Friday, February 27, 2009

Two more days....

Oh, February. How I hate you.

I woke to a most depressing situation this morning. Not enough coffee for a pot. It's like running out of money it's so unthinkable in this household. What kind of crumbling infrastructure are we dealing with here? Chip and I parcel out several weak ounces of brewed coffee each in our tiny ridiculous bone china kitty mugs that would normally be banned from our house for their sweetness except my mom likes a thin lipped coffee cup when she visits. They're strangely twee and I shun them on principle. The coffee situation would be enough but it's not nearly as bad as the sour milk: my first and only big bite of cereal is truly shocking and the kids get to witness their mom with her head hung over the garbage disposal--that's a nice memory for them. It was the kind of sour that's been fermenting in the fridge for a couple days and causes one to back up from the sink as it's poured out.

Gray invisible killer

Then my sister calls and tells me it's 70 degrees and sunny in Alabama. Luckily for her, her phone cuts out before I unleash profanity. There's ice everywhere here from a storm yesterday. Walking the dog is treacherous. In these extreme conditions I do what I must do. I send Chip to walk the dog.

Chip informs me that David Cameron, the Tory shadow P.M. in England, and his wife lost their seven year old son yesterday. I find the YouTube clip of Gordon Brown paying his respects on behalf of the government for this terrible loss to one of their own. He does a great job speaking from the heart, something he's not inclined to do well and I cry. It hardly affects the flow of my day. I'm crying anyway about February.

Then, finally, "The cherry on the top of this messed up pie", as Allison once said....after returning from my errands, I return home to find in the mirror that I've been traipsing all over the west side of Madison with my shirt on inside out.

March, please come take me.

A pan of brownies does little for my mood but others are happy

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Steaks and summer

As we pulled into the driveway, we noticed two Styrofoam boxes on the porch. I realize now we watched too much CSI in England as Olivia yelled, "Mac Taylor sent us body parts!" But no. Two boxes of Omaha steaks. It reminded me of last summer's meat party.

February is a good time to reminisce about summer. Our backyard is one of four yards that all touch, making an L shape and insulated from traffic and the greater world at large so that even the little ones can play out back loosely supervised by the bigger ones. In good weather, the kids migrate through the yards for various games depending on desired terrain--hilly and woodsy for Hide and Go Seek, flat and open for Baby in the Air, or swing set gymnastics for a break from the running and arguing over who cheated in which game. There is screaming from sun up to sun down in summer in the yards. Like when I was a kid, but without cigarettes.

When our girls were younger, they would literally come in the front door after school, shed their coats and backpacks as one unit sliding off with the weight of the day, kick off their shoes and proceed directly out the back door without ever breaking stride and yelling behind them, "I'm going to play in the yards." If you didn't witness the seamless transition, you'd think they had been vaporized on the foyer carpet. On lazy Saturdays, Ally would wake up, listen for kids out her window and proceed directly down the stairs and out the back door in her pajamas to play. All the moms took turns bringing out the feed bucket of Wheat Thins or cut up watermelon to placate the horde and prevent any movement indoors. Sometimes they would all play until well after dark on summer nights and come home bug bit, filthy footed and smelling of grass and sweaty heads. It was a great consolation prize to leaving the city, that my kids were finally getting properly good and dirty from playing outside. Not dusty and covered in sticky greasy grime from pollution, chewed gum and spilled soda on the Philly playgrounds.....but the dirt that comes from running through cut grass and digging in dirt and blowing fresh air and lawn sprinklered clothing gone wet and dry on their bodies and sticky Popsicles and sweat, all making for that salty sweet summer kid smell that is dear and nostalgic and completely gross all at once.

A new development of recent summers...Lord of the Flies 'Sconnie style.

The next generation of yard kids is mostly boys and they cannot seem to keep their shirts on. They shed those shirts as soon as we break 50 degrees and wield sticks and light sabers and toy guns and run and scream and generally terrorize everything in their paths, especially sisters and bugs. As I look out my kitchen window at all these shirtless boys, I see how the idea for the book came along. I love them all individually as one might do with an individual wolf or hyena cub, but when they run together as a pack, well, I throw the latch on the back door just in case.

Last summer, before our sabbatical, we had a freezer full of meat to purge. I married a meat squirrel. Loves to buy it and freeze it all year long. So, a meat party in August--brats, chicken, hotdogs, hamburgers and the remaining Omaha steaks sent from Christmas 2007 for friends and neighbors. And all the little Lord of the Flies boys came with their shirts off. And when asked for their dinner preferences, one by one they responded, "I'll have steak." Of course. The adults ate the hotdogs.

Uncle Mike has generously sent a big new shipment of Chinese New Year Omaha Steaks. They will be hidden from the pack until we get our share.

Monday, February 23, 2009

C'est si bon

The weekend before Mardi Gras. Granted we had seven inches of snow Friday night into Saturday. Granted we live in Wisconsin. But if you've ever lived in New Orleans, you have this sense that there is a giant party going on without you and it's irksome. I haven't been to Mardi Gras but a few times in my life and still.... There's a party goin' on without me!

First, I take Minnie for a romp thru the snow. She meets her friend Kate. I stop to take a picture and accidentally drop the leash. She makes a power dash, as she does, down the street, leash bouncing behind her like a jet ski, until thankfully the leash gets tangled in a bush. I can't catch her when she decides to run. And she always decides to run. I can't even get mad because she loves snow that much.

Back home, we haul out the beads, the Crystal, the file' and the pepper and make some gumbo and jambalaya. The king cake we bought from a local bakery. I made it one year and the taste was good but it did not look pretty. Like the king cakes ordered in the mail, the green sugar resembles a whole lot of mold and mine was a green hot mess.

Lots of beer, wine, food and great friends help make our own little carnival. It will surely do as a substitute for the real thing.

All was well until the presentation of the Best Supporting Actress award when I thought I might have to shoot the television a la Elvis. What a buzz kill on an otherwise delightful weekend. The Oscars sadly have jumped the shark.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Tale of Three Blankets

Hannah's blanket

I have been rushing to finish a baby blanket this week for my second cousin's baby. Little Hannah joined our Shaker family just last week, thankfully bringing our pitiful little tribe up to about sixteen and that includes those saints who've married in. Hannah's great grandmother is my 101 year old great aunt.

Julie's faded holy baby blanket from Aunt Win, or is that holey?

I last saw my Aunt Win at her granddaughter's wedding (Hannah's mom) when at age 100, she got up and shook her tail feather to the song, Brick House by the Commodores. It goes without saying that that was awesome. Sixty odd years ago, she came late to parenting in her own life and so when her son moved to a new job, she moved too, obviously thinking that already in her seventies, she should take advantage of the time she had left spending it close to family. Thirty years, two grandchildren, holy communions, confirmations, birthdays, high school graduations, college graduations, graduate school graduations, great grandnieces, marriages and now her own great grandchild and here we all are still. It's an amazing story of faith, family and longevity with a sense of humor. My favorite letters from her over the years included the lines, "Still here, don't know why," and after the doctor gave her and her brother a clean bill of health in their nineties, the ever popular, "I told the doctor he's going to just have to take us out and shoot us."

She comes to my mind as I finish this baby blanket for her great granddaughter and I remember that she is the knitter of the pink and blue baby blanket made for me. I was never much of a blankie kid, preferring to suck my fingers for way too long in secret until sleepaway camp and an awkward discussion with a friend's parent caused me to break my dirty habit. But this blanket was always on my bed growing up, and has survived 45 years thus far. Sure it's got some moth holes and sure I peed in it once in the back of the car when I was little and couldn't make it to a toilet. But it's a treasure from a dear great aunt and should soon be bound for the Smithsonian with my size 8 jeans.

Julie's blanket, Ally's blanket, Hannah's blanket

Ally, on the other hand, was always a blankie kid. Ally's blanket is from Boots the Chemist in England. My friend, Jacqui "lent" it to me, only to watch it meld with Allison's body, and resignedly said to me when she was pregnant with her second kid, "I'm not getting that back, I guess." Nope.

Ally's blankie is called Blankie and he's a he and we all refer to him as Blankie. He's gone everywhere Allison's ever been. First torn by our shot putter babysitter, who wrenched it out of the stroller wheels with brute force when it became tangled, the hole was quickly stitched together with found yarn and an old crotchet hook. Blankie continued to open that same wound over and over, and each time we found some different yarn to stitch it back together. And that's how it's gone for 14 years. We left it in a cafe in Connecticut once and it's the only time I have hyperventilated and nearly passed out. The cafe owner Fed-Exed it to us on our vacation on Block Island and I literally tore the box open in the post office to reunite the lovers as violins crescendoed and cameras panned wide. Blankie always flies carry-on (even as a little girl, Ally knew luggage stowed was subject to disappearance) and most recently, we nearly left him behind in Morocco in the riad. She refuses to talk about it still.

And so what goes around comes around in this story. This little pram blanket has been stitched together from many squares made by us three girls when Chip flew back to the US to be with his dad in August. We were desperate for a project to keep our minds busy and our grief in check. It makes me sad to finish it because I feel like I've had him with us in this blanket. But I know how he would have loved to get closer to 101 than he did, and that he would love that there is a new blankie stitched in his memory for a brand new baby. We send along with this blanket all the good energy and love that created it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Doing our bit for the economy

Goodbye old friend

A preemptive strike to do our part in jumpstarting the economy: replacing old commodes. I'm sure Madonna and Gwynie Paltrow have people who handle these sorts of crucial decisions, but it's these homeowner milestones that make me feel truly alive.

Daughter No. 2, apropos to this story, comments frequently on our wasteful lifestyle (thinks we're squandering all her college money), and was incredulous we were landfilling perfectly good toilets. She hasn't had to stand there over the past six years while plumbers have laughed and scratched their heads when faced with replacing parts or doing maintenance on these dinosaurs. "Yeah, they don't make these anymore because they were recalled in 1979 due to the lead and asbestos they leaked into the drinking water." Or whatever. A friend suggested I break the old toilets apart and make a giant mosaic for said daughter and stick it in her room. This friend is funny and understands how a mother must entertain herself with evil fantasies of retribution and turnaround.

These toilets continue to serve this family faithfully even in their dotage, but their three gallon tanks are obsolete and wasteful and their limescale buildup is making them sluggish and mercurial. It's a sewage nightmare waiting to happen which I cannot afford as we are the closest bathroom to the middle school.

Middle schooler girls think school bathrooms are gross and avoid them for eight plus hours. So an assortment of friends and acquaintances often make a pit stop at our house after school before their perilously long walks home around the corner. Now I've always said I wanted our house to be the house that kids and their friends gathered to hang. I set out bait traps of food and candy for just such a purpose. But being the house that everybody waits to use first and foremost as an alternative to the middle school bathrooms was not anticipated when we bought this house and really, it's just kind of gross and probably violates some city codes for residential plumbing.

They do usually also wander in to eat the bait of Oreos and Hershey kisses and hang around the kitchen counter and in the end, that's what I want. However, I am now putting out a little basket for tips for the washroom attendant to help offset the cost of three hours of plumbing labor.

Good luck, new friend--your work is cut out for you

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Behind the jelly, a little jar of love

Since returning home, I'm struggling with a few things. How does a person stay focused, productive, and contributing to the family without a job? A friend said to me, " You can be focused without a job." That's intriguing. Work is a place to hide from feeling that overall I am not fully present and accountable in my own life. And that's how I feel. A lack of being present day to day in creating my own happiness. I'm mulling it over. It's a puzzle.

Meanwhile, using my blog for humiliation and revenge actually makes me sort of happy and present in my own life-- I might be on to something.

This morning, Chip and I had one of those fights that only long marrieds can have. A fight that escalates quickly based on long held prejudices about a partner's habits.

"Where's the creole mustard? Did you throw it away?" (deflated overly dramatic shrug)
"Maybe. There were some mustards and other things from summer in there that had black spots."
"I just opened that mustard. Creole mustard is full of black spots."

OH, he did not just go there, did he? He's going to tell me what mustard seeds look like? "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't know what creole mustard is, sonny jim. You'd be married to some boring yellow mustard girl and never know the spicy, sexy side of life, the one I've created for you with my magical Zatarain's dare you, sir!"

OK, I do like to throw away marginally edible food, always have--and I admit I may be a bit hasty sometimes. I am a little paranoid about food spoilage. Partly inherited from my own mom's fantastical worry about old food, partly from watching two sisters at Boston Children's Hospital go into kidney failure from food poisoning. But no matter, and I think most people would agree, black mold spots constitute some sort of action that does not involve sticking the knife in the jar and spreading them on one's sandwich.

"Mustard thrower outer!!"
"Mold eater!!"

Is my regular life blogworthy?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wisconsin wonderland

The key to getting through winter in Wisconsin is to just get out and play in the cold. And these ladies do that regularly. Me not so much. But they have a point. Chat, exercise to keep warm and prepare to replace all burned calories with lots of good food and drink. No early rising, no six hour marathon exercising sessions. Have your coffee, chit chat, get around, drive to the CC ski place, do an hour or two of snowshoe and/or ski, have a giant lunch, do another hour or two and call it a day. Can exercise really be fun? Maybe.
I'll get back to you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Journey north

As succinctly as I can say it, when people ask how we cope with the temps in the winter, "People just live their lives."

When we first moved here, Kite Fest was an amazing colorful spectacle held on a frozen lake with thousands of people watching all the amazing kite flying. It could be 20 degrees or 0 degree and people went and had a good time. There's not much drama around the weather here. It's just information as you head out the door. And you do head out the door regardless.

So tomorrow this lovely fit friend is taking me with some other athletic ladies for a weekend "up north" skiing, snowshoeing and hopefully a little People Magazine reading. I bought new leggings to wear snowshoeing. By God, if I'm going to blow out a knee, I'm going to look good doing it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday

A beautiful day in Madison finally. Above freezing, we were out in the driveway breaking up ice with a pick axe and visiting with neighbors.

One daughter sledding and goofing with friends. One happy dog frolicking in the snow.

One daughter dutifully doing homework after a fun night with her youth group in Milwaukee seeing the Bucks.

Our team this year is The Boss. We always enjoy Super Bowl Sunday like the holiday that it is. Cosmos, beer, fried goodies, chips, salsa and guacamole (uh oh, Bruce just told us to put the guac down and turn up our TV, and so we do).

Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.