twister

The pancake house has a twister now. That’s not a euphemism either, and I’m shocked that two posts in a row have been inspired and kicked off by this pancake house. On top of the bacon they cook directly into the pancakes, they now have a twister – or for the civilians out there – a balloon animal maker. I know a guy, who knows a guy who knows a twister, in case you were wondering how I’m privy to the lingo.

We walked in to the restaurant giddy with anticipation and I spotted a giant balloon sword, larger than the proud sword bearer who was struggling under the sheer size, and not the weight I suppose. There were balloons everywhere and though I knew what this probably meant, I held out the hope that it was one of those 8:00 in the morning pancake house kid’s birthday parties that if not en vogue today, might be tomorrow.

Zach put eyes on her first. We followed the host to the table and tried to order juice and so so much coffee over Zach’s suddenly loud and animated “There’s a balloon lady! There’s a balloon lady! There’s a balloon lady!”

I don’t mind the balloon lady. She looked like a very nice person. But nobody can relax at a meal when there’s a balloon lady. Or a balloon dude. Until you make direct eye contact with them, they are the elusive twister. (Unless of course, you don’t want a balloon, in which case they’re the ever-present twister) In the pancake house, there were a lot of kids watching the twister’s every twist, every stretch, every limp and lifeless balloon in her apron come to life at her skilled hands.

You could see the wheels turning in the kids’ heads, trying to count how many other kids are between the twister and their table. And also weighing their options. I like monkeys, but I got a monkey last time. Do you think she knows “dolphin?” What is that she’s doing now? Is that an octopus? That’s an octopus. That’s awesome. “Look, look, look at the octopus.

The wheels in my head were turning too, and were laced with inner turmoil, as they always are when balloons are involved. This thing’s going to pop and someone’s going to cry. It will probably float away, or cause a fight when Jake undoubtedy touches it.  Seriously, when is the balloon lady gonna get here? Oh no, there are four kids at that table, and that last octopus took like 8 minutes. We’ve just ordered. She’s never gonna get here. “Excuse me miss, my son’s very anxious about the balloon, I mean, I’m not – I’m like whatever – but my son would really like a balloon, would you let the balloon lady know that we’d love to see her?”

Sure there was another table of kids between us and the twister, but in all fairness, they hadn’t ordered, and our handwhipped butter had arrived. We were up against the clock.

One more octopus later, and much to the dismay of the table of girls who were sure they were next, the twister arrived. “I twist for tips” was her greeting. We nodded and asked if she knew “dolphin.”

“No, but I can do flying fish. I twist for tips, I’m not paid by the restaurant.”

“Right, got it. We’ll take the flying fish.” The girls at the other table were turned around in their booth eyeing the fish. I avoided eye contact with the mother who I can assume was giving me a stink eye and timing how long the flying fish was taking.

When the flying fish was finished, it had eyeballs and a fishing pole that was bigger than Zach. It had kissy lips, and I swear, facial expression. We provided the tip (she twists for tips) and got her card. She also does temporary air brush body art and bubbles.

Our food had arrived, and when I wasn’t pouring syrup or cutting pancakes, I was managing the fish, keeping it out of our breakfasts, stopping Zach from sitting on it, and trying to keep it from dangling over the heads of the balloonless girls in the next booth.

When it was mercifully time to go, I grabbed the box of ham that I hadn’t had time to finish, and we began the slow walk through the dining room. We were lead by Zach who, like a royal, gave the diners ample time to ooh and aahhh over he and his fish. When he was satisfied with his grand exit, he went tearing down the sidewalk, the fish flying behind him like a kite. “Stop!” I screeched, “Watch where you’re going! The parking lot is right there.” I turned to Jake who was shaking his head. “That thing is not going to make it to the car.”

Zach turned on a dime to follow the sidewalk toward our car. His balloon banged into the building, and I sighed with relief as it bounced back. He stopped briefly to peek into a can full of cigarette butts perched at the kitchen door. “Zach be careful – don’t swing that thing or it’s going to – “

Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

There on the sidewalk by the cigarette butt can lay the balloon eyeballs, relatively unscathed. Zach stood in shock, staring at the eyeballs with a few surviving balloons hanging shapelessly from the pole. There were tears. We carried the parts to the car, and as Jake consoled his little brother, I tried to twist the remains into something recognizable. The lips were gone, as were the fins. I handed the new arrangement to Zachary who stopped sniffling. He and Jacob had moved on to discussing things that stink.

don’t call that vintage: grub

There’s a new pancake house in town.

That’s not a euphemism; there really is a new pancake house in town. And it’s kinda glorious. They put bacon in the pancakes…..yes, IN the pancakes. The waitstaff talks about the hand-whippedness of the butter with such passion that you think back with disdain about every stupid meal you’ve ever had that did not come with this butter.

Jake went there with my parents, and they hung his drawing of a leprechaun eating pancakes in the front window, creating three fans for life. A mere two days later, the rest of us were back to visit the drawing, and to procure more hand-whipped butter.

Now we have a tough choice at breakfast, as the new shiny place is down the street from one of this town’s famed institutions of culinary indulgence. For being an institution, I find it curious that nobody really knows the name of it, because when it’s spoken about in hushed whispers, everybody calls it something different. The source of the confusion would the multiple signs out front – one says “The Chef Burger” and the other says “Giant Chef.” I’ve also had the experience of raving about it to more than one somebody, and they cock their heads in bewilderment, until a look of realization comes over their faces and they say, “ooooh, you mean The Burger Chef.” At our house, it’s known as Giant Chef, of course, because that is the most fun to say and to visualize. Frankly you could call it “Stinky’s” and I would eat there.

A friend at work clued me in to it. I think I said “biscuits and gravy,” which if you’re around me enough, you will inevitably hear me mumble. Apparently, it was the secret password. The way I like to remember the transaction is that she looked around stealthily then leaned in to whisper the location before disappearing back into the cover of night. Or the office. Whatever.

The waitresses have worked there only forever, and your coffee cup never even gets down to half full. The biscuits & gravy are a steal (comes in handy at a cash-only joint) and they taste exactly as they should, only better. If you know biscuits & gravy – then you know exactly what the biscuits should be like, and you know exactly what the gravy should be like. Well – these are like that. And if you aren’t intimately familiar with biscuits & gravy, then I would recommend the corned beef hash, and then after that, I don’t know what to tell you. There’s always the donut place across the street that’s nestled in between the Army and Navy recruiting centers. And the friend who slipped me the intel on this place? Well, I’ve seen her there about a dozen times, and one of us usually has a ballcap on. Zach always spots her and announces her presence, much to her delight, I’m sure.

My kids are breakfast kids and have easily embraced diner culture– I’ll say it – they’re naturals. They chat up the waitstaff, use their manners and compliment the food. They’ll pay together at the register, usually in their dirty and dusty sports uniforms, and talk about baseball with the regulars at the counter. And when they are offered a free lollipop even though the sign says $.25, they say “thank you,” look over their shoulder at us and you can practically hear the little cartoon tooth twinkle thing happen.

In high school, I would drive 20 miles for good pancakes. It may have been IHOP, but it was worth it because they had German Pancakes which were really crepes with butter, powdered sugar and lemon. Sophisticated, right? I was savvy enough to know this was a dish I would not likely learn to make anytime soon. As a friend recently reminded me, we wrote a hard-hitting article about these pancakes in the high school newspaper.

Before you start worrying about my cholesterol, I want you to know that I’m an equal opportunity breakfast lover. I don’t just partake in greasy spoon diner culture, but the brunch culture too. Yeah, I like berries and compotes, and stuff made with buckwheat. I think I’ve said “lox is my middle name” and the closest I’ve gotten to a scuffle was with the girl who cut in front of me in the hour long wait for brunch in the West Portal District of San Francisco (My brunch rival, as John called her). As a kid, I would lazily lay in the backseat of my parents gigantic Chrysler, one knobby knee crossed over the other and imagine the day I would eat brunch in San Francisco, looking at the bay and listening to Christopher Cross, and maybe drinking Riuniti on ice, whatever that was. That, I decided would be my benchmark of adulthood…when I know I’d finally made it into the utmost realm of sophistication.

I recounted this childhood dream to John early in our relationship, and he has since caught me many a time affirming my adulthood and ascendance into the utmost realm of sophistication, when a) I’m eating brunch and looking out the window or B) I’m listening to Christopher Cross, which happens more than one might guess. Now if only I could get my hands on some Riuniti.

*Up there is a photo of the one, the only, Giant chef. Over there is the pancake picture by the renowned breakfast artist, Jacob. (One of his oil pencil drawings of my morning coffee hangs in our kitchen.)

This likely wraps up my vintage series. I have a couple of other vintage topics I want to get out there, but they just haven’t come to fruition. Watch out, I may use them to pay homage to this series that pays homage to vintage stuff that we love. Blows your mind, right?

don’t call that vintage: ‘dos and wheels

We took the boys in for haircuts the other day. Zach climbed up into the chair shaped like a race car and asked confidently for the “Buster Posey,” while Jake’s stylist and I stood over his impressive noggin of thick hair, pawing at it. She said “texturize” a few times and I nodded solemnly. We swept it over his eyes this way and that, and I gave the international signal for “No ‘Dumb and Dumber’ bangs please.” She looked horrified that I would even suggest such a thing would be possible on her watch. But you have to ask – you have to get it out on record that there are to be no straight across bowl cut bangs. We’ve been burned by that before.

That very morning the boys had been running about the baseball fields as the parents sat in the stands lamenting the states of each of our kid’s hair. Everybody’s was long and flopping into their eyes. And now thanks to baseball season, they were having to try to contain their locks under their hats, where we could also count on the bonus of all that sweat. The older boys are of course now responsible for the washing and the rinsing of the hair, which only makes me wonder how many layers of sweat we’re talking about, really.

Courtney the stylist whirled around Jacob like a blonde satellite – her brow furrowed and those funny scissors with all the teethy things snipping away in a blinding blur.  She circled him a dozen more times after she stopped snipping to swoosh the hair around again with her fingers. When she was finally satisfied with the swooshiness I suppose, she swung his chair around so I could see the results. “I love it,” I said loudly and matter-of-factly.  John leaned over to me and asked if there had actually been any hairs cut. It was my turn to roll my eyes. “It’s the style,” I said with the indignant emphasis of a teenage girl whose own style was being questioned, as I walked over to join them and swoosh it around too. Courtney, at my side, hands on her hips, chimed in. “It is….it is the style.” John shrugged and looked out the window to the parking lot, now painfully aware he was sitting in a room not only full of women who took pride in staying current with 10-year-old boys’ hairstyles, but also little boys who were too wrapped up in “Scooby Doo” to be of any help to him.

Jake grabbed his banana split lollipop out of the basket and took his spot next to us on the bench while we waited for Zach’s 1977 Luke Skywalker fluffy mane (his second go-round with this) to be shorn into the Buster Posey. The lollipop was still in Jake’s mouth, when in all seriousness he asked, “can we go to the mall?” John and I looked at each other, and busted out laughing like a couple of tired and predictable sitcom parents.

“What? What’ so funny?” Jake asked, still swirling the lollipop.

There was our little boy, with his styled hair, dirty baseball uniform, Kojak lollipop asking us to go to the mall, in his voice that seemed deeper than it was yesterday.

“Nothing,” was all we could say as we regained our composure. There was no way that he would be able to see himself as we saw him in that moment. Like he was going to ask for a 10-spot and the keys to the ’81 Camaro.

He comes by it naturally I suppose – I’m not making up the part about the ’81 Camaro. His father and I have logged many an hour driving around in an ’81 Camaro. John’s family bought it new back in the day, and he recalls with a gleam in his eye the day they got the call it had arrived. He was pulled out of school, and they headed off to the nearby metropolis of Twin Falls, Idaho to pick it up. I like to picture John in the teensy backseat with the silver interior, beneath the t-tops, with his own crooked haircut and big brown eyes. I also like to imagine him sticking his tongue out at the other kids as his family drove triumphantly through the streets of his very small and gossipy hometown.

John ended up bringing the Camaro, silver interior, t-tops and all, to college in LA where he fielded purchase offers nearly every time we stopped to get gas. He tried to teach me how to drive its manual transmission, but that was a short-lived and failed endeavor. I would instead be in charge of switching out the Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins CDs in the Discman. Still a very important job.

When we got married and moved to San Francisco, we knew the Camaro would not match with our new urbane lifestyle, so it went back to Idaho where it was quite literally put out to pasture. Whenever we go up for a visit, John takes a few minutes alone to trudge out to the field where the Camaro now sits. One year, he glumly reported that wasps had taken up residence under the hood.

Jake points out with excitement new Camaros every time he sees one. (I’m still waiting for the comeback of my childhood car – the Chrysler Cordoba. It’s imminent, I’m certain.) Then the guys get kinda quiet, with what I’m guessing are the wistful thoughts of the wasp hive with t-tops sitting in the field, and their not-so-secret dream of resurrecting it one day. One of them, after all, does have the hair for it.

That’s a high school John and the family Camaro, circa 1991

don’t call that vintage: threads

My mom showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago with an armful of hangers. “I brought you some of your clothes,” she said.

“Wait, what? What clothes?”

“Your clothes. From your closet at the house. They are all clean, and in good shape. Do what you want with them.”

And there in her arms were tops that I instantly recognized as yes, my own…my own, from middle school and high school. I held up each piece up for inspection with a suspicious eye.  I totally appreciate vintage clothes. I’ve saved some of my mom’s handbags and skirts from her Betty Draper days; well-made, beautifully cut classic wool skirts…now lovingly stored for the day that I shrink to the size of a Betty Draper smurf, so that I can actually fit into them.  (Note to self: Food was just healthier back then. It’s today’s additives. It’s advertising. It’s the economy. It’s your crazy schedule! It has nothing to do with how much you love cheeseburgers!) What I was looking at now, my friends, was not vintage.

The turtleneck tank top had arm holes that most certainly would have reached my waist band. My arms in high school were like matchsticks. How did I get away with this? Wait, it must be a headhole. No? Definitely an armhole? Oooooh, I forgot about the second tank top underneath. That must have looked fantastic. I stared at it. “I can’t wear this one mom.”

“Sure, you can,” she said matter-of-factly. “Wear it under a blouse. You know, like a dickie.”

“OK,” is really the only thing you can say to that without sounding like a jerk.

Aaaah…the teal button down, dare I say, “blouse;” also square, also cropped, but with a sophisticated hint of acid wash. I remember popping the collar on that bad boy to show off my asymmetrical bob (with perm), polishing the look with some high waisted, white, peg leg pants. I was trying to remember what shoes I wore with this while Zach lay across my bed on his tummy, legs kicking up in the air, chin in his hands, carefully surveying the situation. “That shirt looks like Spongebob Squarepants.” I nodded my head in agreement and put the Spongebob Squarepants shirt into the very special pile with the dickie.

I held up the short sleeve pink cardigan and it formed a perfect rectangle. I peeked at the tag. Hold the phone! Benetton! Scoring something from Benetton was a real coup in middle school. My mind was reeling with possibility – I could belt it, or wear it with some skinny jeans and flats (I say that about EVERYTHING). When someone would undoubtedly ask who the designer was, I could say “vintage Benetton” like they do on the red carpet…you know, vintage Chanel, vintage Halston…it would be exactly like that. I set about unbuttoning it, getting it off the hanger, mumbling to myself, “I’ll just take a sec and try this on, lemme get my arms through the holes, button this up…there we go…I can make this work, let me just take a look here   – wait, no, nevermind… I cannot. I cannot make this work.” I cannot wear a square tummy revealing pink cardigan with giant buttons, even if it is Benetton.

It’s not like it was Esprit. As a kid, and through certain parts of adulthood, I would wear anything Esprit. I’ve never since had such fierce brand loyalty. My parents would take me on pilgrimmage to the San Francisco outlet. I’d save every tag, and catalog each piece in an Esprit notebook. And this felt like a totally normal and appropriate thing to do as a brand loyalist. Last year, as John and I were strolling through New York, my heart leapt when we spotted…an Esprit store. I didn’t know any existed. I raced in, and though it didn’t smell the same as it did when I was a kid, I had the same sense of euphoria.  Before escaping to the Sony store to try out a 3-D TV, John looked around. “They know who their audience is,” he noted, “They are are marketing it directly to you.” He was right. I was surrounded by women who looked exactly my age, and who I’m guessing were crazy for the sutff in 1986. They probably cataloged their stuff in an Esprit notebook too, also in a totally not-weird way. I bought a pair of pants that day, which as it turns out, are the best pants in the world.

As for the little slouchy black cotton jacket with distressed metal snaps that my mom delivered with the other stuff? That, I may have tucked quickly and quietly into my closet.

The photos at the top are of my very styley and tiny mom. The b&w photo is circa 1958. The ones with the baby (my brother) are circa 1963. Down here, that’s me as a kid. I was really into “outfits”. I thought I was pretty hot stuff….I’m pretty sure it’s 1986, maybe 87.  If you look closely, you can see my first Swatch.

opening day

The morning sky was still dark, and Zach stood at the foot of my bed, dressed in his crisp new baseball pants, shirt, socks, and hat… staring at me. With one eye open, and still as under-the-covers as I could get away with, I leaned out to thread his belt through the loops. I sent him merrily back to his room to give me five more minutes of quiet before we’d have to start racing through the house, collecting every camera we have, and hoisting the boys into the car, all so we could make it to the parade staging area for the pre-dawn (not really) call time.  

Though still reeling from the heartbreaking news from across the globe, and like many a U.S. city this weekend, our town continued on with baseball Opening Day for the kiddos.

I found a log to perch myself on along the parade route, and tried to wish a large coffee into existence.  But then, it was here! The parade was here! At the front were, I’m guessing very important local dignitaries in satin jackets being chauffeured in classic cars, waving at me. Yep, me. When it’s a little parade, you don’t have the comforting shroud of anonymity, and they are in fact waving directly at you. Awkward or not, you have to wave back. Finally the teams started coming by. The teenagers looked tired, the kids Jake’s age looked at their shoes, working hard not to make eye contact or wave at their parents. The kids in Zach’s age division were yelling and cheering and high-fiving anybody they could get their hands on.  When Zach’s team finally walked by, he was yelling “Let’s go Yankees!”  and “yeaaahhhh!” In the very brief time I had a visual on the team, John, in his coach shirt, had to gently redirect one little Yankee out of the crowd and back to his group four times. John caught my eye and I could tell it had been a very long little parade.

All of the pomp and fanfare suddenly gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia for an era that I never even experienced first-hand. There were balloon arches and flags and pennants hanging from every fence and post. There were bounce houses, police blockades, boy scouts, face painting, sunshine, lawn chairs, hot dogs and more cameras than you can shake a stick out. The mayor spoke, as did the chief of police and the parks department guy, who John would only refer to as Ron Swanson (please please tell me you watch Parks & Recreation.)

Zach had been counting down to this day for the last three years….the day that he would finally take the field as a real-life baseball player. Up to this point, he’d sat wide-eyed in the bleachers, dressed head to toe in his brother’s team colors, glove in his lap, bat at the ready, and often sporting a batting helmet…yes, sitting in the stands wearing his batting helmet, on the off-chance he was suddenly going to be called up. Unlike the other little brothers, he didn’t run off to the playground, beg to go home or whine about being bored. He did ask for snacks every 5-10 minutes, but there he sat, cheering for Jacob and his teammates and befriending the other parents and fans. This weekend after he proudly donned his own uniform, he tracked down those parents he’d shared the stands with to show them just how far he’d come. “I’m on the Yankees now. I’m # 8. We played the A’s, and it was a tie. It was my first game ever, and I had my first team snacks ever, Oreos and a cheesestick, and also a water.” Then he’d turn around so they could see he had his name on his jersey.

Have you ever watched 5-year-olds play a game of baseball? There are about 10 adults on the field, most tasked with keeping the kids standing up, facing the right direction, and in the case of opening day, off of the bounce house. The coach pitches, or perhaps more accurately, throws the ball at the bat that’s roughly the same size as the batter. The second the ball is hit, every kid in the field, which sometimes includes the base runners, heads for it. Sometimes there’s tackling, sometimes crying. This day, Zach played third where he dutifully stood, foot on the bag, glove in the air, ready to make the out. As it turns out, 5-year-olds don’t throw to third to make the out.

Jake’s team played a couple of hours later, where by comparison, it looked like the actual Cardinals were playing the actual Rangers.

For the three months leading up to opening day, Zach would ask me if I could bring music to the field –  a soundtrack for his debut. You see, we play that fun car game where you pick out what song you would like to hear if you got the chance for an at-bat in the majors; and that other fun car game, where you play “Uprising” by Muse (which next to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is the world’s greatest batting/walk-up song) and then in your best stadium announcer voice, introduce the Giants batters one at a time, “Noooooow batting…..Cody Ross!,” and then the next person says “Nooooooow batting…Pablo Sandoval!” You know…that game. So naturally, Zach assumed, he would also be entitled to tunes that would make him hit a grand slam and get his devoted fans on their feet.

I’d say, “Zach, I wish I could buddy, but I can’t bring music to your game, as awesome as that would be.” But there on Opening Day, at Zach’s first game…was a DJ. Sure, the guy was most likely assigned to provide a soundtrack for all the festivities – the kids punching each other in the bounce houses, or having their faces painted with fairy wings and fake scars. But along with his first baseball snacks and first baseball parade, Zach got his walk-up music for his first official at-bat. I don’t even think he cared that it was Lynyrd Skynyrd.

a tree falls in side yard

Last week, I pulled into the garage without noticing that the tree that once stood taller than our house now lay across the side yard. John came home an hour later and gave me the report as I stared lamely at him. At first I couldn’t even picture what tree he was talking about…I don’t venture to that part of the yard much, I guess. (You would think we lived on 30 acres instead of a regular suburban smallish lot). But I finally figured out that I knew quite well about 5 feet of that tree, somewhere near its middle top.

It once grew majestically outside Zachary’s window, with a narrow trunk and long graceful branches that would thwap against his window in the wind or create sinister looking shadows in the night. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was a resting place for many a bird who would chirp their greetings to Zachary inside.

Zach went to his room to look. “There aren’t any branches there anymore,” he said, “That’s where the birdies were.” I thought about the birds too, but was hopeful he either wouldn’t notice, or would celebrate the fact that they wouldn’t startlingly crash into his window anymore. His sweet face looked sad, and the way he said “birdies” made me want to go buy him a pony.

John stood outside surveying the situation. The tree had fallen into a wacky corner of the yard, missing our neighbor’s fence by a few feet. The neighbor stood there too. “Now I have to look at your boring, window,” he told John with his usual charm.

The subsequent days have passed in a flurry, and the tree continues to lay there, beached. Every time the subject comes up, Zach mentions the birds. I have to stop talking about it altogether because every time I do, he flashes me his big brown puppy dog eyes, and I instinctively move toward the candy shelf for a distracting treat.

A few months ago, my parents had to have two of their three front yard trees removed, because alas, the old trees had died…suffering what I imagined a stoic and noble passing befitting of a couple of fine Modesto Ash. Now that, I did notice. I gasped when I drove up to their house for the first time without my old leafy friends there. The home base tree of my childhood, right there near the corner – gone. The hide-and-go-seek tree at the far end – dunzo. My parents have since picked out replacements, but they are baby trees, and I don’t think I could very effectively hide behind one, unless I shed a dangerous amount of LBs.

We’ve taken down diseased trees at the church, and today on my way to work, I saw what looked like a 20-man hard-hatted crew perched on some poor soul’s roof, collectively eyeballing a huge Oak tree. By the time I drove home, half of it lay in the street in front of a wood chipper.

Now, I’m eyeing the palm tree in the backyard. The wind has brought down these pieces that resemble huge pencil shavings, and frankly it looks weird standing next to the uppity, haughty redwood. There’s the orange tree in the back corner. Sure, I like the idea of a fruit tree, but I’ve never actually eaten one of its oranges. My guess is that I’m so much of a city girl that I can’t possibly imagine that any plant life that I’m responsible for could produce actual, edible fruit.

I’ve come to realize, people are weird with trees, me included, which even I find odd since I refuse to camp. Trees are scary or friendly or wise depending on what Disney movie we are watching. They serve as literary metaphors for everything from life to growth to the passing of time, and if I were more well-read, this list would undoubtedly be longer. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been on my reading list for about 5 years, but I would be willing to bet that’s chock full of smarty pants examples.

I cannot stand that horrible book, The Giving Tree. I so loved Shel Silverstein’s provocative and intoxicating A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, that I would memorize the poems and recite them for whoever would listen. My copies, with my name written in my 3rd grade script, sit on Jake’s shelf, and are now favorites of the boys as well. But The Giving Tree sucks big time. Spoiler alert! The kind tree gives and gives and gives until it is taken down to a stump for the selfish brat of a protagonist to sit on in his old age. The only moral I take away is don’t be awful, or you will end up tired, alone and confused on a stump.

Heck, the trees in the Bible are kind of a big deal – there was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve couldn’t resist, getting them kicked out of what up until that point, had been a pretty sweet living situation. Jesus invited little Zaccheus down from his tree so they could break bread. And of course, there was Jonah. Jonah sat and waited futilely and with spite for an entire city to suffer God’s wrath. As he sat there pouting, sweating and waiting, probably still reeking of whale innards, God gave him a shade tree, which promptly withered and died. Jonah grieved and ranted and, much to God’s annoyance and utter frustration, showed more feeling for that day-old tree than he did an entire population of people. And again we learn, don’t be awful or you will end up tired, alone, and confused on a stump.

friend to foodies

I eat food, and sometimes I cook it. I watch TV shows and read magazines about it. I even order it when we go to restaurants.

I was an aspiring food enthusiast and home chef for a couple of months until I realized it’s hard, and kind of a lot of work. It can also be pricey if you don’t know how to do it right, and even pricier if you do.

I think I’ve read and collected a thousand recipes in an attempt to lovingly categorize them and store them in these super-cute graphic-print 3-ring-binders I found at Target. I spent hours in front of DVR’d episodes of CSI: Miami, arranging the recipes in sheet protectors and everything. For a while I thought that yes, I would absolutely make every recipe in these binders, and I would jot down little notes about whimsical on-the-fly substitutions and possible wine pairings. The pages would be dog-eared and splattered with homemade tomato sauce when I would, in my old age, hand them over to my boys. The boys would of course accept them with reverence and a touch of awe.

It did not take me long to accept that this would not likely happen. My binders, as cute as they were, were not grounded in reality. Nowhere in my binders had I lovingly clipped and mounted the instructions from the side of the macaroni & cheese box or Trader Joe’s fish nuggets. There is the strong possibility that it might actually be the binders and the sheet protectors that I love, and not the 40 recipes I have for mushroom soup. Perhaps my boys will accept the binders one day with reverence and respect for my one-time love of organizational systems.

I set about to make my collection useable. Out went all the recipes that required fish sauce, quinoa, lamb, curry, eggplant, shellfish, whole fish, or whole chickens. Also the ones where the food would need to rise, rest, or take an ice bath. The food could not at any point be required to look like pea-sized gravel, as this usually requires a food processor or a stand mixer…my great white whales of kitchen appliances. I know what my family will not eat. They’ve vetoed polenta, fresh tomatoes, and if it were up to Zach, anything that is not “noodles with butter.” There are some dark moments in my culinary past that have made me gun shy enough to disqualify even more recipes. Fried chicken is out, and I don’t want to talk about that batch of sugar cookies. If you’re interested, John will happily recount the tale of the “ham ring” from our first year of marriage.

We threw a dinner party years ago. I was at Whole Foods ordering a $100 piece of meat, I think a standing rib roast. I asked the butcher so many questions about how to prepare it, that he came out from behind the counter to give me a hug and tell me that everything was going to be ok.

Because we’ve lived in the Bay Area for so long, we’ve known and befriended our fair share of legitimate foodies and home chefs who can point over their shoulder to Berkeley and say “Alice Waters started it all over there.” They could also easily brag about how every burrito place, pizza joint, and hamburger hovel feature the freshest and ingredients…and usually with the obligatory “twist” or “kick.” “It’s a taco, but with a twist!”

Over the years, the cool ingredients spent time in everybody’s pantries. Pine nuts. Sun dried tomatoes. Feta. Endive. Leeks. Wild Boar. (No? That one didn’t make it? Shocking, the weird meat with the three-day aftertaste was sure to be a winner.) Aioli. Truffle oil. Yes, I know these are still around, but each enjoyed their 15 minutes as the darlings of California Cuisine.

But alas, foodies are indeed everywhere. And now, thanks to social media, I get to hear what all of you food enthusiasts are up to, which is like 90% cool, and 10% annoying because you make it sound so effortless, like you are lazily sipping on chardonnay, throwing together ingredients from your garden for your adoring friends and loved ones…who will clap as you plate the food. You know, without Googling, the difference between baking powder and baking soda, because apparently there is one. The fun flipside, is you get to read my diverse and revolutionary food musings:  “Football’s on! Clam dip time!” or “Basketball’s on! Where’s the clam dip?” or “I love the Giants! And I love clam dip!”

It’s a guilty pleasure, reading what you home chefs and foodies are up to, a sort of culinary voyeurism, peeking into your world as you homemake everything from pizza, bread, cakes and pie crusts to pickles, jam and chutney (whatever that is). I picture you strolling through the farmers market with a hand woven basket or a shopping tote made from reclaimed prison jumpsuits, hotel curtains, or the 8th grade graduation dresses of female freedom fighters. You could probably tell me whether or not that’s a good turnip, and if this is a good price on star fruit or kale. You might look at pomelo and say, “Fantastic! I can go home and throw together the perfect little pomelo margarita, pomelo salad, sea bass with pomelo salsa, and my signature pomelo granita for dessert. Just another typical Wednesday.”

I’ve been to many a farmer’s market, but have been known to find the experience so completely overwhelming that I will leave with nothing more than a sausage sandwich from the sausage guy.

So if I’m not a foodie, what am I? a bookie? That doesn’t sound good. A wordy? Um, I suppose that already applies, especially if you’ve made it this far into this post. I like TV – how about a showy? A winey?  Let’s see what we have so far: a showy, winey, wordy bookie. Perhaps I’ll dust off the binders and give foodie another shot.

(weirdsies)

After a dozen or so false starts (again), I sat down with my box of cookies to plunk away and finish up this post. (I might magically find more time to write if I committed to bring a box of cookies every time I go to the computer). I noticed a pattern in what I’d already fitfully written. Nearly every kooky and meandering phrase I typed was kissed by a parenthetical thought (oh my gosh, I love that). This is where the weird part of me who loves to edit would go through and clean them up, (and roll my eyes at myself, while I took another bite of cookie). But in a roundabout way, (hang with me here) it kind of illustrates how there’s a second layer to everything this month. Nothing’s been straightforward or expected or without my editorial input (much to the dismay of many, I am sure). So I’m going with it, and I’m leaving the parentheses, which I suppose is darn close to putting one’s inner monologue out there for the world (scary). So, for you grammar lovahs, instead of wincing every time you see a misplaced paren, have a cookie.

February is the most deceptive of the months. So unassuming and short, and then when it gets here, it’s like, “what in the h-e-double hockey sticks is going on? I’m a mess!” It feels really quite anti-climactic to say, “Well, it is after all February. We’ll get through this.” And “We all know what February is like,” nudge, nudge. Oh yeah, smart guy, what’s it like?

On paper, it’s great. You’ve got the Superbowl, Black History Month, Groundhog Day, two 3-day weekends (thanks Abe!), Valentine’s Day, the Grammys, and of course, the grand dame of late-winter-though-every-year-I- forget-that-it-doesn’t-take-place-in-the-spring event of the year…that’s right, the Oscars. And this year, we’ve thrown in bizarre weather (which has given us my new favorite word, snowmegeddon), an honest-to-goodness revolution, and a skeezy congressman with an iPhone (this is not a political statement. I’m just anti-shirtless dudes inviting you to the gun show, while snapping a picture of it with a camera phone, and then having it run repeatedly by every news outlet in the free world, that’s all.)  However, in our house, we’ve thrown in our family’s first experience of having to manage three overlapping sports, drama, choir (I’m obviously not the one in choir), a few major endeavors at the church, a flat tire, John’s noble reentry into academia, (I can’t not think about macadamias when I hear this, which is probably why I’m not the smarty pants who has to do all the fancy reading) and a cat that has figured out how to crawl all the way inside Zachary’s box spring and who insists on drinking out of our water glasses. (We are now forced to all drink out of, what John will only refer to as, sippy cups). And February doesn’t even get Fat Tuesday this year.

Last week, I sat around a table of bright, funny women, and we were discussing Revelation. Yup, the book of Revelation. (It was assigned and pre-planned and everything – it doesn’t just happen, like I thought it would when I went to work for a church.) That book is full of weird stuff that people throughout history have been pointing to as sure signs that the end is most certainly, nigh. (I’m pretty sure my dad would have thought the four horsemen of the apocalypse would be clad in bellbottoms). Anyhow, I brought up the weirdness I was feeling and observing, and everybody chimed in with their own tales of weirdness and February misgivings. Since we’d ruled out Armageddon with nervous chuckles, my first question, as it always is, was, “Is it a full moon? It feels like a full moon.”

“No but, it’s a strong crescent,” somebody said. That makes sense too, I thought, while I nodded thoughtfully and solemnly. (This absolutely supported my unsupportable hypothesis that the stupid moon is going to make us all crazy.)

Part of my problem, was that I was in the middle of a calendar crisis. Just that morning, I had stood in front of my color coded whiteboard calendar, with a hot cup of tea and a frown. It looked like a clown had thrown up on it, and I was depending on a lot of people, and a lot of grace, and maybe a miracle or two to get through the week, and perhaps even, the month. Everybody I know who plans events, me included, were starting to run out of months where we could put something on the calendar and actually expect people to show up. You can’t pick January because people are still recovering from the holidays, or they’re in Tahoe. You could do March or April, depending on how Easter & spring breaks fall, and how many Tahoe ski weekends people are trying to squeeze in. May is out – sports! June’s busy, nobody’s around in July or August. September is completely taken up by school stuff. October is a veritable cornucopia of harvest carnivals and soccer games, and then people will unapologetically laugh at you if you suggest November or December. Hello? We’re in Tahoe, duh. And sure, yeah, the holidays.

My 2nd favorite book from childhood is Mexicali Soup (the first is Miss Twiggly’s Tree, of which my own childhood copy is being lovingly cared for by Jacob). A large family moves to America from Mexico. The unfailingly patient mother is making her signature Mexicali Soup, and one by one the family members insist on the omission of an ingredient from the dish for a variety of reasons. By the time she serves her meal, it is a big pot of hot water. February was the last month I was clinging too before I was left with a big pot of hot water.

So just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, and that I’m ready to go and kick February in the shins out of sheer frustration, I’m surprised again. Granted, we’re just now half-way through the month, (and though I promised myself we wouldn’t, preparing to deliver the sugariest of sugary Valentine candy to pre-schoolers no less). But suddenly, the projects I thought I could never pull off at work have been fine, fulfilling, worthwhile, and dare I say, fun. A few extraordinary people have stepped in at exactly the moment when I needed them the most. We discovered that Trader Joe’s is still selling their candy cane sandwich cookies (or what I like to call, writing companions in a box), Girl Scout cookies have arrived (TV companions in a box), and I’ve seen two of the movies that have been nominated for Best Picture, (that’s 1/5th of the nominees, a spectacular ratio considering how many babysitting hours that amounts too.) And alas, the package I thought was surely lost in the mail, arrived safely.

February may be completely weirdsies, with that wayward r right there in the middle of its spelling. But its quirkiness is what makes it most representative of what life is like…unpredictable, hectic and living in the shadow of the longer more robust months. It’s full of hearts and sweets, furry rodents, political and historical relevance, inclimate weather, and just enough sun to seed the hope of spring. And of course the people. The people who can mysteriously and simultaneously bring me great joy and great frustration as they drift in and out and around…on their way to Tahoe.

let’s talk about the weather

The sun was out last week. It’s February 1, and I came thiiiiiis close to putting my coats away. Like away away, in a box labeled “seasonal” so I could shove them behind that box of VHS tapes that I still can’t part with even though we don’t have a VCR. (What tapes are those you wonder? I’m glad I assumed you asked, The Wedding Singer, She’s All That starring Freddie Prinze Jr., LA Confidential, the two-tape set of Titanic, and every episode of Twin Peaks,…of course.)

This weather hiccup is an annual occurrence in California. There are a few days every winter that are a total tease – where you get sunshine and warmth and those precious opportunities to push the button in the car that says “AC.”

Then of course, it rained this weekend. I was working on the church patio signing folks up for this and that, and trying to cheerfully answer questions while futilely attempting to convince Zach that animal crackers are in fact cookies, and not crackers.

My darling husband, on his way into church at the crack of dawn, and on his birthday no less, called to let me know that it was raining, and I should dress accordingly – he’s good that way. So, I brought my rain coat. It’s not a fancy church rain coat, with a belt and adorable buttons. It’s a legit waterproof raincoat meant for outdoorsy people (hey, I know some outdoorsy people), with a hood that was built to cover my entire head. It also has HyVent, which I assume is revolutionary coat technology invented in a lab complete with a mock church patio where they create multiple weather scenarios, specifically to keep me comfortable in inclement outdoor greeting situations.

So there I stood, saying hello to the scores of people streaming by, and apparently opening myself open for all kinds of comments about the sturdiness of my gear, my favorite being, “Wow, you look ready for anything!”  Oh, if only that were the case.

Just know that I know that if you actually live in a place where inclement weather conditions like, snow, and sleet and ice are a way of life – you are a stud. In fact the weather headlines for the past few days have included the word “bracing.” When you are bracing yourself for something, it’s usually not good. I can’t say that I was bracing myself for the intermittent showers over the weekend.

I know you have to shovel to get to your car and go the store, and factor in wind chill. I married into a snow dwelling family, I’ve seen this lifestyle in action. I’ve been at their house when snow has collapsed through the skylight, and when you have to cover every inch of skin just to go to the car. I’m guessing though, I was insufferable, asking everybody I came in contact with if they knew that it was 20 below, reminding them I was from California and adorably new to this. I of course called my parents to report the temperature and the the good news that, in spite of the catastrophic sounding temperature, I had in fact, survived the day.

Today, more than a 1/3 of the country will get a snow day, and you might be one of them. I know you have snowblowers and bigger jackets and warmer boots and shovels and scrapers. Good for you! And I mean that in a serious, non-smart-alecky way. Snow and ice living is hard, and treacherous. I am more than happy to give credit where credit is due…and it is due to you, my tougher, less whiny, and far hardier friends. I totally own my weather wussiness.

I love the sun. I looooooooove it. I am super pale and freckly and should relish in the fog and the cold, like I’m sure my ancestors did. But no. I found myself driving to lunch the other day in a particularly chipper mood, ready to treat myself to some flame broiled goodness simply because the sun was out and it made me happy. The music was loud and poppy, and I was smiling like an idiot, and thinking about maybe, just maybe, sticking my head out the window for a moment while I drove. I wanted to create a Twitter account in the drive-thru, just so I could tweet about it.

I like to think I was built for sunshine, because I know what happens when I’m deprived of it. The day that John and I moved to San Francisco, nearly 15 years ago, we were newlyweds. We’d driven a U-Haul up from LA with a couple of annoyed cats in a carrier and our buddy, Bouncer (that’s his name, not something we moved with – though it sounds fun when you take out the comma – “hey look, buddy bouncers are on sale!”) It was August, so I thought my choice of tank top and shorts was a reasonable one. But there I stood in the back of the moving truck, at 4:00 in the afternoon, guarding our 1970’s oversized wicker Gilligan’s Island style chair, shivering and wondering what exactly we’d gotten ourselves into.

That’s the day I knew that things were about to change. Sure, new hubby, new job, new friends, yada yada, but oh my, it was gong to be cold here.

Our first nights in the City, we walked through the fog to get pizza, Chinese food, tacos, and even Pierogi. The foghorns were loud, and ok, maybe a little romantic, but our apartment was terribly damp and comically cold. In the morning, you could see your breath inside, and it was always wise to wear a second sweatshirt for lounging. Years later when the walls kind of started to fall apart, we found that the building had been insulated with newspapers from the 1940’s. But that was part of the undeniable charm of the place, and most certainly the source of the mold that had grown in our suitcases.

There were more than a few days where I’d be headed home on the 38 Geary bus, squished in the aisle or trying to keep my face away from the rear end of the stranger standing at my side who was holding the rail above my head. It would be gorgeous outside, but ahead I could see the bank of fog starting to creep in, and I could point at it and glumly say, “See that cloud? That cartoony looking grey mass? That’s where I live.”

We eventually moved to Marin County, and while John mourned the loss of his precious fog, I would have a dizzying sense of euphoria as we drove home across the Golden Gate Bridge each evening, leaving the grey of our old neighborhood behind for the much more hospitable sunshine. Did you know that Seasonal Affective Disorder is for real? It is. I was suddenly ready to go do things! To go outside! I think I may have even suggested we go on a walk once!

And though talking about the weather is a clichéd cop out for a discussion topic, we are all fascinated, because the freaking weather can easily determine the content of our day. We talk about it for a few reasons – a) it’s kind of a big deal, b) it’s also truly sometimes the only thing we have in common with the person we are talking to c) it’s often the one science any of us have any working knowledge of and d) we have absolutely no control over it, which is where it gets exciting. I have at least three weather related apps on my phone, and during most months, I’m usually just bracing myself for temps in the low to mid ‘60s.

I’m thinking of you my wonderful snow bound, ice bound, blizzardy friends who get out of school today, or have just spent the morning digging out your car. I know that wherever you are, you probably look like you are ready for anything.

crazy comfortable

Can I please have a mulligan on this year?

January is supposed to be the month of new beginnings. For some dag gum reason, January of 2011 is more like the month of false starts.

All of the cheer and cocoa swilling bliss of December has historically made way for the deep breath and the “let’s get back to business” attitude that propels us forward from January into the rest of the year. Very productive and healthy, agreed, especially when we are committed to healthier habits and a snazzy new calendaring system. But this year, I hardly feel propelled. It’s more like that running stumble, where your arms are flailing around, and you are waiting to fall on your face, but your feet somehow just keep going forward…and you are hyper aware of everybody who is watching for you to just hurry up and fall down already. It’s like that.

Now I’m as optimistic as the next gal, but I also revel in my grizzled sensibility; not so grizzled where I’m yelling at the neighbor kids to get off my lawn, but juuuust grizzled enough to make me, hopefully, tolerable. This is the part of me that knew that I should keep simple my plan for “Colleen: a picture of happiness, relaxation, organization, patience, fitness and efficiency in 2011.” Yes, simple. Flossing; getting up early; praying more; exercising enough to justify saying, “yes, I exercise;” spending less; reading more; writing more; driving thru less; cooking more without having to shake stuff out of a box first; forgoing the previously mandatory stockpile of cheeses and chocolates; reading my Bible every day; and keeping it together even when my kids aren’t. That’s it. Simple.

So now, here we are, just over ten days into the year, and I’m 6 days behind on my handy new 3-year-Bible iPad app that John installed for me, and 10 days behind on exercising. Everything I’ve cooked this year has in fact, come from a box, and I don’t know if the boys would call what I’m doing “keeping it together.”

I’ve been to the computer more often than I care to remember in vain attempts at waxing poetic over the wonder that was Christmas; about the angelic children who serenaded us with “Away in a Manger” while lifting their dresses over their heads and waving at their moms on Christmas Eve; and the cozy comforts of spending 76 hours in pajamas while eating cookies and staring wistfully out the window at the snow. But what happened instead? There I sat, staring at the computer, freezing my you-know-what off in the living room that never gets warm, wearing a blanket for a cape… then writing about THAT. That’s when you know it’s bad. This is what came out:

It’s really cold down here, and I find that off putting. Plus my kids are always wanting something, like dinner or attention. But there is some exciting news – I have a soft, new blanket that I have fashioned into a luxurious cape. I totally get capes now. You’re really something special when you’re wearing a cape. Special, and…..we’ll call it… eccentric. I bet Howard Hughes wore a cape. How about that chick in “Sunset Blvd.?” I bet she wore a cape. Crazy is such a strong and inappropriate word, unless you pair it with comfortable. “Man, this cape is crazy comfortable.”

That was pretty much the best paragraph I could come up with in the first 10 days of 2011.

That’s when I realized not only did I have a case of crazy comfortable writer’s block, but I had complete and total resolution induced paralysis.

I was so fired up for being the best me that I could be, I couldn’t even be as good as the “meh, jury’s still out” me of 2010. It was the big game, and I was choking. I was not getting up an hour earlier than I was last year, but now 6 minutes later than before. How on Earth did I ever make lunches AND breakfast AND cheery chit chat in 2010, while getting everybody to school on time and with a smile on their faces? This last week has everybody nearly in tears as we race for the car, a sweatshirt pulled over my pink sock monkey pajamas that are half sticking out of a pair of UGGs, and Jacob’s favorite…the ponytail left over from sleeping time. I haven’t asked, but I’m pretty sure he’s praying the entire ride to school that I don’t choose that day to get out of the car. On the way back to the house to surrender the sock monkey pajamas for another day, I tell Zachary that tomorrow will be different. I’m going to make it happen tomorrow. We’ll all be up nice and early, and we will be a picture of efficiency, and I will be relaxed, and nobody will need to rush or cry or feel stressed. Then he asks if we can please turn up the radio.

Last fall, when every mom I knew was losing their minds a little bit under the weight of activity and responsibility and schedules, my dear friend Kris told me something that somebody told her that was so simple but so significant, that it completely blew my mind. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Yeah, yeah, I know, that’s already a saying. But what happens when you say it about you, first-person style? It totally feels different…try it:

“I’m not going to be so hard on myself.”

Aspirations and hard work keep us going forward, I know, I’ve read the posters. But take it easy on yourself, or you are going to self-improve yourself right into a cape, and then…you will want to write about it. Shoot, I liked the 2010 version of you, anyway.