Thursday, June 29, 2006

camp blather, part II

On an evening early on in our weeklong stay, Iris developed a fixation on the gorgeous 16 year-old girl staying in the next cabin. This girl was part of a large, extended family gathering, and on one magical evening, she held Iris and her littler cousin by the hand and took them to the store, buying them candy and Slim Jims (it was a mark of Iris's huge esteem that she, the tiny vegetarian activist who spent much of her vacation creating anti-meat posters, grossed out by the dining room meat-eaters, instantly forgave her idol for buying her meat). Iris sat with this idol at the staff talent show and was in heaven.

For the rest of the week, the 16 year-old goddess (and she was a goddess, with long, perfect golden hair and the sort of flawless figure only a 16 year old can have) paid virtually no attention to Iris, and Iris, obsessed with her, took it out on me. For days, Iris would harangue me. "I want the neighbors, where are the neighbors?" She would choose a seat at the dining hall behind the neighbors, so she could stare at the object of her obsession. She was so frustrated and at times teary. I tried to explain that a 16 year-old and a 6 year-old only had so much in common and that a 16 year-old needed to go off and do teenaged things (word was this one was spending some quality time with one of the lifeguards), but Iris would not listen and felt that I didn't understand and wasn't helping. This drove me crazy for days.

On one wretched day, it rained and rained, and we were cooped up in our tiny, muddy cabin. I felt irked as I had, while packing, checked the weather forecast and learned that we were set for a week of sun and high temperatures. Stir-crazy, we drove to the nearby Hetch Hetchy water preserve to see where our urban water comes from. We hiked a bit (the rain was almost all on the other side of the ridge, over at Camp Mather, so we had only intermittent showers at Hetch Hetchy). Lucy was deeply disturbed by the idea that the water she saw would go to San Francisco and exit in faucets. "I don't want that going to any house!" she kept saying. She seemed traumatized by this, oddly enough, and for the rest of her time in the Sierras, she would point to any body of water she saw and say, "I don't want that going to a house!"

When finally the sun came back out and we got a warmer day, we took the children to Camp Mather's tiny swimming pool. Iris wanted to practice for the swimming test needed to venture into the deep end and the lake, and Lucy enjoyed splashing about and playing on a purple inflated float. I sat at the shallow end, with my feet in the water, to keep an eye on the children (there was also a lifeguard on duty, an inscrutable teenager with his eyes hidden behind dark shades). I got hotter and hotter in my warm shirt and asked Anton to give me my t-shirt, which he'd borrowed. He threw it over my head, where it landed in the pool. As I fished my wet shirt out of the pool and turned to interrogate my husband as to what the hell he'd been thinking, Lucy slipped off her float and went down. The lifeguard and I were both oblivious. The swimming teacher pulled Lucy up, got her coughing up what she'd swallowed, and brought her to me. I felt like an idiot, of course. I held Lucy and wrapped her up in a towel and warmed her and felt incredibly lucky that she was okay and incredibly stupid that I'd taken my eyes from her for a minute.

Lucy didn't go back into the pool for the rest of our vacation, feeling no desire to go near it. She did, on our last day, wade into the shallow lagoon end of the lake up to her knees in search of polliwogs, but that was as much aquatic adventure as she wished.

On Friday, Iris, feeling brave, asked my permission to go to dinner at the dining hall by herself. She knew how to sign in by giving our cabin number, and she said it would be okay to sit by herself, so I granted permission. The rest of us were running late to dinner, as we were chatting with a friendly German father and his little son at the lake. I needed to shower, as early I had been in the muddy lake lagoon catching polliwogs for Iris, which we released after scrutinizing their budding limbs and bulbous heads.

Wanting to check in on Iris, I went ahead of Anton and Lucy and discovered her sitting at a table with older children, including the also glamorous 12 year old younger sister of Iris's idol (the idol being nowhere in sight). I left her there, as she was obviously happy, and picked a table outside in the sun.

After dinner, Iris asked permission to run off with the other children for a while, and we agreed. [For the concerned readers, let me explain that this, unthinkable by city standards, was normal by Camp Mather standards. Older children went to the store by themselves, went bicycling about on the paths by themselves, played by themselves, etc... Camp Mather is located far from any town or highway, in the high Sierras]. I prevailed upon Anton to go play badminton with me (Lucy intermittently tried to serve by throwing the birdie barely over the net or played by the court). We played until we began to worry about Iris. I took Lucy to the just-starting children's Friday night dance, and Anton set off in search of Iris. After Lucy's mishap, we were filled with paranoid worries that the children had gone to the lake and drowned. Eventually Anton came back and reported that Iris, whom we'd been so worried about, had been in our neighbor's cabin, wearing a borrowed hot pink beret. The 12 year-old had paid Iris $5 to pack for her. (Every time Anton and I ever become worried about Iris, it without fail develops that she is off somewhere demonstrating how she is truly the world's littlest teenager and performing at a level far beyond her age).

Lucy loved the children's dance, learning the chicken dance and the bunny hop and performing the limbo, which was familiar to her due to her repeated viewings of "PeeWee's Playhouse." The music changed from little kids' music to a mix of mild funk and 80's dance, as things segued into a family dance. Iris showed up, but she would not dance with her old mother, preferring to join in a group of older children circling around the glamorous 12 year-old (who proved to be an inspired dancer). Anton took Lucy back to the cabin to try to put her to bed. Feeling at odds, I went up to a circle of dancing women and said, "Can I dance with you mommmies? My daughter won't dance with me!" They laughed, and I had so much fun dancing with them. I realized that we were exactly at the right point in life to abandon ourselves to dancing without concern: as we were all mated, we weren't trying to look cool or get laid.

Anton brought Lucy back. Hearing the music in the distance, Lucy could get to sleep and asked to be brought back to Mommy. But then, suddenly the music changed to a raunchy hiphop tune, and the teenaged staff of Camp Mather, who had evidently been waiting in the shadows, leapt onto the floor and started grinding away on each other. This abrupt transition was bizarre. (Perhaps I should have been prepared for this: the morning after the "teen ice cream social" earlier in the week, I discovered a hastily ripped open Trojans box on the ground). My dancing mothers pulled back and faded away to their cabins. I waded into the dance floor and pulled Iris out, telling her it was time to go back to the cabin. The 12 year-old, extremely uncomfortable with the turn of events, asked if she could walk back with us. I was charmed by her innocence, as she talked about how disturbing it was when kids dirty-dance. But back at the cabins, her father was upset that she'd left the dance just as it was becoming a teen dance (the dance had scheduled segments: kids' dance, family dance, teen dance, with set start-times, and, as we learned, musical cues dramatically announcing each phase). He pressured her to go back with him. I said that I felt she had good boundaries and that what I'd seen was something I'd have been more comfortable with in college, but the father felt strongly. He hopped on his fake-fur trimmed bicycle to ride back and see the dance for himself. His daughter started that eternal card game, war, with Iris, and I drifted back to my own area to read my Ayun Halliday memoir. The father returned, and he insisted on returning his daughter back to the teen dance. I was irked when he spoke to Iris in what seemed to be a cruel way, rubbing it in that she could not go to the dance but that his daughter had to go because she was a teenager. Anton later opined that perhaps the father felt his child was acting too young for her age, but I was absolutely mindblown by the fact that a parent would push a 12 year-old into a social scene she felt was too sexualized for herself.

Poor Iris, who is sensitive, had to fall back on playing "Sorry" with her parents. Eventually she, too, went off to bed. I ended up staying up quite late, getting drunk on Rainwater Madeira with a different neighbor, after even Anton went off to bed.

The next morning, tired and frustrated (everyone but Lola) and hung-over (only me), it was time to pack up our belongings and return home.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I cooked some cucumbers, at last

Over a year ago, I bought a cookbook which included a recipe for baking cucumbers. "Cooking cucumbers, that's insane!" I thought. Although I was intrigued, I never got around to trying it. As you may have intimated, the Drunken Housewife is not always fast off the mark. Sometimes she needs to mull something over or just plain procrastinate (not to mention talk about herself in the third person).

So it took over a year AND a newer cookbook before I finally got off my butt and cooked some cucumbers. This gave me the feeling of taking care of business and crossing stuff off a to do list, although in reality who has a to do list including "bake cucumbers before I die"? The result was fabulous. Even my naysaying husband, who said, "Please don't. Who cooks cucumbers? That sounds terrible" loved the cucumbers.

Baked Cucumbers in Basil Cream
from Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John Peterson (I am in love with "Famer John": a man who sports a feather boa, at least for his photo shoots).

1 1/2 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
4-5 cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, cut into 1 inch slices
2 T unsalted butter, melted
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 C heavy cream
3 T chopped fresh basil leaves
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix vinegar, salt and sugar in medium bowl. Add cucumber slices and toss. Set aside for 30 min to marinate.

Drain cucumber slices & pat dry (I assigned Iris and Lucy to do this, which took them almost half an hour as they painstakingly dabbed each one).

Put cucumbers in a shallow baking dish. Pour melted butter and scallions; mix. Bake, stirring occasionally, about 45 min.

Heat cream in small pot until it comes to a light boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1/2 C (about 20 min). Stir in basil, remove fr. heat; let sit 2 min. or more. Pour basil cream over cucumbers. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Bon appetit!

Lucy meets a pregnant woman

Lucy, Iris and I were fortunate enough to lunch with a pregnant acquaintance today, who started her maternity leave on her due date and is eager to have her baby any day now. Lucy was quite impressed. Later, when we got home, Lucy laid down very carefully on the couch, moving as though she were an invalid (which our friend incidentally did not, although she did have to go to the bathroom every few minutes). Lucy gently cradled her hands on her stomach. "Is there a baby in my belly?" she asked. A little disappointed when I said no, no chance, she asked when, where, and how she could get one in there.

Monday, June 26, 2006

my children fight about who farted

Lucy finds farting hilarious and, on the relatively rare occasions when she does fart, she announces proudly, "My butt made that noise!" Once, not all that long ago, cantankerous older sister Iris argued, "No, MY butt made that noise!" They were headed towards tears, arguing loudly, when I interrupted and suggested, "Maybe BOTH your butts made a noise at the same time! You both farted!" Peace was restored.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Today's Chronicle reported yet another animal hoarding disaster: a Petaluma man kept about 1,000 rats in twenty cages in his tiny rental home. These rats were confiscated, and those not euthanized will be put up briefly for adoption, and then euthanized. (Petaluma's shelter is a kill shelter, sad to say). The rats are friendly and were well-cared for, to the extent anyone can care for 1,000 rats. The man had tried to keep his female and male rats separated, but things got out of control.

The last time there was an epic rat hoarder, I adopted two of the rats. This time, things are different, as I currently have three cats and a parrot, plus we have the preschool goldfish for the summer. Additionally, we don't have a good room in which to keep rats (our old house had an enclosed deck which made a lovely rat room, although on very cold nights or very hot days I had to move the rats into the main house). I want to take some of these rats, but it could mean a marital crisis.

My plea to all readers: please, please consider taking a couple of rats. I'll drive to Petaluma and pick them out, if you like and if you firmly commit. As the head vet of the San Francisco SPCA has opined, rats make the ideal first pet. They are gentle and forgiving, and they are remarkably tolerant of a small child's fumblings. They are quiet, affectionate, and charming, and they can be taught tricks if you have the attention span (Anton once taught some of ours to spin in circles for M&Ms in just one afternoon). They eat your leftovers happily. Compact and silent, they are the perfect urban pet. A small apartment can be a complete world for a pet rat.

From today's Chronicle:

Animal control workers discover house stuffed with rats
Majority of rodents kept in large cages in one-room home

Cicero A. Estrella, Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writers

Friday, June 23, 2006

Petaluma animal control workers expected to find a horde of cats when they knocked on the door of a 67-year-old man whose neighbor complained of a stench. Instead, they stumbled onto a scene straight out of the movie "Willard."

About 1,000 pet rats -- ranging from 3-year-old adults to little pink newborns -- shared the one-room house with Roger Dier.

Dier kept nearly all of his small furry friends in about 20 huge cages that he lined up around the room. About 20 of his rats were running around loose, said Nancee Tavares, Petaluma Animal Services manager.

He also shared the place with seven cats.

"His bed was in the middle of the room, and there was food, cat litter and who knows what else all over the floor," Tavares said.

Whatever else was on the floor wafted into the noses of neighbors, who complained to animal services about what they thought was the smell of cat urine coming from Dier's house.

When Dier opened the door to the Animal Services workers on Tuesday, he told them that he had only seven cats, but added that he did own "a lot of rats," Tavares said.

Animal Services confiscated the rodents Tuesday and spent about $1,000 for cages that are serving as temporary homes at the animal shelter.

Dier was cited for misdemeanor animal cruelty. He kept as many as 50 rats in each of the 30-by-24-inch cages -- crowded conditions, but most of his pets were otherwise well-fed and cared for, Tavares said.

"He made some attempt to segregate the males from the females, but he just became overwhelmed," Tavares said.

Dier also purchased about 250 pounds of rat food every week, she said.

Neighbors described Dier as a quiet man who sometimes worked a computer-related job at night. They said he lived in the home -- one of four in a complex -- on the 800 block of Bodega Avenue for 17 years, and sometimes, they added, he didn't have enough money to pay for electricity.

Dier's landlord, Saverio DiTomaso, said he recently sold the four-house complex because of the headaches that Dier and the rats have caused.

"I could smell the piss from the cats, and then when I saw the rats I went berserk," DiTomaso said. "I didn't want to report him, though, because I felt sorry for him."

DiTomaso said Dier promised to get rid of the rats. About two weeks ago, DiTomaso went against his policy and entered Dier's house. He found that the rats had dug holes through the basement to the yard outside.

"I think it was a dirty trick because I trusted him," DiTomaso said. "I knew there were cats, but rats?"

Neighbor Dave Blake said he killed one of the rats, which strayed too close to his home.

"I can't envision anybody living like that because I hate rats," Blake said.

Animal Services will put the adolescent male rats up for adoption for $5 each starting Tuesday. They will put the females up for adoption in 21 days -- their usual gestation period -- to make sure they aren't pregnant.

About 70 rats were euthanized because they were sick or injured, Tavares said. That leaves the shelter with more than 900 rats.

Tavares doesn't expect many will be adopted. Those that are not adopted will be euthanized, she said.

"They're not that popular," she said. "But they're nice pets, believe it or not. They're very social, they like to ride on their owner's shoulder."

Tavares hopes Dier, whom she described as a "classic hoarder," doesn't face any charges or additional citations.

She hopes he will submit to mandatory monitoring by Animal Services and be allowed to keep no more than two rats.

"Hoarders have a 100 percent rate of recidivism unless some action is taken," she said.

Petaluma animal control workers have experience dealing with hoarders. In 2001, they found 196 cats living inside a Petaluma home owned by a San Francisco resident, Marilyn Barletta.

Anyone interested in adopting a rat can reach Petaluma Animal Services at (707) 778-4396.

The Worst Mess Ever: possible world record

This is a day forever burned into my brain: the Day of the Worst Mess Ever. These events transpired over a year ago, but the pain endures.

A friend of ours was hospitalized, and, to offer her a break from lackluster hospital food, I bought her a bag of fancy Italian yuppie groceries. After a long, tiring day, I asked my husband to take this over to our friend's bedside. Just before he left, and unbeknownst to me, he opened the refrigerator door so our toddler could play with the food (this seeming act of insanity was habitual with him: he grew up with a strong sense of injustice that his parents never let him hold the refrigerator door open for more than a millisecond, and he was hellbent that our children will always be able to have the refrigerator door open as long as they like). I was upstairs with our older daughter for the moment.

I heard my toddler crying, so I trotted downstairs to find that she had broken an entire dozen eggs all over the kitchen floor. She was covered with raw eggs; the floor was covered with raw eggs. It was so disgusting, and visions of salmonella were dancing in my head (I buy the cage-free, organic eggs normally, but You Never Know).

The broken egg slime covered a huge area, as well as the protesting toddler, and cleaning this up took some time. Within ten minutes of my clearing the last of that mess up, just as I was reaching for my bottle of Two Buck Chuck and the corkscrew, my toddler pooped, reached into her diaper, scooped out a handful of what was to her an artistic medium, and smeared it all over herself. This meant postponing Chuck as I moved into emergency bath measures.

During the ensuing bath, she grabbed a big handful of shampoo bubbles and smeared it into her eyes, resulting in a crying jag lasting a good twenty minutes.

When the husband returned home, happy and wanting to report our friend's progress, he did not receive the loving, eager welcome he'd expected.

If anyone can report a worse toddler-caused mess, I'd be happy to yield the title of Worst Mess Ever. Misery does love company!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lucy enters a brave new era

Potty humor. It hit today, with a vengeance.

Here's just a small sampling:

"What if you give a monkey some doo doo to eat??" (laughs hysterically)
(the pathetic part is that due to Lucy's speech issues, Iris and I had to really work to understand this little gem)

Lucy: "I am the only one who pees and poops!"
Me: "I think everyone pees and poops."
Lucy: "Robots don't pee and poop!" (more hysterical laughter from Lucy at her own wit)

Meanwhile, Iris has become quite prudish, and was nagging me that Lucy shouldn't be naked in our relatively secluded backyard. "Anyone in the world could see her!"

"What is meat, Mommy?"

At Camp Mather, I overheard a mom and a little boy (probably 3 or 4) talking in the shower room while I was doing my make-up. The mom said, happily, "It's our favorite tonight for dinner! Steak!"

"What is steak, Mommy?"
"It's meat."
"What is meat, Mommy?"
The mother giggled and didn't answer.
"What is meat, Mommy?" the boy asked more insistently. Again, his mother giggled nervously and didn't answer.
Frustrated, the boy said louder, "WHAT IS MEAT, MOMMY?" several times. His mother just simpered and said, in a fakey, silvery voice, "Why are you asking me this?" Ummm, maybe because he wants to know what he's eating? Eventually the boy gave up and fell silent.

This really disturbed me. As a long-term vegetarian, I don't ask that everyone convert, but it would be nice if meat-eaters could own their actions. If you think it's okay to eat animals and feed them to your children, then do so with pride. The boy had a legitimate question which should have been answered. (Indeed, as grown-ups, don't we want to know what we're eating? It's a fundamental human right: to know what is going in your mouth).

penis penis penis penis penis

My children love to talk about penises, to the point that it's embarrassing. Iris torments her little sister by saying, "Lubrick has a penis!" Lucy has figured out a brilliant tactic in the sibling wars: if she gives her sister permission to do something, the joy is sapped for the tormentor. "It's oklay for Iris to say I have a peeeenis," Lucy chirps. In private, she says to me, "All the times Iris says I have a peeeeenis, SHE IS WRONG!"

However, Iris's nonstop teasing on this point may be confusing Lucy. At Camp Mather, I overheard Lucy murmur to herself in a stall, mid-urination, "It looks like I do have a penis." Lucy has also harangued me about why her baby doll lacks this equipment and suggested that we "make a penis" to sew on. Anton has drawn the line at that. "It is inappropriate to make penises!" Lucy argued, "But Iris knows how!" That's an arts-and-crafts project I'm not looking forward to.

Although this penis chatter seems over-the-top, the alternative is worse, to my mind. Not long ago we had one of Iris's friends from kindergarten over. In the car, Iris came out with the time-honored taunt, "Lucy has a penis!" "What is a penis?" her friend asked. Anton, ever-informative, started to answer, but I immediately shut him up. I am not close with the other child's mother, and I could only imagine how sordid a story this would make in the retelling. What would this little girl say at home? "Anton told me about penises!" or, worse, "Anton has a big penis!" (which is what our children say: Iris says Anton has a big one and Lucy has a little one, which is evidently why Lucy's is not visible to the eye). I immediately imagined a potential kindergarten scandal, with a lack of playdates for our young socialite. We left it to Iris to explain this fact of anatomy.

Later I polled a few other parents about how they would have handled this. All were united in their shock that a six year-old didn't know what a penis was, but they were all additionally agreed that it was too risky for a husband/father to discuss penises with someone else's kindergartener.

My plea: please, parents of the world, tell your children the facts of anatomy so that no other parents are put on the spot later. And please don't use euphemisms. There are studies showing that children who are taught to use the proper anatomical names are significantly less likely to be molested, perhaps because they are brought up to be able to discuss their bodies honestly without shame. The generally admirable Ayun Halliday taught her child to call her personal area her "bukiluki"; a parent I otherwise love calls her child's vulva her "lucy." Imagine how that's going to make my Lucy feel should that come up in conversation.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Father's Day

Father's Day was not overly celebrated here, as we had just gotten back from a week of camp. Also, I'd given Anton his present ages before (I bought him a seat at a charity poker game).

I had planned on getting the children to make him cards, but in the event, we didn't get it done. So at dinner, I asked the children to tell their father what made him a great father.

Lucy: "He is really weird!"
Iris (after huge amounts of thought and various demurrals): "He's funny."
Lucy (after more prompting from me, getting more and more excited): "HE'S REALLY WEIRD AND FUNNY AND STRANGE AND WEIRD AND REALLY REALLY WEIRD!"

Needless to say, this was not the heartwarming moment I had sought to create.

Camp blather, part 1

(I wrote this at Camp Mather, but didn't get a chance to write more. The rest of the sordid story will be doled out later).

I've been hearing about Camp Mather since I procreated (it seems to be a piece of knowledge shared amongst the breeders; I lived in SF for over a decade as a non-breeder and never heard it mentioned). Now I am there. Amongst the SF family set, it is legendary. Families enter into lotteries each winter to vie for the rights to spend a week at Camp Mather. Lucy's preschool teacher has been coming every year since she was a child.

I have the feeling here that I am the only one here for whom this is not a dream vacation. Yesterday when we were waiting in line, someone asked someone else, "Where else do you vacation?" and the second someone said, "Well, we come here every year, and of course, Disneyland." I suppressed a shudder. I dread that mouse.

Like Disneyland, we spend a lot of time waiting in line. We wait in line for every meal (my husband made the mistake of praising the concept of having every meal ready-made at set times, and I icily warned him that he was treading on thin ice. "But when do you make me three meals a day?" he asked, before he backpedaled: "Of course, the food at home is MUCH better"). Anton usually skips out of the line, leaving me to watch the children and hold our place in line.

The trip here was more onerous than it should have been. Although our driving instructions were simple, we managed to screw it up and end up taking an hour-long detour (although this was interesting for me personally, slightly, as I ended up seeing a bit of Lodi, where a high school classmate had lived, a classmate of particular interest as my friend Kim and I had sort-of-enjoyed a strange group flirtation with him).

Additionally, my children are the sort of children who ask you constantly, "Are we there yet? How much longer? How much now? When will we be there?" I considered making a rule that I would flick Iris with my index finger each time she asked "Are we there yet?" to provide some negative reinforcement, but I am not quite ready to go there yet into the land of physical punishment, no matter how slight.

So we got here lateish, missing dinner, and Sat. was spent just packing, driving, and unpacking. On Sunday, we discovered how to wait in line at the dining hall, we rode our bikes (this is frustrating for me in particular, as my bike is spectacularly unsuited for riding on unpaved paths. I'm riding an elderly racing bike, with skinnyskinny tires, which requires me to lean waaaay over aerodynamically to hold the handlebars. I'm envying everyone on sensible, beaten-up mountain bikes, not to mention the next door neighbors, with their Burning Man bikes with the fabulous fake fur covered baskets), the children swam in the pool, and Iris fell into the lake dramatically (Iris was fine, but traumatized bystander Lucy cried for ages).

Sleeping was not easy. Our tiny cabin has multiple beds, none of which are particularly comfortable. The children woke up a lot in the night, calling out for reassurance.

There was a warning at the office that there is a bear currently patrolling the camp for scrounging opportunities, and Anton and I were punctilious about clearing away our snacks before we wento bed. However, we had some chocolate milk and lemonade in our cooler, and we left that in front of our minuscule cabin. We didn't discuss it, but we were both thinking that we needed to put away food, not drink. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a noise. Although I had never heard this noise before, I instantly recognized it as the sound of superhuman forces being applied to our cooler. I woke up Anton. Although I knew it was a bear, I tried to downplay it to him to get him to deal with it. "Something's getting into our cooler." He thought it was just a neighbor and ignored it. I pressured him. Anton claims I pushed him out the door, but my opinion is that I just followed him, out of some sense that it would be unfair if he were alone in accosting a bear. He skittered out and grabbed our cooler, which was covered with wet filth. On closer examination, one of the handles had been sheared off, and there were tremendous toothmarks in the lid. I need to pee, but I held it in (the cabins have no bathrooms), as "there's a bear out there!", Anton remarked.

The next morning, Anton found the mangled carcasses of chocolate milk drink boxes next to a mighty pile of bear excrement. He disposed of the drink boxes, lest our guilt be discovered. We both felt like asses. We are allegedly experienced backcountry campers, unaccustomed to the cushiness of staying in cabins, and we screwed up royally. I feel awful that we contributed to the corruption of a bear, encouraging the bear to scrounge from humans, which can lead to it being executed by the Park Service to protect campers.

We had a disagreement over whether to tell the children, and haven't yet. City child Lucy started crying the first night when it got dark out of fear, and I didn't want to add to that. I felt vindicated in that decision when later in the day Lucy turned to me and said darkly, a propos of nothing, "We are going to be eaten." (As someone from rural Maine, I feel strange about the fact that my children are so frigging urban, but that's a subject for another day).

On Sunday, our first full day here, the one thing which I enjoyed was taking the children on a burro ride. There are horses for rent, but only for ages 7 and up. Our children qualified only for burro ride, which meant each parent leading a burro by a rope, free to go wherever we wished for one hour. At first Lucy covered her eyes with her hands and was quite frightened, but she soon loosened up and wished she could have a burro for her very own. Iris was enthralled from the beginning and called them "donkarinos" and formed strong opinions about how to pet them so as to motivate them to move onward. Leading the donkeys through a field full of wildflowers and butterflies, with no sounds but those of my happy children, I felt relaxed and joyful. This feeling wore off later.

I feel under a weird social pressure here. I've always heard how incredibly social Camp Mather is, full of frolicking San Francisco parents away from the pressures of the city, but we have yet to really hook up with anyone and find playmates for the children. There turned out to be a couple of families from Iris' old preschool, but they're camped all the way across on the other side, and Iris is about 2 years older than their children, who were a bit tongue-tied in addressing her. There's a family camped near us whom I should be hitting it off with royally, as the mother, whom i'd never met before, is on an email list with me. I had previously primed my Lucy that there would be another girl her same age near us to play with, but when we met that child, she'd already formed a friendship with a little girl she'd spent the afternoon with at the lake, and she took no interest in meeting Luce.

Last night, Anton felt under pressure to have some fabulous night of grown-up pleasure. Our friends Bob & Natasha had reported that after the children went to bed, the parents would sit up drinking wine by citronella candles and it was just delightful. We were both dog tired, but I sat up briefly after Iris went to bed out of spousal obligation.

Today held two pleasures: tie-dying and badminton. Twice a week the camp holds its signature tie-dying get-togethers, and the children had been eagerly anticipating it. "I'm gonna be a hippie!" said Iris repeatedly. Iris and Lucy made elegant spiral-dyed shirts, and Iris did a striped pair of pants as well.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Iris rates it all.

We're back from our vacation, staying in a rustic cabin at Camp Mather, and Iris filled out a guest survey:

How was your cabin/tent site? I liket the food.

Please tell us about the customer service you received during your stay. Are there any staff you would like to especially commend? i liket seeing the stars. And not hefting to go in to another room to get somthing.

Please rate the following programs from 1 (poor) to 5 (exceptional) Tie Dye 5 (exceptional) mixing colors on tie dye was nice
Swimming 4
Friday Night Dance 5 the songs were gret i was to old for the kids.
Junior Olympics 3 I was to old
Tiny Tot Olympics 3 I was to old

We conducted an Anti-Litter campaign this year to curb the amount of litter in camp. Please rate your impression of the campaign 5

The Application Process was conducted via the internet. Please rate your level of satisfaction: 6 I don't now wiye*

How do you rate the quality of the meals served during your stay? 5
What was your favorite meal? crem puffs
Comments: the food was gret. I at olmost evrey meal they served.

Camp Mather has two concessionaires. Please rate your experience with the following: Mather Corral 5 its gret.

Mather General Store 5 It has gret food.**

Laundry facilities 3 (standard) people should be ablele to do laundry.* .

Anything else you would like us to know? I rely liket my first time here. next time mebey you should make the sound at the movies a little louder. thank you goodby

* She rated this as more excellent than possible, but she observed that she didn't know why she was doing that. This is my favorite of her ratings.
** It has a huge candy section.
***note: she never went into the laundry room, and her father did the laundry.

Friday, June 09, 2006

"oh, just like 'Little Women'"

Ages ago, I had an old, childfree friend coming over for drinks, and I wasn't home when she arrived. My husband explained that I was out delivering food to an ill preschool teacher, and my friend remarked amusedly, "Oh, just like in 'Little Women.'" Well, it's been just like in "Little Women" here a lot lately. Preschool teachers are dropping like flies.

Last week we delivered a meal to Iris's former pre-k teacher, who was laid up following bunion surgery. Today, I cooked for Lucy's current teacher, who was hit by a taxi when crossing a street. I completely overcooked for her, because I was seized by the knowledge that I'm going away tomorrow for a week and I will have no access to a kitchen and no ability to cook. I love cooking, and I don't know quite what to do with myself if I can't cook. So I spent half the day laboring over a hot stove on the pretense of cooking for Lucy's teacher (of course, I doubled everything so we could have some of it all as well). I made spicy cauliflower, tortilla a la Espanola, Sicilian eggplant spread (to go with storebought artisanal bread), and a chocolate cake.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rules For Food

We had many mealtime squabbles, and I was fed up with working hard to create nutritious, tasty meals for ungrateful picky children. So I insisted we create a family meal policy. This led to a couple of days of fighting betweenst me, Anton, and Iris (with Lucy on the sidelines), but the resulting policy has been extremely useful. We keep this bound in a little book Iris made, and the children often request that we refer to it, and the children show it to dinner guests as well.

Note: some rules were written by me, some by Anton, some by Iris; all were the result of committee squabbling and drafting. The poor draftsmanship and repetitiousness do not reflect upon my legal drafting abilities.


1. Everyone must try food at meals unless they know they don't like it.

2. Children are not required to try or to eat foods they have previously rejected.

3. Children are not required to eat at a meal except to try new foods.

4. After meals, if anyone did not eat a reasonable serving, they can only eat fresh or dried fruit or vegetables until bedtime.

5. The following behaviors are prohibited during dinner:
- criticizing the food,
- making faces at food,
- asking for something different

and the following behaviors are mandatory:
- saying "thank you" to the person or people who cooked,
- sitting at the table peacefully,
- clearing one's plate at the end of the meal.

(signed at this point by Iris, Anton, Carole, Lucy)


Iris likes caramelized onions.
Lucy likes potatoes.**

Menu: (Christmas Eve)***
warm olives
brie & pear croustades
roasted potatoes w/rouille
chocolate pie

* Yes, I know that is repetitious. What can I say, it was a committee effort, and half the committee members were aged 6 or under.

** I often serve dishes featuring caramelized onions, and Iris always says, "I don't like onions" although she adores them when caramelized. I always say, "But these onions are caramelized and you love caramelized onions", and then she eats her dinner. Adding this to the family food rules would theoretically cut out the need for that dialogue. Lucy asked that her love of potatoes be memorialized for reasons of her own.

*** I don't remember who insisted on including the Christmas Eve menu, but we wrote the Family Food Rules around the beginning of the year, and the Christmas Eve food was still fondly remembered by all, and there was some sentiment that it should not be forgotten. Evidently Christmas day's food was eminently forgettable.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

the last day of kindergarten

All good things must come to an end, and for Iris, the halcyon days of kindergarten are over. As if that weren't harsh enough, her best friend from kindergarten is moving to Chicago. Poor little thing, that's a lot for a six year-old to deal with.

I don't recall being upset over the end of kindergarten, but then again I went to a crappy public school in rural Maine. I didn't have a glamorous art teacher, two empathetic full-time teachers for my tiny classroom of uniformed girls, two jolly phys ed coaches who called us "whippersnappers", and many of the other niceties of Iris's school. It's going to be a sad come-down for Iris to have to hang out with me and her little sister, after the glories and dramas of kindergarten. She has from an early age had a keenly honed sense of nostalgia, and she feels a bit of angst about no longer being one of the cutest, littlest kids at her school who gets so much attention.

what I'm reading now

"Flicker" by Theodore Roszak, which is weirdly gripping but extremely different from another of his novels which I loved.

I read Roszak's "The Devil and Daniel Silverman" without putting it down one second more than necessary a couple of years ago. I loaned it to a friend who never gave it back, and I ended up buying a second copy for myself. Yes, I liked it that much that I bought it twice. It's the story of an atheist, gay Jewish liberal stranded by a snowstorm at a Bible college in the midwest, very dark and very witty. "Flicker" is very different, written in a completely distinct style. While "The Devil" was written with a light, nearly campy hand, "Flicker" is very dense, with long, clause-laden sentences which often need to be read more than once. It's (at least so far) a tale of two cinemaphiles's discovery of the neglected oeuvre of a dead German director, heavy on the film theory and history of early moviemaking. I can tell it's building towards something, but it's not predictable what will occur.

I also just read with great pleasure the latest trade paperback collecting "Gotham Central" comics by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, "Unresolved Targets." Amazing art, snappy dialogue, realistic characters: another incredible graphic novel. I never followed a DC comic before I found "Gotham Central", but I'm hooked. I can't get enough of "Gotham Central." For those of you who aren't familiar with it, it's a hardboiled police procedural, in comic form, which follows realistic, stressed-out cops from Gotham who are sick of Batman taking all the glory. Some of them are corrupt, others are closeted, some are drunks: they're all beautifully drawn and fully-rounded, complex characters.

UPDATE: I just finished "Flicker", and what a haunting ending it has. A great, dense, imaginative book.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

and a fine morning it is, too

Perky Lucy turned to me this morning, as I was getting out of bed and putting my slippers on, and asked, "Why are me and you and your big old butt friends? Why???"

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Iris was quite a wit in her preschool days. Now that she's a kindergartener who, more than anything, resembles a miniature teenager, I cast my memory back to her lighter days at times. Here are some Irisisms from age four:

"When I grow up, I think Lucy should be MY child."

"I know so many rules. I learned a new rule today," said very proudly,
skipping down the sidewalk away from preschool.
(Me: makes encouraging, drawing out noises)
"It's about 'No Pushing.'"

(When I tried to get to the bottom of how she "learned this new rule", all I got was "I don't remember" and "I'm always very good").

(to one of her friends at preschool, said with a monitory fingershaking) "Now, Meredyth, I know you get very upset when I'm not here."

Iris commanded my presence and her baby sister's at a puppet show: she flicked the lights off and on to signal the show starting AND she asked me and Lucy sternly if we'd turned off our celphones and pagers before the performance. After this very professional start, the puppet show consisted of her brandishing a chicken made out of a paper bag and shouting, "Boo! Boo! Boo!"

Iris made up a tall tale one day about how at snacktime at her preschool, they served "dried worms" and hers was the looooongest dried worm of all the children's dried worms. I found the story funny, and I ran with the concept for a while, asking if everyone ate their worms, were there enough dried worms for seconds, etc... Consumed with nagging guilt, Iris confessed over a week later that she'd lied, saying "my head was all confused."

(to Lucy) "You have thirty seconds to make me throw up."

(grandly) "Everyone on the earth should have a name.... especially me."

One morning in July, 2004, Iris was roughhousing with Lucy, and she explained to me, "We're playing cocktail sticks. Lucy is the cocktail sticks, and I have to catch her."

Another summer day she told someone, "I swim at La Petite Baleen. I know what that means. It means 'enjoy your food with a whale.'"

One day she suggested to me, "Let's play police officers under the sea."

Nowadays she asks us for Green Day CDs and to have her ears pierced. I sometimes miss the days of imaginary dried worms.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wan' cake!!!

When Iris was just two, I had severe laryngitis, amid a myriad of other symptoms (it later became evident that I was newly pregnant with child #2). Among other medical interventions, my doctor put me on "voice rest", forbidding me to talk for several days, because I had so abused my poor swollen vocal chords that I was at risk of damaging them for life. Silently caring for a toddler turned out to be a traumatic experience which hopefully did not scar the child for life, only the mother.

Here's an instant messager transcript illustrating one afternoon:

drunkenhousewife: Please call Iris and explain to her that (a) Mommy can't
drunkenhousewife: She is driving me insane asking for cake, cake, cake, "mommy
I wan cake"
pooroldspouse: I'm calling you now.
pooroldspouse: That's me, ringing the phone.

[telephone conversation betw. husband and toddler]

pooroldspouse: I think that was pretty clear.
drunkenhousewife: thanks
drunkenhousewife: but she is still shouting
pooroldspouse: Iris understood me, I think. I said we would go get cake when I get
home, and I emphasized that mommy's throat was sick so you can't talk.
pooroldspouse: I guess I just focused her more tightly on the cake prospect.
drunkenhousewife: now she is crying, "cake cake"
pooroldspouse: Should I call again?
drunkenhousewife: "mommy (sob sob) i wan' cake"
drunkenhousewife: I gotta go put the pac to her.
pooroldspouse: OK
drunkenhousewife: I can't find pac
drunkenhousewife: Oh god
drunkenhousewife: she's screaming "mommy i want cake"
pooroldspouse: I don't know where there's a pac.
pooroldspouse: I can't think of anyplace. She didn't take one to bed last night.
drunkenhousewife: found pac
drunkenhousewife: going back to try to facilitate nap
drunkenhousewife: please come home early; i feel much, much sicker now
drunkenhousewife: and Iris is very fussy about cake.

Of course, the reader is left to wonder, "Why didn't she just get off her fat ass and make a cake?" In defense of my own domesticity, I should say that the reason Iris is so obsessed with cake is because I make a knock-out cake. Also, the trigger for her cake obsession at that time was the four-layer cake on the cover of the then-current "Food and Wine", which she took to carrying around the house, clutched tightly in her little toddler arms. However, when I'm oozing snot and multi-symptomatic, I'm not about to bake, because it's a little too much like, "Hi, my name is Typhoid Mary and I'll be your waiter tonight."

I hate pinatas

I had never really pondered pinatas until my first child started attending toddler birthday parties. My husband and I quickly grew to loathe and dread them. We abstain from them at our own children's birthday parties.

The worst pinatas are ones which are shaped like cute kittens or pretty princesses or lovable cartoon characters. You present small children with something fragile and lovable, and then tell them to beat the hell out of it with a stick. It seems a lot less offensive when the children are whaling on Darth Vader or a T Rex with a baseball bat than when they are going after a Powerpuff Girl or a sweet mermaid.

Apart from the beating-a-kitten-with-a-stick aspect, pinatas encourage pushing and shoving and greediness. My eldest daughter was a very shy and quiet girl, who was easily intimidated physically. At parties, she would usually score absolutely nothing from a pinata and end up in tears, while the rowdiest, most-given-to-early-bullying boys had overflowing pockets. Some parents, aware of this dynamic, try to remedy it by taking away candy from the haves to redistribute to the have-nots, but this results in no small amount of resentment upon the part of the haves.

After one birthday party, our then four-year old was crying because she hadn't gotten any candy from the pinata, and Anton offered to stop by a store and buy her a bag of candy to make up for it. But she didn't want a bag of candy from the store, she wanted that specific candy that the other children had grabbed in front of her. There was no consoling her.

Then there are the pinata contents. Usually it's the worst forms of candy, but I can take that. The real problem is all the stupid little plastic toys people put in. The one thing we have a surplus of here is little plastic objects. I do, however, like it when there are temporary tattoos, as I don't mind those. Stickers, though, make me shudder. My children put them everywhere, including on the dining room table and walls, and the little sticker back is an iniquitous form of trash. Don't even try to put in little boxes of raisins; we were at one party where the parents had admirably attempted that, but the children scornfully refused to even pick them up off the floor.

Finally, small children are generally highly incompetent at breaking pinatas. Usually the parents of the birthday child get impatient and break the pinata open themselves, which seems to somewhat miss the point.

Friday, June 02, 2006

how to make a caipirinha

I got this recipe from a real Brazilian:

INGREDIENTS for caipirinha
1 lime quartered
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 shot of cacha├ža
1/2 Cup of ice cubes with water

lemon cake cravings

Lemon desserts are important here. When I was last pregnant, I was obsessed with cravings for lemon cake, and there is no one like an unemployed pregnant woman for getting to the bottom of such crucial issues as Lemon Cakes of the Bay Area. (And for those of you who have never been pregnant women, believe me, you have no idea what a real food craving is like. I always thought pregnant cravings were the stuff of sitcoms until I became pregnant myself. When you're pregnant, you can wake up in the middle of the night and know that you -- and the people who live with you -- will never be able to rest until you have crammed a particular magical food down your pregnant gullet, and you will not be able to stop thinking about it or shut up about it until it has happened. I'm just glad I wasn't one of those pregnant women who's compelled to go out in the backyard and eat dirt).

So here is the scoop:

There are no lemon cakes for sale in the Bay Area that are sufficiently bold and tangy. None. Oh, there are plenty of lemon cakes for sale, hither and yon, but they are all wimpy and weak when it comes to citric verve.

A person who wants a true lemon cake experience must make her own.

Here is the winning recipe for a real Lemon Experience, the kind that will make you pucker up and say, "Oh, my, now that is tart":

British Lemon Thing (recipe given to me by an English person and not translated into American; you gotta wing it the way I winged it, my remarks in parentheses)

finely grated zest and juice of 4 lemons
3 1/2 oz (100g) butter, softened
6 oz (175) caster sugar (substitute granulated if you don't live near a yuppie enough market)
4 eggs, size 2, separated (I assume Size 2 means large)
2 oz (50g) plain flour
4 fl oz (112 ml) milk

You will need a 7 in (18 cm) souffle dish. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (gotta love those Brits, try 350 F).

Butter dish.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter with sugar to form a creamy, white, fluffy mass which will stand up in soft peaks. Add lemon zest and juice. The mixture will probably curdle at this point. Do not fret, just add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating continuously, then beat in the flour and milk.

With a whisk or handmixer, beat egg whites until firm and standing in snowy peaks. Fold gently but thoroughly into batter. Pour into buttered dish, place the dish into a roasting tin and pour hot water into the tin until it comes up halfway the sides of the dish.

Bake about 45 min., until top is golden brown. Serve hot or warm. Mmmm, sarap!

I'm no longer pregnant, but my girls are both asking for lemon cakes for their birthdays. Oh, my darlings, you do make me proud.

amazing vegan faux aioli

Everyone loves this. This is my own recipe, adapted from an interesting but (in my opinion) flawed one from "The Voluptuous Vegan." I hate store-bought mayonnaise and cannot stand it in any quantity or form, but I love real mayonnaise, made fresh with eggs and oil, and I love even more real aioli because I love garlic. However, real aioli and real mayonnaise are not healthy foods. This one is. This makes a large batch which will last for quite a while.

1 block silken tofu (I use low-fat tofu). This MUST be "silken" tofu, NOT
regular tofu.
1-2 garlic cloves
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 T fresh lemon juice

Blend the fuck out of all the combined ingredients. Refrigerate.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

stubbornness meets stubbornnesss

For the whole 3 years I was at Stanford, everything I got from the school had my name misspelled. I corrected it on various official forms, but it still kept coming misspelled.

I began to get obsessed with it.

Finally I had a confrontation over it at the registrar's office, where they informed me that they never made mistakes like that and therefore the only logical explanation was that I had misspelled my name myself on my application form.

So evidently they would prefer to think that they admit people so stupid that they can't even spell their own names than face up to the reality that sometimes they make mistakes.

why cat, why?????

Years ago, an acquaintance of mine remarked that because everyone always bitched about their significant others, she felt great about being single, especially since no one ever bitched about being with their cat. I burst out with "Oh, God, we spend all day and all night over here fighting about the fucking cat. The cat took a dump on the kitchen floor two days running, when his litterbox was clean. Why, cat, why??? (The theory is that he was protesting a change in his rations. We cut back on his elite, expensive canned food after he threw up on the kitchen floor).

The cat wiped his ass on a pillow. Why, cat, why?????"

After that, for about a year, many of my female friends and acquaintances used to walk around saying, "Why, cat, why???"