Monday, November 27, 2006

Grandma Helen
February 25, 1905 - November 23, 2006

Rigel got a call during Thanksgiving dinner that his grandmother had died. My girls called her Grandma Helen, and she would be turning 102 this February.

She had only recently become ill, and even though her condition was serious we thought there was a good chance she would surprise us and pull through. Up until a few months ago she had lived on her own in a small house in Wisconsin where she cooked for herself, tended her garden and even occasionally looked in on her elderly, though younger neighbors. We were concerned about her living alone, especially when we heard stories like the one she told last summer, about locking herself out of her house. Not to worry, she said, since it all worked out after an elderly neighbor forced open a small window and then gave Grandma a boost so she could crawl through, head first.

She loved to fish and would do so regularly until she gave up her fishing license a few years ago. At 97-years-old she felt it was time to exercise a little caution and stop going out alone on her small fishing boat - leave that to those young 80-year-old whippersnappers she often passed out on the river. Giving up her beloved fishing was hard, though, especially since she had given up her hunting license a few years prior to that. I think you're starting to get the picture, that Grandma Helen was not just some little old lady in a bonnet sitting in a rocking chair and sipping tea.

The last time we saw her was in February. As she had done almost every year, she got on a plane and flew on her own to California to visit with her son (Rigel's dad) and the rest of us, including Rigel's sister, Aldebaran. Usually each visit was preceded by a call sometime in November, that she had decided not to come out, that she hoped we understood how after a woman hits ninety it's entirely possible that she might not want to leave her home in the bitter cold and travel for an hour just to board a plane for a four-hour flight. After waiting a few weeks to see if we would get the hint that perhaps the younger and more able-bodied among us might consider hauling our lazy asses out to visit her, she would give up and book a flight to L.A. Rigel always imagined that during his phone calls to Grandma she would cover the receiver and turn to her friends and say, "Yeah, it's that yuppie grandson of mine. Looks like Mr. Hollywood still hasn't figured out how to buy a plane ticket."

We were constantly amazed at Grandma's memory. She could rattle off recipes down to the teaspoon, recount historical events with amazing accuracy and was an encyclopedia on plants and vegetables. She would tell stories of her first train ride out to California, 50+ years ago, to visit Rigel's dad. She remembered what the weather was like, how she got from the train station to his apartment, and remarkably, his apartment number. This always amazed me, as I would be hard pressed to remember what the weather was like last week and often forget what my current address is.

Grandma Helen had a wicked sense of humor, and one of our favorite stories is about the time we were opening presents on Christmas a few years ago. Rigel's sister had given me a set of small, oval-shaped pot holders, the kind that fit snugly over the handle of a sauce pan. "What the hell are those?" Grandma asked. When I told her what they were, she replied, "Good gracious! I thought they were peter-heaters!" I don't know many people who can say that their husband's grandmother introduced them to the concept of a penile-warming device.

We always wondered what the key was to Grandma's vibrant life. Was it the crossword puzzles that she loved and did daily? Was it the whisky highball she had every single afternoon? When Rigel's sister asked her what she felt was the real secret to her longevity Grandma replied, without missing a beat, "I never learned how to drive."

We're going to miss you, Grandma Helen.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Big Love.

I was feeling pretty good on Friday and fully recovered from our two-day Disneyland adventure - I managed to scrape that last piece of gum off my shoes and I'd finally stopped answering every question with, "Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me!" So I decided to splurge and take the day for myself. I gassed up the van, hit the ATM and headed for the land of free food and cheap booze, the place where time flies and money flies faster.

Vegas? Ha!

I'm talkin' bout Costco, baby.

I've never been a big warehouse shopper, but since Rigel's company pays for our membership I thought it was about time I started taking advantage of it. When the kids were small I had a hard time picturing us as a Costco family. It wasn't often I thought to myself, "I sure could use a wheel of cheese the size of a manhole cover" or "Let me go pick up a twenty-gallon drum of milk." That was for the Osmonds, or those women you see on TV that gave birth to twelve babies at one time. I was fine buying my eggs, vegetables and underwear at the grocery store just like I've always done.

But as the kids grow up and their appetites grow with them, I'm beginning to see the logic in buying in bulk. I used to laugh at the gargantuan boxes of Goldfish at other people's houses until suddenly I realized that a regular sized bag could be inhaled by my girls and their friends during the first two minutes of a playdate. And so what if I needed to bust a hole in my cabinet to store it, this fifteen-liter bottle of apple juice is going to save me money, damnit!

Everything is big at Costco. The carts are the size of Hondas and require some brawn to maneuver them down the wide aisles. I feel dwarfed in that place, like a little girl pushing her toy stroller around. Normally I would feel embarrassed having to ask a stranger to lift a tin of cookies onto my cart, but not when it weighs more than my 10-year old. I've learned to avoid the bigger, heftier shoppers who maneuver their carts around like tanks and will roll over you to get to that last keg of Diet Coke. Which by the way, is the perfect beverage to enjoy with the five-pound slice of pizza you can buy on your way out.

I've been noticing that shopping at Costco carries a certain cachet now among my peers. Before, in our younger, single days we would attempt to impress by whispering "Fred Segal!" or "Spago!" when asked about our latest outfit or party offering. Now, ask about someone's new ski parka or their fabulous hors d'oeuvres platter and they're likely to say "Costco!" as evidence of their expertise at scoping out a good deal or their ability to lift heavy things. Frugal is in, and the race is no longer to see who has the best toys, but who's toy was cheapest and came in a 2-pak.

One of the big attractions at Costco are the free food samples. Years ago I remember a friend proudly telling me that she had a complete meal there one day while shopping for a computer - starting off with some asparagus bites and ending two hours later with a cup of their fresh-roasted coffee. I told her this was gross and disgusting, but knew then in my heart that I had found the shopping experience I had only dreamed possible. Shop for cds and cleaning supplies and then walk a few feet for a free slice of quiche? I love America.

You can always tell alot by a person by the free samples they take - the super-thin mom who ignores the chicken nugget but waits patiently for her tiny cup of smoothie, and the overweight guy with the huge arms who swoops up five pizza bites at a time. (And there I was, shoving five teenagers aside to get one of those little wieners wrapped in a crescent roll.) It's certainly not the place for the connoisseur or food snob, which I tried to point out to a woman who was holding up the line by asking repeatedly whether a cheese she was sampling was imported or not. I told her she might not get the answer she was looking for from someone wearing overalls and a hair net. And then I politely asked her to step aside since she was standing between me and my appetizer course.

I'm thinking that the whole era of the warehouse superstore has got to end sometime, and the trend will reverse. The micro-amount will replace the stockpiles of big food. Instead of showing off my five-pound bag of French Roast, I'll be bragging about how I stood in line for an hour just to buy a single coffee bean. Until that time, though, I'll continue to make my monthly trek to Costco to fulfill my hoarding instincts and to stuff myself on those free samples. And call me crazy, but I'll sleep better tonight knowing that, barring a nasty stomach virus or a bad pot of chili, I just bought enough toilet paper to last us the next three years.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Happiest Place On Earth.
The Happiest Place On Earth.

For our two girls, a day at Disneyland could only be matched in excitement by the sight of Santa Claus eating ice cream in our living room. I'm not as thrilled by the place, and Rigel even less - crowds, long lines and the close proximity of pasty men wearing tube socks with sandals never fails to put him in a bad mood. In fact, there's only one thing that could possibly make him crankier than a day at Disneyland.

TWO days at Disneyland.


Kira has a friend, D., a boy she has known since the second grade. He's a great kid, and we've become friends with the parents as they are nice normal people who don't have personality disorders and make me want to kill them. This is always a good thing.

D. is an only child and his parents naturally dote on him, and one of the things they love to do is have a special birthday celebration for him every year. Last year they invited nine children and their families to an all-expenses paid day at Universal Studios. Rigel and I marveled at their stealth organizational skills and admired their bravery, since planning an outing with just our two girls requires several hours of motivational tapes and a pitcher of martinis. And that's just for a trip to Target.

So what did they do this year? See if you can guess!

a) Hired an out-of-work actor posing as a magician to come to their house and do card tricks in return for tequila shots.

b) Chose 'The Homeless Epidemic' as their child's party theme and made them donate all their allowance to charity, after which they celebrated by splitting a sandwich eight ways and then sleeping outside. (Oh wait - that was me.)

c) Invited fifteen kids to Disneyland, paid admission for all the children and one adult per family, treated them to lunch, dinner and snacks all day and then put everyone up in a hotel that night so they didn't have to make the long drive home.
Oh, yeah.

The generosity and graciousness of these people is overwhelming, and I couldn't emphasize enough to our kids how fortunate we were to benefit from their kindness. When Kiyomi squealed "I love rich people!" on the ride over I had to give her a talk about the difference between rich and generous, and explain why someone who is rich may not necessarily be generous. And when she said she wanted a Disneyland gala for her next birthday, I tried to convince her that, as fun as a day at The Magic Kingdom could be, an afternoon spent at home with a few friends eating cold pizza and playing Twister and culminating in the singing of "Happy Birthday" around a tasteless cake could be just as thrilling.

The plan was to meet at the hotel at 9:00 and check in before heading off en masse (30 people!) to Disneyland. Rigel and I have a hard time getting anywhere before noon, so we agreed to meet everyone at the park sometime before lunch. This was mostly Rigel's idea, since after doing the math he figured out that even by getting there late we would be spending a whole ten hours in a place he considers only marginally more appealing than the fiery bowels of Hell. (Fiery bowels of Hell is a term I came up with, but if you could see his face during the two hour wait for Dumbo on our last visit you would see just how appropriate it is.)

We still had to buy Rigel's admission ticket, so imagine our surprise when we arrived at the front gates and saw the huge, blinking "Disneyland is SOLD OUT" sign sitting in front of us. He did his best to act disappointed, but I told him doing that little dance, kicking up his heels and shouting, "THERE IS A GOD!" was really starting to annoy me. It was decided that he would go to the hotel, purchase a 2-day pass (which we found out would definitely get him in) and meet up with us later. So much for his alternate plan of checking in to our room, raiding the mini bar and then napping until we returned after the fireworks that evening.

(Okay, I hate to kick a dead horse - no pun intended - but guess who asked me for a ride to Disneyland? I refused on the grounds that I'm not licensed to transport reptiles, but she managed to slither out there on her own. Thank God for the 967,000 other people who provided a buffer.)

We had a great time, in spite of the fact that it was unbelievably crowded. Just trying to walk a few feet was a challenge, and as I made my way through New Orleans Square, smashed between some stranger's sweaty back and the throng of frat boys pushing behind me, I was certain that by the time I reached Frontierland I'd be pregnant, with the sad possibility that the father was some teenager wearing a pair of mouse ears.

Of course, with the crowds comes the long lines and the fact that in ten hours we were only able to make it onto five rides. Enough for me, but certainly not enough for Kira and Kiyomi who used their best puppy dog looks to convince Rigel that his two-day pass could be milked for all its value by going back for a second day. We still had to purchase three tickets for the rest of us, but through some crazy fatigue-induced logic we were able to rationalize that since we had gotten the first day for free, it was as if we were only spending one day there. At the end of our second day I felt like I had aged more than a few years. I came up with the following equation:

1 Disneyland day = 20 human years.

I find it easy to get cynical about Disneyland and the whole Disney empire, but I have to admit that seeing that initial look of joy on your kids' faces when you first walk through those front gates is worth having to stand in line for two hours for a ride that lasts sixty seconds, or having to pay seven dollars for a cup of burnt coffee and a soggy churro. And the best part, or the worst part, depending on how you look at it, was reliving that exact joyous moment again less than twenty-four hours later.

But the sight of this - this nearly pushed Rigel over the edge.

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Thank you, thank you to Pattie at Stolen Moments for nominating me for a ROFL Award for this post. When you wish upon a starrrr....

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rigel's Most Excellent Lesson On How To Tame
A Control Freak.

Me: Can you help me put these juice boxes away?

Rigel: Sure.

Me: Oh, not in that cupboard. In that one.

Me: Oh, don't take those out of the box. Stack the other ones on top.

Me: Oh, don't put all the Berry ones in the back. I mix them up. I have a system.

Rigel: How about I just pee all over them?

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Monday, November 06, 2006

I Wish You Were Around When I Got A Perm.

I love you, crazy blog people. Thank you for your uplifting words, your advice and nuggets of wisdom. Thank you for reassuring me that helping M. is the right thing to do. Thank you for sharing with me stories of being 'that girl' who benefited from a neighbor's welcoming arms. Thank you for encouraging me to continue to nurture Kira's friendship with M. Thank you for cautioning me to keep my guard up when dealing with M.'s mother. Most importantly, thank you for preventing me from driving over to that freaky broad's house and smearing her front steps with dog poop and then yelling "Fire!"

All of your thoughtful, supportive responses got me thinking about what a great community we have here in the blogosphere. If I had had such a wealth of information available to me ten years ago when I had my first child would I have even needed to drop fifteen dollars on What To Expect When You're Expecting? Or Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems? Or Green Poop Does Not Mean They're Dying? (That last one I made up but is DEFINITELY A BOOK THAT NEEDS TO BE WRITTEN.)

As a high schooler, would I have even thought of wearing rainbow suspenders and pants tucked into high top sneakers if I had been able to consult with all of you first?

Well, blog people, now you've done it. A precedent has been set. The die has been cast. Now that I know I can come to you with life's most vexing problems and get such sensible, intelligent advice, here are some things I may need your help on this week:

Bangs or no bangs?

Paper or plastic?

The Duvet: Convenient bed topping or the world's biggest pillowcase?

Handful of carrots or pound of bacon?

Paris or Nicole?

Twenty minutes on the treadmill or Number 2 combo with extra cheese?

Cable bill or Number 2 combo with extra cheese?

College fund or Plasma screen?

Seize The Day or stay in bed?

Candy Corn: Candy, corn or addictive crack substitute?

Pay quarterly taxes or stick it to the man?

The man: Boxers or briefs?

Eat slowly to become aware when you're full or cram your piehole like there's no tomorrow?

Eat slowly or get to the extra piece of steak before your husband?

Recognize defiance as independent thinking and reward accordingly or recognize modern parenting as a bunch of hooey and withhold allowance?

Discuss feelings or slam cupboards and bang pots in the kitchen?

Get a handle on PMS with diet and rest or lash out and sob uncontrollably?

White or red?

Cabernet or chianti?
I'm counting on you, internet.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Somebody Tell Me I'm Doing The Right Thing.

I've written here before about this woman. To recap, she has:

Accused me (falsely) of standing up at a dinner party and announcing her divorce. (I know, try not to laugh after that one. Especially since everyone knows that I only stand up at dinner parties to loosen my pants.)

Fed that accusation to her daughter, who in turn relayed it to Kira, who was understandably upset at the thought that her mother was a secret-spilling liar.

Tried to get me to provide free babysitting for her while she toned her abs at her daily 3-hour workout.

Told me that I had "gained some weight!" when I ran into her one day, obviously unaware that I was wearing a fat suit for my role in an upcoming Lifetime movie.
So why am I wasting valuable blog space even talking about her? Because her daughter, M. is one of Kira's best friends. I love this girl. She's polite, smart, funny and a good friend to my daughter. And I can tell she's been scarred by her parents' divorce and now is trying not to get lost in her mom's new life with her fiancé. A fiancé who I've seen dropping M. off at school and can barely wait for her to get out of the car before he slams the door and burns rubber out of the parking lot.

So I tolerate the mom, even though I want to pummel her with my measly fists everytime I see her. (And not just because she wears stilettos and a miniskirt to pick her kid up at school.) Whenever I see her on the schoolyard we give each other a friendly nod, but M. always comes up and hugs me tightly around the waist and asks when she can come over. I say, "Anytime!" instead of "You, anytime. But tell your mom to keep her bony ass off my property." I'm nice that way.

The girls each invited a friend over for Halloween last night, and Kira invited M. because she knew that her mom wouldn't be taking her trick-or-treating. I approached M's mom on the playground and asked her to drop her daughter off at our house at 5. I would order pizza, let the kids play, and then Rigel would take all the girls trick-or-treating for a couple of hours. Seemed like a fun night, although the thought that I had just set myself up for seeing this woman at both drop-off and pick-up made me want to slap myself.

When someone knocked at the door at 4:20 I was surprised to see M. standing there. She then informed me that her mom wanted me "to come outside and talk to her, because she couldn't find a parking space." Yes, even though our 3-car driveway only had my minivan in it, and there were probably two cars parked on our entire block, I could see where in a steroid-induced haze she could mistakenly think that there was nowhere to park. Either that or her driving skills suck as bad as her social skills and there was no way she could maneuver her car into a space that was the length of half a city block. Okay, drop your kid off 40 minutes early and don't have the decency to come to the door. Lady, stop trying so hard to impress me!

I walked outside and could see her waving me over from her car, but I refused to walk even inches further than I had to. I stood in my driveway, yelled that I would see her at 8, turned and walked back inside. She waited there for a few minutes, probably thinking that I was just going to get something from the house but would surely follow her orders to come to her car. I'm hoping she saw me at the kitchen window, waving cheerfully at her with my middle finger.

I suspect that M. has food issues brought on by her body-obsessed lunatic of a mom. She's very thin, but when she's at our house she's constantly asking for snacks. Yesterday, she seemed genuinely shocked that she could actually help herself to everything I had put out on the table: bowls of pretzels, carrots and apples along with the pizza. Whenever I offered her anything she asked, "You mean I can put some on my own plate?" and when the rest of the girls were reaching for their second piece of pizza she came into the kitchen to ask me if she was allowed another slice. When I told her yes, she said, "Omigosh, thank you!" I envisioned her mom standing over her at the dinner table, waving a pair of size zero jeans and saying, "Eat that second slice of pizza, missy, and you'll never fit into these."

And when she picked her up last night? She wouldn't come in the house to help M. gather her things, and she barely muttered a 'thank you.'

I don't discourage Kira's friendship with M, and I don't let her know what I think about M's mother. I feel like I want to help this girl, to provide an environment for her where there isn't a parent figure who spends more time worrying about her makeup and carb count than her daughter's well being. But tell me this, have I been watching too much Oprah, getting all "It takes a village..." when I should be distancing myself from this woman, even if it means distancing ourselves from her daughter?

Somebody please tell me I'm doing the right thing. Cause right now? I feel like I'm being stepped on. And used. And I'm torn between trying to help this little girl and grabbing her mom by her hair extensions and tying her to the roof of her SUV. And while both of these options will make me feel good, I have the feeling that only one is the right thing.

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