Putting the Braces Back On

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Daddio, Discoveries, Eating Out, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Money, Shopping, Working World | 1 Comment »

I used to be the Patron Saint of Interns. It was, of course, a self-appointed role. But one I took quite seriously.

The thing is, at one point in my career, or rather, the making of my career, I held quite a number of internships. Positions in TV newsrooms, hippie liberal radio stations, and various magazines where I’d earn a meager stipend, or sometimes just an appreciative thump on the back.

The hope being that the inverse ratio of earnings to hard labor would have some karmic redemptive upside.

I’ve lost count now of how many of those posts I’ve held. But suffice it to say, years into real grown-up paying work, my friend Mike and I were catching up on the phone and he asked how my internship was going. Sadly, I fear he wasn’t kidding. But that did become an evergreen joke for us when, over the following years, I’d worked my way through positions of mounting managerial responsibility and in our long coast-to-coast calls he’d ask the same question.

Good times, those.

Alas, aside from dignity-robbing name tags, epic Xeroxing tasks, and occasional demeaning-to-my-education lunch runs (I won’t even get into the pervy remarks from crusty old newsmen)—aside from all that, the biggest challenge with my Intern Era life was my short supply of cash.

Well, actually, I don’t know how much it really bothered me then. I mean, I think I attached a certain nobleness (not to be confused with the richy-sounding term “nobility”) to bushwhacking my way through a poorly-paying, romantic, writerly career path. But looking back, I can’t imagine how I did it.

I mean, I always managed to eat (and drink), God knows. And much as I worked towards self-sustainability, this Daddy’s Girl has thankfully never lacked anything of true importance. That is, even when my father’s definition of importance and mine differed. For some reason, he was maniacal about never allowing a child of his to sleep on a futon, of all things. Guess it seemed all Gypsy-like and what’d-the-neighbors-say to him.

Anyway, back then apartment-establishing jaunts to Target required first off, that I borrow a car. And once there, accumulating crap was a practice in restraint. Necessities like mops and cleaners and such went head to head against fripperies like ceramic Italian-esque pasta bowls and bright striped shower curtains. Sometimes home decor, to the extent it could be humbly called that, won out over specialty toilet bowl bleaches.

Thankfully, I never contracted any illnesses from my less-than-sterile but kinda cute living conditions.

These days Target is still the soup kitchen to my soul. But I shop with heedless abandon. Bolstered by their don’t-need-the-receipt-just-your-credit-card return policy, I toss whatever shiny thing I see into the cart.

Clothing? Well, I prefer not to buy it there (for reasons of snobbery alone), but sometimes a little cotton short catches my eye. And who knows if it’s the Small or the Medium that’ll work best. Buy both. Return one later. Candles, brooms, weird flower-shaped sprinkler attachments for kids to run through on hot summer days. A hectare of Size 4 diapers. I never leave the place without mindlessly spending, well, a lot.

The thing is, somewhere between the Intern Era came, well, the hoped-for karmic career redemption patch. Widely known as the American Dream. Or more precisely, the Internet Boom. Right here in Northern California, USA. And instead of having to desperately take an ‘Intro to the Internets’ class at The Learning Annex, I’d somehow managed to retool my media career into an internet business-type kinda job before all the hoopla kicked in.

Looked up from my laptop one day to discover I’d become a cherished ladder-climbing leader at a company where 27-year-olds made Vice President, bought homes based on the momentary health of their unvested stock, and earned bonuses their hard-working parents no doubt found obscene. I traveled non-stop, managed teams in multiple cities, and spent my days telling people twice my age how to run their companies. All that, plus shrimp cocktail and top-shelf booze at Friday afternoon office Happy Hours.

Like many folks at that time, I felt pretty damn invincible.

Unsurprisingly, my spending habits changed. I could buy one of those loft condos with Corian counter tops if I wanted! Buy last-minute tickets home to RI. Go to swank dinners with friends, order beyond the dinner salad, and not dread someone’s inevitable suggestion to “split the bill evenly between us.”

But more than the stuff I could get, what struck me most—initially, at least—was the lack of worry that my new financial sitch afforded me. More than the thrill of ownership any of the crap I bought, knowing I had what I needed to comfortably take care of myself gave me a supreme sense of contentment. A deep, proud-of-myself-for-making-it-so self-sufficiency and security.

And I realized yesterday that my memory of those days, that feeling in particular, is starting to fade in my mind, alongside the Intern Era. With the Global Economic Recession lurking in the pit of everyone’s gut, and me intentionally unemployed and Living La Vida Housewife, it’s hard to remember spending freely on a credit card that someone else (someone I’m not married to, that is) pays.

Prudence seems to dictate a throttling back on spending. It’s not that a crap run to Target will have us living on the street—blessedly. It’s just that, well, used to be we had two jobs and no kids. Now we’ve got one for the four of us. I’m no math expert, but that nets out to less all around.

So I get it right? I’m able to intellectually understand all this. It’s just I’m not certain how to get there. Regroup with that little voice in my head that used to say, “You can’t afford this.”

I mean, it seems obvious, right? Just spend less. But I’m deadline driven, motivated by fear, and perform best under pressure. I know that I should ratchet back, but I’m not feeling a sting to do so.

And Mark, poor dear. His concerns in this arena should be all I need to react. But I’m not getting spurned on. I’m not kicking into thrift mode with any of the novel glee or romantic challenge of it all.

And I can’t help but think that the monumental passage of the Intern Era’s to blame.

It’s like people who wore braces as teenagers, or however old you are when you do that. Elastic bands with colors or cutesie names, nightmares about corn on the cob, fears that getting inextricably locked with a co-braces-wearer during a make-out sesh might not just be urban legend.

I, thankfully, never had them. But I have to believe that once you get your braces taken off, you put all that gnarly, miserable, clingy-food-bits trauma behind you. Close that door and MOVE ON. You just get out there and enjoy your new straight teeth life, and revel in the knowledge that you’ll never be able to fry an ant with the glare off your teeth again.

That is, until as an adult you discover that your teeth have somehow moved. Shifted when you weren’t paying them any attention. And now you need to get braces AGAIN.

Which, is kinda where I feel like I am today. Perfectly straight teeth, thankyouverymuch. But having, despite myself, to go back to that uncomfortable place of restrained spending, at Tar-jay and beyond.

Well, that, or get a job. A job, or maybe a high-class internship.

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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.


The Give and the Get

Posted: June 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Housewife Fashion Tips, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Mom, Shopping | 1 Comment »

One of the things Kate gave me for Mother’s Day this year was a large pack of multicolored plastic beads and some stringing thread. Beads exactly like the ones she’d used in a project at school a few weeks earlier, but clearly hadn’t gotten her fill of.

It was one of those gifts like lingerie from a boyfriend. Not intended for the recipient at all.

Alas, at Kate’s age, I’m willing to forgive the misdirected sentiment. As long as I don’t get doll house furniture for Christmas.

This year for my birthday (which regretfully fell on Mother’s Day), I also received the BEST PRESENT EVER. My from-womb-to-tomb friend Amelia sent it. Just to make me love her even more.

Some expectation setting. This gift ain’t for everyone. But it’s silly it’s so perfect for me. Which is what makes it such a home run, right?

Okay, so this perfect pressie was a pair of flip flops that have Velcro over the strap part. And, like the Pappagallo bag that was the fashion peak experience of my tweendom, there are all different colored and patterned straps you can buy to stick on them. For me, Amelia generously got me tan stripey Burberry-esque ones, some black ones with white polka dots, a red and orange kinda floral pattern, and, as an obvious nod to my early days of over-achieving preppydom, (which Amelia won’t let me forget, and why should she), some with pink lobsters.

I know, I know. Wrenching Velcro straps off your flip flops to change out the look is absurdly hokey. But as a stay at home mother, I’m the Imelda Marcos of flip flops. I mean, in a strange reverse of dorm living, the only time I’m not wearing flip flops is when I’m showering. Oh, well and sleeping of course too. At least, as far as you know.

A couple months ago I saw UGG flip flops at Nordstrom. They had furry soles, and a plain rubbery strap. My brain was churning madly to process them and determine whether it was brilliance or blasphemy. And really, it’s only in the Bay Area that it could ever be warm enough for flip flops and concurrently chilly enough for faux fur. But I seem to remember there being something dumb or ugly looking about the straps. I mean, aside from how blisteringly absurd and cavewoman-like the overall look of the shoes were.

Anyway, I didn’t try them on. If I had, I might be wearing them right now, and lamenting that they don’t make a high-heeled version for the party I’m going to tonight.

At any rate, my fabulous Amelia-given mood flip flops delighted me from the moment I spotted the package on my front porch. The only downfall of their coming into my life being that, when I opened them, my impassioned exclamation “These are the best. Present. Ever.” appeared to hurt Mark’s feelings.

Mark has, it’s true, given me some divine gifts. One Christmas at my dad’s, I tried on a jacket from Mark I’d long coveted and spun around the living room, happily modeling it over my PJs. What I failed to do before slipping it off, was put my hands in the pockets. Where a blue Tiffany box was waiting, housing a stunning ring. (We were married at the time, in case this comes off as some weird in-the-presence-of-my-father engagement scenario.)

I was thrilled with my gift, but it was my father who shook his head for days marveling over Mark’s clever romanticism. It’d seemed impossible for Dad to like my hubbie more that he already had, but that move sent Mark into the stratosphere of adored sons-in-law.

Ah well. I only wish poor Mark was able to experience a level of gift recipiency (how’s that for a word?) akin to mine. I mean, you never think you’re a bad driver, right? But God knows they’re all over the roads (so some of you people must be). And, well, you never think you’re bad at buying presents, but recently I feel like, despite myself, I’m being led to that conclusion.

For Mark’s birthday in November, I got him a bunch of different things, big and small. Some from me, some from the girls. One thing I’d seen in the back of a magazine—I know, I know, this should have been my cue to retreat—was a, God this is so embarrassing to even say, well, a t-shirt that said Dunder Mifflin. You know, the name of the paper company they work for in the show The Office. Mark loves that show. Mark often wears t-shirts on the weekends. I thought, this is funny! This is good! He will like this!

But then, a few months passed by, and one night I realized he’d never worn it. And it hit me. “That shirt,” I said to him, amazed it’d taken so long for me to figure it out. “It’s utterly dorky, right? I mean, you’re pretty much embarrassed to ever wear it. I’m right, aren’t I? Am I right?”

His two second pause and slow, “Well, no….” said it all.

I was howling with laughter. Literally slapping my thighs, amused and amazed that I’d somehow totally missed its immense dorkosity.(Though, a few weeks ago, a good six months after his birthday, when he’d splattered something on the shirt he was wearing and we were safely home for the night, Mark did, charitably, toss it on.)

What else? For our first Valentine’s Day, less than two months into our love thing, Mark got me a hope-it’s-not-too-much-this-early-on watch. (I loved it. It wasn’t at all too much.) Me? I bought him a silver cigar cutter. Is he a cigar smoker? Why, no! What then compelled me to purchase this gift? I’ve got no idea. He’s literally used it ONCE.

Then there’s the tragic Wine Spectator subscription that keeps coming and coming. Piling up on our coffee table. Sitting around in its large-formatted glory. Taunting me that Mark (or I) never manage to read more than the cover lines. (And “Great Reds Under $20″ seems like the kind of thing you’d want to know about too, right?)

I can rattle off other bombs of gifts I’ve given Mark. I’ve also struck out grandiosely on gifts for my dad. Tartan vests, genealogy tracking software, phone headsets for home use. The list goes on.

Along the way I must have done some good work, but I’ve watched enough Law & Order and CSI to know that you need to stand back and look at the evidence unemotionally. Let it speak for itself. And these things, well, they clearly indicate I don’t have much of a gift for, well, giving gifts.

But I’m a die-hard optimist. And egomaniac. I refuse to feel that all hope’s lost.

Maybe I’m better at buying gifts for females? Maybe I subconsciously give some good gifts and some bad ones, to underscore the goodness of the keepers?

And maybe with some luck I can alter fate. There may be some adult ed class out there where I can sharpen my gift-giving skills. I mean, if grown men and women can learn to flirt in classroom settings, there must be hope for me.

If not, for our wedding anniversary this summer, I can always enlist Kate to help me shop for Mark. I think a pink Hello Kitty change purse may just turn the tide on my poor track record. Besides, it’d look real nice with his gray Dunder Mifflin shirt.

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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?


Paige’s Plastic Doppelganger

Posted: May 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bargains, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Shopping | 2 Comments »

Kate’s bed is by far the most comfortable one in the house. But when I dove into it last week for our afternoon reading and snuggle sesh, I landed on an uncomfortable lump of hard plastic. Turns out it was the doll we’d bought at a yard sale last summer, that bore a terrifyingly strong resemblance to our own Miss Paige.

And, although I’d written about Paigey’s plastic twin back then, I realized I never posted a picture of the two of them.


The photo was taken by exquisite photographer and our dear friend Mary McHenry. Who, by the way, you should call immediately to schedule a shoot of your own family. As should I really, since nine months have passed since this picture was taken, and darling Paige with her fresh crop of sassy curls looks nothing like this doll any more. She’s even MORE delicious.

And God knows yard sale season is back in full swing. (Joy!) So it’s only a matter of time until Kate (my Saturday morning scavenging cohort) and I stumble across another previously-loved doll or toy whose likeness to Paige will cause us to recoil in horror.

When that happens, I’ll try to be more timely about posting a picture.


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.


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.


Let Loose the Princess Fury

Posted: January 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Food, Miss Kate, Shopping, Sisters | 2 Comments »

Thursday afternoon I got a babysitter for no reason other than the psychological thrill of three hours of Me Time. Sometimes looking forward to it or just knowing it’s approaching supplies more of a feel-good shock therapy jolt to my psyche than the actual kid-free time itself.  

So, mere minutes before the nanny arrived, I decided I’d set off for San Francisco for some thrift shopping. There’s something so stupid about paying $20 an hour to pick through two-dollar-ninety-nine-cent clothing alongside hipsters and the homeless that I just couldn’t resist.

Besides, Thrift Town is where I’m closest to God. Or rather, the place where in the acquisition of bargains I feel a rush that’s akin to religious fervor.  

My sisters call another Mission bastion, Community Thrift, “church.” I’ve never asked if it’s due to the reverence that they have for it, or that it’s a must on Sundays, when folks unload all their didn’t-sell yard sale items and the place brims with all manner of fresh crap. In the same way Kitchen Confidential taught us not to get fish on Tuesdays at restaurants, Ellen and Judy can direct you to the right crap store on the right day to give you the best shot of unearthing what it is you’re hankerin’ for.

It’s a gift, really.

At any rate, the religious metaphors also show you the effect that a childhood of being pulled by our ears to church every Sunday had on my sisters and I (i.e. we’re quick to reference but not participate in church activities). And it underscores the extent to which we Brunos exalt a good bargain.

So, childless and fancy-free I pushed open the doors to big grungy sweetly-stinky Thrift Town feeling the anticipatory titillation that comes with not knowing what dazzling finds await. And the first thing I see in the shelves of random crap along the entryway wall is a box covered over with Saran Wrap and housing–unused!–all the brightly colored plastic Snow White-branded crap a little girl could ever wish for (or break within moments of adoring ownership). It was $3.99.

Now I’m hardly a super crunchy Waldorf School Mama, but I have discouraged childhood TV-watchin’ nearly in its entirety. I despise kid crap that’s branded with licensed characters, prefer wooden toys to plastic, and have steered Kate clear of anything princess-related as if it were, uh, the Ebola Virus.

But I know not every mother is as fetishistic about avoiding these things as I am. And since my desire to home school the girls in order to maintain their commercial purity is as strong as my desire to pluck each of my not-exactly-lacking Italian-American leg hairs, I’m realistic about the fact that they’ll be exposed to it eventually.

To introduce it myself though just seems like a slippery slope. One viewing of SpongeBob SquarePants leads to excessive begging for crap at Target, and next thing you know she’s using intravenous drugs.

Maybe it was the feel-good high from my break from ass- and nose-wiping, or the alcohol hit I got off the breath of the bum next to me, but I picked up the thing and decided on the spot, what the heck. I’ll buy a little princess crap for Miss Kate.

The thing is, I’m a survivor of a sugar-free childhood. Well, nearly sugar free. There are naturally occurring sugars in fruit, right?

A bottle of soda rarely darkened our door, and sugary cereals were disparaged like the devil’s own drug. But, like me, my mother’s desire to shield me from the things she disliked only went so far. Which is to say, she let me out of the house. So, when visiting friends I perved out over the presence of forbidden foods.

Me: “You have Pop Tarts?! Aren’t you afraid your mother’ll see them in that cupboard?”

My friend: “What do you mean? My mom bought those for me.”

At which point my head exploded.

So, looking through the re-packaged plastic on this treasure trove of princess crap, I made my peace with the thought that maybe this petite offering might be enough to satisfy Kate’s burgeoning princess curiosity for now. Or at least safeguard her from short-circuiting (and ultimately stealing) the next faux-fur Cinderella dress-up cape she comes across at a friend’s house.

Plus, it’s kind of funny watching her teeter around the house on those oh-so-wholesome red plastic mini-heels.

And best of all, it was a great bargain.