Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful

I would like to compare this year and last year in terms of snow. Last year . . .

White Christmas – The first major snowfall of the year was met with happy smiles. It was a weekend, so everyone was already home from work. Facebook was filled with status updates detailing the loving meals being prepared, how the kids were frolicking in their new snow boots, how everyone was warming their hands with hot chocolate, and how wonderful it was to have a weekend devoted to family right before the holiday.

February Fury: The Snowicane – The second snowstorm of the season was a surprise, but hey, it’s February, it’s the Northeast. It snows. Status updates on Facebook mentioned getting a lot of use out of snow clothes and equipment. We all ho-hummed our way through another batch of cookies and some well loved movies but the enthusiasm was definitely waning.

February Fury Part Two: The Snowpocalypse – The second major snowstorm in one week is enough to send anyone cowering under the covers. Facebook updates are more along the lines of “Really?” and “Again?” My son, who was only 35 inches tall, could not walk in the 48 inches of snow piled in our backyard. Groceries were scarce because there wasn’t much time to get to the store and the shelves were bare because the trucks barely had time to deliver.

Fast forward one year . . .

Instead of big storms that are predicted days and days in advance, giving you plenty of warning to stockpile bread, ice cream, and early onset diabetes, we are getting a series of small storms that seem to spring up with absolutely no warning. It has snowed once per week for the past five weeks and each time, forecasters took their time about actually predicting snowfall amounts. They say rain, it sleets. They say sleet, it is dry. They say snow, but forget to carry over the one. Is there any other job in the known world that allows for more inaccuracy? How can Reed Timmer predict five days in advance where a tornado will hit in Omaha but Paul Goodloe of TWC can’t tell me today what will happen tomorrow?

As a whole, the little drips and drabs of snow have been underwhelming. Snowmen built last year hung around for a while and were big enough to wield their own shovels. The snow-Smurfs of this year get stepped on almost immediately. There aren’t any cool names for three inches that rise up by morning light (well, there are, but they have almost nothing to do with snow). It’s not a Snowapalooza, or a Snowmitzvah, or even a Snownado. It’s just sad. No one’s bragging on Facebook about baking cookies and no one is celebrating school cancellations because this year, we all have our eye on our beginning-of-year resolutions and end-of-year calendars. This year’s snow isn’t being celebrated, it is being endured. It isn’t death by a thousand cuts; it is death by a thousand flakes. Pity the poor groundhog who predicts six more weeks of winter. He won’t make it back to his hollow alive.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sophie’s Choice

Today I realized that in order to be a good parent to one child, I had to be a bad parent to the other one.

First, let me explain the weather. When the forecasters call for a blustery day with a wintry mix, you know the day is going to suck even before the sun feebly casts a pallid shadow over the world. Old crusty, icy snow covered in wet, heavy snow, then ice, then rain, makes for treacherous driving conditions and appalling walking conditions. Snow boots would be overkill but rain boots would require two layers of socks because the cold just seeps through. In short, it’s gross out. This is the type of weather even God uses as an excuse to curl up under the covers with a good book from Lucien’s library.

Enter a delayed opening for my oldest and a school cancellation for my youngest. This actually worked out to the benefit of the little guy since he woke up with a cough and a sniffle but presents a serious problem for the older one. See, Daddy does mornings. With him out and gone, this means it is my responsibility to get my oldest to school. While I am perfectly capable of suiting up and getting the job done, my son has no such inclination. Every single time we have to take his sister to school in the mornings, he cries. He cries in the car (because his hands are cold and he refuses to wear gloves). He cries as we park and walk the last block to school (because he doesn’t want his feet to get wet). He cries when we wait for her to go inside (because he wants to be carried). He cries on the walk back to the car (because he is now cold and wet and wants to be carried). He cries on the ride home (because he wasn’t carried). This entire process doubles the time it actually takes to walk her inside. Add in being under the already atrocious weather and I was looking at 20 minutes of pure, unadulterated, grade preschool torture.

My neighbor has children who attend the same school. However, both are way older and they haven’t seen a car seat in ages. School is only five blocks away and both neighbors are very safe drivers.

So, do I send my daughter to school without a car seat and expect her six-year old self to find the right door and line up properly? Or, do I bring the sort-of sick little guy out in nasty weather, soaking everyone in the process?

Well, what would you do if your mother asked you?

Friday, January 14, 2011

15 Authors

So I got tagged on Facebook to very quickly write a list of the 15 authors who have influenced me and will always stick with me. I sat for a moment and then spit out the following names. My friends who participated also had many of these names on their list. My husband recognized less than half and had only read two – both for school. And that, my friends, is why we have a book problem. Anyway, I thought that since I love these authors so much, I should at least try to explain why or how they made the list.

1. Neil Gaiman
Sandman. ‘Nuff said. Well, not quite. You see, I actually am permanently scarred from reading American Gods. It was an overcast morning in July and I was reading the last 100 pages by the in-laws pool. By the time I reached the end, the clouds had cleared and I was par-boiled – so wrapped up in Shadow that I never noticed sunlight. I burned so badly that a decade later, I still have the scars. Now that’s a good book.

2. Terry Pratchett
I found him through Gaiman as they had co-written Good Omens. Then I slowly and methodically started working my way through the Discworld series. When I finished one book, I went right out and bought the next one. Ah, disposable income and free time. How I miss thee. If I could live in the mythical city of my choosing, it would be Ankh-Morpork. (Hogsmeade is more of a village.)

3. Madeline L'Engle
I have read and reread A Wrinkle in Time so often that I have no idea if it is good or bad. “It was a dark and stormy night,” is not usually an auspicious way to start a story, but I didn’t know any better. To me, it was magical. And dark. And stormy.

4. Judy Blume
I dare you to find a girl who did not sneak a copy of Forever out of the school library during junior high just to read the sexy bits. Masturbation, sex, God, menstruation, it was all fair game. How much I understood at the time of reading is questionable. I was a voracious reader with no oversight so I probably read all of her books years too early to really comprehend them, but when the light finally went on, I had Judy to guide me.

5. Phillipa Gregory
Everything I know about the Tudor reign I learned from historical fiction. The food is always cold, God’s laws are constantly mentioned by never headed, and being queen was never, ever easy. The clothes may have been gorgeous, but were they worth the burnings and beheadings? Probably not.

6. Sharon Shinn
Her books are a total guilty pleasure. I saw the cover of Angelica in a book store over a decade ago and had to have it. I have since devoured all of the Samaria books, the Twelve Houses, all her YA, and the standalone books. I wouldn’t put any of them up for a book club, and since they are essentially fantasy Harlequins, I am not exactly proud of my love for them, but I love them all the same.

7. Stephen King
When I was far too young, my parents let me read ‘Salems Lot. I spent years afraid to look out my bedroom window at night. Then I read IT. I remember very clearly sitting in my bedroom and wanting to go downstairs, but being too afraid to step into the dark hallway to turn on the stairway light. I could hear my parents downstairs, hear the sounds on the TV, but nothing would get me to take those four steps from my door to the light switch. I lost my taste for King somewhere around Gerald’s Game but after an inspired live reading from The Body at Radio City Music Hall, I came to love the author (if not the fiction) again.

8. John Irving
If you have not read A Prayer for Owen Meaney then do so (even A Widow for One Year would be my preferred pick over Garp. The first time I heard Owen speak (via John Irving, again at Radio City), a shiver went through my entire body. His character is so clear, so well-written, so true that his VOICE while an essential part of the story, just becomes another part of the page. Until you hear it IN PERSON. Most of his books haven’t aged well, but Owen, well, Owen will never age.

9. Pat Conroy
I don’t know why The Prince of Tides moved me so much. Honestly. It is overly sentimental, overwrought, and over-written. But for whatever reason, it sang to me. I haven’t even gotten four pages into South of Broad without having to take a bath to get rid of all those fragrant words. Obviously, my Conroy phase has passed, but it was good while it lasted.

10. Robert Frost
My first and last go-to poet. I can still recite Nothing Gold Can Stay in its entirety. Who hasn’t used lines from The Road Not Taken or Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening? My tastes in poetry may be pedestrian, but it’s not my fault. Blame S.E. Hinton.

11. William Shakespeare
He’s the Bard. If you have only ever read his plays, but never seen them performed, that is the same as only reading sheet music without ever having heard it played. Millions of students have been tortured with terrible BBC productions and monotone in-class readings. Rent Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet, any of the Branaugh productions, or, at the very least, Hamlet with Mel Gibson, to get a much better sense of how a good story is meant to be told.

12. Anne Rice
Another author who soured on me as I grew older: any of her books written before 1990 are far, far superior to anything written after. It almost seemed as if she became less of the actual author and more of the fan-fic writer of her own works. In 1993 I threw one of her books against a wall and haven’t picked one up again since. However, I do think Interview with a Vampire remains a worthwhile addition to vampire lore.

13. J.K. Rowling
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. In my home, two copies of every new book were bought at midnight so that my husband and I didn’t have to share. I will never, ever let my child see a Harry Potter movie until long after she has devoured every book. The details are just so rich, the characters so well-rounded, the story so intricate, that I refuse to let Warner Bros. fill in any of the blanks for her. Oh, and J.K. Rowling has killer taste in footwear.

14. Robert Heinlein
He rounds out the trio of authors who I would not, could not read again, but whose books I loved during my adolescence. His treatment of women is derisive at best, and adornment at its worst. If I remember correctly, he mostly liked them naked and willing, though they were usually at least marginally intelligent. Stranger in a Strange Land is odd as hell and seemed mostly to say that easy sex is the key to an easy life. It was the 60s, what can you do?

15. J. D. Salinger
Can a body catch a body coming through the rye? If you didn’t read this book as a teenager, I doubt it can ever have the same impact. Luckily, I read it in Mrs. Tink’s class my junior year. Holden definitely falls into the category of names that have too much literary importance to bestow upon a child, yet dumb celebrities keep doing it anyway. It would be a good name for a dog though.

Monday, January 10, 2011

When in Doubt, Throw it Out

If you have enough money to pay someone to open your mail, you are officially too stupid to be rich and should hand over the money to people with the common sense to do something useful with it.

A friend posted an article on Facebook today (via The New York Times) about a woman whose job is to organize homes and offices. (Link below) Needing to organize and de-clutter your home is definitely a first-world problem. The women in the article live in homes that count square feet in the thousands. They have closets as big as my bedrooms. I am supposed to be sympathetic to their plights because, “privilege does not relieve stress. Stress is clutter and clutter is stress.” How very Zen. Or, as I’m sure they would spell is so that it is more unique, Zenne.

Now I realize that there is nothing more annoying that opening up a drawer and not being able to find the object in question, but opening up an apartment and not being able to find the children who live there because their parents don’t want any signs of their presence is another matter entirely. Children bring both stress and clutter to your life. They cannot be neatly organized into a bin (mostly because their arms and legs don’t fit). All their toys, books, and clothes may be organized, but a child using Play-Doh will still make an unholy mess across your floor, no matter how neatly you have labeled the containers. However, the children of these clients obviously have far better things to do than waste time actually playing with their toys anyway. And I quote, “Candy Land? Between sporting events, music lessons, and charity galas, who has time?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a lot of four-year olds who attend charity galas. A parent who can spend $1500 on organization (though you have to provide your own label-maker) surely has a nanny who will play the game with the kids, right?

The second page of the article uses the following scenario to explain why this organizer’s services are in such high demand:

“Let’s say you have a home in Aspen and you’re supposed to have a business dinner for 30 there on Friday, and you’ve promised your 8-year-old you’d go to his baseball game, and then the house manager in Aspen quits, and your 8-year-old is crying to go to the baseball game.”

Well, damn, that is a problem. The two hours attending the game will surely ruin your dinner party. If only there was an invention that would allow you to watch the game while simultaneously allowing you to talk to people in another location. With the dinner mere days away, surely the caterer, cleaning crew, valets, and Lord knows who else rich people hire to feed and entertain other people have already been hired? I made sure my hot deli trays were ordered a week in advance when I had family over for my daughter’s dance recital. Good riddance to the woefully unprepared house manager if he/she hadn’t already done the same. (Sorry, just the phrase house manager makes me giggle. I think I will add it to my list of pretend job titles.) And if you have hired help to run your second home in your vacation destination of choice, your nanny can probably stop playing Candy Land long enough to take the kid to the game.

Here is another gem:“The perfect bag or a great pair of shoes can give you so much pleasure, but it can torture you when you don’t know where to put it."

Torture is really such a strong word to use for proper purse storage, don’t you think? Especially when the woman in question has a closet entirely devoted to the accessory. Here’s a hint: if you have so much of one item that you no longer have a place for it, the problem is not the storage but the shopper. (And yes, I know I have more boxes of books in storage than I dare count for fear my BILs will not help me move them, but they are books! Literature! Rooms devoted to them are called libraries, not closets. Books are good for you. Purses are just another way to hold all the stuff you probably don’t need anyway.)

The article ends by pointing out that the organizer herself runs a tight ship at home with her own children: “Silly Bandz are meticulously organized by type (creatures, sports, “rare”). Matthew’s toy cars are parked on the windowsill, perfectly parallel, a few inches apart.

Yes, please pass on your undiagnosed OCD to your children. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Want to Pump You Up

On some days, God made supermodels. On other days, he made people like me.

I’ve been going to the gym three times per week for the two months. It has become part of my routine and while I would be lying if I said I enjoy it, I do enjoy becoming healthier. What I want is to become skinnier, but I have an impressionable six-year old daughter, so words such as fat, skinny, etc. are not used in my house. Instead, we aim to be “healthy.”

I started out in the old lady classes. The instructors talked about healthy bone density and how to avoid hip injuries. While we pumped away with our little three-pound hand weights and moved slowly to the music, I could see into the opposite classroom where my friends were hauling barbells up and down, doing crunches, and pouring sweat. I would wave merrily and keep barely-sweating with the oldies. However, it didn’t take long to realize that my fat ass needed a little something more.

This led me to body pump classes. My first one was grueling. I introduced myself to the instructor and when she asked how in shape I was, I merely laughed. Pear may be a shape, but not the one I am aiming for. She took great care of me and showed me exactly how I should lift, the appropriate weights, and alternate postures. The first problem I had was that I couldn’t curse as much as I liked because if I stopped counting for even a minute, I lost focus and was pretty sure I was going to bring the barbells down on my chest and crush my boobs into pulp. The second problem was that my legs were sore for three days afterward.

However, at the end of my first body pump class, the entire group gave me a round of applause. At the end of my second one, with a different instructor, the entire group laughed at me. I’ll take both. At least they are interested in my progress. After my first (and last) disastrous spin class, I had a few people approach me to encourage me to try again and give me pointers (and a gel seat) to urge me back onto the saddles. In every group class I have taken, someone always shows me what to do and keeps me motivated. Sure, I may want to kill some of them, especially the perky ones who cheer through the pain (I am so looking at you D!) and the already skinny ones who don’t even seem to need the gym at all (S), but we all have our body issues to bear.

When I don’t take classes, I use the cardio and weight machines to “strengthen my core.” I really just want to flatten my tummy and tighten my ass, but I’ll take what I can get. I met with a trainer on my first visit and he gave me a list of machines, weights, and reps to perform. I feel like an idiot, I am pretty sure I look like an idiot, but I do them faithfully. I’m not as good on the cardio machines. It is much harder to make myself run because I’m sure the sound of my thundering feet is deafening and I really don’t want to poke an eye out. My girls may be double-strapped down, but they are still lethal weapons.

So every Tuesday and Thursday and whatever third day I can fit in besides, I go to the gym. I watch Ken and Barbie, a lovely couple burnished to a golden copper, who both work out in a full blow-out and makeup. I watch the little old man who uses the rowing machine wearing jeans and a cardigan. I check out everyone’s asses because that’s the only part I can see to determine which style and shape I am trying to achieve. I say hi to everyone I know, try to get my place in either the back of the class (the better to hide) or the side of the cardio machines (the better to watch ESPN), and try to remember that sweat is good. Money to have lipo would be better, but sweat is good for now.