Wednesday, November 29, 2006

let's talk behind the husband's back (self-absorbed musings)

So, as we were preparing dinner tonight (read: I was cooking two elaborate gourmet dishes, darting around the kitchen at the speed of light, while guzzling Blanc de Noirs; the Sober Husband peeled some potatoes, but got distracted by taking a work call, making a note to himself, and sending an email), I asked what I believed was a rhetorical question: "So, did you read my blog the last couple of days?" This little conversation starter was intended to kick off a discussion of primal mothering scandals and my discovery that, like me, there are HUNDREDS of people out there around the globe who are still, six years or so after her fall from primal mothering grace, obsessed with Jennifer "Mango Mama" van Laanen Smit (I say this because since I shared my memories of her, suddenly hundreds of people running Google searches for "mango mama controversy" and "where is Jennifer van Laanen mango mama" are landing on this blog, and I suspect 99.9% of them are disappointed by their snarky find, having hoped instead that Mango Mama would have ditched her lover, reconciled with her husband, had another unassisted childbirth in a returnable Rubbermaid tub, and was living the life of Waldorfian, vegan ecstasy in Hawaii).

That discussion was derailed when, shocked (remember, I am somewhat self-absorbed) I heard the husband say, "Um, no."

"When was the last time you read my blog?"

"A few weeks ago?"

"WHAT?? You aren't a fan?"

"Well, of course I'm a fan. I don't have to read it. I live your blog."

"But" (pouting to the extent one can while stirring, chopping, crushing, and sauteing are occurring simultaneously) "there are other men out there who read me EVERY DAY. They check it several times a day!" (Incidentally the core readership of this blog is primarily male, which interests me because when I started it, I thought it was going to be Another One Of Those Mommy Blogs. I put the blog on a couple of mommy blog rings, figuring it would fit in there, but that was foolish of me).

The husband assumed a lofty tone. "Those men glean what falls through my fingers onto the floor."

I don't think I broke my resolution not to roll my eyes at the Sober Husband, but the only thing which kept that resolution intact was that my eyes were being used to monitor the state of my pans.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

consider the lotus (and its birth)

After I reminsced about the departed internet mothering heroine, Mango Mama/Jennifer van Laanen Smit, my dearly missed friend Jen suggested that I try the wayback machine. This was partially successful, as much of Mango Mama's site is lost in the mists of time and adultery, but delightfully enough the Lotus Birth information has been saved by the Wayback people. Sadly the moneysaving tips are lost (where, amongst other things, Mango Mama suggested leaving the stickers on a Rubbermaid tub used for home birth and then returning it for a refund, hopefully after rinsing out all the blood and placenta). (Here we will divert from our subject matter for a moment, as the Drunken Housewife notes that Jen, who dared to leave bucolic San Francisco for a more high-powered life in L.A., supplied the D.H. with two of her weirdest alcohol related moments. Alcohol-related moment #1: the D.H., a shiksa if there ever was one, stopped off at a nice wine store to pick up a bottle of champagne to take to Jen's new baby's bris. The baby's father, not of Jewish descent and in favor of foreskins, was very reluctantly going along with the circumcision thing. The D.H. felt in a quandary and turned to the liquor store owner. "I need a nice bottle to take to a bris, but it can't be too nice, because the baby's father is against it, so I don't want to get too good a bottle, but it has to be pretty good to be festive." Alcohol-related moment #2: at a boozy stay-at-home-parents' night out, Jen regaled the table: "I had a dream last night that I had a penis. [significant pause] And I used it." She refused to go into more detail, but as another parent sniped, "She probably just had breastmilk come out of it"].

Anyhow, thanks to the Wayback Machine people, I have been able to refresh my memory about the Lotus Birth. A lotus birth occurs when as a woman gives birth, the cord is not cut, and the placenta is left attached to the baby until it drops off naturally after 3-8 days. Why?
The concept of the Lotus Birth is that the baby and placenta grow from the same cell, they share the same energy field and etheric aura, therefore when the cord is cut there is a hole in that energy field, making baby vulnerable to digestion problems, emotional upsets etc. (1) While the placenta remains attached after birth the etheric field around the baby is sealing off properly and when complete the cord drops away. The complete field results in a stronger immune system because it is a stronger field energy. All the life force of that amazing organ gets transferred along the cord to the baby during this period. To cut the cord is to deprive the baby of completeness of these powerful subtle forces. (2) It is also suggested that family members'etheric aura can be healed by being in contact with the Lotus baby.
While the placenta is attached to the baby, the family is encouraged to have no visitors, as they might give off negative vibrations which could upset the placenta and make it fall off early.

There are a couple of things which disturb me about the Lotus Birth, besides the new agey talk of etheric auras. First, the mother is encouraged not to hold the baby the first day or so, because the placenta should not be moved or wrapped up but instead left to air out. How on earth could nuzzling up to a placenta be better for a baby than being held by the mother? Next, the placenta seems to be more important than the baby to these Lotus Birth-ers:

After the cord has solidified it is time for some action. You now have to remove the blood clots. This wasn't as easy as it sounds for us. You see the blood clots actually stick to the placenta. Pick off the ones on the outside and then reach into the amniotic sac and CAREFULLY turn it inside out. Now pick off all the clots. Some are big and some are small. Just do the best you can. It really helps to have someone holding the placenta. My husband held her in his hands while my midwife, Colleen, and I picked the clots off. One thing I would have done different is the timing. We let the placenta sit in the sieve for too long because when Sean tried to lift her up the placenta was stuck to the sieve, we carefully lifted her up and she was fine. Now the baby and I pretty much stayed in bed for the next 24 hours. We moved the bed into the kid�s room and the kids into my room. I wanted some privacy and was afraid that the kids might hurt the placenta unintentionally. My 2 year old is very energetic. I kept the placenta in the sieve for the next 24 hours. I would nurse the baby laying down and when I switched sides I would move the placenta to the other side of the bed with the baby being careful to still keep them level with each other.

The next morning salting began. We salted her down on both sides and placed it on a cloth diaper. Still not moving the baby around much. That is how it went. The placenta is fresh so it keeps absorbing salt. You find yourself salting her very often. Coating her with salt (Sea salt by the way). As time went on we began wrapping her up in the diaper with a pin. And ever so often at diaper changes checking the placenta and taking care of her too. We would change the placentas diaper often because it would soak up blood. As the placenta dries up you don�t need to change it as often. I would also put the diapered placenta inside a pillowcase and pin it snugly around the placenta. With all the salt on it you want to try to keep it enclosed so it doesn�t fall out and so salt doesn�t get all over the baby. This is really amazing. You are taking care of both of them. They are one and you are recognizing this and respecting their need for each other. I would wrap them up together in a receiving blanket. The cord would sometimes stick out and he would hold it in his hand. It was sooooo CUTE!

By day 2 the cord was surprisingly stiff. It is amazing how dry it gets and so quickly. We would still give the placenta plenty of drying out time. Like unwrapping her, salt her down and lay her unwrapped while he slept. Since the cord was so stiff you couldn't actually lay them down right next to each other without putting strain on his bellybutton area, but with a little maneuvering you can work out different positions that are comfortable for your baby. I was always repositioning them so he was comfortable.

The placenta shrinks in size. It becomes small and hard. I never experienced any odor problems. This is not a piece of rotting meat. The salting process preserves it. I still have mine sitting in a paper bag. She is totally preserved. On day four I decided to put some lavender flowers on her. Not because she needed it, but because I thought it would be nice. . . .

On day five I was holding him in my lap while I went to the bathroom. As I stood up I looked at him and his cord was sticking up out of the blanket. IT WAS OFF! I have to admit I was a little disappointed thought it would be a little more magical. Not just me sitting on the toilet! . . . I can see differences in my children and I attribute this to the lotus birth. I even felt a huge connection to the placenta. I was sad that they weren't connected anymore. I wanted to take her back into bed with us. It was so strange not to have them together anymore.

So, consider a lotus birth, if you wish, but don't invite us over. My negative vibrations are sure to sever that poor cord, and the Sober Husband would not be able to restrain himself from a few, possibly tactless, remarks.

Monday, November 27, 2006

the Primal Mothering scandals

Years ago, when I had just become a mother for the first time, I spent a lot of time online reading various parenting boards and parenting advice. I ran across a woman who styled herself "Mango Mama", Jennifer van Laanen Smit, who was a guru to many.

Mango Mama, who lived in Hawaii with her husband and two small children, was a charismatic, outspoken presence. She had many extreme beliefs which she propounded, beginning with unassisted home birth. Craftily enough, Mango Mama suggested to her acolytes that they buy a large rubber tub at Walmart or Home Depot, leaving the stickers on the sides, and then, after using it to give birth in, return it for a full refund. (All I can say is, "Ewww!")

Another one of Mango Mama's heartily-espoused beliefs was "the Lotus Birth." This means not separating the baby from the placenta after birth. Instead, the placenta is periodically blotted with a towel and salted. Eventually, the placenta and cord will drop off the newborn, but until that happens, Mango Mama and her acolytes urged that you care for the placenta, just as if it were a baby as well. This particularly skeeved me out, as reading accounts of women who'd actually conducted "Lotus births" I observed they seemed much, much more into the placenta than the actual baby, which certainly seemed to take a backseat to its temporary sister or brother.

Van Laanen Smit was well-known in the Waldorf movement, and her children allegedly led a life of Waldorf home-education perfection. They had no plastic toys; their attentive mother was constantly feeding them fresh fruit and creating little learning festivals (I remember reading about alternative holidays she thought up, which seemed exhausting to me).

Mango Mama was the ultimate stay-at-home mother and guru to the overachieving, "crunchy" mothers of the world. But then something happened: Mango Mama ran off to Australia with another man, where she allegedly had her first female ejaculation orgasms, which changed her life. She took down her websites, and whatever has become of her today is a mystery to me and to others who remember her vivid online presence as a hectoring, better-than-you overachieving mother.

Last night, for whatever reason, I felt nostalgic about Mango Mama. I wanted to once again read (and snigger at) her list of Frugal Tips (the sniggering to climax at the instructions to return a birthing tub afterwards for cash back). I wanted to wonder again at the bizarreness of the Lotus Birth. I couldn't find those precious writings (and that is a loss to the world, I'm telling you). I did find other women wondering what had become of her in much the same spirit. And, without expecting it, I ran across ANOTHER mothering scandal, this one ongoing, oddly linked to Mango Mama's.

Another mothering guru, who styled herself Hygeia Halfmoon, wrote a book about "Primal Mothering in a Modern World", which sports a picture of none other than the Mango Mama herself on the cover. Ms. Halfmoon promoted "unschooling" and a vegan diet, as well as a variety of other things, and now, like her cover model, has become a figure of scandal. It turns out that one of Ms. Halfmoon's children has been taken away by the state and is in foster care. Another one allegedly cannot read. But what is really irking the masses is the revelation that Ms. Halfmoon, while publicly conducting a fast to purify herself, was taken on a date and, unable to resist the urge to get while the getting was good, devoured a steak and a margarita.

Ms. Halfmoon's 13 year-old was taken away due to an inappropriate relationship with a 25 year-old "fiance", and Ms. Halfmoon's take on this is that her daughter "has the right to be loved" and that the daughter's removal is due to the state attempting to repress the radical philosophy of "Primal Mothering." Addressing the real meat of the scandal, Hygeia contends that during her fast, a vision of a Native American came to her, instructing her to eat meat and honor the spirit of the hunt, and THAT is why she ran off and had that steak. (No word yet on the spiritual origins of the margarita).

Perhaps I should start soliciting donations, a la Hygiea Halfmoon, so I can promulgate my mothering philosophy. At least with me, you know I'm going to get the margarita, and unlike Hygiea Halfmoon, I can safely promise you there will be no steak-eating. But that won't bring Mango Mama back to us. Oh, Mango Mama, wherever you are today, please come back, with your journals and lists and naggy, weird advice. We miss you.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

books you should all read

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud, The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger

Claire Messud is the sort of author that literature majors will be writing dissertations on; indeed, I'm all set to do a dissertation myself, which I will call"Who is Natasha?: Reflections of The Great Russians in Messud", comparing and contrasting Messud and her characters to Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Turgenev and their characters.

I loved this book, when I finally got my hands on it (I was on the waiting list for ages at my library for it. The week it came in for me, I couldn't make it down to the library, and on the last night it would be held for me, the poor old husband struggled downtown in the cold rain to pick it up. I'm so happy I got it). It's the story of three Brown graduates, living in Manhattan, who are turning 30 and struggling with their careers and love lives, but, as any good novel should be, it's about so much more, but yet without being pretentious. A recurring theme is whether one can live straightforwardly, without artifice or pretension or dishonesty.

Something which absolutely charmed me was that the characters talked over and over again about one of my favorite literary moments: the domestication of Natasha in "War and Peace." They pondered whether, in their relationships, they were Pierre or Natasha. In mine, there is no question: I am Natasha, Anton is Pierre. When I was young and first read "War and Peace", I found the ending horrifying and would have predicted that I would have grown up to be Maria Bolkonskaya, the character I most related to then. I ended up living the life of Natasha instead, complete with the same bizarre-to-onlookers transformation from intense but hot girl into shlubby mommy.

Another very satisfying read lately was The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger. Like "The Emperor's Children", this is a novel which, on the surface, is about social interactions and conversations, but oh so satisfyingly near the surface are big ideas. With both books, you want to set the book down and mull things over, but you're also wanting to plunge forward through the delicious prose. "The Dissident" is about a Chinese artist who has a visiting artist's position in Southern California, teaching a class at a private girls' school and residing with a wealthy family. It's also, without being overly didactic, about the pre-Tianenmen Square artists in China, about performance art, about art itself, and more cogently, about what is not art. In a world where Duchamp has signed a urinal and called it art, What Is Not Art?

After I finished "The Dissident", I walked around for a few days feeling like a performance artist manque. My daughter Lola's life is replete with moments of performance art, but mine feels bereft. I should perhaps clear some space in my living room and put out some flyers for such art events as "Woman Dips Kittens With Ringworm Into Sulfur Solution" (now, that one is bound to create a debate about the place of lowbrow comedy a la Keystone Kops in higher brow performance art).

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I love this.

We watch this over and over again, and we dance like the car (with varying degrees of success).

Friday, November 24, 2006

things you (probably) like which I hate

My tastes have never been in touch with the mainstream, and so many deeply popular things leave me bemused. I'm not just talking about things like mayonnaise and tomatoes, either (and I don't ever want to hear anyone whining at me, "You don't like tomatoes? I'll be you just never had a good, fresh tomato!" I never correct other people's statements of their little culinary foibles; why does everyone try to pick at me over my hatred of tomatoes?).

Here's a short list of things I either hate or am indifferent to, which practically everyone else loves:

- "Seinfeld" (just not funny to me, just not funny. Whiny New Yorkers sitting around yakking),

- "Friends" (ditto, and why was the obviously stupid one supposed to be a professor of paleontology or something? Why did everyone lust after those actors? I Just Don't Get It),

- "Spiderman", in its movie, comic strip, and comic book forms... unbelievably, there's a comic book spin-off consisting of "Mary Jane: the High School Years." Jesus wept);

- Disneyworld, Disneyland, Disney movies, and the whole fell massive consortium of tacky commercialism. Someday my children will go into therapy and whine, "My parents would never take me to Disneyland, and ALL my friends went."

- the circus, Marineworld, swimming with the dolphins, and other selfish uses of exotic animals for idle recreation. Everyone in particular thinks swimming with the dolpins is so benign and majestic, but those poor bastards get mauled and tend to drop dead after a year or two of being manhandled. I have no problem with someone being out in the middle of nowhere and encountering an idle and curious dolphin, or perhaps one of those sailors who is shipwrecked and saved by a pack of roving dolphin Samaritans. Just don't, please, go to one of those godawful resorts where you subject the dolphins to your sweaty, groping self;

- Julia Roberts. She seems like a terrible actress, usually so sour-faced or stilted, and I don't see why everyone thinks she's such the "Pretty Woman." She's no Angelina Jolie. Watching her, such as in "Ocean's Eleven", is distracting because it seems like everyone in the movie is under the impression that she's beautiful and charismatic when she just isn't;

- Andrew LLoyd Webber and all his works. I had the misfortune of being compelled, against my will, to pony up for and sit through "Les Miserables" and a more agonizingly boring evening I can't recall since I left home. The worst was that my companions were bizarrely moved to tears by the experience and wanted to talk about it for days afterwards;

- "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". Why did that movie become a comic classic? Can anyone tell me what exactly is so inspiring about a spoiled rich boy who feels no guilt about smashing up someone's car or traumatizing his best friend into a fugue state?

- "Monty Python." I've been subjected to plenty of Monty Python over the years, and I've never laughed at any of it. It just seems so belabored. They don't just tell you once that the frigging parrot is dead; you have to be practically beaten over the heads with the dead parrot.

Believe me, this is only the merest sample of Things You Love Which I Hate.

if we lived on a planet

Evidently someone suggested to Lola that Earth is a planet, and she's still indignant. She ranted to me at length about this.

"If the earth were a planet, we would live on a planet. And then we would have no cosy beds! And no books. And no magazines. And we would have NO STUFFED ANIMALS. And no clocks. If we lived on a planet, we could have no pets. No television. No videos. We would have nothing to do!"

so top that

I had a remarkably stress-free Thanksgiving, relaxed and happy(the only problem being that we went for a walk on the beach, and I lost my keys. It is the only time in my life I have ever lost my keys. Incidentally, there is a $50 reward for anyone who finds a keychain with a dilapidated green dinosaur; I lost them at Ocean Beach, but they're probably gonna wash ashore in Hawaii or Japan. I bought that dinosaur keychain in 1987 in Harvard Square; numerous small children have demanded that I give it to them over the years, and maybe one of the little bastards acquired it yesterday). We even managed to have two Adult Quality Time moments, if you know what I mean, one being a post-feast, Blanc de Noirs fuelled marital get-together (the sated children, preoccupied with playing with our laptops, were told, "Mommy and Daddy are just running upstairs for a minute", and somehow that worked out with no disturbances).

advice which comes too late

Some poor soul in Texas landed on my blog yesterday after googling for "how to get rat urine out of oven." I couldn't help imagining the Thanksgiving in that household, with the cook fleeing from the urinous oven in horror. Also, once again, I pondered, "Why the hell would you google that? Why not just get some cleaning supplies and get on with it?"

But in the interests of providing a public service, albeit one which comes too late to aid the benighted cooks of Texas, the Drunken Housewife presents How To Get Rat Urine Out Of An Oven:

First, remove all rats from oven.
Next, obtain the cleaning supply of your choice, preferably in spray bottle form.
Optional: put on rubber gloves.
Spray your favorite cleaning liquid around in the oven.
Wipe off.
If you want to be extra meticulous, dilute some bleach in water (just a tiny capful of bleach is enough for a whole spray bottle), and spray this over the oven surface. Wipe off after five-ten minutes. However, I personally think this is overkill, because the oven's going to heat up and kill off any germs.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

a pause in the cooking

I'm mid-pie here: I have a macadamia nut crust (for a pineapple pie) and a regular crust (for a caramel pie) chilling in the refrigerator before I bake them. I'm feeling pretty low-energy, despite drinking a total of three Red Bulls today (two of them spiked with the last of my Ketel One on hand).

Besides the pie crusts, two bottles of Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine are chilling. One is Codorniu from Spain, and one is Gloria Ferrer from right here in California. I also splurged on a bottle of Eiswein, which I have never treated myself to before. The Eiswein was $27 on sale for a tiny half-bottle, and we'll see how it is. (Eiswein is a dessert wine made from grapes left until after the first frost; these grapes are ultra-sweet as they've been allowed to ripen until the last possible moment. Because so many grapes are spoiled in this process, the wine is always pricey).

Despite being very low energy, I'm actually feeling grateful today: grateful that I can afford to buy a silly Eiswein, grateful that I have the luxury to devote myself to cooking and writing, grateful for good health. I'm grateful that I live in a mild climate (tomorrow or the day after, I'm planting winter flowers in my postage stamp-sized garden). I'm really frigging grateful that I don't live in Iraq (on behalf of myself, one American, I apologize, Iraqis) or the Gaza Strip. I'm grateful not to be a U.S. servicewoman in Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other dangerous place (thanks, guys; I don't like the Iraq war, but I appreciate you and your hard work). I'm grateful that my husband, my daughters, and I all are healthy and happy (our biggest problems today are that the husband has acquired ringworm from my foster kittens and that the children fought bitterly over who gets to sit next to Mommy more often when we go to the Doggy Diner and who loves Mommy the most).

Cheers to all,

your friendly Drunken Housewife, who will probably be up all night as a consequence of drinking those oh-so-delicious Red Bulls

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

older, but no more sane; what I will cook for Thanksgiving

Another birthday is over, and I'm relieved. I always, since turning 16, plunge into a deep depression at the time of my birthday. In the worst years, it covered most of the month of November (indeed, the very worst year, I think it clicked in on Nov. 1 as soon as I woke up). One year when I was in college, I stopped eating in November, and one of my normally thoughtless friends went so far as to make a pan of brownies to try to lure me back out of the birthday funk (mind you, it wasn't even the day at that point).

Why? It's my personal version of what hits many people around Christmas or Valentine's Day. I had some traumatic birthdays when I was younger, and, irrational as it may seem, when my birthday comes around, I become convinced that not only does no one love me or even like me very much, I am fundamentally unlovable (like a harmless snail, unlovable through no fault of my own). I realize the rest of the year that this is Not Rational and that I am probably as or more loved than the average person (indeed, my whole life from age 17 to date, I've been uncommonly lucky in heterosexual love, and for the past 7 years, I've had the love of small children as well).

Of course, to put the cherry on the top of this sundae of depression, I never plan anything for my own birthday (other than to spend the day sulking and sobbing because no one has demonstrated sufficient unprompted love for me). Thankfully the Sober Husband has become sufficiently accustomed to this over the years to not ask questions and to just dole out presents throughout the day, a very kind strategy which gets us all through the wretched day the best we can. (On one milestone birthday, I was phenomenally depressed, but the undaunted man hauled me to a luxury hotel suite, which the bellman informed us had just been vacated by Kevin Costner. For our entire stay, we could not stop thinking of the bed as "Kevin Costner's bed", the couch as "Kevin Costner's couch", the remote as "Kevin Costner's remote", etc..).

This year, things were much better, and it didn't really hit until November 20th, my actual birthday, around 10:00 A.M Now, thankfully, that is all over. I got enough gifts to make any reasonable middle-aged person feel loved: the Leu serigraph I wanted of a beautiful woman holding a cocktail with an orange cat by her side, a pair of earrings, two Ry Cooder C.D.s, a gift massage from my favorite masseur, who incidentally just gave Martha Stewart a massage, all from the husband, plus a pair of skull and crossbone shoes, so cute, from Kim I. and incidentally, in a nod to this blog's readers, a bag of candy corn (previously I posted the Things We Hate lists created by Kim I for me and for herself, and various readers wanted to know, "Hey! How on earth can that Kim I person hate candy corn?"), and I'm informed that a bottle of Ketel One, as I had requested (okay, whined for) will be forthcoming from another friend. My mother sent me two shirts, which are great but which don't fit because (sigh) the Drunken Housewife has put on some weight lately which needs to be put back off. My mother-in-law sent me the last season of the Sopranos with a note that she knew I already owned bootleg copies of them all, but perhaps I'd like to watch the commentaries. (I was momentarily bemused by the thought that she'd given me copies when she knew I already owned them, but then I told myself, "This is not an offensive gift. She did not forget your birthday, and she did not give you anything offensive, so therefore this is completely fine, and be sure to send a thank you note soon").

As soon as that is over, we plunge into Thanksgiving. Every year, I am annoyed greatly by people hounding me, "What do you eat for Thanksgiving? Don't tell me you eat one of those gross fake turkeys." Well, actually, I do always get an Unturkey, and let me tell you, the Unturkey rocks (well, not the gravy; we throw that away). We never have leftovers. Even my non-vegetarian husband likes the Unturkey. I usually serve far too much food and cook myself into a frenzy.

This year, the more reasonable menu is

the Unturkey with stuffing
monkey bread
roasted fingerling potatoes, rubbed with lemon salt
spinach and scallion dutch baby
homemade cranberry sauce (this year, I'm trying one with honey and mustard)

followed by

pineapple pie
caramel pie

and let's not forget the champagne. It will be Blanc de Noirs this year (I don't care about the vintner so much; I'm just on a Blanc de Noirs kick).

I thought about making cranberry caipirinhas for a moment, but I decided that just the Blanc de Noirs will suffice.

Tomorrow, the cooking begins.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

how sharper than a serpent's tooth

At dinner tonight [which I cooked despite the fact that I have evidently broken (oh, okay, badly sprained and bruised) a toe by tripping over Iris's rollerblades], I reminded the children, "It's your last chance to do something nice for your old Mommy before her birthday!"

Iris said, "Ahh, you'll have plenty more birthdays. I can do something then."

Later in the conversation, I asked Lola if when I am very old, I can come live with her. After thinking about it, she said, "No! You can only live with me when you are dead!"

cooking shows, learning about food

After my recent rant about Everyone Always Telling Me to Watch Cooking Shows, But Those "Chefs" Are Not As Talented As My Beloved Chefs I Already Learn From By Eating Their Food And Buying Their Cookbooks, several readers commented to the effect that I do not seem interested in the science of food and, if I were, I would probably watch Alton Brown. I am willing to give Alton Brown the benefit of the doubt (if someone wants to tape his show and mail me the tape, the Drunken Housewife has a handy P.O. box).

Here again we arrive at the crux of the matter: the old D.H. is just not a big television watcher. I am indeed very interested in the science of food, because that helps me to be a better cook. How I learn about the science of food is through reading and cooking, which makes more sense to me. After all, did I attend college through television? Did I study for the bar via TV? No. I learn primarily through reading and doing. I once read a spellbinding (well, to me) article on wheat berries and how different flours are made by removing parts of the wheat berry. (This article vindicated the poor, adolescent precursor of the Drunken Housewife, a sullen girl stuck in rural Maine who feared being "just a housewife" and imagined an exciting urban lifestyle far, far away. The D.H.'s parents were on a big energy efficiency, do everything yourself with the help of child labor kick, and as part of this, they bought a flour grinder, and the D.H. was required to grind flour for the household's needs. Grinding flour is tedious, and it yields a coarse, crunchy flour which is unsatisfactory. The D.H. asked for store flour to be occasionally bought for making cakes, but her father ridiculed her and said that if she were only better at grinding flour, she'd have flour just as good in the stores. Now, far removed from that situation, the D.H. is completely vindicated, having learned that parts of the wheat berry must be completely removed in order to yield a fluffy flour, and that cannot be done in a rural Maine kitchen by an untrained, unequipped adolescent).

Incidentally, I am reading "How To Read A French Fry and Other Stories of Intriguing Kitchen Science" by Russ Parsons, which I would recommend to any culinary scholars. The main thing I have learned so far is that while Vidalia onions are the sweetest onions while raw, you should never caramelize them. Why? Because Vidalia onions and other special, sweet onions contain no more sugar per pound than the cheapest yellow onions. They taste sweeter raw because they contain less sulfuric compounds. The sulfuric compounds are broken down in caramelizing them, and yellow onions end up tasting the sweetest.

If you want your raw onions to be sweeter, repeatedly wash the cut onions in cold water. You'll see that the run-off water is milky, which is the sulfur being washed away. Alternatively, toss the onions with a little vinegar (I like to use champagne vinegar from Thomas Keller's O line of vinegars and oils). The vinegar taste will completely block the sulfur taste. I make many salsas which call for rinsing the chopped onion or tossing it with a little vinegar, and now I know why. That makes me a better cook, because I understand the underlying purpose.

In closing, in the interests of fairness, I will post an excellent recipe by television cooking personality Rachael Ray, a salad which is greatly loved by my husband (so you can take from that the fact that evidently there are things Rachael Ray and her cohorts could teach me, but I contend that I could teach them as much):

Mesclun Salad with Dried Apricots and Spiced Nuts

1 tsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
dash cayenne
a few dashes salt
1/2 C roughly chopped waluts


5 C mesclun
5 C Boston lettuce
1/2 C slivered red onion
8 dried apricots, cut w/scissors into quarters

1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
5 T olive oil

Melt butter in medim-sized skillet over med. heat. Sprinkle in spices and blend. Cook for 1 min. Add walnuts, toss to mix well, cook 3-5 min, tossing frequently (note: why does she use the word "tossing" so often? What's wrong with "stirring?") When the nuts are toasted, set aside to cool.

Combine salad ingredients in large salad bowl.

Whisk together salad dressing ingredients in small bowl until smooth or place them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.

Just before serving, pour 3/4 of the dressing on the salad. Toss to coat well. If you need more, then add it, but be careful not to overdress the greens. Sprinkle the nuts on the individual portions.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Melissa Clark, television chefs, and pasta with beets and poppyseeds

Cooking is my artform, my passion, my hobby. I do NOT, however, watch television shows about cooking (although I used to watch the original "Iron Chef" in Japanese, which I adored; God, I love the Japanese culture, so crazy-seeming to me at times). I'm not a big television watcher in general [I follow only "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor", which Iris and I watch together; we are rooting for the Cho brothers on AR and Yul (me) and Becky (Iris) on Survivor].

Also, watching television about food seems kind of weird to me. I experience food primarily through creating it and eating it, not watching it remotely. How I learn about new foods I may wish to cook or eat: I read cookbook reviews, restaurant reviews, and "Food & Wine", I browse the cookbook sections at bookstores. I am able to keep up with the trends that way, and I'm constantly buying new cookbooks (although I'm maxing out on the number of cookbooks I can store in my kitchen, so I'll hit the ceiling in 2007 and won't be able to buy new ones without ditching some old ones).

This causes a disconnect between me and my friends who also like to cook, who are invariably all about television cooking shows. They are incredulous that I don't worship at the feet of Rachael Ray (people, Rachael Ray, no matter how adorable, never went to cooking school or worked in a restaurant! Her background is in retail!) or the Naked Chef (I've read his recipes, and I am unimpressed). Now first of all, those shows are unrealistic. They do not show the prep work or the clean-up, and they are heavily edited.

Next, I contend that what makes a person a television star is not cooking skills. It is cuteness. We don't assume that the best artists are on those obscure public television shows which try to teach you to paint; when we're arrested, we don't want to hire one of the Court TV newsreaders to represent us. Why would we assume television cooking show stars are the best cooks or that someone like me has something to learn from them?

I promise: if there were a cooking show starring my idols, Hubert Keller or Melissa Clark, I would watch it. I would even consider getting cable for that. I suspect my readers may have heard of Hubert Keller (amazing high end French chef who pioneered the first five star vegetarian tasting menu at his San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys, and who also has a restaurant in Vegas. The man is a genius). But probably no one is familiar with the work of Melissa Clark, my idol. I worship at that woman's feet (and I don't mean my favorite college roommate, Melissa Clarke, with whom I have sadly fallen out of contact. Melissa Clarke, originally of Revere, Mass., last heard of in Delaware, contact your beloved roommmate from hell!).

Melissa Clark is a gifted chef who primariy expresses herself through articles in Food and Wine magazine and through co-authoring cookbooks with more famous chefs. She is, no ifs, ands or buts, a genius. An article about holiday cocktail party food which she wrote years ago is the single best thing I've ever read about food, and I have cooked those recipes over and over again (one in particular, spiced cauliflower, is practically legendary among people who know me, the #1 most requested recipe I make).

These days, Melissa Clark is on a mission: to take the foods found in the finest restaurants, created by celebrity and non-celebrity chefs (NOT celebrity television hosts, people; chefs who actually cook for a living in restaurants!) and create versions of those recipes which can be prepared at home realistically. (I do actually make some of Hubert Keller's recipes, which are not dumbed down, but most people are not me, and I can't cook like that every day). Yesterday, I made a dish from Melissa's "Chef, Interrupted" cookbook, and I loved it. It was unlike anything I'd ever eaten before, and it was delightful.

Fettucine with Beets, Parmesan and Poppy Seeds , an adaptation of a dish from Anna Klinger's Al Di La in Brooklyn

Sea salt
10 baby or small beets (about 1 1/2 lbs w/out greens), scrubbed and trimmed
1/4 cup poppy seeds
6 T unsalted butter
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb fettuccine
2/3 freshly grated Parmesan
b alsamic vinegar
1/4 C minced chervil or chives (I used chervil; incidentally, fried chervil is magnificent -- but I've never heard of anyone doing it other than me. Take that, television "chefs"!)

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Grate beets.

In a heavy saucepan over high heat, toast the poppy seeds about 1-2 min., until they smell nutty. Transfer to a bowl.

Reduce heat and melt 5 T of butter in pan. Stir in shredded beets and saute for 2 min. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low, cover pan, and cook for 8-10 min., until beets are tender.

Meanwhile, cook pasta. Drain and transfer to serving bowl, toss with remaining tablespoon of butter, grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. When the beets are tender, add to the pasta. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, add a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar, garnish with chervil or chives, and serve immediately.

Que aproveche!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I meet someone

Today I was hanging out with my friend Joyce and "the Baby Violet" (Iris and Lola always refer to Joyce's toddler as "The Baby Violet"). Joyce and the Baby Violet were waiting in the car while I walked Lola to preschool, and when I came back, I found Joyce chatting with a friend, whom she introduced to me. The woman gave me a steely look and said, "Aren't you the one who almost ran over my dog yesterday?"

"No, not me."

"Are you sure? A fluffy white dog? Right here?"

Do I look like a dog-murderer (dog attempted-murderer?)? I assured the woman that if I'd nearly run over her dog, I'd have stopped to apologize, but she was not swayed. I didn't even drive down that street the day in question. It wasn't a matter of confused automobile identification, either, as we were using Joyce's car, not my ancient Oldsmobile (which sports a PETA sticker on the back). It seems so weird to me that if someone meets a friend-of-a-friend, their first reaction would be to accuse that person of something. Joyce vouched for me, saying, "She's a vegetarian! She's an animal lover!" but I was left suspecting that this new acquaintance was not convinced. She probably went home and called her friends, saying, "You know how someone tried to run over my dog yesterday? Turns out she's some friend of Joyce's."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

small, frivolous update

Tonight I had my hair done, and my beloved hairdresser gave me a couple of purple streaks on one side. The Sober Husband's reaction: "Oh, your hair looks nice! Wait... (face forms expression of revulsion) there's purple." Four year-old Lola's reaction: "Why is there purple hair in your hair?" Seven year-old Iris's reaction "Hey! There's purple in your hair! I want that!"

Monday is my birthday, and I want (note: I do not expect more than one or two of these to come true, but I can want, dammit) a bottle of Ketel One, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, a massage from my adored masseur, a Leu print of a cat next to a cocktail (to match my serigraph of a cat curled up by a teapot, by the same artist), fishnet mid-calf length leggings, and the following books:

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" -Stephen Chbosky
"Shopgirl" - Steve Martin
"Join me!"- Danny Wallace
"The End of the Beginning" - Avi
"Doing It" - Melvin Burgess
"Hope Against Hope: A Memoir" - Nadezhda Mandelstam (the only work on this list of historical significance, the memoirs of Osip Mandelstam's widow of their life as members of the intelligentsia under Stalin. The Mandelstams were not able to enjoy purple hair extensions and had to tear up and hide their own literary works, as opposed to acquiring books with gluttonous appetite. I am overly lucky).


Anton reported, amused, that when he was discussing his bill with the founder of a company to which he consults, the founder accused him, Anton, of being richer than the founder.

"You're calling me rich?"

"You own a house in San Francisco, and that means you're rich!"

We had a good laugh over that.

Iris has many questions about richness and poverty. Many of her classmates own vacation homes, and she has urged us to buy a second house (dream on, small child). When she was four, she was shamed by a playmate who repeatedly bragged, "I'm rich and you're not!" Iris asked me, shamefacedly, "When I'm five, will I be rich like Katie?" I had to explain to her that in fact, no matter what the other four year-old said, by most American's reckoning, neither family was rich. But, however, if you looked at the big picture, most people in the world would call both families rich.

This year's Nobel Peace prize winner, Muhammed Yunus, creator of "microcredit" (tiny, unsecured loans to the most poverty-stricken in developing nations) has created his own definition of "formerly poor." He looks to see that a family who has received microcredit (loans sometimes as small as U.S. $20 can change a family's life) has managed to obtain a house with a tin roof, clean drinking water, sanitary bathroom/latrine, warm winter clothes, mosquito netting, $75 in a savings account, and an education for the children. By Yunus's measuring, we are wealthy indeed.

Recently the New Yorker covered the growth and horrible poverty of Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is unusual in that it has no safe neighborhoods or wealthy pockets; the entire city is filled with poverty and misery, and the rich live cheek-to-jowls with the poor. Hordes of people are born and live in the Lagos dump, where they pick recyclables from the trash for pennies a day. Urban theorist (and possessor of the world's coolest name) Rem Koolhaas has raved about Lagos's dump civilization as an "impressive performance", a futuristic ecosystem showing the Lagos could succeed as it becomes one of the three or four largest cities in the world. But, as New Yorker correspondent George Packer writes, Koolhaas observed the dump from a helicopter because he and his graduate students were afraid to leave their car when touring Lagos. They could observe only from the safety of the skies.

In our everyday life, it is so easy to feel resentful of those who have more, but we so rarely stop to ponder our amazing good luck. I am no better than someone who lives in the Lagos dump; I was just born into more advantageous, middle-class American circumstances by luck of the draw.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

an ignorant American in the Basque country

Herewith #2 in what may become an Occasional Feature of this blog: the Drunken Housewife writes on the topic of a reader's choice. Today we address a theme suggested by the Freewheeling Spirit: something which surprised the Drunken Housewife on a trip.

When I was a sophomore in college, I studied abroad on Boston University's advanced Spanish program, where I took classes at the Institutu Internacional in Madrid and lived, along with another B.U. student, with a Spanish grandmother in an atmosphere of decayed grandeur. Our hostess wished to visit her adult daughter's family in northern Spain, and yet she was chained down by her obligations to her American teenaged boarders. She convinced us to accompany her, painting a glorious picture of the wonders which would await us. We could cross over into France! We would see a whole new part of Spain! We would take a wonderful train trip! So, we agreed, and we all set off.

I had hit it off very well with my landlady, Chiruca, and my fellow student, but relations between the two of them were quite strained. My roommate found it maddening that I was so popular with our landlady, because to her way of thinking, I was not plunging deeply enough into the Spanish way of living (I was cheating on my American boyfriend with a Nigerian student, who incidentally went on to become quite important in the Nigerian government, whereas she was cheating on her American boyfriend with a series of Spanish men, but also another B.U. student). Whenever she had to talk to Chiruca, she'd become tongue-tied, and Chiruca compared her Spanish unfavorably to mine. The roommate, a New Jersey suburbanite, also had issues with the decrepitude of many of the apartment's fixtues, but I, being from a rural background, found it comparative elegant.

On our trip, the roommate acidulously commented on our landlady's decision to book herself into first class on the train, putting us in a lower class. We were entrusted with a bag of provisions, which we thought were for the long train ride, but which we unfortunately learned after gorging ourselves were supposed to tide us over for days, so that we would not be an imposition on Chiruca's daughter. Our landlady was disgusted and a bit angry to see how much we had eaten (it was a long train trip, and we were hungry).

When we arrived, we learned that our landlady's family lived in a beautiful, idyllic, but tiny village. We had been under the impression that we'd be in the vibrant city of San Sebastian, once a lively jetset favorite before Basque terrorism caused it to pass out of fashion with the wealthy. My roommate didn't warm up to Chiruca's daughter. We two had been instructed to leave our luggage "at the milk bar" so it could be claimed by car, and we left our things in what we thought was the the right place, but the daughter said she'd been unable to find it. We trudged back on foot from the house to the few tiny shops, and there was our luggage, at what we thought was "the milk bar" (a small, informal cafe). We shlepped our stuff back ourselves on foot.

My roommate's discontent grew and grew. She could not stand the idea of our rotting in this tiny (albeit spectacularly scenic) village. How could we reach the border, anyhow, and cross into France? We didn't have a car (I didn't even have a driver's license). She rebelled and argued with our landlady, and the end result was that the two of us went to the train station the next morning and caught a train into San Sebastian proper. (Later, when we got back to Madrid, my landlady scolded me privately for our ungracious behavior to her daughter's family, and I was shamed. As a teenager from a not-very-social rural family, I was then lacking in social skills, and I didn't realize that I should have brought a hostess gift).

In San Sebastian, we were solicited by a middle-aged Basque woman at the train station to take a room in a private house. We grew nervous as we followed the woman for what felt like ages, sure we were being lured to our demise, but it turned out well. We set out to explore the city, which had beautiful beaches, narrow streets, unintelligible signs in the spiky, consonant-ridden tongue of the Basques, and plenty of bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops.

What we did not realize was that we had chosen to go to San Sebastian upon the anniversary of the founding of the Basque language newspaper, which was the occasion for an outswelling of nationalistic feeling and resentment of the Spanish overlords. I should have known better, because I had mentioned the trip to the Spanish suburban family whose teenaged son I tutored in English, and the mother had told me NOT to go to the Basque country and informed me that she would be very worried about me. I had not lingered to hear why (most likely I was in a hurry to take the long bus ride back into the city to meet my boyfriend). We were raw American teenagers from unsophisticated backgrounds, used to the tedium of the New Jersey suburbs or the even more stultifyingly uneventless existence of rural Maine.

As we were walking down a tiny street, somehow, out of nowhere, a mob formed, which we were caught up in, being pushed and shoved about. People were shouting, but since it was in Euskara, we couldn't understand it. Then, for reasons which remained opaque to us, some authorities started firing on the crowd. I don't know how we got into a candy store, I think the proprietress pulled us two in; but we crouched behind tiny racks of candy, and the owner rolled down the metal overhead door. We stayed there a long time, the three of us, hiding behind the candy, and eventually when it seemed safe enough, the owner rolled back up the metal door and we left. I felt that we should buy some candy to thank our savior, but my roommate demurred. The proprietress told us that the bullets being fired were rubber, not real bullets, which was somewhat reassuring.

Throughout the rest of the weekend, at various intervals mobs would form and we would find ourselves tossed to and fro, like flotsam. We could never quite figure out what was going on, and we were unable to predict or escape the unruly crowds.

When we got back to Madrid, I told my student's mother all about it. She could not believe that our landlady had taken us to San Sebastian when everyone (but the ignorant American teenagers) knew it was the newspaper's anniversary and there would of course, be a lot of unrest. (In my beloved landlady's defense, she had planned that we'd be staying in quiet Basque villages, but we had rebelliously set off for San Sebastian). She had feared for my life, she told me emotionally, the whole time.

What I learned from this: when you travel, be aware of the dates and their local significance. Try to tap into the zeitgeist. My husband thought I was being alarmist when, during our stay in Jerusalem, I insisted that he not take any buses on Naqba day, the day Palestinians mourn what they call the "catastrophe" of Israeli occupation. I also refused to let him take our baby in a stroller to join a group of Palestinians in a protest march in Bethlehem. "I've been in riots before," I hissed at him. "I spent nine months making this perfectly good baby, and you are NOT taking her into a riot!" Nothing happened that Naqba day, no buses were blown up by suicide bombers, but within a few months, Sharon visited the Temple Mount in a provocative way, and the second, currently ongoing Intifadah was started. The amazingly kind Orthodox priests at the shrine where Jesus was allegedly born were forced to hole up and live in the shrine itself with few supplies, and many of them were killed. I wonder often what happened to the delightful bearded priest who insisted on laying the baby Iris exactly where the baby Jesus supposedly lay, while intoning some form of blessing over her (meanwhile, all the other tourists were made to stay behind a velvet rope). And then there was the bitchy Israeli waitress at our neighborhood restaurant, who was always flirting with my oblivious husband and giving me the evil eye. A suicide bomber devastated that restaurant; did the predatory waitress survive?

Monday, November 13, 2006

a victory cocktail

I cannot tell you how much I love the "How's Your Drink?" column by Eric Felten in the weekend Wall St. Journal. Last Thanksgiving, I served French battle cocktails (the drink guzzled by Napoleon's officers to get their nerve up for the fight), thanks to Eric F.

For Veteran's Day, Felten provided the recipe for Seventh Regiment Punch, the cocktail of choice of a New York National Guard unit which was renamed the 107th Infantry in 1917. Unlike the French battle cocktails, this is for drinking after a victory, not to gird one's warlike spirit for the fight.

Seventh Regiment Punch

1/2 oz brandy
1/4 oz curacao
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
3 oz chilled champagne

Shake all ingredients except champagne with ice and strain into a punch cup. Add champagne and stir gently. Garnish with fresh, seasonal fruit.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Iris, songwriter for the ages

Yesterday, Iris enjoyed quite a bit of internet buzz. Famed political blog Wonkette wrote,
Six year old writes awesome lyrics: “I am a rockstar, and I pee everywhere with my penis”
after noticing a mention of Iris's song on the Freewheeling Spirit. Subsequently, the Daily Kos featured Iris's song in the Daily Cheers and Jeers:
JEERS to what Rumsfeld gets to walk away from scot-free. Iraq's Health Minister now estimates that 150,000 civilians have been killed as a result of our misguided invasion. To put that in perspective, think of it this way: Syracuse, New York---Poof!---you're a ghost town. (Knock off the looting, Chittenango.)


And now, a pleasant pastoral interlude featuring the song stylings of a six year-old girl. Please...delight us with your latest composition:

"I am a rock star and I pee everywhere with my penis!"


I showed these sites to Iris, and her initial reaction was muted. "But I wrote that song for Lucy!" Next, she was miffed that she was described as a six year-old, because she has turned seven recently. Finally, after some thought, she became excited. "I'm famous!" Then her mood dampened slightly: "But now that I am seven, what can I do?" She feels a need to top herself. Now that her penis song has been celebrated, what will be her next lyrical inspiration? (I'm predicting butts).

Friday, November 10, 2006

on marriage & looks

My Hong Kong correspondent writes:
I myself have been wondering what is the most important thing a woman shld seek in a man. And what elements contribute to a successful marriage. (You think your sober husband will be able to come up with an equation?)

My actual big question is "Are looks all that important"?
I showed this to the Sober Husband, and he backed away from the computer. I think that quite possibly he could come up with an equation for a successful marriage, but he would, in the interests of self-protection and marital harmony, not be willing to show it to me. (And, if one scoffs at the idea that such a formula can be determined, I direct you to the formula for determining how many men a woman has slept with, which offended me when I read it but yet, when I went through the steps, it was dead-on for me personally. And no, don't ask me to go into further detail here. Some things are best left unsaid).

I don't know the Secret to a Successful Marriage definitively, but I think that I know how to predict whether one will fail. Again, as with so much in life, I learned this from the Wall St. Journal (90% of what I know comes from my subscriptions to the WSJ and the New Yorker; less than 5% probably comes from my time at Stanford. Skip the student loans, young people; just take out some subscriptions). On August 6, 2002 the WSJ covered Professor Gottman's divorce prediction test: an observer can predict, with amazing accuracy, whether a couple will stay together by observing whether or not they roll their eyes at each other. It is expressing contempt for the other person, even if done in a light, humorous way, which is deadly. I was deeply impressed by this, not least because I had the habit of sarcastically rolling my eyes at Husband 2.0 from time to time. In my defense, the man surely elicits eye-rolling when he gets on his crank topics, such as "I don't believe in vitamins. What is a vitamin, anyway? A molecule? No. A mineral? No." But since reading the WSJ that August morning, I have striven mightily to maintain discipline of the eyeballs, no matter how cranklike the Sober Husband may get.

And it's true that treating my views, no matter how drunken I might be when I express them, with contempt or derision is the most inflammatory thing the husband could do. I used to complain rabidly that he was "the most condescending person I have ever met", and it's been years since I've done that.  He learned over the years not to condescend to me.  For a while, he was supposed to repeat the mantra "my-wife-is-competent; my-wife-is-competent" when he felt a need to correct me superiorly, and it must have had an effect.  It's probably not coincidental that the frequency of our arguments has declined; some years, we may only have one or two real fights (often coinciding with visits from his mother).

As for looks: I think looks attract someone, but they can't keep the person for the long haul. Looks fade (hell, mine have more than faded; they have positively evaporated. I was a hottie when Husband 2.0 and I hooked up, but no one is exactly calling me arm candy after ten years and two children). There are plenty of ugly people out there who have found passion and love, and there are plenty of conventionally gorgeous people out there who can't manage a relationship. Just don't roll your eyes, my friends; don't roll your eyes.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

the story of my sister's life

At Iris's parent-teacher conference, I scored the chance to read this unauthorized critical biography of Lola, written by Iris at school:

the story of my sister's life by iris

At first my sister was a baby she was o.k. Then she was one she was still o.k. Then tow o.k. then three bad. Then four even worse. wich is now and so I don't no what will hapen next. the END.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

where the wild readers lurk, plus the dreaded metablogging, and Luxembourg

It really is so tedious when people blog about blogging, and I generally skip that sort of self-referential tediousness, but yet please do try to bear with me as I delve into a bit of this metablogging.

Okay! So you probably didn't notice when I installed a Mapstats utility, allowing me to see how many people are reading and where they are located, but it soon became an obsession with me. I check the Mapstats several times a day. I spend more time staring at that then I do actually writing here. (It takes me back to my days as a young associate, when my best lawyer chum and I used to snoop about and keep tabs on who was billing how many hours, and I swear if we'd put that energy into our work, we might have met our own billable hours quotas. That was back in the dreaded legal recession, when there weren't enough billable hours to go around and firms were laying off associates in waves. Now it's all so different, as I was reminded the other day when I asked a friend if her lawyer brother, moving back to town, had a job lined up yet, and she looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. Indeed I was, indeed I was, remembering the Bad Old Years, and I didn't even get laid off myself but still got traumatized).

Anyhow, I am always delighted to see how international my readership is, because I love to travel, although I can't afford to do it these days, now that I have procreated and, more to the point, purchased a picturesque old house. Whenever you see those pretty postcards of the San Francisco Victorians, remember that for each one of those beauties, there's some poor stressed out bastard[s] who has to meet the mortgage and keep the frigging roof repaired, and someday you might ask me about the Huge Big Fucking Traumatic Plumbing Disaster of 2005, which actually caused me to take paying work for a while and the poor old husband to take a second job and which caused me to face reality and stop my rudimentary plans for a Barcelona vacation. I have had readers from all over, including the following locations [note: there is a very long list following, and if you are not a Proust-like aficionado of placenames, then do skim down past the list. I promise it is leading to something]:

Viborg, Viborg, Denmark
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Voorweg, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
Eskisehir, Eskisehir, Turkey
Unterwinterbach, Bayern, Germany
Kleinobringen, Thuringen, Germany
Guildford, Bracknell Forest, United Kingdom
London, Lambeth, United Kingdom
Móstoles, Madrid, Spain
Auckland, New Zealand
Manchester, England
Fa Yuen, Hong Kong
Banstead, Bromley, United Kingdom
Conisbrough, Rotherham, United Kingdom
Brentford, Slough, United Kingdom (there have been a number of readers from Slough, which is especially delightful as I am a fan of the British show, "The Office")
Derby, Derby, United Kingdom
Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Carabanchel Bajo, Madrid, Spain
Bombay, Maharashtra, India
Bat Cave, North Carolina, United States
Taipei, T'ai-pei, Taiwan
Rozelle, New South Wales, Australia
Seixo Alvo, Porto, Portugal
Gadderbaum, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
Simei New Town, Singapore
Santiago, Region Metropolitana, Chile
Voorweg, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
Kilchberg, Zurich, Switzerland
Jakarta, Indonesia
Brussels, Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, Belgium
Suwon, Kyonggi-do, Korea, Republic of
Shawford, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Deschênes, Quebec, Canada
Varese, Lombardia, Italy
Vienna, Wien, Austria
Barão Do Iriri, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
São Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Tauranga, New Zealand
Maarssen, Utrecht, Netherlands
Yoogali, New South Wales, Australia
Great Wakering, Southend-on-Sea, United Kingdom
Kathmandu, Nepal
Auboué, Lorraine, France
Brusow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
Auckland, New Zealand

Anyhow, given my wanderlust, seeing these foreign locations makes me happy. It fuels my daydreams. I imagine that should I visit some of these locations, perhaps a reader would take the old Drunken Housewife to a delightful local bar and teach her to say in the local patois, "Please bring me your house specialty." However, I've been curious about a few things. In particular, two of my most devoted (or despising yet oddly riveted? Let us not leap to conclusions) readers, who check in more frequently than any of my actual real-life friends, have been objects of curiousity to me. One is located in Fa Yuen, Hong Kong, and has revealed himself to be Rups, a Hong Kong banker. The other is located in Luxembourg and remains a mystery. Rups has delurked with some questions about marriage, which I promise to address soon, after some thought, and I hereby offer to my mysterious Luxembourg reader: I will write a post on the topic of your choice, a custom-designed entry, if you speak up and tell us who you are.

The other miracle revealed to me by Mapstats, which also records search terms, is that my poor idiotic orange cat, Al, has a doppelganger across the seas. A Gibraltar resident found the page on September 21, 2006 by running a search on Google for "my cat is allergic to his own teeth." I have been to Gibraltar, I have climbed the hills and had a Barbary Ape actually leap onto my shoulders and seize my hair in his humanesque hands. And there, too, so far away, there can be found cats who are deemed allergic to their own teeth. I wish for news from Gibraltar: do the vets there recommend total extraction, too?

Monday, November 06, 2006

laryngitis, mother-in-law, and me

I am voiceless. I was hoarse on Sat. afternoon and felt something coming on, and I woke up Sunday to full-blown laryngitis. My visiting mother-in-law (leaving today) said a couple of times that I'd lost my voice because I went to a bar, which annoying, but on the other hand, that was the most annoying thing from her visit, so that's a successful visit overall.

Success in this instance is measured by the fact that I didn't go into a rage or stop speaking to my husband. I would be on speaking terms with him at the moment if I hadn't lost my voice (I'm reminded of one of my favorite friends, who says that when her husband's parents visit, they should stop talking to each other because by the end of the visit, they are just hissing insults at each other under their breath).

I did get out of the house alone on Saturday night, and I was in the enviable but difficult situation of choosing between two birthday parties. An old attorney friend of mine was having a big birthday bash at the Ramp, an old-school semi-sleazy outdoor bar/restaurant on the less fashionable part of the water, and one of my favorite mommy friends was having a party at the latest hip eating spot, Nopa. I had already RSVPed to the Nopa party before I got the details of the Ramp party, and it is one of the biggest etiquette sins in the world to cancel attending one social outing to go to another one instead. So I never considered going to my other friend's party. I'd have made appearances at both if they weren't so far apart geographically. Anton tried to talk me into going to the Ramp party instead on the basis that it was a milestone birthday for that friend, whereas it was a run-of-the-mill birthday for the other one, but I think it was only because he was invited to the Ramp party as well but not the Nopa one (chicks only, no husbands, no children). I think he had some daydream that we'd leave the children at home with his mother and run off and get drunk and have sex in the bathroom, but instead I was dining, drinking and dancing until bar closing time with a crew of stylish mommies, predominately hard-drinking stay-at-home mothers.

The topic of rejecting men due to shortness came up. I polled the women at my end of the table as to how tall was the shortest man they'd slept with. The answer was 5'10", which is not short. No one would cop to having slept with anyone under that. I'm working on a theory that tall is to women what fat is to men, but it's not spoken about so much. Men think we're all about penis size, but if the typical woman had to choose between a tall man with a unremarkable penis and a short, well-hung man, she'd go for the tall guy. We get pissy about ugly guys who have a "no fat chicks" attitude, but meanwhile, we're rejecting short guys, even ones with delightful personalities. I couldn't get anyone to admit she would pick the tall, underhung guy over a short one, though, as everyone insisted they had to have a tall and well-hung man. "Of course we all want a man who is tall, has a big dick, a sense of humor, a lot of money and no mother," I said, "but we can't have every thing."

It absolutely horrified another woman that I would think being motherless is a good thing in a man. "Mothers are so great. Don't you think you have something to learn from every mother?"

Of course, she was the only single woman at the table. "Here's what I've learned from my two mothers-in-law," I said boozily. "How to be patient when there's an annoying person in your house." (Sidenote: to give my current mother-in-law credit, she has been learning over the last couple of years how to be less annoying to a bitchy daughter-in-law and how to adapt to the reality that her son intends to stay married to the irritating bitchy woman). Another friend said, "I learned how not to make the crazy person mad! 'Don't set off the crazy person!' That's what I learned!" (dissolving into laughter which was clearly originating in a defensive mechanism to some huge trauma).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

children at play

The children were dressing up with scarves and shawls, and they said they were being Italian girls. In this household, Italian has come to be synonymous with fabulous, all stemming from a fateful trip to Rome and Venice when Iris was an impressionable 2 1/2.

Lola, who was only in Italy in utero, hasn't quite got the flavor of it the way Iris did. She said that her headdress had come from "an Italian Disney store. That is right, it is Italian and it is Disney." Then Lola went on to say, "I was talking to my cat, and I told him that once upon a time I was on 'Survivor', and I was so really beautiful, and it was like fashion!" Four years old, and clearly she's been exposed to too much reality TV. Sigh. Too much reality TV, and not enough Italy.

I got too good

So, my major artistic endeavor of the year is always the children's Halloween costumes. This year, I didn't sew for Iris, instead helping her assemble a cat costume from purchased black clothes, but I did sew Lola an orange cat costume. (Lest this be seen as favoritism, here is a list of Difficult Costumes I Slaved Over for Iris: bumblebee, Tinky Winky, Jessie the Yodelling Cowgirl from Toy Story II, the ballgown Belle wore when she danced with the Beast -- but pink & jewelled, and Princess Leia's iconic white dress. There was a bit of a fright there when it seemed Iris wanted to be Princess Leia in captivity -- "When Jabba the Hutt captures Princess Leia, he makes her wear beautiful clothes!" - but I talked her down). Lola still hasn't racked up that number (Lola's handmade costumes so far are Medieval Princess and Al the Idiotic Orange Cat).

Now, normally Halloween is also the time of year when I get the ego rewards which the existence of a stay-at-home mother normally precludes. This year, people loved my costume (purchased black Venetian mask, appropriate make-up, the one formal gown I own I can still fit into), and they loved Lola the orange cat, but everyone assumed I'd purchased the costume, and I didn't get a one of my normal, head-swelling compliments. I've crossed over the boundary where my costumes look purchased/professionally made. I'd have to go with a crazy fabric clearly not sold on the mass market in order to look homemade again.

Anyhow, Lola was a great orange cat, she was warm, she was cosy. I was glamorous and Italian looking, which I wish I were always. We got a lot of candy. Iris was kind of cranky about not meeting up with her new best friend, who was trick-or-treating clear across town, and Anton ended up going with no costume whatsoever, but her giant bag of candy cheered her up.

ups and downs

So the husband and I have roughly patched things up from our big fight last Sunday, and we're cordial, albeit not yet back to our normal adorable selves. It was our biggest fight of the year; I can't remember any other real argument we've had in 2006. However, the forecast is for increased marital distance, with a likelihood of serious storms and fits. Why? His mother is due in tomorrow afternoon for a visit. I'm not sure how long she is staying or whether she's staying here or at a hotel; the husband prefers to be vague about these things. Of course, I'm out of the planning loop (although he always asks me before he okays a visit with her). The mother-in-law avoids calling our home, out of fear, I guess, that I might answer the phone. She prefers to conduct her conversations with the husband on his celphone at times when he is most likely to be away from the home and hence the wife.

I can't believe we're about to observe our 8th wedding anniversary, and his mother will be here, so we probably won't be on speaking terms. We'll probably just be on glaring terms. Maybe we'll manage to limp out the visit without ceasing civilities, but that would be unusual. Usually by day two of her visits, I'm pondering why on earth it seemed like a good idea to marry into this family and what possessed me to carry on this genetic line when obviously it should have been allowed to peter out. That's really not the frame of mind I'd like for the 8th anniversary, which is very important to me.

Why is this a significant anniversary? Because I filed for divorce from Husband 1.0, the Scotch-Drinking Husband, in the 7th year of our marriage, and that is the most common year for getting a divorce (it turns out the "seven year itch" is not fictional). This means this is the alpha marriage in my life, the most significant one (although of course it was more important from the moment we had our first child together). That means a lot to me, and I'd like to be on speaking terms with the husband so I can celebrate it.