Sunday, July 30, 2006

It's all fun and games until someone loses a pie

The following are step-by-step instructions on how to make a strawberry tart with a toddler. (It is alternately known as a drinking game for parents).

Step one: Mom, quickly drink something alcoholic. A shot of tequilla works nicely.

Step two: Gather supplies. You will need: eight large strawberries; one box ready-made pie crusts (who needs to do all that work when Betty Crocker can do it for you?); one tablespoon of sugar; a sharp knife; a tartlet dish; a kitchen stool; a drop-cloth and a power washer, (a dog will suffice).


Step four: Slice the 6 strawberries while diverting toddler's attention with the 2 remaining "decoy" berries.

Step five: Put tartlet pan down on center of crust and cut a large circle with knife. Line pan with center part of crust material. Set aside crust remnants.

Step six: Instruct toddler to dump berries into pan. ... She may do so ONE AT A TIME … S-L-O-W-L-Y, so try and be patient. This may be a good time for a second drink.

Step seven: Put drop-cloth on floor then hand toddler a tablespoon and the sugar bowl. (Word to the wise: the perfect time for this project is where there is only a small smackerel of sugar clinging to the bottom of the bowl. Even a small amount of the sweet stuff strewn on the floor will make you feel like your walking on a beach, only without the nice surroundings and the calm push of rhythmic waves).


Step nine: Slice narrow strips of crust from remaining dough and weave them as best as you can across the top of pie. Toddlers can be great with this part, making curly-cue designs while throwing pieces at the dog. Some might call the result a giant wad of sweaty goo, though we like to call it "ART."

Step 10: Time for another shot? What do you think?

Step 11: Hand kid the leftover leftovers to play with since you forgot to preheat the oven to 350 degrees (hotter if your oven sucks) and you must kill time.

Step 12: Remove dough pieces from the dog's back.

Step 13: TAKE THE KNIFE AWAY FROM THE TODDLER and put it in the dishwasher already. Sheesh.

Step 14: When is that oven going to heat up, damnit? Tap foot incessantly and pace in front of the stove. It might be time for another drink.

Step 15: Make a second pie since you have the time and a left-over pie crust. Use your hands to mash strawberries and rip pie crust into the approximate shapes of circles and strips. (Don’t tempt fate by pulling the knife out of the dishwasher).

Step 16: One more nip won’t hurt. You’re still standing.

Step 17: Put pies in oven and bake about 30 minutes or until the crusts are a golden brown, (use the timer as your senses may be slightly impaired).

Step 18: Save one of the pies for daddy because toddler will feed hers to the dog and then demand "ICE PEEM."

Note to self: Pick up new bottle of hooch at the liquor store tomorrow.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus and parades are from hell

Some days the idea of beating my head against a brick wall until my brain oozes out my ears doesn’t seem so bad. It certainly would feel better, I imagine, than the sharp pain I get behind my eyes when I try to decipher a Rosetta stone of marital miscommunication.

As it is my wont to try to distill all human interaction into its most efficient essence, I shall call this phenomenon 'D.U.H.' - Don't Understand Him/Her.

And I'm compiling entries for a pocket reference:

Case #1: "Let’s meet for lunch"

Recently, Ittybit and I were in town (where the man in our life was working for a half-day) not getting lunch because when we met the man he'd already eaten someplace else – D.U.H. Clearly the fault was my own:

I should have made it perfectly clear that “Hey, I'll meet you for lunch” is virtually the same as “Let's meet at the same restaurant somewhere round about noon and eat a mid-day meal together.”

Case #2: Entertain the child

Lunch aside, however, all is not lost. I had another purpose for going to town. There was shopping to do. There were gifts to gather for weddings and birthdays and special occasions. Things I usually don’t do with a toddler in tow, because, let’s face it, shopping with a toddler is in the same ballpark as bringing a pet billy goat to a China shop, smearing it with epoxy glue and setting it loose in the glassware aisle.

I had hoped the man could entertain her at the ice cream shop while I spent massive amounts of money on stuff my friends would stuff in a drawer. I did not intend for him to let her down in the same store I was perusing, where all she wanted to do is hang from my shirt and cry or stack Le Creuset crockery in reverse order, smallest to largest. D.U.H. Again, I am forced to see the error of my wording.

I should have made it perfectly clear that "Entertain her while I go shopping" actually means "Take her someplace else and don't bring her back. I will find you when I'm finished. If you see me by accident cross the street and pretend I’m someone else."

Case #3: Alone time

No matter how well you plan, of course, there will be some surprises. Unbeknownst to us, turns out it was fire department day in town, which means a long parade of trucks and marching bands meander down Main Street toward the fairgrounds.

We discuss whether we should move our cars, which will surely get blocked in and erase our option to leave midway through should a meltdown arise. We finally arrived at a conclusion: I would stay for the parade and he would go home to nap. D.U.H.

Perhaps you might have explained that a 'Family Day,' is technically the same as sitting on the couch watching a "Sopranos" re-run marathon. Double D.U.H. I will need to remember that the next time I volunteer to melt in the heat with a toddler who covers my eyes, pulls my hair and won't hold my hand.

I suppose it makes sense, though. After all, he did mention that we needed more “alone time.” Unfortunately I interpreted that to mean sans baby, avec each other.

I also forgot that date-night is a term that means the mommy must arrange babysitting and come up with a plan for stepping out on the town, otherwise the word means the husband is going to poker night.

And for the strangers in the parade:

After waving our fool heads off, clapping and cheering for you folks in the hot summer sun, I've come to the conclusion that it might have ACTUALLY killed you to smile or wave back.

I had no idea a PARADE in your language meant Perturbed And Rancorous Autocade Dourly Exercising.

Live and learn. Live and learn.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Just smile and nod


It was a cause célèbre in the newsroom. Everybody wanted a piece of the Joe.

Bruno, that is.

Senate Majority Leader.

Third man in the room at budget time.

And now, best of all, a bobblehead doll handed out at the ball field that bears his name.

Of course, there were few among us willing to wait in line after quitting time for one of the big-headed, coiffed haired, presidential-looking likenesses of the man we all know and love, not to mention the optional prostate screening thrown in as a bonus.

"They'll turn up on e-bay within the week, mark my words," chimed in one soothing voice of consolation. "'Cause you know the line for the dolls will be longer than the one for the tests."

What's with this fascination for bobbleheads?

They didn't just arrive in the land of excess yesterday, packaged in plastic eggs from the planet kitsch. They've been around for quite a while; long before the 1960s when the marketers of all things baseball adopted the big-headed curios and turned them into the icons we all know and love (so long as they are winning).

One of the earliest literary references to bobbleheads dates from 1842 when Russian author Nikolai Gogol wrote "The Overcoat," and described the main character's neck thusly: "like the necks of plaster cats which wag their heads."

I remember those bobbing headed animals from my childhood. Each and every one -- cat or bulldog -- bearing gold collars, sun bleached spots and velveteen hides rubbed raw from nodding against the rear windshields of every Chevy Impala ever to roll off an assembly line.

Somehow, inexplicably, while I was paying attention to the Pogues and the Pixies and Jane’s Addiction, the number of bobblehead creatures ballooned. Before I knew it, there were bobbleheads of presidents and first ladies, religious and literary figures and even, frighteningly enough, some that freakishly resembled yours truly.

Seriously, one of the first presents I ever remember getting from my soon-to-be father-in-law was a bobblehead me.

Her name was "Raven" and she was a "Goth" girl. With jet black hair, purple eyeshadow and the look of death warmed over, she came all wrapped in Christmas paper from a bearer who couldn’t stop giggling at his cleverness.

I suppose it might have been wise of me to cut and run right there, but I stuck it out. The following Christmas I was given an oversized wool sweater and all was forgiven.

It just stands to reason that sooner or later EVERYONE is going to have the chance to be a bobblehead. Some, undoubtedly, will be more flattering than others.

The surly woman who grunts every morning she takes my coffee order and then proceeds to splash a gallon of milk into my cup despite my ordering it BLACK, will probably have a some nodding plastic twin made in her likeness sooner or later. If I'm lucky enough to procure one I'll probably let the dogs chew on it just to administer a little passive revenge.

On the other hand, I'll have to plunk down some serious cash for the bobblehead of Ittybit’s babysitter. But it will be worth it. In addition to its bobbing head, hers will also have a wagging finger. Perhaps even a speaker to reminds us that "We-Don't-Poke-People-in-the-Eyes, That's-Not-Nice." Yeah, I'll be tucking that one safely away in a keepsake box to show Ittybit's teenage self who really deserves all the credit for her remarkable manners.

I wonder what Joe thought when he first laid eyes on his likeness. I imagine he might have wished the guys at the factory had given him a wider stance.

Or maybe he just smiled and nodded.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The hard work of being neighborly

I peered into the mailbox all squinty-eyed and disbelieving.

It was empty.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, 12 pounds of flyers, bills and catalogues were not waiting to be schlepped inside and immediately recycled. The mystery of the missing mail was solved, however, when I trudged into the house and noticed the insistent, blinking light of the answering machine.

Turns out, oddly enough, our mail had been inadvertently deposited clear across town at the home of the only other resident we know. A sure sign, I think, that there must be a higher power because everything about her is serendipitous, especially since I knew this woman long before either of us called our town "home."

We met just after college. She was my age but was already a single mom, dating the friend of a friend. I was struggling to find out who I was and where I belonged. I had no time to chat, regrettably, since maturity had not yet been forced upon me.

When we met again last summer at a farmers' market and learned we shared a ZIP code and toddlers one year apart, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Since I regularly walked past her house each day on my two-mile morning constitutional, I was thrilled at the invitation to stop by. It wasn’t the kind of offer one extends lightly out of politeness. It was with genuine hope of being neighborly.

I reciprocated with equal enthusiasm, hoping since we live on the street with the playground our visits would be mutual.

In my head, though, I knew I'm not the type who just "pops by." In my head, you see, I am the eternal imposition; the person who feels awkward in their own skin and assumes they are destined to break your best China if you ask me in for tea.

A year has gone by. I’ve stopped taking my walks, in part because I can’t seem to muster out of bed at a reasonable hour to do so, and the anxiety of never taking her up on her offer haunts me.

"I'm not sure how it happened," laughs the voice on the machine, "But it appears the mail carrier has left a sizable portion of your mail at our house today. I was wondering when would be a good time for me to bring it over?"

My jaw drops open. Of course, I haven't cleaned the house since I don't know when and the dogs are shedding whole litters of puppies. As my husband putters around in the kitchen, he wonders aloud if we all wouldn't be better off if I just went to her house and collected it. He laughs, suggesting my friend might have collected the mail from our box just to have an excuse to have a get-together.

"That's not funny," I fret, as I frantically try to replace the belt on the vacuum cleaner while simultaneously tending to Ittybit's demand for help with her potty -- she needs to practice her 'Poo' song, she explains.

Twenty minutes, four disasters (including the unintentional deletion of her phone number while trying to replay the message) and one successful elimination later, and I am finally able to ring her up.

Turns out she'd already dropped it off in our mailbox.

'Aw! Shoot,' I think as I hang up the phone, 'perhaps tomorrow I'll get up early and go for a walk.'