Thursday, July 25, 2013

NorCal, Where You At?

Yesterday was a little slice of grad school in the middle of the summer. Not even the middle of the term, as we haven't even started that yet. You will recall that my trip down to the LA Times Festival of Books in April was my first time meeting up with a group from my program, off-campus. I had yet to do so with the northern California folk. Luckily, my friend Pia arranged a little get-together for us at her house in San Francisco yesterday, so we could make good on something we've been talking about doing for a long time.

The kids and I picked up my friend Dorothy at about 9:00 (Dorothy and I live within 15 minutes of each other, we discovered when we started the program) and we headed over to San Francisco.

Two things:

1) PLEASE drop everything and go read this lovely essay Dorothy just had published on The Rumpus last weekend. She describes an experience with her elderly father that still stuns me. I promise you will not be sorry you read this thing with your eyes. Homegirl can write.

I'll wait.

2) You know me, I love ANY excuse to go to San Francisco (or, anywhere, really).

It's about a two hour drive from my house to SF, but it flew by. Dorothy and I haven't seen each other since Palm Springs (just emailed... snail mailed... Facebook messaged...), and we talked writing all the way. Gah. So nice to have friends with whom I can nerd out and use the shorthand and feel understood. Just. Awesome. And Dorothy is just everything you could want in a friend, anyway. Just a pleasure. We got to SF in five minutes, it felt like.

Since we were early, I did what I love to do: I made Dorothy show me where she grew up. She lived in the city until junior high. We found her old house in the Outer Sunset (by Ocean Beach and the Zoo) and she showed me her elementary school. I love to see people in the places they used to live, hear them talk about the things they remember.

After our trip down memory lane, we headed across town to Pia's. To my great pleasure, my GPS took us through St. Francis Wood. HOLY CRAP. Beautiful.

We found Pia's, we settled in, and pretty soon everyone showed up.

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So strange (in a good way) to fall right back into conversations from breakfast at the hotel a little more than a month ago. And in an odd twist of fate, as we were sitting there, we all started to get these emails--a new thing for us this quarter in the program: progress reports.

Yes, progress reports. A paragraph-ish each from our professors about our progress in the program. Guess how long those were a secret? Yeah, not long.

Mine made my day and I'm going to post it on the fridge and show it to my mom and dad. You gotta take the good words where you can get 'em, man.

Dorothy and I drove back to town by about dinnertime, and since E had a softball game, I took the kids to Chinese food. Way too tired too cook.

But look! Some more familiar voices came in the mail yesterday to add to this growing stack... my summer of reading professor books continues. This has been a delightful reading project.

This is a fun reading project I'm doing.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Home, Home on the Tiny Suburban Range

Guess what live cultures I'm growing* in the kitchen this week?

*on purpose.

Nope, not yogurt this time. Though I'm pretty sure this still qualifies me for Dirty Hippie of the Year according to my family.

Lactobacillus. Specifically, lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, in my first sourdough bread starter. How cool is it that the bacterium that gives sourdough its sour taste is named after San Francisco? Pretty cool, that's how much. Thank you, Michael Pollan, for teaching me that little factoid. And for the recent inspiration to try growing a new type of good bacteria in my kitchen, keep putting good bugs in my belly.

I started my starter about a week ago with just flour and water, and it's been growing in a jar on top of my fridge all week. Every night I pull it down and feed it more flour and water and E looks at me like I'm a crazy person. But it worked! SCIENCE!!! Today I had a big, beautiful, bubbly starter. And by this afternoon I had two puffy, mishappen loaves of sourdough.

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Hey, nobody's are symmetrical, right?

It kind of freaks me out that there's yeast and bacteria and all that junk just... around, in the air and on our skin and such. But then it's kind of awesome, too, that you can make a starter with just bread and water. And GOD, I love me some bread. I am Captain NotPaleo. I've got one more rise happenin' as I type, and then we're having one of those loaves with dinner.

You can't even imagine how good my house is 'bout to smell while those bake.

Anyhoo, this bad boy is going into the fridge, now, to take a nap:

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(That's my starter. Now that it's started, I just have to keep it alive. Like a gluteny little pet.)

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My garden is producing nicely, now too. Tomatoes are finally ripening, and all of the sudden, cucumbers are happening, man. Finally the lemon cukes are catching up to the Armenians.

Finally. Slowpokes.

This is what my veggie garden looked like in May, when I planted:

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Here it is now (below). I'm sure you'll look at this picture and go, ew, gross, weeds. But I swear to you, I am out there all the time weeding, but the damn things just GROW LIKE WEEDS. I just can't keep up. I'm trying. I am SO trying. Don't judge. (And yeah, that one zucchini plant in the front is going to get ripped out soon for being too ostentatious and taking up errbody else's space. Rude.)

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Listen. The tomatoes taste like heaven, and all this is hidden from sight by a lovely little fence, anyway. I love my unruly little farm.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Garage Sale Anxieties: A List

1. Going through all the baby clothes, obvs. Everything that can be said about that, has.

2. Baby Chucks Not Fitting On Their Feet Anymore, general time passing/ I am aging-related, anxiety.

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3. Insanely cluttered child room-cleaning anxiety/ stuffed animal mountain-related anxiety. See also: How Did We Ever Acquire So Much Stuff? anxiety.

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4. Shame/guilt-related anxiety related to: How Much Stuff We Own/ Let Our Kids Have anxiety. (See: Are we good people? anxiety.)

5. Panic attack #1: THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME TO GET READY BEFORE SATURDAY.

6. Sideways, surprise anxiety (!) spurred by well-intentioned act of giving your home address over the phone to sweet, slightly dim ladies who answer your Craigslist ad about bike you will be selling tomorrow. Because, well, they want to come see it tonight. And, well, you don't know the first thing about Craigslist but you were trying to be proactive, and you are not thinking properly because your head has been in baby clothing tubs for three days and your brain has been also steeped in estrogen. And when husband points out to you that giving strangers your home address without specific established meeting parameters was a bad, bad idea, the kind of idea that makes people get robbed by the ones doing the calling and pretending to be sweet ladies, a generalized evening-long anxiety sets in because clearly you were the one who was kind of dim about this. Then,

7. Panic attack #2 (at dinner): WE ARE GOING TO BE ROBBED BY THE PRETEND SWEET LADIES AND/OR THEIR THUG BOYFRIENDS.

8. A kind of being alone in the driveway (late at night), pricing toys, while husband is at Home Depot buying duct tape and you are sure robbers are going to show up with guns and demand a) bike, b) electronics, c) all your tubs of memories, anxiety.

9. Having to wake up before 5:00 AM and fearing the alarm clock will not be enough to get you up and strangers will be banging on your door, anxiety.

10. Harried frenzy (not technically anxiety, though close enough to warrant a mention here): DISPLAY ALL THE THINGS! BEFORE 7:00 AM!

11. Anxiety related to being alone (again) in the driveway before 7:00 AM because husband has left to go hang up signs for garage sale and you are not sure you can drag everything out alone or shoo away the early onlookers. You do not successfully shoo away the early onlookers who show up and try to intimidate you into selling things inside your garage that are not for sale, which confirms for you that you were right to be anxious about this. (But you do not have panic attack #3 about it, so: win.)

12. A kind of unease about the fact that any number of family members WILL show up to your sale today and see things they bought for you and/or your kids for sale on your driveway. Guilt/shame/anxiety/fear related to this. But inability to change any of the factors, so.

13. A worry (lighter than anxiety, but still!) that maybe you made your kids give up too much for the sale, you were too mean about it. A feeling you can only describe as I should keep everything that everyone has ever given to me, ever. Even though you know this means you would soon not be able to walk in your house.

14. A lifetime of math anxiety in your head when you try to make change for the first customer. See: your complete and total inability to add things quickly, deal with numbers without wanting to just quit. See: every bit of fear/worry related to your synesthesia, the whole color/number thing, and giving the correct change. Doubt your intelligence every time you hand someone cash all day.

15. Panic attack #3: A lady brings up some baby clothes to buy, including a reallyimportantandspecial thing you somehow managed to miss when you sorted the tubs of stuff. You try really hard not to cry. You pick it up and it smells like your infant child. You're pretty sure you ovulate right there in the driveway. But you let the outfit go. Even though maybe you feel a phantom milk let-down.

16. ANGRY ANXIETY when the tricky garage sale people come. The ones who try to pile shit up and get you to take $20 for $50 worth of clothes. Nope, you say. Nope, nope. No. You walk away.

17. Shaky anxiety when the even bolder tricksters descend in groups and try to come at you from all around and work negotiations from three sides and three piles and work your non-math brain against you. Nope, you say, you cannot have all those clothes for $20. All I am asking is 50 cents apiece and you can't even get clothes for that at the thrift store. And you believe this in your heart because you were just at the thrift store and they certainly did not have this kind of adorable, well preserved clothing there, the kind that still smells like your infants' heads and feels like love. Not for fifty cents, not for less than the price of a soda. No, you're shaking but those ladies scowling at you can go to hell and they can get off your lawn because you are not selling your memories for nothing. You are not giving them away unless you feel like it is to someone who needs it, not to someone who is trying to beat you at a game.

18. Tired anxiety. Will-this-sale-ever-end anxiety. I-am-so-hot-I-can't-keep-doing-this anxiety.

19. Brief: anxiety related to the fact that you think someone might sneak in the house and steal the piles of twenties your husband has left neatly stacked out in the open. Decide this is the kind of thing he's always telling you to stop worrying about. Stop worrying about it. Feel proud of yourself.

20. Panic attack #4: When it's all done and put away. For no reason at all. Over money (which you suddenly have more of, thanks to the garage sale). But what you have not had a lot of over the last four days is sleep, sanity, or rest. Fight with your husband, cry. Do your whole panic thing.

Decide you need to go to bed. Decide it needs to be a while before you have any more garage sales.

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Legs & Ice Chest, Elk Grove Driveway (Accidental Cell Phone Photo 17)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Whittling Down

Re: my last post

I'm finally done combing through ten years of kid clothes, toys, and blankets. Choosing what to keep. Doing my crying.

I'm exhausted, but I feel really good about this.

What I am keeping:

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What I am not keeping:

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Ho-ly crap.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Place of Unspooling

I love hoarder stories.

I'm fascinated by them. In fact, hoarders have made it into my fiction-writing more often than anything else thus far. My writing is in its infancy, but clearly this is a subject I find rife with inspiration. No less than three of the stories in my collection for my thesis feature some kind of hoarder, including one woman who hoards cats. I'm fascinated by the things people keep, what made them start, what prevents them from being able to get out from under the clutter.

More than one Sunday afternoon I've lost to a marathon of A&E's Hoarders, thinking I'll just watch one more. And pretty soon it's 11:00 PM and I realize those are hours I can't ever get back. And I'm amazed by the stories that still make it into the news. That's some straight up Edgar Allen Poe business.

Hoarding feels Dickensian as much as it feels modern. Things that we can't science out of ourselves: I'm interested in that.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised last night when I was a big, dripping, emotional mess when faced with ten years' worth of boxes holding every piece of our children's clothing they've worn since they were born. Yes, every piece of clothing. I'll get to that in a minute. But before I go any further I feel like you should know this: I'm not a hoarder. This isn't my big hoarder confession piece.

What I always wonder, watching the hoarder shows or reading the hoarder stories: what was the original, logical thought that preceded the craziness? The rational thinking before things unspooled and  got out of control? It seems like there must have been one. We don't come out of the womb dragging 30 years' back issues of the New York Times or 11 grocery bags full of rotting melon. So at some point, people take a turn in the road and they can't deal.

With our baby clothes, I feel the divergence of my own rational and emotional thought. It is one of the only areas of "keeping" in my life, and not even for the purpose you might suspect. Not because I'm so sentimental that I can't bear to part with a single object of clothing that touched my sweet babies' soft skin. Nope. It started being about thrift. It started being about future plans, and the unknown.

And it got out of control.

When E and I had Addie, we knew we wanted more kids. Since we didn't know if we would have a boy or a girl (but we knew we'd try for another), we put everything she wore in neatly labeled tubs (GIRL 0-3 MONTHS, etc) in the attic.

And then we had a boy.

And then, well, we didn't know. We always said we'd have more kids. By default, E had stayed home with the first two (which was how we thought of them: first) when they were babies. By default. Because I had a job that paid well, and eventually he was back in school. And at the time, it made more sense. I made him swear up and down that I could stay home with the next one(s). I went back to work and cried at my desk in between class periods and my breasts ached until they dried up and I made myself not come home for lunch anymore because it was too hard to leave my infants to go back to teach selfish teenagers who hated me. I had no idea how my body would rail against being away from my babies. But I steeled myself against the agreement we made because I'd agreed to it, because I could do something by earning money for my family, and because it promised something different, later.

And still, we were keeping everything, all these clothes. Because we were poor, barely making it to the end of any month. E was in law school and practically every year I got told the state budget didn't look good, so every year E cleaned out the kids' dressers and packed them up into tubs in the attic. If we ever found ourselves expecting accidentally, we didn't want to also find ourselves unable to pay for clothing for Junior. And for a long time we thought we might plan Junior, too.

But life happened. Our marriage got hard, harder, too hard, and we separated with the intent to divorce. We left the baby clothes where they were. I wasn't able to even think about them, only that somewhere in those tubs upon tubs upon tubs were maybe a handful of special things I wanted to keep. So I left them alone. We came back together. The tubs just stayed.

And eventually enough time passed that I came to a pretty significant realization. Two, actually. First, feeling like I missed out on staying home with Addie and Henry was not a good reason to have another baby, if it was the only reason. And second--the bigger of the two realizations--it wasn't another baby I wanted. It was Henry and Addie as babies I wanted more of. Our family was complete as it was. Nothing was missing.

We agreed. E had surgical intervention to make sure there would be no more babies. It was done. We were done. And yet every summer for the last three, when he wanted to drag all the tubs down out of the attic, I've panicked. The same way I'm panicking as I think about whether or not I'll have a hysterectomy to deal with my frustratingly unruly uterus. These are things I don't need anymore, but they're signs of time passing. Of life moving on. Of permanence. Of my fertility being over.

I sat last night folding clothes and crying and feeling numb in my upper arms. Every piece of clothing I touched was from another time when I thought things were going to be different. It's not that I'm unhappy with how they are, but I was sitting on my carpet in the middle of Thomas the Tank Engine shirts and sequined Ariel costumes, crying for the things I thought were going to happen.

Last night E was so good to me. He brought me tub after tub and just put them in front of me, requiring little more than for me to lean forward and go through each one. He switched off the TV when it became apparent that I couldn't focus coherently on any kind of narrative, even the one in the conversation between the two of us. 98% of the clothes, I didn't care about, I wanted to get rid of. I know I'll feel better once they're out of our attic. I don't like clutter. But what scares me about this process, the reason I've been avoiding it, is that I'm terrified there's something important in there I'm going to miss.

I'm worried I'm going to give these tubs away and then remember. And then the thing will be gone.

And that right there is where I feel that place of unspooling.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Monkeys in the Pool

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The kiddos were gone all last week to do swim lessons and stay with their grandparents in Placerville. E and I drove up (as usual) for the last day so we could see everything they've learned before taking them home. This year there was a lot of diving and jumping off the diving board.

Somehow, these two grew a lot since last year. Yeesh.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Women Laughing Alone with Tampon Boxes

I'm not sure why everything has to be a digital experience, (she types, ironically, on her laptop, in a post intended to be published online).

Yeah, yeah.

But really.
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I have this thought nearly every time I walk into our small bathroom and see my box of tampons on the shelf above the toilet with a QR code handily displayed on the cardboard packaging. Some marketing whiz thought that what I really needed to add into my monthly bout with menorrhagia and will I/won't I/pro/con mental gymnastics about either surgical intervention (or option B, which E fondly calls "scorched earth") to stop what can only be described as the prolonged, painful monthly seige of Ladytown is a scenario in which I take out my phone (my phone!), scan a square pattern, and then delight myself in thumbing through what I am sure are the many cotton-candy-pink-hued pages of playtex.com.

(I have not done this, because:

1. I feel like giving them a page view is letting them win, a little bit.
2. The idea of my phone out in the bathroom gives me the yuckies.)

Let's talk about that. From my bathroom? I'm supposed to be doing this from my bathroom while I'm trying to manage a medical condition that's medieval, at best? Or in this imagined scenario, am I supposed to be scanning this package in the store before I get the things home? Because, why? This is all part of the great mystery to me, part of what has kept me for months trying to decode the intent behind such a marketing strategy.

Why do I need a QR code on my tampons? Why does any woman?

I can go ahead and admit that I am dismayed or frustrated or even grossed out by many companies' marketing choices, anyway. I'm looking at you, Charmin. Enjoy the go? Really? You had a meeting of grown-ups where somebody pitched an idea where bears would tell people to feel good pooping and you were like YES, YES, THAT IS GOLD. PUT A TEAM ON IT?

Can this just not be a thing we say out loud to each other in a society, please? Enjoy your poop?

I just can't even.

This, clearly, is why I am making public schoolteacher money and not Charmin Poop Slogan Money.

And, a word about my current level of enthusiasm for my reproductive system: it is quite low. Our relationship has been troubled since about 13, but we incubated some amazing new humans in our twenties. Now we're done with that babies thing, and she's decided she's going out in a blaze of glory, resulting in my not being able to teach a one hour English class or sit through a one hour lecture at grad school without worry that I will leak through whatever barricades of feminine protection I have laid in as insurance against awful, embarrassing incidents that make one look as though it's seventh grade all over again and one does not yet know how to be a woman.

See: sweatshirts tied around waist, running out of class with small purses in hand, etc.

And, never mind my frustrations with the fact that every drug and grocery store within a five mile radius of my house has decided not to stock anything remotely close to meeting the flow needs of anyone over the age of 12 and I have to order the damn things from Amazon, now (I'm realizing, here, I have some misdirected rage, or at best, I'm giving you an example of how estrogen-addled my brain is, currently), but I am currently also spending a lot of time in the restroom (for obvious reasons), and it's giving me a lot of time to imagine what this QR code does.

Is it a game where your character stands in front of a giant, cartoony boxing glove, and gets punched in the ute every ten minutes or so (because you forgot to make sure you got your Ibuprofen level-ups?)?

Is it just a link to your bank account so the people who make feminine products (hate that term and that grocery store aisle) can funnel the money more easily from your personal account to theirs?

Is it a Tumblr of Women Laughing Alone with Tampon Boxes (along the lines of Women Laughing Alone with Salad)?

That QR code has inspired many an imaginary scenario, yet not one single scan.

Many times I just imagine that I would scan it and it would just be this clown face, laughing. Just this awful, mean laugh. Over and over again, chortling at my week of pain, my frustration with the fact that I can't do much but wait this out until it comes again next month.

Friday, July 12, 2013

San Diego Family Trip

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Waaay back in June, immediately after school got out (and just before my residency in Palm Springs), E and I took the monkeys to San Diego. We spent one day at Legoland, one day at the beach and UCSD, and our last day at the San Diego Zoo.

My thoughts:

We've been wanting to take Henry to Legoland since he was tiny. The dude loves his Legos and he and E love to build things together. I knew nothing about Legoland before we went, and tried to go into it with as open a mind as possible, although I'd heard from friends not to expect too much. It was okay. Just okay. Henry had a blast, and I'm not sure he noticed the difference. Particularly since he spent last year's Disneyland vacation barfing in a hotel room rather than seeing what a quality theme park experience looks like. E and I felt the same about it, though. We both wanted it to be way better than it was. Especially for what it cost us, which (even after the AAA discount) was well over $250 for the four of us for a day. My friend JA put it best when she told me: if you're going to charge that much in a world where Disney is doing what they're doing, you better bring it.

Legoland, unfortunately, is not bringing it. Lots of little details in the park went unnoticed, like how clean things were and whether or not they were repaired and maintained. Things the employees did just didn't make sense--they kept telling people that the lines were too long so they should get out of them. Some of the rides were just odd or really boring. But we had a great day--don't get me wrong--we made our own fun and we were all happy. I just don't think we'll go back, which is too bad.

Our second day in San Diego was kind of a lazy day. We headed over to UC San Diego so we could show the kids a college campus. When I visited in February with my school's AVID program, I knew it would be a good campus to show our kiddos. E and I are trying hard to make college a part of our family discussion--not just the fact that we want them to go there, but the how and the why and the what it looks like when you do. And we want them to feel comfortable with the idea that they can (and should) go. So we've been talking about making college visits a part of our family vacations as they get older so they can have an idea of how different schools feel. This seemed like a good place to start. UCSD is pretty kid-friendly. There's a lot of cool stuff to look at and it's right by the ocean. Plus, it's home to the Theodor Geisel Library (yeah, that Theodor Geisel), which is just a neat building.

Visiting the school was one of the best things we did on the trip. All of us thought so. It inspired so much amazing conversation with the kids. We walked all over campus, answering their questions about everything from classes to majors to where you live and what you do when you go to a university. We took them to the bookstore and let them buy t shirts and stuff. We ate lunch in the food court at the Panda Express on campus. At that point, Henry announced that he'd only seen one college so far, but he was pretty sure he was going to this one. I'm sure he thinks he can major in Orange Chicken.

After UCSD, we spent the afternoon at the beach in Del Mar. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

Our last day in San Diego we went to the San Diego Zoo and it surpassed our expectations. I wouldn't say I think of myself as a zoo person, necessarily, but it was fascinating and so beautifully maintained and the animals seem to be cared for very well. It's gigantic. There was no way we could see everything; but we saw most of it and we had a wonderful day. If you go, I recommend taking the bus tour around the park first so you can see where everything is (and see a good portion of the animals), and then head out on foot to get a closer look at things you want to see. (I was grateful we got that advice from several people.) I highly recommend the zoo, as does everyone else I've ever talked to. It's wonderful.