Thursday, July 30, 2009

Before and After

We head home in a few days and I am feeling a little bit of the funk. We all have colds, and I am so ready to get home and sleep in my own bed, but equally sad to leave and close the door on all of our highly anticipated summer travel plans. The big trip is almost over and now it is almost after.

You see, I love before. Before is all about anticipation and planning. Before is the lure of the road not travelled. Before is the beginning. Before is what I am going to do, how it might shape me, and the possibilities I have not yet explored. Before is only for me and I am fully in charge of it.

I am not so wild about after. After is all about endings. There is no mystery in after. After is a known thing and can be judged accordingly. After is the end, see you soon, wasn't it fun?

Wasn't it?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Road tripped

I cannot broker another backseat peace agreement between the seven year old and two year old separatist camps.

I cannot pass another snack to the separatists in bumper to bumper traffic while the GPS confuses the "local traffic only" section of the highway for an actual exit and tries to force us across five lanes.

I cannot drop that snack and be forced to root through my bag, the kids bags, and ultimately the floorboard of the front seat for a replacement snack.

I absolutely positively cannot utter the words "look, bulldozer!" as a diversion technique when the snack cannot be located or retrieved from its hiding place under the car seat.

At least until our next trip.

Monday, July 27, 2009

An American Girl

So yesterday I took Girlie down to the American Girl Doll Place on Michigan Ave in downtown Chicago. I promised it as a reward for her patience with her two year old brother. Honestly, after two months of travel, she really hasn't been very patient with him, but then neither have I, so despite our poor behavior, we left Little Guy with Hubs and headed to the city. Maybe one day she'll join me elbow to elbow at the three story H&M, but right now if I want to treat a seven year old to a "girls day" in the city, the plan is going to include a toy store and some cookies.

I knew going into it that the American Girl Place was going to be all about in your face commercialism and it didn't disappoint. The place was crammed with dolls and doll accoutrement's and video clips of live girls acting poorly in doll movies. We spent two hours browsing the store, only stopping briefly for a $5 raspberry smoothie to gather our wits.

Though the whole thing was a little painful, I have to admit that Girlie was totally lovely about it. While other little girls stumbled around giddily cramming enormous bags full of AG paraphernalia, Girlie stuck to the budget we set and didn't complain when I told her that certain items were too expensive. She decided not to get another doll (she already has two) and opted for some carefully chosen accessories instead. She flipped out over some pink glasses, which, at $8, might have been the cheapest item in the entire store. She didn't complain about not getting a reservation for the cafe, though we managed to squeeze in to the 12:30 seating at the last minute anyway. She thanked me for the things we got and even left some dessert on her plate (probably due to the cinnamon roll appetizer, but still).

After we left, I took her to the top of the Hancock tower where we looked down at the city one hundred floors below. She was amazed at how small everything seemed. So shopping Michigan Avenue and scaling skyscrapers with a seven year old? I guess our day out was a little over the top. But while I am not about indulging my children in material things, I am about indulging them in experiences. And I think she really got that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bitter sweet

We are visiting family in Ohio where I spent my summers as a child.  On the way back from my Aunt's house, I realized we were close to an Italian bakery that my Grandmother used to take me to.  I entered the bakery name in our GPS and sure enough, it was still around and only 15 minutes away.  I decided to make a little detour and take the kids for a treat.

We pulled up to the store and I told the kids they could each pick something from the case.  

"Mommy's grandma used to take her here."  I told them in a sing song voice as we entered the store. 

They weren't impressed, and frankly, neither was I.  The sign outside was faded and peeling and the store didn't seem to have that sweet butter mixed with fresh cheesy pizza smell that I remembered so distinctly.  There were plenty of Italian goodies on display, but Girlie picked out a chocolate chip with candies.  I scanned the rows and found what I was looking for.  Cream horns.  Flaky pastries filled with sugary cream filling.  I ordered two, plus a couple of biscotti, two canoli, a few nut rolls, and a plain sugar cookie for Little Guy.

The kids wanted to eat immediately so we sat down at one of the tables near the front of the store.  I took a bite of the cream horn and it was, as you might have already guessed, disappointing.  Too sweet.  Too small.  Just not the same.

After just a few bites, I took the rest of the goodies to my friend's house.  She poured me an IPA beer and I took a sip while I tried to explain what it felt like to go back.  The beer was ice cold and bitter, the first swig almost hard to swallow.  

But it least it was what I was expecting.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Looking like something

When I owned my store, my husband would ask if I was carrying yet another new handbag, and I would always reply that owning a retail business meant it was my job to have these things. There were tons of earrings and necklaces and bangles. There were cute dish towels and herby soy candles. I sampled yummy bath products and always gave clever gifts. It was all from my business and I considered it advertising. After all, it was important to look like I owned a hipster gift store.

So how do you look like a writer?

This summer the writing isn't looking like much of anything. We are travelling, and by the time both kids are in bed, I am ready to collapse, the only "juices" flowing being the kind from a wine bottle into my glass as I flop over on the couch with a book or some mindless television on and a few pieces of Trader Joe's organic dark chocolate (for the antioxidants, of course).

I am finding out that I don't like writing in a notebook which probably flags me as some kind of fraud. Something about seeing my handwriting on the page is so distracting. It is a little disheartening because I always hear stories about how "real" writers carry around a pen and some paper to scribble out their thoughts, but never about anyone who is attached to the keyboard as much as I am. I do have a pair of chunky glasses, but I rarely wear them out, so without the notebook I have no writer-ish accessories.

I have, however, figured out that I am going back to the first person format on my book. Also, the main character has had a personality overhaul (in my mind anyway) and will be tossing her Prada heels in favor of some funky sandals. That means ripping out pages of writing, or filing them away for another story, but at least I feel pretty sure about the direction I will be heading in when I get back on top of it. I have been working on a short story in very very very small increments, for a major contest in September. And my other semi-finalist short story did not win, and thus has not been published, so lucky me, I can work out a few more kinks and resubmit it somewhere else.

So, on the one hand, lots in progress, angst and over-thinking everything, and a pair of seldom worn chunky glasses. On the other hand, no trusty notebook of brilliant thoughts and nothing published.

I just can't decide. Do I look the part?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Changing shape

The kiddos and I are in Ohio visiting family and reconnecting with an old friend.  She lives in a great three story Tudor, tucked into a really neat part of Cleveland, and was gracious (or crazy) enough to invite us to stay with them.  Her two boys are 4 and 2, so Little Guy is enjoying a little rough and tumble fun.  Girlie is in charge of all of them and really loves being the boss, not that I have any idea where that comes from.

Last night my girlfriend and I stayed up until after midnight with a bottle of wine, laughing about old times.  She remembers me before I had kids.  We moved away from one another just after Girlie turned a year old and the gal she describes almost seems like another person.  Sometimes I get so caught up in worrying about how having children has changed me, that I completely miss how some of the changes have been for the better.  I have learned to be more relaxed about not having all the answers and to even embrace and enjoy the surprises.  The perfectionist is now a realist.

So I might have been an octagon before, insisting that you stop and pay attention, and now I am more like a circle.  Not so sharp, but just rolling with it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Little Boy Blues

So Little Guy is turning two in a few weeks and we are starting to see signs of the apocalypse.

First off, he seems to be a biter. Not an angry biter, but more of a wow, it's kind of cool when you scream sort. I am working on various ways to correct this behavior (diversion, letting him know it isn't okay, showing him the mark on the other kid), but I have a feeling it is going to be a slow process. He is too young to really get the conscept of consequence and my research tells me that at his age he doesn't understand that something fun for him is not equally fun for the other person as well. Fabulous. Oh, and he occasionally pushes and hits too.

Second, he bolts. He takes off, with no notice, and runs so fast that I can barely keep up with him. At the park the other day, a woman with two children under the age of three and a husband deployed to Iraq for an entire year, looked at me and said, "wow, you really have your hands full". That is the kind of chasing I am talking about.

Also, he shrieks. Just for fun. The other day, I was trying to get myself and both kids checked out at Trader Joes and he started on one of his shriek streaks. I heard someone to the left mumble something about screaming but I couldn't bring myself to turn around as I fumbled for my check card. Total humiliation.

I know it is a stage. I tell myself that I went through some of it with Girlie (with less biting and more crying), about five years ago, and survived it. It gets better. And really, despite this behavior, he is a pretty happy kid. I know that if I stick with it, he will get it. Eventually. And maybe I will look back on it and laugh. Maybe.

But in the meantime, you'll just have to put up with me as I sob and whine and moan. I'll be easy to spot, not a shred of dignity left, singing the Little Boy Blues.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Counting on some time

When we moved to Phoenix a year ago, I sold my store and said good-bye to Dean. Dean is the wonderful older woman that I hired on to watch Little Guy for twenty hours a week so that I could have some time in the store and occasionally a few minutes to run errands. I could never bring myself to call her a nanny. Maybe because she only worked part-time. More likely because she is an older black woman, and I am not, so it seemed a little, you know, to live in the south and have a nanny. It also never felt right to call her a babysitter because she was so so much more than that too. So mostly I introduced her at Dean, the wonderful woman that I hired to watch Little Guy. She and I got along really well and I told her I would miss her more than most of my family when we left. And it was true.

So we get to Phoenix, and I am not working, and for the last year I wind up having a babysitter (correct word this time) once a week for about three hours, just so I can get out of the house by myself. Don't get me wrong, I really like my sitter, but because she is only around a few hours a week and a busy college gal, she is much less of a part of the family than Dean was.

And then we get to this summer. No woman I have to introduce with a long explanation, no cute blonde babysitter, just me and the kids, 24/7.

Which brings me to this hour. Finally, Hubs has taken Girlie to run some errands in the city. Little Guy is taking a nap. And I get an hour to myself. One single hour.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Let them eat pancake!

My girlfriend says that while I am by no means an optimist, I do tend to put a positive spin on things. I expect it to suck (and often enough, it does), but I can give you ten ways that we made the best of it anyway.

So yes, Little Guy bit my friend's daughter, and Girlie has a cranky case of allergies. Yes, we all got swarmed by mosquitoes on a walk the other night racking up about twenty bites between three of us. Yes, my husband has been working like crazy and is, even as I type this, passed out on the couch deliriously tired from a long week. Yes, my kids woke up at 5:30 AM after the one night I stayed out late with my girlfriend.

But then again, the weather has been deliciously cool. It has been amazing to see our friends and hang out in their downtown pad. The parks are fantastic and the kids have been outside way more than if we had stayed in Phoenix this month. And there are pancake houses on every block. I don't know what it is about Chicago and pancakes, but they are everywhere. Who knew?

So yes, travelling with the kids has been full of crazy and downright sucky moments. But when things fall a little flat, we'll just find ourselves a stack of pancakes, pour a little syrup on, and make the best of it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Duck duck poop

The apartment we are temporarily staying in is surrounded by a little pond. There is a lovely family of ducks that waddle around the place, as well as a flock of Canadian geese that pop in and out of the complex. Unfortunately, there is also a ton of poop. Everywhere. On the sidewalks. In the grass. On the walking path.

I mentioned it to a woman at a nearby park and she said that the geese are the main culprits, which makes sense really if you think about the whole passive-aggressive Canadian thing. Anyway, sure enough, the kids and I were coming back from the grocery store when I saw a truck parked nearby that said "Goose Patrol."

Really? I can't even imagine what that poor guy's job is or why he would choose it. I am guessing that the geese get placed into some sort of witness protection program and relocated to another area as a way of keeping all the shit under control around here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Plastic food

When I was a little girl, I had a miniature kitchen. The refrigerator came fully stocked. There were fake boxes of cereal, Gerber baby oatmeal, and Ritz Crackers. There was a plastic bottle of ketchup and two plastic hot dogs. There was a little plastic pile of peas, all stuck together, and a plastic egg, dented at the top.

Sometimes, and especially when I am forced to shop somewhere new, I feel like I am filling the cart with that same pretend food. It struck me, as I tried to navigate a different place, examining the unfamiliar brands to figure out what might be the closest match to my regular favorites, that almost everything is wrapped in plastic. I can't touch it, taste it, or even smell it. My bag of frozen peas might as well be plastic, all stuck together.

I suppose that would be all well and good, except my baby dolls are real little people and those dented stuck together unscented globs of food just don't cut it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How I got saved

Today I am struggling with the idea of disconnecting.

It is difficult for me to get time to blog while on the road. I don't have a computer of my own, so I have to borrow computer time from my husband or a friend. It might be easier just to suck it up and get a laptop, but I know we are spending tons of money at museums, festivals, and today, an arboretum, just being here. And I really like the idea that the computer is NOT available to distract me from spending time with the kids. I want to slurp them up like watermelon slices.

Late last night, I wrote a long (and fairly brilliant) blog post about weather. And then the damn wireless connection crapped out on me, and poof, it was gone. I couldn't get the wireless connection back up, so I went to bed, hoping the post had auto-saved fairly recently. Of course, this morning, I discovered that my blog entry had disappeared into cyberspace. I think it's probably a sign, but for now I am looking the other way, struggling to do my thing.

And hitting the save button every few minutes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Living in the lap of luxury

So it has been a while since I have been a true apartment dweller, but during a couple of company relocation packages and short term work contracts over the last few years I have found myself staying in a few. In the suburbs, they are all pretty much the same. Same beige carpet. Same eggshell walls. Same pretentious names.

Same signs outside inviting you to "live in luxury."

Yet when you check them out, there are no steam showers, no sub zero refrigerators, no wine cellars. Certainly nice enough, but no real luxury to be found. I guess the luxury label goes along with all the other misnamed things like the "lakes" that are really retaining ponds and the "town homes" that are really suburban dwellings.

But if I stop and think about it, I suppose there is luxury in simply having a roof over my head, something that I am not often conscious of in my narrow and thoroughly American experience. There is also the luxury of waking up safe and dry and knowing where my next meal is coming from. The luxury of my two feet which carry me outside, closing the door on beige and eggshell, passing the pond, on the way to my car. The luxury of a car that starts, a full tank of gas, a GPS system, and the endless possibilities for a day.

Probably not what the banner at the entrance to the apartment complex is advertising, but luxury living all the same.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


So yesterday we dropped in on one of my best friends. She and her husband moved back into downtown Chicago with their two small children about a year ago. He is working on a Masters in Design, with a special interest in self-sustaining structures. She has degrees in photography and Chinese medicine, and is currently working to renew an acupuncture license. They don't try to be, but these are really cool people.

The place they are renting is near perfect. It has fifteen foot ceilings, bedrooms for everyone, storage, a finished basement with a separate office, a lovely deck overlooking a cute little postage stamp yard, and a mudroom. While I have sworn off envy, I certainly had a moment where I felt certain that their apartment is the place where I am supposed to spend the rest of my life.

I must confess, I have always had a thing for Chicago. Yes, the weather is a disaster, but the people are warm and more than make up for the frigid air. Chicago is like New York's kid sister zipped up in a snowsuit. Quirky, but still undeniably attractive. All the sex appeal with none of the intimidation factor. Wrap that ongoing fuzzy feeling with my fantasy about living in a city and I suddenly found myself in the midst of a full swoon.

I told my friend how much I loved her place and she laughed, reminding me that finding it had been such a fluke. She said they looked at 37 places before landing on that one by accident. She mentioned that her upstairs neighbors are college girls who manage to party like it's 1999 every few months. She said that the back yard was covered in all kinds of trash and odd bits of things that she spent months picking up before letting the kids step foot out there.

Okay, so maybe the place isn't perfect after all, and my friends aren't moving out anytime soon. I will probably live a full and bountiful life, even if I never get to live there. And fantasizing about something you don't have, even while loving what you do have, is a sure way to make yourself crack up. Still, as I drifted off to sleep, I couldn't help arranging my furniture in the identical place I will rent right next door to hers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On the road again.

I love a new adventure and thoroughly enjoy exploring new places large and small.

Trust me, there have been some pretty small ones on the list, including Crossett, Arkansas where I found myself regularly having dinner at a local gas station while working on a project for a paper company. I stayed at the Lakewood Inn. There was no lake and it wasn't an inn and it was a dry county so I had to have a membership to the local "club" just to grab a beer after work. There was also Kingsport, Tennessee, where Girlie and I stayed with Hubs while he worked on shutting down the local textile plant. As you can imagine, it wasn't too friendly of a place, but a restaurant nearby had fried baloney sandwiches and it snowed gorgeous fat flakes that caught on Girlie's eyelashes. Of course, the list includes large places like Milan, where we stayed for a few weeks while Hubs was training on some new software, and Capetown, South Africa, where we spent some time visiting friends, and Munich where we linked arms with our new best friends and sang take me home, country road at Oktoberfest. And now, the suburbs of Chicago.

Travel of any kind offers the chance to see things in a new light. For the most part, I roll with the ups and downs of it pretty well. And every time I arrive, with just a few suitcases in tow, it strikes me how little we really need to get by. Usually, I am pretty happy with just my clothes, a coffeepot, a wine opener, and a few nice pillows.

And , of course, a little computer time to blog about it all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2 kids divided by 1 day of travel = 1/2 crazy mom

We made it through the first day of our trip with only a few minor snags, including a 45 minute wait at the car rental place and a fun couple of minutes where we figured out that we had more luggage than car. We made it to the hotel where the dog bolted out of the room because little Guy figured out how to open the door. Hubs found himself temporarily locked in the hallway with the dog that we snuck in while I was downstairs getting something out of the car, Little Guy having a breakdown in the room, and the maid cart lingering just two doors down. The beer I had at dinner might have just been the best beer of my life.

Still, it is fun to travel, even with the kids. They spent the first hour in our hotel room jumping on the beds and hiding in the closets. Maybe their enthusiasm is contagious because I feel pretty happy too. Sure it's a little crazy to travel with them, but there is also the part where they burst with happiness over something like pushing the elevator button and you can't help join the fun. We'll settle into a furnished apartment today, with a little more room to spread out and a door that doesn't open so easily.

Meanwhile it's downstairs for a free breakfast. I'll be easy to spot, among the business types with my two kids, jumping up and down about the waffles.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Last night I was headed to my car, a full cooler sloshing in my arms, when I spotted my neighbor's twenty something year old son doing the same. As he shifted his cooler into the trunk, he turned and lifted his tattooed arm in a half-wave/half-salute and said, 'Sup. I smiled back and waved back and tried to look cool as I hopped in my car. Only difference was, his igloo was probably full of beer, and mine was full of goldfish.

The fish were headed to a friend's house since the kids, the dog, and I are going to tag along with Hubs while he works in the Chicago 'burbs during July. He is going to be there for most of the month anyway, and it turned out to be cheaper for his company to just get a place with a 30 day lease. Lucky for us, the timing was just right for getting out of town.

While we are there, I plan on taking in as much of the city as I can manage. I'll have a chance to hang out with two of my closest friends and their fantastic kids, reconnect with a mentor from my early twenties, spend some quality time with my hilarious cousin who will be popping by for a visit (and offered to watch the kids), and squeeze in a short road trip to Ohio. I might even crash a cocktail party at the BlogHer conference.

Oh, and we're going to eat a bunch of corn. If you don't already know it, you'll have to trust me on this one. The corn is better in the midwest.

While packing, checked the 10 day weather forecast and the temperature isn't going to be above 90 in the foreseeable future. At night, it is going to dip down in the 60's, which compared to Phoenix, is, like, cold. I threw in a few scarves to keep the chill away and some long sleeved t's for the kids.

Anyway, at least now I will feel cooler, even if I'm not.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hot enough for ya?

Okay, I can't really complain about the heat yet. We are having a relatively mild summer so far and my trip back to Georgia reminded me that the dry heat really is way better than sticky wet sweaty heat, where even 89 can feel miserable. I have to say, it's pretty decent until around 104ish. Really.

Nevertheless, it is summer and it is hot and this is the reason Phoenix gets such a bad rap. I have the inside thermostat set to 77, a full degree higher than last year. I've heard that real Phoenicians set the temp at 80, but I'll probably have to resign myself to being a faux Phoenician. Towards the end of the day when the house gets a little stuffy, taking a swim with the kids always manages to cool everyone down, and when I come inside in my wet suit, it's downright chilly.

If there is a plus side to the heat, and I am in one of those lemonade out of lemons kind of moods, I will say that at least the dog poop gets dry and crusty almost instantly. When I have to scoop it from the back yard before Little Guy can grab it, it's not quite as gross.

So there you go. Summer in Phoenix, not quite as shitty as you might imagine.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


For around a year, I have been on a quest to find the perfect vintage pull down school map for my office. It had to be a map of the United States, with just the right colors (more turquoise in the ocean than sky blue or cerulean, not too much black), had to have the roller mechanism in working order, had to be a reasonable price (this tripped me up several times), and it should have a touch of kitsch, but must also be usable.

And a few weeks ago, I finally found one and nabbed it off ebay, for less than $100.

I could write a little piece about how my new purchase fits me perfectly because I am a seeker and I feel like am constantly looking for my ideal place. I could explain how hanging it reminded me of putting up a new merchandise display in my store and just how good that felt. I could mention how symbolic this thing is for this time in my life, since we finally moved out west, satisfying what has been a lifelong quest to leave the southeast. Or that we are heading to Chicago for a month this summer, another place I have always wanted to live. Or how I am mapping out a new career in writing.

It's a map, all about places you have been, places you want to go, places you might find and lose yourself, getting there and getting back. So yes, there are a probably a million meaningful reasons why I have such a thing for maps, and this map in particular.

But I don't really want to get into any of that. What I really want to tell you is that it smells a little musty, but in a good way, and it's really really really cute.

And I wish I could hug it.