Monthly Archives: September 2015

Yo, Winter, What Else You Got?

This past weekend was the first official weekend of fall. Being a lover of summer, by now I’m usually wringing my hands, bemoaning its loss as if it were mine alone, and annoying all my friends about how much I hate the transition from summer to fall. As if they haven’t heard this from me for the past ten, 20, and god bless them, 30 years. This year? I’m good, and I’m not sure why. I think part of this anomaly is that we actually got to have a bona fide summer here in New England. Not the half-assed one where June is cold and rainy, we get six-weeks of mostly sun and swampy humidity from mid-July to the end of August with temperatures from 80 to 100 degrees, and then the 50-degree days swoop in on August 30. That’s our usual good summer, which explains a certain amount of our lack of friendliness. This year, June was warm and sunny, followed by sun and warmth and more sun and warmth. Through July, August, all the way until last week. Into September. I was still wearing sun dresses up until a week ago. Around here, that’s some crazy shit.

It was kind of shocking, all of this summer, but because I’m a Leo, I knew exactly what to do. I summered the hell out of this summer. Beaching, swimming, canoeing, jumping off high rocks, parading around Provincetown. There was actually enough summer to go around this year, so I’m OK letting it go.

I think the other reason I can say goodbye more easily is because I survived the worst winter since I came to Boston in 1983. And yes, it was worse than the Blizzard of ’78. I experienced that one in Connecticut, and it was bad there too; there and here it is the measuring stick of worst. ’78 was one really awful snowstorm that people weren’t prepared for, and it shut everything down for about a week. Last winter we were shut down on a weekly basis, three times in a month, and received nearly double our usual annual snow fall. It seemed to push a lot of people over the edge—the people who usually joke about moving south for the winter were diligently checking job and real estate listings in the South and on the West Coast.

Me? Two things happened after last winter:

First, I never took this summer for granted. In fact, I’m marveling that the trees are still green and am trying to burn the image into my retinas. Usually by early July, I forget winter ever happened, and trip along as if it will be summer forever. Hence, the hand-wringing in September.

Second, last winter ignited some hard-core New Englander reaction in me. I do pride myself on being a New Englander, but let’s face it, as far as nature toughness, I live in Boston, not the wilds of Maine. So I lean more towards, the crabby, I-hate-California kind of New England “tough.”  In the depths of storm three, though, there was already two feet of snow on the ground and shoveling involved being able to toss it high enough or walk far enough to find an emptier space to dump it. And lots of people were giving up, but I got pissed. And tough. And I took each shovel full and said a silent eff you to winter with every calorie-burning toss. I drove in the crazy snow-clogged, one-lane roads, dodging oncoming cars and potholes that could swallow a Hummer. I slogged through the snow-choked sidewalks and knee-deep puddles. I didn’t leave my house when the T stopped running. I laughed. I knew I would win.

Any of my friends could tell you this is so not me. But it is now.

Fall is coming, the air is crisp, and the leaves will turn. Snow is stalking me, but I’m not afraid. I got my shovel, my snow melt, and the best weapon of all, New England resiliency with a side of Bostonian attitude. Bring it, Winter. I’m fixin’ for a wicked good fight.

Out to Lunch

Of the millions of opportunities we mothers have to hone our guilt, I would put money on this one as a top 10 candidate: “what your kid brings to school for lunch.” That is, unless you are one of those lucky and annoying (to the rest of us) moms who has a kid who continued to eat the wheat bread and fresh fruit and vegetables we all plied our babies and toddlers with. Know how lucky you are, and consider it may not be a result of your parenting skills—you won the kid lunch lottery with his or her unchanging taste buds. Many of us are faced with kids who would rather not eat green things, or as my teen recently put it, anything grown in dirt. I did all the right things when he was younger—stayed away from junk food, fast food, bright blue drinks, and non-food orange things in a bag, but it didn’t take. When your kid can describe in great detail why the flavor/texture/color is unpleasant, you learn to pick your battles. Plus, I don’t have the fortitude to be a send-your-kid-to-bed-without-supper kind of parent. I’m more a please-dear-god-can’t-we-all-just-go-to-bed-fed kind.

And I thought I had made peace with the fact that I survived the school policing of my kid’s lunch in grammar and middle schools and now send him to high school with crap for lunch. For a number of years I counted Lunchables and Cheez-Its as a healthier option, but once my teen went to high school all bets were off. He dismissed the Lunchables as too childish, and I couldn’t talk him into buying lunch, which would have relieved me of the responsibility and knowledge altogether. So he brings junk food for lunch—Doritos, chips, popcorn, pretzels. And because he doesn’t actually eat it every day (“I didn’t have time”), and he’s never sick and keeps growing, I tell myself he’s a teen and that’s what the teen years are for—flouting the rules of health with few consequences. He has the rest of his life to feel guilty about not going to the gym enough, wear a Fitbit, and avert his eyes from the calorie count while ordering a Big Mac. His health classes have already done a great job starting him on the guilt train.

So there I was at the Stop&Shop, scanning the big bag o’ lunch-sized junk food, Coke, Mountain Dew, and cookies. It was like Oscar the Grouch was stocking up for a hurricane. I pulled my receipt from the checkout and the receipt from the order before me was still in the machine. I gave it a curious, cursory glance, and its contents stopped me cold:

  • Darypur 1% mlk (Pur? Mountain Dew is pure too, you know, like from a clean, crisp mountain)
  • Bag plum 2 lb (A whole bag? What kind of healthy freak are you?)
  • Fresh bananas (“Fresh”? Do you really need to rub that in my face? And do you also sell “stale” bananas?)
  • Red grapes (They have a lot of sugar you know!)

Short and sweet and devastatingly healthy. And to add insult to injury the receipt boasted in 30 pt font size that this person had $703.22 in CARD SAVINGS in 2015. I had scanned my savings card, but it hadn’t registered. I’m not sure how much I’ve saved this year, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have even half that. And who knew you could save that much buying rabbit food? Then to finish me off, the gas rewards points were 475, meaning, health food nut was going to get 40 cents per gallon off his or her next gas purchase. I’m excited if I can get to 20 cents.

I stood there clutching my highly processed imitation food and wondered how a small slip of paper could make me feel like such a bad mother, an inadequate person who doesn’t know how to work the store savings program, and a rube who pays nearly full-price at the pump.

But then I remembered a story. It floated me past the internet kid lunch wars and the Siren song posts like “10 sure ways to get your kid to eat more vegetables” (it’s all bunk—they don’t tell you it requires a kid who actually eats in the first place.) In the first difficult years of my young son’s taste bud down turn, I was beside myself with guilt and worry, convinced I was going to kill him with bad nutrition  or get thrown into DSS’s secret bad lunch slammer. My coworker at the time saved me when she told me the story of her then grown son and how as a kid he ate nothing but PB&J on white bread for five years straight. Did it stunt his growth? Make him a low performer in school? Put him on a path of crime and ne’er do wellness? Nope. He went on to Cal Tech, California’s MIT, and they both lived to tell the tale.

So I took a deep breath, crumpled up the fruit-laden receipt, and made a perfect shot into the trash can. Mom: 3; Guilt: 0. Crap in a school lunch bag? Priceless.

Gardening: That’s a Wrap Folks

Every spring my gardening friends give me two or three tomato plants that they raise from seed for my little patio container garden. I usually supplement it with a few sunflowers, a basil plant and a bean or a pepper plant. The upside to this mini garden is that I do get some edible things out of it, and theoretically such a petit garden should be fairly easy to take care of. You’d think. But more often than not some blight or bug or just plain bad watering on my part often gets to my plants shortly after I’ve harvested the first few fruits of my labor. I can’t even call myself a hobbyist gardener. I’m more a city person who likes to sit outside in the summer and look at a few green plants. Of course that means when they go to that big garden in the sky before their time, I’m back in the grocery store staring at those tasteless pathetic excuses for a tomato and cursing.

I will take responsibility for the unsteady watering last year, which resulted in what I dubbed as butt rot. Note exhibit A:

photo (13)

I am not taking the hit for the blight and bugs, though–that’s nature’s doing. And the last several years, I’ve watched in horror as all three or four plants have gone from small green promises to brown, spotted, bug-infested heartbreakers.

However, my optimism is more difficult to kill than tomato plants, so this spring I decided to start over with all new pots and soil, just in case the blight and bugs imprints were still on the old pots. And as usual, everything started out swimmingly. The two tomato plants and the sunflower looked happy and the basil plant converted into a fragrant bush in short order. But then I went on vacation for three days and had no one to water them. When I got back, the one tomato plant was turning brown. But it was hopelessly entangled in the other plant, a purple cherry tomato, which had flowers all over it. The sunflowers and basil were gasping, so I kept watering them all and soldiered on bravely.

It turned out to be a great summer for tomatoes—sunny and hot. I waited ALL summer for the green tomatoes on the second, thriving plant to ripen. I’m not sure why, but every year while real gardeners are pressing their gratuitously annoying tomato bounty on everyone in the middle of July, I’m getting one tomato a week until the end of August. Then when the weather turns cooler, all the tomatoes start turning red, but the plant knows summer is done and just throws up its leaves and keels over, and I’m looking up fried green tomato recipes on the internet.

The same thing happened this year— I was staring at green tomatoes for six weeks willing them to ripen. Then I realized with dismay that my second, longer vacation at the beginning of September was going to collide with the long-awaited ripening. I had only gotten about five tomatoes until that point. All the rest of the 30 were crying out in the their faint purple skins and begging me not to leave them. I acknowledged my shortcomings as a gardener, and admit that I may very well be a urban plant murderess. I picked a few more half-purple ones that could finish ripening in the house and went on vacation, hoping the weather app showing five days of blazing sun was wrong.

When I got back, the patio “garden” was a sorry, browning drooping mass. There were maybe eight more tomatoes that had ripened during the plant’s demise, which I picked. But it looked like that would be the end of it. Still, in my crazy optimism I thought it couldn’t hurt to try to water it again—the branches weren’t that brown and dry. So I watered and watered until, just like a cheesy children’s story, within a few days most of the plant rallied and the cherry tomatoes were back on track (see Exhibit B at the top of the post). So far I’ve gotten about 15 tomatoes and there are probably 20 more on the way. The next week in Boston will be averaging 80 degrees, so maybe I’m counting my tomatoes before they turn purple, but I think I’ll have enough for a few salads. Heck, I might even have to give some away.

And then I’ll sit on my patio with a sweatshirt and watch the naturally dying tomato plant and dream of next spring. I think I might be getting the hang of this.

The Continuing of the Girlie Girl Adventures: Accessories

Last summer I began the girlie girl adventures with a  post called “I’m Sexy (if Only in My Head).” I had a summer dress with a gaping crisscross overlay in the front, a new pair of matching shoes, and a dream. Hilarity ensued.

Still, I persevered through the winter months by rediscovering Victoria’s Secret and going “underward.” My girliness continues to evolve, and this year my summer dress collection expanded thanks to the addictive marketing of Old Navy. I’ve learned a whole new language—ruched and empire waists, scooped necklines, adjustable straps, and dresses with features I don’t yet know the names of. I doubt I’ll ever be fluent in girlie, but like a tourist in a foreign country who can ask where the bathroom is, I can get by. So there I was wearing my dresses wantonly everywhere—the grocery store, at the beach, to take out the trash—when I realized that the black pair of flats I’d added last fall to go with my black dresses wasn’t going to cut it for the new batch of light-colored blue, white, and peach colored summer dresses. Curses.

I’ve never had a shoe thing. I own the basic black and brown work shoes, some kickass tall black boots, a pair Fluevogs I got 15 years ago after the birth of my son to reassure me I was still cool (if you haven’t had a baby, please be kind; if you have had a baby, you totally know what I’m talking about), and a small assortment of flat shoes I can walk in, including one pair of sneakers. None of these plays well with cute sundresses. Well, maybe the kickass boots and the Fluevogs, but I don’t have the fashion sense or attitude to pull that off. This reminded me that girliness can be a harsh mistress, but there was nothing  for it now but to head back to Old Navy. I managed to get one pair of blue denim flats that pretty much covered the non-black dresses.

Then as the summer heated up and I no longer needed a jacket, I lost the pockets and a way to carry my wallet, keys, and phone. Designers, please note, I will pay extra for dresses with pockets. And this is where I and the mistress had words. I don’t like purses and refuse to get one. I can barely keep track of the things attached to my body, never mind things that are easily left behind. We settled on a cross body bag—I would look for the smallest one that I could find that would fit my three items and maybe my sunglasses. I knew I couldn’t order this online. I was going to have to feel it and see it. I knew what I had to do, but I fought it for weeks. Waving my sundresses at me like a red cape before a bull, my mistress stared me down with her steely gaze until I gave in,

I was going to have to go shopping. In multiple stores. For more than an in-and-out-15 minutes. Dear god have mercy on me.

It took a few weeks to psych myself up, but finally one lunch hour I decided this was it. The time limit as well as  a target of three stores in close proximity would minimize my pain. The only thing I hate more than shopping is driving to shopping. So I power walked to Downtown Crossing, took a deep breath, and hurled myself into TJ Maxx, H&M, and Marshalls. I attacked the bag section with a laser-like focus. I could eliminate 90 percent right off the bat by:

  • Size – what do people carry in these things? Babies? Small dogs?
  • Color – neon lavender goes with, um, what again?
  • Cost – if I’m spending three digits for a bag, there better be a baby or a dog in it.

The remaining 10 percent got whittled down by discounting the bags with silly accents like tassels and gold chains. That’s what pasties and necklaces are for. The remaining candidates got tried on and loaded with military-drill-like precision. I soon realized that bags are like wedding guests. You invite people by groups and each new group increases the guest number exponentially. You can have 20 people, or 75, or 150, but nothing in between, unless you want the left out people in your groups to stop speaking to you. The bags turned out to be frighteningly similar. I could fit in the three pieces, but there was no room for the sunglasses. The bags that could fit all four things were much bigger and looked suspiciously like a dreaded purse.

I was more ruthless and brutal in my assessment than Harvard admissions, and by the time I had hit all three stores and loaded and unloaded 20 bags, I was sweating profusely. I finally settled on a small Baggallini, and was quickly rewarded with that ultimate seal of approval: a fellow shopper stopped to gush about her (multiple) Baggallinis. Mission accomplished.

My enabler coworkers were impressed when I got back and they too gushed over my bag, even indulging me when I patiently explained that is was a cross body bag, not a purse. What’s the difference, you may ask? My self-respect. My one coworker—let’s call her “Shoe Sith”—couldn’t resist murmuring, “The shoes are next.” I looked at her and for a moment I saw the Emperor in “The Return of the Jedi,” when he’s trying to win Luke over to the dark side. She has a shoe collection under her desk that people come to visit, mesmerized by the four-inch heels and strappy fantasies.

I laughed without fear. No one was getting me into that kind of shoe. My feet don’t fit for one thing—I have very ungirlie wide feet—and I firmly believe in wearing shoes that you can run in—either away from something scary or toward something fun.

And then I saw “Kinky Boots.”

I saw the movie years ago and loved it, and I had no idea how they would translate it into a musical. OMG. Damn that Cindy Lauper to hell. It’s fun, the music is catchy, and they honored the movie. And those boots. I can only blame my love for disco and gay men for the fact that I want to wear those boots. How else can I explain how I want them even though I can’t possible walk in them? They are so red and sparkly…and red…and did I mention sparkly? In case you haven’t had the pleasure, here they are.  Who wouldn’t want to wear these badass boots?

kinkyboots2

Mind you it will take more than a flashy Broadway show to get me into some serious girlie shoes, but when my sequined vision finally cleared, I had to admit the door was cracked open. I thought I was done with accessories with the Baggallini, but I may have to admit there really is no end to girlie accessories. Maybe there is something fun I could run to…