Sunday, July 25, 2010

You can go home again, but it won't be pretty...

The house is tan now, not mint green.

The huge locust tree out front, the one that constantly dropped branches and that my parents worried would fall on our roof with every storm, is gone. As are the evergreen bushes that shielded the concrete porch's stark lines and sheltered the crocuses my mom planted, that heralded the arrival of spring.

The side yard, where I practiced and practiced and practiced my running roundoffs, and attempted (unsuccessfully) aerials all summer afternoon, is cemented over, with a giant blue truck parked there.
The red monster truck is parked out front. I wonder how the Glowackis and the Hills feel about that. It's pretty butt ugly and takes up way more than its fair share of space.

My dad's garden and wild orange lilies are gone, replaced by a huge dog kennel of chainlink, reaching skyward. Exactly how big is that dog, I wonder? It makes our teeny little chainlink fence, the one that protected us from the neighbors' ferocious terriers - ha - seem like a plaything. We would breathlessly leap the fence to retrieve errant balls, with the doggies yapping loudly at our heels.

There is also a giant, faux-gingerbread-y garden "shed," large and sturdy enough to house a small family. I have no doubt it harbors a loud, exhaust-belching (and wholly unnecessary) riding mower.

Old Lady Weston's house is no longer the spooky, Gothic mansion hulking halfway down the block; its porch boasts pretty hanging baskets and the yard a picket fence. The Rosatis' split-level no longer hosts the biggest collection of gaudy lawn ornaments any of us have ever seen; the Teitzes no longer claim a secret, turquoise pool none of us ever swam in.

I don't even know if the Barneys or the Bobos still live here, but the apartment in which my parents lived for the first three years of their marriage is still there, with its gravel driveway into which my mother flung her engagement ring one angry night.

I wonder when the houses all shrunk.
And when the huge, overreaching mulberry tree was chopped down.
And when our "woods" became a scrub patch on the side of the freeway wall.
I wonder if the kids still play hockey in the cul-de-sac, and if there are blockwide games of Kick-the-Can and jailbreak in the dusk. Or if maybe the children are all holed up in Stacie's basement, playing Atari.

But Peggy still offers up home-baked cookies, and Mr Hill is pottering around his garage.

Some things never change.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 27, Day Before NJ edition

On today’s upcoming vacation menu, for (chewy) starters: some nonfiction. William Langweische’s American Ground: The unbuilding of the World Trade Center. I have been a fan of Langweische’s writing since he wrote for “The Atlantic.” He can take what seems like the most prosaic of topics and imbue it with such energy and interest that the book becomes a page-turner. This book was no exception. It was tough to read, but he handled the information in a sensitive, compassionate manner.

First course (pasta): Tender is the Night. I dunno, don’t ask. Sometimes books just leap off the shelf at you.

Main course (meat): The Passage. This is nominally a vampire book – yes, there are vamps, but they could just as easily be zombies or plague or some other great and unavoidable evil. The Passage is much more than a summer blockbuster featuring bloodsuckers. It reminds me of Stephen King’s epic The Stand. I am about three-quarters of the way through it; it is compulsively readable, but it is not going to end well, so I keep procrastinating wrapping it up.

Main course (vegetarian): The Cookbook Collector - Allegra Goodman. LOVE. But then I am a Goodman fan.

Palate cleanser: Brideshead Revisited. I had never read this, can you believe that?

For afters, we have the following books, all of which I saw at Target yesterday and thought, I should read that. But I already own them. Bargain! They join the TBR pile:

The Zookeeper’s Wife - Diane Ackerman
Sarah’s Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
Cutting for Stone - Abraham Vorghese

I did almost buy World War Z but managed to restrain myself.

Nom, nom, nom. (That’s the sound the zombies make, too…)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Homemade Life - Molly Wizenberg

I like food. I like cooking it, I like eating it, I like talking about it, and I like reading about it. I like food memoirs. I love MFK Fisher, John Thorne, Laurie Colwin. I enjoyed Nigel Slater’s books, and Ruth Reichl’s sort-of-food-memoirs.
I have cooked my way through Bonny Wolf’s Talking with my Mouth Full and Michael Lee West’s Consuming Passions. So when I first picked up A Homemade Life at the library a year or so ago, I was pretty sure I’d at least enjoy reading it.

The first third is mostly about her charming, idiosyncratic, but loving family. The middle third of the book is situated in Paris where she studies and then teaches for a chunk of time, and the last third is about starting her blog, Orangette, and meeting her husband.

The recipes separate a decent food memoir from a stellar one, and these recipes look divine. The chapter on Molly’s mother’s Christmas cookies made me vow to buy it the minute it came out in paperback, and so I did; I plan to crank out some of the fruit-nut balls this December for teacher gifts. I have at least a dozen other pages tabbed to try: her father’s potato salad, the ginger pear cake, the lemon yogurt cake, her exchange/foster mother’s tuna croquettes, the Dutch baby pancakes. The list goes on.

It’s precisely the sort of food book that makes you want to go rummage through the pantry for something delicious to eat.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday break

We've been having a very nice weekend.
Friday night we all watched a Thomas movie (even the big boys liked it), and then when the Littlers were in bed, me and Primo and Seg sat around eating Oreos and watching "Cake Boss."

Yesterday I managed to get myself to the gym. But the rest of the day the boys played outside, then we trooped to the pool for an hour, and then ice cream for "dinner," with French toast and fruit for "dessert."

Seg is off on to a birthday party today, and Primo just turned down a playdate with his best friend because he is, in his words, "tired and grumpy." He's lying down, reading.

H is expected home late this evening.

I have been glued to The Passage.

I did haul everyone to Barnes and Noble, to buy the birthday present for Seg's party. I also bought Allegra Goodman's new book, The Cookbook Collector; Molly Wizenberg's food memoir, A Homemade Life (already adding more recipes to the must-try list); and Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, because I am sick to death of coping with the library hold list.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 22 - The Wedding Version

Four small boys.
Seventy-two hours.
H out of town.

I am afraid it's going to be very Lord of the Flies round these parts for the weekend.

It's going to have to involve an awful lot of alcohol.

Or Benadryl.

But the good news is, I have The Passage to read.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 20

What exactly is it about online friendships?

Is it because you can edit what you say before hitting that Send button? You can be as smart and witty as you want to be, because you have a moment to think before you speak – er, send.

Is it because you rarely meet the person in real life, so the mystery is always maintained, no matter how close you grow?

For example, I adore Suse. We email. We snail mail each other things. We have Skyped, and I have seen her and heard her voice. But I have never, much to my regret, sat next to her at a coffee shop and watched her stir 6 sugars into her coffee or harangue the barista because there's not enough foam on her latte. (I am not saying Suse does that; just that she could and I would never know. Perhaps I should have picked a more hypothetical example.) I have no idea if the fact that I pick my cuticles or constantly run my hands through my hair or curse at old people driving too slowly in giant cars would drive her round the bend, and there is a very good chance that we will never spend quite long enough together to find out.

When I met up with Blackbird, lo, eons ago, we had a mere weekend to catch up and cram in everything we wanted to say; perhaps if we were next door neighbors, that intensity and feeling of, I dunno, being almost in love - you know, like a girl crush - I wanted Blackbird to see only the funniest, smartest bits of me - would dissipate. Of course it must. My next door neighbor, whom I happen to like very, very much, has heard me scream at my kids, and watched me retrieve my paper in ratty old pajamas and unwashed hair, and puts up with having to look at my toy-scattered front yard on a regular basis. And we are still good friends. But the magic, as it were, has long since gone.

Which isn’t to say that Suse and Blackbird don’t know the REAL me; they maybe just know the BEST of me, because I have the luxury of editing myself.

I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I still have friends “in real life;” dear friends to whom I can talk in person and with whom I lounge around and drink and knit and eat burgers. I could not live without them. But often the stupid things that flit through my brain are voiced before I stop myself; I reveal things in ways I wish later I hadn’t. And if I get a bad haircut or have a big zit on my chin, there’s no hiding it. There is no editing “in real life.”

Here’s another interesting thought: I interact mostly online even with one of my closest friends in real life. Gina lives four miles away from me, but we often won’t see each other for weeks on end. But we email and text and call…so is it the case that were this means of communication not available that we would slowly cease to be friends? In this case, I think not – Gina and I have been friends from before the crazy burgeoning of online communication. It does mean I can chat with her during the day as often as I like, at each other’s convenience. And I think that may be one of the keys to the success of online relationships – they are indeed conducted at one’s convenience. As someone who curses every time the phone rings, this is a huge advantage.

(Although I will point out, re: that perceived convenience, that Gina and I may be unique in that, if we have plans, neither of us considers it remotely rude or odd to say, “I don’t feel like going out in the cold tonight, and I’m achy and just want to go to bed.” There is never any recrimination or sulking or anything; it is a true luxury to have a friend one can blow off without repercussions or guilt.)

Via the Internet I have met many lovely people whom I am proud to consider friends, whom I may never meet in real life, and who, honestly, may come and go from within our loose circle of acquaintances. But this doesn’t make them any less “true” friends.

What do you think?

NOTE: NO names have been changed in the writing of this blog post. I reiterate, Suse may very well only take FIVE sugars in her coffee.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

water, water everywhere...

Despite the huge piles of library books cluttering up my bedroom, I have nothing to read.
Last night I cracked open The Bell Jar.

What a writer.
I am not a huge poetry person, but I must check out Plath's poems now, too.

And you should all probably be grateful that we have an electric oven.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Friday, Day 17, summer vacation

Watched "Lightning Thief" with bigger boys. Abysmal. How could they cut out entire characters? And the dialogue! Blergh...Paul the octopus predicts Spain for the World Cup winner...reading Jen Lancaster's Pretty in Plaid; if you are my FB friend, you will see that ole Jen had nothing on me...but she is very funny...tomorrow's plans: zumba, soccer, watch soccer, soccersoccersoccer is that all I ever think about? Well, you know, hockey season is over...picked up The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life from the library, despite the fact that I can't recall who recommended it and the fact that it reminds me of I Don't Know How She Does It so far...anyone have a copy of Lorrie Moore's Anagrams they could lend me? I can't find it at my library. If worse comes to worse, I will buy it, but just rereading Robertson Davies' Fifth Business because some guy I email reminded me of Davies and I love him- Davies, not the craving tomatoes, what does that mean my body wants?...library books: LEGO: A Love Story; Bitter Seeds; Don't You Forget About Me; Food of a Younger Land; MOM: A celebration of mothers from StoryCorps; William Langewiesche's American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center; Michael Pollan's Food Rules; Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey; George Carlin's Last Words. Capsule reviews will follow eventually. G'night.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Day 15, summer vacation 2010

Today I had a blazing epiphany at the gym.

The only reason my body should ever expect to have to run a couple miles as fast as it can is because someone got run over by the combine and I am getting them help.

I am built to dig potatoes in the fields, not samba to Latin tunes.
(By the time my hips get to where my feet are, they are supposed to be going in the opposite direction anyway.)

My ankles were designed to be covered by Wellies worn as I muck out the cow and horse stalls.

When Stalin starved out his people, I may have lasted longer than most, but in modern times in America, that cuts no ice.

My Eastern European peasant stock cannot be disguised, much as I may long to be a true gym rat with jutting vertebrae and hipbones.

Not that this means I give up, as my brain rather likes its endorphins.

But it may change the feelings of inadequacy engendered in me by about half of the denizens of my health club.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Day 14, Summer Vacation

Currently reading Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs.
In this bit, he and his wife discuss their second son's upcoming bris.

'It's not going to hurt,' I told [him], though, of course...I had no idea whether it was going to hurt him or not. That was one of the skills you learned as a father fairly early on, and it had roots as ancient as whatever words Abraham had crafted to lure his son Isaac up that mountainside to the high place where he would bare his beloved child's breast to the heavens, as he had been commanded to do by the almighty asshole or by the god-shaped madness whose voice was rolling like thunder through his brain. It was not the making of a covenant that the rite called Brit Milah commemorated, but the betrayal of one. Because you promised your children, simply by virtue of having them, and thereafter a hundred times a day, that you would shield them, always and with all your might, from harm, from madness, from men with their knives and their bloody ideas. I supposed it was never too soon for them to start learning what a liar you were.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Monday - Day 13 of Summer Vacation

My dining room is mostly finished.
The painter/contractor (my lovely neighbor) just (just! ha!) has to re-install the double-hung 6-over-1 original window he found miraculously sandwiched between plywood plugs, and then deal with the giant bay window with coffered ceiling. Which is a big job - but most of the furniture can be put back.

The room itself was a huge job - the linear feet of moulding alone made me want to weep with despair. Not to mention the plaster ceiling that needed patching, the uneven plaster on the walls, and the ornate fireplace mantel. He did an amazing job. I can't believe it's the same room.

It is now a warm pumpkin-y, terra cotta-y color, with a white ceiling and cream woodwork, except for the mantel cabinet doors which were stripped down to their original oak so he could find the hinges and glass leading. They look so lovely that I am contemplating stripping the whole mantel, because F assures me that it's oak.
But one insanity at a time, thank you very much.

I need REAL dining room furniture.
Our table and chairs are pale, Shaker-style IKEA pieces, which are just fine. They are sturdy, easy to keep presentable, and have clean, stark lines.

I have a glass-fronted cherry Mission-style cabinet that I use as a china cabinet. Yes, the boys cracked one of the panes of glass, but that's fairly easily fixable.

My grandmother's old cedar chest holds all my table linens. It's pretty, but there's no obvious place for it to sit; however, it has huge sentimental value so I refuse to store it away or get rid of it.

But the main china cabinet is a cast-off from my brother- and sister-in-law that I thought was hideous when they had it in their dining room, yet when they were going to throw it out in favor of a new (even more hideous) set, for some reason H and I said, Sure, we'll take it. It's almost as if we don't believe we deserve new, nice furniture, in our taste. I DESPISE this thing. It's flimsy and battered, and is way too small for our embarrassingly palatial dining room. The room screams for a big, chunky, solid piece anchoring the sconce wall. Instead, this thing wobbles and teeters on its ridiculous little legs and rattles every time someone walks by it.


To that end, I have spoken to the man who built the bookcases in the bedroom,and we are designing a cabinet/set of shelves, with maybe glass doors and with drawers for all the linens, to fit into the space between the outside wall and the fireplace. It's as if that space was made for some sort of built-in, and if he does even half as beautiful a job as he did in my bedroom, I will be delighted. Besides, think of all that storage space!

But, you know, now that you mention it? You know what else I hate?
All the crap plates and bowls and tureens and jugs and glasses various relatives have pawned off on me when they were clearing out *their* basements.

So I arranged my pretty, beloved things - my grandmother's Depression glass, the Czech crystal friends gave us as a wedding gift or my brother brought back for me from his travels, my treasured and oft-used wine glasses, hand-thrown and glazed pottery we have picked up and been given here and there - in the cabinets and am packing away in the basement, wrapped carefully and labeled, the stuff that I hate but can't in good conscience give to Goodwill because, well, what if my mother-in-law asks someday where the crystal urn Great-great Aunt Ethel gave us is?

As soon as I convince H that a dining room without an ugly green polka dotted area rug is a) easier to clean, and b) much more attractive and elegant, I will be quite pleased with the one grown-up room in my house.

If only I could get the boys to stop sticking things to the walls.
I threatened to beat any child who thought they must attached sticky foam letters to my freshly-painted walls.
Even if those letters spell "MOM."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday - Day 12 of Summer Vacation

******MOVIE SPOILER ALERT*********
"Remember Me" with Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame) amd Emilie de Ravin
******MOVIE SPOILER ALERT*********
******MOVIE SPOILER ALERT*********

OK, you have been warned.

H was out playing guitars last night.
When he does this, I usually plunk in front of the TV, watch some stupid movie he has no interest in seeing, and knit.

Last night, I watched "Remember Me."

RPatz plays Tyler Hawkins, a 22-year-old New Yorker who is coping with a family tragedy, and trying to be a good son and brother, and who falls in love with the daughter of a cop who unjustly beat him up and has pretty horrific family history of her own. It is NOT a comedy - it is a complicated, thoughtful, actually quite lovely movie about a young man trying to find his way in the world, and Pattinson displays acting skill of which I did not, frankly, think him capable. (Of course, he was also nice to look at...)

The movie was just about over, and I could not puzzle out how in God's green earth they were going to end it. It seemed pretty clear it wasn't just going to be some smarmy happy ending, the rest of the movie was too complex for that....but the smaller tragedy of what happens to the character is compounded by the huge scale tragedy of the day -- it ends on Sept 11, 2001, which you should see coming, looking back - but you don't see it at all.

RPatz's character is waiting for his high-powered father in his offices...the camera pans from him looking out at the city, saying what a beautiful day, and then the camera slowly pans out to outside the building looking at him, silhouetted in a window of one of the WTC towers. And from there...well....

I had a visceral reaction - I felt like I was going to vomit.
I sobbed, and could not stop.

Does everyone else remember sitting in front of CNN or Fox that day, watching live footage, praying and shaking and crying (and in my case, frantically speed dialing two loved ones who worked across the West Side Highway from the Towers)? I felt like that's what we all did, that tragic and horrible morning.

Till now I have pretty successfully avoided any commercial representation of that day on purpose...."Man on Wire" was bad enough and that was just the Towers, not what happened. This was...different. Punch to the gut.

And *I* am lucky, because everyone I love who was in danger at all was safe at the end of that day.
And it still affected me that way.

I am experiencing, in the words of Joke, "hangover" today.

I can't shake it.

I really, really wish I had never watched it.

But then I would have missed an otherwise wonderful movie.
Even the ending, while maybe manipulative, was not trite or overdone.

But I have a very hard time with anyone using the events of that day for any form of entertainment.
I finally stopped sobbing, but my eyes are still swollen today.

I probably should have just watched "New Moon" again.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Day 11 of Summer Vacation

I am paralyzed.
I need to clear up the kitchen and mop the floor.
I need to put the dining room furniture back where it belongs.
I need to grocery shop.

Instead, I am sitting in my bedroom, putzing around on the computer, eating goldfish crackers straight out of the bag.

I don't want to be climbed on or sat upon or tugged at.
I don't want small boys to put their feet on me.
I don't want to look at one more crayoned picture or listen to one more tediously detailed plot description of a new DS game.
I am tired of having to share everything I put in my mouth or want to look at.
I don't want to be called Mama a thousand times a day, for a thousand small favors.

I want the baby to get his hand out of the cracker bag so I can get mine in.

I may not survive summer vacation.

I do not want to be in my own skin any longer.

I want to be in someone else's skin, some person who is a good mother with patience and spontaneity and an interest in hauling her kids to a museum or playdate.
I want to be the person who doesn't care that the seven year old just spilled a full cup of juice on her freshly washed floor, or that none of the males in her house seem capable of peeing IN the toilet.
I want to be the person who doesn't wish to throttle her husband for coming home early to take a nap, or for getting in her way while making dinner so he can wash his hands at the kitchen sink.
I want to be the mom who doesn't yell and roar and throw things.
I want to be a person who puts on clean clothes in the morning and they stay clean, most of the day, not sullied by popsicle stickiness or diaper residue or snot.

I can't take a vacation because when I do, my husband gets angry about why I need time to myself. I don't know if he actually hates me, but I sure feel like he does.

He works constantly, and I don't feel like explaining anymore to anyone that he loves to work like this but I am burnt out.

I very probably could deal with this by upping my medication dosage.
Or drinking more. Like, starting at 11am every morning.

I hate that I in theory adore my children but in reality wish every last one of them would leave me alone.

I am tired of being me.
I think everyday of David Foster Wallace talking about how he got tired of having to work so hard just to exist everyday.
Not to be happy or fulfilled but just to exist.
I know exactly what he means.

And I am sick of myself.
And I will keep going, and eventually I will snap out of it somehow, and in ten years none of this will matter and I will wish for my children climbing all over me.

But right now, right now...right now I feel like bathing in my self-pity, sinking under its surface and letting it fill my ears and mouth, letting it drown me.