Sunday, January 31, 2010

Three Things I Observed While Bowling

1. Bowling has gotten fancy, y'all. We stepped out with the Hamiltons the other night to a local bowling establishment. Somehow we wound up on one of the "boutique lanes." This seemed to mean that the lighting was quite dynamic, the furniture was lug-zhurious, and there were really big TV screens down at the end of the lanes, over the pins, and not just the little screens between the scoreboards. I remember when, if you went bowling, you couldn't watch TV at the same time. But this way I was able to see a lot more ultimate fighting than I usually manage to catch. It being "boutique bowling" did not however mean that nobody wore overalls or chewed tobacco and spat in a clear plastic cup. More about that below. This picture does not show all the lugzhury, but believe me, it was there. Also you can see the color of my bra through my shirt, so that's awesome.

While Bowling

And bowling is not cheap anymore. I remember it being something that large groups of people could do for not a lot of money. Not on Friday night they can't. Friday night is kind of bucks. Of course, Thursday night is a dollar per game, but who wants to go bowling on Thursday?

Beer is still cheap though.

2. Bowling is an intercultural experience. The county we live in has a real cultural division into South county and North county. The south county, where we are, is basically metro Atlanta. It's full of people who came from somewhere else and it's kind of plush. The north county is more populated by people who have been settled there a long time. It is full of, like, cows and possibly Trans-Ams. I SAY THAT IN LOVE. Anyway, this bowling emporium is located at a kind of midpoint between the two worlds (that would be exit 14 off GA-400, for my local readers). Like Istanbul, it is a place where the cultures can mix and mingle, creating a rich, heady brew of contrasting traditions, folkways, and wardrobe practices. On one side of us were two fifty year-old guys and their twenty year-old girlfriends. Twenty might be giving these girls too much credit. I think they had just met, but they were getting on very well indeed. It was another exit 14 love connection.

On the other side of us was a big group of people, one of whom was dipping tobacco and spitting in a plastic cup. It's been a while since I've seen that. I didn't know that was still a thing, what with how disgusting it is, and all that's known about cancers of the head and neck. So I died after I saw that, but I was revived when I heard Lincoln ask, "Who wears overalls to a bowling alley?" I loved that question in so many ways, because, really, where IS the right place for a grown man to wear overalls, except for actually on a tractor? I offered the opinion that this fellow probably wore those overalls everywhere. And that guy could bowl too.

And then I saw a girl wrapped in a pashmina. So, yeah, a rich mingling.

Yet another group, who seemed loosely affiliated with the tobacco chewing, overall donning crowd, had a newborn baby and a toddler with them, all between 10 and 12:30 at night. That toddler really didn't want to be there, though the little baby wasn't too bothered. Kelly and I were reminiscing about the scene from Sweet Home Alabama where she says, "And you have a baby! In a bar!"

I also saw a man removing himself from his trousers before he was all the way into the men's bathroom. Rich mingling.

Actually the tobacco juice thing was way worse.

3. I am a terrible bowler.

I Am a Bad Bowler

See how I have a 77 and everyone else is over 100? We played four games and I never scored higher than a 90. Kelly already told this story, but I did actually bowl a couple or three strikes. Just never in a row. My proudest moment was when, unbeknownst to me, Matt bet that I would pick up a spare, and I did. I am just relieved that my husband didn't bet against me, even though it would have been the smart money. Also he looked totally hot in the shoes.

And I am also terrible at drinking beer, if speed is a factor. I challenged Lincoln to a chug-off, and I couldn't finish my cup. But I had a really good time. Matt and I recalled that we'd last gone bowling sometime in the mid 90's. So we were overdue. You all might want to check and see if your bowling licenses are up to date.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

This Is Not How We Ship Things

I have a thing for Red Wing art pottery. It has that mod, mid century look that I love, and even though it's fifty or sixty years old, there's plenty of it around, and it's not too expensive yet. Not like Roseville (send me ur Roseville pinecone plz kthxbai). Here are a couple of my favorite pieces.

I am in love with that green and brown one. That's the Chartreuse pattern. Anyway, after Fabienne broke one of my pieces (it was similar to the one in the top pic), I set out to replace it, and wound up replacing it with like three other bowls. Ain't that the way? The other day on ebay I saw one in a gorgeous blue speckle. It was being sold with a second bowl that I wasn't as crazy about, but hey, they needed a home.

As soon as I saw the box sitting on the front porch, I thought, "Hmm, I hope there aren't two bowls in there." There were.

Um, no peanuts, no bubbles, just a single sheet of that padded wrap and a piece of newspaper around each bowl. I took this picture as soon as I opened the box in case I need documentation later. Anyway, I picked up the first bundle, and it made that slightly sickening crunching sound. The way I imagine a broken bone must feel, minus the actual pain. Et voilá.

Not just a little broken, all the way broken. Oh, and all the packing material reeked of cigarette smoke. HATE. And this blue one was the one I wanted. The other one, a mealy-mouthed Melanie Wilkes-kind of pink and gray, is in perfect shape. Harrumph.

I don't know what that seller was thinking. Or perhaps she's never sent a package, received a package, watched mail being sorted, owned something made of glass, or lived in the physical world subject to natural laws? I say again, harrumph.

So, you know, whatever, I'll email the seller and be like, one bowl was broken, and here's a pic, and she'll be all, well what do you want me to do? And I'll be like, how 'bout refund half the purchase price and a portion of the $12 in shipping I paid, and she'll be like, okay I guess. And then I'll be, like, please also repay me the 20 lifeforce units that I just spent on this whole exchange. And she'll be like, huh? And I'll be like, never mind.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Thoughts Exactly

In re: that new iPad thing, Sara's post. Go read it, won't you?

It made me laugh. Out loud and everything. Then I practiced the move I'd make, pantomiming sliding that thing out of my purse.

That is all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Few Notes

In the complaint department:

1. After that stomach virus, I'm in a pair of skinny jeans. I know this won't last long, as that pesky, life-sustaining liquid works its way back into my system. But anyway, I'm wearing this pair of J. Crew bootcuts that looked really cute on their model. Well. J Crew and I seem to have a disagreement over where my ass should be. They apparently feel that it should be a pancake-like extension of the backs of my legs. I feel that it should be given a little more room to roam. Also, these things are cut completely straight in the hips and I don't know how they are supposed to stay up. Perhaps suspenders? That starts to be not the look I was going for. No matter, I'll be back in my Gap Long and Leans tomorrow.

2. When I haven't seen a movie/TV show/viral video/whatever, I very quickly get tired of hearing it talked about. I have reached my absolute maximum limit of hearing about Avatar. I am sorry if you loved it, I know it was probably quite a spectacle. It just didn't look that cool to me. And now there have been weeks of stories about it as some sort of cultural phenom, with the NYT and other media reporting that people are plunging into depression after seeing it, because it's so awesome and they can't live in that world with those blue people, etc. Sigh. I didn't even like looking at the Happy Meal toys.

3. Ditto "Jersey Shore." Can their fifteen minutes be over soon? Though I did hear that one of the guys on that show calls himself "The Situation." I will hereby be known as "That Whole Situation."

4. Double ditto that pants on the ground thing. Even Hank knows about this. How does this happen? I grow weary and need my smelling salts. . .

5. On the other hand, if you want to chat about "Mad Men" or "LOST," I will rock you all night long. Rock you like a hurricane.

I'll be back in later. I just wanted to unburden myself. xoxo--That Whole Situation

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Double Plus Ungood

Well, as night fell yesterday, I fell victim to Hank's stomach bug. Within the hour, it got Laura too. She and I were moaning and whimpering on opposite couches. I thought, "At least Matt is still standing," but he only hung on until after he carried Laura up to her bed, then uh-oh spaghettio. We were a sad bunch. I got on the phone and canceled all my fun Saturday plans. Then I lay very still.

Taking care of a sick child when you're sick yourself is something they should, like, devise a simulator for and have prospective parents get certified in. Maybe instead of those boring childbirth classes. I'm thankful that Hank was out of the woods, he slept all night. But at one point I awakened to hear Matt being sick in our bathroom and Laura throwing up in her room. Stereo! I went to Laura. That poor thing had a worse case than the grown-ups.

The stomach virus is a great weight-loss plan too. I lost three pounds of annoying liquids yesterday. Tonight Matt and I are mostly recovered. We just feel like we got punched in the gut. I drank a gatorade today and good grief, that was gross. Instead, my electrolytes are being replenished by all the "Gossip Girls" I have tivo'd.

I hope this finds you well. xoxo--B

Friday, January 22, 2010

Where Are My Sister Wives?

Dude, if ever there was a day to be in one of those polygamous families where you all help each other with chores and take turns having sex with Bill Paxton, this is the day, 'cause I am not having fun. Poor buddy Hank is on day 2 of a stomach virus. He woke up in the wee hours of Thursday morning throwing up, then vomited several times before morning. Matt did the night duty and I took over in the morning. There was no more throwing up during the day, but lots of diarrhea. (Aren't you glad you stopped by today?) Anyway, through all of this, Hank was as chipper as could be, drinking clear liquids and eating bananas and a peanut butter sandwich. It had all the signs of a quick 24-hour thing.

Sidebar: I just had a genius idea for the next season of "24." Jack Bauer is left in charge of his grandchild, who has a 24-hour gastrointestinal virus. That is all. I bet he'd be begging for that Chinese prison.

I figured that when we put him to bed last night, we were home free. Matt went to sleep in Hank's room anyway (that guy is a mensch), and little buddy had a major bathroom interlude at 5am and then threw up this morning at 9. I should stress that at no point was Hank really unhappy, but I wailed, on the inside, "This was supposed to be over!" Right now he's eating jello, watching Scooby Doo, and making lots of trips to the toilet. I called the doctor and told her about how I'd only signed up for the 24-hour virus excursion, and she reminded me that Gilligan thought he was on a 3-hour tour. She said this could last a few days, but that as long as he's hydrated, not to worry. The whole thing is more of a laundry problem than a health emergency, it seems.

Which brings me to my plea: where are my sister wives? I need:

1. One wife to sit on the sofa and cuddle Hank (I'll take that one because I like to play Lego Indiana Jones on the xbox with him).
2. One wife to fold and put away the mountain of laundry that is forming in the living room. It is shaped a little like Devil's Tower.
3. One wife to take the decorations off of the Christmas tree. I know, I KNOW, quit giving me that look.
4. One wife to shop for groceries and prepare a meal.
5. One wife to do general cleaning of the upstairs, because some friends are coming to stay with us tomorrow night and they deserve better than this.

These are the minimum tasks that need doing--there's more, but it's getting moved to the "nice to have" column. I'm thankful that my buddy is not feeling too too bad. It dawned on him that today would have been a school day. He said, "I'm much too sick for that place." I agreed with him and he got a gleam of pleasure in his eyes.

So that's what we're doing. I hope y'all are well on this Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Summary Judgments: Book Report

Spotted in the Third Grade
I spied this in Laura's classroom.

Read any good books lately? I've polished off a couple of the books I got for my birthday last month, so I ran right over to tell you guys, naturally.

The new Stephen King book, Under the Dome: you know, I really got into this, all thousand pages of it. I liked the premise--one day an invisible, impenetrable dome appears, trapping a small town--and I liked that there were eleventy hundred characters, though you know that a book might be a tad too long when the list of dramatis personae in the front includes "Dogs of Note." Even though it was super long, that sucker moved. The style did not get in the way, for the most part. And there was very little of that weird crazy-person-thinking-in-italics shit that you get in his stuff. I mean, we know that King is not Cormac McCarthy, right? There were a few clunkers, but mostly he just told the story, which is what I like.

After I turned the last page, I thought, you know, in my lifetime I have gotten hundreds of hours of entertainment from Stephen King, even though I never think about him and wouldn't list him among my favorite authors. I think I read The Shining when I was in the 6th grade--way to monitor my reading, Mom and Dad--and many, many of his books since then. Here are the props I haven't been giving you, Stephen King. So, as fifth-graders say at the end of book reports, if you wanna know what happens to the small town and what the deal with the dome is, you'll have to read the book. Or email me and I'll tell you everything.

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer: This was a finalist for the Booker prize last year. It tells the story of a married couple in the new Czechoslovakia in the 1920's. She's very refined, he's a rich Jewish industrialist, and they commission a great architect to build them a modern house with a stunning, glass-walled pavilion. So, Central Europe, the 1920's and 30's, there's not a cloud in the sky, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

It's a very good book. If you like Alan Furst or other fiction set in this time and place, you'll be into this. I am always wary (and weary) when I start reading a book and feel like I've stepped into a huge pile of metaphor (José Saramago's Blindness, anyone?) and I was a little worried that The Glass Room would go that way, with a whole, like, "there's this room and it's made of glass so everyone can see inside, but somehow the human heart is still mysterious" thing.

But it is way better than that. The characters and their entanglements are gripping even without the dramatic historical backdrop. And I don't know if the story of what modernism in art and architecture meant in this period has been told better than this--the way these people had just emerged from a nightmare of empire and then war, hoping to finally build things that were new and unencumbered by the past, only to run smack into a new, nightmarish present. It's worth reading for the portrait of their sensibilities alone. Also there is some hanky panky. And Nazis.

And then there's the book everybody has been chattering about, and I just saw that it's the #1 seller on Amazon, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. I read an excerpt of this in New York Magazine--go here to read it if you are interested in what a total scuzz John Edwards really is--and then I clicked over and ordered it faster than you can say OMG JUICY. And that's what it is, a juicy picture of all the personalities involved in the presidential campaign. I am halfway through it, and so far everyone, really everyone except Mr. and Mrs. 44, comes off as borderline-mentally ill. Interesting and a TOTAL BEACH READ, fo' sho'.

Ooh, and have you read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova? It's from several years back. I read it twice and recommended it to everyone I know. It is a mystery, and a historical novel, and a Dracula story. It's edu-thrilling. If you haven't read it, and you like stuff that's awesome, go get it. Then come back and listen to this news: her new novel just came out last week, The Swan Thieves. I didn't even know about it until today, but I'm looking forward to reading it, even though I'm afraid I'll be disappointed. Historian is that good.

Anybody wanna weigh in on these? There are a few other books but I'll save them for a future post. This is probably an overdose of my opinions as it is. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, if you actually buy one of these books after clicking on one of my links, Amazon will give me, I believe, a nickel. Which I will probably put towards purchasing a boxed cake mix, or some Corona Light. So please think carefully about whether you want to subsidize that kind of behavior.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

These Were A Few of My Favorite Things

I seem to be doing a Christmas retrospective the last few days. I was looking at my pictures from Christmas morning, and I wanted to share a few of the things people got and gave that I liked best.

Katie's Anthropologie Bowls

Have you seen these Anthropologie latte bowls? Amy gave these to Kate, and she gave four to me too. Darned if they aren't perfect for everything. And all the different colors awaken my inner collector. Gotta catch 'em all!

Laura with her Astroscan

Santa brought Laura this Edmunds Astroscan telescope, and it is super cool. It's a classic design that's been around for like 30 years, it's got a wide field of view, and it's really portable. Also it looks like a giant bong. She was thrilled with it, and I want to decorate a house around it. Mod!

Fur Stoles

I got the girls these faux fur stoles, because why not?

Hank's Clone Helmet

Santa also brought Hank this Star Wars helmet thingie, which isn't something I'm longing to play with, but it was the first thing he unwrapped and he was absolutely trembling all over with excitement.


My favorite thing Hank got were these blocks from Amy. He has needed a set of real blocks, and these Melissa and Doug Standard Unit blocks were like fifty bucks on Amazon. Then, a few days before Christmas, we went into TJ Maxx, and there was a set for $40. Awesome TJ's moment! They are the real deal, with smooth corners and a nice weight.

Also, Matt gave me a tennis racquet, and my mom gave me some wooden Pottery Barn candlesticks. We did a name-draw thing for adults on my side of the family this year, and on Matt's side we agreed we were only getting gifts for kids. I loved this arrangement--so much less fuss and less stuff. Not that I don't love stuff 'cause I truly do.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's Time to Simplify My Mantel

Kathy's Mantel

While we were down in Florida we went to my Aunt Kathy's house on Christmas Day. I thought her mantelpiece looked so pretty and simple. My sister and I both zeroed in on it. It really caught my eye, the way she had styled it for Christmas in such an understated way. "Understated" is not one of my tricks for holiday decorating, usually. More about that below. But here's the whole thing.

Kathy's Mantel

Sorry about the not-so-great picture I took (I can't take a straight photo, probably because my face is crooked, or so the dentist said), but I thought this arrangement was so elegant. Like taking a breath of fresh air. For one thing, I love the juxtaposition of the red and green decorations and her beach photographs in their rustic frames. The three brass candlesticks are great, and the two chunkier ones on the other side are a nice contrast in scale. The row of little votives makes a nice rhythm for your eye to follow. Then the little Santa is the perfect touch. And that's all it needs! I really admire this.

From where I sit, I can see that I have 23 separate, individual objects on my mantel. Stop the insanity. Here's a snapshot I took of mine, back in mid-December sometime.

I know. Interiors by Sanford and Son. And this was BEFORE I added the Tord Boontje paper snowflake garland. This year my scheme was to leave everything I normally have on the mantel up there and just add the Christmas stuff. I told myself this was artful layering, but it was actually a hot mess.

And most of this is still sitting there. Tonight, though, I'm going to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree--come on, it's normal to leave your tree up to honor Dr. King, RIGHT?--and then I'll pack away the xmas stuff up there. I'm looking forward to stripping some of the layers off. It's hard to decorate that space, though, because the business and irregularity of the stacked stone means that small or delicate things just get lost. That's why I've been going with the little white Federal mirror, the white clipper ship, and the white faux bois candle holders. I don't know, I might change it all up. Lord knows I have enough different stuff to have a rotating exhibition up there.

Anyway, I was looking through my Christmas pics and wanted to share those. I saw Kathy's fireplace and thought, "Yes!"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Speak to Me of Food Processors

There are two kitchen tools that I have never possessed: a pizza cutter and a food processor. Last night I was thinking, I am a grown up lady, why don't I have these things? I think that I would really like a food processor, to use for, like, chopping things and stuff. And pureeing. Actually I really only want to make pesto and hummus, but I bet there are other wonderful things I could do with it.

So give me the deets. I looked a little bit and it seems like the top-rated food processor is a Cuisinart thing that costs $160 bucks on Amazon. Can I spend less than that? Could I even get by with a mini one? 'Cause the top-rated mini model is only $20. Now we're talkin'!

If you've been reading this blog for a while you know that I'm not really a food person. I was joking with my mom at Thanksgiving that our family boasts generations of adequate cooks. I am not inventive. But there are certain things I like that I think I could make better for myself, especially if I had one of those chopper thingamies. I believe that many of you guys are learned in such matters. What food processor do you have and what do you do with it?

Another culinary query I had: I let a bottle of olive oil freeze in my garage. Do you think that's bad?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Lot of Living

Most days you kind of rock through on cruise control, you know? You've pretty much expanded your capacities to the point where you can handle your stuff without feeling taxed or burdened. In our marriage, we have an oft-repeated maxim for this: You can do whatever you have to do.

A couple nights ago, though, I was surprised to find myself feeling kind of drained. It wasn't like a marathon day, really, but it just took a lot of living. That's what I told Matt, it just took a lot of living. Really only three things happened. I took the kids to the dentist, where Laura got braces on her top front teeth. Hank also got his teeth cleaned, and he gagged every time the dentist touched him. He was a little ball of anxiety, and he's never been like that before. The dentist kept calling him "Frank." He got through it, though, and Laura loved her braces. That's right, loved them. These kids today, they are different. Her glasses and braces make her the double threat. I told her she looks like she needs to be in charge of something.

When we got home, Mom and Dad and Amy and her whole crew (Jason, Ava, Nate, and Grace, I'm sorry you guys keep getting called "her whole crew") had arrived at my house from the mountains for what was to be their last night before starting their journey back to Oz. We really barely greeted them before we had to run over to the PTA meeting. Laura was one of the students of the month, so she had to have her moment of grip-and-grin with the principal.

Laura at the PTA Meeting

I want to mention that all of those kids in that picture are third graders, just like Laura. Yet not only is she half a head taller than all of them, she looks two years older, I think. Goodness me. The fact that everyone gets a turn, eventually, to be Student of the Month did not reduce Laura's excitement. Like the father says in A Christmas Story, it's a major award!

So then we went back home and there were 89 people in my house, it seemed, only it was really only our family plus the Hamiltons, who'd come to hang out and meet the Australian baby, and everyone was having a lot of high-intensity relating and fellowshipping with everyone else, which was all dialed up a degree by the knowledge that it was our last waltz for a long while. Some people were playing board games while other people engaged in competitive karaoke. Others milled about. And I did not drink a cosmo because of all the calories, but I'm not sure the three glasses of wine I had instead were really a good substitute. A great time was had by all, and yet somehow all the being wore me out. And at the end of the night, I said to Matt, "It just takes so much showing up and caring, this life." Just a lot of living.

So they left Wednesday morning, early, and I've been a little forlorn, not knowing exactly when we'll see them again.


Grace and Dad

Amy Leaving

As they were heading to the airport, Amy realized that every single pair of shoes she had were packed in suitcases and loaded into the car. Apparently we have a thing with shoelessness and travel in this family. Or traveling while shoeless. We're free-spirited like that. After the car drove away, and I was back inside our suddenly huge-feeling house, I felt pretty down in the mouth, and I wanted to cry, but it didn't seem like quite the right response when we'd all had such wonderful weeks together.

After they were gone I found out what had happened in Haiti. I've been kind of glued to the news, and Hank caught a glimpse of CNN, so I told him that there had been an earthquake (he didn't know that word) and that many people had no houses and nowhere to go and needed lots of help. He asked a few questions about who was helping them and what they were going to do, and honestly I did not have great answers. He must have been processing it, because tonight at bedtime he said, "Tell me a story about the earthquake, but don't make it a story about this family." Indeed. I mean, little kids may not have our language skills, but sometimes I'm amazed at the way they can talk about their emotions and get their point across.

I hope you and yours are well, wherever you are. xoxox-B

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

People Doing Things in Cold Weather

Men with Hats

Does it seem like a long time that I've been blogging about various get-togethers with my extended family? That's because it has been a long time--a whole month of celebrating. The holidays are only now really wrapping up here, because soon my sister and her family will have to go back to Australia. Ever since they've been in the US, we've all been traveling from state to state to meet up in the same group and drink wine, chat, and play Rock Band. From Florida, to Georgia, to North Carolina, the party caravan rolls. This past week we all went to the mountain house to play in the snow. It was lovely and COLD up there--in the single digits at night and the teens during the day. I know that many of you who live on the ice planet Hoth are thinking, "Well Becky, that sounds delightfully balmy to me!" Understand that we are not accustomed to such. To me, "cold" is the 30's. The 20's is "totally freezing" and below that is "Oh my God I can't feel my ass and I think I just died but how would I know because my soul has cracked into a thousand brittle pieces."

We didn't let the temperature slow us down, though, because it was too beautiful outside and there was too much fun to be had. Many hours were spent, I kid you not, with all the children inside while the adults were out playing.

I Sled

Me with the Red Rocket

Dave and Kate

Katie Sledding

Jason and Amy

The guys invented a new form of sledding. I'm thinking we'll call it extreme cross country sledwhacking. It's just an exhibition sport in Vancouver this year, but look for us to medal in 2014. It combines the best of hiking, sledding, and brush-clearing. Just up the hill from the house, the road hadn't been driven on. We discovered that by tacking and making a few turns, you could sled halfway down the dang mountain. Dave did it in a couple runs, so Matt decided to try to go all the way. Jason started him with a push.

Matt Gets a Push

We watched him swoosh down and around the first curve. Then we waited. And waited. We figured he would have a five minute walk back up. So we waited some more. Then we called for him. Silence. By now I was picturing him wrapped around a tree. So Dave went after him. Jason and I waited for them both. After a few minutes we realized that we'd sent another person without a cell phone into the unknown, and that this was starting to feel like a horror movie where the people decide to split up. So Jason and I headed down the road, and finally espied them.

Matt Coming Back

Matt had gotten down to the bottom of the hill where the road crosses a creek, and instead of stopping, he took a right turn onto a path through the woods, and sledded along the creek, hacking at brambles as he went straight on into the heart of darkness. Rugged!

Shortly after that, my nose froze and fell off. And no worries, we had given the kids plenty of time with the sled before the grown-ups broke it. Did y'all have fun with your snow days?

More pics are here, if you haven't had enough of my family yet. It's okay if you have, that feeling is normal.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday: Frownie Face Edition

Hank on New Year's Day

Little Buddy is still not loving school. With Christmas vacation and then snow days last week, until today he hadn't been to school in over three weeks. As far as he was concerned, that was all in the past. Over the holidays, when family members would ask him, "Do you go to school now?" He would say, "No I don't." Then he would act like he had no idea what they were talking about. This morning, though, he climbed into my bed for a few minutes, like he always does, and something schoolish seemed to be in the air, I guess. He said, "Mom, am I staying home today?" I said, "You're going to go to school and see all your friends!" And then he cried. It was only for a minute, and he didn't really pull out all the stops, but I heard them as tears of disappointment and frustration at not getting to be in control of what he does and where he goes. I felt terrible.

What is really heartbreaking is that, after his brief period of being upset, and of telling me he doesn't want to go, he is so brave. He goes about the rest of the morning, playing a little and getting dressed, then riding to school, without complaining or whining. It's like he's resigned to his fate. When we pull up in the car drop-off line and a teacher opens his door, his routine is to squinch his eyes shut and turn his head away from her, like he's sleeping or hiding. She inevitably says something like, "I see you!" He smiles as he does it, and it has become a joke, but I think it expresses a kind of wish.

The thing is, I don't think that he has a bad experience there. In fact, the teachers tell me that he's happy the whole morning, and when I pick him up he always says he had a good time. Or maybe he is just so happy to be going home that it casts the whole experience in a rosier light. And I'm thinking, why am I doing this again? I mean, yes, the time without him is really helpful to me, but I could get by with him home all the time. Also, it's not like that place is a beacon of groundbreaking early childhood education. And he will be going to school for so many years. I just don't know.

So I dropped him off and drove away, fretful. Then I realized that I'd forgotten, again, that Fabienne was coming to clean the house, so I sped toward home to pick up our undies and socks from the bathroom floor. She was already there, and the place was a wreck, honestly. We got home from the mountains last night, and stuff was strewn everywhere. Right now Fabienne is casually trying to sell me some kind of vitamins that she hawks as part of her multilevel marketing thing. This is what I get for hiring a protegé of Frenemy Neighbor's as my housecleaner. Fabienne is one of Frenemy's downlines, I think the term is. I know, the plot totally thickens.

Speaking of first world problems: I realized that my long down coat insulates my behind so well that I can't feel the seat heaters in my car. Wah!

I was going to post some fun sledding pictures, and I will, but this Hank thing distracted me. I hope you're having a good Monday and that you're less grumbly.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

That Neighborhood Party: People

When we went to the progressive dinner last weekend, Matt's mother and brothers were in town visiting us, so we did not intend to stay out a long time. Normal Neighbor's house was to be the last stop of the night, so I told her at the beginning of the evening, "We're not going to stay super late, we've got a houseful of company." In the South, saying you have a houseful of company is understood to excuse any behavior, any lapse, or any absence. It could get you out of going to your own funeral. As the mourners stood around the empty casket, someone would say, "Well, I bet they have a houseful of company."

So yeah, we weren't going to stay late. Normal Neighbor and her husband laughed and repeated those words to me as we tripped gaily down their frozen sidewalk at 3 o'clock in the morning. That party sort of took off. Everyone was just so darn convivial. It was a nice mix of people we already knew and people we'd never met. I wanted to file a few reports on the people you've come to know here on SubMat.

Normal Neighbor: I really love that woman, she of the beer koozies with grosgrain ribbon around them. She is one of those women--and I don't know if this is particular to the South, but I see it a lot here--who really knows how to use her voice. I mean, her speaking pitch is really dynamic, and she uses it to great advantage. She is pleasant to listen to, and can give you a hug with her voice, or convey intense amusement, outrage, whatever. This is not to be underestimated. Also, she has never failed to be nice and normal. Her husband, a golf pro, is among the professionally gregarious. Those two like to party, if we're using "party" as a verb. They certainly do it like it's a verb.

Frenemy Neighbor: Frenemy arrived alone because her husband was "having symptoms." I was like, "Oh no, symptoms of what?" Then she said he had a cold. I was like, who talks like this? I steered clear of her in general, though I did get a lot of enjoyment out of a moment when another woman's husband was trying to hug her. I missed why this hug was occurring--it was a little aggressive on his part probably, like forced merriment--but she acted like he was covered with poisonous spines. Another friend from up the street--she has six kids so we'll call her Mother of Many for the time being--was complaining to me that Frenemy has been trying to recruit her husband into their multilevel marketing scheme. We shared an eye roll. Also, Frenemy was wearing a bright orange, really hairy scarf. She looked like she was being choked by a Fraggle.

The Mystery People: Okay, here's where I sound kind of weird. I spent a while with the Mystery Lady, sitting next to her at dinner and chatting. Even given her quirks and abrasiveness, I would far rather spend time with Frenemy than with this lady. Her husband seems just garden-variety creepy to me, but she left me kind of unsettled, with a cold feeling.  I mean, Frenemy has a recognizable personality, with recognizable human emotions, however awkwardly they are expressed. Mystery Lady seemed to me like someone completely turned inward, moving through a world of objects, trying to wrest her desires from the material world. My intuition is that the people in her life are objects to her too, with different purposes, in a utilitarian array around her.

She can make normal chit-chat, sort of, and smile when appropriate, but there is no animating spirit behind it. Really strange. They have had a series of au pairs in their house, so she told me a little about the au pair program, and about how you can try to bend the rules to get more than the allowed amount of work out of your au pair. Then she told me about how she and her husband met online, and their courtship, and I felt like I was talking to one of those automated customer service robots who simulates human interaction. The thing is, from seeing her daughters, I think that she has no idea how needy they are. It's clear that there is some kind of nourishment they aren't getting from her. Yet she looks pretty, her house is pulled together, and she's going around having an adult life. 

That's a lot to take from a dinner conversation, huh? Maybe I'm the weird one. I'll say more if I can figure out how to articulate it. I was just uncomfortable with her, in a deep way.

So we are all up at the mountain house, playing in the snow, which explains my blog slacking this week. I hope you are all managing to stay warm. Back soon!

Monday, January 4, 2010

That Neighborhood Party: Houses

These people are all so comfortable. That's what I kept thinking Saturday night at the progressive dinner on our street. For those who don't know, a progressive dinner is like a potluck, only you move to a different house for each course of the meal. Three stops is a good number. It's kind of a hassle if you have to drive from place to place, but if you're just walking in your neighborhood, it's great, even in 20 degree weather.

So this meant going into three different big houses with three different finished basements. And I'm not talking about some paneling-and-carpet-remnant basements. These were big, fully-tricked out spaces with kitchens, bars, gyms, pool tables, you name it. Our basement is unfinished, so having another kitchen in your basement is still a novelty to me. And to a woman, every hostess told me some variant of, "We never come down here." I was like, this is a 1000 or 1500 square-foot space that you never use? It's bigger than anywhere Matt and I ever lived before we moved here. Like a little house underneath your house. Amazing, really.

I mean, we live in this place now, but I don't feel that we're really of this place, you know? I have fresh memories of living in small apartment after small apartment, and especially of raising a baby and then a small child in something under a thousand square feet. Of never, never having a washing machine actually in my living space. Of no storage. Of never having a dishwasher or more than one small bathroom. Our first apartment in California had the bathroom in the kitchen, which was itself the converted back porch of a hundred year-old house. Oy, that apartment deserves its own post someday.

Three and a half years after moving into our big-but-not-huge house, I still enjoy the space we have and am thankful for it everyday. If we were to finish our basement, this place would be huge, maybe too much for just the four of us. Anyway, what struck me about our neighbors and their places was that this is all normal for them. Nothing special. Normal and expected to have 4,000 square feet of living space, plus an actual room in your house that you can park your car in. I know, the garage thing still seems amazing. California real estate did this to me. I digress.

The other thing that struck me about the three houses we visited was that they all look basically the same inside. Like everyone shops for furniture and decorations at the same place, or put their rooms together with the same idea in mind. Not all of my neighbors adhere to this decorating philosophy, but it seems to be the majority. A while ago, I tried to characterize this style of interior decorating, and the best I could come up with was: "extreme matching, a reverence for a quasi-Tuscan look, and safe, idea-free interiors. Think burgundy and hotel art." That's pretty much it, though I would add that the overall effect is absolutely ponderous--dark colors, dark wood. Remember the whole red or maroon dining room fad? I don't remember when that was, but my neighborhood is still firmly in its grip. When not carried off competently, this look goes from bland to outright depressing. "Hotel art" isn't quite right either, because hotel paintings are usually representations of something--beaches, landscapes, people, places, you know, nouns.

Not one of my actual neighbors' houses.

What goes as artwork in my neighbors' houses is not, for the most part, pictures, or figural, representational images but more like other things stuck on the wall. Like geometric things or wrought iron bits of stuff. I would call them "wall sculptures" but that would suggest that they have more of a point of view than they really do. Pardon me if I sound like a total snob right now. But don't you know what I mean? I swear it's that, in their calculations, an actual picture of something is too risky. It might not be right or someone might not like it. There are no books on view either, so truly, an idea-free interior. It's a shame, because these are fun, smart, busy people. I don't want them to be so afraid. At this point we could reference Paul Fussell's essential and totally fun book, Class, and his claim that the middle class is the anxious class. They don't want to put themselves out there--their likes, habits, and obsessions in full view, because it might not be right, like is it really okay to have a shelf full of paperback novels in the living room? And, if I hang this drawing of a horse in my dining room, then that amounts to my aesthetic endorsement of it, does it not, and what if my judgement is not correct?

This explains what was going on the time Frenemy Neighbor came into my house and saw a portrait that a friend's mother gave us when we got married. She's an outsider/naïve painter, and she painted us a picture of a bride and groom. They're kinda funny-looking but we've had them with us a long time. Anyway, Frenemy saw it and said, "That is really. . .personal." Yes, it is, I suppose. But what she meant by "personal" was "wrong and not appropriate." A different day, she saw a little picture of a duck on my mantel, painted by the same lady. Frenemy said, as I think I've reported here before, "Did someone you really love give you that?" She herself collects porcelain roses and also any piece of artwork that depicts roses, which she can hang over the porcelain roses to reinforce, you know, the whole rose concept.


But you know where this rule of artistic safety does not apply for my neighbors? In their basements! That's where you see kids' artwork, pub signs, sports pennants, all the stuff that the people are really into. It is really funny. Down there their obsessions and pastimes are on display. I'm like, "Dude, get that autographed picture of you wearing a kilt and standing next to Jack Nicklaus upstairs where it can breathe!" Upstairs I'm like, "Where is your stack of Us Weeklies and your Nora Roberts books?" Downstairs, there they are, thank God! And it's a double shame if they really never go down there!

Was I raving?

If you are one of the people still reading, i.e., one of my blood relations, I appreciate your scrolling. In order to not make this post even longer, I will tell you about the actual people at the party tomorrow. xoxox--B