Saturday, February 28, 2009

And The World's Alright With Me

We're having a sultry little heat wave here in SD. Of course, we're usually having one of those, but since today is the last day of February, it's a kind of surprise. Today was around 80, with a warm breeze that brushed the back of the neck, whispering that change is always on its way.

We started the day with a purge. That sounds just terrible, and so unlike me. What I mean is, we gathered up a bunch of VCRs, printers, monitors, cables and related junk that formerly resided in our garage, and drove it around the corner to our local middle school, where a bunch of city trucks were waiting in honor of an e-waste (that sounds terrible, too) recycling event. My satisfaction in handing over a trunk full of plastic junk was rich and lingering.

From there, we trekked to a park up north (Jarrah was pretty excited about it, since it was off Carmel Mountain Rd.--if there's anything better than caramel, it's a mountain of caramel) for "Family Day," an event we attend every couple of months with our Animal Crackers group. Back in the day when we were freshly home from China, Animal Crackers was sort of a "mommy and me" thing, but like Google, it's diversified. One of the branches is Family Day, and it's kinda just like it sounds. There are families, and it's a day. At the park. With snacks. It was lovely to peel stunningly sweet tangerines and catch up with some of my girls. (There were boys, too. And babies.)

There was time for a quick lunch on the way home, and we sat outside enjoying the sun. I tried not to be annoyed that they'd given me brown rice instead of white (I suffered some trauma at the hand of brown rice as a child) and then, in fact, I was not annoyed because it was tasty. As if she'd been replaced by another child, Jarrah sat quietly and ate her entire meal without complaining, and even told us how delicious she found it. (I should have checked for a hidden panel under her hair at this point, but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.)

I arrived home with just enough time to turn back around and head to Point Loma, where I was meeting Lorenzo for Hedda rehearsal. I haven't discussed my most recent theater production in this blog, but the show is fast approaching--just a few weeks away now. I've been tragically remiss in learning my lines, but today we got a lot done. We met at The Living Room, the coffee shop in a historic old house across the street from the theater, with its banging screen door and woeful guitarists on weekend nights, not to mention a devoted population of Point Loma University students packing the tables with their laptops and iPods and serious study faces. I had never been there on a Saturday afternoon, but we ended up on the back porch, where the sea breeze whispered in the trees and my Italian soda was impossibly cold and sweet as I quizzed Lorenzo on his lines. Which he totally knows--I'm the slacker. There was one other couple out there, and they were macking on each other in the corner, all trucker hats and black eyeliner and "I dare you to judge me by my cover" expressions. Didn't deter Lorenzo a bit--he cheerfully informed them (while I cringed) that we needed an audience, and even threw a script over so they could prompt lines. And you know what? They were attentive, and helpful, and gave great feedback. Then they asked us when the show was, and said they hoped to come. So much for my Judgy McJudgerson ways. Before we left, we also met this man, who came sailing down the ramp on his electric cart, dressed in full Western regalia and turquoise jewelry. He's 95, and didn't look a day over 70. His companion (wife?) took down our show info in her Blackberry. I tell you, Point Loma is overflowing with love and good cheer. I want to move there.

On the way home, I swung by the market, which I love to do when I can use TWO eyes to choose the food. Jarrah has a way of flailing wildly and frequently into the displays when she accompanies me, so shopping without destruction has become a delightful novelty. I picked up some pre-marinated pollo asado that I had my doubts about, but I chose to ignore those doubts in the interest of an easy dinner.

At home, David was weeding the garden, as I'd asked. I took over in the front, getting down in the dirt with my pokey metal thing, enjoying every satisfying thwuck as a weed pulled loose. Of course, after a while my back was screaming, but I chose to ignore that, as I always do lately, with a thought along the lines of "When I was younger, I never even thought about my back" or "Some people make their living pulling weeds, and they don't complain." Works every time. Jarrah amused herself in the driveway, first hauling out a beach chair so she could "soak up the sunshine" (it was getting dark) and then riding a broom across what passes for our lawn cackling "HEH-hee-HEE." Otherwise, I didn't hear a peep out of her for 45 minutes, which, now that I think about, should have made me look for that panel after all.

When the sun was down, David threw the chicken on the barbecue, and--as promised--in 5 minutes we had pollo asado. With caesar salad and mango-papaya salsa and organic tortillas. And I hadn't done a damn thing. And again, Jarrah ate it all. What is going ON with that child?

And now she's in bed. She let me brush and floss her without complaint, and allowed me to read her about 87 Shel Silverstein poems before tucking her in. I loved those poems when I was a kid, and while I think she has no strong feeling for them, she's become aware that I need to be humored where they are concerned.

Which, once again, is pretty darn cool.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I think I have a sinus infection. That's what I've deduced because for two weeks I've been a total mouth breather, and can't access my nose for love or money. It makes sleeping hard, and I need to buy stock in Puffs (hope Puffs doesn't go out of business--I guess even in hard times, people need to blow their nose.)

Everyone in my life thinks (or has communicated through a Vulcan mind-meld) that I need to tough it out, but this morning I was done toughing it out. Just done. Luckily, I have a doctor who seems to have no other patients (I had to sell my soul to the devil to make him my primary care physician) so I called and they said come at 10:00.

I did. And it wasn't even one of those things where I suddenly felt miraculously better on the way over. I felt decidedly worse, or at least the same. I had to wait a lot longer than usual (usual is five minutes) so I had time to admire all the drugs I might be taking and visualize the furniture coated in puffy layers of invisible germs. Then I had to sit in the exam room even longer, swinging my legs while the paper crinkled. But, as usual, my visit was as satisfying as a massage. Doc nodded sympathetically, clucked over my tender sinuses, wrote me up a prescription. Before he left, he bellowed for Lorraine, otherwise known as Shot Lady, who comes in brandishing her weapon and saying "Show me your good side." By the time I reached the curb, I could swear I felt a glimmer of my old self returning.

Since I was already over there, and it was unseasonably warm, I headed for Balboa Park. David and I used to live walking distance from this turn-of-the-century Worlds Fair relic and wonder, and it's been a hard loss. It houses most of San Diego's museums, and lovely faux Spanish architecture, tinkling fountains, giant fish, strange succulents. Most of all, it's just a great place to walk around. I parked behind the Organ Pavillion, a behemoth outdoor stage with very grand arches and pillars. I passed the Prado, a chic restaurant that went up in 2000--we thought we'd get married there, but $22,000 said it wasn't gonna happen. I rounded the corner and headed up the central promenade, passing a gentleman playing the bagpipes and a mother and baby dancing to them. Over the footbridge, and into the famous rose garden, just starting to come back because it's February, and February in San Diego is spring.

I was practically alone admiring the tender green shoots, with only one or two blobs of pink above the signs reading "Honeylove" and "Julia Child." There was an older couple who might have been taking photos, or surveying the grade, or who knows. I thought of our rose bushes, which have also just busted their branches in the past week. It must be time to feed them again. I thought of a warm November day when I sat in this rose garden when they had just been shorn, just me on a blanket, dirt, and a bunch of sharp little sticks. That was many years ago, and my heart was hurting, and I really needed to find a new apartment because of that. I wrote in my journal about my hurt heart, and the very act told me I'd be okay eventually.

This time I found a shady bench, and took my Kindle out of my purse. My friend Monika from bookclub said something very funny this week; she said that many, many things in her life right now have been "Twilighted," and I laughed with recognition--my life is getting Twilighted, too. Several times I've been walking and realized my brow was deeply furrowed and my heart pounding, and then a wave of realization wafted through: "Oh! It's not me who's lost the undead love of my life. Book, world. World, book. Not the same."

But the blurring is delicious. I popped open the Kindle to find that I had only one more chapter of Book Two, and I marveled once again that an 18-year-old could know without hesitation that her stone-cold love was worth more than her very soul. Then again, I knew that at 18, too. You just sort of forget eventually.

I walked back towards the car through a gleeful crowd of school children, running races by the History museum. When I rounded the corner, I decided I'd have lunch at the Japanese Tea House, and that was the right decision. Everything was peaceful plunking notes and clean bamboo lines. I couldn't imagine what I would want to eat there, but then a woman in front of me turned around holding a bowl at nose level and it smelled divine. Turned out it was chicken teriyaki, which I've previously thought of as the Culinary World's Cruelest Food, served only to pathetic rubes like me when I've been unable to avoid accompanying my sophisticated friends out for sushi. It's like the sushi places are saying, "Here you go. You clearly don't appreciate truly tasty food, so here's a plate of chewy, gluey swill for you to gnaw on while your friends make charming bon mots between sips of wine and nibble on these pretty little things that look like party favors."

This place hadn't gotten the memo. Then again, they didn't have sushi, either. The chicken was sliced thin and arranged over some bright carrot shreds and green onions. The sauce was shiny and sweet, but not gluey. I carried my warm bowl to a glass table out on the porch, and was practically alone but for the peaceful music and a slight breeze coming up from the wild, green canyon. The food was hot and filling and perfect. I took a sip of water and realized how rarely I eat outside when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, and everywhere around me is quiet and pretty. I sat there for a very long time, and to prolong it, ordered today's New York Times on the Kindle, a satisfying operation requiring about three seconds of my time and 75 cents. There was still plenty of time to shop for dinner and drop off my prescription before picking up Jarrah.

I need to get out and get shots more often.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sugar Love

Happy Valentines Day! When I got home from Nia last night, David and Jarrah were decorating these lovely cookies (and may I add, they're quite delish.) Can you spot the "J" amongst the hearts? David even figured out how to dye the frosting without food coloring. (Hint: There were no beets involved.)

This was the first time I've seen Jarrah appreciate the point of decorating, and she patiently shook out sprinkles for the entire batch. She especially liked the black ones, adding that black is her new favorite color. (A goth phase in our future?) I told her how when she was two, she once cried when I placed a cookie to decorate in front of her, obviously feeling this was some kind of cruel tactic to stall her eating the cookie. Mom, she said. That was a long time ago, when I was only a baby.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Jarrah had her six-month cleaning last Thursday, and I thought I would bribe her with the only thing that really matters, so I got her a heart-shaped Pez dispenser. (Yes, Readers, I'm just perverse like that, and also: chocolate Pez are nummy!) Things didn't go so well at that appointment, and she never did get her teeth cleaned, so I had to withhold the Pez and there was much wailing and gnashing get the idea.

Anyway, we went back and tried again on Monday, and this time it was mostly a success. I handed over the promised Pez, only to find that my responsibilities in this arena were only just beginning--I was expected to fill the Pez dispenser because, evidently, Pez cannot be eaten out of the package. In fact, they are not even food at that point.

Readers, I cannot fill a Pez dispenser. I hazily recall the Pez of my youth as coming packaged in a neat foil wrapper encased in a colorful paper tube. This enabled me to unwrap the Pez like a loaf of sliced bread and slide them into the dispenser in one graceful move. In the past 30 years, however, candy technology (and our flaming planet) have intervened and where there were once two wrappers, there is now one. And try as I might, I lift the flap at one end, the whole thing rips down the center, and the individual Pez stampede away like a herd of gazelles. After picking them up one at a time, I attempt to wedge them--one at a time--into the cocked dispenser, only to find that when I reach for the second one, the cursed contraption somehow rejects the first and it comes flying back out into my lap.

Today Jarrah asked for Pez, and once again I ripped the package to shreds and all the Pez escaped. Wedging the dispenser open, elbows on my knees and leaning over in the faint position, I managed to get one inside before it grew weary and lay down, preventing me from inserting the second. This time, I was in no mood, especially since I also had a faceful of Jarrah's hair due to her "helping" by gluing her nose to the unit.

I tried about three times, cursing and yelling, and finally just flung the whole mess onto the ottoman and said, "Here. You deal with it. Or throw them away. I don't care. I'm done." I stomped into the office, and was happily deleting spam only a minute later when she came around the corner saying "Look!"

I looked. She was holding up the Pez dispenser, and I'll be a monkey's uncle if every single Pez wasn't lined up in perfect formation, ready to be dispensed as nature intended. I have to confess, I was sore amazed.

"Jarrah! Did you do that all by yourself? Are you a genius?"

"I am."

"Wow! I am so impressed. Your mommy couldn't do it. And your mommy had a cow when she tried, didn't she?"


My 21st Century Child

Just now Jarrah asked me to pretend we were at school and I was her teacher. She does that a lot. Only today she wanted to tattle on a classmate, whom she says "pushes" and "doesn't share toys." The very idea!

Jarrah: Okay, Mom, you be the teacher.

Sam: Um...well, he's a little younger than you, and maybe he's still learning how things work in the classroom. We need to be patient with him.

Jarrah: Can we teach him, Mom? Is there a website we could look at? A website could tell us what to do.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Family Day, Year of the Ox

Three years ago, we pulled up in a bus to the Chongqing Children's Home and a few minutes later, were handed a huge, pink-clad baby with bruises on her forehead and a death-grip on a piece of hard candy. That was how we became parents. Every part of that day was so weird, and I was overcome by emotion I couldn't even understand yet. The only reason I got through it without dissolving into a salty puddle was David by my side, and the company of our dear friends Mary and Paul, who also met their daughter in that historic moment. Now, the six of us are related, an effect that wouldn't be obvious until after it happened.

That moment inspired us to create Family Day, which we now celebrate every February 6th in dedicated fashion; everyone takes the day off and we plan a trip that removes us from our usual lives completely. The first year, when the girls had recently turned two, we thought of the Amtrak train to San Juan Capistrano, a 45-minute journey from here but a world away. SJC is home to the famous returning swallows, and the Mission San Juan Capistrano, a gorgeous crumbling ruin. It's also a charming small town with a downtown of only a few blocks, and when you step out of the train, you're in it.

The first time we rode, it felt much longer--the kids made a lot of noise and a lot of mess, and didn't want to stay in their seats. When we arrived, a nice lady asked if we were on our way to Zoomars. What's that, we asked. Just steps from the train station is the world's most magical petting zoo, with a straw-covered petting corral filled with hundreds of bunnies and guinea pigs running free, each possessing a craving for carrots, and a high tolerance for cuddling.

This year, I could really feel the change in our lives, right in my body, in fact. Gazing out the window of the train, which hurtles inches from the beaches of south Orange County, I had a strong sense memory of the previous two years, how haggard I'd been already at 10:00 a.m. This year, I felt fine, and sipped my latte (courtesy of Mary and Paul) while the girls snacked on bagels and amused themselves without terrorizing the entire car. I was even sure I saw a pod of dolphins, though Paul said it was kelp. "No, actually I meant dolphins," he said smiling. "Rainbow dolphins." It was our first year without the diaper bag, without strollers, without an arsenal of amusements to ward off boredom and tantrums. While I enjoyed all this, I felt a slight wistfulness for the girls' babyhood--they are kids now, practically out of preschool.

This was also the first year that the famous Southern California weather was not on our side--the morning was cold and gray and lashings of rain fell intermittently. We got really lucky and never got caught in a downpour--I guess the Family Day elves were looking out for us. However, our beloved Zoomars, while open, was coated in a sticky mixture of mud puddles and animal poop, so we all got a bit filthy. Pam, the cheery red-headed manager, welcomed us in at the "rainy-day rate" and obliged our requests for many, many baskets of bunny salad, but some of the other attractions--the pony rides, the train--were shut down for the day. On the up side, we were the only people there, and the girls literally had their pick of the litter amongst the sociable denizens of Fluffy Corral.

Pam introduced us to Harry Talks-a-Lot, a huge black guinea pig with hair as long and curly as David's, and he did indeed have a lot to say. Then she plunked him in my lap, where he snuggled happily for half an hour while I petted him. It was incredibly soothing to rub behind his soft little ears while other animals hoisted themselves on my knees, and gently nibbled on my heels. The girls were industrious and democratic, spreading the lettuce-love around, and holding the pigs very gently in their little laps.

Probably the most obvious way that Family Day is changing was lunch...the past two years, we've eaten Mexican and stuffed a bite or two of burrito in our mouths as we wrangled high chairs, cut up quesadillas and soothed outbursts. Both of those years, we have trudged up the road from Zoomars to gaze longingly through the vine-covered arbor of the outdoor Ramos House Cafe, a tiny restaurant at the chef's home. The place (and the menu) always struck me as the epitome of culinary magic, yet their "we don't have high chairs" policy bespoke a need for restraint when accompanied by two toddler terrors. So we walked on by.

This year, we stood in our usual position, and asked the hostess about 4-year-olds, and she said, "Well, we don't have high chairs, but kids eat here all the time--no problem." No problem? I could hardly believe it was finally going to happen. Sure enough, a large, umbrella'd table awaited us at the edge of the garden (and who cared that the rain came down and dampened our backs a bit? and that the My Little Pet Shop pieces escaped through the slats in the table?) and within seconds a cheery waitress brought us Grapefruit Fizzes (another Family Day tradition--booze in the afternoon!) served glass jelly jars, brimming with fresh blueberries and a generous dollop of fruit sorbet. We toasted each other...and I ended up with a lapful of kiddie cup. Hey, it was good to be reminded how our lives have changed.

For anyone who's been missing my foodie blogs from NaBloPoMo in July, here's the roundup: we started with the sweet potato fries, which were crispy and fluffy and perfectly matched by the zesty bleu cheese dip. Then I had a caramelized fruit salad (that I'd literally seen in my dreams for two years) which was not as caramelized as I'd imagined, but luxuriously robed in sweet, yogurty sauce and served adorably in half a scooped-out orange.

My main dish was accurately described--"Spicy Tomato Soup with a Mini Grilled Cheese"--too accurately, in fact, since I could only manage two sips of the zesty soup without feeling like I'd regret it all day. The mini grilled cheese was extremely mini--about the size of a baguette slice--but may have been toasted by angels and expressed to my plate from heaven, so delectable did I find it. David's beef stew was delish, Paul's scramble was fine, and Mary's mac n' cheese with fresh veggies, herbs and lemon gremolata (and no, I don't know what that is, but doesn't it sound lovely?) stole the show.

Quite buzzed now, we rounded out the meal with their signature Apple Beignets, but that might have been the biggest disappointment for me. The little donuts certainly looked wonderful, crisp and brown, but they had the consistency of eggy rocks and disturbing translucent chunks that crunched in the teeth. "Are these onions?" I asked my companions dopily, and they reminded me that they were apple. Which is weird, because they didn't taste like apple, or like anything, really.

After lunch, we decided to shorten the SJC part of our day, since the weather was not cooperating for frolicking on the village green, which is how we spent our afternoon last year. With an hour to kill before the train, we wandered into town to shop for souvenirs, and the girls scored tiny boxes of polished stones--the kind of thing that would have sent me into spirals of ecstasy at their age. I'd like to say that an angel gets her wings on Family Day, but apparently it's more like an angel loses her head--a statuette perched unfortunately near flailing small hands met an untimely end. We offered to pay, and the gal behind the counter told us that they only request payment from people who don't offer. I love that!

Back on the train, we were comfortably ensconced, Jarrah and Joy sitting together with their organic juice boxes and pop tarts, when the ticket man came through and asked "Are you a family?" "Yes," we answered--it's nice to be recognized. But then what followed was entirely unexpected--he marched over to the people busily typing into their various devices in the table section, and ousted them! "I have a family of six back here, and they have priority." We stood there guiltily as the surprised folk gathered their belongings and were directed out of Eden, when suddenly...there was hugging!

Turns out one of the displaced was Paul's cousin! An awkward moment became a big family reunion instead. For the first time, I sat next to the ocean on the ride home, and stared at the twinkling water, mesmerized, while David fell asleep. The girls extracted the one-inch square of foam from their rock kits and stuck them to things, the rocks entirely forgotten.

Back in Solana Beach, we agreed to continue the festivities at Coraline in 3-D, playing nearby. David was especially interested in this movie because he's obsessed with all things 3-D right now (go ahead--ask him.) And we did go, and the girls were very well-behaved, but Readers, I can't think of a less appropriate movie for Family Day if someone had produced one just for us in Bizarro World. Our hero Coraline, you see (she of the stop-motion animation and blue hair) has just moved to a spooky new house, where she is roundly ignored by her parents and forced to eat Swiss Chard for dinner.

Naturally, she is thrilled to discover a secret passage that leads to an alternative reality where her parents are attentive and funny, she gets chocolate cake for dinner, and all the kooky neighbors do shows for her. There's only one little problem: the Other Parents and their cohorts have buttons for eyes, and the Other Mother is actually a murderous witch who wants to sew buttons over Coraline's eyes, enabling her to suck out her soul and eat it (a fate confirmed by the button-eyed "ghost children" who visit Coraline in her dreams.)

Ahem. So Coraline goes to live in another world with a different set of parents who pretend to love her so they her. That's niiiiiice. And of course Jarrah could care less about any of those implications and was only interested in the "ghost eyes" Coraline must collect (rather confusing, that) and restore to the children who've had their souls sucked out. We went round and round on "ghost eyes", and in all fairness, she might have stopped asking about them if I'd had some genuinely convincing answers.

I actually started laughing when Other Mother turns into a monstrous thing with claw hands who keeps bellowing "Soon you'll see things my way!" and Coraline escapes screaming back to her original world, only to have to overcome her fear and rescue her "real" parents who've been trapped in a snow globe. Yup, it just kept getting more and more heart-warming for us all.

Again, Jarrah was completely untraumatized by any of that. Ghosts are her focus, and since that wasn't getting cleared up, she didn't have time for anything non-ghost. Which is a relief, but man, I do think it's interesting how none of the reviews I've read have made any mention of these disturbing parallels.

After the movie, we went next door to Sammy's, which was probably a mistake because of the hour, but we were hungry. Jarrah and Joy both lay down in the booth and pretended to sleep, but there was a lot of crying from our J before the check was settled. Then, we were all buckled into the car when I realized that Beast was missing.

Beast is an odd stuffed animal hybrid--a Snoopy dressed as a snowman with a carrot nose, etc.--Jarrah received from Paul's mother on Christmas. She named him Beast without hesitation, which is just one of the many reasons I love that kid. Anyway, she had been in charge of Beast all afternoon, which meant he was now lost. David sprinted back up to the theater and the restaurant, while I soothingly explained that Beast might not be coming back, but that some other little girl or boy would take good care of him. "And how will they find me to bring him back?" she wailed, which is really rather smart. "They might not, honey, but at least you'll know he's happy and well cared-for." That brought a louder round of wailing, but just then, David miraculously appeared with Beast in hand, and all was well.

After a 30-minute drive and discussion about how you suck out someone's "human essence" so you can eat it, we were home and snug. Three years!