Monday, August 31, 2009

Dream of Cognac Boots

I'm a little jumpy today. Money is on my mind. I have not so much at the moment. I'm down to $99.72 in checking and $5.73 in savings. I filed for unemployment again a couple weeks ago. I know that I qualify but it seems that my online application was lost. It might be awhile until the issue is resolved. With my husband's help, I'll juggle it somehow but I'm so over scraping by.

It helps to see the actual dollar amounts in my accounts. It's easy for me to get lost in a fog of financial denial. I spent 10 minutes looking at boots on Zappos this morning. It was cold, felt a little like fall for the first time this year. Made me think about brown boots. These babies in cognac are the frontrunners, on sale for a mere $92.80 (hey, I think I have just enough). I forced myself to close the laptop and walk away.

I've made some mistakes over the last couple years, incurred a little debt. I've gotten out of debt before but have just been treading water on my situation for the last several months. I feel a great amount of motivation to try a new endeavor. Talking over a couple ideas for something commercial with my brother . . . maybe a blog. Lucky for me, he's a software engineer and he's willing and ready to help but I'm hesitant. Seriously never doubted myself in the career sector. Now, I'm a specialist in career self-doubt.

But it's not an unusual situation in this day of foreclosures and unemployment extensions. Got to set the stress aside so I can think it through. Can't sit still any longer to write though. Need to keep moving. Helps me think.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rantings of the Sleep-Deprived

I'm in heaven . . . Daisy's at school, Violet's at daycare. Even with the pounding construction going on next door, it is so peaceful. All I want to do is crawl into bed and stay there for about 24 hours but I've got stuff to do . . . so I'm giving myself a few minutes to write before getting back to business.

I haven't really been sleeping since we got back. I'm wide awake until 2 or 3 then the kids take turns waking me up until 7, when the rush to get Daisy to school begins. I slept well on our trip but when we returned, my normal catalog of worries came back to haunt me.

I'm starting to think of job hunting as my imaginary hobby because no one else seems to be aware that I'm doing it. Maybe I'm deluded in thinking that I'm applying to jobs . . . maybe I'm really just sitting around all day typing: ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A VERY DULL BOY. Did I mention that I haven't been getting any sleep?

I'm still juggling multiple mini-projects related to tutoring, teaching, eBay, etc. and can barely keep it all going but I don't want to cut anything until I have at least one solid thing. It's becoming clearer by the day that I'm going to have to make something happen for myself, instead of waiting for that miracle job offer. I have this vague feeling that I can figure it out, but it's like when you can't quite remember a name. . . it'll come to you eventually if you stop trying so hard but your thoughts continue to chase after it.

But the first thing I need to figure out is how to get more sleep. Violet was my sleeping partner on the trip and she doesn't want to give it up. At 3 last night, she came to me in the dark, "pees, me eep with you." Oh, alright. It doesn't matter how many times I put her back in her own bed anyway, I'll still wake up to her not just next to me, but wrapped around me with her feet wedged under my back and her hands in my hair. Our dog sleeps where my feet should be. Sometimes Daisy also tunnels from the foot of the bed to my other side. And when I forget to lock the cats in the garage, there might be a black cat perched on top of us like the cherry on a human sundae (appetizing).

Here's what I fantasize about in times like these (don't be nervous) . . . a king-sized bed with cool white sheets in an empty room. A gentle breeze blows through the window. Adjoining the bedroom is a bathroom containing an oversize bathtub filled with warm, grapefruit-scented bubbles. There is a phone with the ringer turned off sitting next to a room service menu on one of the nightstands. And I'm completely alone.

I do realize that pretty much sounds like your standard hotel room.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The highlight of my trip last week was visiting my friend Madison in Portland. We've been friends since we were two, when our families were next door neighbors in San Pedro. Our twenty-something parents would throw the kids together while they hung out. Or the moms would get together to macrame or take us to the mall for shopping trips that would result in one wooden spoon. Money was tight but those were good days.

After a couple years, Madison's family moved to Long Beach. We had already experienced ups and downs in the way girls often do. We were frienemies . . . she cried too much in my opinion and I tended to be a little moody (still true). She moved away, and we officially became best friends. And then a miracle occurred: my parents bought the house next to theirs in Long Beach.

We became neighbors again at the end of kindergarten. It was awesome. We played dolls and barbies on the lawns in front of our houses, walked to school together until she became an Early Bird and I was made a Late Bird (how did they know?), and ran around with Daryl and Gerald, the crazy brothers from across the street. I told her that Santa wasn't real in kindergarten, which of course led to a huge fight then Madison crying and running to her mama. I instructed her on using soap to clean her private parts, which also led to Madison crying and calling for her mama. You get the picture.

But then she moved to Norcal and I moved overseas. We were devoted bff's and saw each other every summer. I would always wonder if we would still like each other, but we always clicked. We were on the same wavelength . . . showing up in the same navy pedal-pushers (cropped pants in 1983), randomly breaking into the same song at the same time (I don't normally sing around people), and going through the same phases.

I wish I had pictures of the Depeche Mode-Morrissey phase, around 9th grade I think. Or maybe I don't. When she visited that year, there was a lot of curling iron action followed by a healthy dose of hairspray, purple eye shadow, maybe some teal mascara, lots of black clothing, and to complete the look - but not until we left the house - menthol cigarettes. We would go to places like Knott's Berry Farm at night (dropped off by mom) and walk around, surveying the hot nightclubs (there were two) then dancing with boys who were competitive in the hairspray department. Sweet.

We lost touch in our early 20s, after a visit in San Francisco when it was clear we were going in different directions. Madison would call them her uptight years. Years later, she called on my wedding day when she was living in Ireland. It meant a lot but we didn't really get back in touch. We got together in Portland a few years ago and finally, I had my friend back.

Our same things now include . . . .wait for it . . . our dogs have the same name, her only niece shares a name with one of my daughters, and she's lactose intolerant like Violet. I know, you're literally blown away right now, but you have to understand I became obsessed with non-dairy cooking and dining for a while, and at the exact same time, Madison found out she was also dairy intolerant. She was the only one who didn't change the subject after a couple minutes. She even uses the same vegan butter.

And she doesn't really cry that much any more. Just the laughing kind of cry when we're up late telling stories and a little when we say goodbye.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Family Brewery Tour: The Triquel

Issaquah Brewhouse in Issaquah, Washington
Our friend who recently relocated to Seattle took us to this Rogue brewery in a small town about 30 minutes east of Seattle. We went there after a long drive when there was some obvious brewery burnout evident in the family. However, they had a lego playcenter and served their kids' meals on red frisbees (Daisy was embarrassed when she saw this picture but it was either this one or Violet crying hysterically). It also happened to be a Tuesday when if you wear a Hawaiian shirt, you get the first round free. The waiter generously gave us the discount for our scuzzy camping clothes.

There was a lot of kobe beef on the menu and I ordered the kobe tacos. The meat was decent but naturally greasy. The tacos were served plain with salsa and a couple other things on the side. The tacos would have benefited from better salsa, guacamole, and tortillas, but Californians tend to have high expectations for Mexican food. I can't remember much more, other than running back and forth between the table and the bathroom, breaking up lego standoffs, and entertaining/soothing the kids until it was time to leave. ttp://

The Pike Brewing Company in Seattle, Washington
This was probably my favorite brewery on the trip. They had lots of organic produce, local meats, and fresh seafood. They also served organic, nitrate-fee hotdogs, which is a big selling point for me. On top of that, the kids actually ate their food. On most kids' menus, there is: cheese pizza, mac and cheese, grilled cheese and hot dogs. Since Violet is lactose intolerant, we have to limit her dairy so she often gets the hotdog. But how many servings of nitrates do you really want to feed a three year old?

The best thing about the place, other than its location next to the Pike's Place Market and the better-than-most service, was the Crab and Artichoke Pizza. The waitress recommended we order it with the red sauce instead of the cream, which was a good call. It was covered with sweet Alaskan crab, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and organic garlic . . . so tasty.

Snoqualmie Brewing Company in Snoqualmie, Washington
If you are familiar with the TV show Twin Peaks, you might recognize this town where the series was filmed. It was a really hot day so we visited Snoqualmie Falls for a few minutes then stopped in at this small brewery, which seemed to be the only place open with air conditioning. I wasn't expecting much. The kids and I were really over the brewery stops at this point but I was pleasantly surprised by the food. For $12, we got a pizza big enough to feed the family - half Hawaiian, half barbecue chicken. I was thinking it wouldn't be much in comparison to the crab pizza but it was delicious. The red sauce had a kick to it and the chicken was perfect.

Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland, Oregon

And finally, our tour came to an end in Ashland. We stopped for dinner on our marathon drive home (we left Seattle at 11 am on Friday and didn't arrive home until 5 am Saturday morning). The kids had seen enough crayons and kids' menus to color that they started experimenting with using forks to launch crayons across the table and using their fists to drink their cherry lemonades. This brewery is 99% organic, according to one waiter. I had a blackened wild salmon sandwich and it was good, but I was ready to get home. Can't really give it a fair assessment. We had all been without a shower for the better part of a week and were completely disheveled with stench, and this happened to be the most upscale restaurant of the trip. I was surrounded by women with freshly washed hair, sparkly jewelry, and polished make up. They sat us by the door to the busy back patio so everyone and their mother walked by to enjoy the camping aroma. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

The End.

Family Brewery Tour: The Sequel

Mcmenamin's Old St. Francis School in Bend, Oregon

The plusses and minuses of this place could pretty much be summed up by these two pics. If you haven't heard, Mcmenamin's is a chain of breweries in Oregon and Washington. They buy old buildings and renovate them into artsy hotels with breweries and beautiful gardens. The buildings are awesome, the beer and food is ok to good (kind of like the Starbuck's of the brewery world), but the service is notoriously bad.

This particular Memenamin's is in an old Catholic school building. The walls throughout the hotel and brewery are painted in the style of art-student-on-acid and include lots of historical references to the purpose and people associated with the original building. This was our one hotel stay for the trip and the beautiful thing about it, besides the private shower and beds, was free access to their huge soaking tub as seen above. This giant hot tub with water splashing down from the fountain and lion heads is kept at a tolerable enough temperature that the kids could play in it for an hour at a time.

We did eat at the on-site brewery but I really wouldn't recommend it. The service was so slow that I had to leave with the kids - who were bouncing off the walls - before I finished eating. I ordered a green salad with grilled wild salmon, and it didn't seem to be very fresh or well-seasoned, especially for the price. The kids did love the tator tots that come with most of their entrees, but they are the same version that you can pick up in the frozen section of any supermarket. I later noticed that the bakery next door had gourmet sandwiches for about half the price of the brewery . . . such as tuna salad made from freshly caught tuna with lemon zest and sundried-tomato aoli. I would definitely skip the brewery next time.

Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River, Oregon
I love Hood River. I have friends who have lived there over the years and have visited several times. It's a picturesque town with lots of old buildings, good shopping, coffee houses, and drinking establishments on the Columbia River. The town is filled with fit people wearing tevas who are there to kite surf and mountain bike. The vibe is super casual.

This time, we made just one stop in town at the Double Mountain Brewery on our way to Portland. It is a tiny place with almost nonexistent service (you order at the bar). Their menu is assorted pizzas and salads. We love The Jersey Pie (hot capicola, provolone and marinated spicy peppers), which somehow tastes better than it should. I would have to say that it was the best food-beer pairing we had on the trip. The kids had the Sausage, Onion and Mushroom but it was all too spicy for them. Plus, there was no rootbeer. However, the kids kept an eye on the leather couches until one opened up and then happily took it over, giving us a few minutes to relax.

Mcmenamin's Spar Cafe in Olympia, Washington

You may wonder why we went to another Mcmenamin's after the lackluster experience we had in Bend. The thing is my husband really, really loves them and he arranged to meet some family we rarely see at the one in Olympia. At over three hours, this was a brutally long stop for the kids and I. We did have lots of fun meeting cousins, and luckily, there was a deserted pool table area where the kids could play. But by the end of the visit, I felt exactly like Violet did when she belly-flopped under one of the tables.

I ordered a seared ahi sandwich, and it was a huge piece of fish that was more cooked than seared on really big bready bread. Not bad, better than lots of what I'm able to make at home but not really that noteworthy. Service was solid though, and the waiter was nice about charging my cell phone. Oh, and I should mention the Ruby Ale. It's one of the only fruity beers that I like with just a hint of grapefruit.

Stay tuned for the final installment . . .

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Family Brewery Tour

For those of you who don't know, my husband is obsessed with beer . . . as in homebrewing, visiting breweries, and talking to people who make/serve beer. We just returned from a weeklong road trip to the Pacific Northwest that included nine brewery stops.

I have to admit that I was a bit wary of this trip, largely because of a similar trip we took before kids. Our good friend Ed joined us for the earlier trip, which resulted in some unnecessary nudity (let's just say I was the only one who consistently remained fully clothed) and one of my all-time favorite quotes.

Here's the scenario . . . Ed, my husband and I visited a friend in Spokane, who was a successful glassblower at the time. The glassblower generously sponsored the entertainment for the afternoon, which ended in a lavish feast at a brewery with all his employees. After much food and drink, my husband was loudly leading the convo from across the table and randomly commented that he would like to see a beaver since he had heard they inhabited the Spokane area. One of the younger glassblowers was so offended by my husband's audacity that he turned to me and declared angrily, "You can't just go out and SEE a beaver. I've lived here all my life and I ain't NEVER seen a beaver." My mature response was to repeatedly fall into uncontrollable laughter for the remainder of the lunch. But that guy was really mad (wherever you are dude, I sincerely hope that you have seen that elusive beaver by now).

But this vacation was different. My interest in breweries was about whether my kids could eat something nutritious - or at least something they liked - and whether they could stay entertained while I enjoyed my meal, usually with a pilsner. So here are some of the notable highlights of our brewery tour.

Bear Republic Brewing Co in Healdsburg, California

This being our first stop, you can see Daisy's optimism, though Violet wasn't very impressed. The adults split a Brewben (reuben) and a Mango Shrimp salad. The food was good but not particularly memorable. I bailed out early with the kids when they couldn't take it anymore, and we found a fan museum directly across from the brewery. This was exciting for us as the kids happened to be thinking about the fans they had accidentally destroyed in the car earlier that day. We bought new fans for a dollar each then promptly destroyed them again. But still, you don't come across many fan museums.

Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House in Oregon

Although excited to get to the restaurant after a night of unexpectedly chilly camping, Daisy diplomatically commented five minutes after sitting down, "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm bored." The kids proceeded to experiment with shoving napkins and straws into their mouths for entertainment. This was my favorite meal for being the most unbrewery-like. I ordered one of the specials, the Chicken Martini, which was roasted chicken strips and steamed broccoli over rice with an olive-scented butter sauce. So simple and good. I also have a thing for Mirror Pond Ale, so this was a worthy stop for me. It should be noted that the waitress was phenomenal in the number of my husband's questions that she patiently answered while being slammed during the lunch rush and that my husband has since received a follow-up email from one of the brewers with more info.

More to come . . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Road Trip

We're about to take a family road trip to Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, we were able to borrow our friend's portable DVD player. I was reluctant to do so at first because in my day, we didn't watch movies on family road trips . . . we were miserably bored and we liked it! But I've spent enough time in the car with whining, poking, yelling kids this summer to want to hook them up with anything that will work, apart from nonstop Disney tunes and me screaming my head off.

It's always a little risky to take the girls on the road. There is guaranteed to be diarrhea, probably some vomiting, and often declarations like "me go peepee" (you mean you went peepee). In the handful of times we've taken family vacays, we've had to rush to the hospital twice, once almost helicoptered out of a rural area to the regional hospital.

Getting packed for 10 days of being on the road, camping, visiting friends, and touring breweries (something for the little ones) is a week-long endeavor involving multiple lists, intense negotiations, hours of errand running and sheer panic the day before we leave. My husband and I are guaranteed to argue about me packing too much and him packing too little (a toothbrush is NOT optional).

Even Daisy isn't looking forward to it. She confronted me the other day, "This road trip is ruining my whole summer. I just want to be with my friends!" I told her, you've got some years before you can start talking like that. People your age are supposed to LIVE for this kind of stuff. It's quality family time.

And that's really the intention. We're going to bond. We're going to be buddies. We're going to be pals. And we're going to annoy the hell out of each other in the process.

Leaving Friday. First stop Humboldt. Think good thoughts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Grown Up

I had lots of plans for my grown-up self that I had almost forgotten. I was never the girl to dream of getting married with the promise of kids and the picket fence. Living in the same town past high school equaled a prison sentence.

What I wanted was to make a lot of money for a job that would require constant international travel. I was not planning to get married. Ever. Maybe there would be a boyfriend resembling Harrison Ford circa 1977, but I would definitely not be compromising my personal space for a man, especially a needy one.

What I did want was a Rainbow Tribe like Josephine Baker. I had seen a movie about her life and her "12 multi-ethnic orphans"( ). I had a vague idea that I would adopt kids from Africa, Japan, the Middle East, Texas (you got to help the Texans out) and other places but I was sure that there would be a little Jamaican boy with dreadlocks. Way to stereotype, I know. But it was my dream. Maybe a little too much It's a Small World at Disneyland.

The dream died when instead of going after the big money, I fell in love with teaching the marginalized. I was completely obsessed and became one with my job. I didn't make much money, especially in the first few years, but I was rich in fulfillment. My life was all about work hard/play hard.

But when I was pushing 30, something strange happened. I HAD to have kids. All I needed was two - a far cry from my Rainbow Tribe - and I couldn't really afford adoption so I was going to have to do it the old-fashioned way. But what came unexpectedly with the breeding instinct was the urge for the marriage and the house. For the first time in my life, I wanted the whole sell-out package. And it wasn't optional.

In the first few years of being a mom, I forgot who I was. I lost my sense of humor with my sleep. My children were the center of my universe. I still felt a deep commitment to my work, but I couldn't throw my whole self in there any more. I had too many people depending on me at home. I suddenly felt like I couldn't meet anyone's expectations - including my own - because my energy was so divided.

In the last two years of being unemployed, so much has changed that it's hard for me to process it all. There have been issues of a personal nature that I would only disclose to my closest friends and not in a blog format, and that's saying something because I'm not one to hold back. I've had a significant identity crisis; I was working so much for so long, I didn't know what to do with myself.

I discovered the idea of being a stay-at-home mom is way different than reality. As my mom said recently, it's harder than a 12-hour shift at a hospital with no break (she would know). I know moms who look like pros at working in the home. . . they sew their family's Halloween costumes, make their own sushi, have a weekly grocery shopping schedule. They provide a routine that works really well for their families. But they still crack occasionally.

I cracked more than occasionally. I dealt with the depressing sameness of staring at the same dishes every day in the same dishwasher by timing myself when unloading it. I was hyper housewife. Everything was put away and clean by the end of the day. Then I was burnt and stopped doing anything at all. That's how it was for a lot of things. I vacillated between trying to be perfect and not functioning.

Now I know . . . I must be earning a paycheck. Got to laugh. Look for meaning beyond my children. Dwell comfortably in imperfection. Welcome change. Fear stagnation.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Return of Unemployment

My tutoring hours are officially cut in half for next week then almost nothing after that. Time to start filling out those unemployment forms.

One of my bosses has very, very high standards and informed me as I was leaving today that none of the student writing from the summer program is publishable. The students are 10 years old and have been writing Greek myths, poetry, book reviews, letters to their future selves. They all have blogs of polished writing. We've been reading about a book a week, all above grade level. And apparently I've failed.

So I was annoyed when I picked up the kids from daycare. Daisy asked me if I wanted to hear a joke on the drive home. I said sure, expecting one of her incomprehensible knock-knock jokes.

"There's a man sitting at a bar. He's got really bad gas and the music's loud so he decides to let loose. Everyone looks at him. He's wearing his iPod. Get it?"

Slight stumble in the delivery but funny coming from a five-year-old. I asked her where she heard it and apparently she overheard our daycare provider on the phone. Yeah, really not that funny for an adult. But I did need to lighten up. Probably better I'll be spending more time with the kids. Work on the jokes.

photo: Dex Image/Corbis

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Channeling My Inner Goth

I'm not in a writing mood. I've had a lot of spare time in front of my laptop during teaching and tutoring today so in lieu of writing, I've been entertaining myself with some random internet searches. I was fascinated with Robert Browning for years, and there was a period when I read everything I could find about him, including a collection of his letters. I looked up some of his poetry today.

This is a poem that almost everyone has read at some point, I think. The premise is sick (not in a good way) but there's something about his writing that makes me wish I could meet him. You know that question . . . if you could invite any eight people, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would you assemble? Browning would definitely be at mine. I think he would really enjoy his visit with Oprah, Bob Marley, Anais Nin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Che Guevara and Frida Kahlo (on second thought . . . Oprah might be a little bit of a wet blanket at that gathering so I might replace her with Helen of Troy, just for party dynamics).


The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me---she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!

I really like this second poem except for the last two lines, which are totally cheezy. If I could write like this, I would be describing things 24/7.


The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!