Thursday, October 27, 2011

Buttery Babies And Blogs about Bourbon


One day my sister aim'ed me (remember before google chat?) and said "you should start a blog". Probably because I was bored, and mostly because I had been drinking whisky in the depth of a dark November, I said ok.

I didn't know what a blog was supposed to be and so I went into that safe place for parents and posted pictures of my kids along with descriptions of things we'd done that day.

It was fine, but after awhile I realized that nobody wanted to read it besides my mom. (Hi mom).

Somewhere around this time, my sister (again) introduced me to C.Jane's blog.

I found C.Jane and I said: oh. This is what a blog is meant to be.

C.Jane blogged about the kids sometimes, yes. But more importantly, what she was doing was documenting her experience. With raw honesty and a wicked sense of humor, she was putting her (emotionally) naked self out there. An act of bravery for anyone, but especially for a woman. Especially for a mother. Especially for a person from a religious culture. And I thought ok, I want to write a blog that's as true as C.Jane's.

So that's what I try to do.

It's just the truth.

Today C.Jane has a column in the Deseret News about the term "mommy blogger" and why she doesn't like it. I was thrilled to see this column, because I too strongly dislike the term mommy blogger. C.Jane's post about how she views the term as "buzz words for bloggers trying to drive traffic"is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in blogging, social media, mothering or, dare I say it, feminism.

Which brings me to why I dislike the term.

Here in 2011, we still live in a world in which men are afforded some things women aren't. One of those privileges men have is the privilege not to be identified by whether or not they have children.

There are men who blog, right? Many of those men have children and I bet sometimes they write about them. And yet, have you ever heard the term "daddy blogger"?

Tina Fey was offered the award of "Funniest Mom in America" and she turned it down. Love that woman. I haven't had the chance yet to ask Tina directly, but I'd be willing to bet it's because of this: Nobody is offering to name Will Ferrell, or John Stewart, or Steve Carell the "funniest dad in America". These men are all fathers, but nobody asks them to attach fatherhood to their public identities. It would limit them and define them in ways they probably haven't asked for. They are allowed simply to be comedians.

Men are allowed to be their profession. They are allowed to create their own identities separate from home and family roles. Women are still asked to be their profession PLUS mother. The term "mommy" is sort of like the new suffix "ess". Actress, authoress, poetess, postmistress? Now they are mommy bloggers, funny moms, powerful moms, political moms, CEO moms, doctor moms, etc.

The problem with that is that it limits women. It ties us to certain false identities, namely the stereotypical "mother" and all that identity entails.

Mothering is something that came to me unexpectedly. I've written about the months after having Ayla, the postpartum depression, how overwhelmed I was in that role. One of the things that was most difficult for me was the loss of identity. I wasn't me anymore. I was me plus baby. The buttery baby I wanted, the label I didn't. Before I'd had a chance to become any other thing I'd dreamed of--writer, world traveler, wearer of butterscotch boots--I'd had a label thrust on me. And "mother", it's a heavy label, full of societal expectations and perhaps the world's harshest judgments. Are we harder on anyone else than we are on a "bad mother"?

Mother is a weighty label and under it, I began to drown.

The thing that saved me, of course, was writing. I needed space for myself. Space where I wasn't mommy, or wife, or daughter. Space that was label and expectation free.

I couldn't have survived without that space. Which is perhaps why I balk at the term "mommy blogger". This blogging space, this writing space, is my own open range. C.Jane once quoted an author who told her children, "I will love you with all my heart but not with all my time". That resonated with my soul. We are allowed to save something just for us: a portion of the Halloween candy. An afternoon at the bookstore. The territory of our souls. More than allowed. By refusing to give our children our emptied-out everything, becoming over time dry, dusty soil unable to bear fruit, we nourish our inner landscapes enough that they may flourish. Enough that when we do give of ourselves, our offerings are nourishing and abundant.

This is what saves me. From drowning beneath the label, beneath the world's judgments, beneath my own.

To my children, I'm a mom. (Not even mommy anymore).

Here, I'm just me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wink and A Prayer


To prove how absolutely asinine I can be, I have challenged myself to write a sonnet a day for the next thirty days.

Here is today's.

Sonnet Two: Wink Wink

Last night the falling branches struck my dreams.
I woke with noisy ocean in my bones.
I'd seen great tidals fingering my seams,
And sailed back to sleep, and heard you groan.
The children woke and donned their little boots,
I trampled out in mine and cursed the snow.
I fear I said a lot worse words than shoot,
Cold makes me mean and cranky, as you know.
Today my dumb dog thinks I'll take her walking.
I tell her look, the snow's still coming down.
She suffers to comprehend when I am talking,
I suffer from a lack of Pho in town.
The tree that once skimmed heaven lies in grass
Please bring me tea, and tell me this won't last.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Things Coming


Today, on this last morning before winter comes, I was prodded out of the house by my dog. We left behind a chicken boiling for soup on the stove, which made me feel cozy and Midwestern, like some happy housewife I never hoped to be. There is something so snug about tonight's dinner already on the stove this morning; we'll admit that even I am not immune to the allure of snugness and leave it at that.

The dog and I walked up the hill and out of the neighborhood. The air was sweet and smoky. I long for woods, but what I have are the plains and as we crested the hill they sprawled out before us, patchwork autumn until it meets October sky. We stopped and looked at the faraway trees gilded in morning sun. In the distance, someone churned farm equipment up and down the hill, kicking up a tornado of dust. The dog was patient. She waited at my side until she saw a squirrel. Then she remembered her wildness and sprinted down the path, frolicking atop the falling leaves. We stopped under a crimson tree. Behind it the clouds were burning off. The sky was turning blue. We stood there for awhile.

Gun shy, saddle shy, any kind of shy you name, I am. I said my little thank yous to the trees before mentally reciting my armor against winter's frosty invasion: Omega threes. Walks under the weakening sun. Lots of greens and blues and reds. Read my little book. Write. That's it. A paltry list against the threatening dark six months.

We had a good weekend, what more can you ask. I took Jack Sparrow and Cinderella to McDonald's, a recipe for disaster that in the end turned out just fine. Late Saturday afternoon I browsed a used bookstore and found a sweet little book of sonnets by Garrison Keillor. I love them entirely, wistful snapshots of lost humming moments. I took them home and read them in bed, illness and anticipation aching in my bones. I sang the girls to sleep by the glow of pumpkin lights. In the kitchen, in the dark, I told my husband how I hate the snow.

Doesn't it snow in Taos, he asks.

Yes, I reply. Then, I show myself bare in a nutshell:

But it's Taos.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Restaurant Saint of Santa Fe


Ever since we got back from New Mexico, husband and I have been eating pumpkin soup like fall is going out of style.

This is because our first night in Santa Fe, we attempted to go to the Shed, home of some of the best food in New Mexico according to our Moon guide, and were informed that they wouldn't seat us in a half-empty restaurant for two hours. I'm sure this had nothing to do with the fact that there were four red-cheeked children in our party anxious for a hot chocolate after romping all late afternoon in the New Mexico brisk. We were hanging out in the courtyard with no back up plan, wondering what we were going to do next, when we were approached by an old man who I mentally referred to as The Drunk.

He came out of nowhere and started making restaurant recommendations. I hung back and let him talk to my dad because I do this thing where I get embarrassed. I was embarrassed that we were hanging out in the courtyard, in view of the restaurant's four seated diners who were surely locals, directionless and gauche and toting diaper bags and tourist cameras. Like the fact that we couldn't get a table at a restaurant on a Saturday night was a personal rejection, I don't know. I don't know what's wrong with me, I just know that life as me is hard and I often find myself telling the husband that you can't ask a person just to stop being embarrassed of something. Embarrassment is not something one can control. I am not Amanda Palmer, I will never take off my pants and waltz through airport security to the cheers of my fellow travelers nor pose naked to be sketched at a museum. So be it.

The thing about This Drunk was that he was uncannily knowledgeable about the restaurants of Santa Fe and it's domains. I hung back embarrassedly while he listed off three or four options to my dad, who does not possess what you might call a gregarious personality and probably listened silently while staring at the ground twirling his mustache. I'm not sure because I was smiling a ton and feigning great interest in the sleeve my daughter was chewing and my husband's mutterings about beer so that those seated bastards inside the restaurant would know I was having a really fab time. For the last three weeks my family had been baffling me by repeating this exact statement: "Let's go to the Blue Corn Cafe. It's a lot like Hacienda Colorado. The atmosphere's not great." My family knows I disdain Hacienda Colorado. On our last trip there together I had been lead to believe they disdained it too. Now they were not only suggesting Santa Fe's equivalent of the place, but adding in the fact that the atmosphere was comparable to Furr's Cafeteria and then suggesting we go there. You can see why I don't travel with my family often. (Love you guys!)

Eventually we began to disengage from the courtyard and The Drunk. I said thank you too many times, as I tend to do because I wouldn't want anyone to feel bad. My husband's the same way, a waitress could bring us icy hair soup and we'd both smile and beg thanks. Disengaging was harder than we'd anticipated, the drunk made no end-of-encouter reply like "good luck!" or "have a good night!" and I felt awkwardly like he wanted to hang out with us. Probably because he started to follow us down the alleyway, at which point I wondered if he wasn't knowledgeable so much as hungry and was hoping we'd buy him a two-enchilada special. I'm always telling myself I should be more like Neil Gaiman, who I imagine would have invited The Drunk to dinner, listened to his stories, and written a magical book about it, but I can't be Amanda and it increasingly appears I can't be her normal half, either. Eventually I was forced to say a final thanks and turn my back on the man, because he was still following us and I suddenly felt that I was the sole person responsible for his happiness.

Around the corner, we called the first couple restaurants he'd named and were told by both that they wouldn't seat us. The last place on The Drunk's list was the Guadalupe Cafe. We'd have to drive to it, but the lady that answered the phone didn't act like we were the first group of more than two people ever to seek sustenance in Santa Fe and so Guadalupe it was. I felt optimistic about it, because the Virgin of Guadalupe is my girl, see. But as soon as we spotted the place my feelings changed to skepticism bordering on pessimism. It didn't look like much. It's on the old Santa Fe Trail, a white stucco place in a sea of blue-doored adobe.

Then we went inside and I felt optimistic again. You see that dining with me is a manic-depressive affair and when the husband takes me out he never knows if the night will end in joy or tears. We don't dine out often, we tend to stick with Chipotle and even then I don't really like to branch out and order the barbacoa. Look, I did one time. It was a mistake.

I felt optimistic because the place was filled with locals. Happy locals who didn't glare at us when we trenched in with four kids and my drunk sister. (Just kidding, sis!) We asked the waitress if they had hot chocolate for the girls. She said something along the lines of "Um, I don't know. Hot chocolate? I think so. Let me see." Again I pitched into despair. One time as kids, my sister and I ordered chocolate milk in a restaurant and were served a Swiss Miss packet emptied into a glass of cold milk and clumped over ice. I was expecting the reverse of that.

But the waitress returned with two mugs topped in dollops of whipped cream. The husband and I told the kids it was too hot so we could taste it first--you know, for poison--and it was delicious. My husband ordered the chile rellenos, like no one saw that coming. I ordered the seafood enchiladas, half red chili half green. Then I displayed my grand wisdom by ordering a cup of the pumpkin soup. I'd seen it on the specials menu coming in. The rest of my family bowed and called me blessed and ordered the same.

The soup arrived. I wasn't expecting much. I'm used to everything not tasting the way I imagine it should. Like going to Harry Potter world, ordering the butterbeer, and finding it unbearably sweet. I took one bite of the pumpkin soup and went straight to heaven. Oh my laws a mercy. It tasted of true pumpkin, the way I imagine pure pumpkin should, which is probably something more akin to pumpkin pie but less sweet. The perfect amount of nutmeg gave it an autumnal bite. What's more, it was spicy. Peppery in the perfect way, a blissful blend of spice and sweet. There was a good amount of black pepper in it, but a deeper, roasty heat underneath. We think it had red chili. We should have asked her, she might have told us. Part of me didn't want to know. You don't ask the magician how he turns the hanky into a dove and you don't ask how they worked alchemy with a pumpkin.

On this trip I learned it's really hard to make food look good.

I thought life couldn't get any better. The enchiladas came out.

The plate looked like the type of New Mexican food I like to get drunk and malign. If New Mexican food was a person, it would have sued me twice for defamation and probably won. The plate had a scoop of sour cream and some cheese melted over the top. No matter. My enchiladas were crab wrapped in fresh, homemade blue corn tortilla and drenched in the best red chili I ever hope to have. I didn't know red chili sauce could taste that good, now that I know I will never forget. Frankly, this chili might ruin our marriage if husband's attempts don't start to compete. For a long time I couldn't speak, I could only take bites and moan. The soft grainy give of the tortilla. The fresh tang of the the crab. And the smoky, spicy, not too bitter dance of red chili. The kind of red chili you know someone's grandmother has been tending to since dawn. Oh god. I might need to take a cold shower just remembering it.

Husband's chili relleno with walnuts was just as good, though it wasn't deep fried and did come out retaining a crunch. I liked it, if you're trained on soggy fried peppers you might not. We switched plates for a minute, but quickly switched back. I was having an illicit love affair with my red chili enchiladas and there are some things with which man cannot hope to compete.

Still hard.

At this point, Guadalupe Cafe had made me a customer for life. But then--BUT THEN--our waitress, who might have been the owner, caught wind that it was Ayla's birthday and brought us a fat slice of chocolate cake topped with flan on the house. I've had flan before, at such fine eateries as Hacienda Colorado. It's been ok. This flan was creamy, slightly sweet, light in your belly. Paired with the homemade chocolate cake, moist and gooey, I can't conceive of anything better short of Dean Winchester bearing a tray of margaritas and the remote. The waitstaff started to sing, and on the first note the entire restaurant joined in with them. Everyone stopped their dinners to smile and sing Happy Birthday to my Ayla, who smiled shyly down at her cake.

I don't know if it sounds like the gift it was. To be hungry and tired, in a strange unknown city. To find a cozy little restaurant that feels, inside, like you're visiting Abuelita's house. To be served food that is better than you hoped. To have the locals not only fail to glare at your children, but to grin and sing the birthday song to them, to clap their hands and send warm vibes. By now, The Drunk was not The Drunk. Through the clarity of a beautiful meal, we saw him for who he truly was. A mystical being, half shaman likely, or spirit animal. A man who appears out of nowhere in cold sunless courtyards to selflessly guide weary travelers along a better path. More magical than a Moon guide, tastes more refined than the patrons of The Shed. He arrived when we needed him, then disappeared into the night.

The Restaurant Saint of Santa Fe.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Reality Is

Good morning sunshine.

Today is Ayla's birthday party and I am stressed to the nines. Hosting any kind of party is torture for me. Hell for this blogger would be a cultureless suburb in which I am forced to spend all my time planning and throwing parties.

So that's where we're at today and did I mention that I've got a spot of a cold?

We got back Tuesday from a trip to Santa Fe and Taos and I really didn't want to come back. As if wanting to move to New Mexico weren't enough, I also want things like "to wake up in a hotel room every day" and "to eat out for every meal".

I know. Who doesn't, right? Who doesn't want to live on vacation? Some people actually do up and move to their favorite vacation spots. They find that life and work are waiting for them all the same, in Palm Desert or Boca Raton or even in Bali, I suppose.

But would you really complain about going to work? If you were waking up in Bali?

These are the questions I've pondered all week. These and whether or not Kate Middleton is actually pregnant with twins. Did she actually have a brawl with the Queen? Were they both on roller blades when it happened? Were obscenities shouted at Camilla over a dinner of caviar and bone marrow? As usual when it comes to Kate, I am confused as to what is real.

But Kate is real, right? Kate and Dean Winchester?


Like an alcoholic, I have a confession to make. Well, I suppose it's more of a boast to make other addicts feel weak and hopeless and drive them back to the substance that got them here:

I went to a book fair yesterday and walked away without yelling at anybody. If I had a sponsor, she'd be all wise, benevolent, and proud.

Those of you who know me best (we're talking my sister and my husband here) know that I am not, in general, an angry person and I am definitely not the sort of person who makes public scenes.

Unless some kind of book fair is involved.

I am baffled by my proclivities as much as you are. (I think). I started out small--a library book sale in which I was told that I could not bring my stroller into the tent and left in a massive huff. In one of my classier moments, I went home to call librarians "a bunch of red beret wearing fascists" on facebook and was only kind of joking.

Then I lost a library dvd, was charged $40 dollars for an item that costs under ten on amazon, and wrote such an emotionally appealing letter to the director of the library that I never have to pay fines at that library again. Ever.


Next came the episode which I will not repeat but let me just say it may or may not have involved roller derby, the f-bomb, and caviar.

Also Kate and the paparazzi may have been there but I am a lady and am not going to say.

(They were totally there).

But yesterday, I walked into the AAUW book fair and found the aisles so crowded with people crawling on the floor to get at the understock, towing boxes and bags and bins behind them, that they were completely unmaneuverable. But somehow I managed to select an old paperback edition of "To The Lighthouse", a retrograde fantasy by an author I've never heard of that had praising blurbs by Tolkein and Lewis on the back, a PowerPuff girls 8 x 8 for my girls to fight over, and made it out of there without cussing at anyone.

I didn't even huff.

Ok maybe I huffed in my spirit but it was completely inaudible.

By inaudible I mean that I disguised my huff as a sneeze.

But you will notice that not once have I referred to anyone as a fascist or a communist or a wearer of red berets, so you see?


Insufferably yours,

Friday, October 7, 2011

Now and Then


One year ago this time, I was about to be hit with a monster of a depressive episode that has me feeling saddle shy about the upcoming winter.

Two years ago this time, we were preparing to move from our home in Denver to live with family in Ft. Collins. We were preparing to leave a beloved neighborhood, a steady income, a city we loved, a first preschool.

Seven years ago this time, almost this hour exactly, I was at Coopersmiths eating fish 'n chips and waiting for Ayla to be born. She was six days overdue. I had scheduled an induction for the next morning. I sat in my seat rocking back and forth with strong contractions I was afraid to hope were real. That night by one am I was in the hospital euphoric with gratitude for my epidural, all plans of a 'natural' birth (like any birth is unnatural UNLESS you are named Rosemary) tossed aside. She came on her own in the morning. I held her to my chest, heard her first cries, sang her a first song looking down on the gold and crimson leaves outside our window.

Nine years ago this time, I was days away from my wedding. I was young. I was stupid. I was thrilled.

This year, I blame her October birth for Ayla's love of the spooky and macabre. For her deep, innate drive to face her fears head on. For the fact that she eschews pink and princesses for Zombies, Darth Vader, and grasshoppers.


This year Indy turned five. She still runs to me with her arms wide open when I pick her up from school.


This year Mr. V went to the Great American Beer Fest, a place where he had once gone and wished. This year he went to win.

This year we drove up the canyon, parked by the river, got caught in the rain. The sun was brilliant, illuminating the shower against the blue sky. We headed east. Got ahead of the storm, at a place along the same river. A willow tree, a river island. The girls said it was the perfect spot.

The rain'll catch us again, I said.

But you know, it never did.


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