another $800, I swear I'd race to the nearest airport and fly east until I was safely over territory in which the people drop their r's from the ends of words adding them inexplicably to the ends of other words, where any idiot knows what it means to order a coffee - regulah - where sarcasm and snarky humor would take this scene, chew it up, and spit it out right along with their Coke: through the nose. I would para-freaking-chute down into that world, the one that's perfected the “Don't even think of talking to me” look and walk and forget this every happened.

Are we seriously considering sending our son to this freak hippie school?

Meanwhile, Isaac, notoriously reticent in new environments, skips ahead of us, watching uninhibited while eight-year-olds make enormous bubbles; the child even speaks to one of the teachers of his own volition. There are goats; there are trees to climb; he wants to surf the see-saw again.

It's pretty much on my list of goals in life: up there with my vow never to rent a bounce house for my son's birthday and to release all bowel movements into a functioning toilet. Though before today I gave it only peripheral attention, my list of goals includes never to be associated with any event or organization at which a maypole dance is danced around an actual maypole.

They've worn me down. It's been almost 13 years. Thirteen years out of 40. I'm no math genius, but that's more than a quarter of my life, over fifty percent of my adult years, living in California.

I think about getting Isaac registered here just for the endless writing fodder it'd provide me. I'd be a spy for the other side. But what is the other side? I thought that motherhood was the dawn of my identity crisis, but silly me, it'd happened years before that, when my life officially began as someone forever more bicoastal.

Someone hands me a petition for farmers to be able to grow hemp. I am light-headed from the smell of redwood; I am starting to cozy up to the idea of a patchwork prairie skirt, or growing my hair to my waist. They are dancing the maypole now, the colors are spinning. This must be how they do it. I thought it was hemp, but maybe I just signed my soul over to their cult. People are singing; Isaac wants to see the turtles again; the crystals are so shiny in the sun...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

my mama moved among the days
like a dreamwalker in a field;
seemed like what she touched was hers
seemed like what touched her couldn't hold,
she got us almost through the high grass
then seemed like she turned around and ran
right back in
right back on in

Lucille Clifton
(1936 - 2010)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Somewhere in Time

When you visit a town, it's always interesting to imagine if you could live there. I recently had the experience of being simultaneously drawn to and repelled by a locale. It was a small town, something of a throwback if you will, and charming, as small towns tend to be, and horrible, as small towns tend to be.

Mike made a stop into a locally-owned stationery store – an establishment one could refer to as a “corner variety” -- and emerged again, eyes bugging out of his head. “That place closed 20 years ago! It's just that nobody told them!” A serious time travel kind of place where you might expect to find Christopher Reeve (young, whole and alive), meet up with Jane Seymour (always stunning), just don't reach into your pocket for any pennies...Nearby on the street, we watched as a man in a long white beard, reflective vest, shorts and brown knee socks stopped traffic in the main intersection in order to pick up trash in the road.

Food joints are always telling. No matter the place, I can almost always find my cafe – it just takes one – the one with the community journal, the postcards for sale by a local artist, the killer avocado salad, and, if I'm really lucky, even the gluten-free options. I was in one of those cafes recently and while awaiting my tasty treat, a woman of no more than 30 walked in pulling behind her one of those shopping cart-type things which contained one straw hat, one newspaper, one banjo, and one copy of Magic for Dummies. I gasped audibly and clamped my hand over my mouth so that nothing else more offensive would escape. A wave of compassion for the town and this resident in particular rose to engulf my being. A spot that could accommodate this person as well as the tattooed, deep-voiced woman slapping my order on the counter was okay by me.

Dinner is another matter. Often I just give up. In my general experience, if you are following a sandwich board sign and descending stairs to a restaurant, you are headed for some meaty “American” food and a 17-year-old named Tiffany who will be-your-server-this-evening. In other words, you'll be hungry. The wave that engulfs me when Tiffany still hasn't brought the water I asked for 20 minutes ago to wash down the “food” in front of me is pure irritation, which interestingly, banjo-playing magician women forgotten, usually begins to extend to the whole of the human race.

I'm pretty sure that what makes an attribute for a town fall into the charming or horrible categories has much to do with whether or not you have, not just someone to share it with, but perhaps a community of folks to share it with. People who see things the way you see them. You gotta call kitsch kitsch. Otherwise, you may 1) go crazy or 2) loose all perspective and wake up one day to find your chic urban haircut grown out and in its place a bouncy side ponytail.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

remember when you had all the time in the world?

"Mommy, I'm counting to infinity."

"Oh, yeah?"

"What comes after one million twenty-five?"

"One million twenty six."

(mumble, mumble) "Thirty-two..." (mumble) "I'm mixed up. I'm just gonna start again. One, two, three..."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

the rule follower

My son is a rule follower. The boy was born with his very own caution meter.

He stops dead at corners and driveways. Passersby often watch in horror as my boy races ahead of me along the sidewalk, and just when they are about to move their gaping jaws to rip me anew one about my slack parenting, he puts on the brakes and screeches to a dead stop, averting danger. “Electric collar works every time,” I'm fond of saying to the would-be accusers while grinning a satisfied grin.

On the fateful day we went to register for track, we had been to the beach before stopping into the city recreation office. Both of us barefoot, I shoot a lazy gaze into the back seat. “You don't want your shoes on, do you?” I ask hopefully. “Nah.”

As we disembark from the Mazda, I make the mistake of noting to Isaac that we were “rebels” today – going in barefoot.
“What do you mean 'rebels'?” Isaac wants to know.

“Well, usually, we should have shoes on to go in the building.”

We are half-way up the walk, then, “Actually, mommy, I want my shoes.”

“Oh, Isaac, I was only kidding about the shoes,” I lie, still resolute in my laziness.

On our flight home from the vacation that wasn't, we had a rather bumpy ride skirting thunderstorms. At one point, the seat belt sign still lit but the current air smooth, Isaac announces he has to pee. We wait a while to see if the sign will turn off. It doesn't, and his subsequent reminders of pee necessity grow always more urgent.

“Let's go, then,” I suggest.

“But the light!!” comes my son's reply.

“Better than a puddle in your seat!”

I had to practically drag him down the aisle. I mean, we were in the back of the plane, as per freaking usual, and he's a boy for godssake - how long can it take? As long as it takes to push-pull 40 pounds of upstanding citizen into that two-square-foot space and jam closed the accordion door.

Then there's the 24-minute parking thing. Every city has its parking quirks, I guess. (If yours doesn't, just humor me here and make me feel better.) Touring comedians have chucked the entirety of their planned material to crack impromptu joke after impromptu joke razzing us about our green-painted spots where you are allowed to park for, yes, 24 minutes. How they ever decided on this amount of time, I couldn't tell you.

So yesterday, in trying to both get to the farmer's market and get home to meet Mike before he had to dash off to an evening meeting, we were short of time and not falling into the favor of the parking gods. Finally, I decide to settle for the dreaded green space, reasoning that we shouldn't dawdle anyway.

“Nooooo!” Isaac whines.

“Dude. What?”

“What if we don't make it back in time??”

He's five. What could be in that wild imagination of his? That the women in the stupid golf cart parking patrol cars, armed with their long sticks of chalk to mark tires will haul us away to be roasted by dragon fire should we arrive back to our vehicle 25 minutes after parking?

“Then mama gets a ticket.”

“And then what??”

The flames lick our chins and the spiky tail whips about with vengeance. Oh why??? WHY???? didn't we just drive around the block 30 more times? Or take the bus????

I like that he is attentive to law and order. And maybe it's just that a parent needs things to worry about. But, I worry.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Women and Food

Mike found this beaut of a “cookbook” during one of our trips to the dump. Copyright 1948. There is a photo of the back cover at the end of this post which explains a lot – don't cheat! No scrolling down! It's a little gem of a surprise waiting for you.

Been thinking a lot about food lately. What with my hot new one-stop tour almost ready to roll.

Been trying to write about food. Hypoglycemia and gluten-free don't ride smoothly into the stanzas of my poetry, though they are the biggest things on my plate (for future reference, puns always intended) at the moment. But I also realized how many of my poems leak food even when I don't intend it. Like the one about my grandmother. The grandmother I never met. It's an imagined scene, and intuitively, I set her among food, feeding people, among edible metaphors.

The poem begins:

Anna was in the kitchen
The windows were fogged,
pasta on the stove,
dough rolled thin on the counter,
more than enough.

A pickle crock figures prominently in the scene, a lunch pail. There is this bit:

after so many years, he, 
close to deaf, she, having to shout 
her love to him: Your shirts are pressed!
And the perfume smelling like cooking oil...

And on and on. Women and food. I have several unfinished pieces involving food that are neither here nor there in terms of prose or poetry. Like this snippet:

The cans of green beans in dubious liquid stocked my mother's cabinets like bomb shelter provisions. (Ed: To this day the woman prefers CANNED asparagus over the fresh version. Mom, I know you are reading this and let me announce to the internet that you are WEIRD, not to mention nutritionally challenged.) Food was what could be quickly made and quickly consumed off paper plates or flimsy silver trays where the courses were compartmentalized – even if the corn tended to trip here and there into its neighbor frame: the dark brown backdrop of the square of chocolate cake sitting still as a 70's game show prize.

You might imagine my shock then, when in the middle of college (after living on a diet of pizza, beer, local vodka, and Entenmann's banana chocolate crumb cake) I headed off to Mexico, in an "exchange" program for which there was no Mexican student with poor eating habits coming north to balance the transaction.

There, people picked lemons from their backyards; offered mangoes from branch to blender. It was my first lesson in eating from the earth. Mud pies no longer felt quite like simple child's play, but more like intuitive renderings of a life source.

Here, in California, years later, the roots of my dinner plate still astound. My friend offers me pears from her tree of which she complains, "It won't stop!"

And, here, in California, today, driving the highway, dodging merging flatbed trucks strapped with strawberries, I eye with suspicion, venom even, the new homes' serpentine line as it advances behind brown and green raised beds of seedling vegetables. Already it sits on land that used to reap food.

Food. Whole journals are dedicated to the stuff. And just when you thought it didn't matter anymore, it defines and redefines your identity for goodness sake...

Soul Food

A cluster of women
in traditional Korean dress
leaves the Mexican taquería
and crosses the street in front of the Ford pickup.
From high, bowed waists each skirt releases
its own soft color: mint, peach, custard, a velvety blue.
Their rich black hair is cut bluntly,
all just below the jaw line.
The wind billows their exaggerated skirts,
so that they look like bells or gumdrops
gliding along on the breeze.
I wonder where they came from
to appear here in the downtown crosswalk,
in the bustle of this
Saturday morning.
Perhaps the wedding food
left that much to be desired,
and they headed – in full regalia –
for the safety of a burrito and chips.

I picture those skirts
bunched into a vinyl booth
while a ranchera plays over the speakers.
I imagine them laughing together quietly,
as the Mexican hot chocolate arrives,
as they lick salsa from their fingers.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

and, anyway, we've BEEN to Dublin, OHIO...

How different can it be?? Ireland, Shmireland.

circa summer 1998 - the kitsch tour east to west. Mike getting his geek on in a field of concrete corn. Who could resist such superior demonstrations of geekness? So naturally, I married him.

Check the cut-offs on us both. Smoooooth.

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