Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vegetable love

I love having cut flowers in my home.  There is a Navajo saying, "I walk in beauty", and having fresh flowers in my home reminds me that beauty truly is all around me.  Usually I buy my own flowers at the grocery store, but I am occasionally graced with a bouquet by my husband.  Last week he brought home a wonderful spray of yellow orchids which looked like Victorian dresses blowing on a clothesline.
My favorite bouquet from him, however, had no flowers.  I don't remember the occasion, but I treasure the memory of him presenting me with an artful arrangement of vegetables.  It sounds odd -- well, it was odd -- but it was lovely.  Red onions mixed with tall white leeks, and they were off set by a couple of long-stemmed, purple-edged artichokes. Instead of baby's breath I received a spray of broccoli.  It even smelled good in a hearty, savory way.  It took me several days before I took the whole thing apart and used its beauty in a whole new way -- supper.

Making People Happy

I spend a lot of my time trying to make the people around me happy, but tonight I have been unsuccessful.  I should go to bed and get a fresh start tomorrow, but I don't know that I could sleep through the dark noises in my head.

For me, one of the hardest parts of parenting is the knowledge that a failure on my part could have disastrous consequences for my children.  That, combined with a near-constant sense that I am doing things wrong, leaves me spinning in circles, trying to both please and discipline, constrain and encourage my children.  Sometimes I wonder if as adults they'll use their hindsight to quietly diagnose me with bi-polar disorder.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I should be making dinner

but I haven't been to the grocery store in five days, and I don't know how to make dinner with what I have left in the fridge and cupboards. I've been trying (as have we all) to save money, and one way was to use some of the bounty from my cabinets. We've made it a couple of weeks that way, but unfortunately, that now means creating dinner using ingredients like: two limp refrigerator carrots, cheddar cheese sticks, a can of water chestnuts, three unopened jars of curry powder, Cheetos, a can of baked beans, and random segments of deep-frozen lamb that would take hours to defrost.

I need to pitch a new reality TV show to some network.  I'd call it "What's for Dinner?" and send a celebrity chef into a randomly chosen home, giving him or her 45 minutes to create a nutritious, balanced, tasty meal with whatever is in the cupboards/freezer/fridge of the house in question, and regardless of the state of the kitchen (What?  You have to work around dirty dishes in the sink? There are no sharp knives? Welcome to the REAL world). It'd be particularly fun (challenging) to send gourmet chefs into households in food desert areas (under-priviledged neighborhoods where food is only available from convenience stores or big-box stores) and see what they can do. All recipes would then be published for real families to use.

Ultimately, a second review of the deep freeze turned up some hamburger, which, when combined with the tortilla chip crumbs from the back of the pantry, chopped up cheese sticks, slightly fermented salsa (vegetables -- with a kick!) and some canned (white northern) beans should be able to pass as nachos. Dinner, anyone?


Violet desperately wants to do everything her big brother does, and he currently is focused (rather, is being reluctantly forced by us and his teacher to focus) on reading and writing.  She's watched and listened, and the other day presented me with a picture on which she wrote her name and Sam's (his is backwards).  I get no credit, but I sure do take pride in my little self-taught child.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'm a morning person

Much to my night-owl husband's dismay, I'm a morning person. And not just a morning person -- I like to be up when everyone else is sleeping.  There's something about a sleeping house that is remarkably peaceful. Since getting the alarm clock, er, dog, I've expanded to enjoying a sleeping city. This morning, no thanks to the time change, we walked again in the dark. At long last we were accompanied by the scolding of robins and crows who were unaccustomed to our company. I was delighted; robins are the first sign of spring, and their song cheers me like nothing else.  In addition, we witnessed garbage trucks trolling the alleys -- a sight that thrills me now that I have children who get excited by heavy machinery -- and groggy bathrobe-clad people taking the recycling bins to the curb.  My personal symphony also included the rumble of freight trains announcing in long wails their arrival and departure through the rail yard.  Sometimes I am privileged to hear the roar of lions or trumpeting of elephants from the zoo near our home.  Today I did not, but as soon as I returned home I was treated to the cacophany of a waking family.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I never imagined what spending my days with a three year old would be like, let alone one who is dangerously observant.  I love Violet's company, but every once in a while she does something I hate: she behaves like me.  Sam did this too -- "Mommy, if you don't do this, then you will be in time out!" but from him it was cute and obvious. Violet is more subtle. I recently have been hugely frustrated with the molasses-in-January-like response to morning promptings to get up, dressed, fed, and out the door. My (unfortunate) response has been to get much louder (and, dare I say it? meaner) about the whole thing. Lo-and-behold! Violet has recently been expressing her anger by yelling.  Her childish temper tantrums have evolved into more grown-up temper tantrums. Her play also mirrors my behavior. She has found a compact mirror and uses it as a telephone while she "works" around the house on her (toy) computer or, even worse, she feels the need to clean the floors and has even put off going somewhere or doing something with me because she needs to finish cleaning.  What am I teaching this child?

Complicating matters is my desire that both children see past the very 1950s life we have right now (Dad working, Mom cooking, cleaning, and caring for the family) to understand that all household jobs can be done by everyone in the family regardless of gender. I save basic repairs (tightening loose screws on chairs, minor plumbing, fixing broken toys) for myself to do in front of the kids, and I believe everyone in our family needs to learn the basics of "homemaking". Sam is well on his way with cooking; he makes our scrambled eggs many mornings, both kids are great help with baking projects, and both have chores. Will obliges when I insist that he clear his own plate and occasionally vacuum, do dishes, and help fold laundry.  Yet I won't let Violet help clean the toilets.  So far I have put her off with explanations of the danger of the chemicals I am using, but really it's the fact that I don't want her to grow up feeling that it's a GIRLS job.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the kids a disservice by staying home with them.  They do get healthy meals and have incredible opportunities (especially summers in Vermont and whole weeks at my family cabin) and I get to spend a great deal of time with them.  But they don't always appreciate what, and who, they do have.  Perhaps I would make better use of my time with them if I had less of it, instead of wandering the internet aimlessly while they make mud pies in the back yard.  Plus, I could afford a maid . . .  

There's no real way to know if we're on the right path. In the meantime, I do occasionally get a good laugh out of my mini-mirror. This morning as we got dressed, Violet came into my bathroom with a light-blue oval block.  She raised her left arm, and sliding the block up and down her armpit, earnestly told me that it was, "What do you call it, Mommy? Deodorant for tree-years old".  She doesn't miss a thing.  Except the other armpit.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Morning commute

I quit my job two years ago this month.  I suppose it's an odd anniversary to celebrate, but, like most anniversaries, it marks a life-changing event.  Actuarial tables indicate that marriage, moving, and job changes are the most stressful things in American life, and I can believe it.  I also believe that it has taken me this long, and may take a little longer, to undo some of the mind-pretzels I bent at the end of my career.  I am finally able to acknowledge how unpleasant I was at the end -- how my bitterness must have affected those around me. And I now allow myself to take pride in how hard I worked, and even believe that it made a difference.  I may not have been terribly effective at single-handedly fixing everything I touched, but I learned a tremendous amount -- and not just accounting!  That said, I'm not yet ready to return to that world.  I'm afraid to try.  I'm afraid that I will make the same mistakes, and bumble through, and lose confidence, and nearly break myself again.

All this went through my head this morning as I drove away from a sleeping family in the pre-dawn light.  I met my dearest friends downtown for breakfast, and to get there I had to join the worker-bee commute.  Few people in this world have such a lovely morning drive. I faced west, the sun behind me outlining eastern clouds in pink and orange and shades of gray that are too beautiful for a name.  Before me lay drifts of mountains fading into banks of gentle morning clouds, the tableau rendered in black and white by winter's hand.  Standing tall -- behind the leafless branches arching above, but proud before the mountains -- were skyscrapers made of dawn light, sparkling in the rising sun.  And above, a sleepy yellow moon drifted downward, relieved of duty by Apollo.

This view was once familiar to me.  I never took it for granted, but my morning commute now involves sweat pants and a lone set of stairs.  Dog walks have reopened my eyes to the dawn, but I face east, and trade the mountains for the sun.

So today, I cracked open my window and breathed deeply until my nose chilled, and then watched the dance around me of cars and people and bustling hurry-hurry between trains and buses, weaving cyclists and cell phones into the tapestry of a city whose walls rose above me and blocked out the grandeur of both mountains and sunlight.  And I missed it, the sense of purpose; the heads-down idea that if you just get there a little faster something will change and you will have made a difference.  I missed it for a little while, and then I had breakfast, and came home, and quietly, slowly, without rules or deadlines, crossed a few things off my list before picking Violet up from school.  And I decided that my fear, for now, is okay.  I don't need to join the dance yet.  And when I do, I will remember to look up to the sky and the mountains, even if it means bumbling some of the steps.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another Little Poem

My apologies to those who read real poetry, but sometimes I can't help myself.

March Moon
tonight the moon shone
so bright
her seas were no longer visible.
The street lights,
hung their heads
and stared sullenly down.
In the spaces
between their yellow glares
I was lighted all in silver
and for a few steps
felt ethereal
like a fairy
from my childhood dreams.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A snippet of poetry

I sometimes jot down poems on whatever pad of paper is handy, and then lose them in the mix.  Here's one I found today.

At Night
You sleep with such abandon!
I am amazed by your travels 
across blanket-hills
and rivers of sheets.
I find you twisting and turning
within the canyon walls of your bed frame
sprawled across mountains of friends
who watch over you.
I marvel at your nocturnal journeys
wondering what strange dream countries
this child -- who never leaves my embrace --
visits alone.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Go fly a kite

What is it about flying a a kite that is so enchanting?  The kids and I went to the mountains this weekend to hang out with my folks.  We originally had planned to go skiing again, but glorious weather does not make for glorious skiing, so instead we found activities to do near home, one of which was pulling out a kite from the back of the toy cabinet.  For once the day had just the right amount of wind, and the kite jumped and pulled immediately into the air, riding the breeze before an advancing snow storm.  This kite is simple and easy -- a multi-colored parafoil with twenty-foot streamers in every color behind it.  Sam soon had it flying high, looping and dodging with each shifting gust.  Everyone in the park stopped and watched: toddlers pointed and practiced saying "kite"; teenagers in angst looked up and smiled; and passersby stopped to ask where they, too, could purchase a kite.  I sat on the brown grass singing "Let's Go Fly A Kite" to Violet while Sam raced around, letting out ever more string, glorying in having "the highest kite in the world!"  Finally, when it was so high we could barely see it, the wind began slowing, and I could see sheets of snow marching down  the valley, bringing winter back.  I got the task of reeling our bird back in, with Sam offering encouragements like "We're doing a great job.  See, Mom, this doesn't take too long!"  When, at last, we were back on earth, we strolled between snow flakes back to the house where hot chocolate waited.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Quiet Little Rant

I used to fill my days with noise -- music, talk, windows open to the world.  For the past few weeks, though, I've been choosing not to turn on the radio in the car, or while folding laundry in an empty house, or in the morning in the few minutes I have to catch the news before the whirl of children and dog and husband and breakfast and lunches to pack and so many other things begin to twist around me.  I am the eye of my family storm.

In seeking to create a quiet space around me, I feel increasingly assaulted by the piped in noise in every public space I come to.  I'm sure we've all heard the rants against blaring TVs in airports and at gas stations.  But what about restaurants, grocery stores, telephones on hold, and other places?  I took the kids to a movie last Saturday at a recently built outdoor shopping complex, and was annoyed by the strategically placed speakers along the street, pumping some generic rhythmic music toward my ankles, as if my feet could be hustled along by the latest pop star.  It seems not even the sidewalk is safe anymore.  Don't get me wrong -- I love my iPod with an immoral love, and having my personal tunes with me has been a salvation on more than one occasion.  But in those circumstances I am in charge of the genre, volume, and company with whom I share said music.  And I am amazed, sometimes, how turning a noise source off -- even sweet classical music -- can bring a sense of relief, as if the music has been literally pressing uncomfortably against me.

I understand the marketing behind a fast beat, or the idea that people feel more festive in a musical atmosphere.  But there are times when all it does is jangle the nerves and raise the volume.  Attending a recent birthday celebration at a restaurant, I asked the staff to lower the music.  No one else in my party could hear the drum beat that caught my attention, but, particularly since it was jazz and not rhythmic, it played into the frantic interactions at the table.  Once off, everyone slowed down, and throughout the restaurant people quieted and eased back a little in their chairs.  

As an armchair anthropologist, I wondered how many of our daily interactions would ease a little if we didn't have the added element of someone else's idea of tunes.  My three-year-old daughter understands this -- when she's grumpy, she orders me to turn off the radio.  The quiet soothes her, and often I, too, find myself winding down to the sweet sound of nothing.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What if . . .

Not sure why, but I am consumed with nostalgia and "what ifs" right now.  A strange convergence of college-era music rolling through iTunes, contacts by numerous past-people on Facebook, and a travel twitch has me meandering through memory gardens this month.  Perhaps some of it is the fact that I don't feel anchored in my current life.  Nothing around me is what I imagined. I'm not even sure I imagined this far.  The other day I was pulling laundry out of the washer and the sound of pebbles, coins, and pen parts falling back into the metal tub reminded me of a social studies experiment from third grade.  In it, our teacher placed a metal trash can on a desk, had us close our eyes, and began pouring BBs from another container into the trash can.  I don't remember the specific lesson -- something about "this is how many times over the world can be destroyed by the nuclear weapons stockpiled by the United States and Russia" -- but I remember how the noise just kept thundering on and on and on and on.  Another vivid memory from that time is a scene from some post-apocalyptic made-for-TV movie in which a child suffering radiation poisoning begins shitting blood into a sink he has to use as a toilet as his mother holds him and tries not to weep.  I remember those two things so clearly, but much of the rest of my childhood is cloudy.  I do know I wrote awful short stories about life after "the bomb", and dreadful poems about the need for world peace; but I don't think I ever expected to have a future.  So here I am in the now, and I don't know what to do.  How do I follow a path I can't see?  I guess I continue stumbling forward, knowing I will get somewhere.  It's just hard, because looking back, I see all those other turns, and I wonder, "what if?"