Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Love Note to Darius Rucker

(Because what says "Christmas spirit" more than that? Also, I'm really into writing open letters these days.)

Dear Darius,

I was eleven years old when Cracked Rear View came out. I think my dad bought me your CD -- I'm not sure why, exactly -- maybe it was his attempt to get me to listen to something more current than John Denver and Air Supply? Maybe he thought I'd piggybacked off his musical tastes long enough. Maybe he was alarmed that the first CD I actually bought by my own volition was Ace of Base Happy Nation/The Sign and bringing me this CD was his way of gently suggesting that I. . . never spend his money on Swedish techno-pop again. Maybe he'd just heard it and liked it and wasn't sure how socially acceptable it was for a 40-something number cruncher to be into a band called Hootie and the Blowfish so he claimed it was for his daughter. At any rate, I got it. And I played the heck out of it. Seventh-grade Karinya could belt out "Only Wanna be with You" with the best of 'em. Just ask my neighbors.

I'll confess to getting a little annoyed when you were in your pouty "don't call me Hootie" phase. If you are the lead singer of a band called Hootie and the Blowfish, convention dictates that the name preceding the "and the band" part of the name is the name of the SINGER, but whatever. I don't want to dwell on that. I've grown, you've grown; we're different people now. I'll respect your wishes and address you by your actual name.

Our relationship might have lost a bit of its initial spark in the years that followed -- I went through a teenage heavy metal phase (no, really. My first screenname was Metallichick_525 and I spent a lot of time in Metallica chat rooms and dating guys in bad garage bands. I'm full of surprises.) You were always around to some degree, though. I bought everything you put out -- even the albums no one liked and your weird little B-sides. I might have picked some of them up secondhand at the local CD Warehouse, but --

And then! Then I had a baby. (Well, we're probably skipping a step or two, but I'm trying to keep this to a readable length.) I had a baby with colic. I had a baby with colic and no (helpful) partner. I had a baby with colic and no partner and a death in the family (my grandfather passed away a couple of days after I gave birth. It was all very circle-of-life). I had a baby with colic and no partner and a death in the family and was so sleep-deprived that I actually googled things like, "will you pass out before you die from exhaustion or will you just die with no warning?" I'm 100% serious.

And it was 4am and I was crying and begging K to just oh my God, please, please, please go to sleep. Please (hey, that doesn't sound entirely dissimilar to some nights in more recent history! But with less crying on my part) and a song came on the radio with the lines "He didn't have to wake up/He'd been up all night/Layin’ there in bed listenin’/To his new born baby cry."

At this point I said, okay, mystery singer who sounds suspiciously familiar. I'm listening. There aren't many songs that actually acknowledge anything beyond the "precious little miracle" aspect of newborns, so let's see what else you've got to say. And then you said this: "It won’t be like this for long/One day we'll look back laughin’/At the week we brought her home/This phase is gonna fly by/So baby just hold on/‘Cause it won't be like this for long."

And then I cried some more. But for different reasons. (Is this song cheesy? Of course! Does that matter? Not at all!) I googled the lyrics and found that it was my beloved Hootie Darius, Darius! And that he was now a country singer? I was confused but handed over my credit card number to itunes anyway and downloaded the whole album. And then listened to that song over and over and over and felt a little more confident that I'd get through this. Our flame had been rekindled.

Some more stuff happened. I survived colic. I survived teething. I bought a house. I got a divorce. I had some messy. . . learning experiences. I fell in love with Bob. And then I drove down the road and heard another song whose lyrics were just so spot-on that I couldn't wait to get home/google/study lyrics/buy/sing obsessively. And do you know who sings this song, Darius? You do! You're such a goof sometimes. It is "This" off the Charleston, SC 1965 album. Almost all of the lyrics are "yes! this!" worthy, but the chorus sums it up nicely: "Every stoplight I didn’t make/Every chance I did or I didn’t take/All the nights I went too far/All the girls that broke my heart/All the doors that I had to close/All the things I knew but I didn’t know/Thank God for all I missed/Cause it led me here to this." You can hear the song here:

Was this album written for us, Darius? (Here I should probably specify that I mean me and Bob, not me and you, because while we've got something special,  I am actually engaged to another man and I'm very happy with him.) I thought it might be, but then I heard the song "Might Get Lucky" and I KNEW that it was. My favorite line: "There's a window of opportunity between/when the kids are tucked in and a half a glass of Chardonnay." You are a perceptive man, my friend. You really do need to hit up moms for grown-up time before they break out the wine. (Or at least before they get more than half a glass in!) I texted this line to Bob at work just because it made me laugh/rang a little too true ;-)

I could go on (I like the "The Craziest Thing," too!) but you get the point.

Thanks for writing the soundtrack to my life, buddy. Keep it up!



(Readers: And, um, in case this is the last time I blog before Christmas: I hope it's a good one for all of you! Thanks for reading!)


Monday, December 20, 2010

Warning Signs

I'm considering putting a deadbolt on my bedroom door. Not to prevent middle-of-the-night bed crashing. (K has actually only come out of her room ONCE during the night this last week! That's amazing! I'm probably jinxing it here but I needed to share that Christmas miracle with you.) No. I think I need a lock for personal protection. Self-preservation. Whatever you want to call it.

K and I were in the car the other day. I was driving. She was playing with one of those God-Forsaken charming baby dolls that make noise. This particular one makes a sucking and gurgling sound (again, charming) like it's working on a pacifier or bottle.

K calls out from the backseat, "Baby choking! Baby choking!"

"I don't think the baby is choking, K. She's trying to suck on a pacifier. A binky. That's not choking."

At this point I'm still keeping my eyes on the road, because I am an attentive driver. (Ha!)

"No, Mom. LOOK! Baby choking! Look, mom!"

I look. She's sitting there, tiny toddler hands THROTTLING THE NECK OF HER BABY DOLL.

At this point I'm mostly amused. I've wanted to choke the life out of that particular doll before, too. I try not to laugh and instead explain why we don't, uh, choke babies.

Everything is quiet for a few minutes. Then I hear it again. "Look, mom. Baby choking!"

I think, okay, let's try a different tactic. "Why would you want to choke your baby? Why would you want to do that to Baby . . . What is that baby's name?" (K is an eclectic doll-namer, and has characters ranging from the mundane "Baby Sue" to the more colorful "Baby Dar-Dar" to one that's just called Baby Baby.)

K: "Baby Karinya [my last name]."

YOU GUYS. My daughter was not only enthusiastically choking a baby, but a baby who happens to share my FULL NAME.

I'm afraid of my toddler. If there's another long period of silence here on the blog, you might want to send someone over to do a welfare check.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What I Really Want for Christmas

Bob keeps harassing me to make a Christmas list. He actually started asking me for this several months ago, and here we are: nine days before Christmas (nine days!) and I'm still finding reasons to put it off. (If you had told me five years ago that I'd have trouble coming up with gifts for myself that I'd like to receive, I would have laughed. so. hard. But now? If it's not for K, I usually have huge "but there are better ways to spend that money!" guilt over it. Unless it's something that I buy on a whim at Target. My middle-class mom money guilt seems to go out the window at Target.)

But now I've figured it out. What do I really want/need for Christmas?

A clone. Or three.

Right now, if magically gifted with a small (peaceful!) army of clones, I'd have:

-One sit down and read through the three work manuscripts I have piled up, taking diligent editorial notes and not budging until they were all read in their entirety and the client reports were delivered.
-One clean my house. Dear Baby Jesus, I don't understand how it gets so messy so quickly.
-One to tackle administrative tasks. Return e-mails, make phone calls I've been putting off, run to the post office, etc. I'd also like for them to arrange for a trash pickup service, so that we can stop piling garbage bags on the back deck. (SERIOUSLY, SELF. MAKE THAT PHONE CALL. YOU ARE LIVING LIKE AN ANIMAL.)
-One to plan out enrichment activities for K that are engaging and fun and better for her than my old standby of, "Hey, go watch TV, baby!" (*I* will still get to do the fun activities with her. I just want someone else to plan them/acquire the supplies/set up the activity station, and then, of course, clean up afterward.)
-One for general household maintenance work. Shoveling. Killing that damn mouse that's been scurrying around lately. Making the ancient furnace somehow suddenly way more efficient, because paying to heat a huge old farmhouse with a huge old furnace = bad news for the bank account.

I, naturally, will be busy playing with K out in the snow, baking cookies to warm up afterward, then snuggling on the couch watching The Office/30 Rock/Arrested Development DVDs until my loving almost-husband comes home to shower me with kisses, marvel at how nice the house looks/smells/etc, and replenish my bonbon supply.

What would you have your clone(s) do?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Arduous Journey (to the playhouse)

On Making Adjustments with a New Family

(This post is the latest installment in Bob's "The Geek Speaks" series.)

One of the things that I've had to get used to in sharing my home with a writer and a sometimes crazed toddler is that all of the things I used to do in my bachelorhood are now tossed out the window. I am a creature of habit and ritual; I have a way of doing things that requires time to hone the process and shape it into a lean and efficient system. In the before-time -- before K squared -- I got up at 4:44 am and got to the shower. I was done with the shower and back to my room by 5:05. I was out the door to the car by 5:30. I hit the freeway at 5:37, and knew that I would be at the parking lot at work by 6:15. I had these things down to a science.

Now, I get out of bed at 4:40 and stumble to the shower and try to wash up without falling and breaking my neck. (I have a huge somewhat irrational fear of falling in the shower.) I hopefully get out of the shower and go cuddle with Karinya for a little bit before getting ready for work. Unless toddler K has decided to join us at some point during the night and then she usually takes her half of the bed out of the middle. I'm still working on what time I need to be on the road to hit the freeway at that magical 5:37 point and in the month we've lived here, I think I've managed it twice. Still working on it but I have confidence.

Another of the adjustments that I've had to undergo is eating healthy. Karinya has this habit of wanting to make delicious dinners for me to eat, with foods that aren't filled with chemicals and other additives. I've been used to going to a variety of restaurants and plunking down my money and having someone put food of unknown origin in front of me. She insists on taking care of me!

I've been pretty self-reliant over these last many years. I mean, I know how to do my own laundry and (sort of) clean for myself and pay my own bills mostly on time. But I find myself having someone caring for me in ways that I had forgotten were possible. In that same manner, I find myself wanting to care for someone else -- two someone elses, even -- because it makes me feel good to do so. It takes time to adjust to these things that I'd forgotten existed.

Finally, instead of coming home to a basement apartment and watching TV until it was time to go to bed, I now come home to a family who looks forward to me being there and is happy to see me. When I come in, K rushes to hug daddy with a big smile on her face and Karinya smiles at me and gives me a kiss and a hug. It's like something that comes straight out of Leave it to Beaver, I know.

How will I ever adjust to all of these things happening to me? How will I figure out how many minutes it takes me to go from shower to the car? How will I ever get used to eating all of these healthy foods?

Dear readers, I cannot answer these difficult questions. But I can promise you this: I will, to the best of my ability, enjoy trying to find out the answers to these and a thousand others over the next 40 plus years of being with my family.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Open Letter to my House

(Inspired by the McSweeney's feature, "Open Letters to People or Entities who are Unlikely to Respond.")

Dear (old) house,

It’s a snowy Wednesday in mid-December and I’m visiting you to do some laundry (because while your replacement has you bested in almost every category, it does not yet have laundry facilities) and to reminisce. I’m sitting on one of the last two pieces of furniture left in you, and instead of reading the work manuscript I brought with me, I’m writing you this letter to commemorate our time together.  You’ve taught me a lot in the year and a half since I bought you, but time management was clearly not one of those things.

Do you remember the day we met? It was right after I’d fallen in love with another house – a house with hardwood floors and plenty of extra bedrooms and a gorgeous, gorgeous kitchen. It was after my realtor had called to tell me that, whoops, that house was already under contract when we went to go visit it. You, my dear, were a rebound. Instead of hardwood floors you had black & white checkered linoleum and worn blue carpet. Instead of extra bedrooms you had two. Instead of a big remodeled kitchen, you had about seven square feet of counter space (total) and only one cabinet for dishes.  As an added bonus, your layout included only a wobbly piece of what was probably intended as a garden edge fence to keep one from walking directly from the dining room area to the cold concrete basement floor ten feet below. But! You didn’t have any other offers on you and your price had been reduced and I was busy and didn’t have time to mess around. You were clearly the right choice for a single mom and her unsteady baby.

Do you remember our first night together? We ordered a pizza and ate on paper plates on the living room floor. It was nice. Then I went to wash my hands and discovered that the only water that comes out of your bathroom sink is scalding hot. (A year and a half later I still haven’t taken care of that.) Fun surprise, house! Then do you remember what you gave me the day after closing? Do you?

YOU GAVE ME A FLOODED BASEMENT. Do you know why I remember this? Because I am still making payments on the resultant repairs/sump pump installation/mold treatment. That was fun. Really fun. I don’t know which I enjoyed more, come to think of it: the initial discovery of the water, or the days of men running jackhammers in my basement. They were both equally awesome, I guess.

I was undaunted. (Or rather, I was “daunted” as all get out, but by this point in the game I’d sunk so much money into you that I didn’t see any other option but to keep sinking money into you.) I was in it for the long-haul with you, house. It was going to be me and you, together, forever (or until I found some sucker kind, loving man to buy me a gorgeous old immaculately-restored farmhouse – Hi, honey!). I got you pretty new windows in the basement. I got you some nice warm insulation. I brought your electrical work up to date. (When the electrician came out he said – totally matter-of-factly—“Well, your house probably won’t catch on fire. But if it gets struck by lightning, all of the nails are going to pop out and your siding will fall off.”) I even got you sparkly fancy things like vents. Vents! I treated you good.

How did you pay me back? By continuing to fall apart. By revealing to me that your “custom shower” was probably installed by a sixth grader and that eventually your leak was going to rot away the floorboards underneath. (That day I cried in front of two plumbers.) 

And now? Now you’re mostly empty. You still have junk in the basement and half a gallon of expired milk in the fridge; some stray mate-less shoes in the closet and a collection of empty Diet Coke cans waiting to be recycled. You smell like cats with behavioral issues. (I… I thought it would be a good idea to bring a third cat into a 750 square foot bungalow. I was wrong!) Your carpet is . . . I have multiple degrees in creative writing, and I still can’t even begin to imagine what the right word might be to describe the current state of your carpet. (I even have a degree in a second language and – nope, I don’t think Spanish has a word that captures quite that level of horribleness, either!)

I don’t hate you, though. I still kind of love you, and I know that before too long I’m going to have to do something with you – either fix you up to rent or sell or burn down for the insurance money.   Our breakup saddens me, just a little. You were the first house I bought. By myself. You were where my daughter learned to walk. You were where I proved to myself that I could shovel out of a blizzard when I was sick and with a baby attached to my hip. (Literally. I shoveled and wore her in a baby carrier!) You were where I learned how to scrub chocolate-milk vomit out of carpet (…kind of) and that it’s generally best to leave relationships with contractors at the professional level.  You taught me not to be afraid of the fuse box.

All that said: thanks for the memories, old house. It’s been an (expensive, stressful) adventure, but one that I’m glad to have had.

Love  (& a bit of loathing),


PS: New house: don’t get any ideas from this blog entry!

Monday, December 6, 2010

This Week in Food

(We like food. A lot. I don't think this will come as a surprise to any of our readers.)

Until Friday morning (so early! Our furnace guy is either very in demand or very lazy, because he has a habit of waiting until a few hours after the initial appointment to call and reschedule, but aaaanyway --) we didn't have any real cooking capabilities. We had a crockpot -- and I'm actually a big crockpot fan! -- but no range or oven. Rather, we had them, but we had no natural gas line going into the kitchen. . . (Why does everything seem ten times more complicated than it needs to be when you're a homeowner?)

Anyway, early Friday morning our furnace/gas/etc. guy got here to hook up the gas line to the kitchen/clean the furnace/other fun things. My favorite exchange? When he said, "Hey, put your hands here. You feel that? That's a carbon monoxide leak!" To which I responded, "Oh." Sometimes I feel like people must think I'm -- I don't know, "special needs?" -- but really, what else do you say to that?

At any rate, he fixed it. He cleaned the furnace (which is older than I am!) and the water heater. He hooked a gas line up to the kitchen. He gave me a working range. When I went to write out the check, he said he'd send me a bill instead, and I'm not sure whether he was being semi-merciful (as in, "I know you don't have this in your checking account now, so I'll let you sweat it out/save/wait a bit,") or cruel ("muahahaha they'll never know what's about to hit them!"), but --

Our first week in the house was full o' crock pot goodness. Or at least crock pot edibleness. We made slow-cooker beef stew with mushrooms which was gooood, we made some kind of chicken and noodle and white wine stew that turned out a little too "eh" to bother linking to, and we made Stephanie O'Dea's nice pot roast recipe. (I love her book Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. She's my crock pot hero!) The beef stew disappeared in a day. The chicken "stuff" is probably on its way out into the trash  (sorry, starving African orphans or whoever), and the pot roast is on its way to becoming taco/enchilada/southwestern something for tomorrow night's leftover dinner extravaganza.

On Friday, after we were gifted with the magic of natural gas in the kitchen, we made plain old white bread to christen the oven. I know that's a totally lame/unadventurous recipe to use for bread, but it's served me well in the past. This time? Either my shiny new oven runs hot or the yeast really does die when the package says it expires, because it was a little flat/sad, but still pretty good. A friend suggested trying this recipe for No-Fuss Focaccia but I went with the tried & true recipe this time (because I'm boring?) but that one is going on the to-try list! My assistant helped me knead. With her nose. With a cold. Oy.

A few vitamin C pills and a good night's sleep later, we turned that bread into Overnight Blueberry Stuffed French Toast! Oh, goodness. I'm watching calories these days, but -- this is worth it. We made a few mods (mostly scaling back the recipe for a family of 2.5, and using slightly lighter ingredients when possible), but -- yep, definitely worth it. Especially on a snowy Sunday morning. I don't mean to be all gushy about my newly found domestic bliss, but -- Sunday morning family breakfasts are awesome. We had coffee. We had snuggling. (Later we also had more football than---- anyway.) We had glorious high-fat breakfasts with whipped cream. I don't care how many lunges I'll have to do or how many grilled skinless chicken breasts the next few days will bring. This morning was lovely :-)

Let's see, what else? Before the oven got hooked up, Bob had a rotten day at work and I wanted to surprise him in an "I'm a pseudo-SAHM-with-a-toddler-and, uh,-a-job-and-no-working-oven" way and K and I made a batch of no-bake bourbon cookies, as follows:

2 cups crushed vanilla wafers (because I like making cookies from other cookies)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
...2+ish tablespoons honey (I don't know how much I ended up using -- it didn't seem sticky enough with what the original recipe called for)
1/4 cup bourbon
(Some recipes call for chopped pecans too, but we've got a toddler with nut allergies so we skipped that. Uh, not that we should be feeding the toddler bourbon to begin with...)

Mix cookie crumbs, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder together. Pour in the bourbon & honey, and dig those hands in! (I started trying to mix with a spoon but it was just -- hands were easier.) It should be kind of a clay-like consistency. Roll into balls, then roll in more powdered sugar. Refrigerate (they're supposed to be better cold & aged a couple of days, but they were pretty good fresh, too!) and enjoy!

At any rate: hello, new week. Why are you waving all those carrot sticks at me?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Toddler Goofiness

(There isn't any actual substance here, just fluff. Fair warning!)

Is it horribly gloomy and cold right now where you live? It sure is here. On a happier note, K is working her cute toddler mojo hard enough today that she's counteracting at least a little of the winter blahs.

This morning, upon waking up:
K: "Where's Daddy?"
Me: "Daddy went to work."
K: "Oh. I was sleeping."

On the way to the store to grab a missing dinner ingredient, I noticed that she had a look of intense concentration on her face. A look that usually means she's working on a. . . diaper surprise.
Me: "What are you doing, K?"
K: (In a strained voice through clenched teeth) "I'm trying to stay warm!"

A short while later at the checkout, I was putting the groceries up on the counter when Ms. K snagged a piece of candy from the display, snuck around me, handed it to the cashier for her to scan, and then took it back and started walking towards the exit. I didn't notice any of this until I looked to see what the people in the next checkout line were laughing about. (I'm an attentive mother.) I was impressed enough that I let her keep it. If you want strawberry Mentos (?!) that badly, K, then by all means, enjoy 'em. (This is a more sophisticated candy-acquiring technique, as she used to be a fan of the "bite through the wrapper so mom HAS to buy it" strategy.)

Now she's wearing the bowl that her orange slices were in on her head as a hat. It's tough times in the Unlikely Origins household -- we can't afford both Mentos AND winter gear, so it's a good thing she's learned to improvise.