Monday, December 6, 2010

December already.

A hard rain last night almost convinced my kids that there would be snow. They drew faces with their fingers in the steamed windows and then asked for more cookies.

It was a big sugar day -- one more in the season of sugar. My boy arrived home from a two hour soccer/wrestling/football/basketball match with his pals, stuck his hand in his pocket and came up with a wad of gold foil, bouncy balls, tiny erasers and plastic farm animals all welded together with melted chocolate. Gelt should not be kept in the pocket of an eight-year old for any extended period of time.

The eight-year old is a furnace. He is a fiery pit of rage and tears and roiling, boiling emotions. I hesitate to put the butter dish near his place at the table lest it melt into a pool in the heat of his passion.

An evening that began with a Christmas tree and ended in tears and recriminations. So like so many of late.

Once we'd finally gotten the kids soothed and to bed, I read aloud to my husband. Not "A Christmas Carol," but "Your 8 Year Old." I read this bedtime story to soothe my beloved, to reassure him that our 8-year old was not different from any other boy of that age. That ours was to move through this fiery inferno -- keep calm and peaceful as that much awaited layer of winter snow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Just ate a green chile cheeseburger and drank a beer in honor of my Dad. I can't even imagine how many similar meals we shared during his life. Eight years, later, I still miss his company.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing my head off for NaNoWriMo, so not much here.

But try here at Smartly

and here at The Next Family!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Took the kids to LACMA yesterday on the first of what I've decided will be "Terrific Tuesdays." Thanks to constant LAUSD budget cuts they get out of school early on Tuesdays and rather than spend these extra hours battling over who gets to watch television and why can't we play computer games until nightfall, I thought it would be good to get out in the world and take advantage of some of the wonderful things Los Angeles has to offer.

I chose LACMA for our first adventure because I wanted to check out the brand new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Pavilion where there is currently an exhibition of gigantic stone carvings from Mexico. I thought the big primitive heads would be a source of great delight to my children, but they gave them only a quick glance and then headed into the costume exhibit where they oohed and ahhed over hoopskirts, bustles and corsets. My son chose a fox hunting costume complete with top hat and crimson tailed jacket as his favorite while my daughter gravitated toward the all white lace dresses from the 1800s. We made a quick run through the decorative arts exhibit and I asked pointed questions about the differences in the bronze sculptures of Roman gods and godesses and the big, crudely carved stone heads.

"They're all people," my son said.
True enough.

The real treat for my kids was the bright red escalator that ascends three stories up the side of the new building and affords a terrific view of the surrounding neighborhood. They also greatly enjoyed the gigantic glass elevator in the Broad Contemporary museum while being only marginally impressed by the Koons balloon dog. We wondered why the inflatable pool toys stuffed into ladders and chain link fences were art, until a guide informed us that the toys were actually made of metal and painted to look like plastic. This crazy Koons magic trick was enough to temporarily "wow" the kids until my son started to wonder "why in the world you'd want to make an inflateble about of such heavy stuff as metal."

We made a quick trot past the Picassos, a Matisse mosaic, a Rothko and a couple of Pollacks before my son drew up quickly in front of a troupe of emaciated Giacometti sculptures.

"Hey, we've seen these before."
"Yes?" I said. "Do you remember where?"
"They live at the Norton Simon," he said.
"That's right," I said. "They were made by an artist named Alberto Giacometti."
"He is a good artist for Halloween," my daughter said.
"Because these people are a little like skeletons?" I asked.
"No," she said, rolling her eyes. "Because Jack-O-Metti is like Jack-O-Lantern."


Outside, we counted the streetlights in the arrangement dubbed "Urban Light" by Chris Urban. My son estimated somewhere between 175 and 200 while my daughter methodically counted each one and arrived at 21-Million-billion. (Later, because I like to know these things, I looked it up. There are actually 202.)

We ran across the rain sprinkled grass and checked in with the Mammoths in the tar pit (still stuck.)

In two hours, we saw more "official museum art" than I saw in my first 10 years of life.
"What'd you think of the museum?" I asked as we braved the rainy afternoon traffic jams along Beverly Blvd.
"Boring," my son said.
"I liked the elevator," my daughter said.

Terrific Tuesdays. One down. Hundreds to go.
I'm over at The Next Family!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Two posts in other places and not a lot of posting here.

(Instead of posting today, I've pruned all our trees, researched tree scale, placed a bunch of items on craigslist, sorted American Girl clothes and doo-dads into baskets, printed out my credit report and taken the dog for a walk. This is to make up for the fact that yesterday, all I did was eat ice cream out of the carton with the freezer door open.)

The Next Family

The Smartly

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I'm also over at The Next Family! Check it out...
Last night, the heat broke for a moment and the sky turned pink. My daughter and I ran outside to see what we could see. There was lightning over the mountains, rain falling in dark, smudgy streaks and, miracle of miracles, a rainbow. On the green hill just over the freeway, the big white building that is part of a cemetery shone like a shell in the last of the sunlight.

We saw a man with a dachshund on a leash and he stopped talking on his cell phone to admire the sky with us.

"I was just telling my friend about what a beautiful night this is," he said, gesturing to his phone.

"It is, it is," my daughter shrieked. "It's the most beautiful, wonderful, best night..."

She did a couple of twirls for emphasis and because she was, after all, wearing a leotard and floaty ballet skirt.

We saw our well-groomed neighbor and his well-groomed dog out for their evening walk. Both man and dog seemed relaxed and happy. We exchanged our mutual happiness with the cool evening, with the pink sky. We exchanged our shock at the recent heat and our theories of inevitability. A cool summer = a warm fall.

My daughter waved to our neighbors across the street who sat at their dining table and their own daughter rushed outside to shout hello.

We ran into our house to where my son sat in the darkened office and raced a computer car on a computer track.

"Come outside," we begged.

"In a minute," he said, waving us away, his eyes wide and fixed on the screen.

"There's a rainbow," we said.

Very begrudgingly he stood up and walked outside and looked up. He smiled his biggest smile.
"Wow," he said. "That IS beautiful."

And before we could agree, he ran back inside to the dark and the computer and the racetrack.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I am running out the door, but wanted to take a moment to be publicly grateful. I am grateful for the kindness of neighbors and cousins. I am grateful for doctors who had the skill not only to stop, but to start the heart and lungs of my uncle. I am grateful to friends for their good listening and for their thoughts and their love and their support. I thank my husband and my children for opening my eyes and my ears every day. I am grateful that the temperature has dropped and that my dog hasn't eaten any beloved stuffed animals in at least a day.

Thank you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

I promise to write more here, soon. But for now, here's a link to me over at The Next Family

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"I feel like I've been smashed by a landed comet."

This is what my daughter said to me a couple of days ago. And right now, I get it. I am right there with her under the rubble.

Tomorrow, I drive off to New Mexico and tonight I'm trying to conjure up a few more words to fill my promised twenty minutes.

At least twenty minutes of writing every day. Twenty minutes every day for ninety days. It's a plan and I need a plan.

I am tired, but I am writing. I am tired, but I am thinking.

I am looking forward to the long solo drive across the desert and up into the mountains. I am looking forward to those red rocks around Gallup and the last long hill that glides you down I-40 into Albuquerque.

The last time I made this drive, my dad was in the passenger seat next to me. We'd spent four days in Los Angeles together. We rode roller coasters at Knott's Berry Farm and ate lobster burritos on the beach. I was driving my stepmother's big, diesel pick-up truck and because Dad had Alzheimer's, I drove the whole way. He drew cartoon pictures of us on napkins and picked up stacks of brochures in every rest area and truck stop.

Ten years have passed since this last, wonderful trip. Ten years in which I've gotten married and had babies. I have made friends -- dear friends -- who never got to meet my dad. My children are growing tall and slim and strong and smart. So much time has passed. I still miss Dad. I can still see his thick fingers trace our route across the spread pages of the road atlas. I can here him wondering how soon we'll "hit the road." He'd tell me to "blaze on out of here," or "pedal the metal it."

"Happy trails," he'd say.

My daughter is sleeping in my bed, the comet of her emotion has landed her flat. She's sad that I'm leaving, missing me before I'm gone. I've left her a beaded barrette and the promise of a surprise from my journey. I'll be back soon, I say. But she has no sense of time. To her it seems like I'll be gone forever.

But I know how forever really feels.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yesterday morning, when the kids left for camp, I headed out into the garden with the shovel to dig a little hole to bury the hamster. My husband had kindly wrapped her in paper towel and placed her in the animal cracker box that would be her coffin. I was grateful not to have to feel her fur, so soft over such a stiff and awkward form.

I dug the hole, placed the box at the bottom and scraped the dirt back on top. All the while, I was acutely aware that I was being watched. Next door, a gardener was standing on a folding chair clipping the hedge atop the fence that separates our yard from our neighbor's. He was wearing a safari hat and a jacket with many pockets. He observed me quietly and without judgment the way a birdwatcher might watch a bird. I felt like I should say something. I should say something to him or to the earth or to the spirit of the hamster. I said, "you were a good hamster. Thanks for being here..." I realized that it's hard being an adult at a hamster funeral. I can't blame my daughter for wanting to run away from this event, for wanting everything to be put away when she returned from camp.

Recently, I returned to my childhood home to find the closet in my old room entirely empty. It was the first time in my life that I'd ever seen all the walls and the floor at the same time. It's an extremely large closet, like a room, but I don't think it ever seemed large. I'd been putting things in it for over forty years and then, suddenly, everything was gone. There are not words large enough to explain my relief. My stepmother assured me that my wedding dress and a couple of boxes labeled "do not throw away" were in another closet, but I didn't even check. I didn't ask about the other stuff, the stuff that wasn't labeled. The vision of those walls, that floor return to me from time to time like a breath of air. Even the hollow sound of emptiness is a peaceful one.

Yesterday, after the burial, I took the aquarium outside and dumped the paper bedding into the trash. I tossed the little cake house that had been pretty seriously chewed and the paper towel tube that Flowersheartsandstars had used for a hiding spot. I washed the glass walls of the aquarium and the ceramic food dish and the water bottle. In addition to these very useful every day items pertaining to food and shelter, the estate of Flowersheartsandstars contained only one plastic hamster ball and a fancy, blue sparkly Cinderella carriage that rolled when she ran inside. She left an almost full bag of bedding, some timothy grass and a box of hamster pellets.

In the last two years of my grandmother's life, I moved her three times. Each time, I edited her possessions, divesting her of unnecessary items. Extra cutting boards, sets of china, the bedroom set, nearly twenty pairs of scissors in different sizes. I sorted through her clothes and her books and cleaned the food from her cupboards. There were bags of prunes and bags of candied orange slices and boxes of oatmeal. She saved plastic bags and glass jars and shoe boxes. She saved tiny bars of soap and had a dozen nail clippers. I tried to be tender as I sorted through her things, tried to be gentle. I tried to watch with the kind of interested distance of the birdwatcher or the gardener. But I thought about my own drawers, my own cabinets, the little hoarding tendencies inherent in my own life.

Disposing of the hamster's estate took about fifteen minutes. It was a sad business. Somewhere, some time, I will do this for other people and somewhere, sometime, someone will do it for me. It is part of the ritual of death and loss, I think, this careful going through of things. I think that somehow, touching all the things that belonged to my Grandmother made her eventual death a little easier. I felt as though I had known her better, known all the little ticks and oddities she wouldn't have ordinarily shared. I don't know much about the hamster except that she had a little stash of food hidden in the corner of her cage, but I do know that the act of putting her things away and setting our house into a new kind of order brought a soothing movement to my sadness.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I've got a piece over at The Mother Company -- gorgeous website with nifty things for the wee ones.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I will never again keep a small creature in a glass box or cage. I will refrain from bringing home anything small and furry and scritchy-scratchy in a little cardboard box from the pet store. This will be hard. I have a child who loves little things: mice, hamsters, rabbits... they are impossible for her to resist with their soft little ears and beady little eyes. Their twitching noses and pink feet.

We must resist.

It is difficult to know a creature so small, so dependent. Little feet behind glass. Little heart beating. And not beating.

Another dead hamster and this one a complete surprise.

Upstairs, the kids and their dad engage in a pre-sleep wrestling match. They shout and laugh. I don't know how to tell them. Don't know when is the best time to reveal a small, dead thing.

Not before bed. Not tonight, when the tooth fairy is headed to our house.

Maybe I can tell them the tooth fairy took the hamster, too.

Tomorrow, a garden funeral before summer camp followed by the retirement of the glass aquarium and the running wheel and the house shaped like a cake.

No more small pets. I am writing it down so I don't forget.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Here's what we're doing today...

We've eaten cheeseburgers and ice cream sundaes. We've walked the dog around the block. Twice.

There is a lot of fighting. When I hear a loud thump or scream or bump, I say "is everything okay?"

My son says, "It's fine, that's just the sound of a sister being tortured by her big brother."

Today, my daughter coined the term "nipple pit," as in "you are such a nipple pit."

Today the paper says it is not as hot as yesterday, but I'm not sure I believe it to be true.

It's summer. And both of these kids are as bright as the sun.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Because we recently found PhotoBooth. And because the weekend is over. And because the kids are going to camp. And because shouldn't we all look at ourselves like this sometimes?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And, so I was wrong.

Wrong headed yesterday and wrong about Theo being alright.

Though he seemed fine when we went to the movies, just before the show started, my phone buzzed in my pocket.

"He's pretty red. And breathing funny," our babysitter said.

We were already standing, already moving our way through the darkened theater.

My husband and I, in times of urgency, move together easily, both cruising toward a solution. Day to day, when our movements are not so synchronized, I forget we have this skill. It is as satisfying as the crisis is alarming to find that we are, indeed, both level headed.

Home to find our boy the color of a beet. His eyes were wide with worry. He held a tissue clamped to his nose.

We piled in the car and headed to the E/R. We've been there before with my son. A febrile seizure, a split forehead, stitches to mend the spot hit by a thrown chair (kindergarten can, apparently be a bit wild.) Theo was sent back right away and he asked for my husband to accompany him.

I stayed in the waiting room with my daughter. She sat on my lap and we watched other people and their children. A mother and grandmother rushed to inquire about a boy who had been brought in by helicopter. Another mother tried to explain in broken english that her daughter had a pain in her "private place." A toddler with a fever drank Sprite poured from a McDonald's cup into his bottle and another boy cried and cried. Through it all, the intake nurse, a tall, man with a kind voice said again and again, "tell me what's wrong, Mom, tell me what hurts."

"What are you thinking?" I asked my daughter.
"I'm thinking nothing," she said. "I am listening to everything."

My husband sent cheerful text messages from inside which calmed me only a little.

Finally, we were allowed to join Theo and his dad and it was a great relief to see my boy sitting up, red faced, but smiling.

"You carry an Epi-Pen, don't you?" the doctor asked. His son, the same age as mine, had a peanut allergy, too.

"When we are camping," I said. "But not all the time."

I felt sheepish. Why didn't I carry it all the time?

Have I grown complacent? My kids are usually healthy. We are all blessed by this health. I don't have to think about their health every day and for this I am grateful. But I worry that Theo's allergy is like the bad news in the paper. It is something so scary to me that I ignore it entirely. I am not going to panic, but I am going to be mindful of this thing. David and I are calm in the face of crisis, but it would do us more good to be calm on a regular old day, too.

Yesterday was not my best day of parenting, but I am trying not to beat myself up. I am watchful. My boy is okay and I have an Epi-Pen next to the lipgloss in my pocketbook.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Today, I told my son to "stop behaving like an idiot." When he looked at me in shock, I immediately followed that with "I didn't say you were an idiot."

So wrong in so many ways.

It's been a tough day. Too much time, too little structure. I'm worn out and worn down and worn in. Like an old shoe.

The kids bickered constantly. When they weren't bickering, they were asking for stuff. They want Legos and ice cream and popsicles and plastic ponies. They want toys and more toys. I pointed out that they already have lots of toys. Lots of toys they don't even play with. We made a plan to sort these toys and send some to live with other children. But the sorting didn't go that well. Even a kid without any toys isn't going to want the sad and broken assortment my kids were willing to pass on. Unless that kid was planning on building his own version of Watts Towers, I'm afraid the three stray marbles, broken plastic dinosaur, tangle of beads on lanyard, head of Batman and a few mishapen plastic cowboys aren't going to be that useful.

So, I got overwhelmed by all the trash we have accumulated under the guise of entertaining the kids. Educational or not, it all turns into a big mismatched hodgepodge mess. Oh, Melissa and Doug, you purveyors of wholesome wooden toys, damn you.

At any rate, when things got tough, I snapped the leash on the dog and led the troops on a walk. Our first trek took us to the Griffith Park pony rides and then second, much longer walk ended at the new frozen yogurt store. (Yes, I am not all evil parent.)

At the frozen yogurt store, the kids filled cups with crazy flavored yogurt (red velvet?!) and piled candy on top. Marshmallows, frosted animal crackers, gummy bears and sprinkles. As they spooned their way through this sweetness, my son thought he tasted peanut. He's allergic to nuts of all kinds and peanuts especially (though they aren't a tree nut.) His face went white and I tried to maintain my cool.

"How do you feel?" I asked.

"I feel like something is weird," he said.

He wheezed a little and my heart felt a little smashed.

We tossed the yogurt and started our walk home. I'd left my cell phone on the kitchen counter and I had only a few dollars in my pocket and my kid had possibly eaten a nut. For the millionth time today, I wondered what the heck kind of mom I was.

"Are you sick or are you worried?" I asked.

"More worried," he said.

"I'm here," I said. "It's okay."

And it was. We got home. He took some Benedryl as a precaution. He felt better.

I'm crazy about him. I'm crazy about both of my kids.

I think I was the one behaving like an idiot.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just finished reading the paper. The good news is that a big chunk of open space in Orange County has been preserved. The bad news... well, shithousemouse, where to begin?

Yesterday, I took both kids to the grocery store -- always a challenge -- and while we were there, Sadie decided she wanted to surprise me with a birthday gift.

"Don't look," she said, "I'll be right back."

I dutifully averted my eyes (while still keeping an edge of her pink skirt in view) and went about my shopping. She returned a minute later with a gigantic mylar balloon shaped like the sun. The thing was, I kid you not, two feet wide. And shiny gold.

"Don't look," she said.
"I'm not looking."

We walked this way through the grocery store. Me, face averted, Sadie trailing behind with her balloon and my son bouncing in and out of my field of vision, each time holding some new thing.

He wanted mini-marshmallows, bright green yogurt in tubes, chocolate granola bars, chocolate milk, gum, a bag of mints wrapped in patriotic plastic... And the list goes on.

"No," I said. "Not that," I said.
"Don't look," Sadie said.
"Can I have," Theo said.
"Holy shit," I nearly shrieked. (Still with eyes averted.)

Somehow, we made it out of the grocery store. Somehow, the giant sun-shaped balloon made it through the check-out desk and into the car without my detection being detected.

At home, the children rushed upstairs to prepare the the gift in secret.
Moments later, Sadie appeared, grabbed the tongs from the kitchen drawer and retreated.
"We have a situation," she said. "But we are problem solvers."

The balloon was captured and presented and my surprise was as real as I could make it (thank goodness I was a theater major...) Now, it bobs around the dining room, startling the dog.

The sun is in our house. It's trailing behind me in the grocery store, it's in the faces of my children and the sweet way my husband looks at me. It's the goodness of our friends. The sun helps the trees make lacy shapes on our lawn. It's summer and the sun is in our house and in our life and I look out at the world from my sunny spot and I am so grateful.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My son would like a GPS for his life. It's not a bad idea. I wouldn't mind having one, too.

Imagine what it would be like: this nice voice (probably with a British accent) would say things such as, "You will experience frustration in 1.5 miles." or "Great joy at next exit." It might say, "Take the next job ahead," or "bypass this relationship for the one around the corner."

I want my son to know that he has a kind of built in GPS. I am trying to help him tune into his internal voice. I want him to "trust his gut." It's hard work, this tuning in. I am still working on it. But when I listen, I know it's there. And it's usually right.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Saturday morning, we looked out into our yard and saw hundreds of bees. In the sunlight, they looked almost metallic, whizzing through the air like tiny spaceships. For some reason, they had decided to gather on a slim branch at the top of one of our trees. As they gathered, they clumped and their collective weight pulled the branch down toward the grass.

I thought at first, they had come to harvest nectar from a particularly great bunch of flowers. I thought perhaps one bee had taken a sweet sip and then sped back to the hive to do a little "great grub," dance and everyone followed him back for a picnic. But at day's end, they had stopped flying. They looked like they were settling in.

A bunch of bees on a low hanging branch is not a great match for a kid with a frisbee. I herded my son indoors and typed "Silverlake bee rescue" into my computer. (Isn't it amazing that we can find almost anything in just few keystrokes? I continue to be overwhelmed by all the information out there, but also so incredibly grateful for it. A conundrum of our time, I suppose.)

The next morning, Vincent showed up. He's a bee guy. He brought a mesh hat and gloves that fitted tightly over his shirt up to his biceps. He also brought a cardboard box and a mini shop vac. He would collect the bees and take them home to his collection of hives where, this year, he'd already harvested five thousand pounds of honey. Holy smokes!

Vincent let us stay in the yard while he suited up. He told us that our bees, if left alone, would start to build combs in the tree. He looked around our yard and said it was a good bee yard. He told us that once he'd fallen twelve feet from a ladder and landed on his back to protect the clump of bees he was holding. He told us that the bees in our tree were in their most docile state. And then he told us to go inside and watch through the window.

From our vantage point atop the washer and dryer, we watched while Vincent sprayed the bees with sugar water (to keep them busy) and then carefully climbed the ladder and clipped the branch holding the largest cluster of bees. I had a momentary fear that when he snipped it, the branch would swing upwards and launch it's buzzing cargo into the neighbor's upstairs window, but Vincent held it still and worked the clipper with his elbow. The cluster of bees looked like a bunch of grapes clipped from the vine. Vincent settled them carefully into the cardboard box and secured the lid with duct tape. The bees outside the box took to the air.

"They're going to land again," Vincent assured us. "They want to be in the box, too."

We ran upstairs to press our noses against the window for a better view. The bees did want to be in the box. They wanted to stay together. In a matter of minutes the screened end of the box was covered with bees. Using a little whisk broom, Vincent gently swept these bees into a second box. Those bees that evaded the broom were collected with the mini shop vac.

In less than ten minutes the bees were gone.

Vincent removed his mesh hat and gestured for us to come out. He showed us photos of bees nesting in hot tubs and bird houses and even in the head of a fiberglass snowman.

"I am totally writing about this in in my journal," Theo said.

Me, too.

Friday, June 18, 2010

School's out for the summer! Holy smokes. In a short forty minutes my kids will be all mine for nearly three months. To paraphrase Shaggy and the Scooby Gang: Zoinks!

I've been thinking about WHAT WE SHOULD DO. How to keep busy (but not too busy.) How to keep them from fighting each other, me, the dog... How are we relaxed, but alert. How do I keep my boy from spending every waking hour hunched over the keyboard lost on some computer generated island.

Two days ago, I said, "We've got to keep active."
And he returned, "My computer body is active."
"No," I said, "Your BODY body."
"I kind of like it when it stiffens," he said. "When I'm on the computer parts of me fall asleep and that feels good."

In order to keep most of our parts mobile and awake, I'm making a list. It might start this way:

Walk the dog, kick a ball around the back yard, see how many different kinds of leaves we can find on our street, paint a picture, dig a hole, make a mud pie, practice your headstand...

There's lots and lots of options. And, yes, computer, too. Writing for me, games for the boy. We all have our own islands.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Trees on My Block

I have been thinking a lot about being present. I've been reading some books about "mindful" parenting and "mindful" living. I've had a few conversations where I tried to explain what "mindful" really means. It's a funny word and one, I think, that gets thrown around an awful lot lately.

For me, it means being present. It's the act of standing on the ground, with your eyes open and looking around at your world. It's about taking in an experience before reacting to it. Being mindful is not knee-jerk. But it isn't so relaxed that you're letting the world wash over you. It's about being alert and aware and ready. Sometimes I think we confuse being ready with being in action. Ready is not pulling your jacket on as you unlock the car. Ready is having your jacket on before you open the front door.

At any rate, a dear friend of mine has an art show up for just a few more days and her paintings make me think of being "mindful." She has painted all the trees on the block surrounding her house in Pasadena. When I am feeling like my head is about to pop off with stress and fear and anger, I like to think about Elizabeth walking around her neighborhood looking at the trees. She's given each tree (or bush or artfully carved shrub) its own place on a small square of plywood. These paintings are so small they invite you to come closer, to participate in Elizabeth's mindfulness. They ask you to take a moment to admire the curve of a carefully carved topiary or register the starkness of bare branches against a winter sky.

Because I am lucky enough to know Elizabeth, I know that her paintings are always this specific. I know that being "mindful" is part of how she defines being an artist. In other series, she has paid careful attention to all the bits of trash in the vacant lot across from her studio and to the things she sees on her commute. In this way gum wrappers and streetlamps and the shiny handle on a car door are all elevated. These things are part of Elizabeth's world and part of ours.

As I type, I am aware of the way the keys press against my fingertips, I hear the whir of the refrigerator and the shrill peeps of the young birds nesting in the magnolia. I see dust bunnies in the corners of my office and I resist the urge to spring up and grab the broom.

If you have time, take a trip to the Pasadena Armory for the Arts and check out Elizabeth's show. It's only up for a few more days and it is worth the trip.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A couple of days ago, my dad would have turned 70. I got through most of the day without remembering this fact. It's been nearly eight years since he died and over those eight years, my commemoration of specific anniversaries has slipped. This is, I think, a good thing. It's what Dad would want. This does not mean that I don't miss him. I do. Sometimes with a fierceness that takes me off guard and sends tears literally spouting out of my eyes.

Dad is not buried anywhere. We cremated his remains and have scattered his ashes in many places that were special to him and to us. I have saved a little bit in a small brown box wrapped tight with a rubber band. There is no grave to visit once a year and this seems freeing to me. He is tied to nothing and because of that, he is tied to everything. I mourn him and celebrate him and I move on with my life all at the same time.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Memory of Pokey the Cat

At the ripe age of eighteen, Pokey Goodman (nee Damler) has passed away. Born in La Jara, New Mexico, Pokey was adopted as a kitten by the guitar playing sea captain and harmonica expert, Fritz Damler. First dubbed “Slowpoke,” she spent her youth engaged in mousing duty on the ranch.

When Fritz’s craving for adventure lured him from ranch life, Pokey moved to an elegant condo in Santa Fe, where she grew fat and comfortable lounging on the heated brick floors in the company of art lover, Connie Dempsey. It is perhaps here in Santa Fe, that Pokey developed her fondness for the word marvelous and her smoker’s meow.

It was during her stint as museum cat at Tinkertown Museum, that Pokey met Tanya Goodman (nee Ward) and a partnership would be formed that would prove to be lifelong. Tanya and Pokey moved back to Los Angeles together and into an apartment in the hills of Echo Park. Tanya’s fiancĂ©e, David Goodman, former cat hater, was soon won over by Pokey’s loving nature.

David was not the only one whose heart was melted by this small cat. Handsome Italian actor Allesandro Mastrobuono proved a passionate soul match for Pokey. Until she was found out, she crept from the Goodman bedroom each night, squeezing herself through a loose air-conditioner vent, leaping from a balcony rail to a narrow window sill and into Sandro’s humble yet romantic cottage.

As Pokey moved with the Goodman family from Echo Park to Silver Lake to Los Feliz, she did not waste time by slinking around under the sofa or shivering in the closet. She welcomed each new experience with a loud meow and a healthy curiosity, consistently endearing herself to realtors, contractors and moving men.

When the Goodman family expanded, Pokey was delighted. She was patient enough to withstand the rough, yet loving attentions of a baby and a toddler. She attended tea parties, wore numerous doll dresses without complaint and was only too happy to share a large cardboard box with Sadie Goodman. Sadie and Pokey formed a tight bond. Sadie designed many hats, collars and necklaces for the cat and consistently celebrated her with cards, drawings and parties. “Pokey might have been the best thing in my life,” Sadie said, after hearing of Pokey’s passing.

Pokey never met a person she didn’t like. She was just a cat, yes, but she had an open, kind heart and a kind of knowing gaze that made her a friend. She will be missed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Filthy Cupcake

My children were born in the autumn so, for me, the “holiday season,” begins in September and continues right on through January 1st, at which point, I take a long hard look in the mirror and see just why it’s become so arduous to zip my jeans. Birthday cakes, Halloween candy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, latkes with sour cream, Christmas roast, (because we’re a mixed faith couple), pie and pie and pie, all washed down with wine and capped with a Champagne toast.

Thus begins the yearly urge to eat “clean” food. Every woman’s magazine at the checkout line touts a New Year’s cleanse. The newspaper health section offers helpful hints to clean out your kitchen cupboard and Oprah urges us to clean up our acts. And for the most part, I’m in favor of all this cleanliness. It feels good to eat steamed spinach and lentils and roasted vegetables and tofu. It’s lovely to spritz a bit of lemon juice over a plate of greens; so darned satisfying to munch up a bowl of brown rice…

Maybe it’s because my college boyfriend turned vegetarian only slightly before he turned celibate that at a certain point in my clean food crusade, I have to get just a little bit dirty. It starts small. I’ll have a square of dark chocolate. For the antioxidants, I’ll rationalize. A midweek glass of red wine is helping my heart. That slice of white toast spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar is a trip down memory lane. How can something so comforting be dirty?

And then, slowly, but slowly, I begin to construct solid defenses for more and more food that, at first glance might appear suspect. Home baked chocolate chip cookies are not as dirty as those that are store-bought. And, by the same token, a grilled cheese sandwich toasted to gooey perfection on your own stove can’t possibly be as naughty as one made by a complete stranger at your local diner. Seeking to right further injustice, I spend a day stirring ground beef, veal, milk, wine and tomatoes together until they marry in the perfect sauce Bolognese. It would be a crime to serve this over anything but the most hearty of egg noodles.

Because my parents were born in the Midwest and traveled with the carnival, I believe myself to be a kind of expert on dirty food. Chocolate chip cookies skim the surface. I’ve dug deep, through the loam to the hard clay below. Cheese curds, for example, with their earwax shapes and squeaky exteriors, are most certainly dirty. For family picnics, my grandmother made what was known as a “dump cake,” an ungodly (yet delicious) combination of fruit cocktail, yellow cakemix, and melted butter all dumped unceremoniously into a pan and baked. On the midway, we ate corn dogs and chilidogs, and candy apples with their burnished red sheen of a classic car. We devoured churros and funnel cake fried in oil the color and texture of a prehistoric tarpit.

My father’s father passed to him a taste for canned corned beef hash and he, in turn, passed this love to me. And it’s a dirty love. Mary Kitchen Hash comes in a big can with a red label. With the first plunk of the can opener blade, the salty, sweet scent of chopped corned beef wafts through the air. When the lid is finally cranked open, the meat, studded with waxy cubes of potato stares up at you pinkly. Congealed fat holds the meat and potatoes together in a cylindrical shape that is so solidly packed into the can, it must be scooped out with a heavy spoon. This step of preparation can be slightly off putting because at this point, the hash has the aroma and texture of dog food. Forge on. Scrape the last stubborn bits into a frying pan and let it sizzle. When the hash has browned and bits are sticking to the bottom of your pan, do what my dad always did and crack a few eggs over the whole mess. Let everything cook together and then scrape it all out on two plates. We always enjoyed the hash with raisin toast and a couple of good laughs.

A fancy schmancy coffee house in my neighborhood serves up the most divine scrambled eggs with house-cured salmon and spring asparagus. I love it, but I would gladly pass up this bowl of organic, free-range goodness for life if I could pull up a chair next to my dad and dig into one more plate of his hash and eggs.

Clean food is good for the part of the heart that pumps the blood, but dirty food seems better for the heart’s more sentimental workings. When I think back to that college boyfriend, I remember once when we argued, he threw a piece of broccoli at me, but I don’t remember the taste of his steamed broccoli. What I do remember is his French toast. I think fondly of his floppy blonde hair and the lobster rolls we ate in Maine. I imagine the rough wool of his favorite sweater against my skin and I can almost taste a plate of blueberry oatmeal pancakes we shared on spring break.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy cleaning up my food act. I actively like lentils. I love kale. My cupboards are filled with mung beans and black beans and grains of all kinds. I harvest fresh chard from my garden and my husband has, on occasion, had to ask if we could have a meal that doesn’t include squash. Brown rice is better than white, and the whole grain is a good grain. These foods will keep me strong and healthy, but truth be told, it’s the filthy cupcake that keeps me young.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A walk up the hill this morning revealed a clean scrubbed city and vibrant green grass. There were three tiny clouds floating across the mountains to the east and nothing but blue sky overhead. Pretty gorgeous stuff.

Nearly every day, my husband and I walk up our street and into Griffith Park. Our loop begins with a long, steep hill and ends on a street lined with magnolia trees so large and they seem out of a fairy tale. Every morning, we see the same people -- the lady in the red hat with the big, brown dog, the guy with the beagle, the serious young girl with the I-pod. My favorite dog is named Tiger. He's some kind of pit bull combo platter with really short legs and a huge head. If a dog could laugh, this dog would laugh all the time.

Our walk gives us structure. It helps reset our brains after the hurry-scurry of getting the kids off to school. Our mornings lately have been hectic. The kids are intense. They don't want to get dressed, or eat or pack their backpacks. They are tired and cranky. They are loud. Today, they both started screaming for no reason other than to see how loud they could scream, how wide they could stretch their mouths. They jack up the volume on the stereo, bounce tiny rubber balls ten thousand times in a row and pour the box of crayons out on the floor. In the single hour that between the second they open their eyes and the moment they walk out the door, they never, ever stop moving. They never move toward anything practical like breakfast, clothes or a warm coat.

It is good to walk. The blue sky, the clean city, the tiny clouds want nothing from me. The short dog laughs, the woman in the red hat waves hello and my feet are almost silent on the ground before me.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Just finished watching E.T. with my kids. Am soggy with tears. I wasn't sure if it would stand up -- it's been so long and there's that silly Neil Diamond song and I couldn't quite separate the film and the song, not to mention one of the greatest product placements of all time. Oh, for a bag of Reese's Pieces.

At any rate, watching it with the wiry little body of my son curled like a spring next to me on the sofa, I felt the way I would guess E.T. and Elliott feel. That is, I felt what Theo was feeling. He was excited and sad and happy. He thought things were hilarious and terrible and scary. And I did, too.

Tonight, sitting on the couch, eating handfuls of slightly burnt popcorn and feeling exactly the way my boy felt is, I think why we have kids. And if it's not why we have them, it's really one of the great perks.

I've been in need of perks. Tonight, Theo jumped into my arms when the movie finished. He jumped into his father's arms. His eyes were bright and the blue of my hometown skies and his smile so big, his face so wide with wonder it's impossible to think of anything else.

So, thank you, Mr. Spielberg and goodnight.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So, our fish died. From what? Hypotheses include "curl up and die" and "die-a-betta."

She is technically not our first fish. She replaced our first fish who had the good sense to pass on while the kids were at school. We switched her out like Darren on "Bewitched" and no one really seemed to notice. The original fish was called "Lolly," at some point the new Lolly became "Tanya the fish" and then without any rhyme or reason TTF became "Pebbles Goodman." The new fish is blue and red and has some jazzy shell shaped glass rocks to float above. Her name is Lily Goodman Daisy (though really, I think all Betta fish are male -- at least the pretty ones.)

The old fish died on Sunday while my son was in the bathtub and I was searching through my daughter's hair for lice. Oh, yes, more pets.

I found a louse, Sadie noticed the fish was dead and Theo swore for the first time when my husband tried to get him out of the tub.

"Jesus Crisis," he screamed.

My husband and I turned away, hiding smiles, holding our speeches and waited for the storm to pass.