Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lady Marmalade

Last night, while fooling around with a thumbtack she'd found on the floor, my daughter sang a little song that went:

I love to say marmalade, everybody does.
I I love to say marmalade, everybody does.
I love to say marma-laaaaaade, everybody does. 

She sang this song with such drama, variety, and depth of feeling, it sounded like "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.

Just as I was wondering what her deal was, I realized it was true:

Everyone really did love to say "marmalade."

Monday, September 28, 2015


Last night there was a rare confluence of a lunar eclipse and a "supermoon." By 7 p.m., the time the moon would rise per the newspaper, I'd handed the kids off to their dad. They were planning to find a good viewing spot and take binoculars -- like everyone else in town, scheduling their night around the moon.

At 6:45, loading the dishwasher, I thought: "What am I doing?"

I called Dave and suggested we go see the moon, right now.

Ten minutes later, heading out of town with a bottle of wine and glasses in the car, I felt a pang of sadness that I wouldn't see my kids see the moon.

Ever since their dad and I split up, we've been loosey-goosey about birthdays, holidays, significant events of all kinds, so that I've never had to miss one because it wasn't "my day." During the last big moon a year ago, I drove them out to a field and let them run around screaming -- literally, like lunatics -- until their dad pulled up next to my car and we watched them a while before sending them off, still in a festive spirit, to House #2.

Still, you can't share custody for every celestial anomaly that makes the papers. Getting divorced means your young kids will sometimes see the sky without you.

(The previous night at my house, we'd had our own little event. Because my kids sleep in their underwear like savages, I noticed as my son climbed into bed that his underpants had holes in them.

"When you take those off tomorrow, you can just throw them out," I told him.

But the situation (underpants! holes!) struck my son as hilarious. He began ripping the small holes into larger, connecting holes, uttering words lost in a giggle.

"What?" I said.

"All for one and one for all!" he shrieked, tearing a giant, butt-sized hole in his underpants.

"Okay, just . . . take them off," I said. "They're not even . . ." The shredded remains were no longer serving any purpose. "Just throw them out."

"No! I want them!" my daughter screamed, starting a fight over the tatters clinging to his form.

When he started ripping up the front, I had to shut it down, for real.

So, like other people have Paris, the kids and I will always have that version of the 2015 Supermoon.)

Dave and I watched the moon come up over a field, happy as could be. Then we went out for pizza.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


The last book I read was an 800-page novel about two English magicians in 19th century London. It involved forays into Venice and the Faerie realm and described a fantastical counter-reality in a tone like Jane Austen's:

"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange.
Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question.
"I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."

I toted the hardback edition back and forth to my job in San Francisco during the fall of '05 or '06, riding the Transbay bus over the bridge in fog and drizzle. For forty minutes a day, my life was perfect.

I never understood San Francisco, or what I was doing there, or why other people seemed to like it. Riding the bus in every day was a form of mental and spiritual preparation. I read several religious books on suffering, a subject in which I was keenly interested at the time, and enjoyed a great many insights into the nature of reality before I was forced to disembark and, you know, go to work.

These were the most vivid reading experiences of my adult life -- including, too, The Wapshot Chronicle and The Collected Stories of John Cheever -- and always seemed to take place in fall and winter.  November was the ideal reading month (overcast, wet, sad for no reason), but January and February, in their existential bleakness, were close runners-up. I must have read books in spring and summer too, but it was not the same.

How many years ago was that? Nine? I'm sure I've read a few books since. But my attention span is shot, thanks to years of kids and the Internet.

When my daughter was a baby, I began reading The Diary of Samuel Pepys and, about fifty pages in, gave up forever. (And now this same daughter, wearing an octopus costume, has plopped down next to me to play Coin Monkey on my phone.)

What have I read lately? That Caitlyn Jenner and Kris Jenner have had a falling out. (Thanks, phone!) Also, using Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature, some recipes from a cookbook of baking sheet meals: entire dinners prepared on one rimmed metal tray. Salmon! Fennel! The works!

I probably should start reading books again.

Maybe just one.

Let's not get crazy.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


"Thanks, Mom.  And thanks for the advice.  I'll remember it if I ever get married -- if I do.  It's a low priority."

-- 8-year-old son, after I praised him for cleaning the bathroom (including the toilet) without being asked, and told him "the way to a woman's heart is to clean the toilet."

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fifty Shades of Corn

School has started, and there's a nip in the air, California-style: The temperature has dropped to the low 80s. This can only mean one thing: Summer is over (boo!). It's fall.

There are a few things to look forward to (not Pumpkin Spice lattes, which are cloying and undrinkable): Halloween. Soups. Halloween soups.

And of course, the 60-acre corn maze off the highway, by the pumpkin patch, open after dark (obviously) because corn mazes are all about DATE NIGHT!

Unless you are my children reading this in the future (stop reading, kids!), we are all adults here. So I hope no one will "clutch their pearls" when I say that solving the corn maze is a seriously good date -- assuming you are with someone who can solve it, and you don't both die there.

In 2014, it took us almost three hours -- and when I say "us," I mean Dave. Five steps into it, I knew I was one thousand leagues out of my league. It was pitch dark, the stalks were elephant-eye high, the maze was insanely complicated, and some young wags had decided it would be fun to rearrange the location markers -- already low to the ground and hard to see -- so they didn't match the map.

If I miss an exit on the way to work, I have to be talked down off the ledge by my phone. I have no sense of direction, and when I don't know where I am, I panic. So it is no exaggeration to say that The World's Largest Corn Maze would be my "worst nightmare times a million" if I were in it by myself.

Dave found a pencil, sketched a route in thirty seconds, and was like: "This way!"

As a modern American mom, I am in charge of job, home, family -- the works. I spend entire days in the imperative tense, writing crisp legalese and then telling my children what to do. When a problem arises, my instinct is not to turn to another human being for succor and protection, but to Google it, fix it myself, or Google someone who can fix it. Often it is just me, the kids, and a search engine contra mundi.

It's totally fine. But when someone -- occasionally -- takes charge of a situation, so that your only role is to hold the flashlight, be quiet (because you have nothing useful to say), and not trip over the corn and twist an ankle, that can be super-duper, also.

People who do not have access to a giant, seasonal corn maze have turned, instead, to a bestselling series (now a major motion picture) about someone else being in control, for once. I've passed on these, as the whole plot seems patently ridiculous. (Also, "fifty shades of grey" is the color I associate with my children's socks. When someone writes an escapist fantasy called Sparkling White, Paired & Put Away By Someone Else, let me know.)

Make no mistake, solving the corn maze is a lot of work. Two hours into it, when the uncommitted and inept had faded out, an elite corps of navigators was left in the final stretch of the maze. College students, families with sleepy kids, one intrepid mom and her teenagers (that will be me, never), and guys from the various groups consulting each other about switchbacks, dead ends, and deceptive markers -- all under the stars, in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere.

By this point, I was in a daze -- a daze of trust. Vividly I could picture the discovery of my bleached bones in the maze, yet I knew my boyfriend would get me out of it and I would go on to resume my life. Stunned by this fact, I could not stop saying: "You are amazing. Get it? A-mazing? Sorry."

Last month, we were driving by the corn maze on the way to San Francisco. Dave seemed on the fence about doing it again.  What was the point?

I explained that it was a "key experience for us" with after-effects that "reverberated" over time. I spread my hands to suggest waves in a lake, rippling outward. Dave was like: "Okay, but we should start earlier this year, so it's not so dark."

No! Let's not!

It should be difficult and terrifying! And I should be useless!

We should wear costumes and play the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack!

Fall is weird.