Monday, December 6, 2010
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
Friday, November 5, 2010
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.
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.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
(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
Thursday, September 30, 2010
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
Friday, September 24, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
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
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
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
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
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
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
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.
Friday, June 18, 2010
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.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
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
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.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
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 fiancée, 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
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.