Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reasons I'm Fabulous

There are so many reasons to admire me: I'm smart, I'm funny and I've been told that my knees are quite fetching. I'm also a good mother, a faithful wife and a loving and loyal friend and sister. However, please please please don't tell me you admire me because I've adopted children! Especially if it's followed by "....of course, I could never do that - you don't know what you're getting!"  You make it sound as if I did it out of a sense of noblesse oblige vs. simply wanting to raise my own children to grow up exactly as I want them to be. And being the sensitive type, I also hear "I have a better toy than you do" underneath their words, even if the person has four grown children who never visit.

No, I didn't know what I was in store for.

A disclosure: Yes, I would have liked to have gone through the childbirth experience, complete with blowing up real good and slapping the hands of strangers who felt the need to touch my belly.  And breaking down when well-meaning strangers felt compelled to say things like "my aunt was about as pregnant as you are when she miscarried. Don't eat any turkey - it spoils way too quickly." Although as one of my friends pointed out years ago, I get gassed up to get my teeth cleaned, so actual childbirth might have been traumatic for me. No, neither John nor I felt a loss that we have not passed along our genes. As we say in our house, we come from a long line of alcoholics and horse thieves, not to mention having bad eyes and generous rations of madness passed down from relatives who like to keep things real.

In no particular order, here are comments I've heard over the years:

"You're a saint!!!!" or a variation of something like "with all the kids in the U.S. who need homes, how could you adopt internationally?"

"What will you do if it doesn't work out?"

"I bet you love them just as if they were yours."

"Do you have any children of your own?"

"Why didn't you adopt special needs children? They are the ones who really need homes."

"How much did she cost?"

"Where did you get her?"

"Does she speak Chinese?"

"Will she speak Chinese?"

When standing in line at the grocery store, I am often tempted to get back at all the strangers who have accosted me over the years. I  imagine myself pouncing on an unsuspecting woman, standing in line with her child to buy some bread and a roasted chicken because she is too tired to cook after a long day at work.  "So, how long did it take for your afterbirth to come out when you had your little boy? Did you eat it? Because I read that Tom Cruise said he was going to eat Suri's placenta and the cord! How gross is that? What are you making for dinner?"

Or "I bet you had to do in-vitro to get your twins. How much did that cost you? And then I bet you had a C-section. Poor thing: your bikini days are over! I've heard that Vitamin E works well on that gigantic scar you must have."

But I refrain, because I was raised better than that. Just like I don't ask questions like "so why did you park in a handicapped spot and then run in here wearing those fuck-me stilletos? Have you no shame?"

One more thing, while I am on my soap box:  Please don't call my girls my forever kids - the phrase makes me want to puke. They're just my kids.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stuff me with Lemons and Pass the Gravy

Things for which I am grateful:
(written over the course of several hours on Thanksgiving day)

It's early afternoon on Thanksgiving day and I don't have to be anywhere; nor am I expecting visitors.  This year, for the first time ever, it's just my nuclear family. I slept until after 10, and we're all still in our pajamas.

I picked fresh herbs from my garden (sage, oregano, rosemary, lemon thyme) to put under the turkey skin and stuffed it with lemons and onions. Other than that, I prepare it just like my mom did: soak cheesecloth in butter, wrap it around the turkey and baste frequently. The skin comes out so crisp that, just as when I was a girl, we strip the turkey bald and eat the skin before the turkey makes its appearance at the table. For gravy: remove the cheesecloth; move the turkey to a platter and leave cheesecloth in pan. Add some water and boil the cheesecloth, scraping up turkey bits as you go. Add some flour to thicken. We call this rag gravy.

After more than a quarter century, I learned something new about my husband: he likes green bean casserole. Despite thinking it vile, I made one for him.

Last night I made applie pie while my youngest daughter (sans braces) made Nigella's chocolate pots. We spend six hours at the orthodontist office yesterday and she is no longer a metal mouth. I told her that we're going to allow her in family pictures now that she's pretty. Three people in the office said, "oh, she's been pretty all along!" I need a big emoticon over my head.

Back to the chocolate pots: I forgot to tell her to pulse the food processor gently when she poured in the milk and cream, so half of the choclate scrumptiousness ended up on the counter.  No matter; we'll still have a smaller version of a tasty treat with fresh whipped cream. She made my mother's lemon meringue pie today, which almost makes you cry when you take your first bite: it's that good.

My husband and oldest daughter have taken over the kitchen, chatting companiably, after I helped put things away. My turkey carcass is already bubbling for turkey soup (see background of picture). I remember asking my mother one day why she didn't make it anymore; she said "because I don't have to." Unlike her, I don't have five kids (thank you, Jesus) and don't have to put $100 in cash in four envelopes every month as my grocery money.

I wanted to shower, but the dishwasher is running so I had to settle for washing my face. Now I'm going to pour myself a glass of wine, go downstairs and maybe watch "Little Fockers."  Here is a treat for you, along with my best wishes.

Agnes Toone Lemon Pie

 People used to say that my mom made pies like other people make iced tea because she made it seem as if no effort at all was involved.

Sift together:

1 ½ C sugar
6 T cornstarch
½ tsp salt

Blend gradually:

½ C cold water
½ C fresh lemon juice (first zest the lemons)

When smooth, blend gradually:

3 beaten egg yolks
1 T butter

Stirring constantly, gradually add 1 ½ C boiling water.  Bring mixture to a full boil, stirring gently.  As it begins to thicken, reduce heat and allow to simmer, slowly for no more than a minute.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 tsp grated lemon peel.  Pour into baked pie shell.  Cover with meringue.


Note:  Eggs separate much better when they are cold; however, the whites should be room temperature when you’re beating them for meringue.

Pre-heat oven to 325.  Whip until frothy:  4 egg whites.  Add ¼ tsp. cream of tartar, and whip until stiff, but not dry.  Beat in, 1 T at a time, 3 T sugar.  Beat in ½ tsp vanilla.  Bake 10 – 15 minutes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Marvelous Mom has Left the Building

My kids started back to school last week. How did they grow up to be sophomores, and when are they going to get the hell out of my house and give me some peace? 

They have turned from carefree kids who stayed up late, slept in and endlessly discussed how bored they were: 

to sullen teens who already resent me. They don't appreciate me asking them (in the nicest possible way) "how do you think you're going to get a scholarship with a B on a math test? Dad and I are going to be lucky if we get Alpo to eat when we retire, and you think we're paying for your college?"

It was so much more fun when they were younger and all I had to do was quiz them on their spelling, give them their baths, read them stories, nag at them "just brush the teeth you want to keep!!!"  - that magical time when they thought I hung the moon.  That I was the bees' knees.  That I was the funniest person on earth. I was mommy, hear me roar! I couldn't even have privacy in the bathroom. The one in the purple wig would come in while I was trying to have a nice poop, stand at the door and say "Mommy, do you want your privacy?

"Yes, angel, I do - thank you."

"OK," she'd say as she shut the door, came and sat on the edge of the bathrub and laughed as she looked at me with adoring eyes. Because in those days, privacy meant US.
After 6th grade it got REALLY hard - you know that show "Are You Smarter than a Sixth Grader?" Well, I'm not when it comes to math and science. Or history. I learned that stuff on cave walls and haven't had to put it to use much. They've learned not to ask questions though: enough "are you seriously asking me that question?  What is WRONG with you?" puts them off their game. It's not mommy anymore; it's mom or mama. Too often words go unspoken, such as when I ask them personal questions.

"How was your day?"

"Fine."  ("Bitch, why are you asking me that?")

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Nesting Loon - Tales from the South

Remember George Bailey - the richest man in town? That's how I felt at my Tales of the South premiere on July 19. Well, to be honest, I didn't feel that way until later. That night and the previous week, I went round and round the bend: the world might be falling further into chaos, but what about ME?

My tale was of my two-year madness while waiting to hear that our youngest daughter was waiting for us in China. (That six-month old baby disappeared, and in her place is a teenager - enough said.) I am still high from the response of the audience: they laughed in all the right places, shed tears in others. Friends in the audience supported me both through that long wait and through this one, because I also went a bit barmy at the thought of appearing in front of an audience. 

Years ago I worried that my baby might be ugly; this time I obsessed over how my looks. I wanted to look casual and chic, as if I had been to a clambake on the beach and didn't have time to change for a formal dinner party. I would show up with windblown hair and my cheeks kissed by sunlight, laughing and apologizing for my casual wear. The women in their designer gowns would wonder "how does she pull it off? Except for her slightly fishy smell, she makes us look like real bowsers."

After days of agonizing, I wore a $12 sundress from Half of Half.  Because it was sleeveless and short (attire usually reserved for watching television or working in the yard), I HAD to tan - just as I did all those years ago in my nesting phase. However, slapping some tanning lotion on my legs wasn't enough:  I went to a place similar to a car wash where you stand in a booth and are blasted by chemicals. (I also read about places where I could have a Professional blast me with chemicals - it's called Airbrush Tanning. I am not making this up.)   I felt as if  I'd come from a day of installing asbestos while chain smoking Camels. However, after I staggered into the lobby, I found out that included in the price was a second round.  I can't turn down free stuff! So I went back two days later. I put on my little protective cap but forgot to cover the back of my head, so part of my hair got tanned too. I thought it looked kind of punk.

I got a real haircut (vs. my $6 cuts at that place where the clowns stand by the side of the road in the heat, luring you in with great deals. I could write a whole blog about how much I hate clowns, so even I am curious as to my motives on that one). My real hairdresser (who forgives me when I get $6 cuts and trim my own bangs) offered a a generous gift: on my way to the Starving Artist Cafe, I can pop in and she will pouf my hair. Because she knows that no matter how good the cut, I can't take care of it. The last time I used a blow dryer, I smacked myself in the forehead with it (I am not making this up either).  To top it off, I got a brow wax:  I look much better with two distinct eyebrows. Because I'd gone so overboard on my dress, I gave myself a pedicure.

What made me feel like George Bailey the next day was thinking about the many friends who had shown up for moral support - two long tables filled with them, my current husband and my daughters' friend from pre-school, Billie. (The girls were at Red Cross Camp.) They all beamed with happiness for me - had you seen them, you might have thought each of them had won the lottery. Most had been through my initial journey, and here there were, all these years later, still listening and resisting the urge to say "Snap out of it! Can you think of someone besides yourself for one minute!!!!"  I sat next to a friend who suggested that I take a big swig of wine right before going on to calm my nerves; you couldn't tell from her demeanor that she has a child in the hospital.

I raise my glass to all of you - I would be writing from the asylum without you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Mermaid's Tale

I've been thinking all day about about an incident I left out of my original post. The first full day of vacation, my youngest buried herself in the sand, which for some reason prompted me to go into Hulk Hogan mode. I kept hurling myself down on her in that wrestler's move -- although I was not springing back up. I was cracking myself up while she obviously thought it was too lame to even remark upon - she just kept rolling her eyes. I might have been literally cracking myself up though: a full 14 days later, after a pound of BC powder, I still feel like I cracked a rib. Which reminds me of doing the same thing several years ago at the Clinton Library: the girls were rolling down the hill and kept saying "Come on, mom! It's so much fun!" Again I couldn't resist: I brought my hands to my chest (to cut down on wind shear), rolled down the hill and suffered for two weeks.

The moral of the story: don't roll your chickens before they are hatched.

I wish I'd saved the blog I started in the middle of our beach vacation last week - I had my laptop on the table outside and couldn't even read what I was writing because the sun was so bright. It had something to do with bliss.

Now that I'm back to reality, I can't recall the exact feeling - I published it by accident and frantically called my daughter to come NOW and delete it. It might have had a spelling error or something, and I can't afford to lose any faithful fans.

The funniest image I have from the trip is me, rolling around on the beach in my old-lady bathing suit, as shown below. It's a one-piece with a skirt almost to my ankles.

The waves were very strong the whole week we were there. They battered and bruised me, and in the end took something precious from me. At one point they almost succeeding in ripping my left arm from its socket; at another point I almost chipped a tooth; several times I was spun over so many times I didn't know which way was up. A couple of times I felt as if I'd been punched in the face, which was painful but an effective way of clearing my sinuses. Then I would head out again - this is my idea of fun. On more than one occasion, I almost staggered to the safety of the beach, only to have the waves cut me down at the knees. I can't spring up gracefully like I could in my youth. First I have to make it to all fours, get my balance and then do the old heave-ho. This particular time I was knocked down and then just for fun, the waves hit me again and again so that I was literally rolling around on the beach, flailing, in shallow water. John and the girls missed it, but I hope someone who was feeling kind of blue saw me, because I laugh every time I think about it.

For a little night music, we headed to the beach to listen to fiddler crabs play their tiny fiddles; a crowd-pleaser was Some Enchanted Evening. They played their little crab hearts out until tourists with flashlights hunted them down and accidentally stomped them to death. They died doing what they loved.

We also entertained ourselves with a new family tradition: squeaking in the sand, which involves shuffling around in circles and making the sand squeak. We even learned how to do it backwards. I couldn't tell whether onlookers were jealous or thought us pathetic. Certainly no one asked us to teach them the moves.

I did something I've always wanted to do: parasailing. The sea was supposed to be brimming with life that day - sharks, turtles, rays - although all I saw was a dark hump in the ocean that might have been a turtle or a ray or a patch of seaweed. I told my youngest daughter that I should have nicked her a few times so we would have sharks circling below.

My oldest daughter thought it bizarre that we risked our lives on some frayed rope handled by men who spent eight hours a day with the sun beating down on their heads.

My friend Lynette, who has known me since my 20s and takes certain liberties with me, drove twice from Pensacola to visit. She also experienced a great loss on her second visit: the use of a couple of her toes, which she broke while frolicking in the waves with us one evening. We got up to find a scribbled note on a paper towel saying she would love to stay but had to seek medical help.

I was reminded that I have a habit of posing like this with my girlfriends, even when we're not at the beach.

As to what I lost at the beach: my wedding rings. I forgot to take them off for our last night swim. As I was howling in the sea at my loss, my girls held me tight (as much as they could, since we were still being battered about) and comforted me, while my husband dived repeatedly to look for my rings, reminding me that this was a loss I could bear. I hope a mermaid found my rings and treasures them as I did. Maybe she'll return them to me one day.

As for me, at that moment I realized what I had not lost. And I hope the mermaid who inherited my rings is as lovely as the two below.

 -- this is dedicated to my husband John and my girls, who remind me each day of my bounties.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Am I Ready for my Close-Up?

I’ve been feeling very Eyore-ish lately:  grouchy, touchy, under-appreciated and basically unhappy with my lot in life. Not tragically unhappy, where I could get some sympathy and maybe food and presents. Not even unhappy enough to whine about.

Then I received some validation from a source other than my dogs, who love me way more than is healthy.  No, my family didn’t hold an intervention in which they furiously berated each other for not realizing that they’d be lost without me. And I didn’t get a raise at work. 

My validation came in an email from Paula Morell, asking that I read an essay of mine for Tales from the South (http://www.talesfromthesouth.com/index.html) at the Starving Artist Café in Little Rock. My first two thoughts:

Holy shit, I’m going to be on NPR!

When Sally Field won the Oscar (best actress AND best head piece) for the Flying Nun and said something like “You like me, you really like me!”

Instead of wondering what to make for dinner, I’m looking for a media consultant. Before that, though, I have to figure out what to wear before a radio audience and how much voice lessons cost. I want an elegant, yet casual look and a smokey voice: Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil vs. an extra from Deliverance. I could write a book about how much that movie disturbed me.
Worrying about how I will sound makes me think of how David Sedaris makes fun of his own voice and how, being NPR people, we’re going to be the best of friends.

“I should have read Six to Eight Black Men,“ he’ll whimper over the phone from a hotel in the heartland. "My piece about their city being a magnet for porn actresses didn’t go over at all! They hated me!”

“Now, Blisters,” I’ll say. “I thought it was hilarious. I listened to it while I was preparing one of my fabulous dinner parties for my other NPR friends – the Crème brûlée almost fell because I was laughing so hard! By the way, I’m mailing you a small manuscript that I hope you’ll be honest about. “

I know the paparazzi is sure to come for me. I hate the thought of having to be “on” all the time.  Instead of hitting the girls at the store when they whine, I’ll have to throw back my head in a playful way, as if thinking “these girls of mine say the darndest things!” And forget going to the beach: I don’t want my thighs and buttocks to end up on the cover of the Inquirer where you have to guess whose they are. I'm just going to have to go incognito.

Frankly, my big worry is how many of my friends I'm going to have to give up for my new celebrity BFFs.  Sure, they've been loyal through thick and thin (to tell the truth, I'm a bit of a high-maintenance friend), but are they ready for being under a magnifying glass because they know me?  One thing is sure: I've GOT to get new dogs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Help, my mother is crazy and she can't get off my back

My teenagers have taught me a few valuable lessons lately. I know -- you want to puke -- I hate sentimental crap like that.

It's Okay If You Don't Want to Make Friends and Influence People

My younger daughter (we'll call her Perle Mesta) has one true friend from back in the day (we'll call her Tia) and has made several more her freshman year of high school.

You can see what drew them together.

The joy of seeing her with her friends has been somewhat tempered because the delight is accompanied by a pang that my oldest daughter (we'll call her Gwyneth) has not invited any friends to our house, nor has she been invited to sleepovers, parties or just to hang out. I frequently used subtle approaches such as, "if you want to invite friends over, that would be great! If you want to go to a movie with a friend, I'll drive!" You would think I would already have learned this lesson: while I would literally collapse without my friends, my husband describes himself as an "anti social worker." I just could not accept that Gwyneth could be happy without sleepovers and such, even though she's assured me that she's fine without them. I knew that of course she was in denial - if I need friends, everyone does. Three days ago she told me in the nicest possible way to bug off: she has friends at school but is perfectly happy with her own company. A friend of mine laughed when I told her last night because she has been saying the same thing for years: "I know you worry, but she is perfectly happy."

(Can you tell that I am a high-maintenance friend?)

Gwyneth in her younger years.

Making Cs at School Does Not Mean You Will End Up Living in a Box on the Street

Unless my life drastically changes, my kids are going to have to get scholarships to go to college. Because I think they are of superior intellect, I hound them about their grades - for their own good, of course. If they get Cs, I treat them like social pariahs. I go through stages:
  • When I was unemployed and checked their grades obsessively, I would attack them the minute they got home from school - and this was before I read about the Tiger Mom. (In my defense, I never called them garbage, just shiftless and lazy.) I could not believe that they were not making straight As and colleges weren't already calling, offering full scholarships, a car, a clothing allowance and an apartment for when their dad and I visited.
  • I'd swear that I didn't care: "I'm not going to check your grades anymore! I'll just wait a few years: either you'll be in college or you'll be working at a fast-food restaurant, serving your friends who are home from college on spring break. I don't care!"  
  • Threats followed by pathetic bargaining: "Don't think you're going to flunk out and live at home! I'm looking forward to my golden years; I don't need some punk-ass living in my basement. Let's make a deal: I'll give you $100 for each A!" 
  • Pleading: "You're too young to know that grades MATTER now. You're not in Oz anymore, Dorothy."
  • Depression: "I'm a failure as a parent! I don't deserve to have children! I shouldn't even be raising the pups!" Hiding from friends for fear they would brag about their no-neck kids. Trying to score Valium from tired-looking women at Kroger.

 When we got their grades this semester, I was so mean that I made my youngest cry and she basically asked me, "What's wrong with average?" I was totally ashamed and couldn't answer her.

It helped that a friend told me about a friend who went into deep debt because he wanted a degree from Harvard -- a teaching degree. His friend is now making $30,000 a year and probably planning a trip to South America so he doesn't have to pay back his crushing debt.

Keep Your Kids On Their Toes

Perle Mesta had two sleepovers last weekend: one here with her friend L. and then she and L off to spend the night with A. They went to the mall, where I was to pick her up on Sunday. She called her dad to let him know she was there, but when I texted, I didn't get a reply. Of course, I knew she had been kidnapped and was being used for medical experiments. But instead of going to crazy town, I decided to go to the mall and do some shopping (I was looking for a blue spring cardigan) and either I would bump into her or she would text me. I wasn't there long before I spotted the three of them, strolling arm-in-arm. They turned around almost immediately, and the look on my child's face was priceless, as they say: I couldn't hear her but read her lips: "Oh my God it's my Mother."

Before the mall incident.

It was great entertainment, but I also learned a lesson: it's not a bad thing for both of them to know that I might appear anytime, anywhere -- their Guardian Angel who can ground them. Which reminds me of a true story: Tia spent the night at our house many years ago, and she and said daughter had been back in our bedroom (because they loved our water bed) for a long time. I decided to spy on them - were they talking about boys yet? Instead, I discovered them going through a dictionary. I think they are as wise (and lucky) at choosing friends as I have been.

As I write this, Gwyneth told me that she has invited a friend over on Sunday. Sometimes you win.