Thursday, February 26, 2009

OK, This Would Probably Be Better as a Journal Entry...

But what the hell?

One unpleasant thing I have realized about myself is that I circle the thing I love, but I will not dive in. I get very, very close. But then I don't go all the way.

And I don't mean just for a minute, or an hour, or a week, or a month. I mean for years, and maybe even decades.

So one thing I have suffered from for years is a fear of diving into the writing I love the most. Not surprising. A rejection of them is a rejection of my real loves, my passion, myself. It is just a lot more scary.

I became a journalist to make myself write. And it did. And I loved it. But I did it for so long I almost forget along the way what it was that I really, really wanted to write.

That is my mama book. And I am trying. I have been rejected by two agents (not the worst record ever) and I am stalled out. I am thinking. But I can tell I am avoiding it. I tell myself I am reframing. Musing. Pondering. Figuring It Out. But really, I am just not doing anything.

So this Sunday, rather than bringing my novel memoir to my writing group, I will bring the first chapter of my book and read it aloud to my fellow writers. I am scared. I am nervous. I will be opening myself up to so much. But I am daring myself to jump in. To circle no longer. To do the thing it is I want to do.

Hold me to it!

An Ethical Dilemma

For all you budding moral ethicists out there, help!

When we moved in our neighbors to the right were an old Lithuanian dancer from the forties (upper apartment) and his renter, an elderly ballerina and choreographer (lower apartment). They are real old Hollywood. Ed had danced in Mary Poppins as a leaping chimney sweep (the longest dance sequence ever in a movie) and Patricia had dated Bobby Darrin. Now they were just our sweet (mostly) elderly neighbors. Patricia was chatty and had a lot of cats (before the coyotes ate them) and Ed was curmudgeonly and whip smart. He kept a good eye on all the neighbors and their predatory practices and always let us know what was going on.

He was getting older. He had AIDS. He had trouble going up and down the stairs. He started having heart trouble. Once Jonathan saved his life. Patricia called him in a panic and said Ed was on the floor in the bathroom and needed help. Jonathan called 9-1-1 and stayed with him when the paramedics and fire engines crowded onto our street. He was gone for a long time. Then he returned. He never acknowledged that he knew Jonathan again. Jonathan thought he was addled. I thought he was deeply ashamed.

Then he ran into our neighbor's gate and crushed it so she couldn't get out of her house and then he crashed his replacement rental car. We wondered if we should report him to the DMV. He was about to pull a Santa Monica Farmer's Market on us, and we would be responsible.

Every neighbor on every side wanted Ed's house. It had two garages and was a sweet little pad. A guy on the corner tried to buy it and was rebuffed. But that didn't stop him from erecting a fence, and then putting doors into the fence so that when he owned it his mother-in-law could walk through. Ed was in the final years of his life and the real-estate vultures were circling.

But the people who always wanted Ed's house most of all were our uphill neighbors. They have 99 steps to their front door and no garage in a neighborhood with a serious parking shortage. It can drive a man mad. And it has. (That neighbor left for a flat place in Palm Springs)

A couple of years ago a new guy bought the house. We like him. He befriended Ed. He helped him out. When Ed had health troubles he made calls for him and took care of him. He was really really good to him.

Here is where the story starts to get murky.

He helped Ed get better health coverage, find a place to stay. He straightened out his health care. He put in a lot of time. For some reason Ed--who never seemed to trust anyone--trusted him. Before we knew it (how did we know it?) he was Ed's power of attorney. Then Ed was out of the house in a nursing home. No scheduled date of return. Then rumors that he had bought the house. Then our lower neighbor was kicked out. Supposedly the 99 step neighbor with serious real-estate ambitions had told Patricia that Ed could no longer live upstairs, because the steps were too difficult (true) so he was going to move into the lower apartment (really? that has a lot of stairs, too). Acting as Ed's power of attorney, he kicked Patricia, who at this point was suffering from cancer, out of the lower apartment. She has an apartment in Bev Hills. Still. Jonathan confronted him. Did you buy the property? How much? Our 99 step neighbor would not answer. He said he would answer on Dec. 31.

By Jan. 15 there were two new couples installed in the apartments. They seem nice. Our 99 step neighbor said he bought the property. Real estate records show he purchased it for $250,000. You can't buy a garbage can stall in this neighborhood for that. But the idea was the he would take care of Ed for perpetuity. How do I know this? Am I filling this in? I no longer know. I have lost track of what I heard from the man himself, and what I heard from suspicious neighbors.

One thing I love about my husband is that though he seems mild mannered, he is the kind of guy who will stand up and speak out when a bully is around. He is not afraid. People always underestimate him, and I adore him for it. Once in Peru a single passenger on a train was bullying all the people around him. Jonathan stepped right in and stood up to him in Spanish.

So now we have witnessed this strange play next door. One elderly neighbor is installed in a rest home, never to return. Another has been kicked out, under a law that allows you to do that if the owner needs the space. And she got her money--per the housing laws. And our third neighbor, bought the property for what is probably a third to a quarter of the actual price. Yes. Even in this housing market.

So here is the question: are we compelled to act? Have we witnessed something unsavory? or something illegal? Was the whole transaction slimy, distasteful and slightly underhanded? Absolutely. But was it elder abuse?

I don't know.

What do you think?

Respond now, because I do not even know if I will leave this post up.

Bad News for Mommies Who Drink

No more wine? No more margaritas? No more Sophia champagne? How is this mama going to cope?

The Circle of the Hollywood Hills...

When we moved to Whitley Heights there were cats everywhere. Lonely women on both sides of us fed a half dozen cats each, and they were wonderful. Theo would watch them through the windows for hours as they slinked through our garden. Then the coyotes came, and ate the cats. But now that the cats are gone, the birds have come back. And now, when we wake up in the morning, our whole house is filled with birdsong. It sounds like they are in the gutters, the trees, the roof, the balconies. They are all singing.

L.A. in the Spring

When I was living in Tokyo, L.A. was my landing place, my stopping off point, and my spot to revisit the culture and country that I loved, but was feeling more and more distant from. I would land at LAX and my beloved friend Jill would pick me up and whisk me back to her apartment with a list of adventures we were about to have. We hiked nearly every national park in California, and did crazy, impractical and wonderful things. We got lost, walked til our feet were swollen with blisters, skinny dipped in frigid mountain lakes and rivers, talked about our lives, sex, our boyfriends, everything. But before we headed off into the woods for our annual retreat there were always a few glorious days in L.A.. And what I remember is the smell.

I remember standing in the dark behind her apartment building in Santa Monica and inhaling the night-blooming jasmine and the pitosporum, and the other sweet, intoxicating smells of LA in the moonlight. I remember driving around at night near the beach, with the windows rolled down, sticking my head out the window and inhaling the essence of sea and the flowers to hold them in my lungs so maybe I could take some of it back with me to Tokyo, land of cement, subways and a few, tired cherry trees.

It is spring again. People say there are no seasons in LA. But only people who have not lived here can say that. LA has distinct seasons, and if you live here for awhile you start to love them: the tawny dry hills in fall, the rains in winter, the green green hills in spring. And, best of all, the smells.

It is that time again. The ground is moist and the air damp enough to hold the fresh smells. At night in our neighborhood you could get drunk from the smell. In the canyons you can smell the sage. it rubs off on your hiking clothes so you take it home in a cloud of deliciousness and carry it into your living room.

Today, after a wonderful hike in Runyon with two of my favorite women Mitch stopped all of us in the middle of an animated, very important women's conversation, put her hands on our arms under a huge tree with tiny white blossoms and said, "Stop. Just smell."

It is the season. The smelly season in LA. It is LAs invisible secret, known only to those who love her.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is the Original Screenplay Dead?

Every couple of Tuesdays my husband goes out drinking with his strike team from the writer's strike. They drink and talk about the bonds they forged walking on circles on the line. But the truth is, he learned a lot, there. He met mentors, heard career stories, lost weight, and socialized a lot, which most writers crave.

Last night he came home with a revelation. The original screenplay is dead. I wanted to argue, to disagree. But he challenged me, and himself. We thought about the Oscars. The only original screenplay up for the best screenplay award was Wall-E, and it didn't win. Every thing else was based on a short story, a book, or a documentary that was based on a life (the winner: Milk). Same with the nominees for best film. They were all based on something already famous. A short story, a cult novel, a best-selling book.

I know it is because the studios are increasingly risk-averse and need to know, before they commit a dime to anything, that they can back up their decisions with percentages and reasons for success like insurance agents (I swear, this writer got an Oscar nomination in the past, yes, this is a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the greatest writers of all time, o yes, this book sold millions and millions of copies there is a huge fan base out there).

But still, it made me sad. There are so many great stories. And there are so many stories that are great on film. Not in books. Different stories really do suit different mediums.

I love stories. I live for stories. I love newspaper stories, novels, biographies, fairy tales, and yes, even movies based on books I already love. But the death of anything that is creativity in its purest form makes me want to weep.

But then I think: We can still tell stories. We can tell any stories we want, any way we want. They just may not be picked up by the big studios.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Gift of Yoga

For his birthday I gave my husband a private yoga session with my favorite yoga teacher, Tara. I knew it was a slightly coercive gift--maybe not the gift he fantasized about--but rather the gift I fantasized about. But, I reasoned, he is getting more serious, we are over 40 now and health matters, and he did his first back bend the other week. It is time for some instruction!

When I told him what I was getting him he was not happy.
"Really?" he said. "Have you already booked it? Is it too late to cancel?"
But then he caught himself, and said he would try if that was what I really wanted to give him. Pretty game. I did promise him that my teacher is leggy, blonde and hot!

I booked it. As the day drew nearer he asked why I hadn't just booked his yoga teacher--he does privates, too. And maybe I should have. I like him. He teaches Anusara at the Y, too.

Sunday morning came and I got the house ready. I swept and vacuumed the floor and rolled up the carpet. I laid out his thin, old, holey purple yoga mat inherited from my dead friend, put out some ice water, lit a candle, and whisked the boys off to the farmer's market to give him silence and alone-time with his hot yoga guru.

He loved it! And he loved her! His face looked ten years younger when I returned and his shoulders were back. He babbled on excitedly about yoga factoids he had never known. (Did you know you are not supposed to just fall to the ground on your belly when you come down from plank to chataranga--correct sanskit spelling here, i do not know--, he asked incredulously? Did you know you are supposed to hold your body four inches off the ground? Everybody in our class just comes crashing down.)

Today he came to my class at the Y and we did yoga side-by-side, panting in each other's ears, sticking our knees and elbows in each other's faces, and throwing each other off balance in half-moon. But he was great! He did three back bends and held his planks. His form is getting better and better. When he went to see his friend for lunch his friend said, "You look more rested than you have in years!"

He had the yoga glow.

Tax Time

Here is something that emerged in Jonathan's time with his accountant: We made less money last year as a couple than we have ever had in our relationship (don't cry for us, Jonathan just got a great deal...) but we gave away more money last year than we ever have.


Just watched his speech at high volume, so I could hear over screaming children, and what can I say but I LOVE OBAMA! I love that he is doing what he said he would do. I love that he is laying out new goals, and visions, like we will find a cure for cancer, public schools need to offer an education to all that is thorough AND competitive, dropping out of high school is no longer acceptable, students need to finish at least one year of post high-school education. I loved that the Republicans tried to be negative sourpusses but eventually were so shamed by sitting down when Obama spoke about bringing the banks into line, and reducing the deficit, that even they stood up and applauded. I love that we have a smart president again, who speaks to me, and the people out here, not just his peers in Washington. And I love feeling like my country is in the hands of someone who is generally trying to do good in the world. I rejoice. I relax. I feel safer. I love Obama.

Friday, February 20, 2009


When we were invited to help start my son's charter school, THE main founding parents, Marya Francis and Jay Owens, kept going on and on about eco-literacy. The term was so bourgeois, upper-middle-class, urban angsty that I just ignored it in the moment. That was not why I was interested in the school.

But with time I have become deeply moved and committed to the idea. Marya, a quiet, powerful visionary, slaved to make her dream come true. She did not care if anyone else was interested. Through her work and initiative this fall Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation came down to meet the Larchmont Charter Schools. The schools put together a fabulous lunch, prepared by organic chef mama Margarite Mees, and served Alice and her friends a fresh, delicious lunch out on the schoolyard with the children.

Those there had been warned that Alice would be tired, exhausted from a busy trip, and they had about a 15 minute window to get her attention or not. They did it! They broke through and Alice fell in love with the school. The Larchmont Schools have been accepted to be An Edible Schoolyard. The program is designed to teach children to grow food, to prepare food, and to eat better. It is to teach a connection to the land, the earth, local farmers, our community and the food we eat.

Today, Waters has a wonderful piece in the NYT about why schools need to feed kids good food. She argues, with powerful facts and figures, that school lunch should not be a cheap dumping ground for leftover corporate agricultural products and a gigantic junk food distribution system. She argues that we need to dump our current school lunch program and start again from scratch. I agree.

Today I go to the school garden with my boys. A group of devoted mothers have transformed an asphalt patch behind the school into a magical place. There are greens, herbs, flowers, a tiny fountain with stools and scarecrows made of recycled items. It is a tiny zen place in the middle of this urban jungle. It is a lesson in how you can create beauty and green out of nothing. The kids love it.

They water the plants and sniff the leaves. Last time we made salads out of every kind of green we could find. Today we will harvest some herbs and make herb butter. My son has started eating salad--in large part due to this garden. Nature is my place (though gardening is not my strength) and I am deeply moved to see the children watering, harvesting and eating what they have grown. Far more than I would have expected.

I have become an Eco-Literacy convert. I read Waters' biography and watched the old French movies that gave her famous restaurant its name. I surf the web at night trying to learn more, and I have become a fan of Andrew Goldsworthy, the fabulous British artist who creates ephemeral works in nature. I am ready to subscribe to an Eco-Literacy newsletter for kids, and to really get into it.

This is my favorite part. Real Eco-Literacy teachers emphasize that you do not want to teach children about all the harm that has come to the earth. You do not want to teach them about polluted oceans, falling Amazon forests, or other horrible things they cannot do anything about. You simply want to take them out into the woods, the forests, the deserts, the oceans and teach them to love this world. When they see how beautiful it is, when they sense its magic, they will spend their lives trying to protect it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Does This Mean?

Right after Obama was elected he called all the former presidents to Washington to give him advice. A picture of him with every living ex president appeared in every national newspaper (inside!). Jonathan (my political junkie husband) pulled out the picture and showed the boys. "Who are these men?" he asked.

Theo, our brainiac six-year-old who seems to be possessed of uncanny wisdom was silent.

But Benji, our three-year-old, said, "They are presidents."

How did he know?

Then, this week, there was a cartoonish picture of Lincoln and Washington for Presidents' Day. I asked Theo if he knew who the men were. He said no.

But Benji pointed his finger at the man with a curly bob and said, "That is Washington."

Why does he know the faces of these great men?

I don't know. But I wonder what it means.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Check out this remarkable jewelry by my dear friend Alix Mikesell, Wellesley '88. She is a gifted silversmith who apprenticed in Israel and spent many years making Judaica but has found her way to eco-jewelry made of recycled reflectors, swizzle sticks, and laminate counter-tops.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oh To Be Cooked For

For three glorious days my husband cooked for me. Why? I don't know. He is happy. But o how I love that feeling of walking up the stairs on a chilly winter afternoon, smelling something wonderful, and realizing it is coming from my house! On Saturday night there was fresh wild tuna grilled with fennel and a divine marinade, accompanied by white beans, spinach, lemon sauce. YUM! For dessert there was chocolate cake with butter frosting, decorated with a million raspberries--applied by hungry, chocolate-faced boys. Cooking is love. I fell asleep with all my clothes on in Benji's bed and never woke up until morning. Not a single dream.

On Sunday there was grilled steak, fried potatoes, whole wheat bread, and creamed spinach--which does not taste the way it tastes at Musso and Frank's (the only place I have ever had it) in case you were wondering. We had an Australian wine, candelight, and more cake. YUM!

Then Monday night we had a big pot of Brazilian stew, with pearl onions, black beans, carne asada, and assorted spices. We decided it tasted like the inside of a burrito. Tonight I will add the outside of a burrito.

The way to my heart is through my stomach.

I am dreaming of three perfect meals, cooked and cleaned and served to me for three perfect nights.

When someone cooks for me, when they chop and dice and chop and fry and saute and fill the house with fragrances and spices, and invite me in for tastes, but let me lie on the couch and smell while they cook--that is heaven. That makes me feel loved.

What makes you feel loved?

Facebook Spirit

Yesterday it was rainy and cold and a holiday and we had nothing to do but lie around so I took the dive: I joined Facebook. I knew I had the day to waste. So I logged on and there was a list of people waiting to be my friends (how flattering!) headed up by my dear, deceased friend Natalie--my very first friend to join the facebook world, months if not years before anyone else our age. What is the etiquette there? I said I would be friends with her. Then I logged in to set up a picture. She had already set up a picture for my facebook page--it was a picture of the two of us, pre-cropped and ready to use. So I used it. Again, weird. What does that mean that my facebook photo is of a dear friend who is no longer here.

So I started my facebook journey, trolling for friends and making those strange decisions you need to make like: do I really want to be friends with this person? Or am I just getting into this weird numerical competition, trying to make myself feel popular in some concrete way, and boost my numbers, as long as this person I don't know so well will consent to be my friend, because if they don't I will feel really bad about myself.

Then the birthday page came up, with all my friends with February birthdays. Now I love Aquarians, and my February birthday list is really, really long, and it is all people I truly do love. But there, at the top, was a notice. "Natalie Kraft's birthday is tomorrow!" I don't know that I believe in ghosts, or spirits, but I have had sooo many instances where she is literally calling me from beyond the grave. Not in a mean and scary way. Always kind of playful and prodding--just like she was in real life. Just pushing me along where she thought I needed to go.

Happy Birthday Natalie! I am thinking of you. And I feel you. You live on in my heart, and in the pages of Facebook. That is SO you!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Way of the Shaman

I'm back from my weekend retreat learning the way of the shaman. I journeyed to upper and lower worlds and met my power animal Really! More later...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ski or Snowboard???

Today we got up early, dug out our ancient mismatched ski clothes, packed some sandwiches and headed for the mountains to ski. Not Mammoth or Lake Tahoe. Mount Baldy, 52 miles from Los Angeles. We drove through downtown and it started to rain. We drove out the 10 and it started to rain harder. We turned off the 210 and up into the mountain. There wasn't a snowy peak in sight. But the temperature started dropping--45, 44, 42, 39 (we all cheered!) 36. When the car thermometer hit 35 we all cheered and a little orange snowflake appeared on the dashboard. Just then the snow started falling. Big, wet flakes floated down and the boys started screaming for joy. They had never seen falling snow. They were just grinning and laughing. We drove and there was more snow. Then signs told us to put chains on (we had none). We got to Mt. Baldy, a tiny little old-time place, bought our tickets and rode 15 minutes up the lift to the top. It was like a blizzard--the trees were coated in white snow and icicles and bent with the wind. We walked into a hut to rent skis and a nice man said, "Do you have chains?" We said no and he said, well then, don't stay long or you won't get down the mountain. We said maybe noon? He said, "I would leave before that. Last week there was a 25 car pile-up. I did three 360s in my car, then slid a mile down the mountain." Plus, he said, when it is snowing this hard your children will be traumatized and won't want to ski again for years.
So we suited up the boys in boots. We asked Theo if he wanted to ski or snowboard and all the young dudes behind the counter yelled, "Snowboard, snowboard." So we put them both in the moonboots. Theo was goofy foot, just like mama. I took him out, and we never even got on a chairlift. He just hobbled up a little hill. After one time he asked to be strapped in, and on the second time he snowboarded down.
It was like watching him snowboard into adolescence. He took to it completely naturally. He moved like a little snow dude. He got it intuitively.
It was only 20 feet of snow outside the lodge. We had to boogie so we wouldn't get trapped on the mountain. We gulped down our hot chocolate, climbed back on the ski lift and rode back through the cloud down the mountain, hail bouncing off our coats and burning our faces.
As we rode down Theo said to me, "Mama, this is the most amazing day of my life. We saw snow falling, we rode a ski lift and I learned to snowboard. I can't believe it!"
The ski concessionaire completely refunded our tickets because of the snow situation, and told us to come back, which we most definitely will! We made it down the mountain with only a few slips on the hairpin turns and the boys slept all the way home.
Jonathan said when he saw Theo strap himself into the snowboard he knew that his dream of skiiing with him was a lost cause.
"He is just a different generation," he said. " I felt it in that moment. He isn't going to ski. He's a snowboarder."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Can therapists ever really get you to have an insight? Or are they just there, waiting to help you birth uncomfortable emotions, unsettling realizations, ugly memories, when you yourself are ready to take a look?

Is it all just up to us?

The Evil Eye

On Sunday I went early to the park to meet the bouncer guy and set up for the party. I drove down in the mini-the car packed full of strawberries, whipped cream, table cloths, napkins and party favors. I was a one-woman party mobile. It was drizzling and we prayed it would not rain. We had lost track of who we had invited, and in an effort to make sure no one felt excluded, had invited far too many people. We had canceled once and could not cancel again. There were too many people to fit in our house. It was a rainy birthday party, or nothing. At least the picnic tables--two of them--were under a shelter.
I walked in and there was a homeless woman sitting at one of the tables. I told her hello, and that we had reserved the space for a birthday party. It started at 11. She made no sign that she had heard me. She had a walkman in her ears. I got some more stuff, then I walked around and looked her in the eye and told her again. She started yelling at me. She said it was a public park (it was!) She said I was spoiled (I am!). She said to back off. She was not moving. She looked like she was going to attack me.
I am not easily scared. But I felt like she was going to attack me. She kept saying, just back off. You need to back off. She looked right into my eyes. Deep. She hated me. She was not just a crazy ranting homeless person. She was more sane, and more bitter. She had on nice clothes, nice shoes. She was clean. She had everything in a big, big knapsack. Her hair was long, her face unnaturally red, from either too much sun, or too much drinking. She looked hard. So hard. More like the kind of person who might kill you in a bar with a broken bottle than a homeless woman. She told me she would get my license plate number and go after me. It was ridiculous--and impossible, but also frightening.
I had so many conflicting emotions. On one hand, I didn't want to back off. I felt my pride and animal defenses rising. I was not going to let her push me around. On the other hand, it was raining. She had nowhere to go. Everywhere the homeless go in Los Angeles they are just chased to the next spot. When the police sweet Hollywood Boulevard they flee to the parks.
I am spoiled, I thought. It is a public park. And yet, my liberal guilt does not mean I want to be sworn at by a homeless woman, or cursed by her.
Ironically I was in a park with a police headquarters right there. But when I went to check if anyone was there, there was no one. I was on my own.
So I just started setting up. Right next to her.
At 10:55 she started packing up all her stuff. She walked by and I said thank you. She said I was not welcome. Then she threw down a piece of paper on which were scribbled the words: Federal prison Assault Harassment. By then the boys had arrived.
"I hope they take your children away from you," she said.
I felt a chill go down my spine. I felt cursed.
Then she went over to the car and took down the license plate number. After that she went and stood by the bathrooms (out of the rain) and just stared at me. People started arriving and still she stared. Finally she left.
I was shaken.
Jonathan said to feel compassion. He said maybe her children had been taken away. She was crazy. We are spoiled. It Is a public park.
All of this was true.
And yet, I could not shake a horrible feeling. I felt deeply unnerved. Was it because she looked right in my eyes with such hatred? Did I feel unmasked? Like I am so spoiled? That I have become the kind of bossy, entitled citizen who believes she can just kick people aside to have her child's extravagant birthday party?
Do I just want to be liked? To be seen as a good person, even by homeless people?

I don't know the answer.
All I know is that her curse stuck with me like a poison, or a shadow.
I loved the party, but I couldn't get her eyes, and her hatred, out of my head.

I still can't.

Has anything like that ever happened to you?

When Birthday Parties Are Perfect

After watching my son at his sixth birthday party I have decided that 6 is the year of peak birthday party appreciation. His party was cancelled on the original date, because he was sick, and then almost cancelled a week later because it had rained for three days, and drizzled the day of the party, and his party was outdoors in a park.
Both when he was sick, and when it was raining, he was unfazed. He saw no reason to cancel.
For him, it truly was a perfect day. His friends were there. They brought presents. There was a bouncer. He had three servings of strawberry shortcake. He loved his pinata. He loved the three legged race. He was appreciative, enthusiastic, and really really excited. I thought how when he was younger, he didn't quite get the games, and he didn't have the ability to look forward to something and to help plan it. This time he knew what he wanted, where he wanted it, who he wanted to come. But he is not so old that he has gone jaded and cynical. He was thrilled that people came. Thrilled at every present. Thrilled by the bouncer, the games and the fun.
Later I know it will change. But for him, on his sixth birthday, his rainy birthday party in the park with strawberry shortcake, a T-rex pinata, a bouncer and three legged races with his best friends from kindergarten and canyon school was about as close to heaven as it comes.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Two Little Fishies

I love the water, and I am committed to making my boys love water, too. Theo can boogie board like a maniac (and has been able to since 3!) and Benji tries to submerge in the bathtub. Last year I invested in private swimming lessons for Theo because he had plateaued completely in the Y swimming program. For two years he never improved. After that I took a break.
This past week I signed them up again at the Y.
After a six month hiatus I was astounded. I looked up to see Benji leaping off the ledge and paddling half way across the pool underwater to his new swim instructor. And I was on the elliptical and I looked out and saw Theo backstroking ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE DEEP POOL!!! He came stroking back freestyle!
He had never done anything like this in his life. Afterwards I asked him how he had gotten better without swimming for six months. He said sometimes at night he lies in bed and imagines himself swimming. And he said he thinks that is how he got better.
My sweet little Olympian! How did he know about visualization? That what he did is the time-honored practice of great athletes?

So cool.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Divided Self

On Monday my husband got the news: he was picked to write an amazing project for a super cool actor you all know. It is an historical drama about New York City with all the ingredients and characters for a phenomenal movie. It is right up Jonathan's alley. He is a cracker jack researcher, a brilliant man and has an incredible grasp of history. He knows New York as an academic and as a flesh and blood New Yorker who grew up on the East side, moved to New Jersey when the crime got bad. He is the child of a New York baker and the grandchild of a baker and real estate mogul. His family has ridden the wheel of fortune up and down in New York--through feast and famine, booms and busts. His family's story is one lost fortunes, feuds, Oedipal challenges, murky pasts, deaths in uncertain circumstances and strong, powerful, often cruel men. New York City is in him.
This project is the culmination of years of effort. It is a return to what he is truly good at, and the reward for a dogged and clear-eyed pursuit of the kind of work he wants to do here in Hollywood, at a time when everything in this city is uncertain. He never lost faith. He was the dark horse candidate and he got this job because he kicked ass and blew everyone away!
He came home the night he got the project (a huge relief after this year following the strike) so excited he could barely sit down. We drank champagne and he smoked a cigar. We talked it through. We celebrated what he--and WE--have accomplished.
He kept saying that after 20 years he felt like he was back on track. Like when he was at Harvard he was in the right place at exactly the right time and it felt good, pure, and in the flow. He was being true to who he was. He has had a wild and fascinating career--which I will not go into here, and could be a best-selling memoir in and of itself--but since Harvard he has not felt he was on track, he said, going where he was supposed to be going. Not like now.
He just kept marveling. Grinning. He is more excited about this than anything he has done so far. It almost broke my heart to see him so happy. Even I could not have anticipated how much this would mean to him.
I listened proud, relieved, excited--and fascinated. And then, I am embarassed to say, a little jealous.
I am not jealous of his success. I have worked with him on this, supporting him, encouraging him, urging him to be brave and true to his vision, trying to keep him from taking crap projects just to keep the family afloat, as our bank account drew down. To see him alight like this would make anyone smile, especially me, the one who loves him. And I know he will do the best work he has ever done on this. I believe he will win an Emmy.
I was jealous of the feeling that he is at the peak of anything he has ever done. This is the best so far. And it is going to get better. And I will be beside him believing him and helping him.
It was this.
I was jealous of that feeling that all I had done had led up to something bigger than what had come before, bolder than anything I had done yet. I was jealous of that feeling that the world was finally giving recognition that you have done something really cool.
I love my life. I love the privilege of getting to be with my children. I was sick with missing my children when I was working. Just ill some days. And my profession is dying anyway. I am getting to try out incredible things I never had time for. I am getting to experiment, to play, to celebrate, and, for a little while, to nurture, something I never did, and find I really love.
My life, my time with my children, is a blessing. I know absolutely that being with them right now, for this limited time, and supporting my husband in reaching his dream, is what I want right now. I know this is a brief period that will fly by and I want to savor it.
And yet...
Oh, to have that feeling of WOW! I did this! I have never done anything like this! Stretched myself like this! Accomplished this!
My victories, challenges, successes these days are quiet, often visible to no one but me.
Last night at bookclub, over too much wine, and prodding from good friends, I vented my feelings.
One friend was incredulous:
"What do you want, Hilary? Do you wish you were bitter, single, childless, still working at the Times?"
Good question. And it shook me back to reality, to being grateful for what I have. How many astounding blessings I have in this life.
All I am saying, is that for one night, as I watched my husband, aglow with his success, I envied him that feeling of being on a path to somewhere great. Of knowing he was the best he had been so far.

Do you ever feel like this all you mamas out there?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bookstores Make Me Happy

To me, they are glorious places--my cathedral, my shrine, my sacred space. Shelves and shelves filled with books I haven't read. I love the smell of the paper, and the various cover art. I love that people just keep writing and writing and writing. I love that you could pull out ANY book and it would break open some magical world you never thought of. You might hate it, but it is a portal to a different place. Bookstores make me feel the world is full of potential, of compassion, of stories, of hope. Bookstores make me feel that all i want is to get a book in print--to hold a book in my hand that is my creation, my vision, my contribution, on thick white paper, between two glorious covers.

...Just an Observation

I am much more patient when I am with my children all day, then when I am not. When I am with them all day I move at their pace, eat at their intervals, move to their rhythms. When I have a day to myself I move like an adult again--fast, furious, efficient, maybe a little humorless. And when I return to them I am angry that they cannot move fast, eat fast, dress fast. You would expect the opposite to be true.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

History of a Cake

When I was six years old my family moved to Naples, Italy. It ended up being one of the happiest times of our lives. Who could resist the Neapolitans, Mt. Vesuvius, the joyful chaos of the ancient city, the stories, the ruins, the Romans, and most of all, the food. Naples changed our family's diet forever. We still live--all five of us, scattered all over the world--largely on pasta, parmesan cheese, garlic, tomatoes, red wine, mozzarella, basil and every other Italian thing we can get our hands on.

One find that changed us forever was Capri cake. This is the Neapolitan version of the flourless chocolate cake, dense, rich, packed with ground almonds, and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. You see them in every bar and pastry window, and they rarely let you down. My mother learned to make them, and we loved them so much that after she cooked them she had to chase us out of the house until dinner time so we wouldn't pick away at them before dessert. Once she locked us all out to protect the cake and our three-legged springer spaniel somehow found a way to leap up onto the counter top. When we came back into the house for dinner the cake plate was empty, with nothing but a few crumbs remaining. Grendel lay in the corner groaning. Chocolate is very very bad for dogs, and this was a lot of chocolate.

For his wedding, my brother wrote to my mother and asked for her Capri cake recipe so he could send it to a local baker. On this continent I was doing my own search for the perfect Capri cake recipe. I finally found it in Naples At Table, a fabulous ode to Neopolitan cooking. I can read the introduction to that cookbook and salivate and cry for nostalgia. I had found my recipe. For my fortieth birthday I made two immense Capri cakes to serve all my friends. And for my brother's 40th birthday over the holidays, I cooked him a Capri cake. He is a gourmande with finicky tastes and demands for the highest quality ingredients. But he was happy.

Since then Theo has been asking for Capri cake. Mommy, for my birthday cake I want the cake that Ian had, he keeps saying. I tried to bribe and distract him with promises of chocolate frosting, lemon icing, butter icing, something more sugary and childlike. But he stood firm. No, Mommy, I want the cake Ian had.

And so the love of Capri cake is passed to the next generation. I can't say I'm not happy. Someday I hope I can give Theo Capri cake on Capri, but for today, I will go downstairs, grind up a pound of almonds and a half pound of bittersweet chocolate and make a flourless chocolate cake to spoil my boy, and celebrate the birthday of a dear friend.

Long live the cake!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

And the Final Choice Is...

No. No one from the paper menagerie...

Nope. No princess, fairy or mermaid.

It's a four-foot high T-Rex, which is currently living in Theo's bedroom.

Pinata Alley

One of my favorite things about Los Angeles is that you could parachute down into some random block of this endless desert expanse and feel like you are in a different country. One of those blocks is at Central and Olympic downtown--ground zero for the world's most fantastic pinatas, north of the border. For an hour you can feel like you are in Mexico. There are thousands of pinatas in a half dozen stores. There are tiny domestic pinatas, fit for a small apartment, and HUGE five foot high pinatas to hang from towering oaks in park. They are disney characters, beer bottles, stars, giraffes, lions and burros. If you go in the morning, truck after truck rolls up and starts unloading MORE pinatas. From where? I don't know. But they pour out of pick up trucks and little delivery trucks, handed into owners and lifted up to hang outside, or inside on the rafters, where you can look up for 40 feet into a sea of pink, orange, blue and yellow streamers and pinatas.

Even if you don't have a birthday party, a quincineara, a wedding, a graduation party or a birth to celebrate, it will lift your spirits just to walk among the colorful pinatas. I swear to you!

And maybe you will realize you need to have a party just to get a pinata. Or you could just decorate your house with a huge, joyful, brightly colored piece of folk art.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Party Is Off!!!!!

We had to cancel Theo's birthday party because he got sick. He vomited all night and woke up smiling, begging to have the party. I asked him to do ten jumping jacks as a test. He did them then crawled into bed with me so sad and said snuggle me and cancel the party. I'm tired. So we did. Same time, same place, next week.