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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