Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Check out our second Virgin Writers post at Grub daily! This one is all about surviving the workshop.


We always planned on having two kids, but then we had Girlie and were pretty sure we weren't doing it again. And by it, I mean it, on both accounts, the making and the birthing because having a child not only rocked our world - it pretty much took us to the back shed, whipped us both silly, and then dumped us off miles from home, leaving us both lost along the roadside for a few years (though, at least together, at least that).

Eventually, around age four things got a little easier or maybe we just got used to not knowing what we were doing. Either way, we started thinking about another child, about getting back to the original plan. We started having dates and it was back on the table. When Girlie was five, we had Little Guy.

For about six months after he was born, I thought I had accidentally made the most brilliant parenting move in the history of family planning. Having children with a large age split meant that Girlie was pretty independent by the time Little Guy was born. Watching my friends with kids close in age struggle with the baby-toddler thing, I figured we had done it right.

Except that there are few economies with two this far apart. No same interests, no playing together except when older is tolerating younger, lots of juggling big and little interests. Lots of juggling. Granted, a shorter age gap never guarantees these things, but there are some areas that would be easier if we'd gone ahead and had a second child before five years had passed. We could have two in school, a kindergartner right now. We could be well past the tantrum stage, saving the nine year old some humiliating trips through the Target parking lot. We could be nap free on weekends and able to let them both run the neighborhood unsupervised after dinner. They could watch the same movies.

Except, I always have to wonder, would my second child have been Little Guy three years earlier? Or is there a split second, a single moment, when a person comes to be?

Because there is that certain part of it - the thing that has nothing to do with timing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Boston: One year, ten pounds

So it isn't quite the freshman fifteen, but my first year in Boston hasn't been so good on the waistline.

Yes, I did just mention the summer-long quest to find the perfect fried clam strips yesterday. It's not like I have been in denial or anything, more like the Scarlett O'Hara approach, as in I'll think about it tomorrow. And that's been working out until this morning when I noticed that I have the chub face in every single photo. I gain weight in my face almost immediately. Great.

So what's the deal? Eating like the newly in love. My body insulating against the frigid weather. Stress eating. Abundance of craft beer. Too many trips to the North End.

Does it really matter?

Yes, it does.

So I came home from the clam shack and walked 3 miles. Walked 3 more this morning. Might hit it again later with Little Guy. Up the veggies and fruit. More water. Less Smuttynose Ale. Maybe even skip the onion rings at the clam shack. No dessert.

Which really stinks because they have some damn good homemade ice cream up here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lobsta rolls and fried clams and ice cream, oh my!

A New England summer is all about clam shacks and ice cream shops. And apparently, chilly drizzly weather, but I hear that all ends in July.

I hope it ends in July.

So we're on a quest to hit as many of these places as we can. Today we're headed to Woodmans over in Essex for fried clams and lobster rolls. We chose it as our first stop because it is one of the most famous clam shacks.

And also because we can already pronounce Essex without sounding like tourists.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fourth grade, time to get my crap together

Girlie's last day of third grade is today. By September I will be the mother of a fourth grader.

This is significant to me because fourth grade is around the age that I can start to recall the details of my childhood. Before that, I can bring to mind some of the big moments, birthdays, trips - the time in third grade when my mother forgot to pick me up and I walked home in a rainstorm.

In fourth grade, however, I remember some of the day to day stuff, smidges of the homelife as I came to understand it. Which means up until now as a mother I've been in the parental grace period.

Nine more years until she's out of the house. Probably twentyish before she starts therapy. Time to make it happen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mother's helper

A friend of mine has recently picked up a writing job for a local magazine. She'll do a short weekly column online about a subject she's become somewhat of an expert in. She has a decent following on her blog and will likely bring a good bit of traffic with her. She's working out the details, so I won't go into it just yet.

But here's the thing, she's doing it for free.

At the same time there is a discussion going on among the mothers group I belong to about how much to pay a mother's helper. A mother's helper is usually a younger child, 12 -13 who isn't quite ready to babysit, but will come by to play with the children and keep them busy while the mother is working at home. Apparently the going rate for such a thing is $5- 8 an hour. We've never hired a mother's helper, but our sitter usually takes in $10 - 15 an hour, depending on how long we're gone.

So a 13 year old can make $8 an hour, but my friend has to work for free.

Of course, she's doing it because of the other work it might lead to. I understand that we all have to do things purely as an investment in the future and that sometimes it isn't about the money, but it seems like writers get the worst of this. As a mother of small children, I have to weigh whether my words can eek out more than the hourly rate of a sitter. Often the answer to this is no.

And aren't these kids doing the work to get experience, as a step towards actual babysitting jobs? Maybe I should tell my friend about this mother's helper gig. $8 an hour might just be worth it.

Worth something.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Could we just have a slumber party?

I'm rarely the type to want to be young again. Of course, I still pine for my 22 year old ass, but I wouldn't actually want to be 22 again.

Overall, I am happier at 38, knowing what I know and with a pretty good understanding of what I don't know. Back then, I thought I knew everything.

What I do miss though, is the way we could have friendships back then. Now I meet all of these great people and there is never ever enough time to really get to know them. There will be the occasional dinner, a drink or two, but there are kids and jobs. The kids with these baseball games and music lessons, so we can only have one drink, have to be home by eleven, and the jobs we all actually care about. Jobs we all need.

All this life stuff getting in the way, so I only get a small sliver of the amazingness of a person.

What I want is a week in a dorm, all of my favorites friends new and old, lined up on the same hall. Late night talks, sharing a bathroom, staying up too late and then the early risers like me up too soon, drinking coffee, red-eyed and laughing about the same joke from the night before. I want to know people like that again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When life hands you lemons

So the lemon cake turned out terrific.

Several people had more than one piece, and this among a group of women who discuss regularly whether dessert is "worth it" (that kind of worth being a concept that I can not comprehend at all - stay up too late, extra glass of wine, second piece of cake, always worth it - though likely this speaks to a lack of self control more than a joie de vivre).

The reading itself was great too. Afterwards, I had a chance to speak with Aimee Bender. I did not hug her.

And just to prove that I'm not ready to learn anything about myself, as I was covering the cake after everyone left, I actually thought - that wasn't so bad, maybe I'll make one again. As if somehow I'm that girl who pulls off a scratch cake.

I don't know, maybe for a little while, I was.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The particular madness of lemon cake

Heading to a reading by Aimee Bender tonight. Her book The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake recently came out in paperback so she'll be at Newtonville Books to read, answer questions, and sign books.

Hopefully she won't mind if I hug her.

I don't write magic realism, but while I was reading her books, I had a breakthrough in my writing, so I feel particularly excited to meet her. The book is about a girl who can taste her mother's feelings in the food she cooks, but the story is really about the things we all keep hidden and Bender just happens to use a little magic to frame it. While I was reading it, along with one of her short story collections, I began to get a feel for how to layer emotional complexity into a story, so there was a little magic for me too.

Anyway, I'm having a few friends over after the reading and I got the idea to make a scratch lemon cake (I know, right). The cover of the book has a picture of a beautiful a layer cake with chocolate frosting, but I'm no where near equipped to handle such a beast, so I am making a simple bundt cake. Except of course it isn't so simple.

I had to zest and squeeze six lemons. And squeeze the juice from two more. The thing I continue to hide from myself is that I actually despise baking. The measuring, the precision, the mysteries of room temperature butter - make me insane. As much as I wanted to embrace the zen of zesting lemons, really, I didn't like it all. It was stressful. I needed 1/3 cup of lemon zest for this recipe, which turns out to be a ton of freaking zesting. Like, at one point I got a hand cramp. And my butter sugar mix was not creamy. It was lumpy and the lumps made me a little angry. The truth is, I am so much more of a buy the cake from a lovely bakery kind of gal.

The cake is in the oven, so as I write this, the success of this attempt is still uncertain. I am nervous about the cake sticking to the pan. And I still have to make a sugar glaze. And, yes I am hoping for a little magic.

But just enough so that I get the cake finished and not enough that my friends can tell how much I hated baking it. Though maybe this lesson, for both my writing (as in this particular post) and for my life, is about not going for the obvious.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is it over yet?

It is the end of the school year and we're in full scale celebration mode where we parents gather and heap loads of adoration on our offspring for participating in the events that we made them go to, for completing the projects that we badgered them into, for practicing and presenting the activities that we paid a gazillion dollars to send them through. You did it! Whoo hoo.

Seriously? I did it.

And I don't even have it half as bad as some of my friends do.

I've had a little guilt over the fact that we didn't put Girlie through piano this year. The facts are that we don't have a piano, that it was going to be a hassle to keep Little Guy from interrupting the practice, and adding another thing to the calendar while Hubs is traveling so much wasn't my cup o'joe. Not to mention that the monthly lessons cost more than a family gym membership or two really nice dinners out, wine and babysitting included. Of course, we said it was because we didn't want to overwhelm her. New school, the move, catching up to the Massachusetts system. All true, but really I just wasn't ready to do it.

So this year, Girlie only had one after school activity - gymnastics, and we are the only ones. Everyone seems to be hell bent on exposing these kids to art, music, dance, sports, language, you name it, flattening out ourselves to raise well-rounded children.

I'm almost forty. I want to write. I have precious little time to do this and yet I'll be schlepping up to the school countless times over the next few weeks for the play, the concert, the end of year party.

As for the piano thing next year, I am still on the fence. She can start an instrument at school in fourth grade. And I'm thinking about the time and money we'll invest. I'm weighing what it will cost me.

I'm thinking about how well rounded I am, and that honestly, my life is half over.

I'm a little cranky.

Maybe I need to throw myself a party.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hot outside and I'm freezing

We love the place we're in. Amazing neighbors, great schools, cute village with coffee and groceries within walking distance, close to the subway, tons of storage in the attic, a dry basement, swing in the backyard.

But one not so nice thing is that we don't have central air. So that means hauling out the window units around this time of year. Not a huge problem and we are able to keep the house cool with a few small units, though it means rethinking use of the oven late in the day. I cook differently in the summer. More grilling, salads, things on the stovetop. Again, not a huge issue.

However, one of the units is in the dining room. It sits right behind where I usually have my laptop and where lately, I've been getting my best writing done. Now my favorite writing spot is within a few feet of icy window unit air set on turbo blast. I could, of course, solve this issue by moving my laptop. Yet I am hesitant to do it, because as I mentioned my best writing has been happening in that spot.

So here I sit, hottest day of the year so far.

In a sweater.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Not naked, but still

When I was in my mid-twenties an older friend of mine told me that had she realized how great her body looked at 25, she would have walked around naked. It stuck with me for years.

Summer is here and here I am in full combat mode. Pedicure, shaving the nethers, body slimming bathing suit, and when all else fails, the perfect cover-up. Let's face it, knocking on the door of forty and two kids in tow, and yeah, not feeling so hot.

But then today I walked into a store wearing a vintage H & M dress, nothing fancy, but a little on the short side. An older lady stopped me and said something about wearing short dresses while I still can. She lifted her pants leg and gave me a glimpse. Road map of spider veins, she said.

I looked down at my own legs which are still pale and smooth and realized immediately what a jerk I've been about this whole thing. I can't rock 25 again.

But I can absolutely rock 38.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yes, please.

So every morning I wake up with pretty much the same personal goals in mind: to write a little, to get some exercise, and to speak more nicely to my husband and kids.

Of these, I usually only manage to squeeze out the writing. I do walk Girlie to school, so we'll say that counts for the exercise, but in all fairness, it's a leisurely walk and sometimes there is coffee involved.

So that leaves the nice talk. Not sure if you are in the know, but word on the street is that yelling is the new spanking. Yelling causes irreparable damage to little psyches, underminds the foundation of self-esteem, blah, blah, blah. As for the marriage, yelling is like tossing a glass of wine at a candle. Boom, then pfft. There are more productive ways to communicate, I get it.

Problem is, when you have young kids in the house there are so many things worthy of a good old fashioned scream. Like who can't remember to flush? And the socks, the dirty socks, on the dining table. Why? Whhhhy? And you can't very well say the following words nicely: "Please for the love of God give me the scissors and go put your pants back on." As for the Hubs, it just bleeds over to him too. And I'm Italian, so there's that.

Which is why, in many ways as personal goals go, the writing is turning out to be the easiest. I have some control over it. It does what I say. It does not backtalk. I do on rare occasions cry over it, but I never ever yell. In fact, for the most part I am excessively polite to my stories. I say please and thank you.

So what to do about the rest of it? Deep breath, count to five before responding. Model the behavior I wish to receive from my family. Think before acting. Wear tennis shoes and walk to school a little faster.

It isn't rocket science, except when it is.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Wherever you go, there you are

Heading to New Hampshire for the weekend.

Hubs is participating in the the Mooseman Triathlon on Saturday morning. He's ready for it, but the water is going to be pretty cold and he'll come out of a frigid lake to hit the bike section with the temp at just over 50 degrees. And he does this for fun? Anyway, later that day we're planning to find some actual fun for the kids and stay an extra night after the race.

New Hampshire feels familiar. Discount liquor and fireworks at the state line, lots of Super-Walmart action, and people riding motorcycles in flip flops without helmets. Like South Carolina, with different accents.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Yesterday Hubs called to say his mother called him to mention the tornado warnings near Boston. I poo-pooed the idea. We're from the south, so we know all about tornados. But up here?

Just this weekend I was joking with my neighbor about his weird basement trap door. It opens up from the ground like an underground bomb shelter. I had never seen it open before and told him that it was definitely where we'd hide if there was a tornado because he also keeps a tapped keg in the basement. He said that he felt pretty safe about his beer because there were rarely tornados.

Anyway, turns out my mother-in-law was right, there were tornados in Massachusetts, though not near us. What's up with this crazy weather? Makes me want to get all apocalyptic and stockpile the wine too.