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?
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