September 17, 2009

The Long and the Short of It

I saw Julie & Julia three weeks ago now, back when it was still August. I had a strong reaction to the movie and started mentally composing a blog post about it almost immediately, but then...well...pfffftttt, went the brain. Or the momentum. 

So.  The short version of it is that I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the movie, as I didn't have much hope for it at all.  I'd read Julie &  Julia last year after reading a lot of very enthusiastic reviews. I believe most of my problem with the book is that my expectations were way, way off.  I expected it to inspire me to start cooking,  to want to purchase my own copy of Julia Child's seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and get right down to chopping and sauteeing.  Instead, the book mostly inspired me to want to clean my house, specifically my kitchen, as every other page seemed to have a lot of vivid descriptions about how awful and small and dirty the narrator's  apartment was, with lots of cat hair and dirty martini glasses cluttering the counters and coffee table.  I also seem to remember a scene with maggots lurking under the dish drainer.

And while I truly loved and was inspired by Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France, I still didn't really want to see the movie, assuming that Hollywood would make it all too cutesy and cloying to bother with.  The book is always better anyway, correct?  But then I read a number of good reviews, when I'd expected it to be overwhelmingly panned, and changed my mind about wanting to pay money for it. short: pleasantly surprised. Smart, funny, clever, inspiring. A chick-flick, sorta, but one that I have a hunch my husband would enjoy too, as central to both halves of the movie (both the Julia Child and Julie Powell halves) is each woman's happy and nurturing relationships with her respective husband.  That's my review...THE END. 

Now, for the long of it: The truth behind my "pleasantly surprised" is that I thought the movie was actually quite fabulous, and I loved nearly every moment of it.  There was a real undercurrent of joy in "Julie & Julia,"as each woman initially floundered about in her unhappiness and yet found real purpose and zest for something she was passionate about, whether cooking, writing, or both.  

This isn't a spoiler here, as both halves of the movie are based on actual books, but the movie concludes with both women being recognized as writers.  Julia waves aloft her copy of the long-awaited publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Julie Powell realizes that her blog-noodling was "real" writing after all -- she comes home to an answering machine filled with agents and editors inquiring "would you like to turn this into a book?" and "could you please call me?"  What kind of writer's wet dream fantasy is that, huh? 

When the movie ended and the credits rolled, I was a bit overcome, "verklempt" as Mike Myers' Jewish TV hostess used to declare on Saturday Night Live.  Not only did I get a bit misty, but I had to chew hard on the inside of my cheek to stop from bursting out into very real sobs. "Julie Powell is a writer," said the short sentence, in black and white up on the screen.  My chest heaved.  

Watching Julie & Julia coincided with my own re-dedication to the idea of myself as a writer, as a wife and woman who has been feeling more than a bit stuck and blocked and crammed into her (self-created) version of life.  I've been doing a good bit of personal writing lately, not on the blog (obviously, which has gathered nearly a month of dust yet again), but in the exercises mandated by the book The Artists Way.  "It will change your life," I've heard and read more than once.  I feel a little heeby-jeeby talking about it, as for one, thing, I'm not into "New Age" and "self-help" solutions in the least. Or, as Carolyn See put it in her wonderful memoir Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America,  when discussing the Laurel Canyon-Esalen-tinged, 1970s consciousness-raising she participated in, "oh, the embarrasing California-ness of it all." Yeah, so there's that. 

I don't want to discuss it much, except to say, oh, I'm trying.  I'm putting in my good faith, writing my morning pages, and yes, things are changing, slowly, slowly. Which is damn sight better than no change at all. Foremost, and most obviously for the moment, the biggest change is that I'm setting my alarm clock a half hour early to do the pages.  If you know me at all, this alone is pretty huge.  I mean, I felt that I should've truly typed that in ALL CAPS  and bold, just so you get it.  Setting my alarm early?  Two years ago when I first purchased TAW (and then let it collect dust on my book shelf)  that dictate alone, to get up early to complete these pages, was more structure and more bossiness and more work than I believed I could bear.   

But, here it is, ten years since I entered my MFA program, with all the ambition and hope and work that went into earning that degree.  Ten years, and maybe now, just maybe, after a thesis of short stories and a couple of publications, after rejection letters and contest dealines and the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference and yes, even the blog, maybe it's time I think of myself as a writer.  Even here, surrounded by women who mostly view "art" as something done by toddlers with washable paints, I want to dig in.

Here is some Julia for you, from her memoir, My Life in France, after struggling long and hard to perfect a recipe for mayonaisse: 
"I proudly typed it up and sent it off to friends and family in the States, and asked them to test it and send me their comments.  All I recieved in response was a yawning silence. Hm! I had a great many things to say abou sauces as well, but if no one cared to hear my insights, then what was the use? I was miffed but not deterred. Onward I plunged." 
Onward I'll plunge.  I feel it's reached a point where I don't even have a choice in the matter. And thank goodness.  

August 25, 2009

And So It Was...

It seems to just now be heating up in earnest in my part of California...99 degrees today, probably a few degrees hotter by the weekend. Ah, but it's a dry heat. And yet, here is my farewell to summer.

I have a lot to say. SO MUCH to say about what's been going on in my head the last couple of weeks or so. Tectonic shifts are in store, synchronicity and it's markers are popping up like crabgrass all around me. It feels exciting, and scary, but at least it feels like something, and that's a lot.

But I would feel amiss if I didn't first say an official good-bye to the summer of '09. Yes, summer still has about a month of livin' to do, but with school back in session and Oriental Trading sending me Halloween party catalogs in the mail, it's hard not to feel like true summer is over. It was an okay summer -- camping and our wonderful trip to Big Sur, water parks and pool play and lots of lazy mornings, lounging in our pj's until noon.

Still. Still, I wanted more from this summer, not the least of which was a trip to one of our Southern California beaches. The beaches of north San Diego county are only about an hour away, and yet we never once made it to the beach. I feel horrible about this, and I know it's not too late to remedy it, but aaargh. We all have our ambitions, our mental images of what something should be, and summer doesn't feel complete yet, for me. I had also hoped for more board games, more impromptu trips for cheap ice cream cones from the Rite Aid counter. It was hard for me to be spontaneous, this summer.

The picture above was taken at Pfieffer Beach in Big Sur (just like my sandy toes post). Those two screamed at the water and the waves as though they were landlocked Midwestern children who had never seen the ocean. Nor-Cal beaches are not "true" Beach Boys/surfin'/Coppertone kinds of beaches, though. The coast is rocky, the water is colder, the waves choppier. We need a trip to the shore, before this summer is truly through.

August 4, 2009

Summertime Toes

So! I thought I was remiss in only having a post or two in July -- and come to find that I didn't write a single post for the past month. Oops.

Back when I last posted, I said the weather was still a bit unseasonable and cool -- not at all the case now, in the first week of August. We definitely have our chlorine and pool-scented skin days upon us now.

So here was a bit of July..
On the 11th, you would've found me here:
Sitting poolside with my sister at our home association's public pool. We've gone to the pool more this summer than in previous years -- and that said, we've still gone less than a dozen times, so far. Lily has learned to swim pretty well though, and that has been a very life-changing thing, in terms of the hassle and stress of making sure that my two children won't drown on my watch. Now I just have to get Tucker to the same level (next year?), and I'll be one of those enviable women I've often gazed upon, sitting alone with a magazine or book in the shade while the kids frolic in the deep end.

So that was July 11th, and then just a few days later, on July 13, I was here:
at Pfieffer Beach in Big Sur. Wow, that was a great trip. So great, I guess, that I haven't much felt like recounting it here. Suffice to say that it was good, and much needed, to train my eyes out into the great expanse of the sea and sky and landscape of the big and gorgeous world. Now I'm back home, and my eyes have been re-focused once again onto the small scale: the minutia of packed snacks and scraped knees, of saying farewell to Lily's first pet, a betta fish named Alexa who was well-loved (if frail from the get-go), of trading babysitting dates with friends and cooking meals for another friend with a newborn. Good things, important things in my life and neighborhood, but....AH.

Those things are not this, either, are they?

No. So, here we are, here I am, it's the first week of August, less than 2 weeks to go before summer break is over, and as Perry once sang, the summertime rolls. But truly, I am more in the same mood of the great Keith, circa Exile on Main Street:The sunshine bores the daylights outta me...

June 29, 2009

I Vant to Be Alone

Oof, I'm in a grouchy mood today. Well, not outwardly grouchy with anyone -- more just inwardly grouchy with my own grouchy, cranky self. Grouchy at how, forty years into it here, my personality can still fill like a horsehair shirt, ill-fitting and irritating and not at all what I would have chosen, personally, out of the Great Outfitting Closet in the sky.

Always, it's such a back and forth drama: the need for friends, the desire for close friends, warring with my very deep-seated mistrust of people, of the prickly, snarky game that is the world of women's friendships. Also, let's face it -- I'm just not a people person by far. I'm an introvert, a writer and muser by nature, shy and yet deeply sarcastic and therefore an ace at leading people to conclude that I'm a stuck-up bitch. Perhaps I am.

Over the weekend, the neighbors directly behind us had a hell-raiser of a party. They have a pool, and a firepit, and these are mighty small lots in our housing tract, so we were privy to just about every noise and conversation out there. "Conversation" being a high-falutin' description for the shrieks, cussin' and roarin' we heard, during their drinking games and other Saturday night hijinks. Except for the fact that this noise went on well past midnight, I don't begrudge my neighbors their fun. In fact, I felt a bit jealous at their ability to cut loose and have such an uncomplicated good time.

I hold my drinks pretty well, so very rarely get truly "drunk." (Then again, I'm not often caught doing jello shots, which would help out.) When I do get a bit tipsy, I become either maudlin and nostalgic, or a bit er, amorous. Neither of these states really play well in a crowd.

Well, I'm a loner, baby, to paraphrase Beck. I just have a hard time embracing it, some days. I am not at all like my husband, who very cheerfully admits that he hates most people, and the whole concept of the human race, as a whole. No interior agonizing with that one.

In keeping with my loner state, I'm sharing some pictures taken out at the very lonely and desolate Salton Sea last July. We were out in Palm Springs celebrating our anniversary, and I suggested a long drive out to visit this huge, man-made body of water sitting out in the middle of an extremely arid, scorching landscape. I had been here years earlier, but forgot how truly barren and windswept this place can be. And yet beautiful, in its starkness and silence.
A couple of weeks ago, I read in one day Marisa Silver's acclaimed novel, The God of War, about a boy and his family living in a trailer community near the Salton Sea. A good book, and very evocative of its setting, especially the desert as it was in the mid-1970s, when it was even easier to fall through society's cracks. Here is the book's first paragraph:

Where I grew up, people kept their business to themselves. I lived in the desert, far enough east of the big cities of Southern California to render them meaningless to my daily life, closer to the border of Mexico than most people would have liked to admit. People did not so much choose to live in that parched frontier as they ended up there. It was a place generally ignored because it did not have much to offer, and so it was a place where you could be left alone. The desert's plants and animals thrived in seemingly impossible circumstances, against heat and drought and other odds. The same could have been said of its people, too.
If you are not from Southern California and have not visited its deserts, this place can feel and look very exotic and foreign indeed. Even for me, who is quite familiar with the desert communities around Palm Springs, driving through the small agricultural outpost towns such as Thermal felt very strange, as though I were in another country altogether. It's quite a place out there, 118 feet below sea level, and baking under the desert heat of frequent days over 110-degrees, and it doesn't get much cooler after the sun goes down.

No one else was there.

We walked along the shore for a good while before realizing the "sand" is in fact comprised of the crunched and tiny sun-bleached bones of millions of tilapia fish.

The Visitor's Center was open; we were the only guests.

Back in civilization, wind-tilted telephone poles alongside the train tracks.

We stopped at the Oasis Date Garden in Thermal, a date-packing plant and shop. The pen I bought in their gift shop is right here next to my keyboard.

June 24, 2009

Slow Start

Sheesh, summer is starting off slooowly around these parts. I hear that the Midwest and South are experiencing some terrible broiling heat already -- but here in Southern California, we're going on our third week of below-normal temps, with most days starting out socked-in with the low, gray ocean-borne cloud cover that we natives refer to as "June Gloom." Each year we go through this a bit, but this is a particularly bad year. I've also had a cold, which developed into a mild sinus infection, leaving me feeling tired and woozy and uninspired to do much with the kids beyond basic care and feeding. That summer vibe of "orange popsicles and lemonade"  that the B-52's sang about, of  flip flops and chlorine-pool scented skin, haven't quite made an appearance around here yet.

So far we've done some tent camping up in Lake Arrowhead, a mountain resort community less than two hours away. That was fun; I'll be posting about that soon. Meanwhile -- this is how our summer got kicked off two Fridays ago. We dropped the kids off with my mom and went to an outdoor concert to see my beloved Neko Case at the Greek Theatre in L.A., spent the night (in an unremarkable and noisy motel) and woke up and immediately drove over to the famous L.A. outdoor Farmer's Market.

It's very good for the soul to get out of our small 'burb and experience a more urban lifestyle, even if only for just shy of 24 hours. It was fun to people watch, and to see a more varied and diverse population than what we typically see around these parts.

It was a rather gray Saturday at the Farmer's Market, and these pics were taken with my husband's cellphone. Still, hopefully you can get a sense of the bustle and character of the Farmer's Market, and the adjoining (and much newer) outdoor mall, "The Grove."
The Grove --the red awning is the American Girl Cafe.

Strollling with the iconic Farmer's Market tower in the background. 

Ah, Los Angeles, my home. Such a push-pull of where I belong. For now, it's here. More summer postings soon -- including a reading list, both for my seven year old, and myself. And also, the seasonal reading nook I recently created just for her, in our front hall closet.

June 10, 2009

Speaking of SAHM's

I've been a fan of Meg Wolitzer's for a very long time, beginning back in high school when I read her YA novel, Sleepwalking. It's one of those YA novels that's way more A(dult) than Y(oung). And her The Wife is a brilliant skewering of the male ego, professional writers and the Breadloaf Writer's Conference.

In the The Ten Year Nap, Wolitzer turns her attention to stay-at-home moms, specifically the type who have college degrees and thriving careers, and still choose to become full-time caregivers when their children are born. I wish I'd liked this book more, I'd been eagerly looking for it for awhile --- but frankly, I was a bit bored, and not because of the subject matter. (As a SAHM myself -- see previous post), I find others in my millieu a fairly fascinating subject. I think part of the problem is that the "mommy wars" and its debates between "opt-out" moms vs. working mothers has been mostly played out, at least in the media.

Even if this subject is somewhat played out, I do continue to wish for a literary novel (as opposed to Jennifer Weiner's sort of breezy chick-lit) that deals with moms of the true suburbs in an honest way. The women depicted here are all located in Manhattan, and the one mom from the group who has moved away to a nearby 'burb is portrayed as lonely and isolated, living in some sort of cultural wasteland, when she's a mere train ride from the city. (Please -- you want cultural wasteland -- try nearly 2 hours outside of L.A.)

I read it from beginning to end, and liked the women well enough, but in the end, felt that I was being mildly chastized for my choice of being a SAHM -- as the slight put-down of the title suggests, Wolitzer seems to feel that women at home are sleepwalking a bit through life and HEY, JUST BECAUSE THAT'S A LITTLE TRUE, I still wish that her fictional women in real NYC just felt a little more real, a little less like sociological examples of Wolitzer's thesis that real "work," and a passionate calling, are the true paths to female happiness.

And, truth be told, I do agree with her thesis -- and The Ten Year Nap has many insightful, witty and revealing moments -- but nobody like to be scolded, especially when isn't really that conflicted or regretful about the choices she's made.

June 5, 2009

Inspired Friday: MOMS Club

Not a great new blog discovery, not a beautiful art print for this (2nd) Inspired Friday. Instead, it's something that's such a mundane and everyday part of my life, I hardly think about it.
That something is the MOMS Club, or at least my neighborhood's chapter of this international organization.

The MOMS Club has been much on my mind for the last week or so, though, because our neighborhood chapter has been very, very close to closing up shop and ceasing to exist. MOMS (moms offering moms support) has been a vital part of my adjusting to and feeling part of this community. When we moved here almost exactly five years ago, I knew no one, had a 2 year old daughter, and was expecting my 2nd child. Initially I was okay with things -- absorbed in outfitting and overhauling our new home, finding my way about town and preparing for the birth of my son.

Shortly after his birth though, I started to feel crazily isolated and miserable. I'd made no new friends, my neighbors were standoffish -- if they even acknoweledged us at all. (Five years in, the neighbors just to our right, across the greenbelt, have never spoken to me or my children.) The town, which still leans conservative, was even moreso back then -- Bush had just been re-elected to his 2nd term, I felt like we lived in Texas, for godsake, and I, who had initiated this "great idea" to relocate here, was full of regrets.

Now, I am not a joiner, and have never been too comfortable identifying myself with any particular group. But I was desperate for friends and a friendly face, friends whom I didn't need to load up and drive an hour back into Orange County to visit. Because I'm not a joiner and am basically an introvert, I had a tough time with the couple of informal, loosely organized play groups that I'd stumbled upon at local tot lots. The women were somewhat friendly, if a bit aloof, but still welcomed me to meet up with them at various parks around town. After two or three stabs at this, I gave up and let it go, sensing I was just not a good fit.

Enter the MOMS Club: an ad in a local paper announced that local chapters were having an "open house" at a park to attract new members. I figured that any club organized enough to hold an open house event must be pretty large and established, and so I went --- and joined up that very day. If nothing else, I figured that ponying up the $25 annual dues would force me to attend and try to participate. (Not that this idea works very well with my gym membship...).

I was immediately placed into a playgroup, joining 6 or 7 other moms who had children close to Lily's age. On a weekly basis, I was invited into the other women's homes, offered coffee and snacks and (initially) strained but adult conversation. My kids and I went to Halloween and Christmas parties, craft events and tours of pizza joints, grocery stores and the like -- along with the weekly playgroup.
Lily & Tucker at a MOMS Club tour of a local dairy farm, Fall 2007

My kids each made friends. Crazyily enough, even I made friends, and started to place a lot of names with a lot of faces in and around our neighborhood. A year into it, myself and another fairly new member were roped into serving as Co-Presidents of our chapter (each year there is an "executive board" of volunteers who keep the group on track).

Almost 4 years into my membership, the club is still a part of my daily life and routine. I'm currently the editor or our monthly newsletter, still in a playgroup with my son Tucker, and bump into women all over town who are friends, or at least passing acquaintences, because of our shared experiences in the club.

Earlier this month, I wrote a bit of a farewell/warning note to our members in the newsletter, stating that this was likely their last issue, ever. The term of the current board is ending, and nobody (besides me) had stepped up to be on the board for the 2009-2010 term. Getting volunteers to step up to what sounds like the scarily officious "executive board" is never easy in any given year. This year has been different, though -- the economy has forced a lot of stay-at-home moms back into the workplace, we enlisted NO new members, and a bit of taking-it-all-for granted apathy among our members have all contributed to the problem. Also, children get older and move on to play at the school yard, rather than in back yards, and this too has caused us to lose literally dozens of members of late.

But, as I learned today, there have been several eleventh-hour commitments garnered at the last minute, before the higher-ups in this huge organization had to take moves to officially disband our chapter. Even though part of me would be all too happy to give up the monthy chore of compiling the newsletter, and felt that the lazy laggarts in the club were getting what they deserved if the club shut it's doors.....

Still, I am happy by this news, and inspired by the women volunteers who have stepped up to help out again. Corny as it sounds, I'm touched that they, like me, value the club and the role it's played in our lives enough to keep this show running for at least another year. And I truly believe there are brand-new moms around here, moms whose families have scored great deals on some of these sad foreclosures around us, who are looking around in a bit of desperation for a friendly face and for just somewhere besides storytime at the library to take their kids to meet other children. Maybe even moms like me, who will look backward in a few years and marvel at how social and involved and busy they've become, all due to joining the MOMS Club.
Summer '08: 4 families, 8 kids, tent camping near Crestline. Good friends all, and all met through the club.

June 2, 2009

Playa del Rey Art

This is the newest piece of artwork that I've put up in our home. It's in the family room, which was recently re-painted (again), this time with Benjamin Moore's Hibiscus. My dear departed dad gave me this painting several years ago.

My dad was a thrift-shop dealer and devoted garage sale-r, and occasionally rented spaces in large antique markets -- and off and on, even leased his own store fronts. It's from him that I inherited my deep and abiding love for old stuff. In fact, when I'm feeling blue, or missing him more than usual, spending an afternoon browsing among the local stores in our Old Town antique district calms me immeasurably. At no other time can I hear his voice so clearly in my head, as when I pick up a piece of pottery and hear him scoff at the marked-up price.

Anyway, he gave me this painting a while back, and I loved it -- but then stuffed it away in my already over-stuffed garage. Recently I re-discovered it, and it was quite a "eureka" moment.

The painting depicts a busy and bustling scene in a beach town -- I guessed immediately that it was somewhere here in Southern California, and was right. I Googled both the names of the street (Culver), and a seafood restaurant visible in the foreground, and learned that the scene is in Playa del Rey. Playa del Rey is a small beach community, near larger South Bay towns like El Segundo and Marina del Rey. Judging from the cars and the girls in the bikini's, I'm guessing the painting was done sometime in the late 60s or very early 70s.

It was also very filthy -- I cleaned it with some soap and water, testing a very small patch, first. The wet paper towel came off quite black and grimy, and then progressed to yellow the more I cleaned (ugh -- from a smoker's home?). The painting, untitled and unsigned, is still a bit faded, but this adds to it's vintage charm (for me, anyway).

I fretted about how to frame it -- never having framed a stretched canvas before. I ultimately ordered a custom frame from Custom Frame Solutions, an online site that lets you choose your wood moldings from several styles and colors -- and very affordable, too. I wanted something that looked old, as if it had come with the painting -- and I think I chose perfectly. (Rare for me, when I order such things off the internet.) The wood even has a very slight yellow-green tinge to it.

So, here's my Playa del Rey artwork. I love it, even more for the sentimental history behind how it was acquired.
Here's a larger room-view. I'm eager to start a bit of a gallery wall, with other prints surrounding the painting. I've already bought one print; still need a few others. I'll share it here whenever that happens.

And here's a close-up of the flowers I bought at our local farmer's market. A dollar a stem, and worth every cent. Don't know what they're called (pincushions?), but how great are they?

May 30, 2009

Inspired Friday: Piewacket

Recently, I've begun to jot down some ideas in a notebook, a pathetically basic idea that has just dawned on me in regards to the blog. I get lots of ideas in the shower and driving around town that never materialize into actual posts, and maybe this little notebook of jottings will keep me motivated and blogging.

One of my ideas is to start featuring a weekly post themed around something that has inspired me of late. I see a lot of good stuff out there on the 'net, stuff that gets my creative juices flowing (and usually makes me also want to open my wallet.) It may be a blog, a specific post, an artist, a designer, etc. -- just something I've stumbled upon on the web or real life that has my brain humming and excited. So, here is the first installment in what I hope becomes a weekly feature: "Inspired Friday."

My inaugural Inspired Friday features a blog that has been much on my mind for the last month or so: Piewacket: Unique Show & Tell. I found Piewacket via a feature post on another of my favorite blogs, SFGirlByBay. You can jump over there and read her full article here, along with a host of beautiful pictures featuring the home of Piewacket's creator, professional photographer Lara Rossignol.

Lara's Atlanta home is chock-full of vintage goodness, and the way she's incorporated her style and her obsessions into her own unique look is something I find very stimulating and inspiring. Looking at her home, two things immediately come to mind: 1) she obviously does not have any small children underfoot! and 2) DUH.
DUH, because her style makes me feel like slapping myself about the head and shouting, "and why haven't YOU done this?" I have been fairly obsessed with styling my room and surroundings since I was in junior high, maybe earlier. (This subject could be another long post on its own.) Yet for a long, long time (like, until maybe just 4 or 5 years ago?) I've been under the delusion that my house had to look "grown up;" like everyone else's house. I thought the sofas and furniture found at Linder's or other bargain-level stores (what we could usually afford) was the style that had to dictate my own home.

A lot of this need to "look like everyone else" and appear as normal as possible has been the cause of a whole lot of creative self-stifling over the years, and I sometimes feel that I'm just beginning to break free of that impulse.

When I see a home like Lara's, I feel a sort of overwhelming tide of admiration at her bravado -- for it does take a certain kind of bravery and flying-in-the-face of the expected to display your obsessions, your collections and therefore so much of yourself in this way. It also takes a certain kind of dedication to the lifestyle -- and a discipline with oneself -- to stick to this certain look. One cannot really impulse buy for the home at 90% of major retail outlets when you choose to outfit your space so personally. And (as I know from experience), it also makes it hard for friends and family to buy things for you -- for unless they totally "get it," most gifts of household tchotchkes (photo frames, figurines, vases, etc.) will be received graciously, even as your inner decorator is sadly thinking, "um, no. "

What I'm truly trying to say about Ms. Rossignol's home and personal style could perhaps be more elegantly summed up with this quote from Emerson: In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
Piewacket has quickly become one of my favorite blogs. I visit her site each day with the same anticipation for a new post that's close only to my love for dear Alicia's site, Posy Gets Cozy. And, as I once commented about Alicia's blog, "it's like yummy sweet lotion that I want to rub all over myself." Heck, even her beautiful photos of lemons, barbecue joints, and the Las Vegas skyline feel inspiring.

***All photos above by Lara Rossignol. ***

Finally, I know that I'm a late bloomer, but to be figuring out some of this stuff at 40 feels damn pathetic. (On the other hand, I'm a little excited about what the next years ahead may bring.)

May 26, 2009

Senior Kink

At my local Barnes & Noble today, I overheard a grandmotherly lady (lace-up white loafers and all) inquire at the Information kiosk about some titles she'd jotted down on a scrap of paper.

Ever-nosy about what books people are interested in, I lingered at the nearby table of paperbacks and was stunned when the employee read back the names of the 3 books the lady was asking about. They were: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty's Release, and Beauty's Punishment: the trilogy of erotic and S&M-themed porn novels written by good 'ol (crazy) Anne Rice.

"Yes, that's it," the woman said. "I want to order two copies of each." Two copies of each? Look, I've read at least one of the above books. They're pretty sexy -- lots of spanking and creative uses of foreign objects, I seem to recall. Does this grandma know what she's in for? And why two? Is she in some kind of assisted-living book club? Is one for her, and the other for grandpa?

The mind reels.

Also: I found a good quote by e.e. cummings on the inside of a young-adult novel, about a girl who can fly:

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight and never stop fighting."

Aha. No wonder I'm so tired.

It's even harder to fight the good battle if one lives in this isolated and uber-suburban town, which some have deemed "the bible belt of Southern California." (But with me & kinky grandma here, rest assured we have at least a couple of free-thinking residents.) There goes the neighborhood.

May 25, 2009

If the Vans are a Rockin'...

.....and yadda yadda again on the time that's passed since the last post. I'm here! Twice in the same month. Let's focus on the positive.

So, what better way to kick off Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer than with a new pair of Lo-Pro, tomato red Vans. Gotta love it when the hubby wants to both play mall rat and agree to buy me a new pair of shoes. (It was really a shopping spree for him -- badly, if not desperately, in need of new jeans, shorts and shoes.) He bought these:
Which, shockingly, as he grew up here in So.Cal, are his first-ever pair of slip-on Vans. (Many other pairs of Vans have been bought, worn and trashed over the near-12 years of our marriage.) Maybe this summer he can channel his inner Spicoli.
(Trolling the 'net for Spicoli pics has put me very in the mood for watching Fast Times. It used to be a tradition for me to pop my copy into the VCR and watch it every summer.)

Me, I'm looking forward to rockin' my new Vans in denim shorts, a floral sundress, or even looking a little retro-70s in a thin-striped navy & white t-shirt. And then tipping them out to shake loose all the grass and sand from lots of summer picnics and seaside adventure.

Get ready, Summer -- the Shires are so gearin' up.

May 13, 2009

*On Clean White Sheets*

I was spoiled rotten on Mother's Day. It was a good day -- no breakfast, or even toast, in bed -- but that's because the kids slept in a bit later than usual. I seem to remember that last year, both of them were awake around 6:30am and chomping at the bit to storm my room, wake me up and give me their proudly-presented toast and coffee.

Quite adorable in theory, but in reality? Let me sleep!

I was treated to a pancake breakfast cooked up by the hubby, and was gifted up to my eyebrows in a manner much more befitting Christmas than a mere Mother's Day. Sweet handmade cards, a beautiful photo scrapbook from Lily, made in her first-grade class. Two decorated brown lunch bags, filled with a feather, a pencil, and a dollar (!) in each.

My favorite surprise (of many!) was some much-coveted bedding from Pine Cone Hill. Mmm, sheets. Yes, I did request them. But I had asked for either the Louisa duvet cover, or the ruffled sheet set. Instead, I was treated to not one, but both items, along with the matching pillow shams. I'd seen the duvet cover a year ago in the May '08 Better Homes & Gardens. It was folded at the bottom of a guest bed, and had the simple-yet feminine-and also slighty vintage feel that I'd been trying to find in a quilt or bed cover.

I've cheated for the last half year with just a lightweight white comforter folded at the foot of the bed, but the ruffles add a wonderful finishing touch. And God bless my dear husband, for not only tolerating white ruffles, but acquiring them at my behest.

The sheets are very soft, and are likely the highest quality sheets I've ever owned. Only 200 count, but I've read that retailers often fudge on thread-count counting, so that a "400 count" sheet set for $30 at Anna's Linens feels and looks about as lux as it sounds. Evidently 200-count combed cotton, made in India, is a whole different animal.

I tried to give the sheets the royal treatment they deserved before fitting them onto my 11-year-old mattress: I bought fresh-smelling linen spray! I bought spray starch! I flipped the mattress! I washed the sheets in warm water without bleach or further additives, did an extra rinse, and tumbled-dried low without a dryer sheet.

And then I commenced to iron. And iron. And iron. The full sheet, the pillow cases, the duvet cover. I gave up on the fitted sheet. And in the end? Those were still some damned wrinkled white sheets on my bed. I will say, after all of the above efforts, that I slept quite soundly in my newly dressed bed. Mmmm, to clean white sheets.

Perhaps all that physical effort could have been avoided if I'd only gotten one of the other items I'd requested: a backyard clothesline. Yes, my recent bedding fetish also features dreams of fresh linens snapping and drying in the afternoon breeze. Never mind that my neighborhood is uber-suburban, and I have a rather narrow and shallow rectangle of a backyard. Images like this have filled my head of late:

And this:

That last picture looks a lot like my old backyard in Orange, with the telephone wires against the sky, and the bougainvillea in the background. There may even be the distant sound of a freight train in the distance there. *Sigh*

However, reality check: those whiteys flapping in the breeze there are cloth diapers. I admire that kind of dedication to the environment, but, um, NO. And also, maybe it means something that the most vivid memory of clotheslines I have from my childhood is when I was four, and twirling myself around & around the metal pole of one end of the clothesline, while my mom hung the laundry. Then I got dizzy and fell, and whacked my mouth onto the concrete supporting base. I screamed bloody hell, was given a popsicle, and ended up with a gray front tooth that hung around for a couple years until I got my permanent tooth.

So, yeah. Maybe not.

In the end, I have no idea where this new bedding/laundry/fresh breezes fetish arose from. Probably too many spring shelter magazines urging us all to "Get Outdoors NOW" have gone to my head. Or perhaps it's my brain, processing and memorizing the lyrics from my beloved Neko Case's new album.
This, from one of my favorites, This Tornado Loves You:

Cause I miss, I miss, I miss/
How you'd sigh yourself to sleep/
While I raked the springtime/
Across your sheets.

Ahhh. Lovely. Almost as lovely as my new, soft, wrinkled white bedding.

April 3, 2009

Important to Note

**Hello, it's me. I can barely believe I haven't posted since January. I think about blogging a lot, and have composed countless posts in my head. I think I'm just lazy. For me, blogging is sort of like the gym: I'm happier and feel better after doing it, but thinking about it stresses me out and makes me feel twice as lazy as usual.

Also, I still have my issues about putting my name & (strong) opinions on this blog in what is essentially a very small town of 100,00o+ people. (For instance, I consider myself to have about 5-6 good friends at most, and yet in Facebook-world, I have over 40 of them. And half are from here in my neighborhood tract.) Still, I always hear that one needs to confront and do the uncomfortable and scary things to grow, so maybe I'll just be a little more brave about putting myself out there. (Yes, I could blog under a psuedonym, but that seems pointless.)

And I really do need to grow and crack myself open a bit. I've been feeling so, so stuck in my head and my world and my particular funk of 2009, and something needs to change. It's been the Year of the Ox around here -- a lot of hard work, a lot of plodding and putting one foot in front of the other -- mostly for my husband and his work, but since he works from home, his problems feel like they're mine pretty easily. We both need a change of pace, some fun, some fresh air. Maybe me airing out my brain here will help that to start happening. It is spring after all.**

Okay. So, enough about me and where I've been (again). I've read a lot of books since I last reviewed one, and part of my problem has been feeling the pressure of the growing backlog to discuss them. Well, screw that. No backlog -- I'm just jumping in with what I'm reading right now.

And what I'm reading now is crazy Anne Rice's memoir Called Out of Darkness. Look at that cover. If I just saw that picture and didn't know who it was, I woud think: "that lady is a little nuts, no?" And Anne Rice sure seems a little nuts in this book. And NOT because I think she is crazy to return to the Roman Catholic faith of her childhood. In fact, that was the appeal of the book. As a very shaky believer with no background in organized religion, I'm usually drawn to hearing what other writers and thinkers have to say about their own faith. (Like, say, nutty Anne Lamott.)

But Anne Rice here is just ----- whew. Tiresome. The book starts off strongly enough, with her (quite nostalgic and sentimental) look back at her childhood and how Mass and the daily rituals of her family's very strong Catholic faith make up the bedrock of her early identity. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of her neighbourhood, on the outer edge of New Orleans' Garden District, of the grand churches and beautiful chapels she and her sister frequent, and the customs of the city that no longer exists in this modern age. Rice says that at an early age, she was convinced that she wanted to be a priest -- she didn't realize that as a girl, that would never be allowed. Then she moves on to wanting to become a nun, but realizes that for her, it's less about faith, and more about fame and glory.

Okay...then we move onto her going to college, where she eventually grows away from her faith and it's contradictions, meets lots of good and moral secular humanists, and decides that she is now an atheist, which she remains for many decades.

What drives me out of my mind is her insistent, compulsive need to keep writing "It's important to note...." Seriously, at times it feels like every other freakin' paragraph starts with this phrase -- and as a reader, I'm taken back to my days as a Freshman Comp. instructor, reading a very earnest and socially "important" term paper.

I think I could take this, and might be able to enjoy the endless re-hashing of how gender identity issues stalk her life and work, if the woman had even a shred, an iota, of a sense of humor. But, nope. Not here. Which, coupled with both the front-jacket picture and the toothy author pic on the back jacket, leads me to conclude that Anne Rice is, er, crazy.

"It's important to note" for me, that I've never read her famous Interview with the Vampire, her first, and I hear, best work. I have read a couple of the books in her "Mayfair Witches" series, and I enjoyed the first one very much. It was deeply evocative of New Orleans, and her rich descriptions of that lush and strange old city made me convinced that I had to see it. (Which I finally did, back in 2001.)

So, perhaps Anne Rice is a good novelist, but a poor memoirist. That's certainly allowed. I just find myself with so many questions about her faith that she refuses to address -- how her faith affected, and was affected by, some pretty devastating life events: the sudden death of ther alcoholic mother when Rice was yet a teenager, the loss of her first child, a daughter, to leukemia at age six. Even the brain tumor and death of her husband shortly after her return to the Church. Aren't those life-shaking things the ones that test your faith -- or purported lack of it?? (No late-night beseeching on her knees, even when her daughter is given that grave diagnosis? Really?)

If nothing else, what comes across is Rice's great thirst for knowledge and her deep appreciation of classical art and history. And, I'm happy for her to have found such profound meaning in her return to her Catholic faith.

I still think she's crazy.

January 31, 2009

Sick Week

We've all been sick this week. First Lily, then Tucker, then Myk and finally, me. I thought (hoped against all reason) that I'd escape this nasty flu --after all, I was just getting over a mild cold from early in the previous week -- but, no. It's one thing to hover over and worry about the little ones coming down with high fevers and aches and coughs -- quite another to be that pathetic one yourself, molding permanent impressions of your prone shape into the sofa. And truth be told, yes, I'd always rather it was me that got sick, if it could somehow spare the kids from looking so limp and sad. But still. We're all quite done with being trapped in the house and feeling weak and spindly, but this bug is not quite ready to turn us loose yet into the sunshine. So in the house we remain -- shuffling from room to couch to bed and back, all of us coughing and hacking. Charming!

Oh, what a difference a week makes. Last Saturday, we were free of the children, who were spending the weekend at my mother's place. I knew in my heart that it was a bad idea to shuttle them off to Whittier -- my sister (who lives right next door) was laid low in bed with the flu, and I knew odds were good that my kids would catch it. Still, we sent them off, because we had a date night planned with friends, and because we couldn't quite turn down the promise of some much-needed alone time. Alone. In the house, all alone for two nights.
Last Saturday afternoon I laid atop the bed with my husband, looking out the tall windows at the fast-moving clouds, at the sunshine that came in dappled throught the curtains, and felt so at peace, so content. A little dark grey cloud of thought scudded across my mind that there would be a price to pay for this time alone, that the kids would get sick because of this, but I chased it away.

Cut to later in the week, where I laid on the family room couch for the entire day, snuffling through a box of tissue and weeping salty and germy tears into my pillow, as I gazed upon the utter chaos and mess that has overtaken the house this week. It's all there, still waiting for me. All my contentment and peace are long forgotten. Was it worth it?

For a mediocre burger at a chain restaurant followed up with some Wii bowling with our friends? Probably not, much as we loved getting out and socializing with them. If nothing else, it drives home the point that we really, really need to find a local babysitter and not have to necessarily drive nearly 200 miles round-trip to drop the kids at my mother's, all for 6 hours worth of adult fun.

But for the hours alone with my husband, for the sunny afternoon alone in the house, for talking (and more) without a single interruption or demand for more juice? Totally worth it. (Hack, hack, snuffle.)

Well, almost.

January 19, 2009

Good Times

What a good weekend. It started late Saturday afternoon when I grabbed my overnighter, hit the 15 outta town and arrived at my friend Becky's apartment in Long Beach.

It was so good to catch up with an old friend, to have a conversation over homemade guac & chips that could mention and accommodate children, and yet not revolve solely around talk of their care and feeding. It was so good, as Becky brilliantly termed it, to not have to constantly
recalibrate myself -- to talk about books and movies and politics as ideas that matter and not have to shrug and feign mere lukewarm, passing interest in things dear to me.

Also: really good to be able to be totally snarky about the
Twilight series and the droves of grown women reading such crap.

Saturday night was spent celebrating Becky's birthday (a milestone one that I myself
might be familiar with, but I'm done saying that word over and over in some compulsive need to self-reveal) at a very cool and trendy Kareoke club in Koreatown called the Orchid Club. Their web site claims that they've been listed as one of the top 3 Kareoke clubs in all of L.A., so how cool did that make us, sitting in an awesome private room for six hours? We closed the place down, baby.

My throat was raw from shouting along with the assembled group to Bohemian Rhapsody and Copacabana and (Fill Me Up) Buttercup. My thigh has a small bruise thanks to my enthusiastic and (quite inspired, if I do say) whacking of the tambourine. Still, the highlight was hands-down Becky's and my thunderous rendition of Dio's "Last in Line:"

"We'll know for the first time
If we're EVIL or DIVINE
We're the last in line!"

Truly, we sounded just. like. Dio. (Or was it Tenacious D?)

Sunday morning found me at the coffee shop in the above picture, sitting right where that empty chair is, near the car's front tire, as we waited for our table. I sipped my coffee under skies just that blue, watching cars pass on Ocean Blvd. and the breeze move through the palms and thought of those freezing all over the rest of the country and felt truly grateful just to be in that moment.

Thanks Becky, for a great time, for letting me crash with you, and for conversations that included mentions of Gilmour Girls and Ellen Gilchrist, Harpers magazine and writing, and, as ever, the conundrum that is So Cal real estate.

Rock on.

January 12, 2009

Favorite Reads, 2008

Before we get any further into this new year, I wanted to share my favorite books of the past year. There are just a few of them -- for while I read a lot of books, not that many of them stuck to my ribs and joined the ranks of "Favorite Reads Ever." None of the books below were actually published this past year. Two are a couple years old, and one was written in the 1940s.

Okay, enough throat-clearing.

3. The Shadow Catcher, by Marianne Wiggins.
I wrote a full-length post about it here. I still have the copy on the lower shelf of my bedside table, and seeing it makes me happy that I chose it, back at the little bookstore in the Mandalay Bay in Vegas. Also, in the earlier post, I wrote that my dad probably had a book or two of Edward S. Curtis's in his possession. My mom was rooting around in my dad's still-full closet this year when I was visiting, and sure enough, I did spy at least one old book of Curtis's there. Something to snag at some later date. Again, as I wrote before, this is a sentimental favorite, not only because it a was a good read, but also because so much of it reminded me of my late dad, and how I wish I could have told him about it.

2. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
Light and bubbly as mimosa over Sunday brunch. I would think you'd have to be a terrible cynic or grump not to like this book, narrated by seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. (Great name. And so reminiscent of my high school goth nom de plume,
Morticia B. Cavendish.) I have some nice memories of reading this under the warm covers on some of the first chilly days of fall. Actually, I don't think we had any chilly days this fall. Such is the power of suggestion, since Cassandra and her sister are living in near-poverty in a very chilly and damp old English castle, dreaming of how to make some money, buy new dresses, and simply not go to bed hungry every night. Cassandra also wrote many of the sections in her journal (three long sections of which comprise the novel) by candlelight. Give me long enough and I'll tell you that this is the method by which I remember reading the book.

Speaking of high school: I remember asking my senior-year AP English teacher, Ms. Vi Klessig, if she'd read a certain book. "
I stopped reading coming of age novels when I came of age," was her response. Well. Evidently, at middle age, I have yet to come of age myself, as I'm still a sucker for any juicy tale told by an emoting adolescent. Now that I think of it, Ms. Klessig was quite the grump and cynic. Besides, how could you not like the writer who also wrote the famous One Hundred and One Dalmations, and gave the two parent dogs the very English and charming names of "Perdita" and "Pongo." Very charming, very English. A keeper.

and, drumroll, please....

1. The Principals of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman.
Well. What to say about this book? It's a series of paintings, photographs and thoughts by graphic designer, artist and author Kalman. The tone and atmosphere pretty well convey how I've felt on and off for the entire year: sad, hopeful, heartbroken, optimistic -- all at once. She takes note of and recreates moments of beauty and joy and relates them to her own memories of family and friends, and to all of us here on the planet.

Maira Kalman is in love with life and the beauty of the human race. She is also blown out the water and rendered speechless by the death of her beloved mother. The book originally appeard as a series of blog posts on the New York Times site. One series, or chapter as it appears in the book, is linked here.

I believe the series linked to above is the first chapter, or section, of the book. The intelligence, the wit, the loss, are all right there in this entry. I encourage you to click.

To the right is the last illustration of this section, a copy of the map of the U.S. through the eyes of her Russian immigrant mother. The bottom reads:

My mother drew this map for me. This is the world through her eyes. She is no longer alive, and it is impossible to bear. She loved Fred Astaire. And there you go. On you go. Hapless, heroic us."

And on we go, into another year of reading.

January 1, 2009

First & Forty

First post in nearly two months, first post of the new year, first post since turning 40. But that was only 2 weeks ago. Feels like a lifetime, what with the holiday time-warp that took place immediately after, the rush towards Christmas, the push to get everything just right. It wasn't just right, but no one noticed, and it all turned out fine. (Point taken.)

There I am in the picture above, on my birthday, in the snow, in Yosemite. I like that picture of myself, with the kids close by -- but not too close. At a slight remove, am I. I don't always mean to be, yet that's where I usually find myself.

A new decade along with a brand new year and so it's hard to resist the pull toward resolutions and from now-on's and never-agains, although I really suck at those. I'm not one to make lists, to create charts, to devise schedules. They make me leery and suspicious that I'm going to morph into someone else. Like an organized someone, heaven forbid.

I will say this. I'm getting too old for all my old habits of apologizing, all the pointless guilt, all the icky tangle of thinking too hard about trivial things that don't amount to nothin'. Given the choice, I will unfailingly pick the hardest, rockiest path over and over again. But maybe that's just my way. Maybe I should just go with that, and embrace my propensity for leaning into the wind and tilting at windmills. It occured to me today, for intance, the I may not ever decide, or pick a definitive side, on my long, internal pro & con list of whether I actually like living here in Temecula. Some days I love it. Some days I like it okay. Other days, I can't wait to get the hell out of Dodge and back to civilization.

It's a moot point, what with the housing market out here, and how we're pretty much stuck regardless. So maybe I can just....go with it. Be content, if not happy, with the good days and the bad days and just be glad that we have a roof over our heads and a fixed rate, old-fashioned mortgage. Nobody, except me, is actually pointing a gun at my head and demanding that I choose LOVE IT or LEAVE IT.

Kind of like how I feel about blogging, now that I think about it. Still, here I am, for now.

I realized the other day that I don't blog too often, because, you know, somebody might read it. Which, turns out, sums up my many fundamental issues so well that I think I've just saved myself a bundle in the the therapist's office.

Instead of a list of resolutions -- remember, I suck at both -- here's a small set of quotations from Eleanor Roosevelt which seem particularly pertinent to me right now. And if you read between the lines, you'll see all my hopes for myself and my future writ large for you.
I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.

A little simplification would be the first step toward rational living, I think.

Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Which is very closely tied to the following, for me: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

And, finally, and the best one of all:

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

All I have to do is tattoo that one onto my arm, and the rest will be cake. Right?
Happy New Year!
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