Tell Me that Story Again

Posted: January 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Earthquakes, Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Money, Parenting, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Last week I did two things I never do. I turned on the TV when both girls were awake. (I think Paigey’s still too wee to develop a boob tube habit). And I tuned in to—of all things—a telethon. Specifically, the ‘Hope for Haiti Now’ telethon.

Weird, right? But in my defense, replacing Jerry Lewis with George Clooney goes a long way in my book. And it was for a good cause.

Anyway, the second the TV clicked on, Kate ran out of her room like a junkie moving in on a fix. It was both thrilling and confusing to her.

“Wait, the TV?” she asked in a frenzy. “Are YOU watching TV, Mama? Can I watch too? Please? Please?!”

I swear the girl would happily watch Hogan’s Heroes if I let her.

But this was music. People strumming guitars and soulfully singing songs like “Let It Be.” So I figured, what could it hurt? She perched on the arm of the couch and immediately went into a glassy-eyed zombie stare, letting the TV’s narcotic hit wash over her.

Then Matt Damon and Clint Eastwood started talking about some courageous man, and it seemed likely they were about to get into the details of how the dude had died. So I hit Mute, and when Kate protested I made up some excuse .

Eventually I decided to venture into the what-happened-in-Haiti waters. Age-appropriately, I hoped. “Blah blah blah earthquake… Blah blah people got hurt… Blah blah houses fell down, everyone very poor. People there need help. And money.”

More music, volume back up, and me in the kitchen to check the roasting veggies.

Kate, calling out from her couch perch. “Mama?! Tell me that story again. What’s the shaky ground thing called again?”

“An earthquake.” I walked into the living room.

“Oh,” she said, turning the idea over in her mind. “Do they have those,” I braced for her question “–in Rhode Island?”

“Oh, in Rhode ISLAND?” I said, exhaling. “Nope! No earthquakes there!”


Two second pause.

“Do they have ‘em here?”

Crap. “Well, uh… Well, uhhh, nnnnnooooo. Well, not like that. I mean, it’s just not something you have to worry about.” I handled this nearly as poorly as I did when Kate asked me in front of a neighbor how babies come out of their mommies. (Don’t even ask.)

At dinner, it was like I could feel Kate’s brain processing what I’d told her. While tuned into the telethon she’d seen a doctor holding a baby with a tube in its nose and its head all bandaged up. A couple times she said, “Tell me that story again, Mama.” And a couple times I tried to get though on the phone lines, hoping I’d get a chance to chat up George Clooney or Julia Roberts as I made a paltry donation.

The phone lines were busy, which was great for the telethon, but dashed my hopes of hobnobbing with the real-live pages of People magazine. Or of doing anything to pitch in.

Kate was clearly worried about the Haitians, and getting ready for her bath asked questions like, “When those people got hurt when the ground shaked, did they have blood?” For my part, busy signals aside, I was feeling frustrated that we’re not in a position these days to make the level of donation I’d really like to.

And then, like a good Italian girl it hit me. Kate and I could cook. We roll up our sleeves together, do what we do best–bake!—then host a bake sale, right out in front of our house. We’d donate everything we made to help the relief effort.

She LOVED the idea. Her concerned line of questions turned instantly to excitement. “We’ll make Rice Krispie Treats! With little M&Ms! We’ll make chocolate chip cookies, Mama!”

On Sunday we had our sale. We timed it to get foot traffic from our nearby farmer’s market. And we made $189. People were amazingly generous, handing cash over to Kate without even taking a treat, or giving us a twenty for one item and telling us to keep–or rather, give away–the change.

I love our neighborhood.

The next day, we visited Mark’s office to sell the left-overs, and tacked another $71 onto our earnings. And since we were feeling unstoppable at that point, I called Kate’s school and arranged to spearhead a bake sale there too.

Kate said she thinks all the kids in Haiti are going to get Hello Kitty band-aids for their boo-boos, on account of our two bake sales. And damn it, I hope to hell she’s right.

The other night, in our bleary-eyed first adult words to each other after the kids were in bed, Mark told me he was proud of us. But quickly added something like, “Why is it you and Kate decided to save the world after we handed in her school applications?”


Well, this morning Kate has the first of her private school assessments. (Two more to go after that one.) We’ll bring her to the school for a 90-minute visit where she’ll play with other kids, probably do some writing and drawing, and be asked some questions.

I’m hoping that Kate won’t have tired of her “Tell me that shaky-ground story again, Mama” question. And that she’ll ask me in front of the school’s Admissions Director. That’ll give me a chance to gently recount once more what happened to the people of Haiti.

Then I can set her up by asking, “And what did we do about it, Kate?”

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From the Hands of Babes

Posted: January 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Moods, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 2 Comments »

A friend came over for dinner recently and brought a bottle of wine and a copy of The Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back: Loving Your Family Without Losing Your Mind. It was written by that chick Vicki Iovine—the skinny-ass former Playboy centerfold turned domestic advice-giver who’s married to a gazillionaire music exec. Or maybe they’re divorced at this point.

Whatever the case, it’s crazy how much she and I have in common.

Anyway, I haven’t cracked the book, nor do I intend to. I’m a firm believer that reading about how overwhelmed you are is neither entertaining nor productive. Whereas reading about absolutely anything else—say, hot teen vampire sex—has a much better chance at alleviating standard-grade housewife malaise. (Note: I have not yet succumbed to the smut-lit allure of those books. But I do have the first one in a pile by my nightstand.)

And I wasn’t offended by my friend’s offering. I didn’t think it was some sort of hand-patting, “Honey, really, read the book” kinda intervention. Especially since it wasn’t even intended for me. (Or so she said.) Her daughter had allegedly been rooting around in their house, and dragged it into the living room. And seeing as my friend’s groove is apparently intact, she dropped the book in her bag in case I, or the other friend we were seeing that night, were in need of some groove restoration.

But the truth is, I had been lamenting that ever since the calendar flipped to 2010 I’ve been in a bad mood. My groove in this new decade–or lack thereof—has been informed by my wretchedly out-of-whack back, my agita over getting Kate into a good school next year, and the dreary fact that my book proposal has gotten nowhere closer to being completed than it was in, say, early November. Add to that the extra pounds I packed on over the holidays, for a nice veneer of flagging self-esteem.

Even though it’s just been sitting here, my friend’s kid having unearthed the groove-regetting manual maybe did have some impact on my psyche. Perhaps by its mere presence in my house, the tides of ill-humor have started to change.

First-off, we’ve made progress on Kate’s school applications. Two of them are already handed in (despite an 11th-hour explosion of loose powder blush that came close to rendering the hand-written one, well, “Warmth” pink.) All the nail-chewing over writing the damn things has suddenly changed into an optimistic excitement about how amazing it’ll be for Kate (and us) to be part of one of these cool schools. I’m already planning to volunteer in the classroom constantly. (They’ll have a maternal restraining order out for me by late fall…)

My back still sucks. As in, hurts nearly constantly. But Paigey got into a fabulous preschool for next year. And my book proposal’s still dead in the water, but I’m resolved to get childcare in the coming weeks to make some headway on it.

And I’ve got two great trips to look forward to. A hopefully snow-covered jaunt to Rhode Island and a most-certainly white-capped visit to Vancouver. Thanks in no part to my athletic prowess, I am going to the Olympics!

Also, in a totally not-me move, I decided to Just Say No to my book group book. Just not read it! How liberating is that? Usually I stressfully speed-read in the final days before we meet, as if I’m prepping for the LSATs or something. But after reading the first five of the book’s 400-plus pages, I simply decided I just wasn’t 400-plus-pages-worth of interested. To some this may seem a minor act of rebellion, but for a rule-follower and perfect-attendance gal like myself, this felt as bad-girl liberating as the Queen must feel peeing in the shower.

I also recently picked up a wee freelance gig at My first piece, a recap of the show Brothers & Sisters, wasn’t half-bad. (At least according to my father.) Mark’s also got a 14-pound brisket slooooow-cookin’ in the smoker I got him for Christmas. And really who can feel gloomy at the prospect of the lifetime of smoked meats that now extends before me? (His enthusiasm for this new toy is such that we may also be eating smoked breakfast cereal Chez McClusky soon.)

Even my dream life is showing signs that I’m relaxing a bit. Like last night, I had a kinda sex dream about one of the schools Kate’s applying to. And I call it a sex dream, but when I described it to Mark he pointed out that there really was no sex in it whatsoever. But you don’t always need sex for sex, right? I mean, didn’t we learn that lesson years ago from Bill Clinton?

So in the dream I’m at this school (our top pick for Kate, in fact) and I’m taking a tour. And on the tour all the perspective parents get shunted into the school’s wood shop, where there’s this strapping, black hottie of a wood shop teacher. (This, by the way, is nothing like their real wood shop teacher. It’s a dream, people.) And then in that weird dream-way that you just skip over some of the boring how-things-unfolded parts, next thing you know he and I are in my car! But no no no, not groping each other or anything, just driving around. You know, with our thighs all close together and almost touching in the way they are when you are in a close-quartered dream-car next to the hot wood shop teacher. Like you do.

So he tells me he’s been working at the school for 30 years, but he says, “thirty years of radiation” which in that weird dream-way I don’t find to be an odd turn of a phrase and simply take to mean he’s been getting cancer treatments all that time. But it’s not like that’s a sad thing. In fact, this virile wood shop teacher who for some reason I’ve kidnapped mid-school-tour looks altogether healthy. And I just say to him, “Yeah I don’t want to go there.” And, dreamily, he’s not offended at all, and we just keep driving and I think, “I really should get back to the school tour.”

And then I woke up.

Chaste. And still even Dreamland-loyal to my husband.

Several weeks ago we were at a birthday party. We were at the friend’s house who brought me the Groove book. Paige was still somewhat new to walking. One of her favorite places to toddle off to and explore is bed-side tables. They have fun little drawers it’s easy for little hands to open.

So as we’re in the kitchen chatting with some other parents, Paige staggers from the back of their house out into their living room and heads towards me with a violet-colored tube in her hand. Turns out it was our hosts’ Astroglide. Ahem.

Of course, those of us in the kitchen who saw what Paigey had poached found it uproarious. Funny enough to not sweep it under the so-called carpet, but to send Paige back across the guest-filled living room with instructions to hand the item over to its rightful owners.

Paige obliged. Much giggling and blushing and good-natured heckling ensued. Good times.

Thinking about that now, I can’t help but wonder if Paige was on to something. Was it really a random offering? Or was she trying to communicate in some childlike intuitive way, “This is what you people need. This is the answer!”

Now I’m not implying that Paige thinks I should have a romp with the dream-based wood shop teacher. There’s a time and place for people from The Land of Make Believe. I think she was maybe just making her own down-home suggestion about how us Mommies and Daddies could get our groove back.


Home Is Where the Fart Is

Posted: September 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Food, Husbandry, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Travel | No Comments »

Had a little scatological childhood memory today.

It was an image of my mother standing in my grandmother’s kitchen. And she was telling me, “Sometimes, when you’re on vacation, you don’t poop as often as you do at home.”

A mighty maternal pearl of wisdom, no?

It came back to me this morning when the girls and I stumbled into the house. It was barely 11AM, but we were exhausted, starved for lunch, and supremely sick of what we were wearing and each other.

On our way back from the airport we’d dropped Mark off at work, and I wasn’t sure which of us had it worse. Me, still with the kids and operating on a migraine-tauntingly slim night’s sleep? Or Mark, having to utilize his brain for the day, and requiring socially-acceptable breath? (He, having informed me earlier on our flight, that my breath was “not its best.” Causing me in my delirium, to throw my head back and laugh wildly, no doubt further distributing my foul oral odor. My apologies to the passengers of Flight 817.)

So then, back in the house after eight days absent. I tossed some drive-thru burgers at the kids and humped our nine—yes NINE—items of luggage (the beer didn’t explode!) into the house. Then, I set the girls free to reacquaint themselves with their toys, their books, their bedrooms’ dust bunnies.

Eventually Paige scooted over to where I was sorting laundry. A malodorous Paige. And I realized that all those irregularly-timed and unusual-food laden meals she’d eaten throughout our trip, had made their long-overdue exit diaper-ward. Perhaps, I couldn’t help but think, due to Paige’s return to the familiar, comfortable setting of our home.

Anyway, more on our hi-jinx in Minnesota once I wash my hair in this time zone, channel the energy of a not-too-old-for-this 26-year-old mother, and forage for milk and other unfrozen foods for my hungry, hyperpooping children.

I’m nearly too tired to tell for sure, but it seems like it’s good to be home.

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The Red Tent (and Other State Fair Spectacles)

Posted: September 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Music, Travel | No Comments »

Yesterday, in Minnesota, I popped my state fair cherry.

Mark was astounded to learn I’d never attended such an event. But I grew up in Rhode Island. There’s just not enough room there to have a state fair. And if we ever did have one, I never knew. It must’ve been on a day when I was sitting in the backyard pulling dandelions and complaining to my mom that I had nothing to do.

So yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect. But before we even left the car, as we were slogging through a slow line of traffic, we passed a woman standing roadside on a small patch of grass. She held up a big sign that said something ranty about something or other. But what caught my eye was the huge cardboard displayed at her feet that said: “STOP BUSH! Tax cuts now!”

I didn’t have the heart to call out to her that Bush was in a hammock in Texas right now, sleeping off a hangover. Doing what he used to do as President no doubt, but far removed from having any impact on our taxes. Or, blessedly, anything else for that matter.

Alas, I held my tongue. I mean, live a half-mile from Berkeley. I know better than to come between a gal and her political causes.

At any rate, that woman’s presence on the outskirts of the fair teed up my expectations for the day.

Nearly instantly upon entering the gates, we zeroed in on the Miracle of Birth building. This House of Blood and Afterbirth Horrors had been described to me by our friends the night before. And I couldn’t imagine anywhere to bring the kids that had better potential for being both fascinating and deeply traumatic.

You could, our friends claimed, witness a calf being born, right there stall-side. They had viewing bleachers even! It was like you and hundreds of other sugar-smeared hordes were the personal birth coaches to dear Bessie the heifer. So intimate.

Sadly, we toured the entire barn, stroked the fur of baby pigs, admired cages packed with chicks, and listening to the bleating of wee lambies—without a single Mama cow performing her Miracle of Birth act. There were, at least, large screens hanging from the ceiling projecting miracles that’d taken place earlier at the fair. Well-timed births for some other lucky fair-goers.

And just like our friends said, the video showed that what comes out first are the calf’s front hooves. Oof! Sends a shiver through my privates just thinking about it. But then, to up the drama and fanfare, the cow’s human birthing assistant grabs a CHAIN. Not even a nice soft-feelin’ rope. A CHAIN. And plunges their arms deep into the—well, you know—to wrap the thing around the formerly content calf, and yank the poor thing right on out, onto a pile of hay. [Cuing, I’d guess, delighted applause from the masses of miracle watchers.]

Gazing at the video, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own first experience giving birth. After some FOUR HOURS of pushing— Did you get that? Four hours. After that, my midwife and an OB used suction cups, bungee cords, and I believe promises of a lifetime of high-sugar cereals to coax Kate from my womb.

With no luck. Tenacious little thing refused to budge, sending out a note to the medical team that I believe said, “I ain’t movin’ unless you cut me out of here.”

Which they did.

And now, only 20 minutes into my maiden state fair experience, I made a note to contact my midwife. Why, I planned to ask her, had they not considered the use of a chain?

My reverie was interrupted by my cell phone alarm going off. It’s set to the “DING dong DING dong” doorbell chime ring. I fumbled in my purse. Time to take my birth control pill.

What timing. It was as if, by virtue of my hormonally-charged surroundings, my iPhone sensed a need to protect me from some spontaneously-wrought pregnancy.

And my luck, as we rounded the kids up, having maxed out our entertainment value on the birthin’ building, with 98.3% of the fair left for us to explore, an announcer on the PA system says something about a cow going into labor. Causing the sea of people—myself enthusiastically included—to push towards the back of the barn in one sweeping wave. I’m frantically looking for a break in the crowd to view some live miracle action (utterly unaware of the rest of my group’s location), when the man playing God on the PA lets out a little chuckle.

“Now let’s not push folks!” he says, bemused. “This’ll take a while! There’s plenty of time to come ‘round and have a look.”

Too much time, it turned out, for us to wait with four sweaty already-seen-these-animals kids. By the time we pushed on, the only thing we saw coming out of that cow was a limp puddle of what looked like Super Elastic Bubble Plastic.

The remainder of the fair can be described as hot, bacon on a stick, crowded, corn dog on a stick, hot, deep-fried Snickers on a stick, waves of exhaustion and self-loathing, pizza on a stick, dessert pizza on a stick, giant slide, mini-donuts on a stick, tantrums, sausage on a stick, vows to never return, and fritters on a stick, foot-long dogs on a stick, caramel apples on a stick, ice cream on a stick, and something called “banquet” on a stick.

Not that we sampled it all, but really, we might as well have. It sort of all flows through you. By virtue of just being there, you become one with it.

The best nutritious deal of the day goes to the one-buck bottomless cup of milk. What mother whose been stuffing her kids silly with greasy stick foods won’t buy THAT to allay her guilt?

At lunchtime (because, clearly, we’d been starving ourselves) an Andean band played nearby. One of the ones where a few dudes are on guitars, and a couple others are playing those super-long bamboo flutes that are all attached to each other. The songs are all frantically, relentlessly upbeat. So as we awaited the arrival of our on-a-stick lunches, I danced the kids over to the stage.

Now, in California, you mix lively music and a family-type event and you’ve got every kid who can barely stand out there shakin’ a soggy diaper. And alongside them are hordes of twirling, singing, smiling, and clapping Mom-Dad-and-toddler factions.

In Minnesota? Uh, not so much.

The most unleashed dude I saw had a huge smile on his face and was doing some aggressive toe tapping. I wanted to pack the poor guy in my suitcase so I could set him free later at our folksy farmers market’s mosh pit.

Alas, our epic trudge to the car—overly hot, overly sugar-fed, and just plain over the fair—was interrupted by a sort of spontaneous spot mob parade. We were suddenly hustled to the curbside, and marching bands, art cars, senior citizen orchestras, and folks in large blue cockroach costumes all came charging through.

Which would’ve be wonderful (I, as you may know, love a parade) if it weren’t for how damn deep-fried we all were, how hard-core the cops were about not letting us pass, and how utterly terrified and hysterical Kate became by every parade participant.

Finally, limping towards the car after my first state fair, I marveled at the rag-tag state of our crew—chicken-fried in grease, tears, sweat, and dust. It’s then that I stumbled upon an idea that was pure entrepreneurial gold.

“Next year,” I announced to Mark and Becca, “We’re setting up shop right here by the parking lot. Get this: BATHS FOR KIDS. We’ll have one area where we hose them off.”

“And a spot where they soap themselves down!” Mark adds.

“They can stick their dirty clothes in a plastic bag.” I say.

“And at the end,” Becca muses, “We…. sell them a State Fair t-shirt! For, like, thirty bucks!”

It’s brilliant. We are so close to be crazy stinking rich, I can just feel it.

Well then Minnesota State Fair, we shall see you again next year. And by then, God willing, that dear cow will be ready to birth that baby.

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Advanced Planning

Posted: July 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Summer | 3 Comments »

I’m trying to get over feeling like it’s a bit absurd that I’m in Rhode Island for two weeks, and for 99% of that time my Dad’s not been here. Well, he’s here as in in-state, but he’s not in the hizouse, as it were. He’s on the DL at a rehab center after getting a hip job. 

And after spending a week here, Mark returned to Cali yesterday, and to the 9-to-5 today. With him gone, Dad on hiatus, and my womb-to-tomb amiga Amelia bound back to DC today, I’m nurturing a small abandonment complex.  

Thankfully, today was The. Perfect. Beach. Day.

And I am lucky enough to have a handful of most excellent friends who live here. So my friend Story, who I’ve known and loved since high school when she had a cigarette butt from the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen taped to her bedroom wall, she and her sons met the girls and I in Newport at the beach.

Oh, and did I mentioned Story’s an amazing chef? I’d been joking when I asked her to pack a gourmet box lunch for me, but didn’t object when she handed me a divine BBQ chicken sandwich.

All that, plus the bliss of seeing her boys and my girls running in and out of the waves, squealing with summertime glee. And Story and I getting our annual what-feels-like seven cumulative minutes of kid-interrupted in-person catch-up time. 

At home post-beach Paigey took an epic nap. Kate and I ate excessive pizza, read Angelina books, and I marveled over the fact that I have real estate envy for a literary mouse family’s charming Costwalds cottage.

Lots more things happened that were mostly fun and all exhausting. I was staggering towards the finish line to get the girls bathed after a dinner in which I sprang from the table no less than six times to cook peas, get more corn, grab a sippy, get a spoon. I grabbed Paige and my untouched wine thinking I’d make it my end-of-the-day treat. Then Paige plunged her grubby fist deep into it. 


So, well past her bedtime and getting only one book (not two), I crawled into bed with Miss Kate for a day’s end snuggle. Sometimes I do this, blurring the lines between who’s really tucking who into bed. 

Kate: [cradling her stuffed dog] “Dottie is my baby. He’s a newborn.”

Me: “Oh, really?”

Kate: “Why do newborns make mommies sleepy?”

Me: [Lunging into a 50-minute diatribe including, "And then there's the burping, and more diapers to change, and some little babies just cry and cry and cry for no reason---in the middle of the night!"] “When you were a little baby Grandma Peggy came to visit and she helped us take care of you.”

Kate: [excited] “Did she take care of me in the middle of the night?”

Me: “Well, I don’t think so, no, but sometimes in the morning she’d take you and let Daddy and I sleep if we’d been awake a lot during the night.”

Kate: “I want to have two babies.”

Me: “Well, if you want, I can come to your house and help you take care of your new baby so you’re not so sleepy. Because I’d be the grandma.”

Kate: “That’d be good.”

Me: “I think so too. I would actually love to do that.”

Kate: [perks up] “So then Daddy could be the Grandpa!”

Me: “That’s exactly right. If you want, I bet he’d like to come help out too.”

Kate: “Okay, Mama, good. Night-night.”


Only in Bristol

Posted: June 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, California, Daddio, Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Mom, Other Mothers, Shopping, Sisters, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

Mark and I are still shuddering with PTSD from our day of travel yesterday. One which commenced hellaciously waking at 5AM, arriving at the SF Airport at the spry hour of 6:30, and due to all manner of evil airline juju, finally had us on a plane at noon. By which point, after hours in United queues and some neck-vein-popping negotiations with airline personnel, we found ourselves heading to Boston not Providence and arriving at 10PM, not the too-reasonable-to-be-true 6:30.

Before even setting foot on an aircraft I had the Bad Mother realization that I’d forgotten extra travel duds for each girl. (I know. Total rookie move.) So 16 hours later when we stumbled woozily into my Dad’s house, the kids were not only wrung out and weak from hunger, but chicken-fried in a coating of sweat, milk, Cheerio grit, and sugar drool from the Mike & Ikes the boys seated behind us snuck to Kate.

Well then, what doesn’t kill you, gets you cross-country for $500 a ticket, right?

And so now we’re here. And though I’m still scuffing around in a groggy haze, Bristol isn’t waiting for me to come to before packing its little hometown punches.

At the back road’s Super Stop & Shop with the embedded Dunkin’ Donuts (please scatter my ashes there when I go), I’m ambling down an aisle trying to remember what my kids eat when someone bellows, “Kristen Bruno!” It’s my cousin. The sister of the cuz who gallantly fetched us at the airport the night before.

And before she and I made our way through basic howayas, another woman pulls her cart up right near us, looking me square in my eyes. “You,” she says wagging a finger, “look just like Marie Bruno.”

I mean, how small is this town that someone calls me out for looking like my oldest sister who, if you ask me, I look the least like of all of them? (She of the wee button nose. Damn her.)

Anyway, it was the daughter of an old friend of my mom’s. The owners of the pool that’s responsible for my eyebrow scar. (Back flip—okay, attempted back flip—off the diving board.)

When my mother drove me to the doctor’s house (old school) to get me stitched up that day, I had a bloody towel clamped to my head. But what transfixed me was the fact that my mom put her hazard lights on to get us there right quick. I couldn’t remember a time when she’d driven with those lights flashing, so whatever’d happened to me musta been serious. Cool even. Warranting my mom to transform her old Volvo into some kind of citizen’s ambulance.

Pull aside, people. Comin’ through.

To this day, whenever I double park and flick on those lights, I think of that.

So I realized that this grocery store woman, Cathy, appeared in a photo someone gave me this winter of my mother. It was old and orange-toned. One of those square ones with rounded corners—the format even screamed 70s. Cathy then was a teen, a long-haired brunette beauty in a brown knit bikini. She was holding a bottle of hootch out to my mom and hers, and they were both laughing. It was, the giver told me, a going away party for a friend.

My mom at that time had short hair—a pixie she’d call it—and was thin and tan. I figured out the year it was taken, and realized she was 42 at the time. My age now. Weird.

So in the juice aisle, Cathy (who I’d introduced to my cousin who she said also looked familiar) and I were well on our way down Memory Lane. I ran through how my sisters were doing, Dad’s impending hip surgery, got the report on her mom’s hip job, her dad’s dementia.

If it weren’t for Kate’s embarrassing, huffy, “Let’s GO, Mom” laments, I could’ve leaned over, cracked open a bottle of Cran-Apple and chatted with those two for hours.

But before Kate’s whining became painfully rude, I shoved off in search of Portugese chourico. And without us having directly mentioned her in our chat, Cathy said by way of good-bye, “Your mother. She was TOO much. God, I loved her.”

Later, screeching into the liquor store minutes before the sign flpped to CLOSED, I chatted up the old Italian owner about the bleak weather. “What’s up with this?” I said. “I came home to go to the beach.”

FUH-get about it!” he grumbled, swatting the air. “I just took the afghan off my bed. YEStuhday!”

By the time Kate and I got back to the house, hours had passed. Paige’d gotten up from her nap, and the pocket of kid-free time I’d tried to give Mark had turned into him waiting out our return, wondering what’d become of us.

I hadn’t gone far, nor accomplished terribly much, but by the end of my errand run I did feel, despite our flightmare and my numbing case of jet lag, like I was finally home.


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.


Manic Oakland Upswing

Posted: May 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Food, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 2 Comments »

A homeless guy crushing cans outside my kitchen window woke me up at 5:45 this morning.

Sometimes I close my eyes and fantasize about only hearing the rattle of shopping carts at the grocery store. But knowing me, if that ever happened I’d probably get all nostalgic. “Ah Mark,” I’d lament, “Remember when people used to tear through our garbage like raccoons for cans, cardboard, and stale bread? Now those were the days.”

Whenever I want to pretend Oakland is Mayberry I go to this place called Fenton’s Creamery, which, if it’s not evident from its name, is an old timey ice cream shop. To be honest, the ice cream’s not even very good, but the teens who work there are fresh faced and disarmingly polite. I like to just breathe in the easiness and optimism that wafts off their long white aprons and crisp paper hats. I perch on the wrought iron parlor chairs outside and smile serenely at the little leaguers heading in for post-game treats.

But on Mother’s Day, and my birthday as it turned out, when I was doing just that, a fuck-you-NO-fuck-YOU scuffle broke out in the parking lot just feet from where Kate and I were awaiting Mark’s return with our sundaes. Hoping for a hit of community cuteness, I ended up acting as a witness for the cops who eventually showed up.

And as a bonus I get to look forward to Kate dropping the f-bomb the next time she stubs her toe. Delightful.

Yesterday, after Paige and I took a dreamy early morning walk, we wandered into wildly popular Bake Sale Betty. Even though she’s too young to say it, I just knew Paige was desperate for one of their sweet-tart rhubarb scones. Or rather, for me to have one.

Amazingly, there was only one person before me in line, a towering, bulked up black police officer. The kinda guy you’d like to have handy when a riot breaks out. He was pointing into the window case and requesting with delighted anticipation, “Oh, and two of the apricot hazelnut scones, three of the pear ginger…”

I couldn’t resist saying something—my insistence on interacting with strangers being the cross my poor don’t-draw-attention-to-me Midwestern husband has to bear. Though to be honest, fearful my comment could trigger a ‘roid rage, and seeing his gun holster bob up towards me as he peered in at the pastries, a little voice inside me wondered if I should try my hand at keeping my mouth shut.


Me: “So, are you attempting to bust the donut myth?”

Him: [chuckling---thank God] “You know, we’re actually all about lattes and scones these days. Us younger police officers really don’t do the coffee and donuts thing.”

Stepping onto the sidewalk later, I jumped at the rumbling rip-cord start of a motorcycle engine, then looked up to watch the cop ride away. I kissed Paigey on the head and thought, I just love it 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.


Save Some Chicken Parm for Me

Posted: May 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Food, Little Rhody, Mom | No Comments »

Saturday night we had a dancing-on-the-coffee-table caliber throwdown at the house for my birthday. Our friend Randy DJed all professional-like, and some of my favorite straight men got fabulous in wigs that were the wrong colors for their skin tones but oh so right in so many other ways. Mark even got Mitchell’s Ice Cream cake. It was bliss.

And as happily wrung out as I am from all the fun here, I still can’t help but feel bummed to have missed a different party last week.

My Godmother, Mimi, turned 95 on Thursday. And when I called her in the middle of the day, her house was rockin’.

She’s bellowing into the phone to me that she didn’t know she had so many friends and could she maybe call me back another time? It was kinda hard to hear with all the action. Oh, and there’s the doorbell! More guests.


And is it wrong to admit that part of my sad-to-not-be-there feeling—I mean, how many 95th birthday parties does one get invited to, really?—has to do as much with the inevitably amazing food offerings, as it does with my desire to hold court as a long-standing member of the celebrant’s posse?

Ah, the food. These are the people who throw down a ham, a couple lasagnas (one meat one veg—as if a vegetarian EVER darkened their door), stuffed artichokes, fennel and orange salad, broccoli done guinea-style (cold with a little lemon juice), maybe something with shrimp or scallops, and no doubt a breaded cutlet of some sort. Really, Caligula ate worse than this, but these folks’ll still chastise themselves all through the clean-up and for a good day or two after that they forgot to put out the eggplant parm.

And by “them” I mean Mimi and her sister and ever present sidekick, Aunt Mary. The silly-she’s-so-spry nearly-90-year-old who lives next door, and who reigns supreme over the dessert realm of the food world.

I challenge you to not weep over her Better Than Sex Cake. And every time I’m lucky enough to have some I debate which is better, hearing Aunt Mary snicker with her friends about her cake’s superiority to sex, or the dark chocolate with coconut whipped cream frosting confection itself. You ask me, both are surefire crowd-pleasers.

Another reason it’s so tortuous to miss these shindigs—aside from my denial that there’s an inevitable limited time offer on them—is that parties that Mimi and Aunt Mary throw, even in their dazzling twilight years, are part of my DNA. Growing up next door to them (and their brother, who lived in the third house over and never I’d guess even knew how to boil water, but did an impressive Italian-style job of eating), growing up next to them they’d entreat my mother to host a “little something” for whatever event was taking place in our lives.

My first communion? “We’d love to just have a small party for Kristen.” My graduation from elementary school? Confirmation? My oldest sister’s engagement? “We’d be honored if we could have some people here to celebrate. ” And of course the standards: Christmas Eve, Fourth of July, Memorial Day? “You’ll be coming by, won’t you? It wouldn’t be a party without the Brunos here.”

They’d start cooking days in advance, filling our abutting back yards with a narcotic cloud of essence of garlic. When the party day arrived we’d be drawn zombie-like and Pavlovian out our back door to their homes. In hot weather we’d be on Aunt Mary’s glorious plant-filled patio or in Mimi’s large garage, which doubled as an airy screened-in porch in the summers. (Told you they were Italian.)

In that way that you don’t know what your life would be like otherwise because it’s not that way it’s the way it actually is, I never stopped to think that everyone didn’t have neighbors like them. I mean, Mimi, her utterly amazing late husband, my Godfather, Uncle Ant (as in, Anthony, pronounced ANT-nee, yo) and Aunt Mary—despite the Aunt and Uncle titles and all—aren’t even kin. They just lived next door.

For a while there many of the food fests took place around Mimi and Ant’s pool—an in-ground jobber they’d built when I was in Junior High. It was like the Pool Fairy had finally answered my prayers but delivered the goods one door down. No matter, since they didn’t have kids and I was at their house as often as my own. In fact, Mimi and Ant never swam in the thing themselves, preferring instead to sit at the edge dangling their feet in. (Ant often referred to the pool as “the world’s most expensive foot basin.”)

Between the vittles, the handy proximity, and the effusive Italian grandparent-like adoration, I was too young to know how freaking lucky I was to have so much love cooked into so many breaded chicken cutlets. (Come to think of it, they made great iced tea too.)

It really hit us when my mother eventually moved to a smaller house in town. She marveled that she’d never even seen the folks across the street, forget having been invited over for sausage and peppers and Scrabble.

My nostalgia for the old ‘hood drove me to dredge up an orange photo album Mimi made me years ago. Pictures of me through the years, posing in their clam shell driveway in the JC Penney clothes they’d bought me for back to school, showing off the stitches I’d gotten on my right eyebrow, snuggled up on a bench next to Uncle Ant drinking from one of their plastic orange-shaped cups with the built-in straws that I loved so much. (I’d kill to own one now.) And a bunch of me playing dress-up in Uncle Ant’s old Army hats and over-sized drooping uniforms. (He was a well-decorated Army man back in the day, and a devout fan of the show Hogan’s Heroes, having recorded every episode off of cable onto precisely-labeled VHS tapes.)

Anyway, I came across this Diary of a Catholic Girl photo from around when Mimi, Uncle Ant and I first started hanging out. (I’m the one in white. The one on the left in white, that is.)


I knew right away that Uncle Ant was a social force to be reckoned with. Anyone who wears sunglasses inside at church is my kind of bad ass.

Sadly, I’m bracing to miss another Mary-and-Mimi production next weekend, when Aunt Mary turns the big 9-0. They won’t be cooking for that one since Mary’s kids are hosting, but I still expect to spend some time that day feeling sorry for myself and wishing the Midwest’d finally just cave into the ocean to move the two coasts closer. (A favorite pastime of mine, despite the dear folks who I know and love in those middle parts. In my fantasy they’re all kept safe and are happily re-installed in homes along the new narrow peninsula-like strip of North America.)

We plan to be in Lil Rhody for July 4th, of course. (God sets his watch to it.) It’s my adored, most favorite, never-to-be-missed hometown holiday. And I can assure you that on that trip I’ll be setting aside some time and stomach space to party with Mimi and Aunt Mary. We’ve got some lost time to make up for.

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