Sunday, May 29, 2011

Little Story

She sat in front of me and to the right and it's not my fault I could read half of everything she was typing.

She'd been working really hard answering emails for about two hours

when she opened one.

It said:

"You do know it's Sunday and your anniversary weekend".

Sent 5 minutes ago.

There was another line I couldn't read.

She clicked to reply.

The cursor blinked in the empty field.

Her fingers hovered over the keyboard, and then

she packed up her things

and left.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Brave New Girls


Nine months ago, Ayla couldn't write her name, or read. She didn't have any friends. She didn't know about cup-stacking, or Pavlovas, or Australia or flesh-eating sloths.

And now she does.

And Indy, well. I'm pretty sure nine months ago, Indy thought she was living in a land of princesses and sparkly play-dough, of dress up and face paint and pink-haired pirates. A world in which the greatest attainable pleasure involved a well-timed combination of a hot bath, a warm towel, and fresh cookies. A world of mama and daddy and Ayla and family, and a few assorted librarians and baristas dropped on the peripheries like flowers painted on a theater set.

Now she knows there are other wonderful things. All that and more. There is dress-up with Maya and kickball with Chase. There is the pride of it being your snack day, the flushed accomplishment of line leader. There is her teacher, who apparently on Tuesday afternoon took Indy to China. There is the joy of handing mama a painting she made all by herself. The thrill of standing in spring grass with your friends, putting out your arms, and spinning, spinning, until you crash, a beautiful mass of pale and coffee skin, blonde and black hair, holding each other on the damp warming earth.

The girls are lying on the couch, slurping popsicles. Beside them are their glossy new stacks of summer reading. Later there will be hot dogs and watermelon, coconut sunscreen, cool respite at the library and long days at the pool.

School's out for summer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hop Farm

Mr. V's work hosted a day at a farm. They planted hops, with which to brew some beer, and also there was something about the cows eating the hops before being served in the restaurant. Insert dumb joke about serving cows beer.

Here is evidence:


I love my cowgirls.

Indy and her little friend/haircut soulmate.



jam sesh.



photo from Oskar Blues

photo from Oskar Blues

Monday, May 23, 2011

Battle Pizza

Whenever I go through a creative period, I become interested in cooking. I have several theories for why this is, all of which are pretentious and irritating, so I won't be sharing them here. Instead, I'll be posting my lofty and obnoxious ideals to my twitter feed, a practice I find pretentious and irritating enough to keep up with my theories.

My point is this: I've been doing a lot of "about me" decoupage collages on paperboard lately, cutting out pictures from O mag--spiraling suns to symbolize my soul, Mary Oliver quotes to prove to me how sensitive and intellectual I am--and so after the man finger-attacking his keyboard at the library became too much to bear, I put down my scissors, got up in a huff, and checked out a Mario Batali book of recipes, naturally. Which is not the same thing as a cookbook; cookbooks are for women and are stupid and amateur, they are about the home; books of recipes are for men, they are very serious will change the world, and they are about America

After flipping through the book, the thing I was most anxious to make (I was going to drop dead if I didn't have it) was the pizza. Now listen. I've been making the Pioneer Woman's pizza for awhile. But I knew that when I made her pizza dough I was just a glorified 'housewife', one who knew how yeast worked, maybe, but a housewife nonetheless. I wanted to make Mario Batali's pizza dough so that I could be something closer to a serious chef. Even just a home chef would be better than a housewife, which is a person who stays at home to surf message boards and post angry comments about how Brittany from Glee is a dancer and an artist, dammit, and not a modern sex worker. Not that I have ever done that.

Before we go any further, I should admit two things here:

1) I cannot cook, but I can follow a recipe, and

2) I like making pizza dough because if feels both pretentious and earthy at once, and that makes me smug. I pat it like a baby's bottom and remark about how well it "came together", at which point Mr.V grabs another beer and rolls his eyes at that one spot on the wall that really annoys him.

The best thing about the Pioneer Woman's pizza dough is that, here we go again,

1) it's yummy, and

2) It's really easy.



I've never managed to screw it up. Although one time I had lost my measuring spoons (Mr.V threw them on the floor because he hates me), so I had to "guesstimate" (a term invented by Alton Brown) on all the ingredients, from the salt to the sugar to the yeast, and it came together--there goes Mr. V again--perfectly, which can only lead to the conclusion that "P-dubs" is a sucker and I am the best pizza maker alive. For ever and ever. Amen.

(Don't even get Mr. V's family started on who is the best pizza maker alive, because that gets ugly fast. No joshin'.)

P-Dub's recipe, though, is idiot proof. Sprinkle some yeast over some warm water. Combine flour and salt. Stir in water. Voila. The happy housewife has made a dough that bakes up flaky and slightly crispy, and it takes just a few minutes. If there's one caveat, it's this: P-dub recommends you let her dough rest in the fridge for 3-4 days, and 4 is better than 3. This is totally fine if you are a person capable of thinking beyond where they are going to get their next cup of coffee and how they are going to hide it from their husband.

I am not.

Usually I mean to have pizza for dinner, but I remember the True Dough Waits thing, make the dough, heat up spaghettios, and make the pie the next day. It's always delicious.

However. Last night, in order to become like a real chef and not just some woman "playing around" in the kitchen, I made Batali's recipe from his book of recipes, his culinary grimoire, if you will, Molto Gusto.


I was a little afraid going in, anticipating lots of delicate steps and that ambiguous "knead" direction--but I was happy to see Mario's recipe is nearly as foolproof. It's almost identical, except Batali has you whisk the yeast into sugared water, which, now that I think about it, how does P-Dub's yeast activate without sugar to eat? But everything I know about yeast, I learned from listening to Mr. V talk about his "Craft", so I could be off on the details. Both forget to list one important step, which is "take time to smell the yeast water'. So I'm telling you here. Take a moment. It smells delicious.

I was feeling a little excited because if you've ever made pizza at home, you know it's a trick to get the dough cooked through in the middle and, especially if you are using good mozzarella, to keep it from getting soggy. To prevent this, Batali has you first parcook the crust on a super hot Mario Batali pizza griddle, or, if you don't have that, your lame ordinary lodge cast iron will suffice.

The dough toasted up super nice on my lodge; and I should also add that both Batali and Pioneer Woman tell you to use your kitchen aid mixer, which they do only to taunt me because they know I don't have one. But then at the end they're both like, "oh, if you DON'T have this kitchen aid mixer, you are an inferior human being and just mix it with your hands/wooden spoon/cave-husband's club, and that will be just fine for you and your kind." But whatever, they are right to mock me, because I don't have a kitchen aid mixer. The dough comes out fine without one.

Mario's recipes do have a few minor glitches. For one, he told me to use "3 and 1/2 cups of "OO" flour". It could have also been "00" flour, as in double-zero flour, as in secret agent flour. It might as well have been because either way I don't know what the crust he was talking about. I skimmed the whole book for an explanation and didn't find one. And for the sauce, he left me flailing. The directions say to use something like "1 and 1/2 cup of Pomi tomatoes". Um, what the hell? What the hell does that mean? Is that a type of tomato? A brand? Is it a sauce, a puree, are they chopped, diced, stewed, or whole? Should I buy fresh tomatoes and saute them, or should I just set them, whole, on top of my dough and hope for the best? I suspect people who live in Manhattan or Orange County could translate this for me. Why doesn't he just say at the beginning, "Look, if you are a housewife, especially one without a Kitchen Aid Mixer, this just isn't the book for you. Just wait til we get to the anchovies, you are in so over your head here"?

Mario's Book Of Recipes has several pictures of really yummy-looking pizzas that have anchovies on them. I wanted those fishies on my pizza. The instructions just call for "anchovies", so I went out and bought four tins of anchovies from the fancy section at the King Soopers, you know, the section where the aisle bulges out like a rich belly.Because that is where they keep the foods for rich people. That is also where I bought a can of San Marzano tomatoes, because nothing said "Pomi" and I'd heard good things. Well. The anchovies were disgusting, and I won't embarrass Ayla by telling you that she ate several of them, whole. They appeared to have hair sticking out of them, but it may have been bones. They were salty and fishy, like sweat plus Dead Sea, and looked nothing like the ones in the pictures, which I suspect were fresh.

I'm just saying, it would have been helpful to write,

"Anchovies, fresh. God help you if you buy canned anchovies, you stupid, stupid woman."

instead of simply,


The San Marzano tomatoes were whole, in sauce, so we just used the sauce and put on our toppings, which also included a sliced serrano pepper and kalamata olives. You won't believe it but the pizza came out soggy in the middle--even after that promising parcook. I blame my stupid sauce, and also my fancy mozzarella. The next day for lunch, I took an unused crust, skipped the sauce, put some mozzarella on it that I had inadvertently dried out by leaving it out on a "tea towel" (by which I mean kitchen towel from the dollar store) for four hours. I added some fresh sliced tomato on the top, and after it baked, some sliced avocado. It was awesome. And not at all soggy.

What I know now:

I'd probably use P-dub's recipe in the future , just to save time by skipping the parcooking step. I'm going to start drying out my mozzarella. I suspect this might solve my sog problem. I guess I'd give fresh anchovies a whirl if they are ever available here. I think I saw them once at Whole Foods. But frankly, Pioneer Woman's toppings are amazing--carmelized onion with prosciutto, anyone? Or would you prefer roasted eggplant and tomato with garlic? Look, I don't want to declare a winner because Batali had lots of wonderful combinations, especially if you can afford things like caviar and glass eels. And I still dig the theory of the parcook, even though it didn't work for me. His Quattro Fromaggi pizza looked like a true, rustic beauty. A great, simple pleasure. But to get something like that worth eating, you have to execute it perfectly. And I just can't.

I am Vesuvius and Ayla wants to try the caviar.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Forgive Me, Butt


This is how it went:

Indy came home from preschool and told me that her teachers had spent all day trying to find Plants vs Zombies for me. But they hadn't found it.

I find this totally plausible.

We went to Target. “Mom. I'm tired of listening to you all the time,” said Indy. Conversationally, without any real rancor. Here goes the rest of your life, Indy, I thought. Sick of me, yet craving my approval anyway. Sorry about that. Look, it's not my design. Blame the male god.

We get to the dollar section. I tell her she can pick out anything she wants—except candy. Indy literally tears at her her hair. “Ugh! Why do I listen to you all the time!”

Indy: You are different from me. You are so different from me. Please don't spend the rest of your life trying to prove it.

Mr. V orders a second Plants Vs Zombies, because we lost the original. The girls and I watch each other play. One evening, I get to the boss level. Dr. Edgar Zomboss in his big steampunk zombie robot machine comes to kill my plants on my fudging rooftop. I proceed to slay him without hesitation or fanfare.

I am a true hero.

To me.

The girls lie in my arms, watching. They cry: Oh, daddy is so good at this level! Daddy kills this guy so good! And (I kid you not) I love daddy when he does this level! I love daddy when he kills the boss!

I feel like tearing my own hair out. “Look at mommy,” I say. “Mommy is killing the boss. See! Mommy killed Dr. Edgar Zomboss.”

“Yeah,” they sigh, giddy. “Daddy does it so good!”

I read a book. It quotes a woman on the banality of playground conversations with other parents, and how they are all the same. The women, she says, all want forgiveness. The men all want applause.

I want forgiveness for everything. I drop Ayla off at kindergarten and nearly cry. I watch her, smiling and playing with her friends. Little Jack her boyfriend, little Isha whom she loves. Next year they'll all be together, without her. Ayla will be at a different school, one we don't have to pay for.

I feel awful. What if I am tearing her away from true love? What if the boys at her new school aren't as nice as these boys? Ayla's whole class gets along. Boys and girls slay zombies with finger guns, boys and girls sit down and play old maid. You know I'm a sucker for gender neutrality. I imagine the boys and girls at her new school like lord of the flies vs mean girls. Separated. Warring. Feral. Right now, her entire class lines up without being told and takes turns at the monkey bars, for heaven's sake. They cheer each other on. They work on art projects together and they all call out, “Hey Ayla, look at mine! Look at mine, Ayla!”

“Oh that's very beautiful,” Ayla says magnanimously to every one. “Oh, I love those colors. Oh, that is a very pretty horse.”

I mean, sweet heaven, what are the odds? Is there any other group of five-and-six-year-olds out there behaving this way?

(I don't know why they all want Ayla to look at their art. She is the oldest and maybe some kind of informal ringleader. Maybe it only happened that once, when I was there to see it. Maybe Ayla paid them smarties to make her look good in front of me, I don't know, I wouldn't put it past her.)

Ayla has six days left at her school. Then it is off to the unknown.

Would I like forgiveness? You bet I would.

I read Ayla Ivy and Bean. I feel bad about her room. I worry ridiculous things—that Ayla was meant to be lifelong friends with her buddy, little Jack. I worry realistic things—that the kids at the new school won't be such gems as these ones.

Mom, Ayla says. I love you with all my heart.

Ayla, I say. I love you with all my butt. Cause it's bigger than my heart.

Ayla laughs until she cries.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Go To Bed


Ayla Beloved




we shall call it a hike.

I did a review of Jean Kwok's "Girl In Translation" for Blogher here. I don't know what I was thinking when I titled it, except that the folks at blogher suggested we use "compelling" and "enticing" titles and apparently, to me, "compelling" and "enticing" equals "arrhythmic, clunky and nonsensical". I swear I didn't write the review while smoking crack. Just the title.

I just stopped by to share the above. I gotta go now. I'm feeling a little deflated, like your boobs when you lose weight or your milk flow stabilizes. I blame Oprah, and not the fact that I spent the whole weekend socializing. I'm sorry for being empty-brained and gormless.

Look, I've been trying to think of something amusing or redeeming to say for a long, maybe, seven minutes now and I got nothing. Once in a book by a dying man, I read that it's better to be earnest than to be hip, or maybe clever, or it could have been ironic? I'm pretty sure his point was death to hipsters/we all are hipsters. Or something. But then Tina Fey said, whenever you can, avoid the salmon foam--no wait, it was 'whenever you can, just go to bed'. Anyway the point is, here's earnest:

I am Vesuvius and it's 9:07 and I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two Gems

I have read a whole shelf-full of books lately that I found severely unimpressive. But I've developed a superstition that it's bad karma for me to say negative things about authors in writing. This is the same reason that I don't make fun of rich people. Because one day I hope to be one.

So I won't write the negative reviews here, but if you will ask me in person I will tell you the truth. Because I believe in truth. It's a wonky moral code, I know, but the best I can do is to abide by it. What sort of people are we if we can't abide by our own morals? Either improve your behavior or lower your standards. That's all I'm saying.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

TRUE GRIT, Charles Portis

A serious gem. I am so thankful to the Cohen brothers for making the movie I still want to see. If they hadn't done that, I can guarantee I never would have read the book. And I'm so glad I did. Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn are heroes for the ages. The book was funny, which surprised me--really funny--and the storytelling straightforward and deceptively simple. I've seen the young woman paired with old man deal before (Heidi, Annie, The Professional, The Reapers are the Angels, I know there are more) but this was the most enjoyable rendition of that particular character match-up I've found to date. Mattie is prim, unflinching, and she means business. Rooster is a drunken old cowboy with curious morals. LaBeouf, the old charmer! A satisfyingly scandalous Texas ranger. I really, really loved this book. I plan to buy me a copy. Right quick.

It might interest you to know that Roald Dahl loved it too. Or maybe it won't. I couldn't say.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos


The most enjoyable Pulitzer winner I have ever read. I particularly enjoyed the section that was a power-point journal entry from an eleven-year-old girl. Egan is playing with the form of the novel here, and the result is fantastic. Every book I've tried to read since has struck me as unbearably old-fashioned. Except, of course, for True Grit. Which was marvelous.

I am Vesuvius and I have had little luck with YA dystopians these days. And I shall tempt fate no further.

Bonus Gem: How could I have forgotten Bossypants? I died laughing. Tina Fey is my idol. Her personality reminds me a lot of mine. For instance: we both dislike cruises and agree on the importance of being the first in line at the infirmary. Other uncanny coincidences: chin acne. Daughters who want to be saved by princes,despite our attempts at feminism. Neither one of us, in Tina's words here, chose to love our children enough to breast feed them for more than two days. Familiarity with the movie 'Baby's Day Out'.

Seriously, I laughed so hard I died. I'm in heaven now. Here comes Jensen Ackles with the cakepops. Later, nerds.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happiness Is A Stupid Hobby


A few days ago my sister started nagging me to join a new website. She's always nagging me to do something, like make lemon bars or decoupage my toilet, and usually I ignore her because the things she's good at just set me up for total failure. Like singing, and decorating, and being a Lutheran. I mean, if there is one faith that should be fail-safe, it's Lutheranism. You must be a total dummy or a black-hearted heathen if you fail at that one.

At first I played dumb like I didn't know what she was talking about. I could see the website had something to do with posting pictures found on all corners of the internets, and I pretended like I thought you had to draw the photos yourself--something I could never do, which you know if you saw my post yesterday. She was not amused--she usually isn't--and she persisted, and my mom persisted, and then my brother-in-law made a comment about how I shouldn't join because he hadn't seen her in hours, he couldn't get her off the site, and for some reason that pushed me over the edge, rather than frightened me off like it would have a sane person who doesn't want to live their life staring at a computer screen.

So I have joined pinterest, and not even 24 hours later I have begun to think and dream in pinboards. This must be how my husband feels when he gets a new videogame. Cloudy headed and like a crack addict. On Facebook, my mom was like "yay!" and I was like, "damnit!" and also like,"I fell asleep thinking about pins. I don't remember what Indy looks like."

I'm not kidding, I really don't remember what Indy looks like. Tell me if you see her. I may or may not need rehab.

I have a tendency to get completely absorbed in things like this. You could call them obsessive periods, but personally I find that ungenerous. I prefer to call them passionate periods. We are all artists here. I saw a Tori Amos concert and spent the next maybe six months (ok maybe more) listening solely to Tori and downloading bootlegs and watching her youtube videos and reading her memoir and studying her lyrics. I spent so much time on this that I now find it difficult to have thoughts that aren't Tori Amos quotes. Why do I crucify myself? Maybe I'm a mermaid. I did it again with Firefly, and then with Battlestar Galactica.

And once, perhaps the most glorious time, I believed I was the first person to create a myspace account for Harry Potter. I had recently finished the fifth Harry Potter book, I had spent hours and hours on fan websites, and pretending to be Harry Potter to delusional teenage girls on the internet seemed the next logical step. Honestly, I only started it to kind of tease Carlton and Lucy, who were young at the time, and because I thought it would be fun to be myspace friends with Harry Potter. Only later would I discover that what I was doing is called "rp'ing" (which is short for role-playing, not raping), and that by engaging in it, I had transcended to a new level of pathetic from which there would be no return.

No. Actually, it was awesome. Those were wonderful times.

I won't tell you how far I took this Harry Potter thing, only that I met the person whom I call my comedic soul mate late one night at a myspace 'party'. We spotted each other across the comments section and sparks flew. Within minutes, her Tom Riddle and my Harry had them all in stitches. We killed that room. We avada kedavra'd it. I do not find it shameful that being so hilarious at this party on the comments boards with strangers is the highlight of my life to date. I find it fantastic.

(Tommy and I are still internets friends to this day. You should know that everyone who rp's Hermione is kind of a whore. I don't know why, this is just the law of the universe. Stick with the Ginny's. They're good stock.)

I suppose I could feel guilty about these things, but I don't. When I look back at these times in my life, I see that they were some of my happiest periods. I was so completely absorbed by something that I spent less time worrying about anything. Although they do leave me in a kind of torpor, once they go. For instance, every Friday night at 10:01 pm, Supernatural ends and I forget my reason to live.

I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project", and she talks about the importance of finding time for play. Also the importance of doing things you are passionate and enthusiastic about. Also the importance of making off-color jokes about Harry and Tom and their "Chamber of Secrets". My point is this: if you don't hear from me in awhile, if my kids call you saying there's an unwashed woman on their couch who keeps squinting at them and saying "Who are you? Who is that there?", please drive to my home and pry my fingers off lover laptop and pretty pinterest.

In the mean time, I'm going to be pretty content.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go post my children's pictures on pinterest. They're so quiet there, and smiling. Pinterest children never complain.

Pretty, pretty pinterest children.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Come On, Get Happy


I keep trying to blog about happiness, and I keep failing. I don't know why; all I know is I've eaten a starbucks birthday cake pop every night for the last four nights, and I know they say eating food doesn't make you happy but they are lying and listen, I have no intention of laying on my death bed and saying, "I should have eaten more birthday cake pops".

Cake pops aside, here's the deal: I have a weird neuroses when it comes to happiness. It took me a long time to pinpoint it. I knew something froze up in me at the prospect of having to show happiness but it wasn't until I envisioned myself walking in to a beautiful home that Mr. V and I had fantasy-bought--a cute little bungalow--and in the vision I walked through the front room with the exposed brick whatevers on the sides and the built-in bookcases, and I felt a brief, wild flare of happiness. And then I squashed it. And I fantasy turned to Mr. V and gave him a wan smile and effectively killed both our fantasy joy.

Which would be fine if I only did this in fantasies, but I tend to do it in real life.

Having this vision forced me to look at why I behave this way--I always freeze up, on Christmas and on birthdays, and you should know that I might not be able to stop, yet. I curb my enthusiasm. And I realized I do it because I have this almost sub-conscious fear that being happy is going to create some kind of debt. That if I show too much pleasure, someone's going to come along with their hand held out, expecting something in return. I don't know what. Mr. V might see me enjoying myself watching "Supernatural" and make a comment about the dishes. (This has never, ever happened. It's just what I fear.) Like the universe is going to say, Oh there you are Vesuvius, looking all happy. Well. It's time to make good on that.

I don't know why I have this fear and it doesn't matter. Just acknowledging this tendency has helped. Now I can remind myself that it's not true and that it's ok to show happiness sometimes, just not on Good Friday, or when it turns out you were right and your husband has been driving in the wrong direction this. Entire. Time.

So that is where the cake pops come in. If I want to be able to someday freely express joy at the big things, I have to start small. My spiritual discipline is this: Drive to the Starbucks where they don't know you. Buy a cake pop. Again. Take it home and sing to it. Caress it. Eat it slowly. Smile.

Smile with every part of you.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Monday, May 2, 2011


On Friday morning, I got up before four am to watch two people I'll never meet get married. My husband couldn't sleep and we sat together in our pajamas drinking coffee, eyes burning tired, and I cried when I saw the bride get into the car. And I wasn't thinking about wealth, or titles, or fashion. I was thinking, it's always beautiful to witness love.

On Sunday morning I read an article on NPR telling how three of Gadhafi's young grandchildren had been killed in a NATO strike on his home.

On Sunday night, I learned on twitter that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Some people celebrate. Some remain solemn. Some quote the Bible on Facebook to justify violence. They use it as a sword. Other people quote it as a reminder of love. The Bible is confounding and can be used to justify nearly anything. Which is more dangerous? Sword or love?

I'm not saying that the death of people who do evil deeds is never necessary. It's just that this world is not a fantasy novel. This isn't Stryder leading us to the keep, this isn't Harry slaying Voldemort. This is real death and real war, and I don't see a reason to rejoice.

"Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love. This is the eternal rule." Buddha.

"Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." Martin Luther King, Jr

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