Archive | September, 2010

All in the Family

27 Sep

My negotiating skills are pretty lame. At an antiques show I once raved to a jewelry dealer about how great one of her pins was (it was amazing), and then remembered I had to bargain for it. Oops. Guess I’m no salesman.

My husband, on the other hand, could, as they say, sell ice to an eskimo. Scratch that. He would sell a truck load of self-washing solar-powered refrigeration units with ice dispensers built right in. It’s kind-of what he does.

And a few weeks ago I discovered it’s what our daughter does too.

You see, it’s fundraising time at school. (Isn’t it always? Do you get more than two weeks in between bouts of selling/buying cheap potpourri, candles, and car washes? Because we don’t). This time it was cookie dough and magazine subscriptions. And my daughter was excited. She came home from school completely jacked about the whole thing.

The school needed money to support the sports program and to help fund new computers for the library (not to mention the salaries of the few teachers that are even left). They needed the kids to get out and do their part, to work hard for their school. She was on board.

Besides that, if she sold enough stuff to bump her into the coveted third sphere of prizes (I can almost hear the washed-up radio announcer turned pitch man inciting the whole sweaty auditorium of teenagers) she could win a stuffed monkey alarm clock that you have to throw against the wall to shut off. Ahh, dare to dream.

So we went. With her in the lead, we took the next Saturday and canvassed the neighborhood. And it was completely her show. I was just security. You know, to steer clear of the house with the stinky old man who still answers the door in his underwear and to make sure she didn’t end up locked in some creepy basement for the next twenty years.

We had just knocked on the first door when my daughter turned to me, very deliberately, and said, “I know this house. The girl that lives here used to go to my school.” She nodded and squinted her blue eyes at me. “That’s good. I need you to compliment the hard wood floors.”

Before I could blink, let alone process her unexpectedly shrewd technique, an attractive middle-aged woman opened the door.  As I listened to my daughter roll through her rehearsed, yet strangely casual schpeal, I couldn’t help but smile.

“Your floors are fantastic,” I said. “Wood is always so warm. I have to say, I’m a little jealous. We have tile.”

What can I say? They never had a chance. Two boxes of peanut butter cookies and three magazine renewals. I laughed, thinking it was a fluke. But then, I’m the girl who couldn’t bargain for a pin.

As we scoured the blocks, knocking on door after door, a pattern began to emerge. My daughter can sell stuff.

At one house, as we walked up the sidewalk, she whispered, “Play up the Buy Three, Plant a Tree deal.”

“What?” I asked.

She smirked and thumbed over her shoulder toward the driveway. Parked right beside us was a bright blue, very clean Prius. Nice.

At one house we headed to the door, picking our way through the wreckage of pink plastic Barbie cars, scattered crayons, Polly Pocket dolls and pastel chalk art. She knocked on the door and looked over at me. “This is a cookie house.”  She was right. Double chocolate chip, if I remember.

One of my favorites was the place with the car in the driveway, sporting a faded yellow “Baby on Board” sign in the back window. “Hey! Let’s go there!” she said, pointing across the street. She raced over, a fresh bounce in her stride. “That sticker means they have kids,” she explained when I caught up. “And it’s all old and junk, so they’re probably three or four by now. They’ll want cookies too.” I almost felt sorry for the bedraggled mother as she signed up for four boxes of oatmeal raisin cookies, her two small boys racing back and forth between her legs the whole time.

It turned out to be a pretty good experience. I learned a lot. I now know that peanut allergies are more common than I ever knew, that my job on these missions is to “stand in front of the peep hole and smile,” and that my daughter has somehow inherited the ability to talk people out of their money.

Oh, and I’ve also learned what it’s like to wake up at 6:30 am to the high-pitched squeal of a mechanized howling monkey, followed by that oh-so-satisfying dull THUD through the wall.


Tuesdays (and Thursdays) with Morrie

20 Sep

I started volunteering at a local convalescent hospital a few weeks ago. I don’t do much, really.  I spend a couple of hours every few days reading to the residents. Some are more responsive than others, but they seem to enjoy it. I like to think so anyway.

It took me a little while to get used to the place, if I’m honest. It isn’t fancy,  and many of the residents share their small room with 2 or 3 other people. Accomodating all those personalities, not to mention their very loud tvs (mostly tuned to different channels), isn’t always easy.

It isn’t very pretty, either. As my mom likes to say, “Old age isn’t for the weak.” And she’s right. It’s wrinkly and forgetful, crooked and slow. It’s brown spots and bent fingers. It’s messy and undignified. It’s drinking from a straw because you can’t hold a cup anymore, and waking from a nap with your false teeth somewhere on your chest. It turns once viril men into drooling, palsied patients and makes little bald raisins out of former beauty queens.

And so it hit me hard the first day.

But underneath the smell of soiled sheets and quiet desperation are the stories. The lives that came before. And in the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a few of them.

I was immediately charmed by a 98-year-old woman in a pink petal cap who told me she liked Louisa May Alcott. Many times the stories I read will trigger memories, and this morning, while I read Little Women, she remembered watching her father and his team of horses plow the earth around their house and all of the outbuildings of their farm in a frantic attempt to protect everything from a vast grass fire that was headed their way. Her watery blue eyes glazed over as she spoke, slowly speaking of how frightened she was that day, standing on the front porch, watching the raging fire devour the fields as it came toward them. She was just four years old.

There’s the man whose wife thought to leave The Count of Monte Cristo on his bedside table, with a note telling me it was his favorite. He can’t communicate very well anymore; most of the time his hands just shake and every now and then he’ll grunt unintelligibly. But for a little while, while we’re deep in France, imprisoned with Edmond Dantes, a little magic happens. He calms, and his hands stop shaking.

There’s the woman who shouts a lot. She’s a bitty little thing who used to run a 500-acre cattle ranch with her long dead husband, Jack. His picture hangs on the cement block wall behind her hospital bed, adorned with a red crocheted heart hanging from a piece of yarn. “Black Angus and Herefords mostly,” she tells me. With no money to hire ranch hands, she and her husband rode herd on the whole thing. Despite her small, crippled body, I have no trouble imagining her out there, commanding a huge herd of cattle. It’s all in her voice. But today, she cries a little, thinking of Jack. “What was your favorite horse’s name?” I ask after a minute. “Flynn,” she says, smiling up at me, her translucent cheek still wet with tears. “His name was Flynn.”

And of course, the comedian. There’s one in every crowd, and the convalescent home is no exception. A gregarious older gentleman, blind in one eye, Charlie is always ready with a slow smile and a quick joke. Last week he explained to me that years ago, during a trip through Europe, a tour guide told him that Napoleon always wore red, so if he was ever shot the blood wouldn’t show, and his troops wouldn’t lose morale. His face lights up, almost in slow motion and I know the punch line is coming. It’s always this way with Charlie. It’s as if he’s savoring the moment, building the tension. But no, it just takes that long for him to get it all out. “Maybe that’s why Hitler always wore brown,” he says between breaths, winking his dead eye at me. We laugh like hell, a real belly rumbler, so loud that a nurse wanders in to see what all of the commotion is about. Which is good because he has nearly fallen out of his wheelchair.

I always thought I would enjoy reading to the elderly, I just never imagined how much. I love it there. I am humbled everyday by the strength in their weakness.

Nanny McState Returns

15 Sep

The first lady is after your fries.

At a recent lecture (and I do mean lecture) given to the National Restaurant Association, Mrs. Obama suggested that restaurants consider “reformulating menus in pragmatic and incremental ways to create healthier versions of foods that we all love.” Michelle Obama to Restaurants: Cut Fat – Washington Wire – WSJ.

Okay. I’ve considered it. Now piss off.

The restaurant industry has had a mandatory ban on artificial trans fats since 2008 in some cities and states (New York Restaurants Prepare for the Big Switch – No More Trans Fat –, arguably making the preparation of many foods healthier, or at least more cholesterol friendly.

Fine. I guess. Look, I’m all for eating healthy. For being healthy. Drop by my place any night and you’ll see us wading through the vegetables, fruit, soy and quinoa that I make a regular part of our lives (sometimes to a disgruntled crowd of bacon-loving carnivores). I don’t smoke, and I exercise. A lot.

But those are my choices. Let me say it again for the cheap seats.

Those are my choices.

I loved when the first lady planted a garden (Michelle Obama Garden – Michelle Obama Plants White House Garden – The Daily Green). That’s about taking personal responsibility. Good job. And I love that she wants to fight childhood obesity. Me too. But she’s barking up the wrong tree.

It’s not McDonalds’ fault that kids are fat and diabetic. It’s their parents’. You heard me. The last time I checked, kids don’t come out wrapped in cash. Or with an addiction to chicken nuggets. So who’s buying all those happy meals? Who’s schlepping through the drive thru three times a week instead of providing a healthy meal?


Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE a quarter pounder with cheese, or Burger King’s original chicken sandwich (remember how it was cut on the diagonal and all that mayo would squish out when you took the first bite?) or a giant 20 piece McNugget (there can’t be real chicken in there). But I don’t eat any of it very much. Hello! That stuff is terrible for you.

Like birthday cake, it’s a treat, meant for special occasions. You know, like when you’re the only sober one in the car, driving home from a death-defying day at the infield of the Preakness, with a van full of pissed off drunks, and one of the loud mouths in the back starts whining about how much he has to poo. Permission granted. Swing into Mickey D’s.

Or for the nights when you’ve rushed home from your daughter’s karate practice (after the instructor held the room full of 9-year-olds for an extra 20 minutes to meditate on how to properly execute a lethal throat chop), your mind racing like a rat on a wheel because thanks to this Jackie Chan wannabe you’re now beyond late, while you struggle to remember if you even got the chicken breasts out to thaw. You pull into the driveway, screeching the tires and rush into the house, ignoring the rambling story your daughter is telling about how Erin’s brother’s best friend Muncher (you soo don’t want to know) fed her goldfish to his chinchilla (Erin’s brother’s, not Muncher’s), and make a bee-line for the kitchen, praying the chicken is in the sink, only to find your husband hunched over the toilet, wretching, vomiting his guts out because he happened to step in the surprise pile of dog shit that was waiting just inside the door. Again, permission granted. By all means, throw your hands in the air and order some Chinese food.

It’s exactly times like these that make me thankful for so many options. For the availability of fat-laden, high carb, deep-fried, sugarific deliciousness, that somehow, magically, helps wipe away some of the chaotic ugliness in your day, tipping the scales back toward even ground.

Choices, people. Sometimes food nourishes your body, and sometimes it nourishes your soul.

Mrs. Obama’s lecture to the restaurant industry threatens my soul. I don’t want to go out to Biba (Biba Restaurant – Lunch| Premier Italian Restaurant | Sacramento Italian Restaurant | Home of Biba Caggiano) for saffron ravioli and find they’re only making it with whole wheat pasta now, as the first lady suggested, because it’s a healthier version. Or find the alfredo at my neighborhood Pasta Pomodoro tastes like gloopy, creamed cardboard because it’s now made with non-fat cream cheese or some other crime against nature. Alfredo = cream, butter, parm, garlic and fettucini. And that’s heavy cream, real butter, and refined, bleached, white flour fettucini, thank you.

If I want to keep an old soup can full of congealed bacon grease on the back of the stove (for flavor of course), just like my great grammy used to, that’s my choice. And if I want to eat three Big Macs, a Snickers and a side of Pringles for lunch everyday, and wash it down with a marshmallow topped root beer float swirling with hot fudge, that’s my choice.

So, please, Mrs. Obama, just stop. Stop lecturing the restaurant industry. Stop gearing up to punish me for other people’s bad judgement. Please, before my very healthy heart breaks from the thought of no more stuffed crust extra cheese meatlovers pizza. I beg you, in the name of all that which does not suck, stop! YouTube – Beavis and Butt-Head: See You in Hell.

Seriously. Get out of my bedroom and stay away from my uterus. Get off my guns and my cigarettes.  And for the love of all that’s good in the world, get your nanny hands off of my extra salty FRIES.

I see a world of bootleg, high-processed, white flour foods emerging, a whole new black market exploding with extra-refined sugar products and high fructose corn syrup.

Don’t worry though, I’ll be on the corner with the drug dealers and pimps, ready to score you some ho-hos and glazed doughnuts to go with your mandatory decaf non-fat green tea. It’s really no big deal, I’ll be out there for my morning run anyway.

Top Gun Geek

13 Sep

Last weekend we went to the Airshow in Sacramento California Capital Airshow: September 11-12 2010. It was at Mather Airport, one of the old Air Force bases in the area. History – Mather Airport.

This is the third year we’ve gone, and I couldn’t wait. Despite the crowds, the heat (almost 105 on the blacktop) and the fact that I HATE TO FLY, I seriously geek out whenever I get that close to an F-22 Raptor.

I want one. Or, at the very least, I want a ride in one.

It’s just, I dunno, so powerful and maneuverable. You have to see this thing flip over and slide backwards in the air: YouTube – F-22 Raptor Airshow Demo at Langley Air Force Base. It makes me feel like somehow, there’s no way anything bad could happen while you’re flying. Like, for instance, if I was in my Raptor, on the way to the East Coast for Christmas (it could so happen) and a bird happened to fly into one of the engines, the F-22 wouldn’t have to make an emergency landing in the Hudson, it would just eat the toasted bird (with a side of fries and some tequila-spiked marshmallows) and roar for more. Or something.

See? Completely geeked out. Whatever. I’m still putting it on my Christmas list.

But the Raptor wasn’t the only cool thing to see. This year marked one hundred years of women in aviation, which was sweet. California Capital Airshow Celebrates Centennial Of Women In Aviation.

Jessica Cox, the first pilot in history to fly with her feet, was there YouTube – Jéssica Cox – Pilot, along with my daughter’s favorite Red Bull Air Racer, Michael Goulian, aerobatic pilot.

There was even a race on the runway between a jet-powered car and a plane. I happened to notice the whole thing from the frozen lemonade stand because of the low, horizontal ball of fire that was spurting from the car as it accelerated. Nice. And by the way, the car won. Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Shows – Air Force Reserve.

And then there was Robosaurus. Robosaurus OFFICIAL SITE – The only airplane eating, fire breathing Robot! and YouTube – Oregon International Air Show 2009 (08-29-09) Robosaurus.

A giant transformer-like dino-robot that crushes, burns and literally chews on full-sized cars and planes. It came so close to the crowd on Saturday that my skin nearly melted as the heat closed in, washing over us while the 42’ monster flamed and charred the sacrificial car. The only way this thing could’ve been cooler is if I was a 9-year-old boy.

So between the jet car, the giant robot and all of the other planes’ engines, I guess it wasn’t that surprising when the grass beside the runway caught fire. And after a quick word from the announcer, a fire engine rolled over and casually put the whole thing out. But I had a moment (picture fleeing the conflagration in Bambi and you’re getting close). Something about being surrounded by a field of crackling-dry grass and an active fire, in California, at the end of the summer, freaked me out. I am definitely not a native.

Despite that little blip, we had a great time. There are just no bad seats at an air show. It was a day full of thunderous, chest-rattling, ear-splitting demos by F-15s and lunch sheltered in the shade of an F-18’s engine.

I’m not sure it gets any cooler than that.

But the best came late, during a chilling moment of silence to honor the memory of 9/11. At the mere mention of the day, the entire airfield quieted to a hush; thousands of people were silenced as they removed their hats and listened to the gentle, reassuring purr of the four P-38s flying overhead. It was unexpectedly beautiful.

As I watched the planes fly, I remembered nine years ago. How I rushed to preschool to pick up my daughter, the teenager who now stood beside me, anxious to have her with me, where I knew she was safe. I remembered the outrage, the fear and that special unity we all shared after the attack. I remembered feeling like things were going to change.

The moment passed as the soft sound of the P-38s faded away. We grabbed our things and headed home for a night of Jiffy Pop and Top Gun. It was a good way to mark the day. I was grateful, thinking of my brother in Afghanistan and everyone else who makes easy nights like that possible, and of how glad I was to be thinking of these things on this day, and not some crazy man in Florida.

Top Ten: August

6 Sep

The last month of summer was full of some great moments for me, from week-long Chinese traffic jams to fart neutralizing pads.  Here are some of my favorites.

#10. Sugar Shack

I was baking muffins the other day when I reached in the closet and grabbed the sugar. I LOVE how it comes in a cool new carton. Every time I see it, it makes me smile. Seriously. I’d like to pin a medal on the person who finally realized that sugar needed a better delivery system. That stupid paper bag, the one that inevitably sprayed sugar all over (no matter how carefully you opened it) is finally a thing of the past.

I was about to add the sugar (smiling the whole time) when I noticed it said, “Shake firmly before opening.”  So, I shook. Firmly. Only it turns out I had already opened it. Not only did I have sugar all over, but special, ultrafine bakers sugar. Nice. So much for not spraying sugar all over. Someday I’m going to get it together. I swear.

#9. “Busdriver! Busdriver! Open the Door!”

For the entire first week of school my daughter was late for her homeroom. Every. Single. Day. You might think she was fooling around or hanging out with friends. Maybe even smoking behind the bathroom. Nope. Her busdriver couldn’t get it together enough to get the kids to school on time.  I’m not even kidding. You have to love California.

#8. Idle Threat

Speaking of California schools, look what just showed up at the elementary school:

Really? In addition to smoking, swearing, drinking and everything else that has been taken away in the name of the children, now I can’t even let my car idle because there are children breathing?

Had there been no sign, I probably would’ve turned my car off. Now, because of this insulting, offensive propaganda I just might pop it in neutral and rev the engine as Little Johnny walks behind me, making sure to envelope him in that sweet smelling cloud of exhaust.

#7. Made in China

This probably isn’t news to anyone, but China’s 10 day traffic jam has to make the list.

China’s Massive Traffic Jam Could Last For Weeks : NPR.  Are you kidding me? They could have my car after the first day. Hell no.

#6. He Who Smelt It…

Every once in awhile a product comes along that really serves a need; something that fills a gap and makes the world a better, more enjoyable place. Meet Subtle Butt:

Gas pads by Subtle Butt: Disposable Gas Neutralizers. Pop one of these “disposable gas neutralizers” in your drawers and you’re all set. Think of them as Depends for farting. In fact, why not splurge for a few and pass them out at work? Give them to that stinky ass at the gym or even at book club. And bonus! The small size makes them perfect for stocking stuffers…

#5. Over It

Cosmopolitan has outdone itself this month with the controversial cover story on Jessica Alba’s Untamed Va-Jay-Jay.”

Grow up. If you’re going to go there, then go there. Put your big girl pants on and say VAGINA. Plaster it right across the cover in bold, pink letters. That I could respect. Should Jessica Alba’s Untamed “Va-Jay-Jay” Be A “Vagina”? | The Frisky.

But this euphemism is played out. It isn’t cute anymore and truly, it’s not even that provocative. It’s just infantile. I’m a woman. I have one. I get it. And to be honest, I don’t care if Jessica Alba (who I like) can make her Va-Jay-Jay recite the national anthem in ancient Sanskrit (on second thought, that might be interesting).

And P.S. It would be nice to be able to stand in the check out line at Safeway and not have to explain to my 13-year-old daughter what an untamed Va-Jay-Jay is.

#4. Something’s Fishy

I miss the days when chips and McNuggets were more of a danger than spinach and eggs. When having a burger medium rare wasn’t like playing Russian roulette. When eating fish from the gulf was a healthy choice, not a calculated risk.

But maybe we should stick to that gulf seafood after all. According to an article in The Huffington Post, Imported Seafood May Be Riskier Than Gulf Seafood Post-Oil Spill. That’s right. The stuff you’ve been eating for years, the stuff untouched by BP’s disaster, is probably so contaminated with rat droppings and other delightful add-ins (like hair and pesticides) that it makes the petroleum-soaked shrimp seem like light fare.

I think I’m going back to nuggets. If my food is going to kill me, it may as well taste good enough to die for.

#3. Just Wrong

I’ve passed this sign maybe 100 times. It’s just wrong.

#2. Soup’s On

“Excuse me, waiter?”

“Yes, sir?”

“What’s that fly doing in my soup?”

“That’s not a fly, that’s a condom!”

A man in California (figures) said he found a condom in his French Onion soup while eating at a Claim Jumper restaurant. Sweet. Now even soup is contaminated. Condom In Soup Case: Man Settles Lawsuit Against Claim Jumper Restaurant.

Told you nothing was safe to eat anymore.

#1. Foul Ball

And my favorite moment of August came as I was driving down the road and heard this on the radio: Lou Gehrig May Not Have Had Lou Gehrig’s Disease | Playbook.

Come on. It just doesn’t get any better than that.