Monday, October 27, 2008

Memento Week

Scene 1: Green tomato chutney making on Saturday with the fabulous Harriet Fasenfest and my reliable life domestic pals Kristen and Mel (of What Not fame). In this photo, Kristen and Harriet stir up two large vats of what will ultimately be very yummy chutney--some 40 or so jars of the stuff. It's true: the labors of chopping onions, apples, prunes, and tomatoes are so much more pleasurable with good (albeit at times heated and politcal) conversation. But notice that this picture is taken from behind our range, where once a wall had been. . . .

Scene 2: Look at this spacious combined dining room and kitchen space. Though some would call it a travesty to open up a kitchen in a traditional house to the adjoining dining room, thinking it too modern and disrespectful. But you know what I find more disrespectful? Leaving someone stranded in the kitchen slaving over a meal while family members and guests laugh and drink wine in another room. Plus, the opened space makes it easier for kids to run circles through the house in that crazy way that I mostly don't mind, as long as no one is carrying a stick or pair of scissors (Parenting 101). And though it's not clear yet, the beam will be enclosed and sheetrocked and fitted with molding that matches that of the rest of the house. So there: history respected and modern family life accommodated.

Scene 3: Beam-raising day! After a fair bit of persuasion on my part, Alex made an eleventh-hour call to good buddy (and hubby of What Knot) Brian to ask for help with installing that aforementioned humungous beam where a wall once was. After some let's call it "discussion" between two accomplished and know-it-all handy men, the beam was up and set to do its job of keeping the second floor above the first floor. Not magic or aliens after all: just strong, smart men and math!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A quick pitch for a site that doesn't need my help

I hope you're all reading Tina Brown's latest baby The Daily Beast, because even though I'm supposed to be prepping my manuscript to give to my committee on Thursday, I am! Here's a quick list of why:

1. A picture of Laura from Project Runway breastfeeding one of her thirty kids and offering advice to Sarah Palin. (I repeat: A picture of Laura from Project Runway breastfeeding one of her thirty kids and offering advice to Sarah Palin, ISYN.)

2. A list of how to avoid giving your kid a hipster name, like Mathilda or Daisy (both that, ahem, have been on the short list for my imaginary future second child, who, I guess, better be a girl).

3. On October 10, Christopher Buckley says on DB that he's going to vote for Obama, then today, he quits The National Review because so many conservatives are pissed at him? Maybe The Nation needs a columnist?

While you're digesting this info, please do yourselves a favor and read Christopher Hitchens's not-quite-endorsement-of-Obama-but-definitely-bitch-slapping-of-McPalin in Slate. Scathing. My friend Sarah wonders if this is the last stand of centrist conservatives, the thought of which, in all seriousness, bums me out. At least, I can sometimes understand where Buckley and Hitchens are coming from, unlike the crazies that have been showing up at McCain rallies. Yikes. As Alex says, the bigger problem with homogeneity, which I snarked about in a recent post, is that at extremes, it encourages intractability and fanaticism. We need those centrists and moderates for ballast.

But back to The Daily Beast: it's like Fred Meyer--slightly gaudy and tacky, but you can buy groceries, underwear, and a hammer at one checkstand. Check it out and thank me later.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The unexplainable in home improvement (as explained by the clueless)

Sometimes, I hate living in the city. For example, I came home the other day and found out that someone dropped this 300-pound beam in the middle of our kitchen:

Alex claims he was napping when it happened, but that must have been some REM sleep he was in. Near as I can tell, some high school kids must have hijacked some sort of heavy equipment machinery to get the thing in here and when they backed up to leave, that beep-beep-beeping sound would have normally woken Alex. But he's been going to lots of concerts lately, and using nail guns, so maybe his hearing is going a bit.

This is the kind of thing that can really only happen in the city. Kids in the country do harmless things like tip cows and play mailbox baseball.

On the bright side, this beam will apparently come in handy for our ongoing home remodeling project. At some point, in fact, it will soon hold up the second floor of our house, either through some feat of engineering or magic or both. I wonder if space aliens will use their advanced powers to levitate the thing and hold it place while Alex pounds/glues/staples it into place?

Friday, October 3, 2008

How to make your four-year-old daughter cry

Wake up on a stay-home day and rush your daughter through a breakfast of apples and peanut butter because there are things to do. You've been on an anti-grocery store kick since spring, so, instead of spending time wandering aisles, you spend perhaps more time gathering food from farmers markets, a CSA, and food buying group. This morning, you're supposed to meet the Azure Standard truck at Rebecca's, to pick up, among other things, a gallon of olive oil, gluten-free flours, and assorted frozen goods. Hardly a good time for a kid, but she hangs out on the porch while you and the other moms schlep boxes of food from Jeff's enormous delivery truck through the first serious rain of fall.

Rush her home to unload, and when she kicks off her rainboots, say, "Sorry, we've got to do another errand." She sighs and puts them back on. You drive downtown and circle a block about twenty times before finally parking illegally in a bank lot. Then, drag her up to the graduate studies office on the sixth floor, where a nice woman tells you they have the GO-12 and the GO-16M, but not the GO-19, which makes you laugh but not because it's funny. Your daughter, wearing a green frog raincoat that's one size too big and clutching a Mother Goose book, collapses on the floor and waits.

You try to make up for the morning with a quick lunch at Burgerville, purple balloon and all, but then, it's off to Kuts 4 Kids, where Suzanne cleans up your daughter's curls and ties them up in red and purple ribbons. When asked what she wants to be for Halloween, your daughter glowers. You think about withholding the usual post-haircut lollipop, but instead, smile tightly and lecture her about respecting her elders as you drive home. It's still raining.

After quiet time for her and work time for you, break it to her that, though the day is all but done, you still have to pick up your CSA vegetable share. Her pretty little mouth moves toward a pout, so you desperately offer to let her watch Curious George and eat a popsicle when she gets home, which elicits a cheer from her but makes your stomach twist up in failure because you realize how much you suck--not always, but definitely today.

You keep your end of the bargain when you get home. Your husband is in the kitchen putting soup together and you finish work you didn't finish earlier in the day. When you turn off the TV after her show is over, she gives you a look that reminds you that you suck, so you offer to play hospital with her, using her new birthday ambulance that came complete with a kid, bicycle, and bandages. You remind her to thank her dad for ordering the toy for her, but she blows you off, walks past him, and grabs a handful of trail mix. This enrages you, so you take the raisins away from her, sit her on the "time out" step, and give her another "respecting your elders" lecture. You leave her there but hear her hiccuping and sniffling from the other room.

After she thanks her dad, still hiccuping and sniffling and chewing on the soft fleshy part of her palm (a remnant tic from when she was a baby), you play hospital for a while, but then it's dinnertime. She tries to avoid the meal entirely, knowing it's soup--not her favorite--by asking to watch "the TV show of me"--videos from when she was a baby. You agree, convincing yourself that home movies don't really count as TV.

She chokes down kale and squash, digging around for the bacon and beans, but then you all sit down and watch snippets from 2006. You laugh at her chubby legs and sweet baby voice. You talk about the old house, the trip to Mt. Hood, how young Ella and Zoe and Isaiah look. Then it's bedtime and you turn the TV off and she starts to cry, saying, "Mama, I don't like what I'm doing." When you ask what she means, she says, stammering with the effort of speaking through tears, "I don't like how I haven't had fun this whole day." For a moment, you can't reconcile the images of the toddler on the video and this long-legged girl who speaks in complete sentences. You think of what else you can offer her, but it's almost 8:00, so you promise her a few more minutes of SBTV tomorrow and give her a piggy back ride upstairs.

Later that night, snuggled in bed, you cry while reading the last chapter of Charlotte's Web. Your daughter's head is resting on your chest, so you struggle to control your voice, but the words get gobbed up in your throat, and now, it's you who's hiccuping. She sits up, sees your face, and asks why you're sad. When you say it's because Charlotte died and she was such a good friend to Wilbur, she begins to cry, too.

You wipe your tears on the purple handkerchief that sits on her nightstand, then pass it to her. You pull yourself together and continue reading, but she's listening closely now, not to the words on the page but to the inflections of your voice. You finish the book, tears streaming down your face, but your voice perfectly normal. Your daughter dabs at your cheeks with the handkerchief. Tears stream down her face, too, and when you say, "Why are you sad? Because of the book? Because we had a rough day?" She shakes her head, reaches for you, and says, "No. I'm sad because you're sad."

You turn off the light, settle her in under the covers, and pull her close. Her small body is angular, knobby at the joints, but her face is full and smooth. You kiss her check and forehead over and over again, and sing "Our House" in a hoarse rasp against her sweet-smelling hair.