25 November 2015

I Came From a Dry Creek Bed

my beloved creek, captured on a
rainy spring day in 2012
My sister and her family recently bought a house.  They moved in this past weekend, just in time for Thanksgiving 2015.  It must be a thing our family does: exactly forty years ago, my family moved at this same time of year from San Francisco to Sonoma.  We enjoyed our first "country" Thanksgiving -- pizza -- on paper plates, sitting on the dining room floor in our new-to-us (but built in 1918) home.

My sister's move prompted me to tell my kids about that Thanksgiving in 1975 and about moving when I was seven.  My daughter asked me if the new house was a lot nicer than the one we left behind in Bernal Heights.  No, I told her.  I loved our SF house, as much as I loved this new one. I loved the way our old house was actually two of those classic San Francisco houses, smashed up next to each other.  Ours was connected on the inside, with our bedrooms and living areas on one side, and my dad's pottery studio on the other.  I loved that we lived right across the street from Paul Revere School, and I loved the community mural on the street side of the school wall, where my dad had painted my brother and sister and me.  I loved that our house was perched on top of a great big hill.  I loved my bedroom and our kitchen.

I loved the new house too: it's old fashioned style was perfect for my Laura Ingalls-leaning imagination.  I really loved the attic room I would share with my sister for the next decade.  Both houses were wonderful.  But the SF house just couldn't compete with the single greatest thing that ever happened to my childhood: Nathanson Creek.  For a day-dreamy, reader of a girl like me, whose imaginary friends were far more plentiful than real life ones, there could be nothing better than moving in right next door to a creek, one that ran full and fast in the winter and dried out completely in the summer, providing the most amazing set for my elaborate and long-running imaginary dramas.  In the Spring, when enough rocks and "shoreline" emerged that I could play next to running water, I pretended to go fishing for my meals.  In the summer, I jumped from mossy rock to mossy rock, climbed under the bridge at the front of our property, conjured long drawn out stories that were part pioneer girl and part romance.

Our yard was also amazing.  To my fanciful imaginings, I could add feasts of blackberries, apples and plums.  Cherries, if the birds didn't beat me to them.  Figs and kumquats.  Persimmons in November.  Mind you, if I were given a chore by my parents to pick those apples and plums and whatnot, I complained like a champ, but if it happened to blend in with whatever narrative I was spinning at the time, then I could work for hours.

The entire property was magical, with just enough room to get lost and feel far from home, but close enough for lunch or dinner to be moments away.  When my parents put a small vineyard in the back forty, they provided me with yet another landscape for my silly and serious adventures.  Growing up on that land gave me many, many gifts that I didn't know I'd cherish until years later: the sound of gravel crunching under foot; the feel of hot, dirty, sweaty skin after playing outside all day; the sting of blackberry brambles scratching my skin.

But what I remember most about that creek -- the place I think I truly come from -- is the smell of a hot, dry summer day, down in the rocks.  It smelled like dirt and leaves, and utter freedom.  Today, that smell makes me feel like time has stopped, like there is all the time in the world for dreaming up stories and acting them out.  Like there are no burdens or demands on my time.  No place to be but there in the brambles and rocks and dry grasses of Sonoma.

Did you know that nostalgia causes actual physical pain?  Or is that just me?

Still, that pang, that stab of sweetness, is how I know that I come from Sonoma's Nathanson Creek.

I wonder where my children will say they come from, forty years from now when they look back on their childhood, a much more urban one than my own.  It feels like a loss to me, that they haven't grown up next to a creek.  I hope there is a good smell or a good memory that takes them back and makes them feel, in their very bones, who they are.  I have no idea what that might be, but I hope they feel that pang and then tell my grandchildren all about it.    

11 September 2015

Cupcake Dreams, Redux

In honor of this child's 9th birthday, I am reposting this gem, which, I must confess, I never tire of listening to.  Don't think I ever will.

* * *  

I want to be a kid again.  I want to tell stories the way my youngest daughter does.  I want to dream about cupcakes.  And I really, really want a Dream Teller of my very own.

During dinner last night, Little T was devouring my homemade spaghetti sauce and making me feel like Martha Stewart, Julia Child, and Ree Drummond, all rolled into one, and she mentioned that she knew she was going to have a good dinner tonight because her Dream Teller told her so.

Come again, daughter?

Your what?

That's right.  She has a Dream Teller.  Every morning, after a night of dreaming about cupcakes and unicorns and whatever other lovelies visit her while she is sleeping, her Dream Teller tells her what her dreams mean.  Here's last night's:

Actually, I don't want to be a kid again: I want to be THIS KID.

* * *

09 September 2015

Kelly Corrigan, on illness

Kelly Corrigan has done it again: written something that resonates loudly and beautifully.

Take a moment to click through and read what she has to say about illness and what it wants from us.  She has indeed made herself useful with her words:

Thank you Kelly!

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08 September 2015

Cheapest, Best School Lunch EVER

Isn't it the greatest thing ever when you screw something up and have to settle for a really lame Plan B, only to be rewarded by a super awesome unforeseen consequence that basically makes you look brilliant?

That happened to me today! Yay!

We just came through one of the most soccer-packed, social-packed, traffic-packed, logistics-packed weekends of our lives, which is indeed saying something.  Before the weekend even started, I texted the following to my husband:

"Can you hear the circus music yet?  I CAN!"

My eldest saw that text in the car on the way home on Friday evening...he got a chuckle.

But I digress.  It's just that the weekend was so completely fricking insane that I couldn't manage to do any grocery shopping, so I had to settle for my last minute fall back: take the kids to Safeway in the morning on the way to school to get them breakfast and lunch.  But then, I was so sleep deprived, and in such a non-caffeine dither (no coffee in the house either!), that I completely forget to get off the freeway to go to Safeway.

No breakfast.  No lunch.  No plan.

My three oldest go to school in downtown Oakland, which is a lousy place for a person in search of groceries, especially at 7:45am.  So we made the very sad decision to get what we all call Gas Station Food.  We stopped at one of those food marts at a gas station and stared dismally at the selections before making some seriously depressing choices.  Off Lola went with her Cup Noodles, with a side of her mother's shame and guilt to chase it down.

That was my really lame Plan B.

But the brilliance!  The unforeseen brilliance!

When I picked her up after school, she happily announced that her buddy desperately wanted that Cup Noodles and gratefully traded her own lunch: a gourmet chicken caesar salad.  Lola was psyched.  I was relieved that she got to eat something besides a styrofoam cup full of sodium.  It was a win-win.

The best was yet to come, though.  Because then I came up with the BEST School Lunch Plan Ever, and the most Affordable.  I'm going to buy her a couple flats of those cup noodle things.  She'll be the most popular lunch trade in town, and all those other chumpy moms will buy the really good, organic, non-GMO, non-HFCS, locally sourced, locally grown, attractively packaged, liberal-heart-soothing lunches and their kids will trade with my kid.  Healthy lunch at processed food prices.


I just love that I learn something new every day, especially when it involves me being brilliant and not even knowing it.

* * *

25 August 2015

That Omelet Doesn't Threaten Me

A Tip for Mothers. Or Fathers. Or People.

This is a public service announcement.  Probably kind of a long one.  But here it goes:

At least a year ago, a mom I know told me a story about the day her teenage son made himself an omelet.  She told the story to illustrate that he is more capable than she had previously imagined.  I'll admit it: I was impressed.  My teenage sons can barely make toast.  And there she was, waxing eloquent about the vegetable chopping, and the spice using, and the whisking, and the this and the that and the competency.

I won't go so far as to say that my confidence in my children -- or in my ability to raise them to be capable adults -- plummeted just from the story of the omelet.  But I do remember thinking: "Man, I wish my kids could do that."  And I've thought about that kid every now and then over the past year or so, especially when I make frittatas for my family, which I do with some frequency, giving me occasion to ponder the big questions: Will these boys ever know how to feed themselves?  Will their palates, and imaginations, and basic attitudes toward food ever move beyond Subway being the pinnacle of gastronomic delight?

Who the hell knows?

All I can be sure of is that that kid made an omelet.  It could have gone one of several different ways.  Herewith, I suggest just two:

Scenario One: 

Kid: I'm hungry.
Mom: Why don't you make yourself an omelet?
Kid: That's a great idea!  Do we have any dill weed? Fresh basil? Feta cheese?

Scenario Two:

Kid: I'm hungry.
Mom: Why don't you make yourself an omelet?
Kid: Phhht.

Kid: I'm hungry!
Mom: Why don't you make yourself an omelet?
Kid: Ugh! Whatever!  I'm not THAT hungry.

Kid: Gaawwwwd…I'm…so…hungry…I'm gonna die…ughgrrrrraaaaaghhhhh...
Mom: Why don't you make yourself an omelet?
Kid: FINE WHATEVER FINE JEEZ FINE.  Crap.  Where the hell is the frying pan thingee?  How do I do this anyway?  Do we have a flippy tool thing?  I can't BELIEVE you are making me do this.

* * *

See, just hearing that someone did something tells you NOTHING.  There are so many ways to do something: quietly, angrily, enthusiastically, peevishly, piously, deviously, pleasantly, like a teenager…the list goes on.  Let's go back to the kitchen for a moment, shall we?

Scenario One:

Kid: Mom, do you want one?  I've got tomatoes, basil, feta, a little mozzarella if you prefer, I'm sautéing some onions first, adding a little garlic.  The kitchen smells fabulous!  Do we have any organic, whole wheat, HFCS-free bread I can toast to go with it?
Mom: Sure I'll have a small one, as long as you're offering.

Scenario Two:

Kid: (picture all of the following being said while the kid is using 10x the necessary number of dishes and utensils, dropping half the ingredients on the floor, and gyrating like a Woodstock attendee.) You mean I have to CHOP stuff?  Forget that.  Ewwwwwww: eggs are slimy and gross.  Do we have the cheese that's already shredded, cuz no way am I gonna use that flesh ripping thing you call a grater.  And by the way, we have barely enough salt: there's only like half a cup in that Morton's canister.  How do you flip this?  I can't flip this! This is fricking IMPOSSIBLE.  OH MY GOD THIS IS A MESS!  And everything's burning! UGH, NO WAY NO ONIONS.  Whatever.  This is stupid.  Why can't we just go to IHOP like normal people.
Mom: (She's actually pretty quiet.  The only thing you can hear, if you listen very hard, is barely audible weeping into a coffee cup spiked with whisky.)

* * *

The result in both scenarios: The kid makes an omelet.  Truth.

Here's the thing: that mom, the one who told me about her son making an omelet, if I were her, I am sure I would have told the story the exact same way.  The damn kid DID make an omelet, and to a mom or dad, that is MON-U-MEN-TAL.  A Scenario 2 mom gets to tell the story just like the Scenario 1 mom gets to, because in the end, it may not be pretty, but the omelet does get made, which is proof positive that someday the kid will be OK, or at least, that's what we are hoping like hell it means.

Also?  The good news, for all parents and other people out there, is that we get to narrate our own stories.  Every single one of them has a germ of truth in it.  Sing that song as loud as you want to. As soon as it starts to make someone else feel like crap, that germ of truth is dust, but until then?  GOLDEN.  Stories are meant to lift us up and show us what is possible, not prove how lame we are and how together everyone else is.  I don't begrudge my friend her omelet story, for two reasons. First, it shows me that I can tell my own stories, with their germs of truth, any way I want, and I can decide what those stories really mean.  And second, I celebrate the fact that on my good days, I can see beyond the halo cast by that story and realize the essential truth: kids grow up and learn how to make omelets and it isn't necessarily pretty along the way, but eventually, we won't have to make them frittatas.  Which reminds me of an image I saw recently:

I heard the omelet story IRL, from an actual person.  But the reverberations of it -- the fact that I think of it sometimes when I'm yet again making frittatas for 14 and 16 year olds who can't boil water -- reminds me of the scourge of Facebook and the like.  I am 100% sure that while social media is keeping us connected to family and friends near and far and making all kinds of powerful social movements possible, it is also responsible for a crap ton of anxiety and neurosis, as we find ourselves staring at screens depicting in word and picture how wonderful and well-adjusted all of our friends' families are.

So.  Here's the public service announcement:

  • No one knows the price a mother paid to get her kids to pose like that.
  • No one knows the many twists and hair pin turns, the set backs and restarts a father endured to teach his daughter to drive.
  • No one knows just how loud those kids were screaming at each other, or with what degree of vitriole, mere moments before mom snapped that Back to School photo.
  • No one knows what went down in the omelet kitchen.  All we know is that an omelet emerged at the end.

Tell your stories.  Don't let anyone else's bring you down.  See the germs of truth and let them inspire, not hen-peck, you.  The long road of raising children, of life, is not pretty, but there are fantastic views along the way and we get to frame the photos.

It doesn't hurt that just recently, the omelet maker got in trouble with his coach for coming to soccer practice high.

Nope.  Doesn't hurt at all.

* * *

15 August 2015

A Back To School Tip From an Expert

With five kids in the house, back to school shopping is a gargantuan undertaking.  (Bet that's the sole reason the Duggar's homeschool: phooey on that conservative Christian ideology -- she just doesn't want to weigh the pros and cons of glue stick packs.)

But also with five kids in the house, I have some folks for whom this is not their first rodeo, and they are full of helpful hints.  I thought I'd share this critically important one with you, my dear readers, if in fact, I have any readers left.

My 10 year old took a look at her school's 6th grade supply list and immediately noticed something was missing:

"Mom.  You have to get me hand sanitizer.  It's always a good idea to have hand sanitizer in your desk.  That way, when the kid sitting next to you picks his nose and uses your pencil, you can use it on both your hands AND the pencil.

I learned that one the hard way."

OK, back-to-school shoppers around the land! Benefit from my child's lesson learned: put "hanitzer" on the list.

Share your back to school survival tips in the comments!

* * *

16 June 2015

Broken Down Basket

Today's post is courtesy of Literary Mama, who posted the following prompt on their Facebook page this morning:

Free write about something that is special to you and no one else.

Funny that as I was showering and dressing and getting my coffee, as I mulled over what I might write about, the prompt changed in my mind to: write about something you and only you care about.

So naturally, I thought of my laundry room floor.  Nowhere else am I more apt to be found muttering: "No one cares.  No one cares.  Only me.  I'm the ONLY person who cares about this floor!"

At certain points along the tidal wave, I'm not so much muttering as I am growling at the nearest child, or ranting at the nearest teenager, or silently, violently, grabbing clothes and towels and socks and sheets from the floor and jamming them into "clean" baskets.  Clearly: no one cares about the laundry room floor except for me.

Coffee in hand, I sit to write.  I look at the prompt again.  It's not what I thought.  It doesn't go with the post I've been composing in my head.  The laundry room floor is most definitely not special to me.  I may, in fact, be the only person on the planet who cares if the dirty and clean clothes are mixing in scandalous ways on that floor.  I may, in fact, be the only person who tries to maintain some semblance of order and clarity and water conservation down there.  But special?  Nope.

So what is special to me and to no one else?

This is harder than I thought it would be.  Everything that is special to me is special in relationship to someone else.  The crest in the road on Highway 121 overlooking vineyards and hills of mustard in Springtime, that looks like a postcard and reminds me of dear friend Ann every time I drive over it?  Also special to Ann.  The hook and eye lock on the bathroom door in my childhood home, installed on my wedding day by my tuxedo-clad father?  Also special to Rick.  The small embroidered handbag my mother brought to me from a decades-ago trip to Russia?  Also special to me mum.  

But then, there on the laundry room floor of all places, I find it, a thing that is special to me, and to no one else.  There, crushed under the weight of discarded soccer jerseys, tossed jackets, and maybe-clean-maybe-not towels, is a lovely, broken down wicker basket.  The once-sturdy woven handle, that used to arch proudly over the top, is bent and bowed under the weight of the jackets and towels and everything else my family has thrown on top of it.  The colorful wicker pattern is faded on one side from too much time left in the garden sun -- not by me but by a child using my special basket for some kind of imaginary wild play.  It is all but forgotten, relegated now to the laundry room floor.

But once, I drove north, along the incomparable Pacific Coast Highway, alone and exploring and thrilled to be both.  I was single, well-employed, slender, confident.  Happy.

I stopped at Point Reyes, enjoying the sun and the freedom I felt at going wherever I wanted without task or timeline.  At one of the tourist traps, filled with funky handcrafts and magnets and mugs,  I spied a lovely, wide and frivolous basket.  It made me inexplicably happy, and I bought it.  I brought it home, and it has made me smile for years and years.  It is special to me because it is the only thing I have ever bought simply and only because I loved it.

Like almost everything else that has been special to me -- necklaces, earrings, skirts, pictures, candles, paintings -- it has been destroyed by time and family life.  I can't keep anything nice and am nearly resigned to never having anything remain intact, at least not until the kids grow up and get the heck out.

But just the other day, in my rush through the laundry room searching for socks and underwear, I felt a fleeting thought go by, almost obliterated by the push and pull of family life, lost forever but for this writing prompt: I will buy myself another basket someday.  I will drive out some country road, alone, long-married, happy, content, and I will spy another lovely thing.  I will buy it because I love it, and I will bring it home, and it will make me smile for years and years.

In the meantime, I will sometimes smile, sometimes scream at my laundry room floor.

* * *