Category Archives: Uncategorized

Expense Report

It’s a record, for me, at least. Today I visited three different grocery stores, bought eight bags of groceries, and spent just north of three hundred bucks. $311.02, to be exact. WTF? How does this happen? And how on earth do people with multiple kids do it?

Fortunately, when my marketing was done, I had a few minutes to myself, so came here to the library, where I’ve just picked up “Lean In” for absolutely free. Does this make me feel better? Slightly.

Now if only one of my daughter’s friends hadn’t repeatedly called her “stupid” today. It left her morose; I was worse. It’s all I can do to keep from walking over to the “bullying” section of the parenting shelf right now. There they’ll find me at closing time, turning pages, chewing my knuckles, silently sobbing.

The universe is vast. So are grocery bills. So is the list of things from which I cannot protect my daughter.

I am trying to lean in to the enormity of all I cannot change. To do otherwise is costly.

But laying down has its own price. Part of me wants to go home and teach MJ how to flip off her tormentors. This, too, will not help. But it might feel good for a second.

It’s a complicated calculation.

I am shopping for wisdom.

But I am bringing home mostly snack food.

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Big Bang, Little Girl

One of the wonderful things about having an intellectually curious child is that her voracity for knowledge piques my own. Having read dozens of kids’ books about space with her, I’ve found myself increasingly fascinated. Finally, I decided it was time to pick up something on my own grade level. Using a Barnes and Noble gift card I got for Christmas I purchased two promising candidates: “The Big Bang” by Simon Singh, and “Why Does the World Exist?” by Jim Holt. I know, it sounds like I’m in another existential crisis, but really I’m not. Not any more than usual, anyway. I just want to know more. My kid asks a lot of deep questions. I need to have answers! Or at least more educated guesses.

So I’ve started with the “Big Bang.” And, of course, it’s blowing my mind. As I read, I describe to MJ what I’m learning. I figure if I can successfully explain it to a 4-year-old I must be comprehending it myself. So far we’re pretty early in the story, but I’m getting it all, and so is she. Or–OK–most of it. Still, what a joy to discuss such deep matters with your child. What a thrill to contemplate them yourself. What solace, when considering one’s own petty complaints–an irate customer, a bloated health insurance bill, Downton Abbey’s strange new season–to contemplate the enormity of things, the grace and mystery of them, the infinitesimally tiny nature of our contributions.

Best of all? When I tell MJ that I love her “as big as the universe,” she has a general sense of just how much that is.

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Tupper Wear

For most people, the Devil is in the details. For my husband and me He lives on the tupperware shelf.

We don’t fight about much, Mike and I. But that one small part of the kitchen can set off a major melee. And does, with depressing regularity. The issue is simple: Mike likes it tidy; I think such a quality is superfluous in a place of its ilk. After all, it’s a tupperware shelf, not a filing cabinet. I don’t go there to get my 2007 financial records. I go there for containers; I’m in and out. Many times a day. It’s what we in retail would call a “high traffic area.” Have you ever seen the sale shelves at H&M? I rest my case. Plus, when I go in there, I’m in a rush. It’s time for school, or work, or a trip to the zoo, and we’re running twenty minutes behind. So I don’t take care. I have the disrespect of the harried. This, in turn, causes me to scatter.

Which causes Mike, when he opens said cabinet, to find something inside that looks like the BPA-free version of Stonehenge. Which I think is kind of pretty, in a plastic sort of way. Mike, on the other hand, finds it to be an assault against his very soul. I’m not kidding. Sometimes, having seen its disarray, he’ll turn and look at me like Bambi after his mom’s been shot. It makes me feel terrible. But not terrible enough to change my ways.

So Mike re-organizes it. Again, and again. Many is the night I’ve heard him, late at night, methodically fixing the mess I have made. I’ve fallen asleep to the stacking of tupperware so many times it has an almost Pavlovian effect on me. Insomnia? Just grab a couple of sandwich containers and start tapping them near my head. Zzzzzzz.

I’ve told Mike I’ll try to do better, but the fact is, it’s hard to change when you feel, underneath it all, that the request is inherently unreasonable. I truly can’t see why chaos shouldn’t be the basic state of a tupperware shelf. It feels right to me. Normal. American. Like a Norman Rockwell painting, but with lids. So trying to force myself to act differently is a bit like trying to foist civilization on Tarzan. I’m smart. I can do it. But in the end I’d rather be swinging from a vine.

So Mike and I will continue to fight. I suppose we’re lucky that the subject is such a shallow one, at least on the surface.  But I do worry that, as marital bones of contention go, it has staying power. Unlike finances, which can change, or sex, which I have no argument with anyway, tupperware stays the same. It’s eternal. It’s omnipresent. We will never not deal with it.

Perhaps we can find a bigger shelf. See? I’m willing to compromise.

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I Blog Therefore I Am

One of the reasons I stopped writing for two months was because I found myself struggling with a profound ambivalence about the concept of, well, blogging in the first place. I mean, come on. Who really cares? It’s so stupid. And juvenile. “Listen to me! Listen to me!” No one of any real merit would ever stoop to such an activity. Even if they had a laptop. You think Thomas Jefferson would’ve blogged? Mother Theresa? Jesus? (“Click here for my artisanal wine recipe…”) No. It’s only schlubs like me who waste our–and others’– time with such trivial pursuits. And it doesn’t reflect well on us. After all, to think that others care about the quotidian details of my day to day life is the height of (unjustified) narcissism. A stay-at-home mom and homemaker shares her “triumphs and tribulations?” Blech. Bring me the vomit bucket. (Or, in my case, the Revereware saucepan– that’s what my mother had me puke in as a child. Then, the next night, there it would be on the table, filled with rice pilaf. Bon appetite!)

The thing that brought me back to blogging, however, in spite of all those doubts, was the slim hope that some day, far in the future, historians might find useful all of the permanently recorded minutiae–including those regarding 21st century Los Angeles domestic life–to be found on the internet. Or, if not useful, then at least mildly interesting. You know, in a footnotey kind of way. I mean, it’ll have to be, to someone. A doctoral student. A production designer working on a “period piece.” A re-creationist. Someone will be a tiny bit thankful that I’ve posted pictures of my antediluvian dishwasher, delineated the contents of my kitchen counter, and written paeans to the overly creative treats (dark chocolate and salt) Trader Joes was selling in the year 2012.

There’s a great collection called “The Art of the Personal Essay.” The pieces in it hark from ancient times all the way up to fairly recently. Some of them take as their subject just the kind of day to day trifles I mention above. Maybe their authors felt stupid recording them. Maybe they went on self-imposed moratoriums: “No more papyrus. Why write about things no one cares about?” But then they went back to it. And, given the distance of three, four, five hundred years, they’re starting to sound pretty good. At least Philip Lopate thinks so.

Anyway, that’s what I’m banking on. For all of you reading now, thank you. I don’t know why you do it, but it certainly is gratifying to be honored with your occasional attention.

For those of you several centuries down the line? How’s the weather? Just kidding. Probably a touchy subject. All joking aside, thanks for reading. Remind me to tell you what I’m wearing today. Down to the grey stained “momigan” and Target granny briefs. It’s of great historical interest. Or could be.

To at least one of you.

Racks and Ruin

His shoe rack:

And mine:

OK, I know. It’s bad.

I should say in my defense, though, that the yoga mat is an anomaly. It normally lives in a corner of the closet, invisible, neglected and forgotten. This way I don’t have to face what it says about me as a physical specimen. But it fell over the other day when I was vacuuming, and I haven’t gotten around to picking it up it yet. Sue me.

And another thing: the blue sweatshirt in the upper left. That’s not usually there. Where did it come from? I’m as clueless as you are. Or close. Let’s blame my husband. And ignore, please, all protestations to the contrary in the comments below.

As for the rest of it? I acknowledge it’s bad. And I regret that. But Myra-Jean constantly takes my heels — all one pair of them — out to wear around the house. That’s a difficulty. Furthermore, I have an ambivalence about shoes which leads me to neglect their upkeep. Maybe it’s greater than an ambivalence. Maybe it’s a low-range hatred. And maybe it’s not low-range. Maybe it’s nuclear. Maybe Imelda Marcos and I would fight. To the death. In a giant ball of flames. I, in bare feet, she, in rage-red stilettos.

Look, left to my own devices I’d wear the same pair of once-brown, unstitched, mildew-stained, sexy-killing, “I’ve stopped caring” clogs every day. Except that someone finally made me throw them away. Actually, several someones. All related to me. In sort of a sartorial intervention. Sadly, not my first. And even more sadly, not televised.

But hey, at least my dress shoes don’t all have a coat of dust three feet thick on them, like some people’s I could mention.

The Twelve Steps For the TJ’s Shopper

  1. Admitted we were powerless over Trader Joe’s, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that shopping after lunch would restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to renounce sugar completely for Lent. Remembered we were not Christian.
  4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of our cabinets.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to the human being we lived with that they contained a deplorable excess of heavily packaged snack items.
  6. Were entirely ready to have our spouse remove all of these packages.
  7. Humbly asked, though, that this not take place until after we had eaten the food in them.
  8. Made a list of all the items we should be buying instead of dark-chocolate covered, sea-salt infused peanut-butter cups. Placed all items in cart.
  9. Made a direct bee-line for the freezer case. Swore that we deserved mint ice cream sandwiches after making such positive changes in our lifestyle.
  10. Continued to take personal exception to TJ’s produce selection. Insisted this forced us to subsist on their blueberry Greek yogurt. Full fat. With granola.
  11. Sought through vigorous housework and drinking more water to obviate the effects of salt, fat, sugar, and processed-foods-in-quaint-packages on our deteriorating bodies.
  12. Having gained ten pounds as a result of these steps, we tried to carry our shopping lists to Fresh and Easy, and to practice more aggressive forms of exercise when that tactic failed us.

Tea and Fantasy

There is an alternate universe in which I do not live, with my family, in a fixer-upper-that-will-never-be-fixed-up in Los Angeles, California, but, instead, in a blue wooden house — old, but in perfect condition — along a little-known river called the LaHave in Nova Scotia, Canada. This fantasy domicile is at least a hundred years old — once belonging to a sea captain, perhaps — and has wide, wood-framed windows that look across the road onto the wide, calm river mouth with its green dories, orange buoys, and neatly-trimmed sail-boats. The garden in front is lush, with vivid green grass — not too short — and thriving hydrangea and butterfly bushes. There’s a screened-in porch furnished with comfortable couches, a swing, and a rocking chair. A Lunenberg Bump hangs over the front door. There’s an old brick chimney, but a new, fancy kitchen. Best thing of all, however? The fulcrum upon which this entire fantasy pivots? Right down the street is my favorite eating establishment of all time: the LaHave bakery.

The fantasy, of course, is not true — nor possible — but the bakery is. My family has been coming to this part of Nova Scotia for twenty years or so. We have done much exploring, and been to many memorable and spectacular places. But the outing we consistently look forward to the most is the trip to this, our favorite bakery. It involves a short ride — either by car or, better, by bike — to a cable ferry that comes every half hour. After a fifteen-minute crossing, you are on the other side. From there it’s a two-minute walk up the street to an old, yellowish-beige, Victorian-era building that has, in the past, housed sailors, served as a youth hostel, and been a commercial trading center. For the last couple of decades, though, it has been the home of not just the bakery, but a craft co-op, a boatmaker’s shop, and a highly-regarded skateboard company, (the latter boasting an indoor half-pipe, awesome tee-shirts, and a mind-bogglingly beautiful river view.)

All of these businesses are incredible in their own way. The bakery, though, with its dozen varieties of fresh and perfect bread, consistently delicious pastries, sweet and understated cranberry scones, bags of dried dulse — gathered, very likely, from the beach outside the door — jars of homemade blueberry marmalade, and hot black tea served in old church-marm mugs, is just perfection itself.

In my fantasy I sit on its front porch, on a yellow Adirondack chair. The air is fresh and bright around me. Cyclists — wearing normal clothes, not the spandex horrors their American counterparts sport — come and go on the road in front of me. Boats slip by behind. I sip milky tea and revel in the salt smells, the electric blue of the sky, the massive softness of the clouds. And the river, always the river, present in everything you see, taste, and smell.

When I am done I trudge back to my Captains’ house, sit down on my screened-in porch, and watch the sun nestle into the far off sea.

From there the fantasy grows fuzzy. What do I do when I’m not at the bakery? What are MJ and Mike are up to? These elements remain opaque. And why shouldn’t they? Fantasies, after all, are not about the quotidian: there are no dogs to walk, diapers to change, trash bins to roll out, dishes to wash, toddlers to plead with, bills to forget to pay, windows to be broken. Neither, of course, are there the complicated, profound, lengthier pleasures that originate in real life.

There are, rather — for me, at least — just a few moments of perfect, quiet bliss. A cup of tea, a yellow chair, a porch, a pretty house nearby. The vivid blue of a river mouth.

And perhaps a really good scone.