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Could You Just…? (Coffee Edition)

ritualDear Blue Bottle Coffee / Stumptown / Ritual / Intelligentisa / name your artisanal-Williamsburg-wanna-be coffee of choice,

You’ve made it: you are super popular. All the kids who hated you in high school because you wore beige corduroys and couldn’t throw a football worth a damn are queuing up in front of your kiosks to get their caffeine. They wait ten-deep on  weekends to get ONE CUP OF COFFEE.

I get that you are above it all though. That you don’t care what they think of if you, even though you obviously do, in your slouchy knit hat, heavy glasses frames and vintage cardigan. You are painfully hip. Point taken.

But could you, just, please, for the love of God, swing by the grocery and pick up some #$(*&#$! Splenda already? I get that your body is a temple. A very skinny, fixie-riding temple. Mine is not. At least as far as artificial sweeteners are concerned. (FYI, Raw Sugar tastes like crushed up maple syrup, so don’t even start with me on that.)

And – oh – before you go back to practicing your I-hate-you half-smile: could you heat up. the. goddamn. milk? In the name of all that is holy, I do not want a room temperature latte. For $4.25, I should be able to get my coffee at the temperature of the sun.

OK. I’m done. Yes, I know I can go elsewhere and that high temperatures caramelize the delicate sugars in the milk and Splenda is probably made out of chlorine, but I live right over there and could you just…? This once? We’re all in this together. Me, you and your beard kicking off the day with your excellent coffee.

Thanks guys. Really. Thanks. See you tomorrow.

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Quick Note to Nannies Interviewing with Me To Take Care of My Three Year Old

Do not tell me you spontaneously learned to read when you were three.

I say this for a couple reasons, neither of which is that I’m jealous.

First, you did not.

Second, that is 100% not true, and no, you did not.

And third, oh right: because I will not hire you. So there’s that.

Lord Almighty, applicants, get some game.

The Long Days

Today was one of them. It started at 4:15AM when R. had to get up for a cross-country flight. It picked up again at 5:28AM when A. cried from her room and rocking and logic (“Sweetheart, it’s still dark outside…”) couldn’t coax her back to daylight savings sleep. A few hours later, finally quiet at my desk with a day of writing and catch-up, order-restoring work ahead, it abruptly changed course again: a call to collect my suddenly illing little A. from the other side of town. It was a hard day for all of us in our little family.

But, as I stagger north towards bed, I’m reminded again of what I tell myself on the days when I can’t seem to write: “I’m glad to have the opportunity to try. I’m grateful for the time.” I feel the same way about these days, even through a fog of exhaustion and headache and frustrated effort: I’m grateful just to be nominated. I had plenty of days of fog and exhaustion and headaches before I ever found R., before we thought of A.. If these days are going to happen – and, no matter how well I engineer our schedules and the inside of my head, they will happen – how much better is it to have them happen with R. and  A., wherever and however they are? Better. Just better.

So onward. To bed and tomorrow.

Christmas 2013: That Guy Up the Street

fake-christmas-treeOK, so we’re at Lowe’s which, even though it’s a hardware store and I have a soft spot for bins of nails and multi-purpose screwdrivers, I hate. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s the poor organization. Maybe it’s the poor selection of hedge trimmers (which are also disorganized.)

Regardless of their many errors, here’s what today: they have a full fake Christmas tree display up front and center. Pre-lit. Like, a dozen of them + moving inflated cabins full of threatening snowmen and overweight reindeer. I’ll skip the universal, “WTF?” outrage that we’re barely past Halloween, etc. and jump right to the question on everyone’s mind: how am I going to beat the holiday cheer pants off the professional electrician up the street come Christmas time and will it involve my buying several of those trees either to create some kind of plastic winter wonderland diorama on our landing or to fully obscure the front of his house and its outrageous display of better-than-mine tasteful holiday lighting?

Christmas is coming, people. The time is now to plan for universal harmony, world peace and ass-kicking.

‘Tis the Season To Travel

Hi there. It’s been a while. How’ve you been? How’s your uncle’s health? That thing that happened to your foot, is that all sorted out? Great. I’m so glad.

I’ve been busy. Globetrotting busy. Sorry I couldn’t take you along, but I had a small companion with me who, while adorable, would’ve gotten you up at 2AM or 5AM depending on where we were that week, so you should thank me for not inviting you.

You’re welcome.

My little family on Zurich See.

We were in Zurich, Paris, Brussels, and Brugge in early October (with side trips to Copenhagen and Berlin for R.), then New York for 48 hours in the middle of the month (for a wedding and, let’s be honest, to see if I could outrun Sandy, which I did, by the way – last flight out, so high five to me. No high fives for global warming and devastating the city I love.) Then Roatan, Honduras for a week of friends and diving last week.

It was all very glam and exhausting and fantastic and over-luggaged, and, truth be told, I’m happy to be home for the holidays. I’ve got my sights set on a tapas Thanksgiving which will include things like stuffing meatballs and mini pecan pies. Maybe. It may also include a loss of eyebrows and a visit from the fire department. Who knows? An all-flambe Thanksgiving could be fun, right? One thing is for sure, we’re getting a Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, and this year I’m going to water it come hell or high water.

Actually, come high water, I will stop watering it. You don’t want to overdo it.

In the interests of making your future traveling life simpler and easier than my recent one has been, here are

The top seven things I learned from our trips to Europe, Central America and pre-Sandy New York:

1. If a hurricane is approaching your intended destination, you might want to reconsider your trip, as it may take you forever to get home. Unless they have Dunkin Donuts where you’re going, in which case you should definitely go. Or a really good friend is getting married. That too. You should go to that. Get a coffee and donut on the way. And a case of bottled water. And a generator. You’ll be the life of the party, maybe literally.

2. When you book a trip to a third world country, you should plan on getting immunization shots. And by “plan” I don’t mean ring up your doctor and your child’s pediatrician in a panic five days before the trip to find out if you will come back with yellow fever, malaria and rickets. (Rickets is still a thing, right?) And you need those shots about six months ahead, not six hours, for them to be effective. Just FYI. (P.S. I don’t have malaria. Yet.)

3. I know you love French cheese. It’s because it’s unpasteurized. And illegal, which makes it more thrilling. (As thrilling as sitting perfectly still with a dairy product, a small, non-lethal knife and a baguette can be, but the point stands.) No matter how much you love it and how willing you are to brave questions from humorless customs’ agents who probably want that cheese for themselves, do not bring seven pounds of it home. Unless you sent out invitations for a cheese party before you left, you will not eat it before it starts resenting you.

4. If you have a tiny portable speaker to broadcast rainshowers all night to keep your toddler insulated from startling noises and reliably asleep and that speaker has a small, essential cable that charges it and connects it to your iPod and you lost that cable on your last trip, only to rediscover it after extensive searching only the day before the current trip, do not for any reason detach that cable for fear the connector might snap off in your luggage and store it “someplace safe.” This is the equivalent of just going ahead and running it down the garbage disposal and checking yourself into an insane asylum for a few days, as you will a.) never find it again (again), and b.) will lose your mind trying.

The reason I dive.

5. If you are claustrophobic and nervous about people/yeti/sharks/the Mafia sneaking up on you while on land, you may want to reconsider diving in the open ocean. They have sharks there. Also, adorable turtles and seahorses and what not. But you will see them while under 40 feet of water and breathing dry oxygen from something that makes you look like Bane to your small daughter while you’re getting re-certified in the pool before you went out there, which makes you worry that she too will start sitting with her back to the wall and facing the door in restaurants because it’s good to know what’s coming and be able to see your exit. Which, for the record, is above you if you’re diving. Which is not normal and counterintuitive and weird. Like breathing underwater. The whole thing is weird.

6. United Airlines is a terrible, terrible company that turns what are probably perfectly nice, normal people into super-annoying and bizarrely unsympathetic employees who park their beverage/ice crusher truck next to your sleeping toddler’s head TWICE, ruin your luggage, do not apologize, offer more trips on their terrible airline as compensation and generally show almost no human characteristics. You should avoid flying United if you possibly can. But you knew that.

And finally,

7. Even with all the lost cables, panic attacks underwater, terrible airlines and weather, weather, weather, travel is good. You should go. It may be tiring, it may be logistically challenging, it may be expensive, but you should still go. You get to see your cool friends, you get to see the American election from outside the country (thank God), you meet a turtle or two. It gives you some breathing room and some perspective, that time away. You’ll like it. Just go.

Even if you get rickets. Which you probably won’t. But get some sunlight and Vitamin D anyway. And a donut. Donuts help with everything.

Los Angeles

It’s been an ellipses day so far, a day when “…” seems to drop onto the end of every sentence, every decision, every turn in traffic. Maybe it’s because everyone here is tan or overweight or tattooed or some of each and I am none of those, not really. Especially the tattooed: I’m definitely not tattooed.

Or maybe it’s because everywhere is about an hour away.

I have trouble calming down on days like this. Not that there’s anything to be upset about. I just start from where I am – today, awake at 2:30AM and unable to sleep – and the ellipses follow.

“Do you want to shower?”

“…”

“Do you want breakfast?”

“…”

“You found a place for breakfast, didn’t you?”

“…”

“Coffee?”

Well, yes. I obviously need coffee.

I’m not good at making decisions on my best days. I make 3/4 of a decision and then leave it lying there like an open sandwich without the mayo, without the tomato slice, mostly made but without the other slice of bread. You know: the thing that would make it actually a sandwich.

I am excellent at exploring my options. I am very, very good at opening all the doors of all the cupboards and having a look at the contents, cataloging it all mentally, considering a rearrangement of the juice glasses…and then going into another room to…I don’t know, fold the laundry or synch my camera.

The problem is selecting one of the options, deciding that that option is good enough, committing to, “Everything will be fine,” no matter which option I choose. It’s not the red wire or the blue wire and schoolchildren will die. It’s just some wires, all of them one color or another, some long, some short, all wired to the same place, which is, really, just an explosion in the course of a normal day. A normal-course explosion. Like from a chemistry set when you were eight type explosion. Just enough to get you out the door, moving forward type explosion. An anti-intertia explosion, not a SWAT explosion.

I’m good at SWAT explosions, for the record. I’m excellent in an emergency. I’m just not so hot in a non-emergency.

In case you were going to suggest it, reassuring myself that all options are fine is not enough to get me to choose one of them on a day like this. I want more. I want to have had more sleep, to have even more options, to have one of the options stand out like a shooting star in the already well-lit firmament of my morning.

That doesn’t usually happen. Probably because I mostly already have what I want and can get most anything I need. Maybe the unexpected novelty of that has stopped me in my decision-making tracks: everything after having R. and A. is incremental and I don’t know what to do with myself standing on the other side of the sneeze-proof glass facing an array of toppings. I become anxious when confronted by sprinkles.

The option of sitting perfectly still right where I am with my ice cream cone is as viable as taking it on a rollercoaster with me. But maybe the rollercoaster would be more fun. Or a different ride. Or swimming. Maybe swimming.

I would like to take a decision-making class like those classes people take to improve their public speaking. It would start with sleeping for several hours, followed by some breathing, then… Well, I haven’t taken the class, so I don’t know how it ends, do I? No. That’s why I need the class.

In this morning, this day, even having made a decision, ending up somewhere really quite pleasant is not enough. A beach, say. A beach where A. runs into the water and jumps a little and claps for herself and then goes to get a shovel. A beach where – miracle – I am not unbelievably hot the way I always am at beaches. Not the, “Why do people go places to just lie down and be hot anyway?” kind of beach. The other kind. A nice cloudy-day beach. I am there wishing I’d brought my swimsuit, remembered the water bottle instead of the accessories for a different kind of outing entirely, and wondering, “If I could get here now why could I not have gotten here two hours ago?”

Because – sigh – we are not perfect. Some days are ellipses days. Some days we don’t sleep well and can’t make a decision to save our lives. (Except, I could definitely make that decision. It’s these other ones between pancakes and ferris wheels that are impossible.)

But today, that’s just the way how it is. My little cousin used to say that. “Mom, that’s just the way how it is.” It’s OK. There are sand pails in the trunk for digging and we’ll see friends tonight and everything will be fine, ellipses be damned, and let’s just all take a deep breath and calm down and enjoy ourselves.

(Although, really, what is up with going to the beach when it’s hot? That’s insane. Really. There are ferris wheels around here somewhere, for Pete’s sake.)

Extreme Sports

Bay to Breakers, the annual San Francisco race, happened not too long ago. It’s your basic orgy/costume ball/marathon, with more stress on the orgy and costume parts since this is San Francisco. A runner friend of mine says it’s a “qualifying race,” so I guess it’s also, you know, serious. Even she’s not clear on qualifying for what though. So if you ran it thinking you could become a dental hygienist afterwards, well, maybe you’re right.

Here’s my thing with running marathons: why would you ever do that? I mean, sure, if you love running, great, have at it, more power to you, I’ll see you at mile 173 or whatever with a cup of Kool-Aid.

(Actually, scratch that. I won’t see you at the Dixie-Cup table. It’s hot there, I can tell. I don’t like being hot. You’re the one who wanted to run around in the sun. I’ll see you at the finish line. If it’s shady. And I don’t have other plans. Otherwise, I’ll see you the next time we go out for some civilized sporting activity. Like lawn bowling. Or cocktails.)

But if you don’t already love running – like, you’re not even a runner at all to start with – why would you do that?

I know a bunch of non-runners who decided they had to run a marathon because they were turning 40 or, you know, just ’cause. Because it’s there. Which it wasn’t, like, a week ago, so that doesn’t make any sense. It might get cancelled. Then what’re you gonna do? You didn’t run it ’cause it wasn’t there? I can do that. Matter of fact, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I do that pretty much every weekend. Most Saturdays I’m here or at the zoo or someplace not running a race that isn’t there. I’m surprised I’m not in better shape, given all the not running I’m doing.

The mountain climbers and their “’cause it’s there” excuse have a more solid point. Literally: Everest is actually there. But then so is the hill right outside my house and I don’t see you coming by to scale that. It’s steep. Like, really steep. Not four-people-died-on-it-last-month-alone steep, but then, of course, you might want to consider that, um, four people didn’t die on it last week and head on over in my direction instead of catching that flight to Nepal. (Flights are really pricey these days too plus there’s a really good coffee place over on 18th if you’re feeling burned out by the climb. Everest can’t beat that.)

The thing is, I’m just not going to do a sport where the chances I might die are super high. Given my record of injuring myself (early, often) while engaging in what many might not even consider sports – like walking into our living room – I would definitely not make it past the first pitch on a mountain, so don’t even start with me that you can climb safely without going to Patagonia, etc. Trust me on this one. I can’t be left alone with a step ladder.

And second, I definitely will not be taking up a sport where they leave their dead behind. Even the Marines don’t do that, and shooting guns at people is arguably even higher risk than scaling an ice face. (Don’t get any ideas about adding that to the extreme sports roster by the way – I don’t want to hear six months from now that some fucking idiot has started a tour where you can climb glaciers while being shot at ’cause he read on some blog somewhere that it was a thing. It’s not a thing. Just stop it.) I get the whole “risk to self” argument in leaving your team behind, but then, why are you all up there in the first place if no one can breathe for more than ten minutes? God. Try paintball. Or ping pong. I hear that’s pretty competitive and everyone can have a beer afterwards with all their digits intact.

Oh – or badminton. Badminton is seriously hard. And frustrating. It should be right up your alley.

Meanwhile I’ll be over here not wearing a Big Bird costume and not headed anywhere 26 miles away. Also not climbing anything. I might have a coffee. Maybe walk over to that sandwich place that I heard was good. Join me when you’re done if you feel like it. Take a shower first though, OK? The sandwich place is kind of on the nice side.

Last Week

Last week was a fucking terrible week.

It started with Colorado.

Colorado is beautiful, but, like the sleek side tables and hot girlfriend that make the rest of your living room look shabby and your pals feel bad about their thighs, it may not be the best idea. At least for coastal-city-dwelling me. My nose starts to bleed before we leave the Denver airport and it stops the day after I get back to an altitude meant for humans not elk. Being there is like being in third grade or whenever it was I had that run of nose bleeds, except now I can’t go to the nurse’s office and lie down. Now, I lie awake all night in the parched air, wrap myself in DVF in the early evening and attend weddings with fields and mountains in the background, which is ideal for wedding photography and oxygen-depriving for me.

I do love my family there fiercely, but I wouldn’t complain if they all moved to Vancouver. Or Cape Cod. Or Mallorca. Mallorca would be ideal.

Back at sea level, I ended my first day of recovery with the awful news that Nora Ephron had died.

Reading her work, tributes and obituaries all week was inspiring and terrible. I contributed my own to the mounting number which, like so many, was more about me than her. This made me feel even worse for not having known her and having a store of wonderful, poignant stories to tell about her, and like an asshole for being self-absorbed and writing exactly the kind of piece with which Nora would have had no patience.

I feel her loss keenly, and spent the better part of last week overwhelmed with a sense of my own mortality and inadequacy of output as a writer and a hostess.

I resolved to right myself on the weekend. I hadn’t slept much, the nanny had given notice, the house had fallen into chaos, as it so easily will after a trip and with a toddler on the premises, and I had forty-seven tabs open in my browser, all of them obituaries or near enough. As my grandmother would have said, I had gotten myself into a state.

My course correction was short-lived. The phone rang and my brother, never big on preambles, told me that a mentor of mine in high school had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. He was pre-empting the news I would receive in a letter from her that afternoon.

I won’t get into how the rest of the day went beyond, “Dark and sad.”

As I say, it was a fucking terrible week. And, of all concerned, I was the lucky one.

Before Nora died, before the letter arrived, the fear of death had already been stopping my breath. Ever since I got pregnant, I have had stretches of extreme anxiety about dying. Before I was pregnant, I was as much of a hypochondriac as everyone else with access to Google and WebMD, but it got worse with the baby.

In my twenties, I thought the usual dramatic and lonely thoughts about death accompanied by the swelling chords of Mozart’s Requiem and followed by a cinematic run in the drenching rain. Or the dark, if rain was unavailable. Those isolated thoughts have been replaced by periods of persistent and specific anxiety, a hyper-awareness of consequences and loss, brought on by bad news, by the wrong movie, by prolonged stress, by lack of sleep. What would I do? Have I done enough (in the largest sense)? How should I prepare (in the smallest sense)? It comes and then it goes again.

The going is usually a result of avoiding my phone, my email, and the news, and having some time alone and with my family. I sleep. The fear dissipates. I realize – again, the same as last time – that there is nothing to be done, not really, that these dark imaginings are just that, that we can only deal with what is within our grasp today, that I have an embarrassment of things to be grateful for, that I am (thankfully) aware of them, that our days and lives are a result of our own effort (which we can control), and that what I focus on is a matter of choice (and, as needed, sheer force of will).

To wit:

The mourning doves that I love have nested just outside our kitchen window. My daughter cocks her head and says, “Could be,” just the way I do when I don’t want to contradict her, when anything is possible and there’s no reason to imply otherwise. Case in point: the Supreme Court miraculously upheld the healthcare law. My former mentor started chemotherapy today. Anderson Cooper admitted he’s gay and almost no one got upset. My man is better than all other men before or since and there is nothing else to be said. The fog has lifted from San Francisco’s hazy July skyline in time – perhaps – for fireworks. And the doves: the doves are back.

This week will be better.

The Doves Are Back (Maybe)

When we moved to our house, we lost our doves. The mourning doves that nested in our small apartment building’s carriageway and bathed in our fountain stayed behind. I don’t think they fully grasped the “what a moving truck means” concept, and they didn’t follow us. I’ve missed them a lot. Their gentle cooing, dark eyes, and softest grey color made our deck feel like a garden nest.

We see them in our new neighborhood but our enclosed garden is, I think, too small for their habits.

On Saturday though, a pair showed up along the ivy-covered double fence we share with our neighbors. The female nestled in just outside our kitchen window and the male spent all Sunday bringing her twigs. This morning, she was in an odd, tail-flared position that, we think, meant eggs. It happened that fast. They were back.

I chased away our local gang member – well, a gang of one, but still – all afternoon. A blue jay. Much too big. The mother dove stood her ground.

Tonight though, I’m anxious that I may have ruined it.

I thought she might like some water and took a small plastic bowl out. The other times I’ve passed her by or taken A. out with her finger to her lips to remind herself to stay quiet, the dove has turned her eye our way but stayed where she was. Tonight I must have gotten too close. She startled and bolted. I’m afraid she’s gone. I’m afraid her little eggs aren’t warm and she won’t come back and they are lost. I’m afraid I was over-helping and ruined it.

I hope not.

We’ll see in the morning.

Sleep-Free

I used to say that I thought sleep was a waste of time, that if I could skip it, I would. I still feel that way about showers – nothing about being damp appeals to me, but I do it for you – but I’ve revised my thoughts on sleep now that I don’t get any.

There are people who allegedly thrive on very little sleep. I am not one of them. Bill Clinton famously only slept a few hours a night. But, then, look where that got him.

I’m not saying the bad judgment involved in having sex with interns is a result of sleep loss… Er, no, wait, yes that is what I’m saying. Forgive me: I’m very tired.

It’s been at least a month since I’ve slept more than five hours at a stretch. It’s like I’m pregnant or have an infant, neither of which is the case, but both of which would provide a handy reason for the sleep deprivation.

I mean, sure, there’s a lot going on right now with the writing and the house and our nanny just quit and we’ve got all these travel plans, but it just doesn’t seem to add up to the number of hours of sleep I’m missing. Although, let’s be honest, my math skills leave something to be desired.

And by “something,” I mean, “nearly everything.”

Here’s how my calculations look right now:

Loss of nanny = by my estimates, ten minutes of stress while not sleeping per day.

That sounds about right. Let’s break it down and see. (See how I’m showing my work and what not? Who says I suck at math!)

Wondering when I will find the time to find a new nanny

+ worrying about how Astrid will handle losing her beloved nanny

+ how am I going to find the time to be around for the first few weeks the new nanny is here because I have to make sure she’s not leaving A. to play with knives while she, I don’t know, plays video games or something. Not that we have video games. And now we’re definitely not getting any. But something like that.

+ God: our nanny is friends with Astrid’s best friend’s nanny, so when will A. see her best friend if our nanny isn’t here to hang out with them twice a week? And her best friend will be going to preschool full-time in the fall ’cause his mom is pregnant with twins and is really well-connected and was all up on that last year when I was supposed to be too. But with the twin thing, I bet she won’t answer my emails about any of this (which I totally get, by the way – I would be super freaked out by having twins) even if I get it together to sort out some kind of half-assed, overly complicated way of getting the kids together. Like a zip line or something. They live up the hill: that could work. But she’d never go for that because he’s small and there’s traffic. And why didn’t I sign A. up for pre-school so she could be with other kids this fall instead of waiting until next year? Oh right – because she’s TWO and that’s ridiculous and besides it costs about a trillion dollars a year to school a child in this city and if we’re paying that much, we might as well move back to New York and pay it to a school in a city I like better. Except for the humidity. New York is awful in the summer. I’ll admit that. Everyone – even the one you love – has flaws. But after a while you love those too. Except for if their flaws mean you have to shower nine times a day. (See previous statement about being damp. Keep up!) Walking down to the 4/5/6 subway platform in August is like entering the burning gates of hell. Excuse me: damp hell. Not the fiery, parched hell. Like swamp hell. Maybe I should just home school Astrid. Where do you get the curriculum for that? And aren’t you supposed to only do that if you live on a farm or love pipe cleaners and sticker charts and have boundless energy? Which I don’t. See aforementioned sleep issues. Plus I don’t get pipe cleaners, even for pipe cleaning, which they’re too small for. Unless we have really tiny pipes, which we might, how would I know? Should I check on that? Is that a thing? Or is it “pipe cleaners” like Dairy Queen’s “ice cream” which we all know hasn’t ever seen this side of cream, but OK, whatever, it’s tasty and “pipe cleaners” are all colorful and what not, so just stop and why do you have to be like that, I was just trying to have some “ice cream”?

Oh – and the math. The math would be a problem too re: that home schooling thing.

All right, yeah, that’s probably more than ten minutes. Like I said: me + numbers = not so much.

For the record, I used to be good at math. In second grade-ish. But then Mr. Sommers, the one with the sides-only, white-guy fro, tried to cut us over to the metric system – remember that? – and that was the end of that.

I’m going to say that Jimmy Carter and the Canadians are to blame here then. That sounds right, doesn’t it? Is that the transitive property?

I am so. Tired.