Saturday, July 25, 2015

P & R

While winter was all about The Office, this summer belongs to Parks and Recreation.  If we were feudal aristocrats, our family crest would be a Roku remote control with a question mark over it, accompanied by the Latin phrase: "Who had it last?  Did you look in the couch?"

This show is about city hall workers in the small town of Pawnee, Indiana.  They are all cynical or inept, except for perky, ambitious Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler).  Midway through the show's seven seasons, Leslie is running for city council against the charming but idiotic Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd), heir to the Sweetums candy fortune.

This plot may seem over the heads of the under-nine set, and in many ways it is.  However, the other night my son laughed so hard at an attack ad by the Newport campaign, he almost started crying.  Sometimes we quote a Team Knope campaign ad for no particular reason.  One recent morning at the donut shop, my six-year-old growled in her most sinister voice: "Bobby Newport never had a real job in his life."  That's my girl!

Maybe bonding over sitcoms is a single mom thing.  When I was growing up, we watched so much Cheers -- and then its spin-off, Frazier -- with our mom that my brother-in-law refers to NBC's Frazier Crane as "Uncle Frazier."  Say what you will about TV, but the jokes on those shows shaped our brains more than anything in school.  (Also, NBC taught us that romantic relationships were essentially absurd and set to a disembodied laugh track, which is often the case.)

We love all the characters on P & R (which also happen to be my kids' initials, so that a typical night is about P & R & P & R), but our favorites are Ron and Andy.  For all those who enjoy the hunky new action-hero Chris Pratt, I much prefer the former, fat Chris Pratt who's always falling down (Andy).  He is a sweet, wholesome mess, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on the floor.

Ron (the great Nick Offerman) is a manly type who eats steak, whittles, and brooks no nonsense.  I like to think Ron is a good influence on my kids, except when his ex-wife Tammy comes into town and he becomes a sexually rapacious lunatic.  That's when we hit "fast forward" and I apologize to the kids for subjecting them to this awful, disgusting show.  Boo Tammy!

So that's what we're doing this summer, in addition to all the other things.  The other day my son remarked that he wasn't sure who to "vote" for: Newport or Knope. 

"What do you mean, you don't know?  Knope of course!"  I said.

"I know -- I want to vote for Leslie, but Old Man Saggy wants to vote for Bobby," he replied. 

Thereby winning the prize for the most "Mom's House" sentence anyone has ever uttered.

"Let's go outside," I said.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sandwich heaven

To my surprise, I am enjoying my 6 a.m. fitness class.  It' s not easy, but by 7:15 it's like all the lifting and lunging never happened, and I feel refreshed and energized. 

By the time I get home from work, it's like another person went to that class. This phenomenon suggests I could do anything between 6 and 7 a.m., before I am really awake, and by that evening have full moral and legal deniability, as the entire thing, "if it indeed occurred, long ago faded into the mists of oblivion."  The defense rests.

The recommended meal plan, however, is another matter.

Because the class is part of a bells-and-whistles program, you get your measurements taken at intervals, and a prescribed meal plan.  I was theoretically willing to give the plan (aka "diet") a try, on the theory that a zebra can -- possibly -- change its stripes.  Not so.

It is a perfectly nice plan, but I can't follow it for even one day.  For one thing, however wonderfully healthy they may be, I have an aversion to trendy foods like coconut oil and Chia seeds.  I simply cannot "jump on the bandwagon" of eating these foods.  If, five years later, they are a mainstream side that comes in a steamer bag at Target (hello, quinoa), I will enjoy them quietly, without fanfare.  By then, they're just like peas.

Second, I've concluded that only two people are going to decide what I eat and when.  The first is me.  The second is my physician, after explaining that if I do not stick to the prescribed meal plan, my death is imminent. 

Having tossed out the current, non-dire meal plan, I have to clean up my own act.  Doing a healthier version of my usual diet isn't rocket science, so I'm trying that. 

The thing is this: I'm happiest when I've found one food that's going to "solve all my problems" -- a food I can eat a thousand times and never have to think about again.  Whether it's smoked salmon on toast, a microwavable burrito, tuna salad on a tomato with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or -- in dark times -- a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of the-hell-with-it, I'm always sure my latest obsession is my Best Food Forever, really and truly this time.

Right now, that food is the Awesome Smoked Turkey Sandwich.  It's so delicious!  The key was buying really good lettuce, "washed three times" so it's super-clean.  This lettuce does not come in a raggedy head but in a fancy see-through case, where individual romaine leaves are nestled side-by-side in perfect, dewy crispness.  Like some people are "gay for" people, I am a "foodie for" this lettuce.

And don't even get me started on the Dijon mustard and lightly-salted tomato slice.  This sandwich is amazing! 

If I can hold myself to one or two a day, plus low-cal lemonade and other reasonably healthy foods, I think I'll be just fine. 

Now that's my kind of plan.

(Image: Healthy Eating Food Guide Pyramid by Kjplant (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reality bites

Occasionally, I think it would be nice to have a pet.  Each time I look into it, however, I conclude that pet owners are a little "off" -- never more so than when they try to get rid of said pets on Craigslist.

The following are taken verbatim from a single day's worth of ads:

 July 14   Rehoming Female Bearded Dragon

"We have a female bearded dragon who is in need of a good home. . . . We currently have her housed with our other female bearded dragon.  We were hoping they would be a good match [but] it turns out our female is aggressive. . . . We would like for her to go to her forever home since bearded dragons live a long time."

Unspoken subtext: "Please take this insufferable b---- of a  dragon off our hands, forever!  What was our first mistake, we wonder?  Was it not understanding the word 'dragon'?  Was it the flawed logic that two dragons would be better than one?  Just get her fanged ass out of here, and good luck, friend.  Oh, and if you don't reach us immediately -- we are out dragon shopping." 

July 14   Pedigreed Netherland Dwarf Show Bunny

"Out of grand show champion stock."  [Four photos of black bunny on snow]

Unspoken subtext: "This bunny is sooooo adorable!  Just look at it!  Right?  But we are over it and wish we'd spent that money on an Xbox.  What do bunnies do, anyway?  Look cute?  Nothing?  We don't know.  Some cultures eat them.  One thing's for sure: This darling bunny will delight you for four to six weeks!  After that: Not our problem." 

July 14   PIT BABIES

"8 week old pups very energetic." 

Unspoken subtext:  "Okay, okay, so we forgot to spay our pit bull.  Now we have six tiny pit bulls making our lives just . . . Never mind.  Want one?  Take two of them!  Seriously, what could go wrong?"



Unspoken subtext:  On balance, I find I no longer wish to share my home with this macaw.  DID YOU HEAR THAT?  SORRY, CAN'T HEAR YOU!  WHAT?  I SAID 'I DON'T WANT THIS MACAW!'" 

Sigh.  It's very sad that there are so many unwanted pets.  But just reading these ads makes me feel like the couch is covered in dog hair, the house smells like rabbit droppings, an exotic bird is squawking over the dialogue of Parks and Recreation, and an antisocial lizard is in my bedroom, menacing its cellmate. 

In this way, Craigslist functions as the "Scared Straight" of animal ownership.

I think I'm good for six months.

(Image: Unitarian Church Bearded Dragon, by Tomwsulcer (own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, July 13, 2015

In the Matter of Saggy

As a former intellectual property lawyer, my ears perked up when my children began a spirited debate -- in the backseat of the car -- about whether my daughter could "be" a "person" her brother invented.

In short, they were fighting over the rights to Old Man Saggy.

My son's frail, elderly alter ego is a beloved figure in our home.  His signature gesture is to stick out his elbows and perform a spry dance in which his upper body moves side to side and his feet shuffle in rhythm.  Because of this, I consider Old Man Saggy a throwback to the vaudeville age, full of twinkly reminiscences about the Ziegfeld Follies and the showgirl he married in a shotgun wedding.

But his main purpose around here is getting my son out of things.  As in: "I [Old Man Saggy] can't walk to the park with you.  I'm old and tired, and my legs are broken!"

Though occasionally annoyed by Old Man Saggy's infirmity, my daughter and I are quite fond of him.  Sometimes we make up songs about him, or indulge his terrible knock-knock jokes, or hang out with him until my son re-emerges to play Minecraft and wants us to scram.

So when my daughter found a plastic smoking pipe somewhere, she wanted in on the Old Man Saggy action.

"Old Man Saggy!" she sang in the backseat, waggling her elbows, with the pipe in her mouth. 

My son reacted with the speed and ferocity of the Disney Corporation's legal department.  Old Man Saggy was his!  She could not "be" him!  Only my son "was" Old Man Saggy!

Driving, I tried to recall the principles memorialized in the federal law of copyright.  Failing that, I made a judicious attempt to "split the baby" -- or rather, the Old Man. 

"How about you can sing about him, but you can't be him?"  I suggested.

"You can be Old Granny Saggy," my son chimed in.  "You have to be a girl!"

This was completely unacceptable.  How dare we insult her like this!  Old Granny Saggy?  She had the freaking pipe

It seemed to me she had a point.  "You really can't tell her who she can 'be' or not 'be,'" I informed my son.  "Just let her play the way she wants."

"But I invented him!" came the retort. 

Yeah.  I got that, too.  If, as a child, I had gone to the trouble to put on a purple beret, pencil a thin mustache over my lip, and make arrogant pronouncements in a French accent to create a character called Pierre, mostly to amuse my mother, not that I ever did this, and a younger sibling had tried to "be" Pierre, I would have been like: "Mom!!"

As I tried to recall the factors weighed in the "fair use" defense, we pulled into the driveway.  My son went inside while my daughter sat in the car, mulling her options. 

When she came in five minutes later, my son was in his room.  "Mom," she said, entering the kitchen.

With the pipe in her mouth, she crooked her elbows and did a little soft-shoe, singing: "Old Man Saggy!" 

"Wonderful!" I said. 

This seemed to mark the end, for now, of the Old Man Saggy debate.  A few minutes later, she came into the kitchen again, "making a call" on an old cell phone. 

"I have a friend who's a policeman.  Did you know that?" she piped up. "He's going into San Francisco, and I'm calling him to tell him there's a donut shop there that's open at night, Monday and Tuesday." 

(Image: Albert V Bryan Federal District Courthouse - Alexandria Va, by Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Life-changing magic

Today at the library, there were 42 people on the waitlist to check out a book about cleaning the house.  Dave put us down as 43rd.  He estimates it will be our turn "around Thanksgiving." 

I have few opportunities to impress Dave with my frugality, so rather than just shell out $17 for the paperback edition, I am prepared to virtuously wait five months to learn how to declutter my house.  If the first chapter is called "Clean Out the Bathroom Drawer Full of Old Toothbrushes, Hairbrushes, Lice Removal Supplies, and Floss Picks," I'd like to think that, by November, I'll be able to skip to Chapter 2.

We started talking about the book because it has such a good title.  Whoever's idea it was to take an essentially dull subject ("tidying up") and preface it with the phrase "life-changing magic," I'd like to shake that person's hand.  My assumption is that it was some mini-Don Draper at a New York publishing house, but it could have been the author herself.  If so, she can add it to her list of accomplishments, which include being an adorable Japanese woman with perfect bangs and the ability to wear (I'm almost certain) horizontal stripes and tiny white shorts, and look great.

Also she seems to have written an international bestseller about -- as far as I can tell -- throwing things out.

The fact that we are 43rd on the waitlist is interesting.  I'm turning 43 this year, and when my mom was 43, every time she looked at a clock, it was 43 past the hour.  She'd glance up at random moments to find it was always 10:43, 1:43, or 3:43 -- even in the middle of the night.  None of us could explain it, but it did not seem good, not at all.  At fourteen, I concluded that 43 was a spooky age, when a malevolent universe began at last to take notice of your existence.

Now I am forty-two, and -- whoa!  That day is coming pretty fast!  Suddenly it seems important to start hitting the gym at 6 a.m., cooking healthy meals, organizing the house --in short, to have my act together.  I have always chased the dream of doing things right (at one point, my goal was to write a how-to book called Exemplary Living), so that even while banging the drum, blowing the horn, and squeezing the accordion in the one-man band of single parenting, my instinct is to try to add juggling and card tricks to the mix.  Because that would be better.
I'd like to go into 43 with the excellent habits of writing, exercising, menu planning, and -- yes -- keeping the house neat in swift, powerful strokes like a Zen master.  If not, though, Dave will still like me quite a bit -- clutter, takeout pizza, and all.  And I'll still like me quite a bit.

And that is the real life-changing magic.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Every four months, I get bored.  As an INTP (the same Myers-Briggs personality type that makes Big Bang Theory characters so adorable), I do not like doing the same mundane, predictable things over and over.  Rather, I need some kind of challenge so I can think about it

Being married was one such challenge, and I was hardly ever bored.  Next, being a single working mother of two preschoolers kept me on my toes. 

These days, the kids occasionally lose a tooth or argue, but I no longer cogitate about how I cannot possibly do this by myself.  This has freed me up, over the last two years, to take up tennis, meditation, online dating, blogging, and (briefly) cooking.  A few of these have been unqualified successes, and the others were fun while they lasted. 

Because the kids are sometimes with their dad, these jaunts don't take much time away from them.  Plus, they advance my parenting plan: showing that Being A Grown-Up is Not A Drag.  In fact, the main thing that separates adulthood from childhood is a heady sense of agency -- of being able to do pretty much what you want. 

The older I get, the more this sense of personal freedom expands.  (Sure, I have bills to pay and tasks to do, but -- in a larger sense --  I "chose" them, rather than choosing to be an itinerant rail-rider, which doubtless comes with its own set of problems.)

I've lived in the Bible Belt, New England, and the Bay Area; worked as a waitress, newspaper reporter, front desk clerk, corporate litigator, activist, English tutor, and government attorney; and studied chemistry, Constitutional law, and medieval poetry.  I got married, had two kids, and now am happily divorced and re-coupled.  Throughout it all, no one has said "You can't" or even "You shouldn't."   I have been waved through every door, with a "Sure, why not you?  Give it a try!" 

My latest venture is a 6 a.m. exercise class, three days a week -- because I felt like it was time for a new challenge.  By now, I am so accustomed to freedom and opportunity, I don't think twice about lighting out in any direction that strikes my fancy.  ("Sure, why not you?") 

Thank you America, for everything.  You really "get" me.  Mwah. 

(Image: "Statue of Liberty, WrestleMania" by Schen (Del Rio Fireworks) (CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)