Wednesday, December 31, 2008

another Wednesday morning

Welcome to the last day of the retrospective "December Flashback" series. And, it seems, the last day of 2008. Whoooooooosssshhhhhh!! (That was time going by.)

I'd like to thank you for your patience with my glance backwards -- sounds like I'm Lot's wife, really it was more a constant craning severely wrenching the neck (besides, you already know I'm the Mike's wife and while I'm working on building a mythology around that, it hasn't made it into history yet. For one of my favorite poems - "Lot's Wife" by the fabulous Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, click here).

The twelve days of flashback have been brought to you by KitnMike Productions, various brands of biodegradable laundry soap, and the letter K.

I am so very grateful for my small band of readers. I am a writer -- which means nothing if I don't have readers. So, thanks.

This is a brief one that also touches on a kind of gratitude. It's from 2006. It's called "Wednesday mornings."

Many good wishes for you all in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

only two days left!

...of 2008 *AND* the Fetal Positions December flashbacks.

[Make "Wayne's World," finger rippling, wavy hand motions here. And suddenly ... we find ourselves in...]


The end of the year brings on much contemplation, goal-setting, and other vices. I am often talking about community, and it started early in my blogging career. I am often wondering if this place or where else is the right place for us to live, and it's only intensified since getting pregnant. In the 2004 entry "does size matter?" both of these topics are batted about. And here are a couple pictures that go with the entry - Mike and I on Catalina Island, circa baby in belly.

Monday, December 29, 2008

you guessed it - we're still going backwards

The flashbacks today are in honor of my sisters - both of whom sent Isaac presents that arrived today.

For my sister Rita, from December 2006, I bring you "Dr. Duck." Aunt Rita came through with - among other things - Isaac's only gift book this year, a very funny one featuring a grumpy and clever duck called Thump, Quack, Moo: A Wacky Adventure.

And from December 2007, here's "slippery slope" for my sister Ruth who went all crazy-aunt on us and sent Isaac running wildly in circles with a real live train set. She's complained in the past about not being able to send Isaac things like lollipops because we are bizarre and don't often offer random colored blocks of teeth-wrenching sugar to our child. She'd be pleased to know of Isaac's first candy cane this year, though it was blueberry - he hates mint.

Speaking of teeth wrenching...The gifts showed up amidst a very busy schedule and a dental diagnosis I hoped never to hear -- R-O-O-T-C-A-N-A-L. (Hey! How YOU spending your Tuesday afternoon this week?? Bet you'll beat ME.) Isaac was pretty happy to come home from having to hang out at the dentist's office and play with new stuff.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


A pair of old entries today that lean on contemplation and, to some extent, melancholy.

I am still in search of my "gathering of grandmothers," though I first wrote about it while I was pregnant, back in 2004. I wasn't the kind of person who was knocked over cold by the difficulty of parenting. It is just as difficult as I imagined.

And I came into it in a way that may be different than your average Mommy n Me enthusiast. The other piece for today is from last year; it's titled "visitation."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

on the eighth day of flashback December, my blogger friend gave to me... entry from December 27, 2004 - pregnancy days. Days of speculation and indigestion. Days of apparently enough time to write lots of blog entries.

"Virtual fears" is one in which you get to listen in on another bizarro adventure with raccoon poop, Mike and Kitty in conversation and the encroaching world. Well, with that recommendation, what are you still doing reading this?? Click the link for goodness sake!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

today's December flashback

December 2006 seems to have had a plethora of entries (as opposed, for example, to 2005, which has exactly one, perhaps I'll link it next week).

The day after Christmas with all of its anti-hype can leave one feeling off-center -- something akin to waking from a dream, remembering only half of it, or the geographic details but not the motives, or the emotional ebb and flow but none of the faces. Last night I dreamed -- my friend Mary, a cliff, a small town diner. It was interesting and I want to go back and finish the story, but that's not likely; it's gone.

Parenting too gives me the sense often of vague, unfinished scenes... Probably because the constant whining I endure makes my brain foggy and every flipping scene I enter -in fact- go unfinished. But enough with the analogies...

Here's an entry from December 14, 2006 entitled "dream states."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

flashback December - 2004

Merry Christmas, all!

Here's one that put the "fetal" in Fetal Positions. It's from 2004, when I was still pregnant, and I'm cheating just slightly because it's actually from November 30 -- so much for my own rules. I'm going to guess that it may be a little different than other Christmas Day blogs... Here is "What Child Is This?"

(Please note that the grilled cheese link in that one no longer works, sorry.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa's sleigh and variations on Rudolph in the key of wacky toddler

Here's Isaac's version of Santa's sleigh. The role of Santa this year will be played by Bear. The sleigh is constructed from Emily's cat bed and his stuffed animals - some of which are toys in the sleigh and some of which are playing the part of reindeer.

Isaac is fond of the reindeer, which, as you may be aware are also known as caribou.
While we were in Seattle we visited the zoo. Not my favorite activity, but there we were. Isaac talked constantly beforehand about seeing the lions. He rushed us through the elephant pond, the bats, the flamingos to get to the lions. He wondered aloud if the lions would be roaring.

When we finally made it to the lions, they were in plain sight. A male and female put on a little show for us, teasing each other. Here it was, my son's dream come true. A zoo volunteer crouched down next to him. "Are the lions your favorite animal in the zoo? Have you been waiting to see the lions?" Isaac considered the woman for a long moment before stating solemnly, "My favorite animal is a caribou."

Christmas Eve flashback

It's Christmas Eve 2008. But wait...


****************It's Christmas Eve 2006********************

The entry is called "warm wishes."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

more flashback December

Two more holiday-ish entries of the past. We're in 2007 again -- which is known, alternately, as "just last year" and "a whole year ago."

Isaac's begun the begging -- The poor, tortured soul MUST open his presents RIGHT. NOW. So, I thought of this entry from December 22, 2007 called "spoiling the surprise."

And for the tree enthusiasts out there, from December 12, 2007, this one called "it followed me home, can I keep it?"

Reduce, reuse, recycle ... your blog entries. Cheers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

why poetry gets a bad rap

I just received this as an email from the local children's museum. My goodwill toward men is not thriving at the moment. I could say more, but maybe I shouldn't. I think the "poem" speaks for itself.

It's holiday time, ho, ho, ho!

A time to reflect, a time to grow

Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanza, they

Teach about giving every day

Read this poem all the way through

Then think about what you'd like to do

Scholarships, the Wheelie Mobilee, exhibits, all

Need lots of funding-please answer the call

MY Museum is open and operating and we are happy as can be

If you haven't seen the place you must come by and see

Your support is needed 'cause this year will be a big one

Happy Holidays to all... we wish you joy and tons of fun!!!

flashback December #3

Welcome to another edition of FLASHBACK DECEMBER. Today I have two for you.

One from this very day last year -- Isaac's letter to Santa. Here is the one he dictated this time around:

(Dec 18, 2008)
Dear Santa,

I want a fire truck, please, a big one. And a dinosaur set. And a big, scary dinosaur walk by itself. And a little toy rocket ship. (My pleas to inquire as to Santa's well-being, or the weather in Lapland go unheeded...) A monster truck that makes sound but not drive by itself, and tall. (My comments about caring and love being more important than toys are actively ignored...)

Please go to the red church and mama gonna go get the presents for mama and daddy and Little Boy.

** Mama? What you guys want?

Hi, Santa, it's Mama. I would like socks and warm tights - brown and black and white, please, or you can be creative. And I'd like the chance to exercise more and I'd like to live closer to the farmer's market.

** How Santa gonna bring you exercise?
Well, Santa might whisper in your ear while you're sleeping, 'Isaac, tell Mama you want to go for a long walk and stay in the stroller.' So then you can do that and you get to be one of Santa's helpers. That's part of how Santa's magic works. What do you think? (Puzzled look, then:)

And you can send anything else you want the elves to make.

Love, Isaac
It is notable for his father and I that there is zero mention of the wooden car track he talked non-stop about for weeks and that we killed ourselves to find for him and did.

Isaac recently declared that he was sure everything wrapped under the tree so far was a dinosaur set. Clearly, he has not spent enough time with my mother-in-law to understand that the only gift she buys anyone ever is a piece of clothing eight sizes too big. I once predicted that thanks to his grandmother Isaac would be the only freshman in college wearing Thomas the Train sweatpants. Being disappointed in your gifts is a long-standing tradition that I'm proud to be able to pass down to my son.

The other flashback entry for today is called "It was a typical morning." It's from 2006. Isaac was not quite two at that point. It gives a peek into a few things of the day, including Isaac's relationship with caretaking and his animal friends.

It's quite relevant for the current moment, at least by comparison, since we are hosting something of a menagerie at our house these days. There is a fruit box upside down in our bedroom - home to one of Isaac's stuffed dogs, complete with water and food bowl. There is a fluffy orange turtle held captive in a box in his room, with a bowl full of "lettuce" (foam shapes). And lastly there is Pork-key-pine. Pork-key-pine is half of a pine cone that's housed in a Godiva chocolate box lined with a blanket and fed cereal whenever his keeper demands his servants (that'd be us) refill his tupperware lid.

Hope you all are cozy and warm and not harried and cold.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

flashback December installment #2

Happy Solstice. Happy Hannukah. Happy 40th Birthday, Mike!

No one would guess that my even, calm husband arrived all blue/emergency C-section.

Today's Flashback December entry was an easy pick. A Mike's birthday entry. It comes from 2004 - while Small Boy was still in belly (and not yet the snotty-nosed, over-tired kid currently screaming and crying as I type this) and my mind was a puppet at the mercy of the cruel Fates of preggo insanity.

I have many memories associated with trying to bake Mike birthday cakes, including locking myself out of the house on the coldest day in Monterey in 10 years and mistaking the ice on the ground for glass (hopeful west coast transplant that I was).

This year's cake memory hasn't happened yet. Isaac and I are going to try out an orange cake with chocolate frosting after nap. As usual, I really don't know how I'm going to pull it off. In the kitchen, I lack confidence and usually most of the ingredients as well.

Anyway, the 2004 entry is called "and eat it too."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Flashback December


Over these last 11 days of the month/year, I'd like to invite you to take a stroll down Fetal Positions' memory lane. Each day I will be linking to a post from December of 2007, 2006, 2005, or even 2004 - yes, I go back that far, ladies and gentlemen! to when the fetal positions were truly fetal and there was no Isaac as we know him today.

Maybe it's nostalgia with the end of another year, maybe it's inspiration from receiving the daily Writer's Almanac emails and all their historical tidbits, or, maybe it's just that I'm completely lazy and out of new ideas. Think of it as the ghost of Decembers past. Whatever the impetus, let FLASHBACK DECEMBER guide you into 2009!

We'll begin with this one from December 18, 2007. It's titled "tomorrows - full of possibility." It's a conversation between myself and a not-yet-three Isaac centering around the topic of a particular sleigh.

Enjoy! (And you'll have to do that squiggly line, dreamy screen thing yourself.)

pen name perhaps?

It's that time of year again -- the time of year when despite the choices I made 7 years ago, all of my husband's family, high school, college, and work friends send us Christmas cards addressed to us under the same name - his.

"What if you have a FAMILY??!!!" they pleaded when the news originally made the rounds. What indeed. Has it stopped us from having a family? No, clearly, Mr Isaac wanted to be born despite many other much bigger obstacles than a name. Are our dance parties in the living room something lesser because I didn't go all around the world twice to try and get my driver's license changed?

Everyone from in-laws to bank tellers chastised me about keeping my name when Mike and I got married. And to them all - a very spirited middle finger.

This is the season of festive frolicking and deck the yadda yadda. So, while the mailbox overfloweth, calling out to a non-existent personage, I've decided to stop flipping out about it (well, almost). I try now to think of it as my gift to all of them.

It's that time of year again, when I become, just for a season, for the sake of an envelope, the person they desperately want me to be.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

the library

Depression sets in right away:

Rooms full of books. Anthologies, theses, too many of everything. I can learn anything I can dream of; visit any world I want to. I hate that. How exhausting. What pressure.

Think about all those hours alone, writers writing. It's enough to drive a person to the medicine cabinet.

I can get lost here. Suffocate. No one would know where to look. Greek mythology? Large print? Self help? Sci Fi? The mind bends.

I bob up on the crest of a wave - magical realism, young adult fiction - then go down again. They say a person surfaces three times before going under for good, but I'm not sure I have that long. The shelf of "Best American Poetry" 1998-2007 is lined up in front of me, a firing squad.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Office Holiday Party: The Charity Auction

So you go to your husband's office holiday party with your unnapped child and think you won't stay long. But two hours later you find yourself standing guard behind your pick at the auction, while your child sways, closer and closer to the floor and complains loudly about the lack of a dessert table. The beer is good and free and you think that if this goes on much longer, you're right there with him.

You think it's sweet in a weird sort of way, the middle-aged man with salt and pepper beard hawking his bid on the dance lessons. He looks actually nervous, as if he's already won the lessons and they were to a middle school dance in a gymnasium, his palms sweaty, heart in his throat, object of his affection across the room in a pink cable knit sweater.

You glance over your shoulder to be sure no one is thinking of outbidding you on the tiny styrofoam cups someone artfully turned into ornaments in the shape of an octopus in a Santa hat and a jellyfish that lights up. Suddenly, you realize the man in the salt and pepper beard at least has love on his side... you? And in the light of the jellyfish, you see what "weird sort of way" really means.

PS - books sidebar is updated.

PPS - to be fair to us, they aren't just *any* styrofoam cup ornaments - those styrofoam cups were taken to the bottom of the ocean on a remote underwater vehicle and shrunk down by the depth.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I didn't make this up

Median income in Monterey County, California = roughly $34,000
Median price of homes for sale in the city of Monterey = $1 million

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Simplicity of Travel

Choice of clothes – from among a few things in a bag.
No trinkets from your own home lying about, the room
gratefully devoid of personal memories. You need do nothing
about the phone call you didn't return before you left. Your alibi
is secure. Your cat is taken care of and will not jump
onto your head at 5 a.m. because she is far away and without a map.
You take artistic pictures of lamp posts in downtowns where
you are not recognized. To eat in restaurants, pay the check,
and walk away. To board buses whose destinations
you are unsure of that fill with people who could care less
you are there, who place dripping umbrellas under their feet.

It is here, the point at which you leave the bus and step out into
the busy street that looks like nothing you have learned
to take for granted, that travels as fast in one direction as the other,
that your faculties will fail you eventually, and so,
you will look around for someone; it will be someone laden
with closets and drawers full of clothes, who is haunted
by the phone call she didn't yet make today, who has forgotten
her umbrella on a bus, whose cat waits at home for her,
hungry and sharp-clawed.

You must open to her as if the knots unfurling within your neck
and shoulder blades would to roll out toward her like a golden rope.
And she, turning in your direction as you hover - almost imperceptibly -
above the sidewalk next to the lamp post - just this morning it stood
invisible to her knowing eyes - will respond with the help you need,
with more, in fact, than she thought herself capable. Though she isn't sure
if the amber light is coming from you or the lamp, she feels warmer
suddenly and the air around her smells uncluttered, and she will do
anything, anything you need.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Portland and Seattle trip - Part I

What's two and a half years between friends?

Isaac and Pacifica got to know each other again.

More on our trip to come...

Reading: it does a body good

Updated the sidebar for books.

Nevermind that a visit to an ofrenda (an altar) at our local Mexican bakery to explain the Day of the Dead to Isaac, sent me scurrying away again when front and center there was a hunka-chunka, bleeding crucifix and I worried the first up-close exposure my son would have to violence and gore would be from that grand and troubled tradition some call Christianity, Day of the Dead is another matter and quite cool and now there's a book to prove it.

My own literary adventures come - as always - with questions, questions, and Alice McDermott has me particularly baffled. "After this" I'm going back to short stories and poetry.

I find it interesting that there are always summer reading lists -- Now, in the cold and rain and snow is when we should be curled up with a pile of books. Go forth and be literate. And send me your recommendations!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

making pudding

“I bet a BABY can't even DO this,” my three-and-a-half-year-old says about everything he does these days.

At birth, I stared into his blue eyes, wise and startled, and didn't know who this creature was who came from me. Now, I stare equally perplexed at who he's grown into, seated between my husband and I at the breakfast table like a hungry stranger we took in off the street.

The old games no longer work for getting him to brush his teeth, for getting his shoes on. And too often he wriggles out of my hugs – busy.

Making pudding with his dad he's eager to share the result, and I am called into the kitchen to taste. I watch as he spoons a bit of chocolate from the pot and carefully wipes off the drippy bottom on the side, holds it out to me. His own mouth, ringed in brown, opens in a mimic of mine, his phantom bite, his nurturing way, helping me to swallow it all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

reflections on last night

(Note - I added just a couple more tidbits to yesterday's blog, too.)

Conversation among strangers at the Monterey Farmer's Market:

Person 1: New Hampshire!
Person 2: Pennsylvania!
Person 1: Pennsylvania?!
Person 3: Ohio!
Person 1 & 2: Ohio!!??
Person 3: Florida!
Persons 1, 2, & 3: Woooooohoooooo!

At the victory party at the Golden State Theatre in Monterey (free and open to the public), the mood was obviously joyous. We were allowed again to be in love with people we didn't know. We hugged each other and laughed.

There was a countdown to 8 pm – the close of the polls in California. Boy, if I've ever felt left out out here in the west...time differences, philosophical differences...last night I was proud. Right after that countdown, we looked up at the screen and two things happened simultaneously: the shape of California flashed a beautiful shade of blue on the map and our 55 electoral votes rung up for Obama sending him over the 270 mark he needed to win. The cheer in the room was a couple decibels louder than my ears could handle.

Around 8:30-something, I pulled myself away and zipped home in time to hear Obama's speech. Even though I had been craving communal company, now I wanted my family.

There were fireworks going off in our neighborhood. When I got home, Isaac was already asleep. But then, a couple minutes in, he woke up somehow.

For a few precious minutes we were all together, watching, Mike and I teary, Isaac in my lap. I didn't care that Isaac might not understand most of what was being said. I was confident he could and should hear any/every word, knowing how much it meant, knowing no one was going to shout “Drill! Drill! Drill!” or anything else offensive or frightening.

Maybe he'll remember something from last night. Maybe, even, it'll be one of his first memories. Maybe he'll carry that indescribable feeling with him. This is one of the ways we find out what's important.

The camera focused on a sign held above the heads of the crowd in Chicago.

“You know what that sign says, Isaac, huh?”

For an instant he forgets the weighty sleep pulling on him.

He straightens in my lap, smiles at his own big boy smarts. “Obama!”

And finally, from Pravda, the online version of the Russian news source: " choosing Obama, the people of America have opted to come back into the international fold. Welcome back, friends! "

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

the election in review...

– an abridged collage of words and events from my tiny corner of the world.

"Three-year-olds for Obama" Parts I-III.

I.) It rhymes with Mama and Llama and Drama, all things my boy loves. (NB: McCain rhymes with Pain and Strain and Insane.)

II.) If only I wasn't alone when Isaac approached the Obama/Biden sign in the front yard and, moving his fingers slowly across the letters, sounded out “O...BA...MA.”

III.) An election year alphabet.
A is for the Audacity to hope, where anything should begin.
B is for Biden, okay, I can live with him. And Bruce, all the cool cats hang with him.
C is for Change, not the kind you put in tip jars.
(Look, Isaac is going to wake up from his nap soon, so pick a letter and send me yours!)
On a trip to the farmer's market I encounter a man holding up a McCain/Palin sign. The shocking sight of it triggers some kind of shadow symptoms of tourette's disorder in me and without thinking, while no more than 15 feet away, I shout at the guy, "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??!!"
Setback in my meager campaign to do something-for-god's-sake. I hand deliver a registration form to a mom (of three) and Isaac's preschool. She fails to return it by the deadline. Three children unspoken for. I mourn, and then realize I live in California and well, she can get away with it this time, at least on the presidential level.
Meager campaign limps on, pointing out to a poet friend who's second poetry collection is set to be published early next year, that his planned title of "A Bridge to There" conjures unwanted associations. He hadn't caught it. He consults other poets and ultimately decides to change it. He thanks me most sincerely.
Meager campaign finds new steam again. On the phone with my hair dresser this morning, making an appointment. We've spoken already about how she's registered for the first time in her life and she's voting for the O-man:
“Did you vote yet?”
“I have to vote today, huh?”
“I've never done this before! Where do I vote?”
“It depends where you live.”
“How do I find out?”
"Did you get a sample ballot?"
"I don't think so."
“Can you get on a computer?”
“I don't know. I can try...”
“Give me your address, I'll find it for you right now.”
On the eve of the election (uh, that's writer talk for “yesterday”), I'm chatting with my almost 82-year-old neighbor, Mrs Johnson, a white woman married for 57 years to a black man. She is sweeping leaves from our tree out of her yard. She never says his name. Instead she says, “I hope he makes it. I hope he makes it. He's young. He has a lot of energy. There's so much prejudice, maybe he can do something. I hope he makes it. All this prejudice all around...” And at that, she purses her old lady lips and grips her broom more tightly, then swings it out, as if to sweep away what's distasteful.

By this final week, Mike and I had become junkies. He catches me on the computer reading up on Obama via Wikipedia after Isaac's in bed. We discover his birthday is the same as our wedding anniversary. Mike continues to study the stats.

“Hmm. 48? I thought he was younger than that.”

“He was. When this bloody thing started. He's been campaigning for 700 years! I mean, 21 months!”
Walking into my (line-free) polling place I feel like kissing all the volunteers. I squeak, “Are we excited?” Funny thing this English language, you use it to ask questions when you know the answer.
I kept reading about people bringing their 5- and 6- and 7-year-olds to the polls with them to witness history. But at our house, things were a little different. Three is not 5. All afternoon I'm one way-distracted mama...

“Isaac, let's go look on the computer and see how Mr. Obama is doing and if he'll be our next president.”

“Okay,” he sighs dragging his feet. “But THEN can we find rocks for my penguin to jump on?” (It was a rockhopper, you know.)


The instructions on our paper ballots read:

To VOTE, connect the arrow pointing to your choice...A SINGLE LINE IS SUFFICIENT. (emphasis orginal)

But I just couldn't help making that one line a little bolder...

Yes We Can make it a Happy Election Day!

Friday, October 31, 2008

He's NOT cute

There is an update on the books sidebar again. Check out info on the book above etc.
Isaac was a ferocious tiger for Halloween - sort of. And another of my favorite books on his shelf speaks volumes about the last 24 hours...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Si se puede

The clouds travel like white handkerchiefs of goodbye,
the wind, travelling, waving them in its hands.
- Pablo Neruda

The first time I remember noticing the winds was just over 4 years ago.

We had moved to a new place after 5 and a half years in the apartment where we'd landed on arriving on the west coast. We were still renting, but we were in a house now. It was stone and funky; it had a fireplace, a big farm kitchen, a deck out back. We could almost afford it.

The winds whipped through our little hamlet like clockwork every afternoon. The old oak grazed a formidable arm across the front window and released its spiky little leaf boats.

“Winds of change!” I'd joke to my husband as I joyfully sold off junk we should have gotten rid of 5 and a half years earlier. “Winds of change!”

We switched our voter registration to our new address and settled in.

Despite the winds, change didn't come. At least not the change we expected, not the kind we'd hoped for.

In that house, during all of the 6 months we lived there, before our landlord decided to reclaim it, all our plants died mysterious deaths and the studio in the back – my would-be writer's haven – remained packed with our landlord's stuff. It was also the place were I'd conceive our son.

That was three houses ago now, the “old, old, old house,” my son will tell you, from when he was just in mama's belly.

The winds have returned, I notice. And it's that time of year again.

The tree in my front yard these days is a sycamore that every day pummels the lawn with buckets of leaves like so many parachutes. Isaac pounces, and they reply with that satisfying crunch from under his sandals - finally out of place now in the full-swing of fall.

“Winds of change,” I caught myself whispering the other day.

Maybe it's that little boy, but I'm a sucker for hope. This year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Roy and Silo say NO on Prop 8!

Consider it an supplemental bit to my books sidebar -- Yesterday at the library I unwittingly pulled a book off the shelf called And Tango Makes Three. The authors are Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. Illustrator is Henry Cole.

The story is a true one about two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo named Roy and Silo who become a couple, make a nest, and raise a baby.

They didn't spend much time with the girl penguins, and the girl penguins didn't spend much time with them. Instead, Roy and Silo wound their necks around each other. Their keeper Mr. Gramzay noticed the two penguins and thought to himself, "They must be in love."

I think I've been disappointing people lately: Like the man from the Democratic party who came to my door to let me know we can't afford 4 more years like the last 8.

"No, sir, we can't," I told him, my Obama/Biden sign not yet in the yard.

He seemed off-balance, his sail devoid of wind. "Right," I think he mumbled. "Are you registered to vote?" he spoke up again.


"Everyone here at this residence registered vote?"

"All but my 3-year-old, and he can sound out 'O-ba-ma' on my Obama Mama tee-shirt."

He handed me a flyer of the party endorsements and shuffled off down the driveway.

"Thank you for your work," I called, but he showed no signs of hearing.

Last night, on the heels of Roy and Silo, I got a phone call from the NO on Prop 8 campaign. (Proposition 8 is on the California ballot this November. It would repeal the right of same sex couples to marry.)

"I'm with you," I told the man on the phone. And though we bantered politely for another minute or so after that, our conversation was essentially finished before it began.

Too late I thought to ask him if he was calling just to take the temperature of things, see where people fell on the issue, or if he planned to convert me had I hauled out my Bible and vomited something about the strength of the family. The latter would be a tough job. I'd certainly like to think people can be convinced to change their bigoted ways, but over the phone at dinner time? I mean, you either shoot wolves from a plane, or you don't.

Meanwhile, I'm off to a wedding this weekend of two of the coolest women I know who've been together something like 27 years and all this debate has left me completely UNDECIDED -- about what to wear.

"We'll call her Tango," Mr. Gramzay decided, "because it takes two to make a Tango."
Roy and Silo taught Tango how to sing for them when she was hungry. They fed her food from their beaks. They snuggled her in their nest at night. Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

detritus in photos

Pipe cleaner spider family.

Sock Monkey Pancakes.

What? How have YOU been spending your time?

Monday, October 20, 2008

hope for the future

The other day while using the toilet Isaac began howling and crying, weeping inconsolably for minutes because ... he'd gotten some pee on the seat.

O, sweet child of vision. Bless you. May you grow to lead your kind out of the darkness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Books and the women who love them

There's an update on the sidebar there - "What We're Reading."

I'm always reading everything or nothing. I just put one book up this time to represent the landslide I like to call my nightstand.

because men feel entitled to usurp vocabulary describing women's role in creation while in the business of gross and violent machinery

TO: Colonel George Bond , Fort Greely, Alaska

Dear Col. Bond:

I'd like you to know I took exception to the fact that you called the yellow cable that provides data to the EKVs (“Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles” which intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles) - their “umbilical cord.”

I imagine, Sir, that at one time, many years ago, your mother looked down at you, just recently freed from the connecting element you shared, that fed you and grew you month after month, and she saw in you potential in a degree she knew not until that moment.

Even the most cynical among us, when set face to face with the realization of our hopes and the reenactment of our fears, i.e. our child, the being that we may well become the closest to in the world, cannot help but be driven by a ferocity of love that has every chance of outshining your missiles by bounds so large as to remain unrelatable, and that would most certainly have something sharply unequivocal to say about your careless choice of language.

another debate

I recently wrote a letter to the editors of Brain, Child magazine. I was going to wait to see if they print it before posting something about it here, but it's only a quarterly and I'm impatient and they might not print it and if they do they might edit it (ee-gads!). So, as we are about to move into the comedy and tragedy of another debate night, here's what I said:

25 September 2008

Dear Eds:

As I write this, the two presidential candidates are preparing to debate each other in Oxford, Mississippi. While there is part of me eager for this political face-off, I find that the debates in Brain, Child are consistently my least favorite part of the magazine.

A yes/no debate, this black or white, head-to-head sparring, strikes me as - if Scott Lozier (who made some excellent points in “Should Vegetarian Parents Raise Vegetarian Kids?”) and the other dads will forgive me – an extremely male concept.

I appreciate the idea of breaking up the essays with a different kind of presentation, but I feel strongly that this is not it. We could contend that despite the duality constructed for the sake of argument, as they say, we still know that there are more than two sides to any issue and myriad experiences, emotions, and thoughts that go into wherever we land toward our goal of raising children to be healthy, loving adults. However, by displaying important issues in this all or nothing format it can be tricky to keep in mind. Those other multiple perspectives we “know” exist or the pieces of truth to be found on a side we generally disagree with, have a tendency to roll under the dresser forgotten with the cat toys and the pacifier (should babies be given pacifiers?? yes or no??).

I often feel the arguments in the debate are written poorly on both sides, unlike the caliber of writing in the rest of the magazine. The “opponents,” in fact, are sometimes in agreement in more places than not, though it's easy to miss such junctures in philosophy since the nature of a debate sets us apart from the very beginning, lands us rigid, determined to prove our point. There we are, fingers in our ears, glued to this or that state or blue state.

It occurs to me that I do not necessarily wish our power as parents to reflect the higher offices and workings of our country – particularly in its currently crippled state of economic and social standing. I would much rather be part of a thoughtful grass roots rumble with its eye on a future that embraces cooperation, innovation and, most of all, conversation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

campsite 61 – check out day

Soon you'll be home again.

All for the best, you can hardly stand it here – the stillness, the trees as quiet witness, holding your story with the rest. You can hardly stand the shivering river, the canopies of green, the fire firing bright sparks into the dawn. You can't possibly take another day of your son's joy – balancing on logs, snuggled into your neck calling “Good morning!” in the dewy chill, his mismatched layers, his blonde waves a step away from dreadlocks.

Already you can imagine yourself back at home – the hammock tied to the one tree in your yard, its woven colors flaccid against the browning lawn, your windows shut tight in the heat of the afternoon to close out the incessant car alarms. Ah. Home.

For what have I come to paradise? To put off again standing at the sink doing dishes? Release me back to my routine, where the creatures of the night are me, stumbling down the dark hall, sodden in the recurring dream of escape.

Monday, September 22, 2008

To the woman who stopped me to ask how safe the neighborhood was as I was walking with the stroller to go pick up Isaac from preschool:

Thinking of buying a home here are you? Oh! Getting ready to start a family. Congratulations. Safe here in the daytime? Well, yes. Um, pardon me for saying so, but - duh. It's an odd question, lady, except, I guess I understand. I know our little section of town doesn't have the hottest reputation. It's haunted by something of a checkered past, founded as it was by the servicemen occupying the now-defunct military base just up the hill from where we are chatting now.

Back in the day, the main drag was lined with prostitutes. Funny, things seemed to clean up when the soldiers left. Well, a few are still here. Those are the old guys that wave to me from their porches, or don't. Some people get surly with age. Some people are just raised suspicious. I try to say hello to people when I walk. How's your Spanish? Doesn't matter. Just say good morning. Most people brighten right up and smile back. It's like magic. Some people don't. You'll have that. Anyway, no one is going to throw needles out their car windows at you and your baby. Probably. People work hard here. Did you see the crowd at the busstop? Dangerous? I doubt it. They're going to work, see. Some people still do that, even here in the land of the chokingly wealthy, land of the golf course.

I have a little secret to share with you though. When you have a newborn, you are crazy. Certifiable. Don't matter where you are it'll feel precarious and risky. When Isaac was born we lived in the most violently idyllic town you can imagine and I saw danger everywhere. Well, some was real – like the blind old bastards creeping into the crosswalks in their Mercedes, but nevermind. I couldn't get my precious bundle out of the bank fast enough – that bastion of filth and disease. I would cross the street to avoid car repair joints.

Let me give you a virtual tour of our 'hood. Nice view, eh? It really is if you look beyond the box stores. There's the bay. Stunning. They could've left us a few more trees though, don't you think?

Let's start with food, naturally. Did you try the wholesale Mexican bakery down the block? Right there. If they're out of conchinitos, try San Pablo's just a little further, they usually have them. And if you're feeling fancy there's the French bakery across the street. Now, promise me you won't go all Starbucks on us. If you're planning on getting on freaky with the corporates, we don't need your kind here. You know what they say – Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Starbucks – and I'm starting to think of you as a friend. And honest, you don't have to go downtown either. Larry at Acme Coffee makes the best lattes on the Peninsula. No lie.

I hope as you walk with your newborn past the corner of Fremont and Broadway that you aren't knocked flat by the smell of fast food grease. If that's unsafe, then, I guess it's a bit unsafe here. Forget what everyone says about the big tacqueria they all swear by. No, no, no. You want La Tortuga. They're open all day. Great food. If it wasn't for the Styrofoam for take out and the gargantuan TV screen showing novelas for those eating in, I'd be there all the time.

Over there we have the low income apartments. They were placed just right – only a few hundred yards from the fire station. Those old folks keep the firemen busy, let me tell you. The sirens get on my nerves. But unsafe, no, sweetheart, not that. Oh, wait, I spoke too soon. I should warn you; you gotta watch yourself some mornings. See that ugly old steeple up ahead? When the Baptists bury someone, whew! The parking can get tight. Cars every which way trying to find a place to land and if their drivers are teary-eyed, well, just look twice before you go walking all out in the street.

We have lots of problems. Can I ask you a few questions? Are you the kind of neighbor we want? Can you help? There's trash on the street here. Maybe you could organize a clean up? There's gang activity. Graffiti. The parks have glass in the sand. Any ideas? Aren't nearly enough trees for my taste. Maybe you could plant some? We might get something going with the neighborhood group here. I didn't get to tell you yet about them. They saved some of the parks from disappearing to developers and they helped buy new equipment for the kids. Oh, wait, I know. Can you talk to City Hall about the damn goose poop all over the lawn there? I mean, free summer concerts are great, but do we have to wear toxic clean up suits to enjoy it? And while you're there, put in a good word for the couple who run the Pakistani food store. They've been trying to get them to allow outdoor seating for about a year now. I mean, c'mon! And, well, there just isn't any accounting for taste. Some people have constructed some of the ugliest homesteads I can think of around here. You sure you are worried about safety? I wish that was all I cared about. Safety we got; aesthetics we're not so stocked up on.

You are interested in walking and believe me – I feel ya! You need somewhere to walk. I get it. I did it constantly. When we moved to this area originally, Isaac was almost a year old. No longer beholden to the “hometown” feel of that cutesy little hamlet 5 miles away that we tried in vein to fit into, I discovered that here in the scratchy part of town, people were kind in ordinary ways.

Like when I bought a portable crib from Jenny's Thrift Shop... Jenny, a Korean woman in her 50's with round cheeks and a heavy accent, questioned me sternly. “How you come here?” “Walked,” I told her. “How you get this home?” “Um, carry it?” I tried. “No! Too heavy!” she spat, pushing a pad of paper toward me. “You write down address. I deliver. Tonight!”

Then there was the bookcase we bought from the garage sale in the neighborhood. Mike was with me, Isaac was in the stroller. “He can put that in the truck and drive it over for you,” the woman said indicating her husband. It was a small bookcase. “I think we can carry it,” we both assured her. “And push the baby?!” Her inflection was sharp. She threw her wrist out letting her hand flop forward, her other hand on her hip. “Henry! Put that in the truck for her!” she commanded. And Henry did. I gave him our address just a few blocks down the hill. “I'll be along,” Henry told us. Half way home there was Henry and the truck and the bookcase beside us. I repeated the street number of our place into the window. Henry stared at me. I got in. When he delivered me and the bookcase to my door he instructed, “Now you just get yourself a break until those boys of yours get here.”

Well, that's our little neighborhood in a nutshell. There's a whole lot of shit that I'd change. We're just your average place, really. If you think you're up for it, maybe we can be neighbors.

Oh? What's that? Safe to walk at night? It's complicated, ma'am. Really. That's a whole other ball game and I have to go. I'm going to be late to pick up my guy and you've never seen him when I'm the last mama there – all hang-dog eyes, the word “abandoned” plastered across his forehead – it's terrible! I'm sorry that we didn't get a chance to really talk.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Little Monster at Work

Update on the What We're Reading sidebar.

For the record, my little monster tells me he wants to be a farmer. He won't have any crops on his farm, however, only animals. Every morning (and I do mean EVERY morning) when he wakes up, he announces that he's dreamed about a farm. Sometimes there are bunnies and horses and pigs on his farm. (Nevermind that the child won't go within 100 feet of the real versions of any of these animals.) Other times it's purple zebras and T-Rex.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Grace Paley

This is just one of the kinds of things I want to do more of that led me to quit my job... My review of Grace Paley's final book of poems, Fidelity.

out of the box

It's been two and a half years since my mother-in-law said to me, "Michael tells us you got yourself a little job."

This week I gave notice at my little job. I've been faithfully writing 2-4 articles a week (in about enough time to write one) about all kinds of events for the entertainment insert - from the interesting to the absurd. Most were theater openings or community festivals of one kind or another.

My editor told me he was sorry to lose me, that I'd really "grown into the job." Yes, I thought, now despite my best efforts to the contrary, I fit in the box, I have taught myself to color inside the lines. Many images came to my mind and I wished I had a cartoonist handy...Brig? Some of my struggles in newspaper writing have inspired such artists before.

I'm mostly getting out because my life is in a completely different place than it was two and a half years ago. I mean, check those photos if you don't believe me! And I'm leaving because there are so many projects and personal writings and possibilities that I want to pursue that have been shelved for a long time and are beginning to call to me - loudly.

Well, in another few weeks, the theater scene won't have this freelancer to push around any more, baby! (And I won't have free! Sob! Oh, why must I have such ambitions and morals? Why!?)

Monday, September 15, 2008

here we go...

First floor...Hosiery, ladies' handbags, electronics for geeks, one-way tickets to Geekdom...

Lately, every once in a while, Isaac likes to send an email to his dad or one of my friends. This exercise consists of me typing in their address and "from Isaac" in the subject line, then him punching long lines of nonsense letters in various colors and sizes.

I figure it's better than having my friends wait on the phone while he refuses to say hello and it's not like I bought him a Play Station. Plus, he gets to find the letters he wants and practice with lower case and capital letters, or, alternatively, just stay out of my hair for 30 seconds while I go to the bathroom.

So today in the midst of a composition to his father at work he announced, "Actually, I don't want to send a message to Daddy on the computer; I want to FIX the computer."

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Isaac woke up this morning and said, "Mama, tell me about some people who died."

Kids can be spooky.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I face my new camping chair – the $5 clearance job with drink holder – at the grove of redwoods behind the tent and try to read.

Everywhere, someone to break the peace. One connected group has the next four or five campsites beside us – a total of about 200 people. Okay, 30, but still. They won't shut up. I mean, I talk alot, but there is a season (turn, turn, turn). What I'm dealing with is a cacophony of overlapping conversations that is truly non-stop.

The older I get, the more silence I need. When I was in college I lived on the 11th floor of a building that sucked up all the city street noise from the busy road below and when I wasn't doing my homework in the window seat to the serenade of sirens, I was buzzing around a suite populated by eight (count them) women. Not anymore. The thought of such an existence now makes me want to vomit.

On the way here, I announced in the car that no one was to speak to me. Mike ignored my request, asking if I'd brought the bug spray, commenting about the street signs. “Shut up,” I told him calmly. “Be quiet.” For a whole 30 minutes – oh kind karma! - Isaac was asleep, all his “Mama, looks!” hushed. Ever find yourself going on vacation with the exact people you need a vacation from?

When we arrived at our reserved site there was a tent already there. It was a large one that belongs, we'd come to discover, to our garrulous neighbors. There was also a gaggle of kids ages 6-13, I'd guess, sucking on blow pops and playing with fire. Mike got out to talk to them and got back in 60 seconds later with the report. “Their parents are 'somewhere over there',” he huffed fluttering his fingers in the vague direction of a clearing. “They don't know anything.”

As we headed around the small loop to go back to talk to the ranger at the kiosk, a woman called into our window, “Are you in 210? They just put the tent there to dry it out; I'll tell them to move it.” We circled back.

Slowly, ever so, the woman approached a crowd of seated adults engrossed in conversation. While we waited with a three-year-old bucking to get out of his carseat, four people began walking in what appeared to be the pokiest, most disinterested meander I've ever witnessed toward the drying tent.

We watched them coming. We watched; and watched. They became distracted by something off to the side, stopped for a moment; one drifted out of line; they walked on, still miles from their destination. It was like watching a rock video, the band lumbering in slow motion, dramatically cresting the hill, silhouetted on the horizon by the setting sun, headed for their instruments which, come the next scene, they would play in the suddenly pouring rain.

At this point, my husband, who gets angry approximately once every three or four years, leaped out of the car. “Can we help you hurry?” he said, addressing the band, “Because we need to camp!”It was typical of the sudden, unexpected nature of his outbursts, and of the charmingly moronic phrases he constructs in an attempt to show his true ire. Some people, like, oh, me, become verbose with anger, can't think of a word I don't like. Whereas Mike, on the other hand, loses even what few sentences he might have shared in better times.

Once, before we were married, we had booked a flight back to California from Boston that turned out to be delayed two hours – then five, six... nine. The airline staff did a hideous job of helping the tired, frustrated passengers cope. By hour seven, they returned our pleas for information with out and out rudeness. A pro at anger, both passive and active, I am content to mumble “Dickhead!” slightly louder than necessary after turning from the agent with attitude, but for Mike it proved too much.

“Look!” he said, red in the face and advancing to the counter. “You!...I'm!...THIS!...” He was wagging his finger, beside himself. “Not okay!...OKAY!?” he spat at top volume, clearly furious and made stupid by the adrenaline coursing through his gentle veins.

“Honey?” I said quietly, taking his arm and leading him back to our seats.

If I was looking forward to talking, conversation, it was at our next stop – two nights at a hostel on the water. When I recall the European hostels I've stayed at I think first of the kitchens, locatable by the low roar emanating from under the door, a happy crowd engaged in multi-lingual conversation, the table so covered in the brown necks of empty beer bottles no one could put down an elbow. The discussions centered around the local sights, the current political milieu, plans to meet up that next afternoon at the café around the corner or the following month in Turkey. Laughter. Songs.

I thought it well-timed then, that we were set to arrive at our hostel right around dinner time. The first sign I noticed was “Alcohol Strictly Prohibited.” Shit. We just hemorrhage boredom in this country. Everything is a warning. Nothing is allowed. In other parts of the world you can climb all the crumbling ruins you like and if you fall it's your own damn fault. Here, an entire panel of Isaac's beachball is dedicated to threats about misusing the apparent instrument of death.

I was further disappointed when I found the kitchen – empty. Everything was quiet. A solitary young woman smiled at us briefly from over the lid of her laptop in the living room before plunging on through cyberspace.

Later we would meet Martin. White-haired and dressed in red biking shirt and tan shorts, Martin would prove a constant during our stay as would his stories of Internet dating, his suspicions about the blondes from Nigeria, and other tales of ladies on line. On this first evening, after talking to us for twenty minutes about how he met Svetlana and consequently lived four winters in Siberia, he announced magnanimously, “I'll tell you my story...” I listened to the monologue for a while longer. It was just more talkie-talkie. I was beginning to crave silence again already. While Mike nodded on (off?), Isaac and I sneaked away to watch the sunset.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


We stare together at the x-ray of your two front teeth. One is pushed back just slightly, so slightly I almost can't tell until the dentist points it out. Above the pair of baby teeth, the two adult teeth waiting to replace them sit in the gum line, fully-formed.

Relief: no crack in the root.

I wasn't there when you fell, smacked your mouth on the cement. I was only there through the dried blood and swollen face, the popsicles and soup broth. And now this.

You are content in the big mechanical chair, your eye on the treasure box you'll soon get to pick from. And I am thinking about those teeth - the ones tucked away from view - imagining what other wonders of yours I still cannot see though they are already whole, complete, waiting their turn, like a second chance.

Friday, September 05, 2008


The fingers are itching at the keyboard, only outlet available at the moment.

Thank god they are over. Convention this, buddy.

Of all the nonsense on both sides, all the days and all the speeches, all the things I tried to catch, all the things I missed, what do you think was the one thing I got to hear live while driving – Rudy Guiliani. Spare me. The crowd devolving into grunts, aping “USA! USA!” like they were at a hockey game. Gross. I couldn't hear anything after he called McCain “a willing foot soldier in the Reagan revolution” because I was screaming too loudly at the radio.

If I hear those two words together one more time, I'm going to lose it: Sarah Palin. The Republicans are so hard up, it really doesn't take much to get them charged these days. As cold as my blood runs when I hear John McCain whistling through his dentures about his so-called experience, at least he's not stupid. WTF with everyone who is seemingly baffled about his choice of a VP from that far off land of ALASKA. Hmmm...what could he have been thinking?? Gee, no idea. Right.

Palin and her BS about how Obama's only penned two memoirs but no laws. A) Untrue, see below. B) Funny enough, reflection is something I value and that could potentially benefit this stubbornly amnesiatic country.

Since when do we believe that being imprisoned gives you the right to the presidency? This country could have A LOT of candidates if that's the criterion. Maybe I don't want someone versed in war to lead me. Maybe there are other kinds of “experience.” Just maybe.

“Country first” = another euphemism to license a unilateral outlaw in its xenophobic, self-serving (oh, I mean, “National Security”) wars that dismiss the only truth, that the globe is connected in economic, environmental, social, and political ways that cannot be undone. One world, baby.

So let's try this. That's all I have to say. Now I have to go write about a tomato festival.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


“What's a really special way a mountain can fall down, Mama?”

The yodeling mountain goat singing classics from the “Sound to Music” who eventually sends boulder after boulder to the ground doesn't quell Isaac's thirst for answers, any more than does the giant ladybug monster that flies to Earth from the Ice Cream Planet rattling the mountain and causing a landslide with its purple striped wings.

“What's another really special way a mountain can fall down?”

These kinds of questions take many forms. “What's a really special, special way a race car can break down?” “What's a really special way a raccoon can get hurt?” “What's something really special an excavator can drive through?”

“What's ANOTHER really special way a mountain can fall down?” he begs.

His world is infinite, endlessly sparkling with this special light. Does he believe, then, that there exist ordinary ways a mountain can fall? Does he believe me a fountain, with my fat lined thumb plugging the knowledge so that he is spared its beauty? He has everything and everything backwards. It is the mother that should beg for answers; it is the beauty of his small cheeks.

Monday, September 01, 2008

a relationship moment for the birds: explains a lot

The Stellar's jays at our campsite are brazen, fearless creatures who, along with their partners in crime, the squirrels, have so far eaten holes in a backpack, a cooler zipper and a pair of sunglasses.

At the campfire presentation one night, we learn the jays are related to crows, smart problem solvers who share information (which must go something like, “Now listen boys, if you can't get them to cough up the goods, fuck with their sunglasses...and don' eve' go against the family...”).

The whole evening is about birds as it turns out, with an ornithological specialist showing us slides of birds they've tagged. The yellow and black of a chickadee appears 1000 times its actual size on the screen, its colors faded in the mere dusk of early evening.

“Does anyone know what this bird is called?” our host asks.

“A woodpecker?” someone calls out.

“Noooooo,” she says, her voice raising higher as she stretches the word, generously allowing room for other possibilities.

“A sparrow?” a boy of about 12 tries.

“This bird is almost the same size as a sparrow,” she says by way of telling him he's wrong.

Her life's work against our little band of idiots, she's been passing out pencils made of recycled materials to anyone that gets a bird name right. Her left fist is still crowded with the implements and she pushes them back and forth in her hand.

“A mourning dove?” a woman pipes up.

Instead of throwing the pencils to the ground and stomping away, the woman says cheerily, “Wow! You all really know a lot of bird names!” Then she says, “Wellllll...” which clearly means “I'm going home to kill myself.”

I lean over and whisper to Mike. “Is it a chickadee?”

“No!” he scolds me returning my hushed tone.

“It's a chickadee,” the presenter announces a second later.

Mike and I exchange the glance, the one you would expect us to exchange. His says, “Oops!” Mine says, “You owe me, bastard! I wanted that pencil!”

But I've since forgiven him completely. You see, time away without the stresses and distractions of daily life, deepens a relationship. You learn about your partner things you may never have learned otherwise. And you learn that even in the still of the forest, the only way to be released from the pain is to move through it.

Since the bird incident, my husband has confessed to me that he was made to play the part of the gopher in his second grade theatre production. I blink, half-listening while he rattles on about it. And then, like a chunk of fool's gold, the nugget of truth shines. The play, it turns out, was “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

“Mike,” I say, being sure to speak especially slowly, “there is no gopher in 'Winnie-the-Pooh'.”

“I know,” he says.

“Oh, honey! You never told me!” I exclaim, moving to wrap my arms around him. “And anyway, it was just a pencil.”

role reversal

After all the camping adventures, they are starting to pile up. Our camping receipts marked with our site number and date of departure hang, taped to the inside of the windshield, driver's side. We are like those people with ski lift tags hanging from the zippers of their down vests (only slightly less pretentious).

We've crammed in a lot of camping in the last month. A good chunk in the last week. Life has been gloriously slow.

In our regular routine, it's me that plays primary care giver to Little Mr. Long Blonde Curls. I've got the day to day. I know what's caused the tantrums, how long the nap lasted, what deals have been brokered, how much broccoli was left on the plate. Mike plays relief pitcher – you know, the guy that comes in in the 8th and gets all the credit. His brief stint, consisting mainly of play time before bed, leaves the crowd cheering for more.

Out under the redwoods, however, things change. Mike assumes the greater responsibility for maintenance – chasing the small person with a toothbrush, say – and I, well, I take to the hammock with a book.

Apparently not everyone switches roles on holiday. From through the bushes one day we heard an angry woman's voice. “Sure!” it said rather violently, “Nobody thinks about MOM...” It roused me just slightly, but then I gave myself a push in the hammock and felt all better.

It was on the fifth straight day of our vacation that I sensed the shift in Mike. Day five seemed to herald in a tone of voice I don't remember hearing my husband speak in before, yet it was somehow familiar. “Maybe you should go to the potty NOW, because it's almost nap time,” he was saying. And then he approached me, swinging as I was under the redwoods.

“He asked if YOU would take him this time.”

“Okay,” I said, yawned and kept reading.

“It's getting to be nap time,” he tried again, tapping the face of his watch.

Reluctantly, I rolled out and into my shoes. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that was the tone of a harried housewife in his voice.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

reading list

Update on the sidebar. Too many things to list!

Fire Season: On the Eve of Our Seventh Anniversary

August 4th was my wedding anniversary. We haven't really gotten to celebrate it yet. But we have instead just declared it our annivesary month. Each day we wish each other a happy anniversary and every other or so we open a bottle of wine.

The weekend before our day, we were camping in Big Sur. I lost my balance walking in the river and jammed the ring finger on my left hand. Luckily, I had enough presence of mind to move my wedding ring to my other hand before the injuried finger swelled up into a purple balloon. I'm still wearing the ring on my right hand as my knuckle hasn't quite gone back to its original ways.

Mike and I have something of a history with the Big Sur River and our anniversary. A couple months before our first year together his ring came off while we were walking together in the water and that was that. Gift to the gods. Had to have it remade.

The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur has a new slogan - "The Henry Miller Library - where nothing happens." This is of course a complete truth and a complete lie. Big Sur is a magical place where shit happens, in a Zen kind of not really sort of way.

We are about to go off again for more camping adventures beginning this weekend, and since by the time we return it will be the end of our anniversary month, I thought I would share this now, foolishly, perhaps, as no eyes but mine have seen it. I see it as kind of a companion piece to another poem I've been working on forever about my grandparents "practical romance" as I've imagined it. That one is called "The Space Between."

The poem below is a draft. They are all drafts. What the hell. Here goes:

Fire Season: On the Eve of Our Seventh Anniversary

My husband, my love
has never once called me any term of endearment
not a honey, not a sweetheart, I've never been baby.
So when the camping stove he was priming
to heat water for our dinner of soup broth and rice
lit the picnic table on fire and flames climbed
in a pyre that engulfed the view
from the triangle doorway of the tent
where I was reading, he said only
my name, once, almost quietly: Kitty.
And I flew from my spot to where he was,
bare feet scored by unfriendly brambles.

I will not be the one, I thought. I will not be the one
to set this forest back aflame, to scar the redwoods
I chose as respite. I will not be the one.
Those were the mind's musings in the moments
before reflection. And yet, why not me? Why
should I be blameless? Have we not all set fires
now and then, just to watch them burn?

My monologues, he quiet, closing,
both of us walled cities, and then a spark,
words too close to the wick and we ignite,
just briefly, a flash – like lightning in a forest.

Once when my grandmother was just a girl
lightning entered the kitchen window and burned
a black path across the floor while she watched.
What did she learn then, after the fear had dissipated,
taking up residence in this and that corner of who she was?

These forests - just open again after so much charring smoke,
dozers plowing fat lines through the dirt daring the flames to cross,
ocean copters dropping gallons to try to keep it in place.
The redwoods are fearless. Let it come, they whisper,
not a pang in any branch. Basin Complex Fire –
it means nothing to them - fire is fire, this one,
the one a hundred years ago, a hundred years from now.

There is a taking stock, a naming that happens
in the nebulous space before change clicks into place
and everything is different. He called me
to be beside him, if not to help extinguish
the danger, then to witness the burning. He called me,
my name invoked in calm terror.

The fire went out almost as suddenly as it lit. The stove
hurled in the fire pit, the table dowsed
with our weekend's drinking water. I stood, trembling,
on the eve of our anniversary, still raw
from so many parched acres, mighty hillsides
grey with ash. In seven years,
not a honeypie, not a single lovey-dovey.

(I've already changed some of these lines twice in the few hours this post has been up. Stay tuned, it may continue to morph.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


“See that castle over there?” my colleague scowls, directing my attention toward the ruins out the bus window long after we'd crossed the border into Slovakia. “That's a HUNGARIAN castle.” I widen my eyes and nod as he watches my face longer than necessary, searching for signs of treason.

That's the opening paragraph of an essay I wrote about going on a skiing trip with my school when I taught English in Hungary. Further along it continues like so:

“Where you're standing,” my co-worker begins again during a pit stop, “was aaaaaaaaall our country.” I survey the portable toilets, the spike-heeled women leaning against truck cabs. “Uh-huh,” I manage, and sip my Coke nervously.

The essay focuses mostly on my complete ineptitude on a ski slope while touching on the complicated history of Eastern Europe and a notion I encountered in Hungary that I like to call “armchair nationalism.”

The Hungarians can be somewhat nostalgic, shall we say, for their empire. What empire? you ask, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, sillies, which held its close out sale pretty near a century ago. But nevermind dates, those maps of the Glory Days are still rolling off the presses and hanging on Soviet-thin walls of apartments across the country, apartments belonging to old men who raise themselves slightly off the seat of their armchairs to point at them with shaking fingers thick as sausage links - “aaaaaaaaall our country!”

I began my year in Hungary knowing just three phrases in the language. They were “thank you,” “fuck you” and “I'm a vegetarian.”

When you think about it, without an extended stay, you can do pretty well on these little gems. But of course, after a while, I grew tired of the man at the photo developing shop shouting me deaf in German and decided to learn more. (One of the next things I added to my repertoire was “I don't speak German.”)

Eventually, with the help of a book, a tape, my students, an occasional tutor and lots of hands on life experience, I learned a decent amount of Hungarian. One of my obstacles to learning more, however, was that my other American friends sucked big time - as in huge juicy lemons - when it came to even ordering a bottle of wine. After months and months of being there they were still so pathetic, anything I could squeak out and with the help of hand motions get a native to understand made me look like I was some kind of linguistic savant.

The other deterrent to studying harder was the Hungarians themselves. They held deeply schizophrenic views of their native tongue. One day I'd hear, “Have you been practicing your Hungarian? HOW long have you been here? Let's hear what you can say, mm?” The same afternoon I'd get, “What in the world are you learning Hungarian for? It's a completely useless language! Stick to English. Take up French.”

Their patriotism, though sincere, contained some profound insecurities, or deep-seated doubts. I can relate. And I seem to have similar voices in my own head when it comes to what to do about political engagement three and a half years after the dawn of motherhood. One day the voices say “HOW old is your kiddo? Let's see what you can get out there and do to turn this place around for him, mm?” And a few hours on they croon, “What in the world are you thinking about political action for? It's useless to bang your head against the wall. You're busy; you're tired; you're doing all you can. Stick to day to day interaction with your son. That's where change begins. Introduce him to the world slowly. Take up French.”

I just don't know what to do. Read the paper or Dr Seuss. Volunteer for phone banking or discuss what brown spiders might eat for the better half of an afternoon.

I just don't want any bastards taking over our government again. When I look out my window, I want to feel like I have some say here, some control over how things go and how they got to be that way. I want to look out and think that's “aaaaaaaaaall our country.”


It's closing in. November.

I often wonder if I am doing enough in my own world to change the political scene... A separate entry to follow on that, but in the meantime, here's a poem I wrote based on our experience at the start of the Iraq war. In the aftermath of dejection that followed the elation of the San Franciso peace march, we fled to Amsterdam for a week. The poem is modeled after a Ruth Fainlight poem. Her poem below too.

Amsterdam Bar, March 2003
(after Ruth Fainlight's “Handbag”)

The Amsterdam bar, dark at noon
crowded with people from anywhere
some, like us, trying to escape
the news of war. The smell of the bar: wood
and smoke and something like electricity.
Elbows leaning, fleshy buttocks edged
to the seam of high stools, all of them
doing their best to push aside
the loneliness of being human
at the start of the twenty-first century.
The looks on the faces of those others,
alight, then fallen, then hopeful,
read, and refolded so often.
Faces I see every day and will never
see again; the flash of CNN on the TV
monitors over our heads, we had to strain
to look, our necks in knots. Odor
of long wood burnished to a glossy finish,
gin and smoke, which ever
since then has meant strangers,
and love, and anguish, and war.

Handbag by Ruth Fainlight

My mother's old leather handbag,
crowded with letters she carried
all through the war. The smell
of my mother's handbag: mints
and liptsick and Coty powder.
The look of those letters, softened
and worn at the edges, opened,
read, and refolded so often.
Letters from my father. Odour
of leather and powder, which ever
since then has meant womanliness,
and love, and anguish, and war.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

mealtime manners

Isaac, it is safe to say, is a sensitive child. There are a growing number of books I cannot read him due to the fact that someone gets somehow lost for a sentence, or, god forbid a page or two, someone's mother is injured, angry or absent, or really any other conflict you can mention in which a misunderstanding causes characters to go through some brief turmoil. The end holds no sway over the means. Happy endings don't count for jack with my kid if along the way the wolf looked a tad cross-eyed at the pig. Pulling a book off the shelf at the library to read sight unseen can be disastrous.

Despite this kind of tender heart, he has never been fazed by the idea of animals eating other animals. “This dinosaur eats other dinosaurs,” he announces to me proudly, holding up his newest piece of plastic. “Woarrrrrr!” Indeed.

The other day, in fact, he wanted to know for the 100 millionth time since he's learned to speak what lions eat. It was that crucial time of day – 4 p.m. on a napless afternoon. “I don't know, Isaac,” I said wearily. “Maybe you can think about it,” he offered magnanimously. “Okay, I'm thinking...zebras?” At this point, you need to know if you've missed this fact, that children are NOT “sponges” in regard to information, as everyone is so very fond of saying. They are BLACKHOLES. Nothing satisfies these creatures. They are intellectual tapeworms who glom onto your brain and don't let go.

Consequently, Isaac asks what he always asks next, “What ELSE lions eat?”

As I was sitting next to a computer that happened to be turned on, I caved to the ready answer of the 21st century and typed “lion diet” into Google. I read off the list to Isaac: “Zebra, giraffe, buffalo, gazelles, wildebeest, and impala.”

“Me wanna see pictures of lions eating.”

“No you don't.”

“Yeah, me wanna see PICTURES!!!!” (This speaking in all capital letters, while not new to the cadence of my son's speech, has recently taken on more nuance - read: Attitude.)

Reluctantly, I brought up a couple small photos.

“That a zebra?”

“It appears to be,” I tell him, peering at the thumbnail of an unfortunate striped leg in the center of a pride of lions. I glance at the picture beside that one. “Oh, look, we can add 'hyena' to our list, too, Iz.”

He leans into the computer screen at the bloodied mouth of a young cub.

“Hey! Let's do something else now!” I suggest.

Yesterday, a friend took me to lunch in Big Sur for my birthday after we picked up our respective wee ones from preschool. Driving down it was gorgeous, as always - the hills putting on a burlesque show with their wardrobes of fog until they were wearing nothing but sunshine.

“Look, Iz, look at that hawk!” The big ole wings were hovering in the blue just ahead of the car.

“Hawks eat fish?” he asks.

Brightened by this change of syntax and line of questioning, I'm refreshed, buoyant even, in answering.

“Yeah, I think so. I mean, they would. I've seen pictures of eagles with fish in their talons, so I guess hawks would eat fish too. But they aren't really fishing birds like pelicans. They also eat stuff like mice, nun-nuns (our left over baby word for your general rodent)...and rabbits...” I add a moment later.



Silence, then, “Me wike wabbits.”

I'm taken back. This hesitation is new. Flashes of hyena fur run through my mind and the mystery of what goes on behind those blue eyes in the back seat deepens. “I like rabbits too, honey. Is it hard to think about something eating them?”

“Me wike wabbits!” he repeats defiantly. “Hawks shouldn't eat wabbits. That's WUDE!”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

birthday present

My son announces that they've wrapped up my birthday books. When I rouse myself from bed on this, the morning of my 39th birthday, he hands me a package wrapped in yesterday's obituary page and tells me, "This is the book I picked out for you at the dump!" I laugh and take it from his delicate hands that have never stilled, since the day he was born they have curled and wiggled, trying to grasp this world that I forgot to wrap for him, though if I had, it would probably have been folded into the obituary page and nevermind because here he is tearing it open, my book from the dump, helping me, one of those hands trying out all of the intricacies of its digits, each of the five with its own idea, struggling to gather themselves to work for a single cause and all the while he is jumping up and down in front of me singing "It's Mama's birthday; It's Mama's birthday!" and all I can think is I really should have gotten him something better, not just this white elephant prize, orb spinning in its own excrement, all of its beautiful forests doomed, and now he's shouting "Hurry! Get it open!" and the paper tears wide and he leaps across the room, lands with his palms spread flat against the blank white wall.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

fashion notes, or, how you know you live in too small a town

I've decided I despise all of my clothes and wouldn't miss a thing if I suddedly discovered my closet raided by gypsies, eaten by crows, or stripped to threads by microscopic weavers from a parallel universe where everything moves backwards. (I'll pause here while you recover from that strange and terrifying image.) ...

You can blame the fashion plate you see in the picture to the left. I know I do.

Nearly three and a half years after the birth of my shining little clothes horse, I have yet to adjust to my new body. It's actually been many bodies since then, really.

When Isaac was first born, I sent Mike out to Goodwill to get me nursing shirts - as in, crappy stuff I could stain or that unbuttoned easily. Half of what he brought didn't fit over my burgeoning boobs. I was confused. This had never come close to happening to me before. I stood in front of the mirror, quizzical. My husband clarified things for me: "They're HUGE!"

Next, I was a breast-feeding, walking machine. I did both activities interminably on a daily basis. Consequently, I ate an embarrassing number of chocolate peanutbutter brownies per week while losing weight right and left. (I don't have a name for this former diet as of yet, but I'll be holding a contest, so send in suggestions. The winner gets to share a chocolate peanutbutter brownie with me. ) This is my personal favorite of the post-partum body phases. However, I was also unbelievably sleep-deprived and hormonally insane and therefore couldn't really work it up to put on anything more than the same pair of filthy jeans and white sweater with chocolate drool on the collar every day.

In addition, there is that inexplicable piece where, although you are below your pre-baby weight, you still don't fit into the clothes you knew and loved as a childless person, since along the way to his graceful entrance from that world to this one, the kid RESHAPED YOUR SKELETON.

No worries. Okay. Next phase: the no longer breast feeding, moved to a less walkable neighborhood, work from home, phase. Oink. Followed quickly by the no longer breast feeding, moved to a less walkable neighborhood, work from home, the kid only wants to go as far as the park in the stroller phase. Oink. Oink.

There is a bag in the bottom of my closet. It is full of clothes I technically fit in but that are not currently comfortable. To confess to having this bag is to confess that I am living my life in a future or past fantasy. It's ugly. The bag is bad news.

When I was in college, I can remember shopping for clothes and having to go back and forth to and from the dressing room a million times because everything I picked out literally fell off me. You could say I had a distorted body image. Times change. Sort of. The distortion has only distorted in a different direction these days.

The motley array of clothes I claim as mine do not make me happy. I've been threatening forever to toss them all and start again and my big chance came just two days ago. I was at a dance performance. Afterwards, I left my crappy pink acrylic sweater with a hole in one sleeve on the chair where I was sitting. I realized it before I left the building.

I made a decision. I was leaving it there. This was the first day of the rest of my fashion life. I would give away one piece of clothing every day until everything I had even the remotest hesitation about was gone, gone, gone. Kind of like the frog in boiling water scenario, I would do it a little at a time, and by the time I noticed, it'd be too late. Perfect. I walked out in the brisk night air sleeveless and determined.

Last night, at dinner, I suddenly realized I'd almost forgotten my promise. "I haven't chosen what piece of clothing to give away today!" I told Mike spiritedly. "Oh," he started, playing with his pasta. "I forgot to bring it home." Huh?

Oh, yes, you see, someone I was sitting next to at the dance performance works with Mike and someone she knows got the sweater from someone she knows, who knew that I was sitting there and that I was Mike's wife and so gave it to Kyra to give it to Mike to give to me... In a complex and disgustingly magic route, called "I live in too small a town," the vile article of clothing found me again. But I'm refusing it entrance to the premises. That kid in the picture may have dumbed me down more than I know, fattened me up more than I'd like to admit, but no crappy pink acrylic sweater is going to keep me there.

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