Archive for July 2007


Eli (at 26 months) has used the potty three days in a row, and the Mama, PhD manuscript (at 363 pages) is in the mail to the publisher. These milestones seem all the more appropriately linked, to me, as Eli’s words for “pee,” “penis,” and “computer” are one and the same: “pee-pee.”

Dr. Freud would have a field day with this, I know.

I’m just happy we’re moving forward, and trust that by this time next year, Eli will be looking sharp in his big boy underwear and Mama, PhD will be looking beautiful in a hard cover.

Four Hours One Night

3 am: Ben appears at my bedside, having dreamt that his Tinker Toys were attacking him. I scoot over and he climbs in. I tell him to imagine scoops of ice cream falling on the Tinker Toy monster’s head. We both drift back asleep.

3:30 am: Tony, squeezed to the edge of the bed, gets up and carries Ben back to his own room. I should sleep better now, but can’t relax, worrying about all the details involved in delivering my book to the publisher next week (next week!).

4 am: Earthquake. Tony flies out of bed and down the hall to check on Ben (sleeping). I stand in our doorway, next to Eli’s room, listening to his quiet breathing. After a few minutes’ waiting for aftershocks (from the earth or from the boys), we both go back to bed.

5 am: Eli wakes. Tony uncharacteristically sleeps through Eli’s calls, so I go into his room and tell him it’s still night time. “Mama awake,” he points out. True enough. I sit on the chair and put my head down on the arm rest: “Mama sleeping,” I say; “It’s still night time.” “Sit up, Mama,” he demands. “Lie down, Eli,” I counter. Remarkably, he does.

5:30 am: Eli is not quite asleep, but resting quietly, when Ben comes down the hall and into the room. I put my finger to my lips to ask him not to speak, then open my arms for him to climb into the armchair with me. We manage to wriggle into a halfway comfortable cuddle and he falls back asleep.

6 am: Ben’s bedroom feels like a mile away, so I carry him, sleeping, back into bed with me.

6:30 am: Ben wakes and crawls out of bed, then stands staring at me sleepily. “What’s up, buddy?” I ask, “Are you awake?” “No,” he says, and walks down the hall to his own bed.

7 am: Eli wakes. Tony gets up with him, leaving me to “sleep in” for another hour, the best hour of sleep all night.

25 Feet of Concrete Fun

The Children’s Playground in Golden Gate Park has finally reopened after a 2-year renovation, and today we walked over to check it out. Before it closed, it was really too big for Ben, besides being a nightmare of splintery climbing structures and broken swings. Now it’s got all the latest and greatest playground equipment, some of it shaded with huge canvas sails, all beautifully landscaped with flowering plants and grasses.

But the best part is the part that they didn’t change one bit, the 2-story concrete slide that Tony used to slide down when he was a kid, the slide that always has plenty of cardboard at the top for the kids to sit on as they slide down.

There’s a small concrete slide at Ben’s preschool, and another one at Mountain Lake Park, but this is the granddaddy of concrete slides, and today there were more than 2 dozen kids waiting their turn at the top. Even the littlest ones were patient enough to wait till the slider in front flew all the way down and then climbed clear of the bottom. And Ben was in the mix for an hour, sliding down, climbing back up, tugging his big scrap of cardboard up behind him, a huge smile on his face. Occasionally he’d turn and wave and shout “Keep your eyes on me, Mama! I’m gonna go super-fast this time!” and I’d wave back and call “I see you!” and watch with a grin plastered on my face, too, watching my cautious boy sail down that slide, over and over again.

Eight Things

First Libby and then Vicki tagged me for this meme, so I guess it’s about time I played!

First, I am to publish the rules:
1. Let others know who tagged you. (check)
2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

Here goes:

a) I was born in Tokyo. My two best friends from graduate school were also born in Asia (Moscow and Calcutta). We all married California natives, and all gave birth to boys in California within 9 months of each other.

b) My name rhymes with Valentine. It bugs me when it’s (frequently) mispronounced, but I don’t correct people as often as I should.

c) I didn’t learn to ride a bicycle until my junior year abroad, at Oxford, when I was 20. When I was little and my family would go on post-dinner summer bike rides through a neighborhood we called The Ways (the streets were called North Way, Northeast Way, South Way, etc), I just rode on the seat in front of my dad; later, my friends and I just walked everywhere, since the town was small and hilly.

d) My favorite lip balm is Smith’s Rosebud Salve, which I keep on my nightstand and in all my bags. A friend — and fellow lip balm connoisseur — and I exchange new brands for our birthdays every year. This year she gave me Fresh Sugar lip balm, which I also highly recommend. Her birthday’s tomorrow, so I’m not telling what I got her!

e) I always thought I’d have a daughter named Charlotte or Josephine. I miss not using the pretty names, though I don’t really miss having a daughter. I was briefly unsettled last year when a teacher at Ben’s preschool told me I have a daughter “in me.” Someone in my writing group suggested that I can think of my book as my daughter, and that’s actually perfectly satisfying.

f) Like Vicki, at one point in my life I knew ancient Greek, Latin, and French. Also Japanese (in which I was briefly fluent), Spanish, and even picked up a bit of Hebrew when my dad was studying it. I used to help my college roommate with her Russian homework, and somehow I could figure it out despite never having been taught the alphabet. I’m down to restaurant French and Spanish now.

g) I hate being late, and rarely am.

h) I had LASIK three years ago (after wearing glasses, and then contacts, since 8th grade) and it worked beautifully, but I still sometimes reach for my glasses in the middle of the night. Old habits die hard.

i) extra bonus fact: I worked in a hardware store one summer when I was in high school, mostly selling bags of concrete mix to contractors and such. It was lonely and dull, but it didn’t dampen my pleasure in hardware stores. Renovating my house did that, a project we “completed” almost a year and a half ago, although there are still some unfinished details (missing door plates, etc). I still shiver with pleasure when I pass a hardware store because I don’t have to go in.

Now on to the tagging!
Feed Your Loves
Lovebug and RolleyPolley
Fertile Ground
Marmee’s Corner
A Wrung Sponge


The first day back from a trip back east is always a little slow, a little foggy (mentally and, in the summer, literally). Even when all the flights go well, the flight is looooong, and (because we like to have a bit of a visit still on the last day) we get home pretty late.

Still, we’ve been back just over 12 hours and I’ve unpacked the bags, done (though not yet folded or put away) the laundry, and called to get off the mailing list of most of the catalogues that came in our absence (Back in the Saddle? why, oh why??). Tony replenished the fridge, and the boys have built a new train track.

Meanwhile, our 6 days in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania (an unexpected trip over the MD/PA border for a wedding breakfast; Elrena and Violeta, we waved in your directions!) included most of the requisite summer fun: running in sprinklers, catching fireflies, splashing in the local pool, and visiting with many cousins (first, second, and once-removed), aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces.

Life is good. And although I’m sad to pack away my sun dresses and the boys shortie pj’s, I’m already thinking about a late summer trip east so that we can use them again.

Thirty, Forty

Tony, who’s easier with numbers than anyone I know, likes to quote thirtysomething’s Miles Drentell: “the decimalization of time is so arbitrary.”


And yet, with Eli having just learned to count to 10, and Ben interested in Really Big Numbers (“What’s a trillion times a billion?”), and of course my recent milestone birthday, I’m thinking a lot about numbers lately. So here I go:

30: I throw a party for myself with a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake (yum).
40: Tony organizes cocktails at the Top of the Mark and dinner at the Slanted Door with 7 other couples (some of whom, I’m happy to note, were at that 30th birthday party). I’m amazed we can all get babysitting. On my actual birthday, my sister makes me a delicious chocolate layer cake (the ganache alone uses nearly a pound of chocolate).

30: I’ve just met Tony (who meets most of my friends at that birthday party).
40: We’ve been married 7 years.

30: I’m just starting to write my dissertation.
40: I’ve just received the contract for my first book.

30: I haven’t any publications (but do have increasing anxiety about that as I wind up graduate school).
40: I’ve got my PhD (and no academic job), a regular column, one publication and a couple more forthcoming.

30: I have a niece (my goddaughter), a newborn nephew, and two close friends with kids.
40: I have Ben, Eli, and the more than dozen kids in our babysitting co-op, plus the niece and nephew, whom we visit as often as possible.

30: I’m renting a comfortable 2-bedroom apartment in North Berkeley with a grad school colleague.
40: I co-own a comfortable 4-bedroom home in San Francisco.

30: I’ve just started running.
40: No marathons or big running achievements, just the knowledge that running keeps me healthy, so I get out there two or three times a week for a run toward the ocean, into the park, or through the neighborhood.

30: I count my many blessings, happy to be out of my messy twenties.
40: I’m still counting my blessings, looking forward to what this next decade will bring.

How We Spent Our Flight Delay

At JetBlue’s terminal in JFK:

  • 1 bottle of water $1.95
  • 1 bottle of lemonade $2.99
  • 1 tub of cut-up apples (with caramel sauce that I dumped in the trash before Ben noticed): $3.95
  • 1 tub of strawberries and blueberries: $3.95
  • 2 chunks of cheese: $.99 each
  • 1 JetBlue airplane set: $19.95
  • 1 bigger bottle of water: $3.95
  • 1 copy of Lolly Winston’s Good Grief (which I have yet to open): $6.99
  • 2 raspberry yogurts: $1.89
  • 2 tubs of cold cereal: $3.50 each
  • 2 bottles of milk: $2 each
  • 1 package of barbecued tofu: $6.95
  • 1 package of tofu cesar salad: $6.95
  • 1 bottle of Advil: $6.95

Total elapsed flight delay: 6 hours
Total financial cost: $81.34
Summer vacation with family, despite everything: priceless!

Mama at the Movies: Waitress

This month: letter-writing and pie baking in Adrienne Shelly’s lovely film, Waitress:

According to family history, when my aunt claimed, at a picnic, that her pie crust was better than her mother’s, grandma threatened to throw the pie at her head. My mom kept quiet, just grateful that grandma had already imparted her pie crust secrets to her.

People take fierce pride in a fine, flaky pie crust, and in fact my mom’s is so good that for years, I was too intimidated to attempt it myself. Pie crust isn’t complicated, but unlike bread or cake, it is finicky and unforgiving. Handle it too much, or add too many drops of ice water, and it turns tough instead of toothsome. The best way to learn pie crust is to watch at someone’s elbow (preferably of course a mother or a grandmother, who can tell you family stories while you bake) and then practice until you get the touch of it.

Jenna Hunterson (Keri Russell, expressing little of her Felicity-era perkiness) learned about pie-making from her mother, who’d bake Car Radio Pie or Jenna’s First Kiss Pie while singing to her daughter. Now Jenna, the Waitress of Adrienne Shelly’s nuanced and surprisingly funny film (2007), is stuck in a bad marriage to a childish husband and unhappily pregnant. Although she keeps baking the popular Marshmallow Mermaid and Chocolate Strawberry Oasis pies for the diner where she works, she’s hoping to bake her way out of town and into a new life. Meanwhile, she can’t stop imagining new pies, like Pregnant, Miserable, Self-pitying Loser Pie (“oatmeal and crumbled fruitcake, flambé of course”) or Baby Screaming Its Head Off In the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie (a brandy-soaked cheesecake); her pies tell stories, but right now, they aren’t such happy ones.

Read the rest at Literary Mama!

Pizza Dough

This is the best recipe I’ve made yet for pizza that you grill; try it out!

1 1/4 oz envelope yeast (or 2 1/4 t)
3/4 c warm water
1 3/4 c flour
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t olive oil

Stir the yeast, 1 T flour, and 1/4 c warm water together in a small bowl and let sit until it’s bubbled up and creamy-looking, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together 1 1/4 c flour and the salt; then add the yeast, oil and remaining 1/2 c water. Stir until smooth.

Stir in enough additional flour (about 1/2c) so that the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, then turn it onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Let rise on a generously floured surface until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/4 hours (or stick it in the fridge, in a bowl, and let rise all day; bring to room temperature before shaping).

When you’re ready to shape the dough, don’t punch it down but dredge it in flour and then hold it up with both hands moving around the circle of dough like a steering wheel, letting gravity pull the dough down. Once it’s stretched to about 7″ around, lay it on a well-floured board or pizza peel and stretch it out to about 9″.

Let the dough rest 10-20 minutes before grilling.

When you’re ready to make pizza, preheat the grill on high for 5-10 minutes, then oil well. Slide the dough onto the grill and bake until browned on the bottom (about 5 minutes). Remove from the grill, turn the dough over, and put your toppings on the grilled side. Now turn the grill down to medium, slide the topped pizza dough back on to the grill, and close the grill to cook the pizza. Check after 5 minutes, and continue grilling till the cheese is bubbly and the bottom of the crust is browned.

Personal Policies Meme

A Wrung Sponge tagged me for this ages ago (she got it from Literary Teacher, who got it from HipWriterMama,
who got it from The Simple and the Ordinary; go read them, too!) and and I’ve been letting my post simmer on the back burner while other writing deadlines insisted on my attention.

So here are my personal policies, a mix (as my mom would say) of the sublime and the ridiculous:

We don’t wear shoes in the house. I don’t like to clean (more on that next) and this helps keep the dirt level down.

I try to clean while I’m doing something else. I’ll sweep or mop while I’m talking on the phone, I’ll clean the bathroom mirror while I’m brushing my teeth, I fold laundry while the boys are playing trains. This is partly the necessary multi-tasking of a part-time working-from-home mom, but it also lets me get things done while I’m focused on something more pleasant. The house stays relatively clean, and I don’t feel like I’ve spent lots of time on it.

I tell my guys I love them, a lot.

I get up before the kids to write every day, and I write again after they are sleeping.

I compost, recycle, turn off lights when I leave the room, carry canvas bags to the grocery store, shop locally, and do whatever else I can to keep this world clean (and cool) for my children’s children’s children.

I read to the kids every day, and eat dinner with the family every night.

I try to pass on the good that’s come to me, whether that’s financial (making charitable donations) or professional (connecting writers with editors; reading friends’ drafts) or personal (taking good care of my friends with babysitting, meals, other favors).

I pray.

I tag anyone else who wants to ponder their personal policies!