It sure looks like it tastes better this way.
From the back seat:
Evolutionary biological evidence that the automobile did not develop in tandem with Homo sapiens:
Gbot, having not finished eating his lunch at school, spreads a napkin on his lap in preparation to finish his soup on the drive home. And then pouts when I put the kibosh on opening his thermos.
Introducing the Lunchbot. We’ve been making Recycle Robots, in our house, out of household recyclables and so I didn’t make a fuss when I discovered this morning that Husbot had left Gbot’s lunchbox in the Rolling Black Hole (aka Husbot’s truck. When an object goes into his truck, it may not be seen again, and if it does reappear, it will do so only–in the case of an item of clothing–after it has been grown out of).
I made a lunchbot. Van’s box, 4 pipecleaners, and the hacked-off end of a Cling Wrap tube, sliced at the top. And a few squirts of hot glue to attach one of the pipecleaner loops to the tube.
Gbot loved it. Mbot did too. It’s a good thing I put in another Zappos order yesterday.
And, as if that’s not enough for one morning, here’s our second world-changer:
And the conversation that went along with it:
Gbot: “Mom, I have something special in my underpants.”
Me, not turning around to look: “Yes, honey, I know.”
Me, turning around to look: “WOW! What is that EXTRA special thing in your underpants?”
Gbot: “It’s my Mortal Shield! I need it when I battle Mbot because my pito is very sensitive.”
WARNING: The second invention does not generally fit into a pair of jeans.
The first egglien spaceship arrived in the docking bay. Close behind it was a second, this one with a more elaborate antenna, and an eye :
The hatch opened.
The eggliens had arrived,
bringing with them a unique and unforeseen dilemma:
How do you convince your kids to eat an egg that is looking at them? An egg upon which they painstakingly placed the eyes and hair themselves?
And am *I* going to have to eat twenty-two hardboiled eggliens in secret, all by myself?
Right around the time that the bots bring raggedly cut paper lanterns home from preschool and announce they were born in the year of the ox and the tiger (wrong–the rat and the ox), the winter garden begins pushing all sorts of goodness out of its chemical-free furrows. Chinese New Year gives way to President’s Week among mild days, comments like, “I learned that presidents who don’t look good are smart” (Mbot), and bickering over who gets to use the big shovel.
It usually also coincides with a visit from Nanny. While The Guru stays home in Idaho to cut the corduroy on the ski slopes, Nanny comes south for a bot-fix. This year, we introduced her to the Secret Garden. We were taking a chance, as, if you need a hired gun to assasinate any lifeform capable of photosynthesis, Nanny’s your man. (You see here that she managed to kill an iceberg lettuce, but at least we will eat its head.)
As we stepped among the rows of broccoli, green onions, spinach, and other assorted supermarket items, Nanny’s continued exclamations about how cool the iceberg lettuce was–actually growing out of the ground–reminded me of how cool the iceberg lettuce was, actually growing out of the ground.
The next day, I was also reminded that every visit to the garden should be followed by a pocket-check. Not that a little beta-carotene in the laundry ever hurt anyone.
(To read about last year’s exciting and treacherous foray among the furrows, see Adventures With the Earth.)
Here’s a funny little story about my Halloween.
It was the third day of Halloween. Our party was at 4 on Sunday, a “MeetUp” hosted by a mother in one of the toddler Meetup.com groups we occasionally participate in. I brought at $14 bottle of Cabernet instead of a food item. There is always way too much food at these things, and so I hoped my decision to bring a bottle of wine for the hostess would be acceptable. I explained in jest as I handed it to her that I figured she might need it after a toddler party. I placed it on the counter with the other drinks.
Miniature Buzz Lightyears, paleontologists, ballerinas, and superheroes darted through the rooms. I set up my own superheroes with small plates of hotdog and fruit. I poured them something green from one of two pitchers on the counter set up as the bar. Behind the pitchers were stacks of cups, a few bottles of water, bottles of tonic, and three or four 1.5 liter bottles of wine lined up across the back. I hadn’t thought that wine would be provided, but how nice, I thought. Since there is, I will have a glass.
I couldn’t find a corkscrew on the bar, and since it’s the kind of thing I might forget in the frenzy of preparing for a party, I asked the hostess and she provided one. I reached for a 1.5 liter bottle of 2009 Robert Mondavi cab, wanting to open a lesser bottle than the one I’d brought. I see Robert Mondavi cabs all the time at Costco and Walgreens and CVS. I opened it. I poured. I drank. At one point during the evening, the hostess asked if it had been corked. I thought that was a strange question. “We’ve had it forever,” she added.
“No, it’s fine,” I replied. And it was. It was nothing special. Having bartended at fancy catered parties for several years, I knew corked when I tasted it. I also knew special.
I drank two glasses over the course of the evening. The boys ate cupcakes. The hostess’s smile never left her face but never quite reached her eyes.
Three days later, I received an email. This was it:
Betsy- I had to get this off my chest and felt I needed to let you know how upset I was that you opened my $140 bottle of 2000 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cab. The more days that have gone by the more upset about I’ve become. I’ve never had an issue with them sitting on my counter behind everything else. It wasn’t ‘retro’ of me and I really didn’t care if it was corked….I never intended on opening it and even if I did it certainly wouldn’t have been for a Mom’s group Halloween party. When you asked for a corkscrew I figured you were opening the bottle you brought. I specifically stated on the comments that if you wanted an adult beverage to bring your own, We were not providing.
I was stunned. How could I have been so socially unacceptable? How could I have been so rude? How could I have been so clueless? I wrote back immediately:
Oh my god. (Name of Hostess here), I had no idea. I am appalled. I had thought that the bottles on the counter were for consumption. I will replace it. I feel sick to my stomach that that happened.
While the Midgets took advantage of my distraught state, chasing the pets, making a mud pie on the patio and bringing it in to eat on the living room rug, I made phone calls and searched the internet for a replacement bottle, the first of perhaps four hours spent over the next few days. I called a restaurant in Boston that offered what looked like the last remaining bottle on the Earth for $300. Maybe I should have told them it wasn’t worth that. I called Robert Mondavi himself, who had on hand only the 2000 Reserve, but in the regular .75 liter size.
Finally, on the third day, I paid $40 (refundable when I canceled my subscription within the week) for a year’s membership to wine-searcher.com. And there it was, at a store in New Jersey, for $129 plus $25 shipping. A better wine, no doubt as it was the Reserve, but otherwise the same. I bought it. Kicking myself for my stupid mistake.
But meanwhile, the initial self-flagellation was subsiding into a more rational evaluation of just whose mistake it was. As a bartender in people’s homes, I had never seen a drinks counter set up with bottles that were not for consumption. Yes, I should have looked at the label more carefully: 2000 is not 2009. Yes, perhaps I should have read the long list of “comments” posted by mothers planning to attend. The absence of a corkscrew should have given me pause. But.
Moreover, the tone of the note implied not that I had made an honest mistake, but that I had knowingly opened a bottle of both monetary and sentimental value. What had the hostess accomplished by sending such a missive? She hadn’t asked me to replace the bottle. She felt bad and wanted to make me feel bad, too. Not exactly a hostessy act.
To get some sense of reality, I shared the story with my sister as objectively as I could. “You saved some other poor idiot from doing the same thing,” she basically said. “And what’s more, she’s the least gracious hostess in the universe.
My sister related the story to a friend of hers who happens to be a lawyer. A woman who also has been a polite guest. “The woman was asking for it,” she said. “She should be socially shot between the eyes.”
Well, she is a lawyer.
I had imagined, cringing, the scene at the party after I’d left. I expected that the organizers of the toddler group would quietly ask me and my toddlers to un-member ourselves.
In the following days, several members contacted me. But their reactions were quite the opposite. Do not replace the bottle, several counseled. And if you do, don’t replace it with the one you’re planning to replace it with.
Their support provided as good a reality check as the other opinions I’d heard. But I’d already ordered the wine, and it’s not like the original bottle had opened itself.
I thought of a woman, who I will call R. For many years, both my sister and I had catered small dinner parties for her. In spite of vast financial resources that included a little vineyard in France, R always cooked the meals herself, leaving us only with last-minute preparations, serving, tending bar, and cleaning up. She prided herself on her abilities and originality. She was a lovely, smart, compassionate, no-nonsense woman whose modest origins included professional catering. We had witnessed her navigate some treacherous social straits to the advantage of all. When my sister and I have an etiquette issue of our own, we ask ourselves, “What would R do?”
R, I decided, would take responsibility for her actions, even if they were only a small part of a debacle, and inject grace into a situation that was in sore need of it. Her character (and her bank account) would be big enough to absorb the cost. My bank account will never be as big as R’s, but I have more hope for my character.
Two weeks later, the bottle arrived. I brought it to the Halloween Hostess from Hell. But I couldn’t make a clean get-away. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I said, kicking myself internally, “The next time you invite people into your home who have never been, you might want to remove anything from the drinks counter that’s not meant for consumption.”
Her cat-and-the-canary smile vanished. “I’ve never had this problem….”
“I’m not arguing,” I broke in with a smile. “Just making a suggestion. So that someone else doesn’t open this.”
Maybe I should have recognized that the expense was too great and that I had been a player in a mistake that I really couldn’t make right. Maybe I would be a bigger person if I had made the decision not to replace it. I don’t know. Wisdom under such circumstances comes with experience. But I felt better. I have won peace with my decision, if not with the Hostess from Hell.
What would you have done? And what’s your worst etiquette story?
I am so consumed by the present that any glance back into the past is jarring–almost surreal. So much changed when I became a mother. Not just the usual big-then-saggy boobage, belly fat, hair-falling-out, sudden-fact-that-I-am-in-love-with-a-helpless-alien sort of things. I’d married Husbot just one year before; I’d met him nine months before that. I relocated from a place and community I’d lived in and loved for ten years to a foreign land. (Just because the same currency is used and the same language is spoken thirty minutes west of Phoenix, Arizona and the Wood River Valley, nearly two hundred miles east of Boise, Idaho, doesn’t mean the two locations are not as different as Amsterdam and New Amsterdam). At the same time, I lost a friendship–or at least, it changed, dramatically and irrevocably. I still grieve for it.
Things were different, and would never be the same.
The bots and I return to the Wood River Valley twice a year, and each time, I am confronted with the past. We usually stay with my parents, who retired here twenty years ago; I sleep under the same crewelwork image of a girl carrying a cat that was above my bed in Alaska as a child. There is news of the old boyfriend and his wife, who are friends of friends and family. Every visit to the grocery store in this small town offers chance meetings with former colleagues and acquaintances. Sometimes they recognize me but sometimes they don’t remember my name. I introduce myself. We catch up in that inane way that takes ninety seconds. And then we push our carts in opposite directions, the way our lives have gone.
And so it should not have been unexpected but was nonetheless very strange last night, while inspecting the contents of my parents’ liquor cabinet before dinner, to come across a drink recipe I’d written for my father about fifteen years ago. It was a remnant of still another life, when I was working in my twenties for a famous Denver restaurateur who foresaw trends sometimes a decade before they became trends. (He poured me my first Cosmopolitan in 1993, three years before Carrie Bradshaw first tipped one back in a move that would forever determine the cocktail of choice for women now between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five.)
This recipe was for the Caiperana, which never enjoyed quite the notoriety of its pink sister, but made a comeback ten years ago at wedding receptions and on creative cocktail menus across the country, and more recently has featured in one of Jo Nesbo’s bestselling thrillers, in which the hero, a Norwegian detective with a taste for anything fifty-proof and above, finds himself stuck somewhere in South America and glad that the only available drink is a local version of the caiperana, brewed from the fiery and wince-inducing native liquor, distilled apparently with little consideration for flavor from raw cane sugar.
In a bow to the past, I’ll transcribe the recipe here as I wrote it back then. It made me laugh, which of course was a bittersweet kind of laughter, because I want it back. I mean, I want the parts of my past the made me laugh back. It’s a stupid thing to want–that’s what memory is for, that’s what stories are for. And soon enough–tomorrow, as it turns out–today will be the past that made me laugh.
For one drink:
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 oz. Pitu cachaca
dash simple syrup* (*double-strength hummingbird food)
little spoon (optional)** (**a swizzle stick will do)
First, learn to pronounce both the drink and the liquor. This will entail learning a foreign language, so be ready to practice. Practicing after having served your guests yields the best results as, while your linguistic skills may not improve greatly, your listeners, as they empty their glasses, will become much more accepting of the injustices you perpetrate against the Spanish language.
But practicing beforehand doesn’t hurt. While chanting ca-CHA-cha, ca-CHA-cha, slice the lime in a complicated manner. That is, cube it as if you were cubing a potato, if you ever cube potatoes, but don’t cut all the way through the peel at the tip. You will understand why momentarily.
Place the lime pointy-side down in the glass and pestle it soundly to squeeze out the juices. Meanwhile, repeat, ky-per-ANN-ya, ky-per-ANN-ya quietly to yourself so that your guests don’t know you’re getting a headstart on pronunciation.
Add the cachaca and simple syrup and fill the glass to the brim with crushed ice. Insert the little spoon.
Sip slowly and stir the drink constantly so that the ice dilutes the concoction and you remain scintillating for as long as possible before being reduced to a pleasant stupor. Keep prodding the lime with the little spoon to extract all the juices. If you have mastered them by this time, work the words caiperana and cachaca into the conversation at frequent intervals so that your guests will be duly impressed.
* * *
Skol! Salud! Here’s to the past. Here’s to change.
To change things up from updates about where Gbot has last peed (in his Yo Gabba Gabba Vans), here’s a funny famous-person story for you:
Once upon a time, in a fairytale land called Sun Valley, Idaho, where many a prince and princess of Hollywood rode on their noble G5s to their seasonal palaces among the chairlift towers and real estate offices, there once lived a serving girl named Betsy.
She was a sassy, competent serving girl, laboring by night at a fine northern Italian eatery called Piccolo (now, sadly, defunct). The servers brought gnocchi and lasagne bolognese to the common townspeople who dined there amidst the visiting cinematic royalty such as Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, and Rita Wilson, and even occasionally the King of the balls, Matts Wielander.
Much Betsy’s favorite famous guest was Jamie Lee Curtis, who was funny, friendly, polite, kind to her kids, whom she always brought with, and a generous tipper. Her husband, Christopher Guest, accompanied them when they came to dine several times each summer. Now, where Betsy the serving girl could easily flirt with Ms. Curtis and exchange tips on where to find nice earrings with Ms. Wilson, she found herself intimidated by Mr. Guest. His expressionless face belied the razor intelligence and cutting wit behind such masterpieces as This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and, Betsy’s favorite of all time, The Princess Bride. All the world must be so boring to him, for we are mostly morons in comparison to Six Fingered Man, the character he played in The Princess Bride. Who among us doesn’t repeat a young, thin, tight-wearing Mandy Patinkin finally getting the chance to say to Guest’s character in a Spanish accent: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”?
Each time he came to dine, Mr. Guest ordered the famous Rosemary Chicken–a quarter bird smothered in olive oil and rosemary and then roasted at 800 degrees. No one had ever been known to replicate this dish beyond Piccolo’s kitchen walls.
Now, while the staff was flattered that Mr. Guest enjoyed the signature dish, there is no more effective way to gain a chef’s distain than by ordering chicken. Ordering chicken announces loud and clear that a diner has little confidence in the chef beyond her or his ability not to fuck up a chicken. Why not venture the fresh summer pea ravioli made of homemade pasta with brown butter? Or the local organic lamb grilled to perfection with the Valley’s best garlic mashed potatoes? Not that Betsy judged. She didn’t really even care. The chicken was delicious. And she, too, had been guilty of ordering the same dish over and over at certain restaurants. Although she never ordered the chicken. No matter how good, it was still chicken.
There came a sad night, the second-to-last night before the restaurant shut its doors for business, forever. Ms. Curtis and Mr. Guest brought their entourage and filled the banquette. Betsy chatted with Jamie Lee and nodded when Ms. Curtis reminded her to bring the check to her end o the table rather than her husband’s. When Betsy took Mr. Guest’s order, she raised her eyebrows. “Chicken again? Or are you branching out this time?” she asked.
“Chicken,” he said (or something like that). “Next time I promise I’ll try something different.”
At which point Betsy said something like, “I’ll hold you to it.” She felt giddy with exuberance. Surely her charm must have had an effect.
But the exchange must have simply strengthened Mr. Guest’s belief that we are all mostly morons. Because, of course, there would be no next time. Betsy didn’t think of this until later that evening driving home.
It made her wish that she’d had the balls to present the chicken as she’d fantasized all summer. She would approach the table. She would lower it before him. She would say, in a bad Spanish accent, “Allo. My name ees Betsy Andrews. I keeled your chicken. Prepare to dine.”
She would have had nothing to lose. Jamie Lee was doing the tipping.
Such are the regrets of a serving girl.
And here, in one of life’s fun ironies, is a Princess Bride reunion article that Lil’ Bro sent from Japan the same day I thought of writing this post:
“We never, NEVER go potty in the cup holder of the car seat!”
* * *
(And for those of you trying to imagine Gbot dropping his pants in the backseat on I-10, I’ve transcribed a play-by-play account of what actually occurred:
1. Husbot brings a car seat from truck into the house. Its final destination: the Bot-mobile. Husbot exits.
2. The bots and I make a special-day chocolate pudding & marshmallow pie. I had no idea what a special day it would be. The bots crush the graham crackers for the crust with spoons in a large plastic bag. “Are we done yet?” “No.” “Now are we done?” “No.” “Hey,” notes Mbot. “This looks like diarrhea.” The pie goes in the fridge to cool.
3. The bots and I go to the pool to cool. We splash, we swim, we pretend we are all Batgirls. “No I’m Batgirl and you’re Batboy,” says Gbot. “But I’m already Batgirl,” says Mbot. “I know! We can be sisters.”
4. Retransformed into bots, we go back inside. I instruct bots to remove sandals and swim trunks at the door. Not so easy: there are ties to be untied and many distractions. Like the car seat on the floor.
5. I drop my wet suit, throw on dry clothes, and rush to the kitchen to whip the cream for the top of the pie while issuing instructions to go potty before we go to Grandma’s.
6. I tell Mbot eight times to put on his underpants. Gbot is singing a song about Mr. Rabbit whose ears are mighty white.
7. I tell Mbot to put on his underpants again and rush across the room to rescue the pie from crashing to the kitchen floor under his adventurous fingers. I issue only one of apparently two necessary orders: “Do not touch the pie.”
8. I try to get Gbot into a diaper instead of underpants, just in case. He is babbling something about pottying in the cup holder. The statement lodges loosely in my mind on top of the information about Mr. Rabbit’s white ears.
9. I pull Gbot’s shorts and t-shirt on. I make the executive decision: no shoes. We are in a hurry, and who needs the extra work?
10. I help Mbot into his underpants. I pop a shirt over his head. He sits down on his shorts. I pull them out from under him and hold them out. He puts them on.
11. I rush back to get the pie. I open the door. I sling my bag over my shoulder, pick up the pie, usher bots out the door, quickly now, because we don’t want the 98 degree heat to rush in, and pick up the car seat by the top of its two shoulder straps. I take two lurching steps over the threshold. My leg and foot are doused in lukewarm liquid.
12. Gbot’s statement about pottying in the cupholder is flushed to the fore. I drop the seat. I make sure the bots aren’t running into the parking lot. I return inside to put the pie down in an ant- and bot-free zone. I approach the car seat.
13. Gbot, good for his word, has filled the cupholder half full.
That’s when I said those words I never thought I’d say, and go stick my foot in the sink.
The rest is denouement. Although I wiped it down with rubbing alcohol, I made Gbot sit in the pottyish car seat. He said he liked sitting in the pottyish car seat.
I wanted to remove pie-eating privileges, but what good would that have done? Pie and potty. Potty and pie. If you sing it to the tune of “Max and Ruby,” the morning after, it’s actually kind of catchy.
But I’m left cringing, wondering about the next thing I’ll say that I’d never thought I’d say.