2 Wheels + 2 Pedals = 1 Lone Mbot

2013 january 24 bike! 002

There is something different about this picture, and it’s not Gbot’s funky shades.

Learning to ride a bike seems somehow more important than the first day of school. Maybe because riding a bike is something you do–pretty much the same way–for the rest of your life, or at least until your get so old that your children tell you you’re in danger of breaking a hip.

Santa delivered Mbot’s 16″-wheel Giant Animator without training wheels, because I hoped, after eighteen months spent cruising around on his Strider, Mbot would have the balance and confidence to take off on a pedal bike, in spite of the larger frame and a seat so high that only his toes touch the ground. The training wheels were in the cupboard, just in case.

In the past three weeks, in spite of the cold, Mbot’s been out five or six times on the big boy bike, for a few minutes at a time, with me holding on, or cruising by himself down the driveway, pedaling once or twice before putting a foot to the ground. The seat was technically too low, but I thought being able to put both feet on the ground would give him confidence. It seemed to, but it also made it more difficult to get leverage on the pedals. A couple of days ago, I raised the seat. It’s still a little low, and I’ll raise it more in a week or two.

And yesterday, trailed by Gbot, still on his Strider prebike, Mbot rolled out his new pedaling skills for a ride that lasted a good three minutes before he put his feet down, at which point he immediately asked for a push and headed off again, and this time I didn’t look at my watch. The bot can ride a bike.

He toppled over a couple of times, and got up, unphased. I love to watch this version of human-ness–this super-elastic, Flubber-butted version, this unossified phase, as different from me as a caterpillar from a butterfly, although I am not the one with wings.

After twenty minutes of pedaling–getting the hang of turning in circles, going fast!, and avoiding his brother, who was zooming around like a Gretzky slap shot–Mbot steered up onto the sidewalk, lay down the wheels, sat down, and arranged two rocks in front of him. “Mom,” he said, “Is it okay if I play a little rock game with myself? I don’t need two persons.”

And, his cape of independence settled visibly around him, a big “M” emblazoned across his shoulders, that’s exactly what he did.

Warning: Those who haven't given birth may not be able to see the cape.

Warning: Those who haven’t given birth may not be able to see the cape.

Bots Bugged By Bugs, But This Bug’s Not Bugging Me

2012 October 31 Halloween NIKON 012

One thing I’ve had time to do is go through this year’s photos and make our Christmas cards. Normally, the bots love bugs!

We are on Day Four of the 2012 West Valley Endurance Biathlon, in which contestants alternate between pooping and puking during daytime hours. So far, Gbot is the clear winner, but he got a three-day headstart. Mbot threatens to give him the runs for his money. As for me, I’ve had a mildly upset stomach, but nothing that doing laundry twenty-four hours a day can’t keep at bay. Even the antique cat joined the festivities and left two little puddles of bile for me to step in early this morning before attending to other bile piles.

The bots aren’t in pain–except for the diaper rash that comes with the bug–they’re just very lethargic. Gbot’s finally on antibiotics. A downside for me of the P’n’P’ Biathlon is that it’s been accompanied by a Busytown Mysteries marathon. After nine hours of watching the same ten episodes ad infinitum, yesterday evening I finally insisted that something, anything, else be put in the DVD player. I am an evangelical fan of Richard Scarry books. But the film adaptations, I can’t stand. The bots, on the other hand, think it’s the best thing since Max and Ruby, another show I can’t stand.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what’s so teeth-grittingly bad about it. Maybe because Lowly Worm, who is a good-natured, skinny sidekick in the books, has an incredibly annoying voice. And then there are Pig Will and Pig Won’t, who bicker constantly. Mbot loves them. He wants to go live in their world.

Meanwhile, in my world, Husbot is feeling bad for me. “I know this is when motherhood is hardest,” he empathized on Day One. Then he proceeded to pick Mbot up from school two days in a row and taken him on adventures all afternoon before dropping him at Grandma’s. Grandma brought Mbot home tired and fed. Meanwhile, I experienced the two quietest days I can remember in a long time. Even today, with both bots home and leaking at both ends, it’s another quiet day (except for the swoosh of the washing machine and the constant tumbling sounds from the dryer.) I convinced the bots to trade in Busytown for Christmas specials and Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. I have set them guilt-free in front of the boob tube. The hardest part of motherhood? No. The hardest part of motherhood is all those other days–three hundred and perhaps fifty-five of them a year–when everything is a whirlwind of normalcy, when I am taking care of two healthy, active bots, trying to get on with career and cooking and cleaning, too, and no one’s saying, “This is the hardest part of motherhood.”

I just agreed with Husbot. “So true,” I said. But it has been a reminder that I feel less frantic–and happier–when I am concentrating on just one or two things–keeping bots comfortable and the house as sanitary as possible–and not spreading myself across an impossibly long “to do” list.

I hope we’re back to normal by tomorrow. If we are, I will try to remember how this slower pace felt, and try to go a little slower in my own West Valley Multi-Day Mothering Marathon.

 

 

 

A Potion For the Bottoms of Our Shoes

Florida M-beach face-001

Day two on the Continent of Great Grandmothers turned out to be more about the great grandsons. I had promised the bots a trip to the beach. We got a late start, though, groggy from the two-hour time change, and I was feeling the strain of trying to do a lot with a little–a little time, a little energy, and two little bots. Navigating from the hotel to the Health Center to various stores for necessities was proving to be a time-eating exercise in one-way streets, endless waits in lefthand turn lanes, and impatient drivers who went for their horns without mercy.

By noon, we’d arrived at the Health Center again, and Mbot asked to come upstairs to get Great Grandma with me. So Solveig ran after Gbot, who seems to have more energy than all the rest of us put together these days, while Mbot and I took the elevator to the second floor and ventured down the hallway to the lunchroom. We found my grandmother as she’d been the day before. Although lunch looked good, she wasn’t eating; she’s uninterested in food and unable to feed herself. We pulled up a chair. I put my hand on her shoulder. She roused, and turned to look at us. I introduced myself again, and Mbot. Her face brightened and she said, “Oh! I was just thinking about you this morning!”

“That’s because we came to visit you yesterday, Grandma. The boys played in the fountain!”

We stayed just a few minutes, because an enormous man asleep at the next table started making some pretty terrible sounds which scared Mbot. No one else in the room seemed to notice. But when Mbot squirmed in my lap and asked to go, I told my grandmother that we were heading to the beach to play in the sand, not to worry because the boys would wear life preservers, and that I would come back later. She asked how my parents were. “Are they meeting you?”

“Yes,” I replied, nodding and smiling. My parents were in Idaho. I hugged her goodbye. She used to give me a hard time about being uncomfortable hugging and kissing–I was, back in my twenties. I could just hear her unthought thoughts: “So this is what a grandma has to do to get a hug around here!”

I didn’t know at the time, but knew it was a possibility, that that would be the last time she recognized me.

We managed to find the local WalMart, where we purchased picnic supplies, life-jackets, a package of Toy Story underpants to serve as swim trunks, and a short-sleeved t-shirt for me, because I’d only brought one and had left it back at the room. Then we went to introduce the bots to the Atlantic Ocean. We cruised west past a shop selling “The World’s Best Quilts,” Tarot Readings, and Accurate Accounting Services (we figured that maybe in Broward County, such a thing might not be assumed. We found the beach, clean and wide, just south of the pier, complete with a life guard who emerged from his life guard stand when he saw Mbot run in the direction of the street.

Florida Gbot profile donut 2

And there we spent the afternoon. The bots waded up to their hips in the waves. Solveig had thought to bring pool towels from the hotel lobby, and they quickly became covered with sand as we sat among the opportunistic seagulls. We buried Mbot’s legs and decorated him with shells. The bots ate chocolate-iced donuts with sprinkles. Solveig and I opened a bottle of screw-top shiraz, which turned out to be 15% alcohol, and drank it out of empty water bottles. It just seemed like a day for treats–to revel in the tangible physical comforts, to swim in Toy Story underpants and get our faces messy and to pursue a buzz in the middle of the day.

By five, I was exhausted, without the emotional energy to visit my grandmother. Back at the room, we found that the latch to fill the tub was broken and so after a group shower (of which Solveig opted out), we camped in front of the computer to watch four episodes of Tin Tin. I ordered Chinese food and it all tasted the same. Mbot made a Chinese food-eating breakthrough when he gnawed the kernels off of the baby corn.

I visited my grandmother the next morning, leaving Solveig in the room making costumes for the bots out of The Wall Street Journal. She was dozing in front of the TV when I arrived. I took her to sit in the courtyard, in the gentle sun and soft fresh breeze. We walked around the lake, through the rose garden, and sat by the fountain again. But this time, when she woke, now and then, she didn’t recognize me. She talked quietly to herself, a sililoquy I couldn’t understand. I read to her, as she dozed, from a biography called The Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts. I’d bought it at the airport; she’s always loved biographies. I held her hand and told her more about the boys but it was my own sililoquy. And at eleven o’clock, I returned to the room to finish packing. It was time to leave.

Driving to the airport, Mbot said, “I wish I could send all of this away. The trees, and the beach, Great Grandma.”

I could tell Solveig was slightly disturbed by this seemingly nihilistic desire. But I have learned that when a bot doesn’t seem to make sense, ask questions.

“Send it where?” I asked.

“Send it home with us,” he replied.

“Me too,” I agreed. Except for the impatient drivers and one-way streets.

“I wish we could just hop and be here with Great Grandma.”

“Me too,” I said. “We’d have to hop REALLY far.”

“Hmm,” he mused, in problem-solving mode. “Maybe I could make a potion for the bottoms of our shoes.”

It is a lovely thought, isn’t it?

I don’t think I will have another chance to see my grandmother. But Mbot has, out of the blue, started talking about her, almost every day since we returned–counting his grandmas (three!), remembering her silver hair, and that “all the grownups were eating kid food. Hotdogs, soup, pie…” We took pictures, and a video, that first day, and so that will help him remember, too.

And he’s getting a chemistry set for Christmas, so he’ll be working on that potion.

Newsflash: Reading is Relaxing!

Gbot sets out breakfast and an audience, about a year ago. Would I look this stress-free if I read to myself over breakfast?

Overheard at the coffeeshop on Saturday:

“So, have you read Harry Potter?”

“Yeah.”

“What book are you on?”

The conversation wouldn’t have been noteworthy, except that the two conversationalists’ chins barely skimmed the table top as they sipped their hot chocolate. They were four years old–Mbot and his friend Mbug. She’s a bright kid whose mom had told me she wouldn’t sit still to listen to picture books. I loaned her the first Harry Potter. They were on chapter five; she was riveted.

The same day, the news over at the Huffington Post was that reading a good book lowers stress levels. HuffPo editors and bloggers chimed in on their reasons how and why in Turn the Page on Stress. 

The timing was interesting, as a few weeks ago, I picked up a book I’d had on a side table for a month. I was too tired to read, and too tired to sleep. I lay down on the sofa, listening for a bot to call me back for one more hug, and opened the book. I knew that one reason I felt so weary was that I hadn’t gotten–or given myself–a chance to read more than half a New Yorker article in over a month–probably two.

The book wasn’t fiction: recommended by a friend, it was Edward Hallowell and Peter Jensen’s Superparenting for ADD. The title might reveal one of the reasons I’m so tired, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. A while back, Mbot was diagnosed with “very low level” Attention Deficit Disorder–a borderline case, a case that’s almost not a case, but I feel it’s something I needed to learn to manage more effectively than I was managing it. I dislike the label because so much ignorance surrounds it and it carries so many negative connotations. In learning more about ADD, I’m learning to change my own behavior, which helps him with his; the result is a happier bot and a happier household. Hallowell’s positive approach to the issue is delightful and his storytelling is instructive and amusing.

An hour after I started reading, I was thirty-eight pages in and feeling a much-missed feeling of lightness and optimism. I recognized I felt better partly because of the contents of the book, but partly due to the simple act of leaving my own drama to witness those of others. I was reminded, through narrative, that obstacles can be overcome for a happy conclusion, and that recognizing the truth and dealing with it is a source of power–and having control over a situation is a way to lower stress levels.

I am of course reminded often of the de-stressing powers of reading, but it is a constant source of amazement to me how thoroughly we can ignore things we know, or forget them. I am reminded of reading’s calming effect by Mbot himself. Every night at bedtime, and usually during the day, I read aloud, in addition to a few picture books, a chapter (usually more) of Harry Potter (we’re on book two), a chapter of Little House on the Prairie (we’re on book two), and a chapter of The Hardy Boys. (We jump around according to whatever’s on the library shelf). Mbot, who has shown little patience with learning the letters of the alphabet, and who is often pushing the boundaries of his environment, is completely absorbed by a long narrative. He often asks the meaning of unfamiliar words, but I am not sure how much he understands of the story arc. Yet he does understand there are characters to be concerned about, and that there is a story arc. He would sit listening until my voice gave out or I collapsed face down, drooling on the Heir of Slytherin.

On Saturday, in addition to coming across HuffPo’s article, I happened to read Flannery O’Connor‘s essay, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” in which she writes,

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.

When I came across O’Connor’s observation, I realized I had put off reading (to myself) for that month or those months not simply because I was too tired or didn’t have time–but because I lacked the courage to take a long look at things. I was resisting entering a drama–anyone else’s drama–because I didn’t have enough emotional energy for their’s, too: I am a slow reader, and invest a lot in whatever I’m reading. But in those thirty-eight pages of Hallowell’s book, I was introduced to nearly a dozen people’s dramas, and instead of feeling oppressed by them, I felt uplifted. Since that night, I’ve been making time to read (to myself!) every day, even if it is just for a few minutes in the car before heading inside. In fact, I’m back to my old habit of reading several books at once–like I said, if only a few pages at a time.

And so stress-relief is even closer than the new gym with two hours of child-care per day. It’s as close at hand as my bookshelves. Now all I need to do is remember that.

They are Both So Beautiful Girls

(from the very interesting blog, http://www.buckbokai.com)

I’m blogging infrequently not because I’m participating in NaNoWrMo (is that how you spell it?)–I’m not. I’m blogging less because right now, there are so many things competing for my two most marketable commodities, 1.time, and 2.the ability to have things not die on my watch.

Although my plants would argue about commodity #2, if they weren’t shriveled, blackened versions of their once plumply-chlorophylled selves that looked out eagerly from the shelves at Lowe’s at all the possibilities open to them. If they had known better, they would have screamed to be spared when I put them in my shopping cart beside Mbot and Gbot. For all I know, they were screaming, but their plantly pleas were overwhelmed by whatever bottish conversation/bickering was already occurring in the cart.

I plead guilty to the murder of two fine plants that had not wronged me in any way.

I am starting to feel like my writing is wizzling, too.

Yesterday when I might have been writing, I was installing pull-out bins in the kitchen cabinets so I can finally organize the kitchen and get all my paperwork off the counter. One can only ignore such an ungodly mess for so long (a year). My friend Solveig, visiting from Colorado, helped enormously by not only ripping out the original crappy shelving, but by playing a game with the bots called “Who can stay out of the kitchen the best?”

Tuesday, when I might have been writing, I was doing fifty-three administrative tasks related to my volunteer work as caregiver, teacher, peacekeeper, entertainer, home manager, laundress, sous chef, chef, dessert chef, server, busser (although the bots are junior bussers now), interior designer, social secretary, event organizer, correspondent, and chauffeur.

Then I was attempting to keep my children from ransacking the child-free home of the very nice child-free friends of Solveig’s, with whom we were watching the election returns. Or rather, Solveig and the very nice child-free friends were watching the election returns. I was watching to make sure the bots didn’t launch themselves through the very nice plate glass window as a result of jumping on the supersized beanbag chair. What? Huh? Who won? The candidate campaigning on the platform of subsidized childcare? What do you mean, there isn’t one???

Monday, as Solveig watched the bots at home, I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble, telling myself I should be writing. Instead I slouched in a stupor in the children’s book section, reading picture books. The kid’s book section–when I am there by myself–is one of my go-to recharging stations.

It is a challenge finding the necessary combination of time and energy to complete any task larger than emptying a loaded diaper or laundry basket. (And even then, the towels get left in the dryer overnight by mistake…when will I get around to hanging that clothes line in the garage? Oh right–right after I put up the shelving in the garage….)

It is not that I dislike any of the tasks I am called upon to complete. (Well, anyone interested in doing just dishes, laundry, mopping, sliding bin installation, and plant watering, please call, I am hiring.) It is simply that there is such a vast accumulation of tasks, that I find it difficult to complete them, and my writing projects, too.

Do I want to play with the bots? Yes. Do I want to cook a lovely dinner? Yes. Do I want to sew Junepbear a fluffy sweatsuit out of fabric Mbot picked out himself, because Junepbear sports more and more unfluffy spots these days? Yes. Do I want to paint a mural in the bots’ room? Sit in a quiet room by myself with books and a computer? Get on a bike and sweat for an hour? Start teaching at the college level again? Yes, yes, yes, yes. Do I want to clean the litter box? Actually, yes. But what do I need to do? For my family and for myself? The need to prioritize wisely–and reap contentedness from my choices–has never been so urgent.

I am working on solutions. One is as simple as leaving the YMCA and joining, for $11 more per month, a gym that has educational computer games in the childcare area, which is open all day, as opposed to the one at the Y which, as fun as Gbot finds it, is closed during the critical hours of one to three. If I took advantage of this service, I could get up to two hours per day to either write or ride, work or workout, while the bots are in good hands. It’s a start.

I am trying not to feel guilty about this decision, and to understand the roots of the guilt. Guilt rarely has roots in logic or rationality. I just started reading Pamela Druckerman’s bestselling mommy memoir, Bringing up Bebe, about the differences in American and French parenting–and so am trying to open myself up to “there are many ways to raise a child right,” and, “as long as I am worried I am not doing a good job, I am probably doing a good job,” and, “I need to be healthy and happy to help raise children who are healthy and happy.”

Finding myself with so many things I want and need to do, I feel a little like Mbot must have yesterday at snack time. On the drive home from school, I asked him who he’d had snack with–his friend Mbug? Obot? Hbug?

“Oh, by myself,” was the answer.

“Why, Potato Sweet?” I asked.

He shrugged, raising his hands in the air, both palms up. “Well, Mbug and Hbug are both so beautiful girls, I just can’t pick.”

Hiding my smile–he just turned four! It starts so early–I explained that he could sit with Mbug one day, and Hbug the next, and be friends with both.

There is not a lot of time for introspection these days, and so I will leave it at this: I may not be able to do everything on my list. But I need to be friends with my achievements, and friends with my expectations, too.

I think this means I need to stop buying house plants.

Chipless Dale and Mini-Harry: A Photo Essay

It was a Halloween miracle, or several: Gbot’s brown turtleneck arrived via UPS at 3:45 p.m. Having forgotten to load up their pumpkin buckets, I bought the last $1.99 cauldron at the corner drugstore at 4:10 p.m. There was a $1.99 bat bag hanging above it. In spite of a still-coldy, sore-nosed Gbot (and after the application to the nostrils of Vaseline, which ingited a bout of wailing that only a piece of pizza could stop), we were all outfitted in time to take pictures. And Gbot wore his costume. All evening. The Great Pumpkin surely was watching over us.

I hope The Great Pumpkin was watching over you, too!

Woman Encounters Obstacle While Following Rainbow to End

Really, I am in better shape than this. But sometimes it takes a glass of wine to realize it.

I just walked out the door holding two of Husbot’s shirts, folded. I am not on the way to the dry cleaner, nor does Husbot own shirts that require poisons to cleanse them; if they reach that state, they get thrown out.

I was headed to the coffee bar, which in addition to coffee, happens to serve a bracing New Zealand sauvignon blanc by the glass. Getting into the car with an armful of shirts by mistake just illustrates how dire my quest was: I am in a state that requires poison to cleanse me.

Yes, it is only 3:29. This is my first and will probably be my last drink of the day, if you’re not counting an oversized homemade iced decaf mocha and not enough water.

It hasn’t been a bad day. In fact, it’s been a good day. It just feels like it’s been about three days, since 6 a.m. Probably because I’m trying to steer us all to a successful Halloween.

I should have gone to bed earlier last night; instead, I sat up practicing face painting. Which I scheduled myself to do for two hours tomorrow morning at Mbot’s preschool. Not only did I offer to repeat last year’s effort, which was valiant if not entirely successful (read about it here!), but to paint a panel of sample designs so that the woman who will take over for me during the afternoon Spookfest will avoid the embarrassment of instantaneously forgetting what a frog looks like when called upon to conjure one onto a four-year-old’s cheek.

Facepainting is kind of like regular painting, except really fast on a moving target. So even Picasso might have messed it up. Of course, chances are, you wouldn’t be able to tell if he did.

I find, while I sit here with my glass of Infamous Goose, I need to list the day’s triumphs:

Harry Potter gown hemmed (with black duct tape) and ironed.

Harry Potter broom padded at the dangerous end with black fleece. Extra glue added between handle and bristles to preempt mid-trick-or-treat meltdown due to falling-apart broom.

Chipless Dale costume examined and sighed over. Projected chance that Gbot will actually wear it without a fuss: 60%.

Chances that I’ll mess up the face painting required to produce a smile and two buck teeth on Gbot’s lower face tomorrow: an even 50%.

Dinner made.

Garbage taken out.

Laundry done.

Car washed. (Really. Needed. To Be. Done.)

Doggie poop cleaned up off living room floor.

Gbot’s nose wiped (twenty times. Tail end of cold.)

Hands washed between doggie poop pick-up and nose-wiping.

A still-coldy Gbot cuddled extra and listened to while wailing over 1. missing his chance to count down for Mbot before he launched out the door to the playground. 2. missing his chance to strap himself into car because he was wailing about missing his chance to count down for Mbot.

Husbot pissed off at wife’s attitude when he came home from work at 2:45 to spell me ’til 5. Excuse wife for not breaking out her first date smile when he threatens to lull them to sleep at 4 pm, which means she’ll be up ’til 9 p.m. putting them to sleep again.

The good news: I am almost ready for Halloween! And my friends and relatives on the Eastern seaboard are safe.

Last but not least, about the photo: I took this two weeks ago in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. Every year, my parents’ neighbor, architect and spare-time-hilarious-actor-in-local-productions, Steve Pruitt, put this witch up at the corner. Steve passed last fall, having lost a long battle with a rare kind of cancer. I never actually met him in person, but many years ago, I saw him in Don Quixote, and I still remember how hard I laughed. Other neighbors have taken up the Halloween witch-in-trouble ritual. And one morning in mid-October, we found her at the end of the rainbow.

Not-So-Famous Drinks of Youth and Idaho

Children and fall: the prettiest reminders of change.

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.

Who knew you could find video instructions online? (cucabrazuca.com)

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.

Caiperana

For one drink:

1/2 lime

2 teaspoons brown sugar

3 oz. Pitu cachaca

dash simple syrup* (*double-strength hummingbird food)

rocks glass

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.

I Killed Your Chicken. Prepare to Dine.

Is it the challenge of hitting a small target? I dont’ really know.

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:

Fairyland (from blog.oregonlive.com)

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.”?

The Six Fingered Man, eventually slain by a young nobody. (overthinkingit.com)

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:

Christopher Guest was not in the picture; he was probably still at a table subtly abusing his not-so-smart server.

Why Isn’t Anybody Peter Parker For Halloween?

The reality of the pretend: even Spiderman can be shy and clingy at a party.

After this Halloween, you might not be able to accurately ask that question. You’d have to ask: Why isn’t anybody but Mbot Peter Parker for Halloween?

Having given up his brief notion of dressing as a nerve cell (Your Body Battles a Stomachache is still a big influence in our house), and after vaccillating between a Ninjago and a Storm Trooper and a Bad Cockroach Spiderman (I’m dropping the hyphen–movie critic Anthony Lane agrees with me that it’s stupid, and the fact checkers at The New Yorker aren’t reading my blog (I only suspect)), yesterday he came up with a truly original idea.

We had friends over to play, and, as usually happens about half way through a playdate at our house, Spiderman and Batman made their appearances, complete with Batman’s froggie rain boots and Spiderman’s doggie rain boots. Batman settled down directly with his scissors to cut Play-Doh, but Spiderman announced that now he was going to turn into Peter Parker. “Help me put on my clothes, Mom.” I eyed him in his fleece Spiderman suit and held out his shorts. We managed to wrestle them up around his waist, but when he looked down, he said in dismay, “MOM. But I need long pants! My spiderman legs show!”

And I thought, But it’s 98 degrees outside! And all the pants are sealed in a box because it’s 98 degrees outside! Then I remembered that just that morning, I’d washed and dried a pair of sweatpants inherited from a cousin and left on top of a box in the garage, and that I’d noticed they might now fit. I ran to get them. They fit.

“Now a shirt,” Mbot stated. I went looking for a long-sleeved shirt big enough to fit over the bulk. I found a polo shirt and drew it over his head and he stuffed his arms through the sleeves. “There!” I pronounced, feeling claustrophobic just looking at him. I had a vivid flashback to 1973. I was five, heading out on the family boat, and had been stuffed first into an itchy, tight-shouldered fisherman knit sweater and then into a foam jacket known in Southeast Alaska as a “float coat”: unflexible, unsinkable, and cut like a suit designed for Ziggy Stardust.

David Bowie, also in 1973. Sure, this suit might be in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but was it comfortable?(watoday.com.au)

I am convinced that these inventions kept people from drowning because after being made to wear one once, people simply chose to stay home.

“But MOM! I need the button buttoned!” cried Mbot. Of course. One could view a red Spiderchest above the open shirt collar. I buttoned the button.

And then Peter Parker stepped into his doggie rain boots and proceeded to play for over an hour, looking as though he had a pathological case of swelling and stiffness throughout the body.

But he was absolutely content. He was Peter Parker. No one knew he was Spiderman underneath.

It is hard to have secrets when you’re four, and this was a good one. I applauded Mbot’s desire for authenticity. An adult might have just CLAIMED to have on a spidersuit underneath. No one would know. Mbot’s contentment came from knowing he did have on a spidersuit underneath. Better even than the superhero underpants that were underneath that. There’s much to be said for authenticity, and I’m glad he recognizes its value. Although he was a boy wrapped in a costume of a fictitious character’s impossible alterego wrapped in a costume of the fictitious character, he was being real pretend. He’d taken the measure of the fictions involved, and was in control of them.

So if you see a kid on Halloween in sweat pants and a polo shirt, holding a plastic pumpkin bucket, he might not have just forgotten his costume. He might be dressed up as Peter Parker. Wait for him to pass you, then turn and check for a big lump at the small of his back. If there is one, it’s his Spidey mask stuffed into his waistband under hsi shirt That’s how you’ll know for sure. Sometimes you only know the truth looking back.