Saturday, September 30, 2006

And suns grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief, And the year smiles as it draws near its death. - "October," William Cullen Bryant

2 heads of green leaf lettuce; 2 heads of red leaf lettuce; 8 tomatoes; 2 red peppers; 1 green pepper; 10 lbs carrots, shredded; 3 lbs ricotta; 3 lbs ziti; 3 lbs Italian sausage; 2 lbs grated pecorino; 3 lbs fresh mozzarella; 3 35-oz cans of whole tomatoes; 1 lb prosciutto; 1 lb hard salami; ½ lb sharp provolone; 1 lb parmigiana; 1 lb green olives; 1 lb green garlic-stuffed olives; 35-oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts; 1 lb roasted red peppers; 1 big jar pepperoncini; 7 loaves of Italian bread.

Oh, wait, I forgot the 2 lbs of spaghetti, the 60 meatballs with sauce, and the 24 deviled eggs H's mom is making.

That’s not counting munchies, dessert, coffee, or alcohol. I think H bought two cases of beer and a case of wine. I am making a full sheet cake (hence the ten pounds of carrots), with a sextupled cream cheese frosting recipe.

You would think we were feeding the invading Huns; instead we are feeding H’s family and a few family friends.

It’s grey and cold here, And all I want to do is go home and curl upon the couch with a mug of tea and read the rest of No Angel. Instead, I go home to bake a birthday cake, and concoct four pans of ziti. This alone is a good reason to NOT HAVE ANY MORE CHILDREN.

The first birthday party is always ginormous; after that, they are much more low-key and with many fewer people. And by their third birthday the kids all request chocolate cake. Terzo gets carrot cake tomorrow, traditional first birthday cake fare. I am taking the oh-so-wise Joke’s suggestion this time around and just plunking the Happy Meal Lightning McQueen and Sally and Mater on the cake.

Now that he’s one, Terzo has decided he wants to walk. He can maintain an upright position for several minutes, and he actually took four steps yesterday. He weighs almost 27 lbs, so I suppose a little adjustment in center-of-gravity and whatnot is in order.


After I finished grocery shopping last night, I wandered over to the Barnes & Noble, for a cup of chai and some browsing.

Of course I saw a ton of stuff I wanted to buy: several gorgeous blank books on clearance; Francine Prose’s Reading like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them; Mark Haddon’s new book, Spot of Bother; The Thirteenth Tale for which I am 78th on the list of holds at the library; the 10th anniversary release of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, with the delicious Colin Firth as Mr Darcy; The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter which is surrounded by almost as much buzz as Water for Elephants; Margaret Atwood’s newest collection of short stories, Moral Disorder; Jennifer Weiner’s new book, a collection of short stories, The Guy Not Taken; some weird and oddball selections I wouldn’t mind reading: Pigtopia, The Shroud of the Thwacker; and did you know Nick Hornby has another book like the delightful Polysyllabic Spree, that just came out in August, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt? Sarah Waters’ Booker-shortlisted The Night Watch; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; Clare Messud’s The Emperor’s Children; Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise.

I had in my hot little hands Alexandra Fuller’s Scribbling the Cat, her follow-up to the strangely unsettling Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, The Mercy of Thin Air, which I saw mentioned on someone’s blog recently, and a book by a local author who happens to be one of the other kindy moms, The Baby Goes Beep! but in the end, I went home empty-handed.

I am just so scattered these days. I requested one of Barabara Trapido’s novels from the library and forgot to pick it up; I brought home from work’s book exchange several Lee Harris mysteries and haven’t picked up even one; I can barely concentrate long enough to read the newspaper lately.

Plus, I have Peter Carey’s Theft: A Love Story, Rebecca O’Connell’s Myrtle of Willendorf, and Rafaella Barker’s Summertime sitting patiently at the library as well, waiting to be picked up. If I can rouse myself long enough to walk down there some lunch hour and retrieve them.

I know most people find autumn invigorating and brisk – I just want to go into hibernation. I can't even write a coherent blog post.

Wake me in April.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Two Things

“Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away!”

Am I the only person who is somewhat surprised to remember that the pre-1960s past did not actually occur in black and white, as film and photos would lead us to believe? I mean, I know of course that that wasn’t the case, yet I’m always a little surprised when I think that people who looked at a neighborhood church built in 1897 saw it in the same vivid color and context that I do, and not in grainy grays or sepias.

Is this as result of my own boneheadedness, or does it have something to do with my age? I was born in 1971, I don’t have colored memories of things that were filmed or photographed in black and white.

“Love! The Language of Love!”

The boy’s school starts teaching Spanish in Kindergarten, so by now (4th grade) he has a better grip on the language than I do. (Sesame Street and two stoned semesters of college Spanish can only take a girl so far.) Last night we were talking over dinner about the kind of letter we could write to a hypothetical pen pal in Madrid. I told him that I wouldn’t have much trouble, as long as my pen pal was a toddler, and then gave him a sample translation:

Dear friend,

Hello! How are you? I am fine. I have brown hair and two hands. My house is green. I have two kittens. Their names are Jack and Benny. I like to drink beer and I like to smoke. Where is the bathroom?

I love you!


The boy nearly shot milk out of his nose, let me tell you. I was amused, but he was in stitches. And then, looking to extend the hilarity, he asked me to write a letter to a pretend French pen pal. Oh, the humanity—I’ve never taken a French class!

Hello, my friend!

One, two, three, four, five! Cat in the hat. Please pass the butter.

My God!


At this point, dinner was all but forgotten and we were both laughing to the point of crying. Who needs dinner theater?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Enjoy the cupcakes, but don't just enjoy the cupcakes: enjoy each other." - American Dragon

“Terzo’s Cupcake Birthday”

Synopsis: In the Babe household, one's actual birth-day is celebrated with cupcakes. Often, some school friends are invited over to share in the festivities. It's a much more relaxed event than the official family birthday party, which is traditionally held on a weekend, involving food for dozens, amazing mayhem, and a full, decorated birthday cake. Not to mention hours of interaction with H's family, and lots and lots of stress for BB.
To make the cupcake birthday event even more pleasant, although perfectly capable of baking cupcakes, BB chooses to purchase delicious cupcakes from a local bakery. The only nod to organization is calling the day before to make sure two dozen cupcakes will be available on the day.

Produced and directed by BabelBabe.

Scene 1

A neighborhood street in Little Italia. A cop walks the beat, old Italian men sit on benches in the sun, a burly man unloads a beer truck into a bar’s basement.

It’s sunny and warm, the perfect late September morning.

BB walks from the bakery, pushing the umbrella stroller that steers much like a tractor-trailer, box of cupcakes balanced on top.
She is 1) trying not to spill the venti nonfat latte tucked into the stroller basket; 2) trying to gently turn the stroller over the curb so her darling birthday boy does not get smushed by oncoming traffic; and 3) trying to avoid running smack into the oblivious man who has just turned the corner and cut her off. We watch, horrified, as in slow motion the white bakery box containing two dozen cupcakes (“assorted flavors, assorted frosting”) slides gracefully off the back of the stroller top and lands – with a soft, sweet, sickening thud – this-end-up on the sidewalk.

Cut to: BB crouching on sidewalk, assessing damage.
The box is still sealed; the tape held.

BB: Shit! Shit fuck goddamn it all!
Passing Woman: Oh. Oh! Now that’s a shame!
BB: (looking up and around blindly) What? Huh? Oh, yeah. Yeah. Thanks. (under her breath) Shit shit shit!

She picks the tape off the side of the box, opens it to assess the damage.
Close zoom to inside of box.
Cupcake carnage.

Zoom out, slowly. BB sits on the sidewalk, vainly trying to right the cupcakes, smearing frosting all over fingers. She clearly does not know whether to laugh or cry; she opts for a little of both. Hysterical laughter, teary eyes. She sits right down on the sidewalk, righting cupcakes, talking to The Baby.

BB: I don’t know. Should I go buy more cupcakes? I could see if I could salvage them. Oh shit shit shit. Oh, Baby, I am so sorry. If you were the first child, I would without doubt go buy more cupcakes. But you’re the third, and so I am going to take these home and see what can be done.

BB stands up, tapes the lid back on the box, and carries it any which way – because what does it matter NOW? – back to her car, pushing the stroller in front.

Scene 2

Back at the house.
Cupcakes are lined up on the kitchen counter, scraped clean of their frosting.
They look vulnerable, like Marine recruits who have just been shorn – nekkid cupcakes.

All the frosting BB can salvage, from the inside of the box lid and from the cupcakes themselves, is piled into a little Pyrex bowl. It’s chocolate and vanilla, but with a few quick turns of the spatula, a lovely pale tan frosting is born.

BB: (quietly) Hmmm. (licking fingers thoughtfully) Not too bad. They just might do.

Pleasant background music.
Afternoon sunlight streams in the kitchen window.
BB hums and frosts, hums and frosts (something perky and vaguely childlike, such as a Muppets tune or Row Row Row Your Boat).
She could salvage only about 2/3 of the original cupcakes, but it should be enough. She twirls her finger around the almost-empty frosting bowl and pops it into her mouth, followed by a giant bite of one of the irreparably damaged cupcakes.
Thoughtfully, she surveys the repaired cupcakes.
Zoom way out, to a shot of the entire kitchen, BB a lone, proud figure, standing by her damaged cupcakes, frosting spatula in hand.

BB: Not too bad at all. Nothing a few chocolate sprinkles wouldn’t disguise.

Up tempo music begins to swell.
With a flourish, she scatters an entire jar of chocolate jimmies over the reborn cupcakes, and voila! A cupcake star is born.
Triumphant music.
Zoom out to box of repaired cupcakes.

Scene 3

A wide-angle shot of a full dining room, glasses and plates all over the table. Pan the room. Children hang off dining room chairs, eating cupcakes, sticking fingers in frosting, yelling out, “Vanilla one for me!” or “I want a chocolate one!” Parents, trying to relax but keeping an ever-vigilant eye on their offspring, stand in the background, surveying the scene. BB sits at the end of the table, looking like she wishes she had a drink in her hand rather than a chocolate cupcake and a glass of milk at her elbow.

One small person in particular has inhaled his cupcake, seemingly in one breath, leaving just the faintest smidge of tan frosting in his hair, and a few sprinkles stuck to the collar of his shirt.

Fade to black.
Roll credits.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

You look at me and you see your past, Is that the reason why you're running so fast? - Matthew Wilder, "Break My Stride"

I had the most pleasant dream last night – about a dear old friend in which we did all those things that fill you with delight and desire in the beginning of a new romance – transforming mundane activities like grocery shopping or going to the movies into little scenes of contentment and happiness. Into feelings that at last, AT LAST, you have found someone who fits you and into whose life you fit, like a glove. Nothing graphic – sorry Badger, just lovely and sweet and satisfying.

And then I woke up.

And immediately was filled with sadness – that I don’t believe in something like reincarnation, that I don’t get another go-round, another shuffle on this mortal coil, to be with this person who I know – I KNOW - could be so right for me in so many ways, to do things differently this time and not mess up so much and not misstep so often. I am currently reading Mary Roach’s funny and engrossing Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, a fitting follow-up to her funny and gross Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and in it, so far, there is NOT a compelling case made for reincarnation, more’s the pity.

And then? I felt guilty and ungrateful. Ungrateful because I have three lovely and funny and smart and healthy children. Because I have a satisfying job that I love and at which I am very good. Because I have my health, and my dear brothers and my sweet sister-in-law, and some very good friends without whom I would be lost. Because I have a beautiful house, and plenty of delicious food to eat (some might argue too much, and I mourn the loss of fresh spinach, but nonetheless…), and nice neighbors, and a ready supply of chocolate and coffee, and lots of good books to read. Because I just BOUGHT A LAPTOP.

And I feel ungrateful that my marriage does not perhaps suffuse me with delight and desire in the way in which that person in my dream did. That at best it is a comfortable marriage in which we two very different people grow and develop separately and manage to rub along together as best we can and do ok. That we are excellent parents but perhaps not excellent spouses. We try, oh how we try and try, but H is not my best-fitted partner in oh so many ways. He knows it, and I know it, and we do the best we can anyway.

And then I read something like this:

Traditionally…marriage was a business relationship, designed for procreation and economic survival. It asked nothing more of its partners than stability, reliability and a day-to-day ability to get along. Recent generations added romantic love and sexual passion to the mix, followed by demands for equality after the resurgence of the feminist movement in the late 1960s. As our society placed new requirements on the institution of marriage without stripping away much of its historical functions, we responded by expecting our spouse -- one person -- to provide what in the past it had taken an entire village of people to give us.

In an article like this: Let’s Get It On.

And I feel much less ungrateful. I feel better. About myself, and my husband, and my workaday marriage. Because it rings so true. Because perhaps we are not MEANT to be each other’s end-all and be-all; perhaps we are doing the best we can in a situation into which we got ourselves and have decided to make as nice as possible because we have these three wonderful children who deserve two parents if at all possible, and you know, it isn’t bad, oh no, not at all. We are friendly enough, we accommodate the other, we love each other the way that many people married for almost twelve years do not. We are stubborn. We try to resolve our differences and take care of each other. And he is a good guy, and I try to be a good person, and we manage to rub along together as best we can and do ok. Mostly.***

But oh. The dream. The person in that dream. A dear and wonderful friend, with whom I have been friends for a long, long time. A friend the idea of whom is perhaps sweetened by his very unattainability. By the fact that I do not have to live with him, day in and day out, discussing finances and scheduling and work over the voices of shouting or fussing children. By the fact that because he is just a friend - and isn’t that a ridiculous expression – because he is just a friend, my weight or the fact that I can’t stand his mother or that I fed the children ice cream for snack simply does not matter. Much like those facts don’t matter to Gina in our deep and long-lasting and lovely friendship. There are no societal expectations placed upon friendship, as there are upon marriage.

No wonder I have broken up with so many boyfriends, but only one friend in my entire life.

I am going back to bed now - to sleep, perchance to dream.

(Possibly the most inappropriately quoted line of Shakespeare EVER, by the way...just like I did...Thanks a whole bunch, Hamlet. )

*** Yes, dammit, I needed three asterisks. Leave me alone (only DON'T!)
H and I have this sort of relationship: Whereas, say, Gina and I could have had this conversation in fifteen seconds, neither of us finishing our two sentences and yet understanding EXACTLY what the other meant, H and I just spent fifteen MINUTES discussing stupid little chocolate car paraphernalia to use as favors at the gigantic Cars-themed party we are throwing this weekend for The Baby - and after fifteen minutes and myriad translations - uh, iterations - it turns out *he* thought I meant: Go to the fancy-schmancy chocolate specialty shop and pay more than a buck a piece for imported little chocolate-shaped cars; and what *I* actually meant was: Go to the bulk candy place and see if you can get little chocolate foil-wrapped cars, or chocolate wheels, or for Christ's sake, I don't know, chocolate TIRE IRONS for all I care at this point, with, like, thirty-eight pieces to a $4.50 box because after all we are feeding them to children with undiscriminating palates. I mean, if they eat things like Sour Patch Kids and drown everything in ketchup, WHAT would be the point of buying GOOD chocolate for them? I ask you. None. That's what. NO POINT.
FIFTEEN. MINUTES. It took to establish this fact. And don't blame it on it being five-freaking-o'clock in the morning, this sort of exchange happens many times a day on a regular basis. Sometimes? I wonder if indeed I speak English. You all would mention if I'd been speaking Swahili all this time, wouldn't you have?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Move Along, Folks. Nothing to See Here.

Honestly. I’ve been quiet because I’ve been busy with work and school, yes, but also because there just hasn’t been much going on. Sure, my son has proved yet again that he heals like Wolverine, as the stitches he had put in his face a week ago today (playing football at recess, fell face-first on the concrete), are all dissolved. His brush burns and bruises are gone as well, and if you didn’t look closely (and you weren’t his mother), you’d never know he’d been hurt at all. The school nurse and the ER staff all commented on what a brave kid he is, and I take full credit for that, thanks. If a kid’s mom doesn’t utter a peep during childbirth (and no, I am not a Scientologist), he’s pretty much guaranteed to be a stoic patient.

See? That’s the most interesting thing I have. There just hasn’t been much going on. I’m in reading Limbo, which is . . . well . . . approaching Hell. I have to read different kinds of genre fiction for the class I’m taking this semester, and it’s been rough. The thriller was okay—I chose Lee Child’s new one, The Hard Way, after a false start with Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.* Interesting roots notwithstanding, I couldn’t get into the Follett and threw it aside for the Child, which I grabbed from the library’s bestseller shelf in desperation. Where the Follett read like a yawn-inducing television miniseries, the Child was more like a decent action movie. Do with those similes what you will, should you find yourself looking for a thriller.

I also had to read a romance. Gah! I love the girly books, like Jennifer Weiner and Katie Fforde and what-not, but this had to be an honest-to-god romance, so I chose a Nora Roberts. Beautiful woman meets and dislikes and then falls in love with jerky-at-first-but-ultimately-great handsome guy. Throw in some lust and passion, and then a fight near the end which almost-but-not-quite derails the happily ever after. Lather, rinse, repeat. Torture, I tell you. On the upside, though, there’s a guy in this class with me—I can’t wait to hear his take on the romance novel.

I just started The Stupidest Angel, which has been a tremendous improvement over the other crap. I really like getting to spend time with Christopher Moore’s characters, and this has the added bonus of fulfilling the fantasy requirement for my class. Finally, I catch a break. I have E.L. Doctorow’s The March on deck, for my historical fiction requirement. Things are looking up.

And now, I have to go back to work. Because people keep EXPECTING ME TO DO THINGS. God.

*Interesting and weird digression: I tried reading that Ken Follett because I had a copy of it at home. I *think* I got it years ago at a used book sale from the boy's pre-school. The day I started reading it, I turned to the inside cover to check the name of the previous owner. After a frantic/excited phone call to verify spelling and then a quick scan-to-email, it was verified that the book had belonged to none other than Babel Babe's mom. BB and I *know* that we've never discussed this book (or even Ken Follett), and that she didn't loan it to me or bring it to my house. It seems that it just made its way to me from her mom, who lived in New Jersey and dies eight years ago. If *that* doesn't mean we're meant to be friends, I don't know what does.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

There's a very small percentile, Who enjoys a dancing Gentile... - "Spamalot"

My tablet DIED. In the middle of typing an email, it hiccupped, the screen went black, and it died. I tried a hard reboot, and we even took the battery out – no dice. H is taking it to work tomorrow to retrieve my stuff off the hard drive, but the prognosis for recovery looks very very bad for the actual computer. Turns out this is a known issue with these particular computers, which is one of the reasons H’s company had 200 of them floating around not being used – because they CRASH AND DIE without warning. And mostly irreparably. Great. Just terrific.

So, despite the fact that H HEARTILY disapproves of my buying a laptop, I am THIS. CLOSE. to purchasing this:
I already have been approved for financing, no interest till 2007, and I have some cash from savings bonds an aunt gave me when I graduated high school. Plus, I get an employee discount if I buy thru work. So – deep breath – fairly certain I am buying the new computer this week. The offer is valid till the 27th, so I have to act fast but not immediately.

(Besides, I NEED a computer of my own. For this. Shhhhh...)

Also in exciting news, I wrote a proposal for implementing a library blog at work. At least one co-worker told me it would never fly. But the idea’s been brewing in the back of my brain for a while, and I finally figured it was worth a shot. My boss thought it was a timely idea and wants me to gather feedback so she can send the proposal to the library director! We may be the most technologically backwards library ever, and immediately after receiving my proposal at least one of my co-workers called me up and laughed at me. However, I have two co-workers who have been almost as interested in the idea as I have been, and who have been really supportive, so at least I have some backing.


This afternoon H and I dropped the boys at the babysitter's, and I spent the afternoon on a ladder scraping, glazing, and puttying windows. I need to finish soon so we can have storm windows installed for this winter. Next spring’s project will be the rehab of the porch railings, which are lovely but decrepit, and living in the basement right now.

And last but not least, I am reading, because I am after all a good wife, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents and you know what, it’s really kind of good. I am finding it funny and clever, and my next cat will most definitely be named Maurice. I think the rat names may be my favorite part – the rats were transformed into intelligent, rational beings while they were still living in the dump, and so they all have names like Delicious and InBrine and BiteSize and PorknHam, but my favorite, hands down, is Dangerous Beans.

I will name my next rat Dangerous Beans.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"And I'll get to sleep at night. The deep slumber of a father whose daughters are not out being impregnated." - Walter Stratford

The twisted Five Spices meme, swiped from Suse by way of Bec via Joke, or something like that.
(I feel like I am describing a racehorse, for God's sake!)

Five things I wish were in my freezer:
  • A jar of my homemade limoncello
  • A few spare loaves of banana bread
  • A pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream
  • Some Stouffer’s French bread pizzas
  • Something to be defrosted for dinner tonight

Five things that shouldn't be in my wardrobe:
  • My wedding dress. Like Suse. But what the hell are you supposed to DO with it?
  • At least a half dozen pairs of pre-children shoes. I LOVE my black Paul Green lace-up oxfords, and they were so expensive I hate to give them up, but they really are a size or two too small now. Also pair of pink Chuck Taylors. What was I thinking?
  • All the ratty, elastic-showing underwear, and the bras that no longer offer any support at all, like those cute little stretchy Barely There numbers I wore pre-children.
  • All the clothes that are size 12 and under, that don’t fit and probably never will again. Why do I continue to torture myself?
  • The turquoise and black abstract print dress I wore to the last wedding we attended.

Five things I hate about my car:
  • No automatic locks
  • No automatic windows
  • All the Cheerios, raisins, graham crackers, and various toys and bits of toys embedded in the carpet, stuffed under and into the seats, and scattered on the floor/seat/carseats
  • The cup holders are not big enough for a Starbucks venti cup.
  • There are never any quarters in the change box. (Like that’s the *car’s* fault.)

Five things I should throw out of my handbag/purse/briefcase/backpack:
(I clean my bag out on a regular basis - part and parcel of my OCD dealio. So I had to really stretch for these.)
  • The dried-up baby wipes
  • The lipstick I never use
  • All the crumpled post-its, receipts, and old grocery lists
  • The Matchbox car/teething ring/Happy Meal toys
  • The plastic eating utensils
    (No, no tampons, Blackbird. I have been pregnant or nursing for more than five years now.)

Five things I don't want to admit are in my bathroom:
  • A big bottle of Zoloft, and a variety of sleeping pills
  • Head and Shoulders shampoo
  • More facial cleansers and toners than you can shake a stick at
  • The plunger
  • The stupid potty seat

Friday, September 22, 2006

"Walk! On your way to school..." - The Wiggles

"I wish I were at home, relaxing with a book."

I will bet you thought that was ME, huh? But you would be wrong - that was the world-weary Primo, on the walk to school this morning.

I wish I could tell you that I spoke to him about the excitement of education, the thrill of learning, the importance of grounding in the basics that you get at a good kindergarten, blah blah blah. But I can't. (Or rather, I could, but I would be lying.) I pretty much just sighed and admitted, "Yeah, me, too."


Before the school year started, I thought I would drive Primo in the mornings. It's only half a mile or so to Paxson, but I just thought it would be easier. Turns out that it's easier - and much more pleasant - at least for me - to walk. This may indeed change when it snows or gets frigid, but for now, I like that I am walking two miles a day, albeit at a snail's pace and in four separate chunks. Plus, I feel so HARDY and pioneer-y and stuff, WALKING my kid to school.

So, walk along with me...and Primo....and Terzo...and various animals and cars and other people....although, YOU can go home, relax, and read a book once we're done.

Every morning, Primo has to check the headlines. Sometimes it's a Steelers day; other times, more serious things - like shootings on the campus where you work - have happened. Occasionally BIG things - like a coup d'etat in a major country - happen - and they only get mentioned briefly on page five of your newspaper - because your lousy baseball team makes better front page news? And sometimes you are forced to explain something to your child that you wish you could shield him from forever, like what happened five years ago on a certain blue-skyed day in September.

Primo likes that these evergreens grow straight up - or at least appear to. I think they look like sentinels; we speculated on how they would look at night, when you came home, in the dark. They might look scarily like people. Giant, pointy people. Because pointy people run rampant in our neighborhood.

There's a fungus among us!

We cross the main street not at the light, because while crossing at the light is terrific in theory, people drive way too fast, and pay no attention to 15-mile-an-hour School Zones, or No Turn on Red signs, or even cross-walking pedestrians.Or, as my children pointed out, NO ONE IS WATCHING CHILDREN.
Don't even get me started on the lack of crossing guards. So I take my chances on there being no cars in sight either way and cross a block before.

Right over this giant puddle, in which, Primo pointed out, an entire tree is reflected. That is ONE BIG PUDDLE.

We cross here because we have to see the Villager (as Primo has named the house) and its backyard, every morning.

In their lovely yard is a miniature village.

Complete with train station and trestle, and on some mild mornings, a running waterfall. Primo is drawing up plans to build a replica of our city in our backyard. He has great ideas for how to build the football stadium, and where it should go. *I* think it is going to interfere with their baseball games, but I am pooh-poohed. Perhaps, once we have spent the money to get the backyard right and fenced and pretty - as opposed to the mudpit it is now - a village under the magnolia might be just the finishing touch we need.

This empty lot around the corner from our house is for sale. The boys suggested we purchase it, so they can go camping there. Oh, ok.

No idea exactly why but Primo likes this basketball net which is "the same colors as the American flag."
Which he helpfully points out, every. blessed. morning.

The boys enjoy spotting different makes and models of cars, and quiz me endlessly on what company makes what kind of car. For some reason this ordinary blue van (with Lady of Fatima bumper stickers!) caught Primo's fancy.

Also, construction vehicles are popular among the younger set of Babes.

Primo knows children who ride Bus 14. Bus 14 was mentioned in assembly yesterday morning, because they lined up and boarded their bus in a very orderly and controlled fashion. The principal made them all stand up and they were applauded. Primo likes to read out the numbers of each bus that passes us, hoping for a glimpse of the esteemed Bus 14 and its exemplary passengers.

Also, all the PAT buses have names, and must be greeted BY NAME, very loudly and with vigorous arm-waving, in which The Baby is learning to take part. This is Sebastian. I think. I didn't know there was going to be a quiz.

The only thing moving slower than us.

Not that anyone is supposed to be going faster than 15 miles per hour, but reference above paragraph re: crazy drivers.

Amid all this urbanism are some lovely trees, incuding this, a fully functional pear tree!

Still Life With Pears.

Still Life With Pear.

Every tree trunk is an occasion for dancing. How many children can dance on the stump of a maple tree?

The morning drop-off often turns into a pleasant social occasion, after assembly; sometimes W and I go for coffee, or I might stop at L's house for a mug of tea and a chat. I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel - once I get the baby home and Seg settled at his preschool, I have two whole hours to cook and clean and fold laundry and scrape windows - and read the paper and drink tea and do some writing.

And some afternoons, if we time it right, we run into our young neighbors walking home from their school bus. M walks with me and tells me about her day, and how a girl in her class is mean, and how another girl in her class eats lunch with M every day, and how she finished all her homework on the bus, and she has a soccer game on Saturday...and...and...and...

D races with my boys to the corner, kicking stones and leaves, and teaching them to wield tree branches as swords.


While you could not pay me a gazillion dollars to go to grade school again, I enjoy the journey there.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"I don't care HOW aggravated your 'vata' is!" - Broken for You

One in an occasional series [3/23]

I turned the last page of Broken for You, read ALL the acknowledgements like a child licking his ice cream bowl, and immediately logged onto and bought my own copy. Water for Elephants was good – it was a strange little book, good story, good characters. But Sara Gruen’s other books are *horse* books, for heaven’s sake – you have to wonder if Water wasn’t a fluke, a lucky one-off. But Stephanie Kallos’ book affected me the way AS Byatt’s Possession or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas affected me – it’s on par with these exquisitely complex books. Kallos’s gorgeous novel has brilliant moments; she writes with a delicate touch, outlining and then fleshing out her fragile human characters so perfectly that you would recognize these people on the street . Like Stones From the River, I will collect copies of this book to give to people.


I have a shark fetish. I think they are elegant and misunderstood creatures. Would I like to meet one in the ocean? Not unless I were in a nice sturdy shark cage, but that doesn't change that I react to them viscerally (no pun intended - haha!); they are so strong and supple and lovely, and I admire them greatly. (I also appreciate that they eat their young; I've often felt that that option might have made my life simpler.) I have a fairly extensive shark collection: figurines, mugs, stuffed animals, clothing, all manner of strange and wonderful shark THINGS - it used to be all on display on the third floor of our old house, but when we moved, I weeded some, and I only have my favorites out here at this house. If you collect anything, eventually everyone gives you all kinds of whatever it is you collect, and you wind up with more crap than you can possibly display or even care about.

My sister-in-law (H's sister, who has a knack for giving incredibly thoughtful presents) gave me a great white shark beer stein for my thirtieth birthday; I bought myself a wooden shark-shaped puzzle, with a human-shaped piece smack in the belly, at the arts festival one summer; my little brother gave me a shark puppet one long ago Christmas. And my mother gave me this little box.

Several days after Primo's second birthday party I noticed that the tip of the top shark's fin had been broken off. Turns out one of my nephews had knocked it off the window sill on the landing and hadn't wanted to tell me. I wish he had, so I could have found the piece before we vacuumed after the party, and maybe I could have reattached it somehow. For a long time I felt like the beauty and grace of the little box had been irreparably compromised.

And then I read Broken for You.
I wish I hadn't returned it to the library, so I could give you the exact quote, but the gist of it was that it is our cracks and lines and imperfections that show we have lived our lives, and have loved and been loved, and that make us real, and interesting. There was so much in the book that rang true, and this was one of the most clarifying statements.

And so I keep and display my little shark box that my mother gave me, some because I am hopelessly sentimental, and some because they are sharks and I like sharks, and some, now, because the little treasure chest buried inside the box reminds me in a beautiful and haunting way of the flowers inside Lucie's tete-a-tete, the hidden treasure that helps make much right in the end.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

In the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

My husband quotes this aphorism at me often (although usually in French). Then, this morning, my friend L quoted it at me. And suddenly I realized – perhaps they are perfect for each other.

Well, except for the fact that L can’t stand H.


I read Perishable yesterday. OH. MY. GOD, it was TERRIBLE. (Ha, ha, Perishable was terrible. Nothing like some pseudo-alliteration to make me happy…what is that called, when sounds in the middle of the word are alike? Hmmm, Badger, my rhetorically gifted friend?)
Anyhoo – it was a godawful book with pathetic characters and sloppy, superficial writing. I know some of you hated The Glass Castle but that was ten gazillion times better than this dreck. There was no character development, no conclusion, no personal or emotional growth – it was just this dashed-off piece – not entirely sure it was all true either – touching on different BORING aspects of a very dysfunctional family life. There was no exploration or explanation of events, people, histories, which in my oh-so-humble opinion might be the only good reason for a public autopsy of your family’s fucked-up-edness. It was really bad. Are you getting that I disliked it?

Broken for You is a title of such profound religious significance that I almost couldn’t bring myself to read the book. Also, there’s the little issue of the Oprah-book-club-reminiscent cover art (it was a Today Show Book Club selection). However, I am about a hundred pages in, and it’s good, if oddly diffident.

I just requested from the library Peter Carey’s Theft: A Love Story. My dear friend, the Rogue Librarian, was bemoaning the dearth of sympathetic readers with whom he could discuss books. I pointed out that that, my sweet ones, was the beauty of this thing we call the Internet. How many of you have I actually met? One, and Blackbird might be the only one of you all who claims to not read. And yet with how many of you do I discuss books and book lists and how many of you throw recommendations my way or in no uncertain terms order me to read something? Um, just about all of you. So, for Bentley, I am going to read Theft very soon. Because that’s the kind of friend I am. I will read a novel for a friend on the other side of the world, but I am not going to read Maurice and his Frigging Educated Rats for my husband. Because, um, that’s the kind of wife I am?


I was reading Badger's lovely blog today and apropos of her decision that the parent of a bipolar child should NOT read Sophie's Choice, I have to say, neither should a pregnant woman. Herewith, my list of books you should NOT read while gestating:
Sophie's Choice - William Styron
The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing
The Deep End of the Ocean - Jacquelyn Mitchard
Rosemary's Baby - Ira Levin


Last night Terzo slept through the night. He does this off and on, with no regularity. But yesterday we put him to bed at seven, and he slept till 430. Yay, Terzo! Yay, me getting some sleep! Boo, my across-the-street neighbors who chose yesterday to have a party with a real live live band playing very loudly (heck of a drummer, btw) until 4 a.m. I am old and cranky and I called the cops. But the 911 dispatcher called back to see if they’d turned down the music, because apparently 911 was insanely busy and I said not to worry about it. Then the racket woke up H and he went over and asked them to crank it back a bit. I wanted to knock on the other neighbor’s door and say, “Look, I just called the cops on them and they’re WHITE” because she swears the only reason we call the cops about loud music is because said people playing their music waaaayyy too loudly are black. Patently untrue. I don’t care if you’re blue, green, purple, black, white, or striped. I DO care if you are DEAF. Have some consideration for your neighbors and turn that noise DOWN. ESPECIALLY if it’s past midnight. Or I will encourage my shrieking, chattering children to play outside at 730 am the next morning, and see how YOU like THAT.


Terzo's first birthday is fast approaching and the first party is always a biggie, with all the aunts and uncles and cousins and friends.
The older boys are insisting on a themed party. So Cars The Movie it is. Invitations went out yesterday, let the planning begin. Ka-chow!

Friday, September 15, 2006

If you Sprinkle When You Tinkle, Be a Sweetie and Wipe the Seatie.

Ha! I don’t know why, but that just popped into my head. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen that sign in someone’s home, but I seem to remember it from sales catalogs in the 70s. It made me laugh then, and it makes me laugh now.

So my kid took standardized reading tests (Gates, I think, if that means anything to anyone) earlier in the week, and the results came back yesterday. You know how those tests usually give you a percentile and then a sort of grade-level equivalent thing? Well, the kid scored in the 99th percentile, and the grade-level mark they gave him was “PHS”. I had to follow an asterisk to the bottom of the page to find out that it meant “Post-High School”. Now, I am fully aware that this doesn’t mean all that much, and that my son is no Doogie Howser, but . . . WOO! :-)

Now, the trick will be to help him avoid the “school is easy so I can coast” trap both his dad and I fell into. ‘Cause lazy? Runs in both our families.


My sister is going back to school to get her degree in teaching kids with special needs, and one of the classes she has to take before her actual Education classes can start is a math class. She hates math, but I’ve always liked it. (But English/Reading/Writing came easier to me, hence the [useless] English major. Did I mention something about being lazy?) Anyway, I’ve been helping her with her homework (how weird is that when she’s 32 and I’m 35?), and I’ve found that solving the problems has been so much fun! Hello, X! It’s been so long since I’ve solved for you! I really think I’ll get a math degree someday. Just for the sake of getting it.


Switching gears, can anyone direct me to a good source for “felting”? I’m curious about it.

Okay, that’s it for me. Back to stupid work.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

...all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. - Julian of Norwich

Alrighty then.

I finished Water for Elephants. And I take back all my hemming and hawing and hesitation and procrastination. It is a GOOD book. Even if it is on the best seller lists and every Tom, Dick, and Harry is requesting it from the library (240 holds on 60 copies at last check). I will buy it when it comes out in paperback, because it’s a strange little book that most definitely bears rereading. It was SATISFYING, in a way many, many books fail to be. It’s going to be a hard act to follow. I feel very at sea regarding my next to-be-read book right now.

Of course, when I returned it to the library, I checked out more books. I checked out Perishable: A Memoir, because you can never read too many books about slacker parents who support their families by dumpster-diving (two this month, yee-haw!). And I checked out Sarah Dunant’s latest, In the Company of the Courtesan, because 1) I liked her first book very much, and 2) you can never read too many books with dwarves as main characters (three this month, yee-haw!) Dwarves must be the new illiterate-abused-Southern-gal-with-spineless-mama-and-abusive-stepfather of the literary world.

I also, as usual, perused the sale section of the library. And I picked up some real winners. Which I would tell you about, but I won’t since they are soon to be winging – or dogpaddling across the Pacific, judging by the non-speediness of the last package I sent - their way Down Under, along with a few of the best chocolate bars on earth and some Teddy Grahams and some other little treats, and I would like them to be a pleasant surprise, and so I leave it to Suse to reveal all when the time is right.

I returned most of the books I checked out of my work library, but I am hanging onto Broken for You because a friend recommended it, and she has proven herself to have excellent taste in books. And I like the way it starts. Usually, if the first few paragraphs of a book do not grab me, I find it hard to slog thru to get to the part that does. That may be shallow, but it’s only one of a few methods I use to determine if a book is going to be something I want to spend the time to get into.

The first few paragraphs have to grab me and not let go.
If someone I respect or whose taste I most always agree with recommends a book, I’ll stick with it longer than I normally might.
It’s by an author I normally adore but maybe this book, not so much…I’ll hang in there.

BUT…life is too short to keep plugging away at a book that’s just not doing it for me.

Because every once in a while it strikes me how very many books are out there, and I am thirty-six years old, and not getting any younger, dangnabbit! and just every once in a while, I am panicked because I KNOW I am never going to read everything I want to read, and that makes me very sad, and melancholy, and morose, and all sorts of other synonyms for “damned depressed.” Not sad enough to, you know, put my head in the oven or anything – and not just because that would seriously affect my ability to read - although in some of my darker hours I admit freely that the only thing that held me back from perhaps doing myself some bodily harm was the thought that I haven’t read nearly everything I want to…and sometimes I think how pleasant it would be to absolve myself of all responsibility and lie on the couch and read ALL. DAY. LONG and why did I think having a spouse and children was such a good idea ANYWAY…?

It’s a sickness, I tell you, and no one has yet come up with the literary equivalent of methadone. THANK GOD. Because my family would slap me into a rehab clinic faster than you can spend a Barnes and Noble gift card. The first time I heard Primo say, “Will someone PLEASE put down their book and PLAY with me?” I was indeed overwhelmed with guilt – but I still made him wait till I finished the chapter.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

May I ask you something? If I turn THIS way, don't I look a LITTLE like a blue jay?

I had a date yesterday morning. Ok, I didn’t really plan it as a date, but after I woke up early to shower, put together a casual but cute outfit, and actually BLOW-DRIED my hair, it became readily apparent that I was preparing for a date. See where your brain can go when you are not paying attention?

Sometimes this happens when I am going on a mommy-date. This time, though, my date was a daddy-date.

W is a regular at the neighborhood coffee shop. In fact, the staff there tells me 1) that his two daughters are demon children compared to my three angelic boys. When I stopped laughing and picked myself up off the floor, they assured me this was true. I even have a note tucked into one of my notebooks which R the cafĂ© manager slipped me one day when we were all there schlurping coffee at the same time that reads, “YOU think your boys are devils, but they are SO well-behaved. THOSE TWO are the ones we’re talking about!” And 2) that his children, aged three and five, STILL BREASTFEED. And they have seen this with their very own eyes, in the coffee shop. IN PUBLIC.

Yes, I said, THREE and FIVE.
The same ages as Primo and Seg, whom I can no more imagine breastfeeding than I can our cats.
Or the neighbor’s dog.
Or H.

I am a HUGE breastfeeding proponent, but I hold to the theory that if the child can actually ask, “Mommy, may I nurse?” and navigate your nursing bra, they are far too old to actually be doing so. Just my humble opinion. Please don’t report me to the La Leche people; I mean, Terzo is almost a year and is still nursing (but not for long! Welcome back soon, BB’s boobies!)

Anyhoo, W and I got to chatting as we dropped off our respective kindergarteners, and turns out he has multiple advanced degrees in subjects near and dear to my heart (read: books – English and comparative lit), and so while I was running off to meet SL at the coffee shop that morning, as we parted ways, he said, “That was a very interesting conversation we were having. Maybe…” and I said, “A coffee sometime? How’s Monday?” and he said, “That’d be great. See you then.” And that, as they say, was that.

I am not the hussy it superficially appears.
1) H does not read any of the same stuff I do, when he reads at all, and he certainly does not wish to discuss it. He actively encourages me to find OTHER people to blather at about this sort of thing.
2) Both my ten-month-old baby and W’s three-year-old were with us.
3) We went to get coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop, at ten in the morning; not for cocktails in some smoky bar at midnight.
4) I have known W, albeit casually, for almost a year and a half now, and when H recently observed that W “was my type,” I was surprised, as he patently IS NOT. He’s fair, and has facial hair which is disguising not much of a chin, and wears things like those slip-on sneaker-y shoes and ethnic hats. Yes, he’s smart, but honestly, he’s a POET. Those of you who know me – and probably most of you who don’t – can already hear me snarling, “Oh, for God’s sake, another poem? Jesus Christ! Can’t you write a nice book or something?”

But a date – was nice. And yes, I paid for my own coffee.


I spent my lunch hour curled on one of the manky couches in the student union, sipping chai and reading Water for Elephants. I am enjoying it very much. It’s fresh and interesting, and except for that unfortunate title (Does anyone else find themselves wanting to call it Like Water for Elephants, or is it just me?) it is a surprisingly well-written book. Oh, how cynical I am – if a book is on the New York Times bestsellers lists, and hoi polloi are gobbling it off the shelves, I automatically assume it’s dreadfully and poorly written. Such arrogance. But this is a good book, so far. And I could easily fall in love with the main character – Jacob is wry and witty and sweet and even as an irascible old man very entertaining.

Next up, H has insisted I read Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, which he just finished in record (for him) time. I suppose he’ll want to discuss it too. Well, he can take me out on a date, but *he’d* better pay for my coffee.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The piper comes piping...

I don't have anything meaningful to say about today.

Primo and I heard a bagpiper on the way to school this morning; turns out it was just someone practicing but the mournful notes seemed appropriate.

My thoughts are with the families of all the victims especially today.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

“What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.” - AA Milne

I am about to embark upon my second…well, it’s not a job YET. I am hoping to make it my second job. Remember my friend, Dr L, who just successfully defended her dissertation? Because I am a GOOD friend (Ok, so I didn’t bring her brownies this week, we can’t have everything!), I helped her do some research, and checked references, and organized her bibliography, and even tried to clear the way through the Byzantine path to electronic submission of a dissertation. And she thinks it is distinctly possible that other graduate students would pay good money for someone to do this sort of thing, which I, inexplicably and insanely – in her opinion – find interesting and riveting. So I made up some flyers and we’ll post them around some campuses, and I’ll see what happens. Whoo hoo!


I finished Rise and Shine a few days ago, and moved right onto something else. It was the literary equivalent of a meatloaf dinner – no one is ever going to be blown away by its exquisiteness, but it was just fine as filler. Of course, I moved onto dessert next – a nice tray of brownies, plain - Katie Fforde’s newest, Restoring Grace.
And I have another Kevin Brockmeier, The Truth About Celia, but I don’t think I am ready to tackle another book of his just yet. I require some intervening fluff.
I am just procrastinating picking up Water for Elephants.
OK, ok, I’ll read it when I am done with the Fforde.


Two Christmasses after we married, H and I had just bought a new house and thought it’d be a great idea to host a holiday brunch the Sunday after Christmas. Brunch sounds like it should be easy, but often it’s not – I love homemade waffles, but cooking waffles fast enough to feed forty-plus people will make you insane. Ditto pancakes. Crepes and most forms of eggs, same issue. So my solution was a giant dish of Chip’s mom’s egg-and-sausage casserole (which recently I realized is pretty much just a savoury bread pudding), and a big bowl of fruit salad, and Parmesan potatoes baked in the oven, and an apple cake, and biscuits.

First of all, let me say that I have NEVER in my life run out of food at a party - but I ran out of potatoes at that one. I made ten pounds, for God’s sake – and they disappeared. Much like locusts had descended. Only, in this case, it was the Irish. I have never heard the end of that one, let me tell you. Going on twelve years of marriage, and the day I ran out of potatoes still rears its ugly head.

Secondly, I had decided the night before to make TWO pans of the egg stuff, just in case. And a good thing, too. Imagine the hullabaloo if I’d run out of THAT. But I was nursing a migraine, and didn’t have two pounds of sausage, only one. It was about ten, and I wanted nothing more than to pop some Imitrex and go to bed, so I asked H to run to the grocery store down the street, and laid down on the couch to await his return whereupon I could fry the sausage, put together the casserole, and pass out.

I must have fallen asleep. And somewhere around an hour or so later, H returned (it should have been a ten-minute trip, tops). He came into the house, sat down in the chair, and stared at me. Bleary-eyed, I sat up and took a closer look: he was bleeding from a cut on his head. He was disheveled and dirty and the sack with the sausage in it was considerably beaten up.

“Holy shit! What happened to you?” I asked.

Silence. Stare. “I dunno. I don’t remember.”

“You what?”

“I don’t remember.”

I thought this was as good a time as any to panic, and called 911. The police came and took a report; the ambulance came and took us away to the nearest hospital where H was checked for concussion (none) and examined and x-rayed (he was fine, except for a superficial cut on his forehead).

Apparently, on the way to the grocery store, H had encountered a group of teenaged boys stealing Christmas lights from people’s houses. He returned home (I slept through this part) and called the police, and left a note on the houses to tell the owners what he’d seen. Then he headed back out the door to buy the stupid sausage. Which he did successfully.
But those weren’t nearly enough good deeds for one night, oh no.
On the way home from the grocery store, he noticed a car sitting at the stop sign at the end of our block. There were people in it, and being the altruist that he is, H was concerned that perhaps their car had broken down. So he thought he’d go check. He approached the car and tapped on the window.

Unfortunately for H, the car was occupied with what we surmised later were drug dealers, who saw fit to get out of the car, give H a hard time, and proceeded to knock him down, rather forcefully. (Also the sausage.)

And so – when we got back from the hospital (I had vomited copiously in the ER and felt marginally better, as any sufferer of migraine-induced nausea can tell you will happen), H went to bed and I fried up the goddamn sausage and put together the goddamn casserole which I fed to forty-some people the next day.

The end.

And here, as requested, is the recipe.

Chip’s mom’s egg-and-sausage casserole

6 eggs
2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
½ tsp dry mustard
3 slices bread, cubed
1 pound bulk sausage
1 cup sharp cheese (Monterey jack or cheddar), shredded

Brown sausage thoroughly, breaking up as you fry. Drain on paper towels.
Place sausage in an 8x8 pan (I double it and use a 9x13).
Scatter bread cubes on top.
Beat eggs, milk, salt, and mustard together.
Pour over bread cubes.
Sprinkle with cheese.
Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight, or at least for a few hours.
Bake uncovered at 350 for around 40 minutes, until puffy and golden.

Yes, Virginia. I'm a Soccer Mom.

Today was the boy's first soccer game, and his first-ever experience playing on an organized sports team. They lost 2-1, but guess who scored the only goal? MY KID! His dad and grandfather were positively puffed up with pride. I, on the other hand, was more choked up. Thank God for sunglasses--no one had to know what a goon I am.

The boy had a great time, and is really looking forward to practice Monday evening. This is a big deal because he was very reluctant to play on any kind of team. His dad and I never made a a real issue out of it until this year, though, but we both agreed that it's important to have the experience of playing on a team, and we also agreed that 4th grade is probably a good time to get started. We told him to pick a sport, he chose soccer, and ended up on a team with one of his best friends as well as another 4th grader at his school.

Thankfully, it's a small league, and the parents all seem pretty nice. I'm still fighting an urge to paint my nails black and dye my hair blue, though; I haven't felt this rebellious since I was an adolescent. In fact, I don't think I felt this rebellious back then!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

School days, school days, dear old golden rule days...

Did I cry? You all want to know. Inquiring minds want to know.


I drove Primo to school, this first morning, as I wasn’t sure how long it would take to walk, and I did not want to be late.

I walked him into school, after snapping many photos outside, in front of the impressive brick edifice that is his elementary school. I found him the correct row of seats for morning assembly. Then after the principal greeted the assembled schoolchildren, the kids pledged allegiance to the flag, and they sang “America the Beautiful,” they filed out of the auditorium, and we took them to their classrooms.

Even though Paxson is a magnet school, it does draw families from the neighborhood, so we knew some of the kids already, about which I was very pleased. Even if it is just a girl you run into at the playground, or a boy you met playing with the Thomas trains at the bookstore, it’s still a familiar face and that can go along way to making a little guy feel comfortable in a new place and a new situation.


I did not cry.

Neither did Primo.

Several other children did, copiously and loudly, shrieking and sobbing and clinging to their parents. I hustled Primo past them, shielding his eyes as if from a car wreck: “Nothing to see here. Move along…” Didn’t want him getting any ideas; those sorts of fits can be contagious.

Primo found his chair, and took off his backpack, and looked around.
R, our babysitter, had walked up to the school with Seg and Terzo, and Primo seemed pleased to see Terzo crawling around on the carpet and trying to gnaw on the chair legs. His place was labeled with his name, and in front of his chair was a nice big box of markers and new crayons.

At 930, all the kindy parents were meant to meet in the auditorium, to go through a brief orientation with the very wonderful and very enthusiastic new principal. I kissed Primo, told him to be a good boy and listen to his teacher, and that we would be back to pick him up at the end of his day.
He said, “Are you leaving ENTIRELY?”
I told him I was meeting with the principal and then, yes, we would be walking home.
Deep breath.
And he squared his little shoulders bravely, turned to face the desk, and commenced his school career.


When I saw him in the hallway after the meeting, he smiled and waved jauntily.


I decided that the first day of kindergarten was a banner occasion, so I called work to tell them I would be late and went to pick him up myself. He was one of the last kids out of the school, and he emerged holding hands with the new principal (whom I know from my job, but that is a different story for a different day – maybe). There was some craziness involving children boarding the wrong buses, or not boarding the bus at all, and the teachers all looked little frazzled and Primo’s kindy teacher looked, quite frankly, EXHAUSTED. But the parents and the teachers got everything sorted, and all the kids where they were meant to be.


I may have the world’s most uncommunicative five-year-old. I was of course excited to hear ALL ABOUT the day.

Me: How was your day? What did you do?
P: Um, colored things [waving a popsicle stick to which is attached a colored-in school bus cutout with a song printed on the back about slithering to school as if you were a snake.]
[What did I expect, essays on Wittgenstein? Particle physics homework?]
Me: Did you do anything else? [Oh my sweet Jesus, this is just like pulling teeth. Why oh why do I not have an emotive girlchild?? L’s daughter RAN into her arms and HUGGED her at the end of the day. Humph.]
P: We had to rest. On cots.
Me: Did you sleep? [Hahahahahaahaa! Primo has not napped since he was two, when I got tired of rocking and singing for an hour to get him to nap for forty-five minutes.]
P: No.
Me: Did you read?
P: Our teacher said no reading on the first day.
[When I saw Mrs. P after school, I understood why the poor woman just wanted twenty-five supine children in rows on cots, no talking, no reading, Christ, please don’t even BREATHE loudly!]
Me: Did you eat your lunch?
P: Yeah. I didn’t drink my water though.
Me: What did you drink?
P: Chocolate milk. They just had milks out on a table and you took what you wanted. I wanted chocolate milk.
Me: Ok. We’ll figure out how to buy milk everyday. Did you eat your applesauce?
P: No.
Me: [Why then is it NOT IN YOUR LUNCHBOX? Those things COST MONEY. You can’t just THROW THEM AWAY.] Ok.
P: I didn’t eat all my blueberries or tortilla chips either, but I just threw the containers – the bags - out.
Me: Ok. Did you get my note? [lovingly plastered with stickers and hearts and mushy sentiments, I know, I am a dork.]
P: Yeah. Hey, Mom, nobody cared that my shirt wasn’t tucked in (this accompanied by giant grin, like, “I got one over on the MAN!”)
Can I play table baseball when I get home, with Miss R?
Me: Yep. (Sorta to myself:) Did you have a good day? Tell me, what did you do? Well, what would you do if your mother asked YOU?
P: (Giggle.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

We got a movie, and I had my dinosaur backpack... - Seg, upon returning from preschool and calling his dad

Ok, my sweet little Internet ones, everyone said I would cry when Primo went to kindergarten. I don't know, he doesn't start till tomorrow, but I seriously doubt tears. I am dancing a little jig of joy just thinking about someone else entertaining and challenging that active and bright brain for six hours a day, instead of me. However, I just dropped Segundo off for his first day of preschool. He will go three mornings a week, to the same nursery school that Primo attended, half a block away. And?

I cried.
Not where he could see me, or where anyone else could see, or even a whole lot. But I got a little misty-eyed.

My baby.
I know I have Terzo, technically The Baby, but Seggie is so sweet and cute and openhearted and trusting. He is one of those people who lights up a room. And he adores me, which is gratifying. And he sat right down and started playng with the toys he's been jonesing to play with since Primo graduated preschool, but then when I lingered - for me, mind you - then he got a little clingy. He asked to go home. Some of it might be that his Uncle C is here, and he doesn't want to miss out on quality time with him. And some of it is just Seg getting used to a familiar but nonetheless new-to-him place. But then he gave me a wave and his smile, and was fine. He's growing up. He's a big boy now, one who pees in the potty and can write his name and dress himself. But as I am fond of telling - reminding - my boys: You will always be my baby.

Will keep you updated on whether or not I cry tomorrow morning.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. ~Ovid

Hmmm. Where to start, where to start...

With the most interesting stuff, of course:
I finished The Brief History of the Dead. In the car, waiting for the baby to wake up from his nap.

I certainly hope Kevin Brockmeier won some sort of award - many awards, actually - for this book. Strange, unnerving, quiet yet powerful, elegantly written, and a unique take on the afterlife and what it comprises - this book should have won a prize. (If I were any sort of responsible blogger, I'd go look this up...)
If it didn't, I herewith bestow upon it a prize from Behind the Stove - of some sort. What? Maybe most unnerving book of the year? Perhaps the most thought-provoking? Perhaps, Book-Best-Recommended-to-Smart-People-I-Know? I am going to request Brockmeier's other books from the library pronto, to see if I can justify bestowing upon him the AS Byatt/David Mitchell/Behind the Stove Award for One-of-the-Smartest-Books-of-at-least-the-Year award. Of course right after I ok the use of their names with AS and David (we're like THIS).

I started Anna Quindlen's new book Rise and Shine the other night, and decided, eh, who cares? As usual, the "shocking and surprising" event advertised as the book's "explosive secret" was underwhelming and prosaic - I put it down thinking I'd just return it to the library. Then last night, it was the only book within easy reach of my bed - and I didn't want to get out of bed - so I picked it back up.I guess I'll keep reading it, even if only for the secondary characters - the husbands, the boyfriends, the sisters are all interesting people about whom I want to know more. Unlike Meghan, the sort-of-heroine who annoys the shit out of me.

I admire Quindlen, but find her fiction writing clunky at the worst of times, and workaday at the best. I do enjoy her essays very much, and get great reading suggestions from her; she is solely responsible for my reading Lonesome Dove, Gone with the Wind, and Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels.

I keep picking up Water for Elephants; and putting it down. And picking it up. And putting it down. All without actually starting it. Anyone out there read it? Can someone convince me this deserves all its hype?


We are having Terzo's first birthday party on October 1. It may not be the closest Sunday to his birthday, but it IS a Steelers bye week, so my baby won't have to share his spotlight with Big Ben and the television. Thank God we don't get the Golf Channel...

The usual list of suspects will be there - most of H's family. Some of my friends will be added to balance the tide, and keep me sane. My brothers won't be able to make it. So it will kind of be just like yesterday's yawningly boring Labor Day picnic but with edible food. I suppose I can live with that.

Wonder if I can sit out in the car with the sleeping baby and read for the first hour of that gathering as well?


Ata recnt PTA meeting, one of the other parents got all riled up about recess/lunchtime. She is a very -- French-looking -- French woman (read: homely but stylish) with the most fabulous accent. So now H and I find ourselves saying, "Zey err not cleverrr dawgs; zey err CHEEL-dren" pretty much whether or not any given situation actually calls for such commentary.


When I was in high school, I somehow wound up at this conference in Philly for, oh God, it was so long ago I could not even tell you what. I remember nothing about this conference except for a round-table discussion about drug use with a police officer from the Miami police department named Julio, and my friend Chip.

Chip was this skinny, dorky, redheaded boy from Virginia, and we hit if off. We sat up all night in one of the stairwells jabbering at each other, and we wandered the tourist spots of Philly together - I do remember Chip could not get enough pineapple-orange juice, so I just kept handing my carton, packed in with the conference-provided lunch, over to him. There was never really any romantic aspect to our friendship, although I did go to his senior year homecoming with him. But since I was in love with his best friend Neil, who was little and dark and insanely smart, and about to go off to join the Navy and be something requiring immense amounts of brain and cunning, the halfhearted attempts Chip and I made at making out really never got much past a kiss and a "Hmm, do you suppose there's anything on TV?"

I loved Chip's parents. And their old, sprawly house in the country. And everything about them and and how they lived. As has happened several times in my romantic history, I briefly considered making myself fall in love with Chip so as to marry into his family and live that sort of life in that sort of environment. The house was homey but clean; I was always made to feel welcome and comfortable. There were always clean sheets and clean towels. There was always REAL food to eat, and regular mealtimes, and not much at all in the way of screaming and yelling. Alas, Chip and I did not fall in love and marry - I married H and Chip married a lovely woman out in Colorado, and they have two beautiful daughters and appear to be very happy. They came to visit us here about a year ago, and it was wonderful to see him. His lovely parents are retired, and reveling in their grandchildren (Chip has two brothers who also have kids), and healthy and doing just fine. They sent me a gorgeous little silver bread tray for a wedding gift, that I love and use as often as possible.

The weekend of the homecoming Chip's mom had a brunch for Chip and all his friends; she served a delicious egg-and-sausage casserole I still make; some sort of orange juice/punch; and the apple-carrot muffins I made for the picnic last week.
I ate so many of these at the brunch that I probably disgraced myself, but they were so good.

You want that apple-carrot muffin recipe, don't you? I knew you did.

Chip's Mom's Apple Carrot Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 cups grated carrots
1 large green apple, peeled and grated
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup flaked coconut
3 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla

Combine first five ingredients, then stir in carrots, apple, raisins, almonds, and coconut.
Make a well in the center.
Combine eggs, oil, and vanilla, put into well.
Stir till just moistened and mixed through.
Spoon into greased muffin tins (or papers), 2/3 full.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Remove from tins immediately and cool on racks.

Makes 2 dozen.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

“When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.” - Lyndon B. Johnson

Mayor Bob O'Connor died yesterday evening, two months after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, and only eight months into his term.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said eloquently what many of us feel:
Bob's death is especially tragic because becoming the mayor of Pittsburgh was his lifelong dream, and he was making incredible progress in revitalizing the city. His passing seems so unfair and is such a loss for all of us.

Many of us in this city expected O'Connor to be a mediocre mayor; after all, he was part of the machine, a real party man. I know I didn't vote for him. But he surprised me. The gusto with which he took office and started down the path of change, in this city that has been crying out for change, impressed me, and many others who did not start out as supporters. He loved Pittsburgh, its people and its little neighborhoods; he trumpeted its good traits and worked to fix its bad ones. He was so proud of this city, and he wanted everyone to know what a great city it was, and how much better it could be. Political machinations that took place after he was hospitalized, and, we all suspected, incapacitated, filled me with despair - he'd made such a strong start, and now the machine was taking over once again.

A beautifully expressed, and honest, obituary for Mayor O'Connor is posted on the Post Gazette website.

Upon O'Connor's death, Luke Ravenstahl, the 26-year-old city council president, was sworn in as the new mayor. Ravenstahl ran for council on his father's and grandfather's name (a state rep; and head of the water/sewer authority and then later, a district judge, respectively); he won the council presidency through, in my opinion, the typical and disappointing political finaglings and dealings which Pittsburghers have come to expect from our elected leaders. [Sigh. You see the problem, yes?]

With the mayor's passing, there will be not just a generational shift, but a change in tone from the ebullience of Mr. O'Connor to the cautious poise of Mr. Ravenstahl, he [State Rep. Don Walko, D-North Side] added. "Luke puts a different face on the city."

That's one way of putting it.

Even more worrisome is the question surrounding the allowed term for a mayoral successor. The City of Pittsburgh charter is disquietingly vague: until "the next election permitted by law."
It could mean a special election; it could mean a normal election bumped up two yesrs to next year; or it could mean an election bumped back to 2009, allowing the default mayoral successor almost a full term as mayor. Legal experts say there's a very good chance the issue could go to the courts. Yeah, that's *exactly* what a city teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and requiring strong, fair leadership, needs.

Mayor O'Connor, the city of Pittsburgh will miss you, in many ways.

Mayor Robert E. O'Connor
DEC. 9, 1944 - SEPT. 1, 2006


Lord, Rich and Bill Toland. "New mayor Luke Ravenstahl confident he is ready to lead city." September 2, 2006. Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

"Rare brain cancer claims Pittsburgh mayor." September 2, 2006.
AP Wire /