Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cougar Capital - Desert Thanksgiving Part Deux

At the fancy desert resort, it was hard to gage what type of people really populate the Palm Desert area. From what I could see at the hotel, there were only vanilla, high-end tourists. We didn't really get to see the local flava until we decided to hit a neighboring bar.

Coincidentally, a couple we know from the OC was also staying at our lush resort because the mother in law -- let's call her Lady Meow -- lives directly across the street from the resort, and she was hosting Thanksgiving 2005. Lady Meow is pure Upstate NY Money that has retired in the Cali desert with her bump on the log husband. But we'll get back to her later. So, our friends, the couple, GMoney and LBoogie asked us to go to an adjacent hotel bar that is apparently HAPPENING. GMoney and LBoogie have been to this bar a few times and praised the awesomeness of the cover band, a local favorite. Husband and I were giddy. We are master people watchers and together we think we are the funniest commentators alive.

We got to the bar at 8:50, just before the band was to go on. The place was PACKED. People were nearly shoving to get tables and seats. I saw the easel holding the band's picture before entering. "The Art of Sax" it read. With a picture of these guys. Husband and I looked at each other with widened eyes thrilled about the great times that lie ahead. GMoney & LBoogie elbowed their way to an empty table and we let the Crowd Staring With Commentary begin! Oh, this crowd did not disappoint. The level of middle aged and older corniness was epic and euphoric. The vacationing OC'ites were definitely in the house. OC men wear Tommy Bahama shirts like their life depends on it. They thank god the day these were produced because it takes the guess work out of dressing themselves. It is Granimals for grown men. The OC women and the Palm Desert women merged with their style so I couldn't tell where one started and the other ended, but let's just say a lot of gold and surprisingly, the leather mini skirt is making a mad come back. A friend of GMoney's joined us at our table and he said, "My mom should be here later. She's classic Palm Desert." I said, "What's that?" He said, "You know, five boob jobs, platinum hair, dark leather skin. Lots o jewelry." I don't know what it was about the women at this place, but they were feeling S-E-X-Y. Like, on exactly their 50th birthday they knew they were the cat's pj's. They knew they could land most of the dudes in this joint. And no matter how much plastic surgery or make up or gold jewelry or hair shellac or orange tanning spray, that kind of confidence is hot. It was the aggressiveness that was a tad comedic.

The moment the Dave Koz wannabee placed the sax reed to his lips the crowd stampeded the parquet dance floor. Art O' Sax played all the wedding reception favorites: Celebration, Brick House, etc. etc. Husband and I were momentarily speechless because we didn't know where to start. Our heads swiveled from the slinky, strutting cougars to the stiff, money-dripping Tommy Bahamas. Dave Koz II, who seemed to be the leader of the band, wore a bright red satin button down, flowing and unbuttoned uncomfortably low. Not only was he the front man, but he seemed to be the band schmoozer and sales guy. He smiled exaggeratedly, danced onto the crowded dance floor with the sax, played bars to woman who swooned and flirted competitively. Women in their 60's shimmied in gold lamee shells with matching scrunchies and naughtiness in their eyes, and I thought, Rock On. Dave Koz had competition, however. The bassist of the band who wore a white straw hat over a gheri-curled pony tail and a white track suit with camouflaged sleeves was jockeying for popularity. We noticed that he had his own female following on his side of the room. And we realized that there must be a nightly Ass Off between the members of The Art Of Sax. Let's just say, the numbers must be big. These guys are raking in palm desert ass like it’s low-hanging fruit. We saw Koz wave coyly to someone across the dance floor just by wiggling four outstretched fingers. Sort of how Vince Vaughn did in the final scene of Swingers. "Oh, you want to play little baby games? I got your baby games. I'm gonna get more leathery ass than the base player tonight."

At one point I announced my theory that you can do the Robot to any song of any genre. The song playing at the moment of this announcement was We Are Family by Sister Sledge, an old favorite of mine. Husband said, "I dare you to hit the dance floor right now with the Palm Desert Crew and do the Robot." I stood and said, "That's no dare at all!" And we cruised to the dance floor next to a leopard-skin clad Eartha Kitt look-a-like. I looked at Husband sweetly and then did my best Robot complete with the dead-arm swing and some pop-lockin for good measure. Husband howled. Eartha Kitt grimaced and had her partner dance her away from us. Apparently Eartha can do swing dancing to any song from any genre.

Because it was so crowded, the tables and chairs were all crammed together. Squeezing through was a bit of an effort. As we all talked at the table, a woman in her mid 50's with a stretched face and an ash blonde bob tried to squeeze behind LBoogie. She faced GMoney as she did so and she took an extremely slow time getting by. She burned a hole in GMoney's face as she stared at him. She mouthed, "Excuse me," with the wickedest of smiles and GMoney flushed beet red. As soon as she left we fell out, shocked by the balls-out aggressiveness. We yelled, "GODDAMN! LBoogie, you better hang on to your man before he's cougar meat!"

P.S. This is all fun and games when it ain't yo man. Which brings me back to Lady Meow. We have met her many times before because she visits G & L regularly, especially on holidays. And it's a big, running joke that she is in love with my husband. It's not a joke; it's the glaring, desperate truth. I can't blame her. He's fine as hell. He's madly and manly confident in a way that drives me bananas. And Lady Meow too apparently. She is so flamboyant with him, flapping her arms about with her silk or cashmere sweater draped around her shoulders and her 24k gold bobbles glistening from her sagging earlobes. Her nose is carved a shade too thin, but her eyes are bright blue and sparkly, charming even which she turns on fiercely for Husband. The thing is she completely ignores my presence. She loves to reminisce about New York with him like it's an inside joke, like nobody but they have ever been to New York, and she never makes eye contact with me. She barely squeaks out a hello. It's all about kibitzing with Husband with the arm touching and the tousled laughing at every comment out of his mouth. I always think, Is this comical or should I knock a grandma the fuck out?

Lady Meow showed up at the Art O’ Sax bar that night not knowing we would be there. She spotted Husband from across the dance floor and said loudly, "OH, You're the only one I recognized!" as her son in law sat idly by, shrugging at me. LBoogie sat next Husband and Lady Meow was on the other side of LBoogie and when L hit the dance floor I whispered to Husband, "It's only a matter of time." Sure enough she scootched over one seat nuzzling up to Husband and told him AGAIN the story of how she went to the Final Fours tournament when Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony represented. I've tried to hop in the conversation once before because no one loves college basketball more than me, but she dismissed me in an old-fashioned way, seemingly saying, "Let me hear what the men folk have to say about this." Husband acts oblivious and humors her. Which I think is sweet and yet it irks me at the same time. I just completely ignore her now too and let her get her rocks off, but if she thinks I don’t have an eye on her Grand Cougar ways, ooo, then she don't know nothin 'bout me.

Monday, November 28, 2005

self portrait tuesday

i am the phoenix
A long time ago, I died
from the things that lonely children die.
But look at me now.
I'm not a waste.
I'm far from a dumb waste.

This is my fifth entry for the Exploration of Identity theme for
Self Portrait Tuesday

Saturday, November 26, 2005

24 Karat Hippie; Thanksgiving 2005

Growing up strictly a city girl, when I think of taking a vacation it never includes camping or being surrounded by nature. I dream of chichi hotels and room service and spa treatments. It has only seemed a natural desire to want that High City Living, coming from low city surviving. I have always pretended that I'm not the Camping Type, but I just think I am an inexperienced camper meaning I've never really camped. I love nature deeply; I am renewed by Her. I'm just not exactly sure how to spend the night in Her. That, and the dense silence of the woods and mountains scare the living shit out of me. I feel safer in the white noise of traffic and the ruckus of the street, even the occasional gun shot (though I don't hear that much any more), than the black hole of nature at night. There are so many things lurking and stepping on twigs and diving into the bushes. I CAN'T TAKE IT.

Once we stayed in Lake Tahoe with friends. We stayed in a sick lake house with like, three thousand electrical outlets, far from rouging it. One night I attended a fiction reading across the lake, and when I returned to the house about midnight, I found the house locked. Everyone was asleep. I decided to check all the doors but as I rounded the far side of the house, it was so dark that I started imagining bears and Jason and fucking flying squirrels -- I don't know what the fuck -- but let's just say I'm happy their wasn't a video tape of me sprinting (HIGH STEPPIN'!) back to my car with a high-pitched squeal in my throat.
I opened my car door and heard major rustling in the garbage bins next to where I was parked and I dove head first into the car. I redialed Husband's phone 40 times which he must've had on vibrate, and I wondered if I could sleep in the car with the temperature in the low 40's. Could I get a room at one in the morning in the sleepy Lake Tahoe town? Out of the trash bins came two raccoons the size of boars. And the buggers sat just outside my car door. I thought of every Animal Planet show I had ever seen. Had any been entitled When Raccoons Attack? I didn't think they were aggressive towards humans. Unless they were rabid. I opened the car door to scare them off and when they just stared at me without moving, I concluded that these were indeed rabid. After 40 minutes, right before I was about to head to the local 7-11 and pull a weird all nighter, Husband called back and finally let me in the house. I pretty much jumped from the hood of the car to the threshold, over Mr. Rabid Raccoon. So, you see, I love nature. I'm just a little scared of Her. And She smells fear.

So, I spent my Thanksgiving vacation in a chichi desert resort where they were laid back about kids and dogs and they handed me a glass of water with limes every 50 yards and dabbed my brow if I wanted and called me Mrs. Rivera because they didn't know that I'm a dorky nobody that is fairly new to -- and always surprised by -- this lifestyle. I always feel like I'm infiltrating. However, we all had a great time. I hung out by the pool with my homemade hummus and raw crackers. I got a facial and took a eucalyptus steam and an outdoor jacuzzi and hung out in a robe for an hour reading a magazine in the locker room. "Would you like a chilled wash cloth, Mrs. Rivera?" I thought, Me, Mrs. Rivera? Then blushed and bowed, "Yes, thank you." I worked out every day and read the paper and pretty much did nothing else. I do feel giddy about this kind of treatment. And sometimes a little guilty too like, am I perpetuating an oppressive caste society or am I supporting jobs? Uh, I tip well for what it's worth. And I know when I was on the other side, I appreciated that. But seriously, how much waste do resorts like these generate? Ug. I didn't let them change the sheets or towels when we were there and figured that was a small contribution in conservation. Wasn't it? But I quelled my concerns a bit by concluding that this type of relaxation and renewal is good for the soul and allows me to do good things for others.

I did some Nature appreciation too. There is something cleansing about the desert. The sky seems bigger there and the mountains are always more crisply outlined and colored in brighter oranges and deeper purples. I find the desert foliage interesting and beautiful.

We plan to come to this resort again next year for our Second Annual Lazy, I Mean Renewing Thanksgiving, for which I'm down. But I also decided while I was there -- while I was sleeping by the pool with an umbrella'ed ice tea and an untouched book next to me - that in 2006 I would like to try a real camping trip. I figure if part of my vegan reasoning is to be kind to the Earth, I might want to get to know Her a little better.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Gratitude; Bay Area Trip Part 2

My recent trip to the Bay Area really should be called Vegan Food Tour 2005! For the better part of the past year, Betsy & Jim have been exploring vegetarianism and veganism so I was thrilled that they wanted to check out some of the best vegan spots in the country which are conveniently located in San Francisco.

Friday night we had reservations for Millennium which is as fancy-pants as any conventional swank restaurant. I had read amazing things about this place and I knew that during my weekend visit they were offering a set, four-course menu featuring winter squashes with organic wine pairing. I just fainted. Excitedly, I told my husband this before I left and he said -- deadpan even for him -- "yipee."

When we got to the restaurant, the regular menu looked so good that we chucked the Winter Squash Jubilee option aside. The crowd was classically eclectic. From Bay Area professor types to tattooed teens. I loved them all, and we caught eyes, almost nodded, knowing we knew the secret to life. The ambiance was -- I don't know, I was too excited about the food; wood bar I think, tables, yadi yadi. I forgot to say that before we went to Millennium, we stopped at a hoydee toydee bar a block away and I had an infused vodka cucumber gimlet or two. WOWOWOWOW. Forget it. Betsy had an elderberry martini. And Jim had a tarragon spritzer served in a banana leaf cone. I made that last drink up. But you would've believed me with the crazy almost pretentious combos on the menu. They were delicious, however. OK, BACK TO MILLENNIUM . . . let's just say that Betsy & Jim are not shy about food consumption. It's like unbelting your pants before you eat, knowing. It was liberating in many ways to know that we were about to THROW DOWN. We ordered five, yes five, appetizers, three entrees, a bottle of vegan organic wine, three desserts and coffee. Mmmhmm, yes we did and we ate every last morsel.

Appetizers: Herb encrusted oyster mushrooms w/ persimmon chutney. Right off the bat you get an understanding of what kind of night was in store. This dish tasted like calamari but better. Two words: Persimmon. Chutney. K? Off the chain. Next, curried eggplant with nan topped with tiny diced cucumbers and mint. CRAZY. Then, raw beet "ravioli." - I can't even describe this, but let's just say: HOLY.

Entrees: Jim had the pumpkin tamal with parsnip bisque. AAHH! Betsy had a lentil crepe stuffed with curried garbanzos. JESUS. I had a mini squash stuffed with spiced -- well, squash and vegetables topped with pineapple. LORD HAVE MERCY.

Dessert: Jim: some chocolate torte thing. MINDBLOWING. Betsy: pumpkin "creme" brule. UNBELIEVABLE. Me: Quince crisp with caramel "ice cream." NOT EVEN FAIR.

So, I can easily say this was the best meal I've had in my entire life. I was stuffed and I don't like to be stuffed, but I gladly stuffed my face at this place. I cried real tears leaving Millennium. "Bye Millennium, I love you . . ." I wondered if I could justify flying up again just to eat one more meal there.

Saturday night Betsy, her friend Betsy (yes 'nother Betsy) and I went to Cafe Gratitude, a raw restaurant. I knew I would go bananas over Millennium and though I was interested in eating at Cafe Gratitude, I was not clicking my heels in anticipation. I thought, This raw phenomena is interesting, but whatever. I can only mentally process my vegan commitment. Thinking about going raw too tires me. The ambiance in this place was like getting wrapped up in an earth friendly organic-cotton comforter. You suddenly feel more relaxed stepping into the little cafe. The waitress almost hugged me when we walked in and the air was so thick with -- hmm . . . goodness? Love? Drug-induced gas? that I just about hugged her back. Not kidding. We were speaking nose to nose, personal space was no more. The lighting was so warm and orange. The paintings colorful and joyful, full of laughing children. Creeping Charlies were hung, and blond dreadlocks were tied up neatly in hemp scarves. The menu was written all in self affirmations. Instead of ordering Joe's Slop Plate or the Number Twelve, all the dishes were named: I Am (Fill In the Blank). Outside of this restaurant it would feel silly to say "I'll have the I Am Spectacular and the I Am Happy with a side of the I Am Giving," but here it's safe to let your scared little inner hippie run free. It felt great. And after you order they say, "Ok, You Are Dazzling and You Are Bad Ass." I made that last dish up. That's just what my menu would say.

Appetizers: Young Coconut Curried Soup with shreds of zucchini and tiny tomatoes. I didn't think I'd like cold soup but: TO DIE. We also shared vegan Caesar salad: GODDAMN.

Dinner: Three different types of "pizza" though my absolute favorite was the I Am Luscious (whoops, my menu name again), the one with the pesto sauce spread on the raw crust/cracker made of dehydrated nuts and vegetables topped with shredded greens. F-F-F-FAV!

Dessert: Believe it or not we all shared just one. Almond milk "ice cream" topped with raw chocolate brownies and an almond milk latte. UH, HEAVEN.

I feel much, much love for raw food now. You can honestly taste every flavor of a dish. I'm sorry I judged before. In fact, now I crave that raw taste more than Millennium. Millennium was a special treat, but I could honestly eat at Cafe Gratitude every single day.

After dinner we went to a party in the lower Haight. The hosts were fantastically eccentric. He was an Austin Powers look-a-like film maker who had done a few films about martinis. He was wearing white pants, white retro button up and white slip on shoes. His wife was fabulously Italian, puckering with air kisses calling us Dawwling! She wore a black baby doll dress with silver, elbow length gloves. They had just gotten back from Iceland where they stayed at a natural spa called the Blue Lagoon. Did you know that all Icelanders are gorgeous, men and women? Me neither. They are next heading to an International World Music Festival in the Sahara desert, next to Timbuktu which is not a mythical place, fyi.

Anyway, other than the hosts, the party was a bit boring so Betsy, Betsy and I started talking a ton of pictures. We tuned the rest of the party out:

Then we took it to the streets:
My Bay Area trip was fantastic!

Tomorrow, the family and I are on our way to the desert. We're trying a new Thanksgiving tradition. This is the first annual. And though every day is Thanksgiving at our house, I want to say a deep, heartfelt thanks for my stellar life, my bestest friends Mandy, Betsy and Honduro, and to my new blogger friends with whom I feel a genuine kinship. I Am Grateful, and I don't mean the hummus plate with young coconut thyme dressing.

self portrait tuesday

This is my 4th entry for our Exploration of Identity project for Self Portrait Tuesday

I Am Vegan
because I think it's thoughtful.
It's a homage to connectedness.
It's a tribute to a strong body
that deserves whole and loving fuel.
My family deserves the
best version of me.
My planet deserves a
reciprocal relationship.
And I deserve to feel this goddamn good.

Special shout out to Maya for taking the picture, and to Lupe & Carmen who made me laugh as they tried to eat the cucumbers off my eyes.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rapture; Bay Area Trip Part 1

I just got back from my annual trip to the Bay Area to visit one of my best friends Betsy, whom I have known since the 7th grade. I love this tradition because in two short days and two shorter nights, I'm able to submerse myself in a world very foreign to my own. Betsy and her man, Jim, have carved a quality, tailored life in the East Bay that is adventurous and free in many ways. They are both fire fighters which is obviously taxing, but it also affords them enough time to travel extensively especially since they have no children. Most recently they've been to Hawaii, Panama, Italy and Fiji. And they don’t stay in chichi, Americanized hotels either but in remote surf resorts and ornithologists’ perches tucked away in the jungle and bungalows stilted over lagoons. They are kayaking and sculling and running and hiking and climbing and camping and skiing and surfing their way through life. They are living, man! I know I’ve posted this picture before, but this is how Betsy lives her life: (Jim’s in the background - oh, and above is Betsy in the tube, dude.)

So, I plop in once a year and spy out this intoxicating life where couples drink wine leisurely while cooking. Or pop out for a mid-morning jog or hike. Or take the binoculars and sit in the jacuzzi and enjoy the view of Mount Diablo and identify the many species of birds that flutter around the impressive oak that commands their back yard. I mean, it is goddamn nice in the world they've worked hard to create. And I sigh and admire. And I also miss Husband and the girls the minute I get there. My life is golden too, it's just harder to see to the naked, free-spirited eye.

Here's what I love most about my trips other than the fact that Betsy and I are often caught in a time warp and we will act the same as when we were in 10th grade, cracking each other up with stupid faces and poses:

1. Betsy & Jim are all about Quality. From the furniture to their food. It's better to save up and get some great high-end shit than settle for anything else. It's about fine and giving sustenance, and I Hear That (when I can). This philosophy contributed highly to the menu we enjoyed ALL WEEKEND LONG, but I'm saving the entire next post for that.

2. While getting in the mix of bustling San Francisco, I am reminded that there is a lot of interesting shit going on in the world. While I am trying to breathe in all moments of my own packed life, outside my world art is progressing and life is evolving, and I love a weekend like this where I can take the time to bear witness to it. It is inspiring and I dig it highly.

For example, by chance we caught the opening day of the Chuck Close and Kiki Smith exhibits at the SFMOMA. I like Chuck Close very much, but I was stoked to be able to see Kiki Smith. I had really only seen some of her drawings and earlier works before, but I know she exudes some kind of power that I wanted to experience live. I had also been reminded of her work recently because my girl Andrea has a link for Kiki Smith on her site. Seeing art live is mind-blowing compared to the effort is takes trying to capture the emotion of a piece from a photo. Betsy and I walked into the first room of Kiki Smith’s exhibit which housed her more recent sculpture. It is far too simplistic to say that Kiki Smith is an amazing feminist artist because she has evolved into something beyond the two dimension of the statement. The first piece I saw, Rapture, was a life-sized black bronze cast of a naked woman stepping out of the carcass of a wolf while holding onto its leg. Stepping out of, leaving it behind -- thanks for the ride, you couldn't consume me. Resurrection, being called to something and the woman moves confidently towards the calling. It was an exciting kick in the gut. I was thrilled by it.

I could tell you about every Kiki Smith piece from the show. I could. Really. Ask me. But the only one I really want to talk about is Blue Girl. This was a midnight-blue bronze cast of a life sized girl about 7 years old, naked and bald, kneeling, head down tilted to the side, arms away from the body, but palms up. The girl does not look broken, yet – almost -- but the turned-up palms look as if it’s an unintentional plea. It is such a mature and painful pose for a child. It looks like what an abused or forgotten girl would do out of some subconscious instinct. Something else (something divine?) was pleading for her, to help save her, and it used the gesture of the pose to do so whether the girl was aware of it or not. I was not prepared for her, to see this, to see this girl that I knew. I choked up severely. For a second, I felt a moment of panic because if I had let myself cry I wouldn’t have be able to rein it back in. I wanted to be alone with the piece to let it all out for the kneeling girl I had known, that had felt this exact way once. In a fit, I might've tried to pick up the sculpture, stand her up, or at least hold her, but I suddenly became very self conscious of all the people in the room, and of course Betsy. She said, "Are you crying?" when we had moved on to the next room. I wasn't crying, hadn’t, but I had halted huge tears from coming down and they just stayed bubbled in my vision. "It's just," I started, feeling panicked again trying not to think of the kneeling and the palms and her down-cast head. "This?" Betsy said pointing to a wax sculpture on the floor I had not noticed. "Uh, the--" and I thumbed towards the other room. The dam was close to giving. "The girl?" she asked. And I had to just look at the wax and not talk about it any more. I had to push my blue girl back down, a girl I don’t think about too often anymore.

Still, I felt renewed after visiting Kiki Smith and Chuck Close's entire exhibit. I was thrilled that Kiki could convey so much in bold new ways, and after the show I interestingly could not conjure that feeling again – the deep instinctual hurt and panic -- that I had felt when I first saw Blue Girl. Even when I look at the picture of the sculpture in the book. That initial viewing just caught me off guard. But I realize too that as an adult, I feel more like the woman confidentially stepping out of the dead wolf. I thank time and any other divine measures that got me to that point, including calling myself to my own rapture.

P.S. Kiki Smith was there! At the museum! Signing books! Betsy was cool enough to stand in the long-ass line with me so I could get the Blue Girl page signed by her. Look! Here we are together, the gorgeous Ms. Smith and me, though I look like I'm bum rushing her all giddy-like:

And Chuck was there too! Signing away with his bad hand. Here's a picture of Betsy sneaking up behind him hoping he'll look up from signing someone's book. No such luck:

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Dead Bird Kills Me

Mina: "Papi, what should I draw?"
Papi: "Uh, a butterfly?"
Mina: "Ok!"

Here's the butterfly she drew:

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wrangling Tornados

Reading past posts, I realize I make everything involving Maya and Mina seem like a dreamy cake walk, like raising them is the easiest thing in the world. And though they are perfect (mmhmm, that's right, Perfection) and even though I do shower their path with rose petals ("Make way for the child goddesses, goddamnit), raising them is an exhausting constant vigil if for the simple fact that parenting is a 26 hour a day job. My day looks like a bowed reed.

Last night when I finally got my ass into bed, I looked back on the day, a typical, uneventful Tuesday. I looked over at Husband who was already conked out and I thought: It's like wrangling tornados on the daily. I've only contained them with sleep.

Yesterday started as usual, around 6:30. This is the exact moment the wrangling begins. Maya shoots up like a spring that’s been squeezed into a box for 10 hours, and she’s off and running from the moment her eyes open. Mina is sloth-like in the mornings. The bartering begins. "Mina, you get 5 more minutes is you jump up the next time Mami calls you. JUMP UP, like a crazed rabbit!" Mina thinks this is funny and may actually do it. But it’s a crap shoot. Maya has showered and is on her 45th round of "Feliz Navidad" at volume 8 out of 10. I can barely take it. But as I brush my teeth, I'm all humming, "prospero año y feli---" I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE: "Maya! Bro, seriously, how many more times will you sing that song? 5 more? 6 more? Just give me a hint so I know that there's an end in sight. MINA! FIVE MINUTES IS UP." It's really been ten.

Maya switches to a made-up, chant-like song that goes like this: "Who's the batman. You're the batman. Who's the batman. You're the batman. Who's the batman. You're the batman. . . ." And on and on. I want to cry. But I can relate because once in junior high school I got a big, fat Zero on a math test because I couldn't stop singing, "How. Now. Brown. Cow. I said, How. Now. Brown. Cow. I said -- "

I'm making their lunches and I'm singing, "Who's the batman" and I realize Mina is nowhere in sight. I go into their room and she's on her top bunk staring into space, hardly a jumpity rabbit. I'm relieved that her tshirt is on at least. "Dude, snap out of it. We gotta get going." She looks at me like, WTF?

I check in on Maya who has one side of her hair braided, the other half is wet and laying on her shoulders. She is now doing a Who's The Batman dance in the mirror. I'm like, "Nice dance. Stop dilly dallying because the bus is coming in 10 minutes." I have to say the lame "dilly dallying" for fear that HURRY THE FUCK UP will escape from my lips. Mina Check: She is under Maya's covers now, on the bottom bunk, with our dog Lupe in a head lock. Me: "WHAT THE--?" Mina scurries out of bed recognizing the edginess to my voice. Lupe shakes her off. "Socks. Shoes. Teeth. Now." Though I’m crazy rushed, I still say this with the Scottish inflection of So I Married An Axe Murderer.

There is always a point in our morning routine where I have to talk myself down. I have to will patience on myself like I'm shoving on a sticky, rubber bathing cap, ripping hairs as I pull it on. I have to remind myself that they are just carefree kids not little manipulators calculating their test against my strength. This happens many times a day, the wrestling game with the patience bathing cap.

"What do you guys want for breakfast?"
"Waffles please," they say in sweet chorus.

The word Please allows the bathing cap to slide on smoothly. They're great, I think. Lunches are done, backpacks packed, everyone relatively clean and combed, waffles and fruit in baggies, shoes on, dogs on leashes. 7:18 and we're ready to walk to the bus stop, almost on time. Mina stops to run back to her room for – I don’t know what. “God, ¡VAMONOS!” I yell.

"OH, Mami can you read and sign this?" Maya says.
"What? No," I say, "We're leaving, girl. The bus is coming."
"It's due today." She is pleading.
Mina whines, "I don't want waffles."
I contemplate if Tough Titties is appropriate to say to them. Maya hands me a dense, two-page note from the PTA about some student council horsecrap.

We're walking to the bus stop, Maya quickly, Mina dragging. The dogs are bananas. They scatter in all directions thrilled by outside smells. They run this way and that like they're feral until my legs are mummified by the leashes. Lupe shits in the middle of the street as we cross it. I don't understand this. We are a yard away from grass. Carmen steps in the shit, possibly on purpose. I see the bus lumbering up a half a block away and the girls kiss me and sprint towards the stop.

I go to work and do amazing and brilliant things there until 4:30.

Tuesday is my day to pick up the girls. Tuesday is Library Day. The plan is to go to Wild Oats after I pick them up, eat a little some-some and then head to the library for homework and good ol book fun. After spending 15 minutes gathering them and their shit from all corners of AfterSchoolProgram and saying farewell to every single friend and staff member, we are finally off to Wild Oats, where I barely survive. Taking both kids to the market is like trying to herd rabid cows. Aisles are not big enough for these two. They want to play tag in the wine section. They horde samples. They bump into other people with impromptu, creative jumping games. If I allow them to push the cart it's a guaranteed ruptured achilles. They reenact scenes from school elaborately as I catch knocked-off boxes from the shelves. I make them hold onto the cart, one on one side, one on the other. "GGgrrr, walk!" I yell behind a locked jaw, "Like stiff marchers." They walk. They march. Then they're high stepping. They're dancing, doing a jig. They’re po-go’ing. They're hanging off the cart like side-car racers tipping the basket into a turn. If I have to concentrate on a label or directions to a recipe, I make them sit down in the aisle. Fuck it. It contains them for 2 seconds. Until they are rolling on the ground tackling each other knocking into a chips' display. I am laughing but I say, "Have you guys been in public before? I mean, for reals?" They are dumbfounded, like, What do you mean? I let them make their own salads at the salad bar. They are surprisingly focused. Mina's salad is made of egg yolks, peas, carrots and sharp parmesan cheese. Maya's salad is a sample of every item at the bar. We get to the check out and Maya asks the clerk -- and this scene happens every single time we're in the store --, "Can I bag?" Clerk, sweetly, "Sure." Maya, to me, "Paper or plastic, ma'am?" "Paper, please." She is quite good at packing a bag now. The clerk always offers her a job. This is part of the scenario. The bill is paid, bags are packed and Maya says in a feigned baritone, "Would you like help to your car, ma'am?" Me: "Why yes, yes I would." "I'm helping her to her car," she tells the clerk with a wink.

We eat in the car like a pack of homeless ladies because they don't want to sit at the tables in Wild Oats for some reason. We talk and laugh and eat. We make the food talk and we eat chips in different ways, like a wood cutter or like the Cookie Monster. Inevitably, they spill some shit on the seats that will smell up the car for the next 48 hours. Then we walk to the library and the girls hide behind every pole and tree because each car is their "Enemy Foe." At the library it's a series of Sshh's and Do Your Homework and Yes, I'll Read That and No, You Can’t KickBox the Magazine Rack. My own writing and reading go untouched.

At home, they run around and square off in extreme Tae Kwon Do battles, until someone's crying. They jump on the bed and chase the dogs and nag each other. They get to watch one show a night and they demand that I lie down between them. If I'm physically closer to one or the other, they go to blows. The whining drives me bananas. We watch That's So Raven, quite possibly the funniest show on TV. And we talk about the themes and scenarios of the show. We talk about every theme and scenario that comes to mind. They beg for cereal and candy and apples and Luna Bars. They fight over what book I should read them. Then the Go to Bed Dance begins. I'm exhausted now so the bathing cap is sticking together and shrinking. I have to Do Their Pillow because I showed them how Bugs Bunny used to fluff his pillow to perfection. I have to sing Fly Me to the Moon twice because I've been singing that every night since Maya was in the womb. There's a couple "I'm scared of my dreams" by Mina which are easily soothed. Finally, I announce, "Guys, I'm so tired and I have to do stuff still. Can you just chiz-ill now?" Maya says, "You're the best, Mami." Gulp. I say, "'Cause I'm a push over?" She laughs, "Pretty much." But they hug me like there are a slue of other reasons too.

I leave. Two more bathroom runs. A couple more hugs. They bicker from their bunks over something. And Papi walks in and says, "QUIET." And they are obedient angels under his command.

The tornadoes are wrangled once again. Until 6:30. The next morning. In a couple hours.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

self portrait tuesday

This is my third entry for the Exploration of Identity theme.

I Am Mami

This is what my children call me.
And I’ve been on a mission,
on watch, on call, on needles, on high
to hear them call me this with satisfaction and balance;
with confidence and security, with thoughtful compassion.
With love, of course, but they were born with that.
To hear it makes me kick over a mountain, to clear a way.
Allows me to SHATTER baggage and reinvent my own wheels.
When they call me this in their perfect tones,
it causes my eyes to close, weightlessly and charged.
Everything is alright.

This is what my husband calls me when he wants my face to flush.
When he’s at his softest with me.
When he’s letting me know I hold the keys to the Kingdome
even though, for him, there is no lock to my Queendome.
There’s not even a door when it comes to him
because he’s allowed to wander all through me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


I have an unnatural fear of gymnastics. I think it's a fantastic and suspenseful sport. But I'm fearful for my kids to participate in gymnastics. I am convinced that the sport is so taxing on those little bodies that when I watch competitions on ESPN, -- because I'll watch ANY sport -- I watch through my fingers. I'm sure a gymnast will snap a leg during a landing. Or hit an apparatus with a body part. Or pull something out of socket. Or fall off some beam or bar that is raised too high up. It's very stressful for me to watch. But here's the part that makes no sense: I'd let my girls play tackle football if they wanted. I'm big on physical-style basketball. Maya spars in Tae Kwon Do and I've seen kids get knocked out with head kicks, and yet I still encourage her to be aggressive and go for it and, most importantly SHAKE IT OFF if she feels the sting of a kick or punch. But gymnastics, which is unknown territory to me, seems way more grueling.

I was on a spring board diving team when I was about 15. I was progressing right along until I hit the diving board with my thighs doing a standard one and a half front flip. My coach said, "You're jumping back a bit on your approach." I was majorly mind fucked from that moment on. I was unable to kiss and make up with the end of the board. My coach suggested we work on back dives for awhile until I was able to SHAKE IT OFF. I practiced a back pike and promptly nicked the corner of the board with my head a la Greg Louganis. I pulled myself out of the diving pool, walked over to the lap pool and joined the swim team on the spot. Didn't even say goodbye to that fucking dive coach. And this is how I view gymnastics, a big mind fuck with a nice injury waiting on the other end. I've had plenty of injuries during my illustrious basketball career including two broken fingers just a couple years ago that made me hang up my high tops, but I guess gymnastics is just so foreign to me.

Maya never had much of an interest in gymnastics other than jumping on the trampoline or doing a flip into the foam pit. But who doesn't want to do that? When we attended a gymnastics birthday party not too long ago, Husband and I were all over that too. Mina, on the other hand, was born to be a gymnast. She shot out of my womb with pointed feet and stuck the landing, man. I had been denying this fact until a month ago.

Since Mina could grip a bar, her favorite activity has been the monkey bars. In preschool and kindergarten, she spent so much time on the monkey bars, the palms of her hands turned into one big callus. It hurt me to hold her hand because the skin was so rough. I'd ask, "Mina, what did you do at school today?" "Monkey bars." "Did you do art and writing?" "Yes. And monkey bars." She was so good, that when we'd go to the park, other parents would ogle Mina going back and forth and forth and back across the bars, then swing for literally ten seconds BY ONE ARM before she'd change direction and then repeat. She developed lats like an Olympian swimmer. You think I'm kidding? Look at that picture. I had written in a previous post that though she does Tae Kwon Do, she tells everyone she is a gymnast. I'd say, "You're a green belt! Aren't you proud of that?" She'd say, "Yes. But I like gymnastics." FINALLY, as I panicked internally, Husband convinced me that I couldn't deny it any longer. We had to sign her up. What was one hour a week going to hurt?

The gymnastic school is a musky warehouse with dull, industrial lighting that seems oppressive to me. The air is wet and thick and parents populate the Parent Pen anxiously and humorously. Husband and I were naively joyful during her first class and we clapped and laughed as Mina had a ball. But when we looked at the other gymnasts we realized that these kids and these parents are not fucking around. Every single body on the floor was a taut specimen of a child. Every single body had a quarter-bouncing ass, long oval muscular thighs and 24 pack. We know Mina is small for her age, but all these girls are small and packed into little superhero bodies wearing velour bathing suits, lavender and pink and royal blue. They pranced around seriously with fat-bare limbs slathered in white chalk and their hair was pulled tightly and gelled and glittered and bowed. They were all doing one-handed push ups, practically, like 500 of them. And climbing ropes with their fingertips, and doing sit ups by hanging upside down. And the militant coaches lacked joy. They were serious too and just bigger, aged versions of the same body type. The banner on the wall read: "Gymanstics: The Art of Perfection" which scared the shit out of me and only confirmed my fears about this crazy, tortuous sport. But, of course, Mina loved it and apparently caught the eye of one of the vulture coaches that accesses athletes like quarter horses; maybe because they look like them. After only three classes, they invited Mina to be in the excelled class. And at age six, she will now do gymnastics two days a week for an hour and a half a pop. Until they kidnap her to Romania and really whip her ass into shape. I caught the end of her first excelled class on Monday. This is when they have the tiny little group of girls climb a rope that stretches from the floor to the warehouse-sized ceiling. I arrived just as they said, "Mina are you ready to try The Rope?" And I clasped my hands and thought thoughts like, Just do your best, baby. Climbing a rope is really hard -- and wouldn't you know that lil mufucka scurried up the rope like it was NOTHING. I sucked in my breath emotionally as I looked at my baby way in the air. I then wondered what kind of super strength she possessed. But obviously the monkey-bar lats came in very handy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

self portrait tuesday

Here's my second entry for Exploration of Identity, this month's theme for SPT.

I Am a Writer
This is harder to say aloud than the goddess thing.
See how I smirk? It's to hide how serious I take it, how much I think about it.
All encompassing feels like a weakness, sometimes.
When I write, I feel like
I'm running naked in an empty parking lot carpeted with bubble wrap.
The running can be frustrating. The popping is always joy-filled.
When I write, even when I write fiction,
is when I feel the most honest.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Dia de los Muertos (Click on pictures for full-sized fun!)

I'm a big fan of Dia de los Muertos. I think it is a beautiful and madly intriguing holiday. Let's Celebrate the Dead, yippee! Hooray - I'm Alive Still! All the skeleton art really makes my heart skip happy beats. I think Latin cultures in general have a personal relationship with their dead so I have no problem celebrating Day of the Dead whole heartedly with mis hermanos mexicanos.

Every year, I take the girls to my favorite museum in Orange County, the Bowers Museum, for the Dia de los Muertos celebration. I have been to many museums in my life and spent odd sections of my childhood wandering them alone for hours as my mother took a class or worked, and I can safely call the Bowers one of my favorite museums of all time. It's an old converted mission that has dedicated itself specifically to internationally-cultural exhibits. The museum is tiny and intimate. While some museums seem to slap you in the face with their art, the Bowers cradles and cares for the art, offers it and does this nod to vistors saying, "Huh? Look at that. Isn't that fantastic?" I discovered the Bowers a few years ago when they were about to set up an outstanding exhibit on Tibetan Buddhist art. When the exhibit opened, I walked onto the spanish pavers surrounded by butter-colored walls and before I saw one tanka, I stared at a huge sheet that hung from the ceiling used to display a film of monks blowing temple horns. I just stood there hypnotized by the mono-syllabic droning. I thought, THIS MUSEUM IS THE SHIT.

Though I fell in love with the inside, one of my favorite aspects of the Bowers is that it looks every bit of a mission still. And every single time we go, which is often, there is always a quinceanera going on when we arrive and a wedding going on when we leave. The parties are always splayed out on the gorgeous lawns taking pictures. I love spying on their moment.

This was the quinceanera going on today when we arrived for the Dia de los Muertos celebration. I took the first picture because her dress was not only crazy fairy-tale, but it was cotton-candy pink and it was so campy that I wanted to run up and hug her ringlet head. But after I took the first picture, the entire party looked my way like I was violating her, like if I took another picture I would've given all the cousins and sisters and uncles permission to come kick my ass. So, I snuck this second picture from behind the mission walls.

On with Dia del los Muertos! I met my good friend Lisa and her handsome son Louis at the museum, and we spilled a little hot chocolate on the curb for our dead familia. Then we got our arts and crafts on.

First we got skeleton fingers painted on ourselves.

Then we decorated calaveras or sugar skulls. Here's Mina's.

Then we made calavera masks. Here's Louis and mask.

Then we made these killer puppets attached to a toilet paper roll and a stick:

Then the paper art. Here is Lisa's because she is an expert.

Then the Azteca dancers came out and got their grove on, for the dead.

My girl got a muertos french pedi for the occasion.

Check out Maya's buddy.

Louis pooped out. The drumming put him asleep.

And a few more pictures of the huge altar that graced the middle of the room.

The nun picture slays me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My White Oleander Dance

While I was looking the other way, I apparently registered myself for this Write Yo'self a Novel in 30 Days Club. 50,000 words for the month o' November is the goal which translates to about 6 pages a day. And I say aloud, theatrically, "GEEZ, WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO HERE, HMMM? LORD HAVE MERCY, I CAN'T POSSIBLY DO THIS CONSIDERING MY PLATE ALREADY LOOKS LIKE I WENT BACK FOR THIRDS WITHOUT FINISHING FIRSTS. . . " But secretly I'm thanking my lucky stars that I have some sort of silent motivator, a goal and a dead line to actually vomit out a succession of words even if later I have to reedit severely to mold them into something other than a pile of dog shit caught in a rain storm. (Hey, look at me! I'm already writerly and shit.)

Actually, I'm discovering a little byproduct of being involved in the NaNoWrMO cult: As I churn out as many words as I can string together onto the page, I am completely unedited, in all areas. I am blahblahblahing poor fools to death in my real life now and it’s only day 2 of this endeavor. I am writing rambling, unconnected emails believing I'm so interesting. I word count my business emails. Poor Mandy had to listen to me drag out a long-winded story about Asperger disease today; a humorous Asperger story at that! Ug.

I get like this when I go to Squaw too. Squaw Valley Community of Writers is a week long, intensive summer workshop that I've attended a few times. As a writer, I crave a community. I want to talk about breakthroughs and bitch about The Process and laugh about how other writer's procrastinate like do they clean their refrigerator like I just did tonight? I feel this sense of community at Squaw. What we laugh about doesn't translate well to my normal life, however. Sometimes when I call Husband from Squaw and I'm all in writer-clever mode, playing with words annoyingly, he brings me back down with a timely, "What the fuck?" Or he'll get paternal on me and say, "Honey, are you hangin' with your weird people? Do you feel at home?" "Yes Papi," I gush.

And I'm feeling a twinge of this community with the NaNuNaNu thing. I'm digging it.

During my last trip to Squaw, the summer before last, it so happened that the day my story was to be critiqued, Janet Finch was our workshop leader. She was a loon which made me really love her. She was so set in her own notion of style and so convinced by it that she was all over the place explaining herself with the flipping and scrunching of her straight, long hair. And the crossing and uncrossing of legs. I don't know what the fuck she was saying about my story other than "Good stuff", and then she'd extract the craziest little detail and tell me to write entirely about that. I'd say, "About this one child here?" And she'd yell, "YES! That was beautiful. I don't get this other stuff." After the workshop emptied and scattered, she said to me, "Are you writing a novel?" And I answered, "I'm a little scared to." And she stopped being a fidgety lunatic then and she looked me dead in my face, held my hand, "One scene at a time," she said. "That's all it is. One scene after another." That's what she signed in my copy of White Oleanders.

Later in the week, I had a one-on-one with Mark Childress for whom I had already grown a deep fondness. He's just so southern in a way that when he speaks it sounds like he's wrapping you up in a hot biscuit and talking trash at the same time. And the only thing I remember from our talk was that he said, "Honey, you need to write everyday. Every single day." Before I could whine about the kids and the job and all my burdensome dutifully duteous life he said, "I don't care if you have 5 kids, two husbands and three jobs. You need to write every day." I didn't say shit. Because I'm gonna make excuses about the one thing I've wanted to do since I was nine years old? It's why I signed up for the NaNoWriMo. I'm not gonna try? I'm gonna let another month go by without pursuing what calls me everyday? Funk that.

At the end of Squaw, at the big cabin bash banger, I made Mark Childress and many others at the party blenderfuls of knockout mojitos. Mark and I talked shit, both of us sporting southern accents by then -- I COULDN'T HELP MYSELF -- and when Janet Finch arrived in a red, silk mini dress and a lavender knit scarf, she kicked off her shoes and pointed to me demanding, "Put on some music I can dance to." Which I did, and we danced to Celia Cruz in a Woodstock kind of way. After a couple more mojitos, I said to the crowd, "Here's my Carter Beats the Devil Dance!" a dance that Honduro and I made up the previous trip to Squaw after Glen David Gold gave an inspirational reading. Then I yelled, "Here's my new White Oleander Dance!" I broke out in a freeing side-to-side motion, and Janet kept dancing to the beat of her own flower.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

self portrait tuesday

This is my first entry for the November Challenge: exploration of identity. I believe we were supposed to use more props, but after many experiments, this is how this side of my identity revealed herself:

i am a closet goddess
which means everyone probably knows this already.
It means I believe strongly in the curve, no matter how straight or how curvy.
And I'm a big fan of brilliance and honesty
in whatever forms these come.
Soy una hija de Yemaya. Y de Ochun. They claim me in my dreams.
I won't carry the world on my shoulders anymore,
but I have it in my hands and
sometimes I cradle it in my arms, lucky world.