October 28, 2009

Tall Girl with Horse


Sweet P had her first riding lesson yesterday, and I swear when we pulled up to the stable there was a red wheelbarrow beside some chickens. I took it as a good omen, and tried to get a photo but forgot an essential component of the camera. Today I bet the wheelbarrow is even glazed with rain.

Sweet P rode a lazy white, blue-eyed horse named da Vinci-- I guess he doesn't take much after his namesake, but he was perfect for Sweet P. She learned how to groom and saddle him, too. When she told R about her lesson she said, "We used a brush with a name that reminded me of Indian food-- Oh! It's called a curry!"

Now I should backpedal (back trot?) and say that since the age of five Sweet P has been sending fervent prayers to any listening god that she remain short. Unfortunately, she didn't inherit the petite genes. While she was tall in California, she was at least the same height or a smidge shorter than her friends. Here in The Woods, though, she's nearly a giant among her peers. This does not please her.

Meanwhile, she's also been required, by moi, to participate in some sort of sport and has just as fervently begged the gods for release from what she considers a peculiar kind of torture.

I always thought Sweet P might enjoy riding lessons, but in the Bay Area the horses are few and far between. Now there are horses nearly everywhere we turn, and we found a stable just ten minutes from Sweet P's school, so I signed her up. Plus, Frog Mama and Green Mama say that riding is as much exercise as walking. Still, I never mentioned competition to my girl because she considers that word a type of swear.

Nearly as soon as Sweet P finished her lesson and we were in the car, she said, "J [The Horse Lady] said I'd be really good in competition because anybody can compete, but the game was not really intended for the short and squat."

Sweet P didn't say whether that means she's interested in competing, but it was the first time I'd ever seen her beam at the idea of being tall.
***
PS. Second lesson today, and I remembered the camera, but it was difficult to shoot with a very crabby Buckaroo on one arm. After her lesson, Sweet P said, "I always thought I might be a natural at something!"

October 26, 2009

Take-Out


In general I try not to be snobby about my California ways. It's not helpful, and it's certainly not going to win me any friends, but here's where I probably cross the line: chow mein.

In California, chow mein is a delicious dish with noodles. Well, of course, all of you west-coasters are thinking. Mein means noodle, doesn't it?

Maybe, maybe not.

Out here in New England an order of chow mein will get you a gloopy gravy mess of veggies and meat with not one noodle in sight. The first time I ordered chow mein, I thought the restaurant got my order wrong. The second time, I thought it was just that one lousy restaurant, and then I tried again somewhere else (I can be tenacious when it comes to my chow, I suppose). "No, it cant' be true," I cried to R upon opening the little white to-go carton. Alas.

There's a lot of conversation on the web about the difference in east coast and west coast chow mein, but no one seems to be certain about the reason for it. Some people say that noodle-less chow mein is Cantonese style. I don't know if that's true; all I know is, I want some stinkin' noodles.

My friend Bio Mama, who is also from California, suggested I order the lo mein next time. I'll let ya'll know how it turns out.

Also, while I'm being obnoxious, everyone out here pronounces the word loam, "loom." The landscaper told us we needed to get a good loom, and I thought, "but we don't own sheep."

It's ok, I pronounced the word for wet concrete, "sea-ment" long into adulthood, until a good friend laughed heartily at my use of the word. Next thing you know, I'll be saying "loom" too.

October 24, 2009

Odds & Ends


It's autumn! Yesterday I taught myself how to build a fire in the new wood stove while R was at work, and only had to make one panicky phone call in the process. While I did have a fire that lasted the day, for some reason I couldn't get the house to a toasty 70, so I baked some cookies. The house was warm, my belly was full.

It's a misty drizzly Saturday morning, and Sweet P is on her way to Salem with a friend, dressed as a pirate. Did I mention how, growing up, I thought the Salem witch trials took place in Salem, Oregon? That's a Western girl for ya.

I was just remembering when, one August a few years before we moved here, R and I took the kids to Salem, MA for the day. The brick buildings reminded me of Chico, CA, where I went to college. As we were driving back to R's parents' house I said, "I could see myself living here," and R said, "Ha! You've never been here in the winter!"

And, here we are. You never know where life's gonna lead.

Buckaroo has reached a couple of milestones: He no longer nurses and sleeps all by himself in a big boy bed-- most nights. Next up: potty training. He also enjoys playing with his train set now instead of dismantling the pieces and tossing them about the room. Of course, there was the time he peed on his train set, but we're all hoping that was a one-time act. He completes puzzles by himself and very much enjoys a game of hide-and-seek, which he calls, "You Can't Find Me."

Sweet P is signed up for her first horse riding lesson next week and really enjoys her piano lessons. Her piano teacher is a poet as well, and likes to recite poetry to us. It's quite funny. Sweet P also has a job one hour a week at the farm up the road. She helps in their gift store, mostly stuffing things with lavender.

R spends most of his time, outside of work, disabusing me of my home renovation ideas. It's a tough job, and I don't envy him, but he chose to marry me. He even did the asking. He's also been in the woods behind our house cutting and clearing broken branches. He's cleared a long run for sledding, too. I am looking forward to that. I've already ordered hot chocolate from Dean's Beans.

The farmer's almanac said there wouldn't be much snow this winter, but it's already snowed three days, and it's not even Halloween. This year we will conquer the slopes for sure. Did I mention Buckaroo has a passionate love of the snow? He takes after his father.

R and I dusted off my guitar and are learning three chords: G,C,D. I've learned them several times already, but I just can't make my fingers travel from one to the other with fluidity. Buckaroo's music teacher says it will take me about six months of playing to figure it out and build up my finger calluses. R at least has the ability to hear when he's playing the wrong note. I'm not so lucky, but I keep trying. I feel a bit like Mary from Pride & Prejudice that way.

Oh, and most exciting: R and I are finally celebrating our anniversary this evening (two months later) with Sushi and Sendak.

And Bella still enjoys her daily walk, although it's usually Sweet P who takes her these days. Bella also really digs the compost pile, and she truly needs a bath.

October 19, 2009

I Was Only Dreaming



I know some people feel that dream discussion is a waste of time-- like talking about the filing of fingernails. Boring Shmoring. I still can't help myself. I am fascinated by my dreams and the dreams of others. I think there's more to a dream than just tossing out the day's garbage-- whether it's a premonition, ghost visit, or just an emotional barometer. I love to dissect it.

Here's last night's dream: I was in a restaurant. My dad walked in and sat at my table, and he was fit and glowing in a blue button down shirt. I said, "Dad, You're not dead?"

He said, "Nah, I just faked my death so I could get away and get clean, you know."

I was so angry and happy, and I had so many questions, but I couldn't stop crying, and he didn't want to talk about the details. He wanted to joke around and catch up. I cried through the entire dream, cried while he showed me his new iPhone and all of its apps. When I realized that he would finally be able to meet my son for the first time I cried even harder.

Then I woke up and cried through the morning because I was only dreaming. By the time I finished making Buckaroo's breakfast I was exhausted.

I was hoping not to have these dreams. They're almost worse than nightmares because when I wake from a nightmare, it's over, and I'm safe; when I wake from a dream like this I've lost my dad all over again.

I had the "You're Alive?" dream series for 20 years after Nana Pat died (my dad's mom) when I was twelve, and I read that I wouldn't stop having them until I really understood that she wasn't coming back. I finally had one last dream where my subconscious chose to say goodbye to her, and I hadn't had that type of dream since, until last night.

Yesterday morning a Buddhist teacher spoke at the Unitarian church. He talked about how important it is to embrace the unpleasant. Most of us want to push away what's difficult or painful and replace it with what feels good: food, alcohol, toys. When we embrace the hard stuff instead of pushing it away, he said, we learn from it, work through it, and finally find true happiness within ourselves.

As he was speaking I thought, I don't know how to embrace the difficult.

Maybe last night's dream was a sign that I need to figure it out.

October 11, 2009

No Faking It on a Horse



-------------------------------------
Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.
Sally Albright: Which one am I?
Harry Burns: You're the worst kind; you're high maintenance but you think you're low maintenance.
Sally Albright: I don't see that.
Harry Burns: You don't see that? "Waiter, I'll begin with a house salad, but I don't want the regular dressing. I'll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side." "On the side" is a very big thing for you.
Sally Albright: Well, I just want it the way I want it.
Harry Burns: I know; high maintenance.

Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally

Sally Albright and I have this high/low maintenance thing in common. I toodle around my life feeling like I'm a fairly logical, easy-going person. I'm not particularly picky. If a waiter brings me fettuccine instead of lasagna, I'm likely to just eat the fettuccine rather than make a fuss. I don't usually wear make-up, have to remind myself to brush my hair, and have been seen wearing the same pair of jeans four days in a row. I don't even shout at other drivers anymore. Low maintenance.

But I will scour the market for a loaf of bread baked without high fructose corn syrup, and I get really peeved if I can't find one. I used to shout at TV commercials, too, but now I just refuse to watch them. I will not shop at Wal-Mart. High Maintenance.

I don't feel like I'm stressed, but my body is telling me otherwise because I've developed TMJ disorder from clenching my teeth while I sleep. The temporal mandibular joint is the place where the jaw connects to the skull, and mine is not happy with me. It mostly aches, and the pain radiates up along the sides of my head. It's difficult to open my mouth in the morning, sometimes I can't chew my toast and when I do my jaw cracks loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Obviously I need to mellow out but the problem is, like most people, I don't notice when I'm tense. Before I go to sleep I remind myself to relax my jaw, and then I realize that my toes are curled tight and my hands are balled into fists. Just when I let that tension go, my mind wanders, and before I know what's happened I'm a taut rubberband all over again.

Then I got on a horse. One of my Honey Mama friends arranged a field trip for us. I've been trail riding before, but I've never really had anyone give me any horse-riding tips. Pam Houston wrote that horses are like dogs in that they react to people's emotions, so I climbed on Cinnamon, my horse for the day, making an effort to be totally relaxed, and I thought I was doing pretty well.

Then our trail guide pointed out that I was white-knuckling the saddle horn, which indicated to Cinnamon that I wanted to trot. I did not want to trot. Apparently, one should hold the reins with one hand (western style) and rest the other hand casually on her thigh.

"What? Let GO?" That's when I realized it's not in my nature to let go.

Not only did Trail Guide want me to let go, he wanted me to reach back and pat Cinnamon's bum. Ha! I said, "That seems a little advanced for me."
"That's how we teach the little ones," Trail Guide said.

We went 'round like that for a while-- truly. I walked Cinnamon in circles around the stable while Trail Guide encouraged me to relax. When Cinnamon started to trot again for no apparent reason, Trail Guide pointed out that I was probably squeezing my thighs, signalling her to go faster.

We did eventually make it out to the trail, and I stayed as relaxed as I could be while riding a giant animal up hills, over rocks, and through mud, and Cinnamon let me know every time I went tense.

If only I could live my life on a horse; maybe I wouldn't need a night guard, acupuncture, medication, jaw surgery . . . whatever might be in my disordered jaw's future.

Plus, what a workout! My thighs and tushie were so sore the next day I hardly noticed the pain in my jaw.

October 6, 2009

Buckaroo and His TV Troubles


Buckaroo watches TV with Nana Sandy

Buckaroo enjoys his television time a little bit too much, as far as I'm concerned. I can't seem to eliminate it from his life though, because his time in front of Kipper does give me a chance to catch my breath and start dinner in the afternoon-- well some days, like today, it's just an opportunity to finish a really good book-- but I do try to limit his time and content.

When we go a-visiting, Buckaroo likes to watch anything on the Noggin channel, and that's been fine. He's also been introduced, courtesy of Nana, to Finding Nemo, but that's the only movie he's seen, as far as I know. It's hard to resist Ellen DeGeneres.

Meanwhile, Buckaroo loves his books, and he especially loves books about cars and trucks, and he most especially loves books from the movie Cars. I may have neglected to mention to Buckaroo that his favorite Cars characters are in a motion picture. I've never seen the movie, and I don't have any particular desire to see it, and I sense it might be one of those movies Buckaroo will want to watch more than once.

So yesterday Buckaroo had is two-year medical check up (a few months late). He had blood drawn to test for lead and anemia, and it was a slow, miserable time. He didn't cry, just looked at me with a pained face as the nurse squeezed many, many drops from his little finger.

On our way out the door the nurse gave him stickers with McQueen and Mater on them, and I was buckling Buckaroo into his car seat I said, "Don't forget your stickers" and put them in his lap.

He held a sticker between one fat, cotton-bandaged finger and one good one, wrinkled his brow and said, "I think we're supposed to watch these guys on TV."

I paused. I've read that parents shouldn't give kids treats as rewards when they're hurting because it creates a life-long habit of comforting pain with food. Would Pixar fall into the same category as a cream puff?

I decided it would. Then I asked, "Would you like a popsicle when we get home?"


Uh, well. They're 100% juice.

October 4, 2009

Bookish Delights

Some people believe that there are no coincidences, and lately I'm counting myself in that category.

I'd been having trouble reading much more than Buckaroo's Bear Snores On,-- which is excellent, if brief, reading-- when Sweet P announced that she's not really a reader, never has been. The only books she's truly enjoyed, apparently, are the Harry Potter books, and she's not interested in reading anymore.

I lifted my jaw off the floor, said "Ok," nothing more, and made a dash for the library where I found The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman on cd as well as Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume in hardback.

I swept up Sweet P from her piano lesson and popped Graveyard into the car's cd player. My friend Allyson recommended it, and it's perfect. Very Harry Potter-esque, but with its own ghastly appeal. We listen intently every time we're in the car.

At home I started reading Cornelia so I could talk about it casually at the dinner table. It's about an 11-year-old girl who lives in her pianist-mother's shadow and is befriended by her elderly and worldly neighbor, Virginia Somerset. Cornelia is enraptured by Virginia's tales of her adventures around the globe with her three sisters.

It was the sisters' run-in with Picasso that piqued Sweet P's interest first. Next, it was Virginia's encounter with a famous ghost. Maybe your interest is piqued, too? You know I don't like to give too much away.

"I want to read the book now, but I don't want you to say, 'I told you so,'" Sweet P said last night.

I promised her I wouldn't.

The funny thing is that I grabbed the book randomly, hoping it might be something Sweet P would enjoy, and I began it a bit half-heartedly the day I found out my friend Renato Gasparetti passed away. As I read on, Cornelia's relationship with Virginia reminded me more and more of my friendship with Renato. I thought of all the times I sat at Renato's table and listened to his stories of growing up in Italy, of his days as a prisoner of war, of courting his wife after the war.

I finished the book tonight (while Sweet P waited impatiently for her turn), and I felt like it helped me say goodbye to my friend, just a little bit.

October 2, 2009

My Friend Renato



Renato and I met in a poetry class ten years ago. He invited me over for lunch to discuss poetry, and that's how our friendship continued-- always with food and wine at his dining room table overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland.

He was my friend through divorce ("that man is a fool," he'd say in his thick Italian accent), graduate school, single parenthood, a new marriage, and a new baby. I met his family, grieved with him when he lost his wife, cheered for him when his book was published in Italy.

I planned to visit Renato when I was in California last February, and I ran out of time. He emailed to say that he made pizza all week in anticipation of my arrival, but not to worry because his granddaughter helped him gobble it up.

I didn't want to miss seeing Renato on my September trip and emailed to make a date. When I didn't hear back from him, I called. When I still didn't hear anything, I thought maybe he'd gone visiting. I returned to Massachusetts disappointed that I missed one of his delicious meals (always served in many courses) and the chance to tear apart each other's poetry.

Last night Renato's daughter returned my phone call. She said that Renato passed away in early September, just five days after he'd emailed me a poem and asked for my critique. I hadn't written him back. I thought I'd had more time.

I don't know how many times Death has taught me that there isn't always more time-- Renato always said, "I'm not going to live forever; check the obituaries before coming to visit." The lesson never seems to stick. I guess that's the downfall of optimism; I refuse to ever believe I'm kissing a friend's cheek for the last time.

But here's the other thing about optimism: I don't know where or how or when, but I'm sure that one day Renato and I will sit down with a glass of wine in the afternoon sunlight and read each other's poems again.

He sent me this one last March, and it's one of my favorites.

SOTTOVOCE
"Babin!" "Trillo!"
From the window on the courtyard side,
Mom, laying her cheek on the pillow
of her hands palm to palm,
was calling us in for the afternoon nap.
You and I, engrossed in the game
of five marble, couldn't hear her calling.
"Babin"
But today, though it was so faint a call
that only you could hear, you heeded it;
and, maybe eager for sleep, you dropped
the marbles and heeded Mom's summon.
"Trillo"
Soon, I, too, no matter how sottovoce,
shall hear the call; and, the five marble
dropped, will cede to the promise
of her hands.
Renato Gasparetti