Not Feelin’ It

Posted: October 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Clothing, Daddio, Doctors, Husbandry, Learning, Miss Kate, Parenting, Preschool, Sensory Defensiveness, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Halloween is like black licorice. You either love it or hate it.

Me? I loooooooove Halloween. It’s the attention-seeker’s favorite holiday. The one time of year when you can unapologetically dress to elicit attention. You get to be creative. Plus there’s candy. And jack-o-lanterns. And cinnamony, nutmeggy, pumpkiny foods.

And did I mention the attention part?

Junior year in college I lived with a family in France. The mother was in her forties. Super young-looking, fashionable, and pretty. And she was a maniac extrovert. When my friends would come over she’d run around opening wine (as if we needed encouragement), cranking music, and dragging the furniture to the side of the room to get us dancing.

Her teen-aged daughter would be cowering in the corner. She was painfully, hideously shy.

Our parenting days were light years away, but my friends said, “That is SO going to be you and your kid some day, Kristen.” (They called this up to me while I was dancing on the couch.)

Weirdly, neither of my girls has retreated like a threatened snail in the wake of their mother’s extroversion. In fact, Miss Kate, my oldest, holds her own quite well. She’s one of the youngest in her class, but as other parents have commented, “You’d never know it.” I think that’s code for, “She’s all  in your grill with the sass and spunk you’d expect from a much older kid.”

Or maybe they’re just referring to her mad reading skillz.

Anyway, it turns that I’m worried about Little Miss Self Esteem. On the one hand she’s so socially bulletproof. She went from camp to camp one summer without knowing a soul, and without batting an eyelash. She was the only girl in an animation class with 19 boys. And she was totally un-phased.

She’ll happily let anyone babysit for her. (I should take advantage of that and work a deal with some homeless folks.) She’s independent, confident, funny, and a good big sister—90% of the time.

She blew away her preschool teachers by asking if she could lead Circle Time. Apparently no kid’s ever done that, and her teachers ended up handing her the Circle Time reigns a bunch. (“Today,” she’d report, “I led the kids in some yoga poses and we sang a song about snowflakes.”)

These days as a big second-grader she volunteers at Paige’s preschool reading to the children and leading art projects that she comes up with on her own.

My Kate is the future Most Likely to Succeed.

And yet I’m fretting about all the things she isn’t doing. It’s not that I want her to do more. It’s not that she’s disappointing me in any way. It’s that there are things that I know she wants to do that she isn’t doing.

And it’s all because of clothes.

You may’ve seen me write about this here before. Kate hates clothes. She’s not a nudist, just a super-sensitive kid who can’t stand the feel of seams, stiff fabric, sewn-on decals, and zippers.

We’ve gone through phases with this. As a baby it seemed non-existent, but somewhere along the way she forsook pants for dresses. She whittled her wardrobe down to a handful of acceptable well-washed, worn out, super-soft cotton clothes.

She saw an OT a couple years ago and we brushed her and did some other exercises to desensitize her skin. It seemed to work. A bit, I mean. Even just learning other kids have this problem helped us all.

But it’s far from behind her. I’ll nearly forget about it, then she’ll need new shoes and I’ll realize how not-normal this behavior is that we’ve become so accustomed to.

So we started with another OT this fall. A well-respected woman who’s in walking distance of our house. She gave us some new insights and exercises, and already Kate seems to feel some things are easier. She recently wore a long-rejected shirt that Mark had bought her on a business trip. We nearly fainted when she walked into the kitchen with it on.

At school the other day I caught the end of her P.E. class. She was wearing a red vest along with her teammates. I was thrilled. We went shoe shopping a few days later and to my shock she picked out a pair of tall leather boots.

Things like these are victories. Totally unprecedented stuff.

So, what’s the problem? What I’m worried about is all the things she doesn’t want to do because of an outfit or uniform or some kind of gear.

She used to love ballet. Everyone else wore tutus and tights and slippers. Katie was in a baggy cotton dress, barefoot. This was fine with her teacher, but somewhere along the line from toddler to first-grader Kate decided ballet wasn’t her thing.

She adored choir until the performances last spring where I had to coax her into her uniform while drugging her with TV. This year she quit choir after one rehearsal.

She still has training wheels on her bike since she can’t tolerate a helmet.

And she’s expressed interest in horseback riding and theater, but admitted that the required clothes or costumes made those things a no-go.

I also think she’d love Halloween, but—in my mama brain at least—she sees it as a day when she’ll have to wear something other than her four soft-and-cozy skirts or her three approved cotton shirts. Dressing up is anxiety-provoking. What’s fun about that?

A few weeks ago I’d just about decided that we’d put her in therapy. In addition to the OT, I mean. Might as well come at this from every angle, right? My dad and I had a long phone conversation about this and he agreed it was a good idea. Let’s hit this thing with a hammer.

But a chat with her pediatrician later that day had me reconsidering.

“Is she doing okay socially?” he asked.

“Yeah, totally,” I said. No-brainer to that.

You’ll go through two or three years when she’ll say no to things, the doc said. But you have to trust that she’ll pull out of it. Eventually there’ll be something she wants to do badly enough that she’ll be willing to wear whatever she has to for it.

Putting her in therapy, he contended, will just solidify this as a big issue in her mind. It could make it even harder to shake.

I called my dad to discuss this new perspective. And we agreed that it made sense too.

Oy! What to do?

It’s hard to resist that modern-day reflex to throw as many resources and specialists at a problem as possible. Especially when that problem relates to your sweet young child. Isn’t being a good parent about removing whatever roadblocks prevent your kid from being their best selves?

I said that to a friend the other day who replied, “Or maybe it’s about letting them remove those barriers themselves.”

For now at least I’m back-burnering the therapy idea. Mark agrees. Let’s focus on OT now and see what comes of that.

So then, time to hone my maternal patience skills. Time to sit on my hands when I see Kate yearn to do something that she ultimately decides against because some part of it won’t feel good. Time to sit back and appreciate all the dazzling things that Kate IS doing, instead of fretting over what she’s not.

And time to go put the finishing touches on my own Halloween costume.

Happy Halloween, y’all.

A friend emailed me a link to this excellent short video. (Thank you, Melanie!)
My husband and I related to so so much of it. In fact, Mark said it made him cry.
Check it out, yo.

The Emperor’s New Onesie from Hillary Frank on Vimeo.


Call Me Fred

Posted: June 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, Daddio, Miss Kate, Sisters | 3 Comments »

When my oldest sister was pregnant with her first child my dad called her and said, “If it’s a boy are you considering calling him Ferdinand?”

My sister apparently dropped the phone she was laughing so hard. Later she scolded Dad that when you’re as far along as she was you can wet your pants really easily. He shouldn’t have suggested anything so hilarious.

Yes, my dad’s name is Ferdinand. Try learning to spell that when you’re three. And, no, his nickname is not Ferdie as many folks ask me when I tell them his name. It’s Fred.

Dad has been gunning for a kid to be named after him for as long as I can remember. And now that I think about it, it’s probably all my fault. On accounta after he and my mother already had three daughters, ten years later Mom got preggers again. I can’t help but think Dad thought this surprise baby was his son. Right? It’s like fate was going to deal him a boy in the home stretch.

Alas, that baby was me.

To be clear, Dad would never admit to having wished I was a boy. He’s crazy-man proud of his brood of daughters. But I was also his last crack at having the family name—Bruno—live on. His one brother never had kids. So it was all up to me.

Anyway, the plan never was for my name to be Ferdinand. My mother said something once about me being Gregory if I was a boy. Ick! Greg Bruno sounds so hideously Brady Bunch. Glad I dodged that bullet. I just think that years later, with his hopes dashed for his last name living on, Dad thought he’d try his luck at getting someone to saddle their newborn with his first name.

After my sister’s reaction he upped the ante—if only in jest. Years later when I was “in the family way” he offered a whopping twenty-five dollar education bond if I bestowed the big F on my kid. Alas, I missed out on cashing in on the name and the nominal monetary award. In keeping with family tradition I only had girls.

When I mentioned to Dad once that my friend Julie was expecting he perked up, “Hey hey hey, I’m willing to fork over that bond still! Twenty-five big ones! How’s she like the sound of Ferdinand?”

Well, recent activity ’round my house indicates that the dream is not dead. Or maybe it’s that this name thing just skips a generation.

Last weekend we walked by a yard sale and I bought Kate a stuffed wombat. It was tucked in a mug that said Australia and was still wrapped in cellophane. Some cheesy airport gift that for a quarter appeased my begging child.

Kate acted as if she’d birthed a crowned prince. She’s been cooing over the thing, seating it next to her at meals, and making bold statements like, “There are now five members of our family—when you count Fred.”

Yes, Kate named her wombat Fred. [Thrill!] All on her lonesome. And sure, it’s not exactly Ferdinand, but let’s not drown in the details, shall we?

On Saturday we went to the Alameda County Fair. We watched tractor pulls, pig races, and wandered through low houses packed with rabbits, snakes, fish, and insects. Every cute creature Kate cast her eyes on she mooned over, begged for, and proclaimed, “I will name it Fred.”

Seriously, if we did a shot every time Kate said Fred that day, well, we would’ve been in no state to operate heavy farming equipment.

Sure, I have some concerns about the multiplicity of Freds Kate is planning to take under her wing. It smacks a bit of George Foreman’s family. But more than that, I’m just happy that the name Fred has finally came home to roost. Even if it’s only on stuffed animals and a barnyard full of animals Kate will never really own.


Party Tricks

Posted: June 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Food, Housewife Superhero, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sisters | 17 Comments »

Everyone needs a good party trick. Something that’ll wow the crowd you roll with, whoever they are.

And if you’ve got school-aged kids, I’m guessing you’ve been in the eye of the party storm recently. Right now there’s probably some finger food (“healthy, please”) you have to whip up for an end-of-school picnic, or a snack (for 35) for a piano recital. You’re having to remember that Thursday is Crazy Hair Day and Friday’s just a half-day and Saturday the soccer players are each contributing $5 for a gift for the coach.

This time of year for moms is like April for accountants. Our busy season. Teacher gifts, gymnastics performances, field days, staff appreciation lunches. Getting to the end of the school year seems like an endless process.

My mother had a “quality not quantity” philosophy about most things. I see that reflected in how my sisters and I cook. We have a limited repertoire of offerings, but what we do we do well. There are certain dishes—Chicken Marbella, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato spread, sherry poppy seed cake—that may not be on Food and Wine’s latest cover, but are consistent crowd-pleasers. There’s comfort in the classics.

But it’s nice to add something new to the mix, no matter how humble.

That’s why I was thrilled when my former roomie Tanya posted a picture on Facebook last year of a rainbow fruit salad she made for some Girl Scout gathering. It was adorable. And easy. And healthy, damn it.

The next day I took one to a ballet potluck to rave reviews. Teens were taking pictures of it with their cell phones—no lie! The ratio of effort to gushing praise was unbeatable. It’s been my suburban mom party trick ever since.

Here’s one that I made last week:

Cute, right?

If you’ve still got some end-of-the-year events on your calendar, try this out and report back on the accolades you get. I require no credit, but will happily receive royalty payments via PayPal.

At this rate I’ll be bringing this fruit salad to my kids’ college graduations. (Thank you, Tanya.)

Of course, there was a time when my idea of a good party trick didn’t involve a platter of fruit labeled with masking tape with my name on it.

I mean, I’ve never seen anyone chug a goldfish, but I’ve known people who opened beer bottles with their teeth, or knotted cherry stems with their tongues. I’ve seen people ride bikes down stairs, light  farts on fire, and do The Worm. I’ve witnessed folks climb up roofs, jump out windows, turn their eyelids inside out, and shave their heads.

Ah, youth. Such foolish acts of bravado. Makes me question sending the girls to college some day.

Some party tricks involve skill. I was proud to see my brother-in-law in action at a family wedding a few years back. It was a late-night karaoke after party—no elderly grandmas around—and he performed the 90′s hit The Humpty Dance. It’s his go-to song, and with good reason. He totally rocked it, had the crowd loving him, and then at the end he dropped to floor in a full split, then pulled himself up and did a spin. It brought the house down.

I was standing and clapping and howling like some studio-audience mom who just watched her son win big on Jeopardy.

I’d keep saving for college for the girls if they could pull off something like that.

My sister Judy and my dad used to have a trick they’d do via phone. She’d ask someone to pick a card from a deck. Then she’d call to “The Wizard” and ask “Could you please tell this person what card they’re holding?” She’d hand the phone over and my dad—I mean, The Wizard—would reveal the card.

Apparently this trick wowed many a drunk at my sister’s college. And gave my father the gratification of being part of a good party stunt. Dad still maintains you can call him any time of day or night to do this. The Wizard, apparently, is always in.

I’d reveal how it’s done but I’ve probably said too much already. And I’d like to stay in the will.

Anyway, the other day we were at a picnic and my friend David offered to open my beer. He took out his iPhone, pushed against the back of the case, and a flat bottle opener slid out. From his phone. It was SO COOL.

Turns out it’s marketing schwag with his company’s logo on it. I begged and whined and pleaded for him to get me one.  And last week he did. [Thrill!]

So I think I’m pretty cool now.

I mean, sure, I’ve got the rainbow fruit salad up my sleeve, should I ever need to bust one out. But now this suburban mama’s got a party trick that has nothing to do with kids, thankyouverymuch.

And I don’t even have to wake up The Wizard to do it.

What’s your party trick?


Sundays with Dad

Posted: May 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Holidays, Little Rhody, Writing | 9 Comments »

I’m taking a writing class on Tuesday nights. I care that much about improving the quality of the crap you read here.

We do a half-hour writing exercise at every class. This always kind of annoys me because I figure we can just write at home. But then if I end up liking what I write, I’m not annoyed any more because I can read it out loud to the other boys and girls. And I like attention.

Last week we analyzed an essay about cooking, that turned out to be a big metaphor for sex. For our in-class work, the teacher asked us to write about something we know a lot about. It could be about anything—playing tennis, fixing a carburetor, painting your toenails.

There’s an attractive woman in my class with a really skinny butt, who I was shocked to hear has a daughter in her twenties. After I read my piece last week she said, “Okay, so with that one?” then pressed her index finger into the table, “Post to blog.”

So I decided I would. Because I always listen to women whose asses are smaller than mine. And because I had nothing else to post today.

I thought of saving this to run on Father’s Day, but for me growing up, every Sunday was Father’s Day.

So here’s to you, Daddio. I love you madly, and expect you to share this with everyone at your Rotary Club. You know I like all the extra traffic I can get.

And happy weekend to the rest of you. I’ll be camping with my daughter’s school. (Plenty of blog fodder to come out of that, no doubt.)

See you back here next week. xoxox

* * *

Sundays with Dad

When your parents get divorced when you’re a kid you play lots of miniature golf. And eat lots of soft-serve ice cream, and get to order soda out at restaurants, and sometimes even see movies that are PG-rated when you’re really only allowed to see the G ones.

This, at least, was my experience on my Sundays with Dad.

But mini golf wasn’t always the plan. Some days we’d get a wild hair to go further afield from our little hometown. We’d wander down rural routes to flea markets, or make the hour-long drive to Faneuil Hall in Boston in his tiny Mercedes, which he pronounced MER-sid-eez and insisted was the correct pronunciation.

That car was an extension of Dad himself—a luxury, an indulgence. Something my Mom—who I lived with and who set the rules, doled out the punishments and certainly never even ate at restaurants forget allowed me to have soda—something that she, who drove an old beater Volvo, would roll her eyes and say, “That car.”

On Sundays at 10:30AM when he’d pick me up, Dad would pull “that car” into our big semi-circular driveway and beep the horn for me to come out. This was divorce East Coast style. He and mom never talked, and avoided contact at all costs. Every weekend he’d beep, and every weekend Mom would say, “Does he HAVE to beep that damn horn? Can you please tell him not to do that?”

And every time I’d forget, because by the time I got out to the car and climbed in and slammed the door, I was transported into the special world of Dad. My mind was already racing about where we’d be going, what we’d get to do. Mom and her requests were a million miles away.

And on the drive to wherever it was we went, we’d talk and talk and talk. Dad talked to me like a grown-up. He got excited by my ideas, what I was learning about in school. He’d add new thoughts, challenge me. Share stories that seemed like the kinds of things I imagined he talked to other grown-ups about.

“Do you know what really happened when that volcano erupted in Pompeii?” he’d ask.

Or, “The president has really painted himself into a corner this time…”

We’d talk about travel, or geography, or politics. Or I’d hear some story about when he was a kid and how his mother saved some choking dog that everyone else thought was rabid.

And sometimes he indulged the kid in me. On the country road to Newport he’d suddenly declare, “Okay, I’ll close my eyes and you tell me where to drive.” He kept his left eye open, I assume—the one I couldn’t see from my passenger-seat vantage point. And even though I think I knew that then, I’d still try to pretend I thought both his eyes were shut. I’d howl and cry out, “Slow down! Wait—we’re veering into the other lane!” Or, “Right turn–now! Now! NOW!”

When we’d get out of the car, he’d hold my hand, and we’d do the three squeezes thing. Do other people know this too, or was it our own special code? Three squeezes is the code that means ‘I love you.’ My husband does that now sometimes, but I think it must be because I told him about it from Dad.

On one of our Sundays together we saw the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. Or maybe we saw them twice. (This spurned my epic pen pal relationship with Mishu, the Smallest Man in the World.) Dad was always getting tickets from clients to things that came into town, like random radio station events or the Harlem Globetrotters.

We even were invited to ride on a Goodyear Blimp once, though in that foolish didn’t-realize-what-I-was-passing-on way I decided I didn’t want to go. I remember I was nervous that there wouldn’t be a bathroom onboard.

To this day, when I see a blimp in the sky I laugh to myself wondering if there’s a toilet up there.


Stocking Up

Posted: May 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Daddio, Discoveries, Hoarding, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Shopping | 19 Comments »

I must’ve forgotten to lock my car the other night.

Living in Oakland this results in one of three outcomes:

1) Someone steals the car. This is not a risk for me as I drive a 1999 Subaru with a dent on the passenger side that goes from the front door to the back bumper. The interior is covered in pretzels and dessicated mini carrots, and at least one sippy cup of sour milk is lodged under a seat somewhere. If anything, car thieves leave Post-It Notes on my windshield suggesting I look into some of the new leasing deals.

2) Someone rifles through your belongings. Generally this involves stealing change, cell phone headsets, and Luna Bars or Slim Jims (depending on your dietary preferences).

3) Nothing. Whenever my car’s been left unlocked and nothing has happened I freak out a little. Worried that Oakland is losing its edge or something. Then I get insulted. “What—my parking change is no good for you?” I yell to the homeless man picking through our recycling. “There are some perfectly good Elmo board books in here, only lightly chewed,” I bellow. “You can still read all the words!” I find myself merchandising old maps of downtown Sacramento and broken Crayon bits to anyone passing by.

I’ll get them to want to steal my stuff if it’s the last thing I do.

Well yesterday—on my birthday—after a rousing early-morning argument with my husband, I frantically shooed the running-late kids to the car where I see the contents of our glove box—insurance papers, registration, Children’s Benadryl, a box of raisins, an old work ID with a really good photo of me, Band-Aids, hair clips, a black Sharpie, and several tampons—strewn over the front seat.

Yes, I said tampons. Do YOU keep tampons in your car?

As I scooped everything up to shove back into the glove box I was surprised to see just how many tampons I had. (While feeling slightly offended that they weren’t taken. What is WRONG with my tampons? They’ve got easy-glide applicators! I have a variety of absorbancies! Are they not good enough for my neighborhood hoodlums?)

I ended up counting NINE emergency tampons. This, it appears, is one of those things I do. I have the thought, “I should keep a tampon in the car in case I ever need one.” Then three months later, I have the same thought. And without looking to see what’s there, I toss another one in.

As I mentioned this car is a ’99. Given our long history it’s a miracle the entire hatch back isn’t teeming with feminine products.

And as far as I can tell I’ve never once needed an emergency tampon. And if I did, I’d probably forget they were there. And simply drive to a store to get some.

I’m not sure what the scenario I’m envisioning for their use. That we’re driving through the temperate Berkeley hills and get stuck in a snow bank? Then I start menstruating at a phenomenal, un-soppable rate? And while rationing out the small box of raisins between my cold hungry children, I suddenly experience stigmata? Thankfully I’ll have some light-flow Tampax I can tie to my wrists to staunch the blood, freeing me up to write a life-saving emergency message on a 1998 map of the Gilroy Outlets with my black Sharpie.

See? It all MAKES SENSE.

But really, irrational thoughts about what’s needed to protect our families just comes with the territory when you’re a mom. I can assure you that before having children I never thought that having a bold-colored permanent marker in my car was likely to be the difference between my survival and dying in the parking lot of my neighborhood Trader Joe’s.

Whenever a snowstorm is predicted in Rhode Island my father calls me to report on the scene at the grocery stores. This is especially entertaining since George Bush Senior has been in a grocery store more recently than my father. Nonetheless Dad claims that the stores in town are packed with folks frantically stocking up on bread and milk. These people could be lactose intolerants who haven’t touched carbs in years, but they’re blindly compelled to purchase these things at times of imminent snowfall. It’s a natural instinct you just can’t fight.

Me? I’m the same way. But it doesn’t take a storm for me to buy two boxes of Wheat Thins EVERY TIME I GO TO THE STORE. I get agita imagining what might happen if we were to ever run out of those delightful whole grain crackers. Not that we even eat them all that much.

I also buy black beans every time I shop. And that Near East rice pilaf. “Do we already have some of this?” I wonder. But because I’m the one asking the question, I’m unsurprisingly unable to provide the answer.

So always, always, I roll on the safe side and buy more.

This habit causes Mark to bellow from our basement pantry things like, “Embargo on Cheerios!” Followed by him muttering, “For the love of God we have no less than 15 boxes of cereal here.”

Which leads to me call down the stairs, “How’re we doing on black beans?”

As far as tampons go, I feel quite certain that the supplies in our cars alone could take me through to menopause. At which point I’ll likely make regular trips to Walgreens to pick up my estrogen prescription.

But, don’t you worry. Should anything go awry when I venture three blocks to the store, I’ve got raisins, Band-Aids, and a black Sharpie marker. I am totally ready.

What do you obsessively stock up on?


Get It in Writing

Posted: April 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Holidays, Husbandry, Shopping, Style | 2 Comments »

You really should do something divine for me so I’ll send you a thank you note. Not because I need a favor or anything—though I’m not actively discouraging them—just because I got new stationery and it’s so damn fab-u-luss. My note card alone, without a word on it, should be all the thanks you’ll need.

I’ve been wanting to get my own stationery for about ever. And I don’t think of myself as indecisive. But every time I looked at all the options for fonts, colors, or even the damn paper liner for the envelopes, I’d get light-headed and woozy. I’d have to sit down and pour myself a bourbon to steady my nerves.

Add to that the size and shape of the card. Flat or folded? And the paper stock. I was flummoxed.

At one point I even enlisted my uber-stylish gay friend Larry to help me. No doubt he’d have strong opinions and excellent taste. We met at Gumps, a high-end department store that’s a San Francisco institution. But our field trip was fruitless. He flipped through the books and mocked half the designs. “Too Holly Hobbie.” “Too country club.” “I used something like that for my sweet sixteen party.”

And when the snooty saleswoman stepped away for a moment he whispered, “You can get this MUCH cheaper online.” So we left and went to lunch.

And I was sent back to square one. Stymied now by which website offered the best price, and left to fend for myself with my own inadequate straight-girl taste.

The thing is I’ve spent so many years working with companies on their branding that this kind of design decision is out-of-whack important to me. As if the recipients of my correspondence were some sort of customers with whom I was delivering an emotional experience that I wanted them to associate with me.

Absurd, yes. But I still couldn’t shake the thought that these cards would be a representation of me, albeit a small one. And I was gripped with the dismal realization that I had no idea who that ‘me’ was.

Perhaps other people don’t suffer identity crises when they buy note cards. At least, I hope not.

Or maybe Cranes is somehow in cahoots with the American Psychiatric Association. I mean, I don’t want to start some conspiracy theory or anything. I’m just saying it’s possible.

I watched one of those horrible fashion reality shows once where the husband of some poor sweat-pants-clad woman who’s altogether given up on herself sticks a team of fashionistas and a crew of hidden cameras on his wife for a week. And by the end of the montage of her myriad fashion faux-pas you find yourself screaming at the TV, “Could she at least COMB HER HAIR before picking up the kids from school?”

And then at a commercial you run into the bathroom and comb your own hair really quickly.

Anyway, one of the sniveling show hostesses said something about how people’s clothing choices tend to get stuck in the happiest periods of their lives. So, like, if your glory days were in the 80s, you still gravitate towards neon lime green FRANKIE SAY RELAX t-shirts when you’re out shopping.

I found this theory interesting. I do sometimes find myself reverting to a preppie fashion comfort zone. Sometimes I’ll look at a pair of Pepto-Bismal pink capri pants with royal blue clams embroidered on them and actually take them off the rack to the dressing room.

What’s scarier is half the time I go on to buy them.

And it doesn’t take years of therapy to know that this harkens back to my teen years. I don’t have any tattoos, but if I’d gotten one back then it would’ve probably been an alligator on my left breast or a ribbon belt of nautical flags around my waist. Thank God for my fear of needles.

So was high school the happiest time in my life? I had fun but, God, I hope not. I’ve been lucky to be blessed with lots of happiness. Hell, I was happy during both my pregnancies but have never considered buying elastic-waistband jeans while out shopping for a cute new outfit.

Anyway, when I’ve tried to come up with personalized note cards I kept finding myself reverting to that bad preppie juju. Yet I knew that a conservative navy blue monogram wasn’t what I was really looking for.

So thank God for Mark (once again), who deftly put an end to this whole quandary at Christmas. He researched old-world printers and found an exceptional authentic engraver in New York City. He even got the process started by working with an art director there to develop some initial designs. My gift allowed me to see the process through—coming up with whatever I liked.

Turns out I loved one of the typefaces she originally comped, and from there picking a color (orange) was easy. She matched the envelope papers to the font ink exactly, and in the matter of a few email exchanges and some samples sent via mail, I finally hammered out my personal stationery. In the end it seemed weirdly easy.

And it rocks.

Best of all, there isn’t a single whale, anchor, or martini glass on it anywhere.

A couple weeks ago I called my dad as if I was announcing I’d had a baby. “Guess what?” I gushed. “I got my new note cards today and I feel like the Duchess of Glam.”

“Ho ho ho!” he responded, the enthusiastic reaction reserved only for him and Santa. “Tell me!”

Dad, it turns out, takes his stationery VERY seriously. Since as far back as I can remember he was childishly excited about selecting letterhead for his law firm. He’d get the boxes from the printer and lift off the lids like a pirate opening a trunk of gold. He’d run his fingers over the raised engraving, remark on the heft of the paper, point out the watermark, then turn to five-year-old me asking, “So ho ho! Whaddaya think?”

To which I’d reply, “Can I get some graham crackers?”

I was perhaps the only eight-year-old to have her own letterhead as well. I had reams of the stuff in two colors—a pastel pink and a kinda minty green. The lettering was a darker shade of each color. My name and address was along the top of the paper, and on the envelopes too. I think I wrote a total of eight—maybe 12—letters (from the 200+ sheets I had), but Dad got a thrill out of the stuff.

I remember the year he ordered European-sized business cards. They were slimmer than standard ones, and extra long. “They don’t even fit in American wallets!” he declared triumphantly. Sorta like, fuck my clients of they can’t handle high style. If they wanted his cards on hand they could damn well buy European wallets.

So then, Dad was riveted by the news of this gift from Mark. (As if he needed more reason to adore his youngest son-in-law.)

“Send me a caaahd!” he urged in his Kennedyesque New England accent.

Dad is also a fountain pen collector. He has a crazy vast collection, and if you’re ever suffering from insomnia he can lecture you on the historical background and artistic merits of each one. (I’m sure he’d be happy to do this via phone.) He aims to “keep the aht of lettah writing alive.”

“And what kind of pen are you using with this new stationery?” he asked with reverence.

“Uh, Bic? Or… felt tip?” I stammered lamely.

“Now then,” he said in his we’ll-sort-this-out lawyerly fashion. “You send a me note cahd and I’ll find some pens—and I’ve got some wonderful inks—a brown Italian one that’s really first-rate. A real first-class ink. The cahds are orange? The brown could look quite smaht with them. Trust me.”

Within days four pens arrived in the mail. And once he got a copy of the card and was able to creative-direct an ink choice, a package with inks arrived too.

So then, here I am, exceptionally well-poised to send out a note. I’ve got the stationery, I’ve got the pen. I’ve even got some designer brown ink that’s apparently worthy of kings.

And I’ve got two great men in my life to thank for making me look so good. I really should send them both notes.


Paging Dr. House

Posted: August 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, Daddio, Doctors, Friends and Strangers, My Body, My Temple, Scary Stuff | 5 Comments »

Should I start with the good news or the bad news? Okay, since I can’t hear you very well, I guess I’ll pick.

So, the good news is: All my blood tests have come back negative.

The bad news is: I have no idea what the hell is wrong with me.

If you haven’t been riveted by this story and following along from home, here’s the sweetened condensed version: I came down with some mystery illness after our East Coast vacation. It started with numbness, then achyness, then I threw in some jarring joint pain, just to keep things lively. I’ve had MRIs (and drugs for MRIs), been poked, prodded, and questioned, and had enough blood taken for a gang of vampires to binge for days.

Somewhere along the line my dad emailed me a guess at what I had—to keep those two-bit docs on their toes. Lyme Disease, he said.

I was giddy. Like, all hand clappy excited. Convinced my lawyer father outwitted the doctors. And they did agree that Dad had something there. (I had forgotten to tell them I got a weird bite in Rhode Island.) But then the Lyme test came back negative.

Which was when my first freak-out about WTF I do have ensued.

Thankfully, my dad isn’t the only un-qualified yahoo out there who’s been willing to float a diagnosis my way. Well-meaning friends have wondered (aloud) if what I’m experiencing is a by-product of bottled up anger, an energy blockage, or everyone’s favorite malady du jour—gluten intolerance.

Now, you might say that I’m asking for this, living in California as I do. But what I want to tell those people is, “Yes! You are right. I do have pent up rage. I do have energy log jams. But those things aren’t why I feel like I do. I have them because I feel like I do and no one knows why.”

As for gluten intolerance? Puh-leez. Gluten is my friend, people. In fact, I’m going to go and eat a big gooey glob of gluten right now and process it like a champion. Gluten is my wheat grass, California.

And while everyone else has a theory on what’s plaguing me, my doctors remain utterly baffled. Having a case they can’t crack  seems bad for business, like unsolved murders in the police department. So in a valiant effort to move down the path to some resolution, my doc started me on antibiotics—the Lyme Disease treatment—even though that test came back neg-o.

They say there can be false-negatives in the early stage of infection. It’s like I filled out one answer on the SAT in the wrong column then got everything totally wrong by accident. So I’ll take the test again in two weeks, with the happy hopes it’ll come back positive. “Lyme Disease! Yay!” Then the doctors can finally get back to their golf games, and I can assure my veins they’ll no longer be tapped for blood like a tree for maple sap.

But until all that happens, my work husband has enthusiastically claimed dibs on performing my eulogy. I have no doubt it’ll be fabulous. He assures me he can “fake cry with the best of ‘em,” which I find wonderfully supportive. He’s gone so far as to make recommendations on good dates for me to expire. His mom passed on 9/9/99, so he fancies himself an expert in this area. I’m lucky to have style-conscious friends with a flair for event planning who are stepping up at this time.

And, as long as I keep laughing I convince myself that when they do figure out what this weird numb, tingly, achy, joint painy so-you-can’t-sleep thing is, it’ll be something itty bitty and easy to eradicate.

But I’ve gotta say, the longer this lingers and leaves the docs scratching their heads, the intermittent moments when I do worry become more and more mittent. If ya know what I mean.

In the meantime I’ve managed to make my father sick from all this. It’s the craziest thing. The man is some supremely empathetic illness conductor. Like, when Paigey was a baby and was lizard-like with eczema, my 80-year-old dad who’d never had so much as a rash was suddenly covered with the stuff himself. A year later, Paige’s walking delays required x-rays of her hips. Then Dad called to report his hip was giving out, and he’d need a new one. And now? Just yesterday I call home and what do I hear? Dad is on antibiotics—for Lyme Disease.

It’s madness! The man is nothing short of a copy cat. I mean, when my father says he feels your pain, he’s serious.

When I was at BlogHer I experienced the bliss of bad hotel TV. I watched crappy shows I never normally watch, on a huge TV at the foot of my bed. Alone. It was a simple but profound indulgence. And I saw that show House, about the ornery-but-lovable doctor who’s the Sherlock Holmes of sickness. Every patient who comes to his hospital seems to be near death with bizarre symptoms that Dr. House eventually, handily diagnoses—and cures. Like, the girl who was becoming paralyzed from the legs up? In a creeping, oh-no-it’s-stopped-her-lungs-now fashion? She eventually gets discharged and heads off to school the next day.

Oh, it’s good stuff.

As I rubbed my numb feet together under the starchy hotel sheets I considered climbing into the TV and sitting myself down in House’s office, hopeful that he was in-network. But who knew how long the wait would be without an appointment. And I was tired anyway. So instead I rolled over and snapped off the lamp, put my faith back into my real-world docs, and drifted off to sleep.


Now Hear This: My Father is a Genius

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Little Rhody | 2 Comments »

If you’ve been following along from home you’ve read all about my latest mystery affliction: numbness.

And if you aren’t up to speed here’s the “Recently on Kristen’s Life” summary: Weird mild numbness in my arms, hands, and feet. Gone to the neurologist, gotten two MRIs, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe it’s a migraine, maybe carpal tunnel, maybe I’m just cuh-razy.

Okay, so now you’re all caught up.

So last night I go out to dinner with my friend Rick. Rick, my gay work husband. A heartfelt, hilarious, and also delicious dinner, throughout which Rick intermittently checked on the state of my numb-itude, and proffered several diagnoses which I’ll refrain from sharing. (Suffice it to say, in the mind of a gay man—or in his mind at least—all illnesses stem somehow from the girl parts. Or, as he likes to say, “la vagine.”)

It’s wonderful to be the recipient of all this concern. Truly. I’m touched by all the emails and phone calls and tweets. But I’m still somehow convinced that what’s plaguing me ain’t dire.

So after my dinner last night I got an email from my father. Tell the doctor to do a blood test, he says. You got that weird bug bite when you were home. You’ve got symptoms of Lyme Disease.

Can I tell you right now that I’ll bet you one U.S. dollar and my best blue-green marble that I THINK THE MAN IS RIGHT.

I’ve already ranted on the evils of the ferocious, disease-borne East Coast tick. Nearly everyone in those parts has a dramatic tale of when and how their Lyme Disease was diagnosed. It’s like cell phones. Everyone’s got one.

And when I was in Little Rhody I did get a gruesome bite from an indeterminate bug, and developed a weird, red, sundress-unfriendly rash on my back. And like a good hypochondriac I was convinced I had Lyme Disease.

But the thing with being certain that you have every possible disease and affliction listed on WebMD is that you stop believing yourself. It’s like you’ve cried wolf to yourself too many times.

So eventually the rash subsided, the bite turned all dark and bruisey, then finally faded away. And I forgot about it.

If it wasn’t 11PM when I got that email from my dad, I’d a been careening in my car up on two wheels all Dukes of Hazzard style over to my doctor’s office—the most excited person ever to demand a blood test. (Though there probably are some needle fetishists who get pretty fired up about those procedures.)

It’s still early here. My neurologist’s office hasn’t opened yet. But I CAN’T WAIT to call her when it does and tell her that I think my dad has cracked the case.


Best and Least of the East

Posted: July 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, Daddio, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Summer, Travel | 3 Comments »

My dad’s neighbors are using the trees in their front yards to uphold an age-old rivalry. We noticed this while walking the dog the other day. On one side of the street there’s a Red Sox cap that’s somehow attached to a tree, with a weird face on the bark below it. The face looks like it’s made out of Mr. Potato Head parts—and now that I think of it, it probably is. (Ten-foot tall themed Mr. Potato Head statues are littered all over this state, since Hasbro is based in Providence.)

But where was I? Oh yeah, so there’s this spooky tree face under a Red Sox cap, and right across the street the neighbors have the same freakish face on their tree, but wearing a Yankees cap.

I have no interest in sports whatsoever—and not just to test my husband‘s love for me. But I adore good-natured rivalries.

I once played mini-golf on vacation with a boyfriend’s family. And I talked smack the whole time about how everyone was “going down in flames.” As it turns out, I lost so comprehensively that day that my BF’s grandmother even beat my score. No joke. But did I regret my trash-talkin’? Nah. A little playful competitiveness keeps things lively (See: Kristen and Mark’s Honeymoon: The Scrabble Wars).

Whenever I’m home in Rhode Island—as I am now for three weeks—people ask me how long it’s been since I moved to California. When I did the math this year, I was shocked. On September 1st it’ll be TWENTY FREAKIN’ YEARS that I’ve been “checking out the West Coast.” Somehow my couple-of-year foray into Cali livin’ has extended to two decades. I’ve lived in California longer than my entire childhood in Rhode Island, which is weird—like I’ve changed coastal allegiance just through time served. Like it’s some kind of common law thing.

The fact is, I feel just as home on the East Coast as I do in that over-sized other state where I’ve put down roots. Guess I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

And so, to maintain a healthy neurotic state while vacationing, I tend to experience nearly everything I do in Rhode Island through a what-if-I-lived-here-again lens. Would it be better here? Worse? The same, but different?

Here’s a small smattering of what’s been bouncing around in my head.

East Coast Likes:

Atlantic Ocean: At the beach yesterday Kate grabbed an ice cube from our cooler and threw it into the ocean. She found this hilarious. I think she was picturing evacuating all the swimmers by causing a dramatic drop in water temperature. What I want to know is, who the hell is throwing all the ice in the Pacific Ocean? And can they stop, please? It’s so damn glorious actually being able to swim here without the threat of hypothermia.

Del’s Lemonade: I don’t have a tattoo. If I did, it would be an homage to Del’s’ (that’s one of those awkward pluralizations–pronounced “Del-ziz”) slushy lemonisicousness. Thank you, Del, if you were or are an actual man, for your lemonade genius. You are truly one of the culinary greats.

Chicken Parm (pronounced “Pom”) Sandwiches, Pizza, Spinach Pies, Gray’s Ice Cream, Quahogs: There are several home-town foods that I’m moderate to severely obsessed with. In fact, I run through circuits of these foods whenever I’m home. If last night was Sam’s Pizza, tonight’s a Leo’s chicken pom, baby. More than just tasting good, the food comforts me and deepens my connection to my roots, like I’m taking of slug of my own amniotic fluid or something. (Okay, that’s a little gross. Sorry.) And thankfully, NOTHING EVER CHANGES IN NEW ENGLAND. So the pizza place where I toddled out of the bathroom as a kid—with my pants around my ankles requesting a butt wipe—is the same place my family gets pizza today. Never let it be said that a humiliating act of nudity keeps me away from a tasty pizza pie.

Dunkin’ Donuts: One of the names I was keen on if we ever had a boy was Duncan. One evening, in a moment of genius brought on by a pregnancy-induced hormone surge, I tossed out the name “Dunkin’ Donuts McClusky” to Mark. I imagined a kind of corporate sponsorship for our child, whereby we’d get donuts free for life in exchange for the marketing our child would generate. And, amongst other expenses, they’d pick up the tab for college. (At least until AT&T made us a better offer, and we changed his name to that.) Blessedly, we had a girl.

Old Friends: All my friends from home act the way they did when we were 17, which happens to be the age we were when I last spent a lot of time with them. This is a good thing.

Family: Duh. My favorite Fred in all the world lives on the East Coast. Otherwise known as Dad. It grows increasingly mystifying to me why we live so far apart. But considering he’s resided in the same town his whole life and I’m the one who decided to move 3,000 miles away, I guess I’m at fault.

Bunnies: My hometown is Beatrix Potter’s wet dream. At dusk the bunnies come out and are So. Freakin’. Cute. We don’t have bunnies in Oakland. Unless it’s the name of some gang I’m not aware of.

The Parade: Fourth of July is my Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Bat Mitzvah I never had all in one. It’s the most excellently fun time EVER. If you’ve never been to a July 4th parade in Bristol, Rhode Island, you’ve never really celebrated our nation’s independence. Nor have you lived. After 3-plus hours of marching bands, beauty queens, clowns, acrobats, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, priests, Clydesdales, more marching bands, baton twirlers and Elmo, when people asked Paige what she liked most in the parade she said, “A lady was sick. Some people came and took her on a bed to the hospital.” Yes, it was the heat-stroke sufferer in the crowd that fascinated Paige most about the day. Next year the parade committee will have to work harder to impress Paige.

Bubbler, Grinder, Cabinet, Rescue Squad, Directional: There’s nothing more comforting and provincial than making up a silly set of terms so no one else in the country knows what the hell you’re talking about. I mean, where else do you beckon a “rescue squad” by calling 911? And who else uses their car’s “directional” to indicate that they’re taking a left turn? Big sandwiches are “grinders,” milkshakes are “cabinets” (or sometimes Awful Awfuls), and drinking fountains are “bubblers,” of course. (Or, as the locals say, “bub-liz.”) It’s as if some steering committee determined that the way to retain residents was to make up words that rendered Rhode Islanders utterly incomprehensible outside state lines.

Ethnic Pride: Forget the warring Red Sox and Yankees factions, in my hometown it’s all about the Italians vs. Portuguese. And I’m not referring to soccer—I’m talking about everything. In local politics, food, and swarthy men, these groups come up against each other again and again. My Italian godfather, a world-class grudge-holder who’d drive down the street and spit in the direction of businesses that did him wrong, kept his finger on the pulse of the town’s Italian-Portuguese rivalry. If some Portuguese dudes were appointed to be Grand Marshalls of the July 4th parade two years in a row he’d go on a table-pounding tirade as if Gumby had been elected President. (Gumby being of known Portuguese descent…) The unwritten law—for folks of his generation at least—was that the honor of leading the parade went back and forth between the Italians and the Portuguese. He was extreme in his views, but he wasn’t alone. I’d never defend prejudice, but I think what my godfather had was more of a passionate sense of ethnic pride. At the Italian church’s Feast of St. Anthony last night I was in seventh heaven (no pun intended). I tapped my toes to the Volare-singing band. I commended the priest on his scrumptious lasagna. I bumped into people I hadn’t seen in years who greeted me with dramatic enthusiasm and marveled at my girls. There was history for me there, and a deep sense of belonging that I don’t always feel in California. In fact, I was so swept up in the spirit and community of it all, I even considered buying a ‘Proud to Be Italian’ t-shirt. And did I mention the excellent meatballs?

This Old House: Is it so wrong to covet these fabulous historic homes with five fireplaces, brightly-painted front doors with stately but whimsical brass knockers, and those old metal boot scrapers by the front steps? With water views? And on the parade route? Not to whine like a kid who sees a puppy, but… I WANT ONE!

East Coast Dislikes:

Mosquitoes and Ticks: These are without a doubt God’s most wretched and maddening creatures. Why the hell don’t we have to deal with them in California? Did someone at Stanford figure out how to make the ticks eat all the mosquitoes then drink a bunch of poison Kool-Aid and kill themselves off? And if the little bloodsuckers weren’t horrifying enough, nearly everyone I know on the East Coast has Lyme Disease. They swap stories about how long they were infected before figuring it out like old fisherman swap storm-at-sea tales at dive bars.

Humidity: Okay, I’m officially an old, old withered woman since I’m complaining about humidity, but there are days in the summer here where I think I could chew the air. I daydream about those turpentine-like Sea Breeze astringent pads that dry up even the greasiest teen T-zones. I long for one the size of a bath towel that I could swab myself off with several times a day.

The Not-So-Friendlies: There was a time that I disparaged all the hugging that goes on in Northern California. There is so MUCH hugging there, I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ve seen people hug in the conference room in my office. I’ve hugged nearly all my kids’ teachers—SEVERAL TIMES. I think I’ve hugged the children’s librarian at our library once, but I was probably PMSing. Even my un-huggy husband, who’s trying with all his power-of-one strength to keep the old school handshake alive—even HE has become accustomed to the Customary California Hug, and in social situations that don’t involve someone waking up from a coma. Live in Cali long enough and you too will become a hugger. But on the East Coast? Try chatting with someone at a playground when your kids are playing together and you may get a look like you’re depraved. Sure, I’m a turbo extrovert, but when our daughters are playing let’s-both-be-princesses-and-marry-each-other-under-the-monkey-bars, I think a little “How old is she?” level of interaction is not overly intimate. I see how hugging your manicurist after a mani/pedi is a bit much, but I’d take that any day over mamas keeping a cool distance on the playground.

I’m not sure where this all lands me. Other than happy to be able to spend a chunk of the summer in my hometown, and lucky enough to be going back to California when I leave.

Do you ever wonder whether where you live is where you should be?


Highlights and Lowlights (and I’m Not Talking about My Hair)

Posted: January 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Birthdays, Books, Daddio, Food, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Movies, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Shopping, Summer | 3 Comments »

My friend Barb is perfect.

She’s extremely kind and thoughtful. She’s genuine through and through. She’s creative and silly and fun and smart. And, of course, she’s gorgeous. So much so that she was asked out on a date—approached on the sidewalk, no less—when she was nearly eight months pregnant.

If she wasn’t so wonderful, I’d hate her.

Barb and her hubby had kids long before Mark and I added to the world’s population problem. So going to their house for dinner always was an exercise in note-taking for our future family. One night after dinner I remember their kidlings hauled out a bunch of different instruments. We had a music and dance party that was such good clean fun I wanted to make lederhosen for them out of the drapes while belting out “The Hills Are Alive.” (Note to my sister-in-law: This is a reference to The Sound of Music. Which is a movie.)

At dinner each member of Barb’s family shares the highlights and lowlights of their day. It’s something we started doing, and a few of our friends have since picked it up from us. It’s a sly way to lure kids into old-fashioned dinnertime convos. I never knew how deeply shrouded in secrecy a day at kindergarten could otherwise be.

Someone recently told me she does this too, but calls it ‘Roses and Thorns.’ She borrowed the name from the Obamas. Such a schmancy Presidential Rose Garden spin! Hey, what’s good enough for Malia and Sasha is good enough for my girls.

I stumbled across some other tips on Motherboard for taking the gruel out of family din-dins. Did you know that the more family dinners teens attend, the less likely they are to smoke pot, run away from home, and dress like sluts? Okay, so I’m not sure about that last one, but I’m still willing to enforce the you-sit-right-here-for-dinner-Missy rule for a while to come.

So, where was I?

Well, God knows it doesn’t some dinnertime game to get me talkin’. But with 2010 in my rear view mirror, I’ve been thinking about some of my year’s highlights and lowlights.

First, for the highlights:

Best Times with Paige: Every day when she climbs on me in bed for our delicious morning snuggle. I love this even when it’s brutally hellishly early in the morning. I can’t help but think she won’t be doing this forever, so I’m basking in it while it lasts.

Best Times with Kate: Reading. This year Katie Pie learned to read, which was magical and thrilling. But she’s not exactly devouring books on her own yet. And I cherish the times each day that I read to her. For an active kiddo, she totally calms down, snuggles up, and gets absorbed in stories. It rocks. We’re reading chapter books now too, which has lots of great day-after-day satisfaction, like some weird good-for-you soap opera.

Best Meal: The first out-put of Mark’s food smoker—pulled pork sandwiches for Paigey’s 2nd birthday party. (Feeding the kids was a total afterthought.)

Best Dessert Recipes: Three-way tie between The New York Times’ Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake, Sunset’s Lemon Rosemary Buttons, and Martha Stewart’s Cornmeal Cookies.

Best Yard Sale Bargain: Four Reidel stemless wineglasses for $2. (And to think I almost asked “For each one?” Ha!) Now I wish our vast Reidel collection was all stemless.

Best Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip: The Winter Olympics in Vancouver with Mark (who covered the games for Wired) and my dear collegiate frienda Brenda. If you have never been to this event, GO. It will renew your faith in, well, the world. Plus, you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten emotionally invested in a curling match.

Best Party We Attended: A Father’s Day brunch in our beloved friends’ the Bibbo’s back yard. We came for breakfast and stayed through dinner. Such fun. And the food! Oh, the food.

Proudest Mama Moments: Watching Kate walking into her first day of Kindergarten like such a big big sweet girl. And seeing Paige running around with the other kids at her 2nd b-day party. (If 2009 was about Paigey Wiggles learning to walk, 2010 was about her running and dancing and jumping and skipping and never looking back. Yippee!)

Best Televised Sports Experience: Watching a Canadian Olympic hockey game at a bar in Whistler with one of my best friends and my best (albeit only) husband. Man, those Canadians really do love their hockey. And their beer. (Turns out we do too.)

Best Life-Improving Purchase: Our super-cozy eco-groovy Keetsa memory foam mattress.

Best Happy Tears Moment: When I read the letter to Mark over the phone that Kate had gotten into to the super-excellent school she now goes to.

Best Date with Mark: His birthday dinner this November at Quince in San Fran. We forsook the entrees, ordered all five pastas, and had them bring us whatever wine they wanted with each course. And we didn’t talk about the kids once!

Best Summer Trip: Spending three glorious weeks at my dad’s house with the girls. The mercurial New England weather was set to Perfect Summer Beach Day the whole time. The girls were like little nature nymphs, dancing around in the waves and happily playing in the sand for hours each day. (TV? Who needs TV?) The 4th of July parade rocked, like it does, especially with all the far-flung friends we’ve managed to have to join us in Bristol. Best of all, we got truly excellent quality time with my Daddio, who watched more patio-staged ballet performances, and drew more hearts and princesses and rainbows then he ever bargained for.

Best Dose of I-Still-Got-It: Shaking off years of professional rust to do some freelance work at the very cool design firm in SF Hot Studio. A week into the project I told someone I’d been working at home as a mom for the past two-plus years, and he said he couldn’t believe it. (When he sneezed and I automatically started wiping his nose, I think he caught on.)

Best Home Furnishings Score: When my sister unloaded about a dozen duvet covers, sheet sets, pillows, bed skirts, and cloth napkins on me from her vast and fabulous personal collection. I now have a bad-ass world class bedscape. But it also takes an extra 20 minutes to move the pillows off our bed before going to sleep at night.

Best Wine: The huge-ass bottle (I think that’s what vintners call it) of supreme Surh-Luchtel vino that our friends Don and Shelley brought to a party at our house. Not only did it have A LOT of wicked good wine it it, the bottled was inscribed with our wedding invitation. (Try registering for that.)

Best Personal Challenge: Doing Oakland Adventure Boot Camp this summer/fall. I pride myself on voluntarily waking up at 6AM every-other morning, as well as the endless rounds of push-ups, wind sprints, and squats with medicine balls. Go me.

Best I’m Not As Young As I Used to Be Moment: Playing field hockey at my 25-year high school reunion. The other team (our old rivals who were also in town for their reunion) decimated us, but it was hilarious getting out on that field again. And it’s nice knowing that nothing I do now requires a mouth guard.

Best Foodie Celeb Sighting: Meeting Sarah Foster at her cafe/store Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we spent another fine Miller Family Thanksgiving.

Best Novel: The Help. But I also *loved* The Eloquence of the Hedgehog.

Best Non-Fiction Book: Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat. Mark got to know Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea in Chicago) after writing about him for Wired, then contributing to his dazzling cook book. Even though I know the story, it was a total page-turner. I was lucky enough to read an advanced galley. When this book comes out in March, if you have any interest in the foodie realm, check it out. It’s way cheaper than a dinner at Alinea.

Best New TV Show Addiction: Seems pretty trite and light-core, but it’s Parenthood. A friend of mine said he and his wife were TiVoing it, but before they’d watched it someone told her, “I LOVE that show. It’s makes me laugh! It makes me cry!” So my friend’s wife went home and deleted it from their TiVo. Well, I admit it’s made this Mama laugh and cry too. I wuv the cast (Peter Krause is the celeb version of Mark), but there are a couple actors I loathe, which it turns out I actually kinda need in a show. And, of course, it’s supposed to be set in Berkeley. So I dig seeing the local landmarks, the Craftsman houses, and of course, the bra-less women and pot-adled liberals.

Best Old TV Show Addiction: Tie between Dexter and Damages. Glenn Close is so good at being bad. (What else should I be watching on DVD?)

Best Party Mark and I Threw: Hiring a chef to cook dinner for our six nearest and dearest Oakland friends, and my dad and stepmother who were visiting from Rhode Island. All I had to do was buy a centerpiece, set the table, and take a shower. Bliss! Plus, the food rocked. As did Dad’s card tricks.

Best Kiddie Music the Whole Family Can TolerateLaurie Berkner

Best Self-Preservation Maneuver: Hiring a “hangover helper”—i.e. a babysitter to come over one Sunday at 7:30AM, the day after we had a party. She whisked in, took the kids out for breakfast and to the park, and allowed Mark and I some desperately-needed sleeeeep. This was such a supremely smart idea I think there’s a business plan in there somewhere.

Best Meeting I Attended: One in which it was determined that Paige was doing so well (physically and verbally) she was no longer eligible for the state’s early intervention services. Woo hoo!

Best Article of Clothing I Bought: A brown cotton Max Studio dress that I wear like it’s my favorite pair of jeans. Looks kinda like this one.

Best Hobby I Got Back Into: Reading. And really, reading one good book is like grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You want to start reading everything. According to the widget on this here blog, I read 20 books in 2010, about two a month. And that doesn’t count the small handful I started and abandoned.

Best Gift I’ve Used Every Day: When Mark was in Switzerland last winter for work, he bought me a fabulous perfect-for-everyday-use indestructible Freitag purse. It’s fabulous, and he’s fabulous for having such good taste (in wives, and in business-trip gifts).

Best Kitchen Gadget: An electric kettle, which I dropped and broke last week. It had been great for everything from making tea, to hot water for the kids oatmeal.

Best Stupid Comedy Rentals: Step Brothers (AMAZING tip, Drew!), and The Hangover. These bad frat-boy-humor movies were so damn good, I can’t believe I ever liked (okay, loved) Dumb and Dumber.

Best Stay-cation: Our Christmas/New Year’s break. The kids were off school for two weeks, and Mark was off work (for the most part) then too. It was the perfect balance of social plans, sleeping late, and lazy rainy days. Mark and I gave each other time for golf (him) and yoga (me). And I didn’t get out of my PJs all day on Christmas. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

Best Social Event: My high school reunion. If everyone waited until they were in their 40s to go to high school it’d be a much friendlier place.

Best Compliment: A babysitter told me I look like Ari Gold’s wife, Mrs. Ari, from Entourage. She was certain I “must hear that from people all the time.”

As for the year’s lowlights, I’m happy to report there were far fewer than the highlights. Which also means this blog post will end soon(ish) for you. Phew!

Saddest Loss: Mark’s wonderful grandpa passing away. And my Dad’s BFF and most-excellent neighbor, Eddie, and my sweet Uncle Ade also died.

Worst Foot-in-Mouth Moment: Asking a mother at Paige’s preschool if she was a nanny. Ugh!

Worst Mama Moment: How much time do you have? Seriously, nothing huge and hideous comes to mind here, THANK GOD, just a long list of times when I’ve lost my temper, raised my voice, irrationally barked out a, “No!,” or had my own form of grown-up of tantrum. You know, the usual stuff.

Worst Weekend-Away Phone Call: The one in which Mark reported that Kate got kicked out of kindergarten. Just for the day. But still.

Worst Morning: Crying at boot camp—while running the stairs!—because I had barely slept the night before (see Paige’s sleep issue below). The petite drill sergeant trainer gave me a double dose of tough love, when what I needed was a wee bit o’ encouragement. (At least she emailed me an apology that afternoon.)

Worst Weather Interference: A local daytime Halloween parade is a supremely super-fun place for kids and Halloween-obsessed adults (like moi) to revel in the holiday. This year it rained. Waaah! I was like a bride on her rainy wedding day. Even though the die-hards still came out, the raincoats over costumes were a bummer.

Worst Wretched Sleep Pattern: Paige went from being a star sleeper, to the kid who gets out of bed 15 times after you tuck her in. Plus a few times in the middle of the night. Oy! We’ve considered returning her to her crib (since this all started with the move to her Big Girl Bed), but I fear if we did that we’d leave her in it ’til her teens. And that’d bring about a whole ‘nother host of unsavory issues.

Biggest Regret: Realizing that the 8-hour drive to Palm Springs to visit my sister Judy is totally do-able with the kids—especially with a DVD player in the car. Why haven’t I been going to see her more? (And this doesn’t come solely from my desire to score more sheets.)

Worst Airline Travel: Twice—or maybe even three times—this year we’ve taken family trips with flights departing at 6AM. One time Kate refused to get dressed when we woke her up. We finally put her in the car in her panties, since we were about to miss our flight. At the long-term parking lot her tantrum continued, until Mark and I strong-armed her into her dress and shoes (a lovely public display of excellent parenting). Later, in a long busy airport hallway, she had another diabolical fit. Over her head (and while pretending to not be her parents) Mark and I vowed to never take a 6AM flight again. No matter how much cheaper the tickets were. And then, we went on two more trips with 6AM departures. Sigh.

Saddest Farewell: Our long-time nanny and friend Shelly moved back to Israel this fall. We are thrilled that she is back with her family and friends, but we miss her madly! It’s super sad to not know when—or if—we’ll see her again.

Most Shameful Injury: Pulling a groin muscle while bowling with the kids and Mark’s parents on our Thanksgiving vacation. My chiropractor said, “I don’t know what’s worse: Admitting you were bowling, or that you got injured while bowling.”

When it’s Mark’s turn to tell his day’s highlight at dinner, he sometimes says, “Right now.” Even though it means a relatively early dinner hour and food that’s geared towards the whole family, we’ve been making an effort to eat with the girls every night,. (Except for when we ditch them with a sitter and go out.)

So it’s sweet that our family meal is sometimes the highlight of Mark’s day. Either that, or his work day really sucked.

Now Kate and Paige sometimes use “right now” as their highlight too. Which would be fine if it wasn’t on the days I’ve busted my butt to take them to the beach and out for ice cream, or to a children’s museum, or to some other kid-gasmic concert or party or special event. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it takes the wind out of my sails when the turkey burgers en famille beat all those other things out.

But maybe I should wise up a bit to Mark and the girls. Maybe the best highlight of all is the sum-total of our sweet family dinners together. Maybe turkey burgers really are the key to happiness.

I love you, Mark, Kate and Paigey, my three life highlights!

And Happy Happy New Year to the rest of you. In 2011, may your highlights blast your lowlights out of the water.