Thursday, August 1, 2013

In the Pines

I never wanted to miss a month of blogging. Now I've missed three. I could blame it on the usual amalgam of writing, thrift-store shopping, and doing the dishes, but there's really only one reason:

Though she is fast becoming a toddler, I'm so glad that Mallory still fits in the kitchen sink :)

Summer's been alternately domestic (new grill, patio umbrella, plum infusions, kiddie pool) and hectic (chasing after Mallory), but until a few days ago, it was missing a real vacay.

 It was time. We had to get outta dodge. So we climbed into the foothills of the Sierras, to Grass Valley, where we checked into the Holbrooke, the oldest continuously running hotel in California. Our room was painted lavender, with high ceilings, a claw-foot bathtub, and a broken night-stand drawer--the hint of shabbiness that made this once-grand hotel affordable for folks like us.

We put Mallory to bed that night and headed downstairs with our baby monitor and backgammon set, feeling bold and free. After a cutthroat game (usually) and a creme brulee, we stood outside in the warm evening air, imagining the town in its Gold Rush heyday.

The next day we loaded up on pasties (savory pies stuffed with veggies and cheese) and took the Rough and Ready Highway to the south fork of the Yuba River. Mallory plunged into the water like she'd been waiting for it her whole life, fearlessly going in up to her neck, fending off her concerned parents. She learned the word "rock" and made a slew of friends and sang almost the whole drive home.

At dinner that night, Mallory entertained herself with three crayons and a booster seat while we ate peacefully, alternately feeding her bites of spinach ravioli. It was the easiest meal we've had with her. Sun-tired and beat, we crashed shortly after she did that night.

Our getaway was brief, could hardly be called a trip, but it reminded me of how essential it is to switch up my surroundings. Often. There are always the frustrations--the drive back home was almost comically horrendous--but there are always bright moments back-lit with loveliness. An unpicked (why? how could this be?) blackberry bush. Perfectly spiced French toast. Cool, clear river water and warm baths at night. And, after climbing back down into the Central Valley from the sweet mountain pines, the startle of acres upon acres of sunflowers bowing their big regal heads at us.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Steady Rocking

On Saturday, April 20, M and I took Mallory to Bonnie's birthday party. On her shady deck we ate clams and pasta and thick brown bread. We sipped champagne and held our strawberries aloft to receive fresh dollops of whipped cream. We chatted with her tight inner circle of peops, who we've come to know through other birthday parties and Thanksgiving dinners.

It might have been one of the most pleasant, decadent ways to spend a spring afternoon, reminiscent of her birthday party, five years ago, that M and I attended under very different circumstances. Back then, we were co-workers who were just starting to hang out as friends. M played happy birthday on his guitar and we sang round after round, relishing the song, the intimacy of shared voices, the quiet knocking at the door to each of our hearts.

Now, five years later, we are married and we have a daughter. Parties are...different. What was once just a charming outdoor deck in West County is now a treacherous obstacle course of holes and slopes and stairs and spiny plants that threaten our toddling baby. Instead of lingering in conversation, we are on constant alert, taking turns chasing Mallory and watching her go up and down the stairs. Up again, down again.

We used to chuckle at "Make Love Whenever Possible When Married with Children." Now we talk in solemn whispers about how hard it often feels, how little time we have to ourselves, how anyone ever has the energy to have another one. Lately we've been pining for those long ago days when we'd sleep til 10, eat thick pancakes for breakfast, and sometimes find ourselves back in bed before lunch. Of course: we love our little Mallory, couldn't imagine life without her breaking into spontaneous dance on the corner of Magnolia and Hollywood Way this past weekend in LA.

We are a tad grayer than we were half a decade ago, collectively a few pounds heavier. But what hasn't changed is the steady rock of my heart when I watch him play the guitar. The happy tug in my gut when it's him calling me to say hi and ask if Mallory is eating well today. The comfort of whispering in the dark just before we fall asleep.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Good Hope

I was seriously considering skipping this month's blog post. I probably would have if not for Jenna's recent comment. I've never been good at letting anyone down, especially myself, but if my little sister who's spending the semester in lovely and exciting Istanbul can still make time to visit my blog, then I can at least take a few minutes to write something.

So. I am exhausted. Last night, for some mysterious reason, Mallory woke up five times. I dreamed we were swimming off the Cape of Good Hope, warm and carefree. Sometimes I look back on my life before being a mother and I marvel at all the time and freedom I had and wonder how I could have taken a second of it for granted.

March has been a whirlwind of a month. I took on extra writing assignments for the Bohemian, I threw Mallory a birthday party, I raised my voice at the douche after class one day, I saw my therapist again after a long hiatus, I read a so-bad-I-love-it crime novel, I graded mid-terms, I ran my feet into blisters and fungus (gross, I know), I made a failed banana cream pie which turned into a yellow runny mess (also gross, though it tasted okay).

I did too many things in a rushed and hurried manner, stalking minutes like prey. I even made lemon frosting with one hand while holding Mallory with the other, because M was going to be home soon and I really wanted his cake to be finished when he walked in the door, and Mallory would not have it.

I'd been looking forward to dying Easter eggs today. Instead I used nine eggs (nine!) making brunch and coconut cake, which is disappearing fast. It's been raining off and on, harder than it has in weeks. The just-planted garden looks beautiful. The snapdragons are popping open.

Mallory is in bed after another day of walking, climbing, reorganizing the kitchen cabinets, and practicing her new word, "wow." Tonight she lifted up my shirt and blew a raspberry on my tummy the way I've done to her for a year now. M and I will snuggle on the couch and watch a little TV together and then head to bed soon ourselves, praying for some blissful, uninterrupted sleep.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Back to the Board

It feels so lovely to be back in the classroom! Maybe it's because I'm 34 now with a child of my own, but I feel so much more compassion for my students and all their annoying foibles. The arrogant white douche who thinks all Muslims are terrorists, the primadonna princess who rips up her homework because I won't accept late work: these are the kids who used to drive me crazy, keep me up at night wondering how to reach them.

Now they are opportunities to hone my craft. If I can keep the conservative jock from making an enemy out of me, if I can be kind to the spoiled princesses who expect special treatment, then I've succeeded. It's taken me years to realize that teaching does not mean preaching. Whereas I used to feel it was my job to enlighten all the Kool-Aid drinkers, I now accept that people do not shift their worldviews thanks to one clamoring English teacher. Sometimes a subtle nod is more effective than all the gesticulating in the world. More often than not, other students are able to keep their peers in check, as in last night's class when a certain male suggested that women who dress provocatively might be asking to get assaulted and four female hands promptly shot into the air.

The truth is, I  became a teacher because I love performing. Though I have no desire to be on stage acting or singing (God help us!) or even reading my own essays, I absolutely crave the instructor's spotlight. I love leading discussions about literature or effective thesis statements; I thrill at the sight of several hands waving in the air. From the first class I taught at 25, I was hooked.

But like many enthusiastic teachers, I fell into believing that I was going to change the world through my students. I became over-invested in their successes and failures, got stressed when they missed an assignment or didn't do the reading, took personally their rejection of books ("How dare you not love Steinbeck as much as I do!"), spent hours obsessing over the nuances of every class, chastising myself for my limitless shortcomings. 

I wish I could say I'd gotten beyond all that, but the truth, of course, is that just this week I berated myself for finishing class in a rush (oh the horror). On the other hand, I no longer over-plan class. I let my TA review some of their homework, and am even going to let her run a thesis-writing workshop on Monday. I'm learning how to give myself a break.

I may not convince the cocky white guy that racism does indeed still exist in America today. Maybe he has to learn that elsewhere. Maybe it's enough that another student came up to me after class the other day, thrilled that I'd read his essay introduction to the class. No teacher has ever used my writing as an example of something good before, he said to me. I'm proud of myself. Well, I smiled back at him, you should be.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A year later...

I love symmetry, especially when it comes to time. So of course I love that a year and a day ago I posted a list of resolutions for 2012, which, I am pleased to report, I mostly fulfilled:

1. No new books. Read the ones I got. Stuck to this one like seaweed to rice. Bought only one (used) book the entire year,  Ian Sansom's The Truth About Babies. It's one of those books organized into tons of chapters that can be savored over months. Still reading it   :)

2. Let go of stuff. Rid the clutter. First of all,  it's hilarious to me that I actually made this a resolution--me, who decides I no longer like a shirt and immediately flings it out to the giving tree, whose idea of a great Saturday afternoon is organizing the mud room. So yeah, this was an easy one. Now if only I could get M to clean out his side of the closet...

3. Dance more. Yep, definitely did, if being in a constant state of bounce/jiggle/trot with an infant in arms can be considered dancing. Ditto the ridiculous feats of foot stomping and arm wagging and hip swiveling that M and I perform in an attempt to keep Mallory entertained while we cook dinner.

4.Publish 10 new pieces in 10 new places. Oy. Almost. Not 10, but 6, with a 7th coming out soon. Disappointing, I must admit, but I also became the food writer for the Bohemian and just got an inspiring personal rejection from the editor of Pank, so my heart continues to soar. This coming year? 10 for sure!

5. Relax. This I'm most proud of. I relaxed alright. I lounged around on the living room floor while Mallory made a sport of biting my nose. I stayed in my jammies until 2:00 on random Wednesdays and ignored the heap of laundry and crawled into bed at noon on Sunday (just today, in fact) to savor a midday nap. Yes, I still burn with restless energy, I never say no to a writing assignment, and I still use a half-soiled napkin to wipe down the entire kitchen floor (yep, just today) in the midst of cooking breakfast. But yes, thanks mostly to Mallory, who demands so much of me so much of the time, I have finally embraced the lovely and amazing art of doing nothing sometimes.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

At Long Last

This blog entry is tragically overdue, mostly because I often wait for the little blogger inspiration fairy to whisper in my ear, and lately, if she's been whispering, I can't hear her over Mallory's shrieks.

Might as well begin there. My sweet little darling angel has, in the past couple of weeks, turned clingy and impish, wanting to nurse or be held constantly. Mornings are an elaborate dance to see how quickly we can crack eggs and pour coffee before she has time to crawl over and pull herself up on our legs (another charming newish development, which is accompanied by whiny pleading and eyes wide with heartbreak). To boot, M started his full-time job this week (yay for benefits!) which means that I am now alone with our little darling. All. Day. Long.

Now, let me be clear: she's a whole lot of fun to hang out with. She's a great listener, happy to lend an ear to my anxious ramblings (is this too much butter for rice crispy treats?) and neurotic cataloging (when we get home from this walk, I'm going to change your diaper, make a quick snack, feed you, and then finish writing my article while you frolic about with your toys, okay?). And sometimes she actually does occupy herself for stretches of time, seemingly oblivious to me. I'll suddenly be struck by the silence, bolt up from my desk chair, and discover Mallory in the bedroom licking the mirror, or at the bookcase browsing the nonfiction shelf, or in the bathroom unraveling an entire roll of toilet paper (only if I've forgotten to close the door, an essential habit now that she also enjoys standing up at the toilet and drumming the porcelain).

The thing that's so difficult (and promising) about babies is that they are constantly changing. We thought we had a solid hour-long (or more) morning nap dialed in. But for the past week, she's waking up after just 20 minutes, maybe 45. We thought we'd finally rounded a corner on food, getting her to eat mashed sweet potatoes and carrots and bananas daily. Now as soon as she sees the spoon, she turns her head away with a look of disgust. Of course, she's constantly sneaking other things into her mouth: crushed leaves, lint, plastic twisty ties, a sticker that she peeled off of my computer while I was checking my email. Last night she did gum up part of a biscuit I made to accompany our potato leek soup (the first of many creations simmered in our new Christmas crock pot :), while sitting peacefully on my lap for a full half hour. I loved it.

Maybe it's the wintry weather, or all those episodes of Chopped, or the fact that I am the Bohemian's food writer and finally embracing the position, but M and I are in full culinary splendor, discovering the joys of baked eggs and pop-ups, chicken marsala, homemade caramels and candied lemon and orange peels. Yum! And thanks in equal parts to nursing and our jogging stroller, I get to indulge my many sweet teeth and still fit into clothes I haven't worn since before pregnancy. The only downside to all this cooking are the ants, who are invading our kitchen and mud room on a daily basis. We've tried orange peels and cayenne and vinegar, but are still losing a few battles. Fingers crossed that borax will put an end to this war.

So. The sun is just peeking out. Mallory is still asleep, going on 45 minutes now. I've been up since 5:45, which means I've already eaten breakfast twice. I've also read a chapter of my book, cleaned the kitchen with M, put piles of my summer clothing away on the closet shelf, and worked a bit on an essay that is almost ready to be submitted. There are other things I need to do, like wrap a few overdue Christmas packages and brush my teeth, but those things can be accomplished when Mallory is awake and watching me with those big curious alert eyes of hers. For now, I relish the chance to do whatever I want.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Re-election Day!

9:53 am

Just back from a run, sweaty and good-sore. Mallory fell asleep in the jogging stroller. Waiting for M to swing by on a break from work so we can all head to the polls together. Feeling even more excited than I was on Halloween. Today marks the end of Mitt Romney as someone I should know or care about. Now that's a treat.

12:25 pm

Just back from voting, where I was delighted to see Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan on the ballot for the Peace and Freedom Party :) After casting our votes, M and I had sandwiches at the Village Bakery and then walked home in the lovely hot sunshine. I realized that this is the fourth election I've voted in, my first time being the soul-crushing "defeat" of Al Gore in 2000. If Obama's win four years ago helped to redeem that travesty of democracy, then this year will surely help redeem Bush's reelection in 2004.

5:34 pm

Can't believe it's dark out already! Our jack-o-lanterns are glowing one final time and the champagne is chilling. I just interviewed Terri and Mark Stark, who own five outstanding restaurants in the county and who are two of the nicest folks I've talked to in awhile. Instead of bowing down to the almighty customer, they are primarily committed to taking care of their staff. Instead of recruiting big-name chefs, they promote from within. Home now, we eagerly await news of Ohio and Florida.

7:45 pm

M is glued to the TV, I'm working on an article at my desk, and Mallory is ping-ponging between us. Our bellies are full of gold beets and pasta and our hearts are full of hope. All signs point to Obama! Elizabeth Warren won the Senate seat in Massachusetts!

9:32 pm

Four years ago M and I were a newly-hatched couple, cheering Obama's victory at his house in Sebastopol. Tonight we are two years married with an eight-month old daughter, who is now fast asleep as we celebrate with champagne, rum balls, ice cream, and leftover Halloween candy. Obama will be president until Mallory is practically in kindergarten. I love it!

11:12 pm

We're up later than usual, elated at the prospect of four more years in which, at the very least, we have a president who is not committed to protecting the super-rich and stripping away the rights of everyone who is not white, male, straight, and privileged. The crowd at Romney headquarters shows mostly pasty men in suits, pudgy and joyless. At Obama headquarters there are people of all ages, races, styles, and identities. In their faces I see the future of our country, and it's beautiful.