Handy Reminders

Posted: June 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Kate's Friends, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Shopping | 2 Comments »

This weekend, reminders about why I’m happy we live here seemed to be hurled at me willy-nilly.

It was like they were coming out of some Stephen King-like possessed tennis ball tosser. But since they were all feel-good things, I was okay getting pelted by them.

And here’s the thing. It was all good clean family fun. I mean, Friday night we had a great time mostly sober at a preschool fundraiser. And birthday parties for a two- and five-year-old reminded even us grown-ups what fab friends we have here. And this involved no princess dress-up on our parts at all.

But it was three smaller things that reminded me that what we get for living in a godforsakenly expensive, far away from family, often cold in the summertime place, is really quite incredible and unique.

Saturday morning we field tripped to Berkeley Bowl West, the new gargantuan swanky (and green) outpost of the produce and gourmet-grocery nirvana, Berkeley Bowl. The issues with the original store being insufficient parking, narrow aisles, and agro baby-thwackin’ shoppers. Sure the new place addresses those problems—at least we didn’t encounter any baby-thwackers on this visit. But oddly, what wowed me was the mushrooms.


The organic mushroom selection was vast and spectacular. The colors and shapes of these things were as fascinating to stare at as tropical fish in a tank. (And, no, I wasn’t high.)

I mean, look at these? How can you not love them?

And this is just some of them that I could snap real fast with my phone without getting arrested for lurid public acts of mushroom adoration.

People in Wisconsin might be sending their kids to safe, good public schools, and aren’t spending millions on houses that don’t even have garages, but do their stores have mushroom selections like us? I think not.

Now, if I could avoid dry heaving at the even thought of eating a slimy cooked ‘shroom, this would be a benefit of living here that’d affect me more directly. But I’m a giver. I’m just happy that local mushroom lovers have this fungal fantasia at their fingertips.

Right around the corner in Berzerkeley is a hardware store Mark has the hots for. So post-groceries he ran in and the girls and I fawned over, touched, and trembled with delight over an amazing art car.


It was a Toyota station wagon with a big peace sign on the hood, and colorful gewgaws glued onto every non window-or-tire surface—marbles, paperclips, shellacked gourds, toy dinos, mirrors, ceramic mosaic chips, plastic foliage, magic markers, pennies. A hippie-dippie masterpiece, and a pure delight.

Paige cried when the nice lady (who looked very normal—nothing like the dreadlocked hemp-and-carob cookie seller you’d imagine to be the car’s owner) came out, was all friendly, then drove off.

I nearly cried a bit too.

Later, after Audrey’s birthday bash which we enjoyed so much we invited ourselves to stay for dinner, I was in the back yard watering the grass. Kate was intermittently playing and tantrumming in the sandbox Mark recently built. And just when my when-the-hell-is-this-kid’s-bedtime head nearly exploded, a high-pitched male voice call out to me from the next house.

It was Steve, waving a red plastic cup. “Kristen? Salt or no salt?”

I nearly wept with joy.

A few minutes later when his boyfriend passed the margarita to me over the fence, I saw it had a straw with a paper flamingo on it.

“I know,” Matt said, rolling his eyes. “So gay, right?”

And then, bustling out the back door onto the deck, Steve calls out, “So, hooooow is it? It’s a Skinny Girl, you know!”

Now that’s gay. And I just love it.

So, quick review. Exotic mushrooms, hippie art car, and margarita-makin’ gaybors. Where else can I get all this but right here in Bay Area, USA?

Now, don’t get me wrong. This all went down less than two weeks prior to our annual summer pilgrimage east. So you can set your watch to the upcoming posts where I pout and ponder whether a small New England town is the best setting for raising my kids.

Or, at the very least, the best place for me to joyously (and inconspicuously) return to the preppy wardrobe of my youth. I mean, I do have the Burberry flip flops now, so it’d be an easy transition and all.


Bygone Bluegrass Weekend

Posted: June 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Sisters, Travel | 2 Comments »

We’re fresh back from Mark’s cousin’s wedding in Kentucky.

And I’d just like to say, as an Italian gal who grew up a calzone’s throw from Providence, RI, some of the Southern icons are lost on me.

The whole horse thing, for one. I mean, in any other state the racetrack’s a haven for deadbeats, grifters, and rent-money gamblers, right? But in Kentucky, having your wedding reception in the track’s club house is akin to attaining social nirvana. And, whether it’s the bluegrass or the blue bloods, the scene there is quite different. Especially since, when we were la-di-da-ing around Keeneland this weekend, the ponies weren’t racing or anything. It wasn’t like they were cutting the cake in between the betting windows opening.

And here’s another thing. A lovely family friend who I’ve come to know on my visits down yonder, works at a schmancy gift store. And there, amidst swoon-worthy crystal, dinnerware, and heirloom-grade drink coasters, many locals register for fine china with—get this—horse heads painted on it. All I’m saying is, to my people, the horse head has a very different connotation.

But all that said, despite our cultural differences, there’s so much I just love about the south. I mean, even aside from the bourbon. The wedding’s fabuosity topping the list on this visit.

And as you know since you’re no doubt an avid and addicted reader of this-here blog, I’d had a bit of the weeps in the couple days preceding the festivities. But, per my prediction, they dried up as soon as I was swept up into happy busy nuptial mayhem.

And at the wedding itself, it was, as I’d guessed, Mark who set me off in a bit of eye-dabbing. But not for the lovesick reasons I’d expected. Instead, as all the groomsmen took their places at the front of the chuch, Mark turned to me and whispered, “Dan’s not up there. He’s got to be walking Mags down the aisle.”

And, in that way that news travels fast when you’re packed into pews with family members who you cotton to talking to, we all got filled up at the thought of the bride’s brother so gallantly stepping in where their out-of-the-picture dad should have been. So, we were bawling before the bride even set foot in the church.

This brother, being the same one who brought the house down the night before with a rehearsal dinner toast he was nearly too choked up to spit out.

I’m the last person who could serve as an authority on brotherly love. And frankly, never felt I’d missed out on much that my three sisters couldn’t provide. But that bride and her bro have a kinship that’s downright picture perfect. Got me thinking a brother wouldn’t've been half bad to have around after all.

Later at the part-ay, as I was making my way bar-ward, I stopped to chat with Mark’s amazing Grandpa. We got to talking about his days as a working man, and how it was with his wife home with the four kids and him often away on business. A bit of family history it was nice to reflect upon—the thought of Mark’s Grandma as a young wife, wrangling Mark’s mom and sibs, and no doubt doing it with her exceptional blend of style and grace. Sometimes it takes a three minute chat to make all those old photos seem to spring to life in your mind.

In line at the photo booth, after we’d picked out props and talked through blocking on the four pictures we’d get, Mark relayed part of a chat he’d had with his Grandpa too. Essentially, how he told Mark how proud he was of him. The kind of wanted-you-to-know comment that seems to be shared so it’s sure to be passed along while it can be. Heart-wrenching for sure, but so very special too.

And reason alone for, heck, another trip to the bar. Another bourbon and Coke.

From the drink-sippin’ edge of the dance floor, I was drawn in to watching an older chap, dapper in a dark suit and colorful striped tie. Hair slicked back and beaming, he just oozed entitlement, confidence, and mad dancing skills. He was the poster boy for good Southern living. And even though one political chat would have me likely, well, repulsed by the guy, from my distant perch I couldn’t help but marvel at him. And wonder what kind of person I’d be if I’d grown up here, if these skinny-ass blonde women and traditional old school men were my people. A brief bourbon-induced daydream…

Back at the hotel, the after party included more beer and bourbon, plus a karaoke machine. My brother-in-law John rocked the house with a white boy version of “Humpty Dance,” throwing first rate rapper-style arm and hand moves, and capping it off with two splits that’d do a cheerleading squad captain proud.

John should rent himself out as a wedding guest. He could make some serious bank.

The weekend was packed with pretty blonde fillies, preening, prancing, and vying for attention in their cocktail frock finery. And the bride was truly and honestly the most beautiful joyful one whose glow I’ve had the honor to bask in. (I mean, if women spend a lifetime trying to return to the weight, dress size, or skin tone they had on their wedding day, Miss Maggie has set the bar very high for herself indeed.) Oh, the women, they did themselves proud alright. But Saturday night at Keeneland, it was the men who stole the show. Coming in ahead of the pack by a mile.


The Weepies

Posted: May 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Drink, Extended Family, Housewife Fashion Tips, Husbandry, Mom, Other Mothers, Shopping, Travel | 4 Comments »

For the last day or so I’ve had a mild case of the weepies.

I mean, nothing that’s even resulted in actual tears, but some intermittent on-the-verge-of moments that come about suddenly and vaguely, unrelated to anything that’s even happening at the time. You know, putting the sliced turkey back in the fridge, handing Mark a washcloth for the kids’ bath, driving on the highway through a torrential thunderstorm when we arrived in Kentucky tonight.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking, and NO, I don’t have PMS. I’m not sure what’s to blame, but it ain’t hormones.

Though I wish that it was, because frankly this wimpish state of neither glee (my default) nor despondency is so not for me. I prefer my emotions with more dramatic flourish, thank you. At least more decisiveness, for God’s sake.

If there is crying to do, better to have an all-out bawl sesh like Holly Hunter’s daily one in Broadcast News. Sob and wail like a baby, then take a breath, wipe your face, smooth out your shirt, and get on with your day.

God, I loved that movie.

Anyway, I’m certain that my bulletproof chipperness is bound to be back by daybreak. We’re settled into a gracious old hotel in downtown Lexington—center stage for Mark’s favorite cousin’s long-awaited wedding. Which isn’t to say we’ve all been wondering when the hell she’d finally git hitched, but that ever since she and her fine fellow got engaged the family’s been champing at the bit awaiting this opulent Southern shindig. (Equine pun intended. Hey, it is Kentucky, after all.)

It also should be noted that the dress-shoe-and-accessory shopping that Mark’s relatives have done in preparation for this event has likely had a significant impact on stimulating our nation’s tragic economy. So, you’re welcome.

As for me, resolved to not spend money on something new (per the aforementioned recession, and that my dress closet overfloweth), I buckled at the last minute, but decided to be thrifty and went to Nordstrom Rack. Where, as luck had it, a fabulous frock for a fraction of the retail price fell off the rack at my feet and squawked, “Take me home!”

Okay, okay, so I actually got three dresses—and three pairs of shoes—but they were all dirt cheap. And if I don’t release the shopping pressure valve a little bit every once and a while I could fall prey to some unanticipated retail incident that’s far far more devastating.

So, I’m not sure really where this is all going, but why not come along for the ride because it could eventually get interesting.

Okay, so just to prove to you what a BAR-GAIN this dress is I’m wearing to the wedding—because I’m quite certain you’re sitting there desperate to have some way to understand more deeply just how much money I saved. Just to be able to illustrate that for you I’ll out and admit that I went out and bought my first, uh, well, girdle.

I mean, when I talked to my friends about this I’d actually thought it was a legitimately seismic confession. But everyone’s all “Spanx this” and “Spanx that,” like they’ve been wearing some form of corseture under God knows what clothes for God knows how long when I’d just been going along thinking that exercise and watching what I eat are the best ammo against a fat ass. Hell, they’re all downing 8-foot subs at lunch and just wedging their lower halves into girdles.

So the fact that my deep dark confession made everyone turn to me and say, “Duh,” made me feel like I’d told them I hadn’t read Eat, Pray, Love yet or something. Which, by the way, I have. So my ass might have naively been shakin’ around unclenched by Spandex all this time, but I have kept up with some other realms of modern female life. Sheesh.

Okay, so but what I was trying to get at was, this girdle, this gut-and-ass-confining contraption that I bought? It cost MORE than the dress I’m wearing over it. And just how many bourbons does this Northern lass have to drink under a tent at a schmancy reception at Keeneland before she’s admitting that to everyone?

Well, I’ll be sure to report back and let you know.

Again, taking my patented Pressure Valve Release Approach, I was hoping that if I admitted it here, it might mitigate my need to inform the pastor of this fact after the ceremony on Saturday.

Yes, this is what it’s like being me.

And speaking of the wedding, I can’t help but wonder now if there’s some little emotional nugget inside me that can attribute my recent state of sometimes-not-estatic, to the dismal fact that the groom—whom I truly think is the bee’s proverbial patellas—is mourning the recent death of his mother. A thing that, if it weren’t so altogether crappy on its very own, unfortunately happens to be a situation which is very damn similar to the one that I found myself in on my wedding day.

So before tomorrow morning’s hotel breakfast where we’ll descend into a slew of family and friends, before that slings me into extroverted socializing heaven, and this little case of the droop is whisked away never to be thought of again… Before all that happens, I’m here now, on the hotel bed in the shirt Mark wore today, him next to me, sleeping with a pillow over his head. And I’m sending out some thoughts the groom’s way.

Hoping that he manages, like I did, to spend his wedding day in a flurried blitz of joy and love and luck. And that without too much guilt or sorrow, he’s able to make this grown up, big boy, life-rocking move happily. Even without his Mama there.

As for me, I’m hoping the next wave of weepiness I contend with is during that inevitable hand-squeeze that Mark and I—and likely every other twosome who still takes a shine to each other—will make at some uncontrived and true, love-drenched point in the ceremony.

And I plan to follow that up promptly with a nice large glass of local bourbon.

Did I mention how cheap babysitters are here?


Under Pressure

Posted: May 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, Drink, Food, Holidays, Husbandry, Mama Posse, Misc Neuroses, Mom, Sisters | 4 Comments »

My birthday falls on Mother’s Day this year, giving me a small (sour) taste of what it’s like for those poor souls who are born on Christmas.

And God help dear Mark, who has his feet up in the starting blocks awaiting my decision on what I want to do. He’s desperate to make the day special for me, but to date we’ve had several discussions where he’s attempted to focus my thoughts and narrow down the options I spew out. Each of these conversations has ended with him squeezing the top of his head and whimpering softly.

I just can’t decide.

So far we have lunch reservations at 12:15 at ad hoc, Thomas Keller’s allegedly (hopefully) family-friendly restaurant, and at 1:15 at a bistro called The Girl and the Fig that I’ve been wanting to try. Not that we intend to challenge the girls’ restaurant manners—or any progress I’ve made on my postpartum bod—by eating two back-to-back lunches. I just thought it’d be nice to have options in Napa and Sonoma. (And for karma’s sake, we’ll cancel whatever ressie we don’t intend to use in advance. And by “advance” I mean within AT LEAST an hour of our reservation. If I’ve made a decision by then.)

The thing is, there’s also part of me that wonders if I just want to have Mark pack a staggeringly fabulous picnic lunch and take the kids for a hike or to the beach or something.

I mean, doesn’t that sound good too?

It’s one of those times I really wish I lived in Wichita. It’d be so freeing knowing we were going to Applebee’s since it’d be the only game in town. And I’m not sure, but I don’t think they’ve got much outdoor splendor to add in as a contender.

At night we have a sitter. But that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I haven’t determined whether darkening the door of A Cote, our cherished local haunt, makes sense after a potentially big lunch. I mean, it’s so tacky getting gout during a recession.

There’s also been some talk amongst the Mama Posse about getting together for some late afternoon cocktails that day. A proposal I never refuse from those women. (Or practically anyone else, for that matter.) But we were kinda tipsy when that idea came up, so who knows.

I’ve been telling most people that what’s likely to happen is I’ll get a migraine from the stress of trying to have a fun day to the second power, and’ll end up spending it in a dark room, dry-mouthed and fraught with pain, clutching an ice pack to my noggin.

But here’s the thing. I think I’ve even made that claim enough times now that the pressure to have a migraine is also too great. I’ll probably end up having performance anxiety over that too.

I’ve never understood when people just decide to “not do” holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas because it’s too much of a hassle, or there’s some negative association with the holiday they want to sweep under their emotional carpet. I can’t help but think that making those days not feel like those days takes more energy than just cooking a damn turkey. Which is to say, the duck-and-cover avoidance approach just isn’t an option for me on Sunday.

Ellen emailed last week to see what I’m doing for Mother’s Day. She’d spaced on it also being my birthday, and suggested we get together and do something for Mom, since we still haven’t convened for her death-iversary. And at this point I’m thinking, what the hell. Maybe we should just celebrate Fourth of July too.


I Raise My Glass to You, Mom

Posted: April 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Husbandry, Mama Posse, Manners, Mom, Sisters | 1 Comment »

I spent the better part of dinner tonight trying to hold my lips the way my mother did when she drank wine, and trying (sadly, literally) to not wet my pants laughing.

She used to do this thing when she put a wine glass to her mouth where it looked like she was playing a flute. You know, like she was sorta flattening her lips to blow, with the corners slightly upturned like the early stage of a super fake smile.

It was her Fancy Wine-Drinkin’ lips that she did without fail, every time. I mean, she could have a glass of water and one of wine that she was working at the same time and she could pick either one up at random while conducting a conversation and maybe even cooking dinner and she could still somehow remember to do the Wine Drinkin’ Lips for the wine glass, and just drink like a normal human from the water glass. It was, in a way, impressive.

Unsurprisingly, this slayed my sisters and I. And not just as kids or anything. We’d howl and slap each other laughing (that’s something us Italian Americans do) whenever we saw this, well into adulthood. And of course, we’d razz her about it MERCILESSLY.

(I still regret never having done a blindfolded test where we’d hold up several types of glasses to her to see if she could somehow intuit the presence of a wine glass. My hypothesis is that she’d know.)

So anyway, as I’m here trying to do it during our heat-wave dinner on the porch, Mark is looking at me and trying to show me what face I’m making, and saying, “Okay, so this is it?” But half the time he’s holding his lips out away from his teeth like the teeth’ve got something on them he doesn’t want the rest of his mouth to touch. And of course, that’s all wrong (and frankly, I thought, not even trying very hard), so I’m all, “No, NO, like THIS.” But then unable to keep a straight face to get the flattened flute lips really right. They need to be all pulled back like a super tight face lift with just the smallest opening to let the wine come through. The small hole there is I think what she thought made it all good manners and fancy.

And hey, compared to how I pull corks out of wine bottles with my teeth and just start chugging at the end of my harried kid-tendin’ days, it WAS fancy, man.

So anyway, Mark’s all, “Wait, are your neck veins supposed to be pulsating when you do it?” And he’s sticking his jaw out real tight like a maniac. (Not, by the way, remotely what I was doing.) But hey, it’s not like I have all this isometric lip strength that my mother had from doing it for so long. I mean, it’s not like she looked like she was bench pressing twice her weight when she sipped a pinot grigio.

Finally, after ignoring the children for most of the meal, we gave up on it. Clearly Mark was not taking my attempts at perfecting the look seriously enough, and I was starting to question whether I just didn’t have the skillz any more to nail it.

Besides, in the teeniest small way all the Mom thoughts started to get me feeling a bit sad. I mean, how am I ever going to get it right if I can’t ever watch her do it again?

Last week, on Friday, marked five years since she died. And on that day the so-great-I-don’t-deserve-them Mama Posse had a lovely just-us-and-the-kids garden party as a tribute to my Mama. But I’d likely gone so extremely overboard in stressing to them that yes, a little lunch would be lovely, but please no dead mother poetry readings, or presentations of large poster board collages with pictures of her and words like “#1 Mom!” cut out from magazines. I’d made it clear in my lacking-subtlety way that if I wanted to “go there” and talk about her, I would.

Every time one of the kids called out, “Mom!” to one of us, I think the Mamas were cringing and all pulling them aside and whispering, “Owen, I told you to call me Sacha today not Mom.”

What gals.

And, as it turns out, that day, I didn’t want to go there. It wasn’t that I couldn’t for fear of what I’d unleash, there just wasn’t anything there to really go to. So aside from Mark sweetly saying to me at one point in the evening how happy he is that he knew her, her five-year death-iversary came and went like no big thing.

Usually Ellen and I and our kids get together on that day and on Mom’s birthday in January, and I cook Polish food. We’ll sometimes pull out old pics of Mom, and Ellen–since she’s kinda a hippie–tends to have some sort of special candle lit.

But last weekend Ellen was out of town, her kids with their dad. So we’ll schedule something for another day soon. And maybe then it’ll feel more normal or natural for me to think or talk a bit, or even a lot, about Mom. And if it just turns out to be another great meal with the intention of it being a tribute to her, that’s okay too.

The one thing I’ve learned about the grief thing is you never know when it’ll strike, and it’s foolish to try to summon some disingenuous desperate emotion when you’re heart’s just not going there on its own. No one’s looking to anyone to put on a big show. And not that we have to emulate her, but Lord knows, that wasn’t how Vicki rolled.

One thing I will have to make sure of when Ellen and I get together, is that she takes a crack at the Wine Lips thing. If my memory serves me, she has a knack for imitating it. And even if she doesn’t get it quite right, I’d happily welcome another laughing sesh just watching her try.

Oh, Mama. I miss you.

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The View from Here

Posted: April 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Shopping, Travel | 2 Comments »

It’s Monday morning. And Paige is napping. And it’s warm and sunny and my laptop and I are curled up together on the front porch and the neighbor’s dog is barking and a steady stream of nannies are pushing stroller-loads of kids to the nearby park. And I’m looking at the flowering plants I bought recently–they’re hanging somewhat limply–and I wonder if amidst the myriad other things he did, Mark ever managed to water them this weekend.

Because, for three days and two nights–or really, three days and three nights of parenting when you consider the kids were asleep when I got home yesterday–I was on a blissful Moms Gone Wild weekend, with my fabulous far away friend, Julie.

This all-by-myself like a big girl extravaganza was my delightful Christmas gift from Mark, who as it turns out does have some appreciation for how hard my job can be, and the fact that despite not having a 401K, salary, or discernible career path, the position also lacks sick leave and vacation days. So, God bless him, I was given this sorely needed and greatly appreciated junket.

Now, some people might wonder if it’s kinda weird to suddenly find oneself kid-free with all the nose and ass-wipin’ I’m used to doing all day. You know, taking a look back at the empty carseats and having that unsettling feeling that you’ve forgotten something. But really, I supported a lifestyle of kidlessness for some 37 years. And I’ve found that not being responsible for anyone else is like riding a bike. Neglect it for a while, but when you do hop back on it’s like your legs just know how to pump those pedals.

And since the mere act of aloneness is part of the thrill of it all, I didn’t have to wait until I was perched on a bar stool in Breckenridge for my weekend hijinx to begin. The fun kicked in Friday afternoon, the moment I pulled away from the curb and turned the kiddie CD off and LIVE 105 on.

I mean, other mothers understand this. Out at breakfast that very morning, the Mama Posse was angling to get a little contact high off of my upcoming weekend.

“Okay, tell me everything you are doing,” Mary commanded. “Every plan you have. I need to hear it all laid out.”

And Megan: “You are going to be on the airplane with no children! You can nap! Read a magazine! I’d be happy with just the airplane ride alone.”

I hated to gloat, really, but all those things were true. All the other people on the long-term parkng shuttle were biding their time until they arrived at their terminals. In my new fancy-free untethered Mama mode I was in a mental limbo contest on a beach in Jamaica. That was the shuttle bus ride of a lifetime. (The driver, who didn’t even help with my bags, still may be wondering why he got such a handsome tip.)

The thing is, aside from all the foolish thrills of doing things like peeing without children yapping at my heels, the weekend was also filled with many legitimately fun and beautiful and delicious activities–things even a normal person would find particularly noteworthy and engaging.

We ate a dazzling meal in Boulder on Friday night, giving me one evening to admire our SF-transplant friends’ hip hip hip new house (no Haight Ashbury Victorian that), hang with the husband-folk, then cup the chins of their darling children before Julie also ripped off her mother uniform, smashed it down deep in a garbage can, and we hopped into the car to four-wheel footloose to Breckenridge.

It snowed! We got 90-minute hot stone massages! We sat at the canonical ain’t-this-livin’ Mexican restaurant drinking the requisite margaritas and taking silly pictures of ourselves. I bought a pair of barely-can-breathe skintight jeans that have those super faded creases at the crotch and buttons on the back pockets because sometimes it’s fun to dress like a 14-year-old when you’re 41 just because other women at the store tell you how hot you look and you believe them, damn it. We got mochas at the World’s Quaintest Starbucks, housed in a little yellow cabin with dark green shutters and a wee front porch. So cute you could pinch its cheeks. We bought matching black hipster hats that managed to fit our small small heads. And after drinking more than two but less than five margaritas, we went to a bar that had pool tables, and even though it should have happened, when we walked in no one handed us arm bands that said ‘chaperone’ to wear. All those kids were actin’ like it was okay that WE COULD HAVE BEEN THEIR MOTHERS, and were just letting us sit there nicely with them having exactly what we didn’t need (more alcohol) but wasn’t the point of the whole weekend about us getting ourselves some of what we didn’t really need anyway?  (Case in point, the aforementioned jeans.)

Oh there were other things we did. Like slept until 10AM, thankyouverymuch. But really, I don’t need to continue to rattle on about how I read the entire way on the flight back. Because, even though I’m back from Breckenridge and my hangover is almost nearly altogether behind me, my Moms Gone Wild weekend is still lingering. I’m still feeling it out here on the front porch where in a few minutes Paigey will likely wake up and we’ll figure out what groceries it is we might need, and whether we should walk or drive to get Kate from school, and if there’s maybe time to pick up some Easter Bunny supplies along the way.

I’m back in saddle. I’ve got this routine nailed. There’s not much new in these parts since I left, but the familiar views I’m so used to seeing from here have taken on a fresh new sheen.

Thank you, Mark. This was the best Christmas ever.


Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Lord

Posted: March 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Mama Posse, Miss Kate, Travel | 1 Comment »

We just got back from a super fun long weekend in Lake Tahoe.

Kate went sledding for the first time–actually saw a legitimate amount of snow for the first time. (“You know what, Mama? It looks like Fluff.” That’s my sugar-free girl!) We had some delicious hilarious gin-and-wine-drenched dinners with the fabulous Mama Posse families, and boiled ourselves silly in a huge hot tub. I even got a kid-free day of snowboarding in with my girls Sacha and Mary.

But of all of it, one comment from our friend Jack made our whole weekend.

The kids–all nine of them–were blessedly asleep, and us grown-ups were eating a lovely pasta dish the Grippies had prepared. Jack was sitting near Mark and I, and at one point when another conversation was brewing at the far end of the table, Jack looked up from his plate and said to Mark and I, “You know, I wanted to mention to you guys about Kate–”

At which point I inhaled and winced, bracing myself for whatever it was he was about to say.

That she pooped on the floor in the bathroom earlier, and he had to clean it up? That she bit off a chunk of his daughter’s ear, Mike Tyson-style? That he’s never met such a, well, “spirited” child–how do we keep up with her?

It’s not that Kate’s so out of control, really. It’s just that with a three-year-old there’s really no telling what may happen. Especially on a weekend when she’s marauding 24×7 in a large pack of friends like some feral child on speed.

Anyway, as Mark and I exchange a quick nervous glance, Jack finishes his sentence saying, “–that she’s really polite.”

Mark and I lean in stunned and say in unison: “Really? Polite?”

Jack: “Yeah. I mean, in interactions I’ve had with her this weekend she’s been, you know, really good about saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and stuff.”

Mark and I grinned and gleefully grasped each others’ hands like game show contestants who’d just won a car. Relieved, thrilled, and incredulous that all the seemingly futile work of reminding Miss Kate to “use her manners” in what seems like three-minute intervals over the course of the past two-plus years, might actually, really, finally, be paying off.

Will you get a load of that.

1 Comment »

Recent Finds

Posted: February 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Books, City Livin', Discoveries, Drink, Food, Shopping | 2 Comments »

The Gods of Crap Acquisition were with me this weekend.

Not a large-scale haul by any means, but a few choice items came into my possession that are making me too happy to resist blathering on about.

1. A small rectangular mosaic table, perfect for the putting-on of gin and tonics and such on the front porch. The gray, white, and maroon palette offsets my outdoor carpet splendidly. (Take that, HGTV!) This was a freebie left in front of a neighbor’s house. Someday I’ll send them my Betty Ford Clinic bill since they’ve made it so damn convenient and charming to have a drink handy while watching Kate play outside.

So, free to me yet potentially costly to the kind folks who purged it. C’est la vie!

2. A 1973 Sears Roebuck bike. Also free from neighbor. I figure this will occupy a good amount of bicycle tinkering/porn time for Mark and is bound to result in a sweet-since-it’s-so-uncool-and-farty little cruiser bike for me.

Small amount of speckled rust. Huge amount of old-school cachet.

3. The happy bathtub-reading memoir Trail of Crumbs, by Kim Sunée. Not a find in the yard sale sense, but I did stumble across it at our so-fab-I’m-there-every-day local bookstore and have been devouring it non-stop ever since. There’s a love story, a sex story, a childhood trauma, romantic foodie/boozy settings like New Orleans and Provence, and just when you’ve though that was more than you could ever ask of a book, you get recipes! I feel like I’m deep into the best summer reading ever written, but maybe it’s because it’s been in the 70s and gloriously sunny here lately.

Anyway, Obama’s settled into the White House so take a cleansing breath just knowing everything will turn out okay in the world, buy this book, then get a babysitter and read read read for days and nights. Then drag someone you dig under an olive tree for a hot make-out sesh and a glass of Prosecco.

4. My first bocce ball set. Which isn’t to say I found a Fisher Price lawn bowling toy, but that after many years of wanting to own the old Italian guy grown-up game myself, I came across a stellar set (with sporty carrying sack) at a yard sale and welcomed it to the McClusky family fold for the low low price of $5.

An added bonus: Kate is now referring to any of the small balls in her toy empire as ‘pills.’

And so, not one to hoard my good fortune to myself, if you are in striking distance I invite you to please please drop by some afternoon for an on-the fly lawn bowling tournie (warning: Kate’s getting good, it’s that guinea blood in her). I’ll be serving up a variety of beverages in both sippy cups and Big Girl and Boy wine and rocks glasses, and might even set a little Provencale goûtée I learned about from my book onto my darling new side table.

And if you get too, uh, silly to drive home safely, I’ll gladly let you borrow the cruiser bike. Though I’m pretty sure that in its current state both tires are flat, and if I had to guess I’d say the breaks probably don’t work too well either.

Ah well. One gal’s cast-off is another’s treasure.


Garçon? A side order of surrealitié, please.

Posted: December 11th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 3 Comments »

Most of my food festishist friends have been greenly awaiting my report on my dinner Tuesday night–a 20-course pas de deux prepared by none other than His Holiness Thomas Keller and Alinea‘s divine own Grant Achatz, and served at The French Laundry.

If I had to sum it up in three words I’d say: warm bacon donuts.

They were otherworldly, as was the rest of the meal. Though I’m not sure that Homer Simpson would have enjoyed the other superlative culinary delights quite as much.

Where to start? The small knot of olive “fruit leather” that was just one weensy element of a complex taste-of-this-and-that dish? The eucalyptus foam gracing a perfect cube of, uh, turbo, I think it was? (Hard to keep it all straight when the champagne and wine keep comin’.) The china pot of warm coals and anise-scented wood chips placed alongside one of the courses just to get yer nose sense workin’ too? Or the unforgettable spoonful of ravioli filled with an intense burst of black truffle sauce? Like the biggest best Chewel you’d ever be lucky enough to eat.

Then of course there was the translucently thin and crisp bacon slice wrapped in apple shreds and suspended from a kind of stainless steel tight-rope, not to mention an elegant long skewer with a mini gingersnap and kumquat primly balanced on its end.

My head nearly exploded when, after taking a bite of that last one, I sipped the cabernet it was paired with–leaving me pounding the table like a maniacal deaf-mute (or just someone with their mouth full) to get Mark to drink some of the wine–Drink it!! Quick!–right then too.

If it sounds like the eating of this meal was an experience both theatrical and physical, packed with over-the-top mini mouthful pleasures that Mark and I intentionally synchronized, well, it was. And we weren’t alone. Our neighbors at other tables who’d been seated at times slightly staggered from us were all doing the same.

But hey, it’s California. Instead of being embarrassed by the women next to me closing her eyes and whisper-moaning, “Oh, Maury!” to her husband after taking a mouthful of something, I leaned closer and grinned, “Pretty incredible, right?”

And all the food aside, there was a thrilling energy in the place that was enlivening in and of itself. This was a small group of diners who were willing to pay a silly amount of damn-the-economy money to eat this meal. The front of the house staff was caught up in it too. Their greetings from the moment we walked in were professional and impressively personal–”Good evening and welcome, Mr. and Mrs. McClusky”–while at the same time sparkly-eyed and genuinely gleeful, “What an exciting night we’re about to have!” It was as if we’d all be clapping our hands and squealing if it weren’t for the fact that we were gussied up and wanted to respect and blend into the intimate quiet elegance of the restaurant’s decor.

I mean, it was, after all, The French Laundry.

Plus, Mark and I added our own dose of joy to the scene. Celebrating Mark’s involvement in the Alinea book, the thrilling sense of his belongingness in this foodie-heaven scene, the anticipation of the epic meal stretched before us and, well, just the us-ness of us and life and happiness and the holidays.

Mind you, we didn’t spend the whole meal mooning over the food alone. Towards the end at least there was teen-like texting taking place with friends and some emailing photos of courses. And finally we ended up in the kitchen drinking champagne while the chefs and front of the house staff ate In-and-Out and drank what I saw to be at least one Pabst Blue Ribbon. Go figure.

If merrymaking behind the scenes wasn’t fun enough, I had to break the we’re-such-insiders spell temporarily and insist on having our picture taken with the two chefs. Was it not, after all, monumental to be chatting casually with none other than Thomas Keller?  And that gay Italian guy from Sex in the City–Mario something or other, I think–he was there for a bit too, grabbing Mark’s iPhone at one point and hooting that its red and white plastic case was “Soooooo gay!”

All terribly good fun.

The last thing I want to do is disparage a Tuesday evening around Casa McClusky, but let’s just say they usually aren’t on par with this particular night.

We stumbled giddily into the Surh’s at 1:45AM, me doing a not-super-sober loud whisper to Mark, “He asked me if we would come to their holiday party! Me! Thomas Keller personally invited ME!”

The girls were camped out asleep in the room where Mark and I were also crashing. No problem, since we bunked this way in Kentucky and all went swimmingly, right?

Well, first Paige got up, which I was okay with. I hadn’t fallen asleep yet, so I figured I’d feed her then she’d sleep through the rest of the night.

Uh, no.

Kate and Paige managed to do a remarkable tag-team of waking up and loudly demanding attention of one kind or another. “EH-EH-EH,” Paige’s nurse-me siren, followed by Kate’s, “Mama, are there monsters?” or some other such question or stuffed animal complaint. Rinse and repeat about eight times.

Like a speed-addled volley ball team the four of us rotated beds, with me and Kate on the floor at one point, Paige, Mark, and I in the bed, Mark and Kate on the floor. Statistically work out all the possible configurations we hoped would result in someone–anyone–getting some sleep, and we did it. With enormous lack of success.

At 4:30 Mark whisper-hissed, “This is ridiculous. Let’s just get them in the car and drive home.” So imagine us tossing armfuls of formal clothes, diapers, toys, toiletries and baby blankets into bags, trying to not wake up our host family any more that we were certainly already doing over the course of the prior three hours.

Finally, with the car packed and me in Mark’s t-shirt and a pair of jeans, we convened in the hallway by their front door. “I need shoes,” I said–it being freezing this time of year deep in the heart of a Napa night. Mark motioned to my stilettos by the door–a look I was unwilling to settle for even under these circumstances–prompting my memory that my clogs were by the back door in their garage. (It’s a shoe-free house.)

I handed a still happy clapping all-too-awake Paige over to Mark and said, “I’m getting my clogs in the garage.” A comment he told me later he never heard. In the frigid pitch black garage I also feel around for Kate’s yellow Crocs in a sea of the three resident children’s Crocs. And leaning down I move away from where I’m holding the house door open just enough for it to slide closed.

And of course, it locks.

So here I am in the cold cold cold dark, shoes on now, thank you, but having gotten so damn close to our get-away and suddenly trapped in the garage.

Light taps on the door to the house and my hoarse whisper, “Mark? Uh, Mark?! I’m locked in here!” Nothing.

Days go by. Or perhaps just five or so minutes.

And finally, the door opens with Mark holding Paige and Kate peering around his leg. “What the hell are you doing in here?” he hisses. As if I’d just wanted a few minutes of Me Time in their garage before we made our middle-of-the-night our-kids-are-possessed escape.

All I could do was laugh. I laughed for the first ten minutes of the car ride home at how utterly absurd it was that our amazing evening ended with an utter lack of McClusky Family sleep and we were leaving our friends with not so much as a kitchen table note to return to our own home where at least the girls had their own bedrooms to lie awake in, and there might be some slim ray of hope that familiarity would breed slumber.

Home at 5:30AM. I got a half-hour’s worth of shut-eye in the car, but by 5:45 when we climbed into bed Mark had not slept yet at all. Two hours later, Paige woke up, again in her irrepressible good humor, which by that point we found utterly obnoxious.

Mark staggered to the shower and heroically readied himself for work, as I went through the motions of changing Paigey’s diaper and dressing her for the day.

And man, could I have used a stiff pot of French press coffee and about a dozen of those mini bacon donuts.


Drinking Games for Mothers

Posted: November 17th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 3 Comments »

Little Miss Happy Pants Paigey serenely endured a temperature all weekend, maintaining her nearly impenetrable good nature. Then today all hell broke loose and she’s a clingy don’t-you-dare-set-me-down blubbering mess. Poor sweet thing.

And of course I can’t help but marvel at how adorable she looks when she’s bawling. Thankfully she doesn’t wail like this often so she’s not at risk for years of therapy to undo the trauma of having a mother who clucks delightedly and says, “Aw. How cute are you?” when what she’s desperately trying to do is communicate how utterly miserable she is.

Yes, I know. I’m that mother.

So I took her to the pediatrician this morning. And lest you think I let raging fevers go unchecked I called their office Friday and they said if she’s eating and sleeping and chipper, just keep watching her for any change.

After his examination, our friend-doc Dan leaned back, crossed his arms in that all-knowing doctorly way and declared that yes, good thing I brought her in, she does indeed have an ear infection in her left ear.

Now, far be it from me to be the mother who balks when her kid gets caught smoking pot in the alley by the high school, “Not MY Obedi! He’d NEVER do that!” But the fact is, Kate has never had an ear infection, and up until today nor had Paige. I mean, it’s not what my kids do. (Read: It’s something that plagues all those other common folks’ children.)

I mean, barring that there was some kind of shouldn’t-even-joke-about-it mix-up at the hospital, I guess it turns out that ear infections actually are something my kids–or at least one of them–do do. And I realized that I had to remove one small maternal point of pride from my unaware-I-was-even-keeping-track mental checklist. (My mother had much more outspoken bravado about these things. “My children go outside and play in all kinds of weather!” “My children never catch colds.” “My children all have excellent teeth.”)

Anyway, it got me thinking about what a game of I Never would be like today, played amongst a group of hardcore manic Mamas.

Here are a few things I wouldn’t have to drink to:

  • I never took my kids’ temperature with an anal thermometer.
  • I never gave my kids formula.
  • I never dressed my children in a My-First-[Insert Holiday Here] outfit.
  • I never had my kids in the room while I was watching TV.
  • Post-infancy, I never had my child sleep in bed with me.
  • I never tasted any of the bottled baby food I’ve fed my babies.
  • I never saw the placentas from my pregnancies.
  • I never put my kids’ names on our answering machine message after they were born.
  • I’ve never had my baby cry into our answering machine, nor did I have my child leave the outgoing message when she was old enough to speak.
  • I never got any of my offspring to take a bottle.
  • I never thought I’d be the kind of parent who makes every effort to be home in time for naps to take place in the crib/bed. (But I am.)
  • I never had any embarrassing leaky boob-milk incidents.
  • I never obsessed over my kids’ poop.
  • I never put one of those headband things that have a bow on them on my baby daughters.
  • I never had the natural childbirths I hoped for.
  • I never worried about safety issues with crib bumpers. (They’re too damn cute to pass up.)
  • I never let the fact that they could lose their shit–literally and figuratively–prevent me from taking my babies out in public.
  • I never understood how parents could go for years without spending a night away from their kids.
  • I never spent a night with my husband away from our oldest child in her first two years of life.
  • I never dressed my daughters in clothing that matched mine.
  • I never tasted my own breast milk.
  • I never made my husband drive like a chauffeur and sat in the back next to my baby’s car seat. (I never did that with my second child, that is.)

Did you have to drink for any of those? (Or to just get through the endless list?)

Until recently, aside from the ear infection, there was one other mini maternal point of pride that was on my list: I never encountered a floater while giving my kid a bath.

Unfortunately–and disgustingly–a couple months ago as Mark was bathing Kate one evening I heard him say to her, “Kate, is that—? Oh, God. Okay honey, let’s get you out of there.” And a minute later as I heard the toilet flush and the water gurgling down the drain he called out to me, “Can you please bring me some bleach?”

As I cracked the door to toss the cleaner in and make a hasty you’re-on-your-own-dude exit, Kate craned her neck towards me and yelled out proudly, “I pooped in the bath, Mama!”


Since I did my best to sidestep the whole gnarly scene, maybe I wouldn’t have to drink for that one after all.

What is it that you have never done as a parent?