Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Awesome Things About David

Today is David's birthday. Now, as many of you know, I mention him quite a bit in this blog--probably more than he would prefer. So in honor of this day I'm going to mention only awesome things about him, since in my quest to be endlessly hilarious I may have missed some of those. (And I will miss a bunch more. Believe me.)

1. He has a great sense of humor, and never gets at all peeved when I ever-so-gently poke fun at him in this blog. Even if I'm telling everyone that he wears strangers' pants.

2. He gives me foot rubs while we watch TV. Every. Night.

3. He's so brilliant that when I complained that I didn't like the location of the shift key on my new netbook, he moved the shift key. Then reprogrammed the netbook to recognize the new location.

4. When he's being interviewed for techie-related broadcasts (more often than you'd think) he waves his arms around with great excitement, conveying not only enthusiasm but an irresistible, irrepressible charm.

5. If you cook him something he really loves, like lamb, or potatoes, or apple pie, he will actually close his eyes while he's eating it.

6. He took care of a 13-month-old baby he'd never met before virtually unassisted for weeks, since the baby in question would not let me near her. And he didn't sleep at all. And he never complained.

7. He's tuned in to the needs of all animals. Even roaches.

8. If I'm in a show that runs nine performances, he's there for at least four.

9. We're the yin and yang of filmmaking--He: camera/editing/tech. Me: writing/acting/micro-managing. Both: loving every minute of it.

10. He wanted to date me even after I forced him to dance with me the night we met at my sister's wedding. The man does not dance. Even in his dreams he does not dance. Then he agreed to dance lessons before our wedding. For five months. And our first dance was a samba.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Daddy Camp

I just love these photos. I think what I love about them most is that I wasn't there when they were taken. No, during the daytime parts I was emoting in blank verse at a shopping mall, and during the nighttime parts I was curled up in my pajamas eating Haagen-Daz chocolate-chocolate chip (was any ice cream ever finer?) and catching up on Gossip Girl.

Meanwhile, David was bravely chaperoning our little miss at her first-ever camp-out. It's an annual event of mass proportions at Dailard, masterminded by men. I say the men can have it. If I were meant to sleep outside, hot showers would be naturally occurring in nature, as common as babbling brooks. But more on my admirable common sense another time.

Unusual for me, I can't blab on and on about this adventure, since I wasn't there. But I hear that a certain person (hint: she's five) had a high time in the great outdoors, and enjoyed jumping on the air mattress with her peeps. She also enjoyed a BBQ, and an outdoor movie (Up, courtesy of my dear husband's projector) and a whole lot of fun with her friends, new and old. And the husband in question? Well, we all know he's a good sport, and though he was feeling a bit under the weather, a hearty meal of charbroiled meat and a sleep in the fresh air until the princely hour of 5:30 a.m. went a long way towards reviving him.

And me? Well, thanks for asking, Readers. You're so thoughtful. I look at that photo of The Ghetto of Tents and I delicately shudder, imagining trying to snooze while 350 precious moppets are yelling and laughing and crying into the wee hours. And then I feel a little smug that the flyer clearly said "DADS" in bold type. And that it happens every year.

That's also our dear principal on the roof, snapping a photo of his entire flock. I love that dude.

Jarrah said the only bad part is when she got lost trying to find a friend's tent after dark. After a few minutes, someone noticed her plight, and when David emerged from brushing his teeth, she shed a few tears of relief. Weird that that's the first time we've ever lost her.

See what happens when you head into the wilderness? Not for me, thanks. I'll be right here on the couch.

A big shout-out to Steph, Robyn and Mark for loaning us all necessary camping gear, including a tent, air mattresses, sleeping bags and a cool lantern.

What, you thought maybe we actually owned that stuff?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Week of Drama

And I mean that in the actual, not figurative, sense, Readers.

Last weekend I got some unhappy news. (I was going to say "devastating," because that's how I roll, but I think some of you would have protested.) I had been hearing rumors that my little theater group was going to stage Steel Magnolias as the winter show. Six juicy roles, all for women. The reason I'd been hearing rumors, as opposed to facts, is that after two years with this group I am still not an insider. Aside from official e-mails (which never tell the whole story) my intel is like a game of Telephone. (An aside: I have always remembered this game as "Operator," but even Wikipedia, which references the rather racist-sounding "Chinese Whispers," has no recollection of that. End of digression.) I figured that eventually I'd get the e-mail announcing that auditions were in, oh, five hours or so, and I'd scoot on over and knock some socks off. After all, I played a bawdy southern babe in last year's winter production. It's kind of my wheelhouse. Then I learned there would be no auditions. The show has been precast with the director's choices, kind of like how scripts go to Julia Roberts for "consideration." And that, Dear Readers, is the end of that. Oh, except right when I was at my lowest, hurt and sad? I get an e-mail from a former castmate that reads "Hi Sam! Saw this and thought of you! XOXO!" Attached was an announcement for a new theater group forming, with the following tagline:

Have you ever been told you're too old, fat or ugly for traditional plays? Then this group is for you! We will cast from within and show the world that you don't have to be beautiful to act.

Well, that was kicking me when I was down. But what could I do? This director has seen me in seven shows (three of them his) acting my little heart out, and if I haven't impressed him yet, I think I've run out of ideas. I saw my future as as choice between these two options:

1. Swearing off performing for the rest of my life, and retiring to an undisclosed location, where I will gradually lose touch with the rest of the world (hey, the title of the post has DRAMA in it!)

2. Do the terrifying, unthinkable thing and get out there and start getting rejected (oops, I mean CAST) in other companies' shows.

So, I decided to give the latter a fair shake. I began scouring the want ads, and made some notes about shows that sounded promising. Despite some leads, nothing was imminent, so I congratulated myself on my initiative and left it at that. But that very day, I got a message from my friend Jessica, who said she had just auditioned at a Starbucks (!) for an original musical and had a callback. She had mentioned me to the director (how awesome is she?) who wanted me to call.

I thought about that for a while. It made me crazy-nervous. I knew that in addition to a cold read, I'd have to do a cold sing. Possibly in a Starbucks. I've auditioned for musicals only twice in my life, and neither went at all well. I mulled it over for a day and finally called. When the producer/director/writer called back, she sounded really nice. She asked if I could come to a rehearsal on Tuesday and audition for her, with some other women. I guess I've done crazier things, I thought to myself. I said okay.

It all sounded so vastly, mysteriously terrifying in every way that I couldn't get my mind around what to be nervous about. I knew that most of the cast was already in place so I figured she was looking to see how we'd fit in.

The first thing that happened is I misjudged my timing and arrived 10 minutes late. All my audition books say "The best way to not get hired is to arrive anything later than 10 minutes early." And that makes sense to me. Half the battle in putting a show together is being able to depend on your people. I figured I was out right there. But when I entered the room (spotting Jessica, and one other woman who seemed like a giant to me) the director just looked up and smiled and told me to take a seat.

I won't drag this out as much as I could. The highlights involved being asked if I could yo-yo (doubt it) and--in the absence of said yo-yos--if I could mime yo-yo (doubt that, too.) We were given a page of lyrics (no sheet music, no accompaniment) and told we'd be singing it back to her. The song was about a man with a greasy Afro and a little tiny penis. The rhythm was jazz-like, with varying beats, hard to follow. I told myself sternly this was not the time for modesty and belted it out...when I could remember it. Then we were invited to get on our feet and learn the choreography. By now it became clear that I was being asked to remember the steps to a dance I'd watched only two or three times while singing a song--on key, on beat--that I'd heard only two or three times. This seemed so deliciously impossible that instead of being seized with paralyzing nerves I found myself giggling delightedly, loosey-goosey and relaxed. What else could possibly be thrown at me?

An actress entered the room and the director told her to watch us. Even that didn't bother me. Then the director excused us but suddenly remembered we hadn't read. Nor could she find a script for us to read from. She said she'd tell us the lines and we could just remember them. Why not? I figured. Next we can recite the Declaration of Independence from memory, too. She seemed to like my reading, and we sang one more song, to the tune of the Dr. Pepper jingle, but about pedicures and shopping. She seemed to like that, too. Then she went to boot us out again but suddenly called "WAIT!" She lunged for a bag and held it open. I peered in to find it stuffed with Tootsie Rolls and lollipops. "Take one!" The other two glanced in like the bag was full of vomit. But I was thrilled. "My daughter will be so excited!" I trilled, and helped myself to Tootsie Pop. The door was shutting on my bum while I shouted "Yay! We got treats!" It seemed like a fitting conclusion for the one of the hardest things I've ever been through. You get a prize when you do good at the dentist, too.

Jessica thought she liked me, but I wasn't sure after all that. When I got home, though, there was an e-mail from the director saying she'd like to see me again on Thursday. Wow. I think I just got my first-ever callback for a singing part. That is pretty cool.

Of course, I wasn't free on Thursday. I had rehearsal for Twelfth Night, because we were adding to the show we just finished and then performing it again for a cool-sounding event called "Ten Plays in Ten Hours" sponsored by the San Diego Shakespeare Society. I told the director this. She said No problem, how about Saturday? Well, that was the day of the show, so no. I tried to be positive, cheerily reminding her that this was our last show and I was totally available after that. I'll simmer on this and get back to you, she said.

Five days later, she has. I have something called an "audition/rehearsal" on Thursday and am listed as "tentative cast member" on her schedule. I haven't seen the script and have no idea what my part is.

Friday night David and I went to LA to see yet more Shakespeare. We try to go every year to see The Troubadours, commedia/circus/actor/dancers who set Shakespeare to popular music. Some of our favorites have included Fleetwood Macbeth and The Artist Formerly Known As The Prince of Denmark. This one was A Withers Tale--A Winters Tale with the music of Bill Withers. From the moment that the Troubies stopped the first scene to sing their version of "You're So Vain" to late members of the audience, I could not stop smiling. This was actually a pretty serious show for them--the dramatic songs like "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me" lend themselves to that tone. But it was all kinds of awesome.

We stayed over Saturday night, and cruised back to town just in time for David to take Jarrah on a school camp-out (more on that anon) and me to get into costume for Twelfth Night. I was crabby when I arrived--it was hot, crowded and the parking at Horton Plaza is like a carnival ride--but by the time we were performing to a grinning audience in the twilight and pretty much killing it even though we'd never even SEEN the performance space before, I was having a blast. Chatting up the artistic directors of the San Diego Shakespeare Society afterward (who were extremely kind about our performance), and learning there may be an opportunity to do educational performances in schools for them, was the frosting on a sweet day.

As for what's next, who knows? I hope I get it (how many people does she need?)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Motive and Opportunity

A peaceful weekend, with a little fasting and atonement thrown in for good measure. And Jarrah started Torah School, which is like Sunday School, and I was apparently the last to get the memo that they're supposed to bring some money for charity ("tzedakah") to "help people with no house or clothes or food." Great. Now it looks like I'm opposed to helping people. I better send double next week.

It was hard to believe we had to continue to lay out clothes and pack lunch and check the "go" and "stay" compartments of the folder for a third week already. Jarrah's teacher is out with an ear infection (she e-mailed) and her sub is her best friend. Their names rhyme, which makes me laugh because it's clearly throwing off the kids in a big way. While I was tucking Jarrah in last night, she said:

"Mommy? How much longer do I have to wake up early?"

"Forever, sweetheart. At least until you're 18."

"So...on my next birthday I can sleep in?"

"You'll be six then, my love. Not 18. So no. Wait. Yes. You can sleep in ON your birthday."

Today is the first day I feel half-way sentient without having gone back to bed immediately after drop-off. I made it to the gym, remembered to return the DVDs to the library, did some laundry, acted like a grown-up. Well, mostly. I also went to see Easy A, and kind of fell in love with the redhead who stars in it, Emma Stone. She's adorable and seems smart. And while I was already disposed to enjoy myself with no strings attached, the movie scored a bunch more points by referencing John Hughes and also one of my favorite '80s movies, Can't Buy Me Love, in a big way. And as if that's not enough, some of my favorite actors--Patricia Clarkson, Dan Byrd, Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Haden Church--are all there doing their funny thing.

But I won't be doing this "ladies who watch matinees" thing for long. Oh, no, Readers, I plan to become a working girl again. I feel it's time. So here's an important question for you: what should I do? All suggestions appreciated. Here's my experience: 17 years of teaching writing and literature. A few summers behind the counter in bakeries. One summer selling Monet tchotchkes at the San Diego Museum of Art. One year as a copywriter assistant in an ad agency. Lots of data entry, filing and typing at temp jobs. Some of those things I never want to do again. Can you guess which ones, Readers?

I'm thinking about getting a holiday mall job squirting lotion on people (in an actual lotion store, not just randomly like a lotion stalker.) I like lotion, and I might not have to clean bathrooms. I don't want to have to clean bathrooms or have people be mean to me. I also don't want to be alone with no one to talk to. Those are my main criteria for a decent job. Your thoughts, Readers?

Oh, and speaking of your thoughts--I'm very excited to announce I finally have an e-mail address just for my blog! So you can click on the e-mail link and send me a message if you want to! Woohoo!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day In The Life Of A Kindergarten Mom

6:45 a.m.

What the @#$%&* is that noise? Oh, the alarm. Right. I scoot into Jarrah's room and rub her back. "Time for school, sweetheart." She moans and turns over. You and me both, kid. I open the blinds and go to the closet--forgot to put clothes out last night and today is "Green Day." Can only find one old, stretched-out t-shirt in green. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" starts up in my head.

7:20 a.m.

Feeling like bloody hell. Only slept about five hours last night. Oh right--only sleep about five hours any night, for no good reason. Fill water bottle. Sharpie name on snack bag (Cheez-Its only acceptable snack right now.) Transfer lunch box from fridge to backpack. Check folder. Ewww. Is that a peanut butter sandwich? How long has that been in there?? Brush hair. "Stand on TWO feet or I'm going to get mad."

7:30 a.m.

Continue with shoe-tying lessons on iCarly Vans. It now takes five whole minutes to put shoes on. Kisses. I-love-yous. Out the door.

7:35 a.m.

Make coffee. Set up at kitchen table with Kindle. Must re-read Twelfth Night. Nothing like a little light reading when I'm feeling so fresh and perky.

9:30 a.m.

Play done. So. Tired. Look at clock. Hmmm. I think I can set the alarm for 17 minutes and still make it. Can I actually fall asleep for 17 minutes?

9:47 a.m.

GAAAAAH! What is that NOISE??? Oh. I guess I can.

10:25 a.m.

Drive to Birney Elementary school for second audience with school nurse. She is grim and blocky and I want to come up with a nickname for her but I'm too tired. She says "Give me your arm." Then she turns away and fills out a little blue card. Guess I don't have TB.

10:45 a.m.

Arrive at coffee shop called Monica's at the Park, per instructions from Hannah, my Shakespeare director. This place is adorable. I pronounce it my new favorite. It's filled with light, smells delicious, has free wifi. There is a leafy terrace outside. My latte and single cookie cost $6.50. That part is not my favorite.

11:00 a.m.

Hannah arrives, also toting laptop. We are going to write monologues for our upcoming Shakespeare gig as part of "10 Plays in 10 Hours." We happily type lists and look up quotes. I forget I'm tired.

12:30 p.m.

Hannah bids me farewell. I look at the table and blink. Now I remember I'm tired. Will a turkey, brie, arugula and cranberry panini address the problem? Mmmm. A little. I want to blog but my netbook is dying. I read my Kindle for a bit. Orange is the New Black. Totally awesome book. My eyes feel like an open-face grilled cheese with tomatoes. I put some drops in them. Not really better.

1:30 p.m.

I head to pick up Jarrah. Outside her room, I joke around with some of the parents about how Jarrah had to spend "two minutes on the bench" today for talking in line yesterday. That's against the rules but she "forgot." "What's your kid's name? So I can tell my kid to stay away from her?" jokes one of the dads. At least I think he jokes.

2:05 p.m.

Jarrah appears! I love seeing her come out of class with her monogrammed backpack. She just looks so grown up. She's very excited because she had her first hot lunch today, and the chicken nuggets rocked. She also had pineapple with them. "Fresh or canned?" I inexplicably inquire. "I think a little of both," she inexplicably replies.

2:35 p.m.

Eek. We've stopped at home to pick up snacks for acting class and now we're running late. Plus those dang shoes take so long to put on. Oh well, flip-flops it is!

3:00 p.m.

We arrive at Jarrah's new acting class. I'm thrilled to see so many kids! Nine or 10, compared to four the last time. Jarrah's friend Nathan, who also just started kindergarten, is the only boy. He doesn't seem to mind. Because I am now the kind of person who attends PTA meetings, I raise my hand and offer to coordinate a "snack roster" with the other moms, so we don't have to bring snacks every time. I hear myself asking "Can your kids eat sugar?" and "Anyone have any allergies?" and wonder if I've become a cyborg.

3:30 p.m.

Steph (Nathan's mom) and I are chilling at The Living Room Coffeehouse across the street. A smiling older man carries our snacks (all warm and toasty) up the stairs and we catch up on the kindergarten goss for what is actually a long time but feels like two minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Back to fetch the actors. They are jumping up and down because they've got good parts and lots to memorize. They are going to be "playing their parents," which worries me, especially since Jarrah's character is named Madge. I'm so glad they had fun. With all the chit-chatting, I suddenly realize David isn't there yet for the hand-off...

4:40 p.m. Steph offers to watch Jarrah until David arrives and I head back to Jarrah's school for Parent-Teacher Night. Only I hadn't counted on rush-hour traffic. Sigh. I am going to be late. Rats. Way to make an impression, Sam.

5:15 p.m.

And I AM late. Very late. I get some looks and quickly find one of the teeny-tiny chairs, trying not to look at anyone. There is a lot of talk about how much reading we should be doing each day. I am itchin' to cut to the chase and ask what happens when our kid gets in trouble. On the verge of raising my hand and announcing "Jarrah says she gets told off everyday for not listening and for talking in class--should I be concerned?" it suddenly occurs to me that we've reached an age when I have to represent--not me, but her. If I diss her in front of these parents, she might be ostracized as a hoodlum. I better be discreet. How does one do that, again?

5:45 p.m.

The second part of Back to School Night is a huge assembly, led by the principal. I absolutely adore him, but the room is like Bikram Yoga--about 104 degrees and mysteriously stinky. I realize that some of the information I've heard three or four other times, and that makes me feel like a real joiner. I have been to so many meetings already I've had Information Overlap! I rock.

6:15 p.m.

Talking with new friend Melissa S. and her husband in the courtyard. I love her. We read the same books, and her husband is a Joss Whedon fan.

7:00 p.m.

First one to arrive for my book club. Something smells good, which I'm glad about since I'm starving. Our friend Lisa is back in the club after three years of living elsewhere, so it's reunion night. Lots to catch up on. The delicious smell turns out to be Portabella Mushroom Lasagna, and it's scrumptious. I yum up two slices of lasagna, salad, watermelon, and two brownies before slowing down. Is it lack of sleep that's making me so hungry?

9:00 p.m.

Uh-oh. We haven't even talked about the book, or chosen our next one, and my eyes are closing. I'm usually the one yelling and waving my arms while everyone else looks sleepy. I feel totally anti-social, but I have to go; it's a long drive. Also we've been talking about certain delightful things that happen to your sleep and your moods at our age, and it's depressing the hell out of me. I'm hoping it's kindergarten, rather than age, that ails me. Someone offers me coffee for the road, since I look so out of it. "Are you kidding me?" I say, rather ungraciously. "I'll be up all night."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not Provincial In The Least

This week's San Diego Reader includes a review of The Cosmopolitan, the revamped version of the restaurant that dismayingly usurped the mariachi-and-fishbowl-margarita vibe of Casa de Bandini in Old Town some years ago. Now that Chef Amy DiBiase (of Roseville in Point Loma) has taken over, the news is very, very good. My main take-away is the photo tagline for the piece: "It's too good to waste on tourists alone."

"Tourists" got David and I thinking about vacations (or "holidays" as they're called in Australia) and a suitable place for a celebratory last meal with my in-laws Joan and John, who have been visiting from Perth, Australia. Now tourists they're not--they come here nearly ever year--but I can't ever resist the impulse to impress them with the riches of our fair city. David suggested that he, Jarrah and his parents could spend a lovely couple of hours strolling through the Mexican/Old West sights while I taught my Friday afternoon Nia class, then meet me for dinner at The Cosmopolitan.

From the moment I first parked my car in the dusty lot in the orange-y rays of the late-afternoon sun, this idea was smelling like success. I wended my way through the low-hanging pinatas with a post-workout endorphin buzz, looking forward to a juicy cocktail, not minding a bit that I couldn't find The Cosmo for several minutes of wandering. I finally spotted my family, posing for photos in a covered wagon just outside the wrap-around veranda of our destination. Turns out my anxiety about fighting the one-day-past-glowing-review dinner crowds for a coveted table was wasted--this is San Diego, after all, not New York. We were escorted through the main dining room to the patio (as I requested,) where only a handful of tables were currently occupied.

The place is looking beautiful. Someone was playing American standards on a piano in one corner, and a long, rectangular fire pit crackled away in the center. Compared to the raucous outdoor scene of Casa de Bandini, it's a peaceful oasis. Not that I didn't enjoy the mariachi scene; it's just that now you can tell the food is going to take center stage.

But speaking of stage, no sooner were we seated than a young man dressed in some sort of 19th century amusement hall get-up swooped over to the table. We had met him in the lobby, where he greeted us. The fact that he'd done a magic trick involving squishy red balls before we were seated had seemed serendipitous then, but now it became clear he was the evening's roving entertainment. He greeted Jarrah as "ma'am" and asked her lots of questions about what was in his fists, her fists and various other locations. The cutest bit was when he turned one ball into two, then two into three, and finally turned three balls into a giant foam numeral "4." But the real joy of watching this guy wasn't that he was good at magic tricks (and he certainly was) but how genuinely charming and easy he was around little children (we watched him with the table next to us, too, and the little boy there almost fell off his chair with excitement several times.) Jarrah was delighted, but I laughed out loud, too--he was so quick and clever. I have never seen anyone so masterful with both magic and kids. I would go back just to watch him. But don't take my word for it--check out this little video.

In a fine mood from magic, mirth, music and a well-positioned heat lamp directly above our table, we were greeted by our waiter, a knowledgeable and gracious man who never strayed to the sycophantic or snooty. He made some suggestions and told us he was an expert at wine pairings, but we ended up sticking to cocktails. I'd read in the Reader that the Cosmopolitan does a nice job with some unusual drinks, but we ended up going pretty traditional. Joan and I had the Cosmopolitan (pleasingly orange, like a sunset) John had the Lemon Drop, and David had a Side Car. Everyone slurped them down, though we did have some excellent Con Pane french rolls and soft butter to soften the impact.

I was eager to sample the Puree of White Corn Soup that I'd read about, and indeed, it was sweet as a summer kiss, very fresh and light, accented with a tinge of hot pepper oil that did not overwhelm. If it wasn't quite steaming hot, I had only my easily distracted self to blame, since I was giggling over the magic show and neglected it for too long. Joan had the gazpacho, flavorful as the bounty of a backyard veggie garden, complex on the tongue. I didn't try David's Charred Romaine Salad, but it didn't look like my thing--I don't care for wilted lettuce.

Relaxed after most of my Cosmo, I sat back and enjoyed the ambiance, the cooling evening creating a cozy mood on the terrace, and reflected that this is the kind of place I'd love to come often, and with large groups. There's a graciousness about the service--when I went to powder my nose between courses, I returned to a bus boy carefully re-folding my napkin and placing it on my chair. That made me smile. Though many of the tables began to fill as it grew later, there was never a sense that we needed to do anything but enjoy ourselves for as long as we wished. At one point, an older man approached our table and inquired about our evening. Turned out he was the owner. He asked what we were enjoying most, and we praised our magician friend to the rafters. "Would you like it if he stopped by again?" I said that we certainly wouldn't object (figuring "Hell, yeah!" might be a bit indecorous.) Within 10 minutes we were enjoying an encore performance, with all new material!

Joan and David ordered the Meyer Ranch sirloin with red wine reduction, and both arrived meltingly rare, as ordered. There was a great deal of ooohing and ahhhing about the tenderness of the meat. John had the Temecula Lavender Honey-Glazed Pork Cheeks (what sort of cheeks are they talking about?) and he yummed that up, too. Jarrah ate with more alacrity than usual when she received her fish sticks, which turned out to be a couple large pieces of white, flaky fish with a crispy coating, looking like actual fish. She was a little disturbed that the kids menu was labeled "Whippersnappers," since no could provide her with a satisfying definition for the word.

I had the chicken, which as chicken goes, was a stand-out. The inside was very juicy and the outside was perfectly crisp, a perfect foil for the lemony sauce it was sitting in. I especially loved the little ceramic urn on the side, looking like a savory pot de creme--it was a gratin of wild mushrooms and sweet corn, held together by a feathery light cream sauce that didn't disguise the taste of the vegetables.

Though it's not usually our thing, we had the house-made churros for dessert, because I'd heard good things. And oooooohhh. We should have ordered more than one plate of them. They were light and airy with some sort of soft custard in the center, and generously dusted with a zesty cinnamon mixture. They were perched on ribbons of caramel, and accompanied by a little pouring pot of hot chocolate sauce. We each got about two bites, but they were two bites of heaven.

One of the amazing things about The Cosmopolitan is you get all this classy food and service, but it's not a break-the-bank kind of meal. The menu is designed to highlight local meat and produce, but with simple preparations that won't overwhelm either tourists (who are sure to eat here because of the location) or one's wallet. While it's not super-cheap, most items on the menu are under $20, and you get a pretty sweet experience along with your dinner.

When Jarrah brought him a tip, Magic Boy stopped by our table to say goodnight, like an old friend. After a long story about his great-grandfather, culminating in the creation of a paper rose souvenir for Miss J, he asked if she'd like to see him disappear. She said yes. And so he put a napkin over her head and scrammed. "Oh, I see him," she said. "He's just around the corner."

Hope he'll still be there when we come back. And my magical powers tell me that we will.

Friday, September 10, 2010

School Daze

School seems to be going well.

This morning it only took Jarrah remembering that today is "Friday Fun Day!" to bounce her out of bed. I can't get any intel on what the "Fun" in that catchy moniker might entail, so hopefully I'll be able to crack the code later. I don't kid myself, though--someday (and that someday might be Monday) she will stamp her feet and whine "I don't WANT to go to school!" And I will sigh and think to myself: Now she sounds like a normal child.

I've learned a few things in my first few days of kindergarten. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Although Jarrah claims she's never spoken to anyone in her class (except the two kids she already knows) an orange-haired moppet with big, brown freckles named Kayla comes out to bear-hug her at pick-up time each day. When questioned about Kayla, Jarrah waved a hand in a dismissive gesture and said "Oh, that's one of my new best friends."

2. I am way behind the power curve by not knowing The Kissing Hand. Damn if that book doesn't come up in conversation every day now.

3. Jarrah's teacher gets things DONE. Thursday was Red Day, and last night Jarrah was saying "Red is spelled R-E-D." I've never heard her spell anything before. And this was after only three days! Also, Mrs. R. sent out an e-mail last night detailing what they've studied this week, the books they've read and the inside scoop on The Mystery of Hot Lunch. I didn't get this much info when Jarrah was in private school!

4. That said, public school bureaucracy is kind of hilarious. So far. I had to download an application to volunteer in Jarrah's class, and next week I have to take a TB test to go with it. Jarrah's teacher told me I could turn in my packet of forms to the office ("I'm taking them there right after this anyway") but the office said I had to give them to the teacher. When I said "But she said she was just going to bring them here!" they sighed like I had looked behind the wizard's curtain. When I picked Jarrah up early yesterday, the principal himself (lovely man, Mr. McD.) wrote out an "early dismissal" slip in triplicate, but mentioned that in future I should call ahead. I couldn't stop myself from saying that I'd asked if I should do that, and been told not to bother.

5. I am proud that I've had a run of three days packing lunch the night before. I did forget to put out clothes last night, so that makes only two there. I've mastered the "separate snack bag" issue but Jarrah tells me in no uncertain terms that she wants to buy her lunch from now on, and that she "hates sandwiches, all sandwiches." Sigh. She saw a couple classmates eating chicken nuggets, and it's all over for my turkey and smoked gouda. I'm just happy that the only options are main dishes and salad bar, or my girl would be eating chips, cookies and candy for her three choices, every day. She has been given a four-digit code and a pretend "pin pad" to practice it on, and Monday will be the day. It's like she's in training for the lunch line Olympics.

6. Jarrah suddenly seems so mature. Maybe it's the mastery of a new place and schedule, or being given more responsibility, or something about the way her teacher is treating her. I expected tired and cranky at home, and instead she's been more cheerful and reasonable than ever. (Hope I don't jinx that.) Oh, and none of this legendary tiredness I'd heard tell of: the first night, we tried to put her to bed early, and she came out and complained about it until after nine.

7. Recess is still the biggest thing since sliced bread. Scratch that: it's way bigger, since sliced bread is now totally anathema around here.

8. Backpacks are a lifestyle choice. Everything goes in there in the morning: lunchbox, water bottle, snack bag, change of clothes, jacket, folders. In the evening, I mustn't forget to take the lunchbox out, and more importantly, the folders, with their "Keep at Home" and "Return to School" sections. So much to be Returned to School. Hard to stay on top of it.

9. It's only been four days, and I am totally over MY new lifestyle. Oh, the school part is great, and I can even accept the snack bags. But the alarm clock? Readers, don't hate me when I say I haven't used the alarm clock (except for plane trips) in years. Now it makes a terrible noise every morning in the middle of my dreams. The days feel bizarrely long--it gets to be 6:00 p.m. and I think "Have I been awake for two days?" Afternoons are a blurry haze of "Where and when can I get more coffee?" And if you're hating me for that alarm clock comment, you really will lose respect when I tell you I haven't made it through a single morning without tumbling back into bed, stone-like, for an hour. And it's only an hour because I set the alarm. Will I ever adjust? At night, I sit in bed, reading my book, holding back a wave of panic: Will I be able to fall asleep at this ridiculously early time? And if not, will I be nodding off all day tomorrow? So far, the answers have been a resounding No and Yes.

10. Weird to think all of this will become...ROUTINE. And so far, everyone has been very nice and we've gotten a lot of personal attention. Hope that lasts.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

K Girl

Jarrah started kindergarten this morning. And was a total champ about it. Her mama? Not so much.

For one thing, I felt like bloody hell when the alarm went off. I think I lay awake most of the night, heart pounding. What I was afraid of is unclear, but that never stops me from wasting precious z's at ungodly hours. I had super-smartly packed her lunch and laid out her clothes the night before (wonder how long that will last?) and drilled her on how there would be no TV with breakfast anymore. She was sound asleep when I touched her arm and she gasped when I said it was time to get up. "What? But I just went to bed!" You and me both, kid.

The back-to-school dress we'd planned was too big and missing a bow (!) so we scrambled for a back-to-school skirt instead. She was very excited about her backpack and her new shoes, and eager to get in the car for once.

The crowds were teeming blocks away from school, so we nabbed the first spot we could find. Turned out to be a good one, since it was across from the (often locked) front gates. A lot of kids were posing in front of the school sign, which I thought was a cute idea.

And that is where my jaded, grown-up, my-kid-has-already-been-in-school-four-years resolve fell to bits. I called out "Jarrah, why don't you pose in front of the..." I was about to say "Dailard sign!" but no sound came out, and some tears did. Uh-oh, I thought. I was totally not going to do this.

As we passed through the gates, the first bell rang. Those babies are LOUD. Jarrah gripped my hand and looked at me like "Please don't let them hurt me!" That broke my heart. Her first experience with school bells. They really are awful. I think she is also terrified of tardy slips since I've threatened her with them for six months now.

We saw Jennie and Cameron, the two moms from Price whose kids are in Jarrah's room, standing outside the class. I asked David to take our pic together, as you can see. There were two buckets in front of the door, one for depositing lunch boxes, and one for "snack bags." Here's where I fell down on the job: no snack bag. I must correct that tomorrow.

I don't think we really got a true goodbye. There was no tremulous eye contact, fierce hugging, smothering kisses or desperate last reaches. Suddenly, she was just...gone. Inside the inner sanctum, where no parents were invited. I understand why, but it was odd. I handed over our "donations," feeling not so puffed up with pride anymore now that I'd blown it with the snack thing.

Right after there was a "Coffee Jitters" event in the Teacher's Lounge--muffins and chit-chat with the the Parent Teacher Foundation and the principal. I couldn't hear very much. I ended up talking with Melissa, whose son is not in Jarrah's room, about how her goodbye was unsatisfying. "Were you hoping he would run into your arms in slo-mo through a field of waving grasses, backlit with beauty lighting?" I teased. "The higher our expectations, the more unsatisfying the real thing." She said she supposed that was true. Of course, I talk a good game, but we all know I was just trying to convince myself with my jaunty words.

There was a freaky moment when we saw--from a distance--Jarrah's entire class being marched toward us single-file for their tour of the cafeteria. We knew this because we'd seen another class doing it earlier. But Jarrah's class was clad--every last one--in some sort of giant bright-orange t-shirt. "They've been orangified," David remarked in his inimitable way. But to me, it looked like nothing so much as a tiny chain-gang on the move...kitted out to go pick up trash on the side of the highway. Gave me the shivers.

Before we knew it, Jittters time was over, and David dropped me at home and went to work. I promptly fell into bed for an hour in a sandbag-like stupor, and awakened to my alarm so I could take myself to the movies and sulk. I saw Going the Distance, which I actually found extremely funny--I always love Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, and the jokes were a bit shockingly raunchy, in a good way.

Afterward, I could barely wait to go pick up the young miss and hear about the day's adventures. I ran into Cheri inside the gate, and we waited with a massive crowd for the teachers to bring the kids out to the flagpole, like we'd been told. By the time we realized that the whole school was out there except our kids, I had fallen down on the job again. I slalomed my way through the crowd to Jarrah's room only to find I was THE LAST MOM in there, and Jarrah was plenty relieved to see me (she wasn't alone--a bunch of former students had stopped by to visit with her teacher.) I heard "She had a great day today!" in passing and then Jarrah took over about the beautiful hand-shaped sugar cookie with a red heart cut out of the center (the heart was in the bag, too) "one of the moms" had made for them to go with their reading of The Kissing Hand. (Had just heard about this from Melissa, because apparently it's the go-to "starting kindergarten" book--am I living under an adult-sized rock?)

I kidded Cameron (always the crafty mom at Price) that "someone was an even bigger suck-up than her" for baking all the kids cookies on the first day, but I think I was just jealous that I never think of such things. Jarrah was most excited that they had "TWO recesses!" and the fact that I remembered I'd promised her a Slurpee after her first day of school. She also said "Do you think you could not be the LAST MOM THERE tomorrow?" Um, I'll make an effort.

She said she wasn't even tired. That makes one of us. I could use a long nap and a focused meditation that reassures me I still have some purpose in life. Seriously, I've felt underwater all day. Does my baby still need me? What's to become of me now?

I mustn't sign off until I acknowledge the dear, dear people who thought of us today and let us know by phone, blog or e-mail. A big shout-out to Mary, Lisa G., Jennifer S., Caroline, Grace, Robyn, Synthia and Melissa E. Your words meant so much to me!

Monday, September 06, 2010

And That's A Wrap

My heart feels weird. Jarrah starts kindergarten in the morning. I just told her a story and she's not falling asleep. Maybe my heart is yearning for the days when we didn't have to wake up at 6:00 a.m. for the next...forever.

Had a nice Labor Day. David's parents are visiting, and we were invited to Mary and Paul's for brunch. She made baked French toast--man, is that good. After two helpings, I was ready to be carbon froze, so I begged the group for a ramble through the outlet malls in Carlsbad. "Clearly not Labor Day for the people working in the shops," noted my mother-in-law. It was a total zoo there. I got way over-stimulated, and after the weekend I've had, I didn't have far to go. But it was still fun, and I got Jarrah a few things and myself a gray cardigan sweater. I have a thing about gray, though I like to spell it "grey" as the English do.

Last night was our last performance of Twelfth Night. (Not really, since we are also doing something called "Ten Plays in Ten Hours" for the San Diego Shakespeare Society on Sept. 25 at Horton Plaza. Stay tuned.) And it was our best, I believe. Unlike the previous night, when they never turned off the freakin' fountains and we attempted to scream over them to no avail (plus everyone was forgetting their lines) we were totally on, crisp and clean with no caffeine. I had a blast, only wishing the whole business was longer.

There was a little cast party after, which I may or may not have been instrumental in procuring (what? a show with no cast party?) and it was a beautiful evening to eat pizza and enjoy a view of San Diego Harbor from high on the hill. It was smallish as these things go, and wound up unusually early, so a few of us prevailed upon Lisa--recently employed as a Victorian-era tour guide of San Diego spirits--to show us the spooky sights.

It was a dark and stormy night, Readers. Well, by San Diego standards: a brisk wind whipped bits of leaves around the sidewalks of Old Town, and a chill in the air caused me to wrap my cardigan a bit more tightly. The tour began with a radiant recitation of Poe (Lisa is an actress, after all!) and I was instantly enchanted. How is it that I've been in San Diego since '93 and never knew the ghosty parts of Old Town? From the cobweb-covered baby shoes under glass to the rock-ringed headstones in the little graveyard to the nuclear-accident-sized hydrangea bushes behind the historic Whaley House (designated "haunted" by the U.S. government!) I was delighted throughout. I actually did feel a little creeped out a couple of times. And though I could tell I was also nodding over on my feet from a combination of theater adrenaline, out-of-town guests, pre-kindergarten anxiety and restless nights, I felt wildly alive and think I'll always remember it. Really, a very special way to celebrate the end of a performance run.

And now the young one is asleep. Tomorrow, David and I are taking her to school together. I don't think I'll cry. That's too obvious.

But my heart is definitely feeling weird. Follow-up soon.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Yesterday was kind of a big day.

It started off with a trip to Encinitas to see Jarrah's doctor. And why were we going to the doctor a mere few days before the start of kindergarten? Well, that's exactly why. Someone's mommy has really dragged her feet about finishing those kindergarten shots. (Her name is Jarrah.) Maybe because the last round required the mommy and a nurse to sit on Jarrah while the shots were administered.

In the car, we talked about how this time could be easier if she didn't struggle like an gazelle being tagged for zoo observation. And then I had the doc make a speech to this effect, too. I think she was most convincing when she said that struggling makes the shots hurt more because the needle goes in deeper and get knocked around on the way out. Oof. I suggested we do an arm instead of a thigh this time, and the doc agreed this would hurt less. Then Jarrah said something priceless:

"No! Both of these are my lucky arms!"

We did the arm (the right, since she's a lefty.) I pinned the other arm, which is prudent since she tends to involuntarily put the hurt on the nurse with whatever she can. She didn't struggle. And she didn't cry! She said "OW!" very indignantly and then the nurse and I crowed "You're all done!" and the profound relief on her little face almost triggered tears from me instead. And no fever afterward (like last time) which was good because we were out late at a baseball game last night.

At her request, I dropped Jarrah at David's office so she could go to lunch with the boys, and I headed for school. I wanted to turn in the finally-completed physical form, but I was also itchin' for the classroom scoop! When I arrived, there were four women in the office, all of whom seemed really suspicious. Turns out it was a California state "furlough day," which I think means "No one comes to work but we have to open shop anyway, so everyone is a temp." I got a lot of blinky blankness when I said I wanted to turn in the medical form, and then I was crestfallen to hear, upon inquiring about the classroom assignments, that they wouldn't be available until after 4:00. I wasn't coming back.

There was a pony-tailed blond woman in the office who heard me, and suddenly said "Do you know the child's last name?"

I resisted a number of unhelpful cracks here and simply answered. "Doesn't ring a bell," she said. I turned to go.

"What's her first name?"

"Jarrah," I said.

"You mean Jarrah, the tallest tree in Australia? That Jarrah?"

I was dumbstruck. She was Australian? No, but she interviewed Jarrah at the assessment! She said Jarrah was one of the few children who knew anything about the origins of her name. And guess what--this was Jarrah's new teacher!

She walked me to her classroom for a tour, chatting up a storm. I ended up hanging out with her for nearly an hour. She's a "close-talker," and I found myself inching backwards bit by bit so I could see more than just her eyeballs. I had this surreal, distant feeling where I kept telling myself, "This is it. Jarrah's first year of school. She's going to be in this room, with this teacher, every day for a whole school year." I was pleased to learn that two of the four friends from preschool are also in her room--that should really help the transition. I really like close-talking teacher--she's very open, and I appreciate her philosophy on several things already. For instance, she is the only one of the K teachers who doesn't give homework ("believe me, they work hard enough during the day") and until November, they don't "work" after lunch ("it's diminishing returns when they're that tired.") I also liked how she's the only teacher who has no good-behavior incentive program (something about earning points for prizes?) and instead tells them "In the real world, everyone has a job, and if you don't do your job, you get fired." "Jarrah is totally going to get that," I assured her. "I've never done charts or stickers or any of that myself."

When I got home, the giant packet of Jarrah name stickies had arrived. Together with the new (monogrammed!) backpack and the huge bag of copy paper and wipes (will they be learning in a petri dish?) I am "donating" to the classroom, that should complete her school prep. She will arrive fully immunized and thoroughly labeled on the first day to find the cardboard tent with her name perched on a little table in Room 42.

No doubt she'll be wearing a new back-to-school dress that she'll complain is hot and scratchy, in the tradition of early September in southern California, a rite of passage I endured myself.

Not so very long ago, it seems. We'll watch her go into that room with the colorful rug, the maps, the blocks, the wall charts, the book caddies and the (slightly outdated) computers, and she'll come out again very much CHANGED.

And I'll try to hold myself together while that's happening.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Holding Hands With Your Heart

Ah, September. I was humming that song this morning, so I looked up the lyrics, which I've never been able to hear properly. Turns out there's a reason--they're totally unintelligible. Make no kind of sense at all. But I still like the song.

The weather is perfect here (sorry to those of you in less-perfect climes) so I decided we'd celebrate our last week of summer with a trip to the beach today. Since we didn't have our usual beach partners-in-crime (Hi Steph!) we didn't go as far, just to Coronado. We stopped for sandwiches (okay, and cookies) on the way and then I had to carry all the gear across an expanse of sand that seemed as wide as the Sahara.

It was worth it, though. Once we were settled on our blanket, the sand was soft and white and seaweed-free, the waves gentle, a purple mist crowned Point Loma and--behind us--the Hotel Del rose like a fairy princess castle on the horizon. The seagulls threatened our sandwiches, but we held them at bay, and shortly after Jarrah made the acquaintance of the Brothers Jonah and Julian (she made a third "J") and spent the next several hours with them. There was a lot to do--jumping over waves, for instance. Building a sandcastle with the Panera cup I found rolling on the floor of my car (aren't I resourceful?) Kicking water at each other and screaming. Throwing a big piece of driftwood as far as they could and seeing who could nab it first as it surfed back. I felt sort of gently buzzed from the sound of the waves, and would have been completely comfortable if only our beach chairs weren't currently residing in the back of David's car. One can't exactly lie down and nap when one is responsible for a child, though that is when one really needs to do it.

I did bust out my Kindle, having seen those lovely ads where the girl reads hers on the beach, and wanting my own test run. Well, beach sakes alive, that's no false advertising--it's a pleasure to read that thing in direct sunlight. Especially compared to my phone, which I had to tent under some towels every time I wanted to see a text. I'm very much enjoying my current book, and funny story about how I found it. Like my last book, The Pull of the Moon, this one is also by Elizabeth Berg, and that's because I remembered that our book club book was by Elizabeth Berg when I was out with my Kindle and I decided to bet on the title being her latest book. Was wrong. But I'd already bought it, so now I'm reading it, too. It's called The Last Time I Saw You (was there ever a more delicious title?) and the premise is pretty yummy, too--about a 40th high school reunion, narrated from the perspective of a half-dozen different reunion-ees.

I think Jarrah could have stayed there until dark, so happy was she with her "new best friends," but I could tell I was getting rather toasty in some weird areas. So we headed back to the car.

And on the way home we heard that classic '80s chestnut "The Pina Colada Song" by Rupert Holmes. And I laughed to myself because I was in high school when that first came out and it's taken me until THIS SUMMER to realize that when he says:

If you're not into health food
If you have half a brain

he actually means in the glass half-full sort of way, ergo, he's not an idiot and wants to meet a woman who's not an idiot, either. But here's how I've heard it for 25 years:

He's an idiot, and wants to meet a woman who's also an idiot so she doesn't tax him too much, or talk a lot, or show him up in Scrabble. And the really scary part is that--in high school--I think I heard "health food" and couldn't get past how horrible that sounded--even though he was saying she should NOT be into health food, the fact that he was mentioning it might mean he was an idiot. Because that's how I thought of health food in high school--it was food for idiots.

So, I guess in addition to being a glass half-empty sort of girl, I'm also a girl who's been courting heart trouble since my teen years.

At least it was a nice day at the beach.