Monthly Archives: January 2014

Kitchen Confidential

I have a confession to make: I never taught my daughter to cook. At all. Of course, in my defense, she doesn’t actually eat, so… Okay, that’s not quite true: she does, occasionally, eat things. But she doesn’t have nearly the appreciation—or, as some would say, obsession—for food that I do. This is the girl who ordered jello for dessert at an ice cream parlor. The girl who once ate one bite of whipped cream from the top of a piece of cheesecake and then declared “I’m done.” The girl who always ended up throwing out most of her Halloween candy because it got old and stale.

Of course, part of the reason she never actually eats is because she discovered the joy of coffee at age twelve, and has since seemed to survive on it like a hummingbird on nectar. All I can say is “thank God for lattes,” because without them I’m sure she would be the first child in Flagstaff to be diagnosed with rickets in a very long time.

But then she went to Ireland for five months, and maybe it was the switch away from coffee to tea, or maybe it was the fact that she was living with the kind of people who actually expected her to eat, but she came back not only eating, but cooking, which, really, should be all kinds of wonderful, but in all honesty, isn’t at all. And that’s because the truth is she came back knowing that there was such a thing as food, and knowing that that food needed to be cooked before it could be eaten, but without knowing any of the skills necessary to put those two things together.

Not that she hasn’t tried.

You know how when your kid is three they have a tea party with their stuffed animals and they hand you a tea cup full of what you hope to God is just muddy water and you lift the cup up to your lips and make drinking noises until they finally look away so you can dump the whole thing in a potted plant and ask for seconds? Yeah, that doesn’t work so well when your kid is seventeen and has just cooked you dinner. And by cooked I mean put in a frying pan and then taken back out almost immediately afterward.

I suppose at this point I should be thankful that Clementine is still mostly a vegetarian, because if that’s all she thinks you need to do to kale to make it edible then I can’t imagine how she would serve me a hamburger. No, actually, I can imagine how: it would probably still be attached to the cow. The living, breathing, mooing cow. Because if kale had a pulse it would have still been beating when she put it in front of me. And no, it was not a kale salad.

Actually, it was not kale anything. It was kale. Slightly warmed, barely chopped, kale. Which I know is all the rage right right now, but seriously? It was like trying to eat a green dish scrubbie, but less pleasant, because at least the scrubbie has been used on plates that once held actual food.

But still: this was my child, and she had made me dinner. Ish. And so I dutifully folded up a piece of kale the size of a dishcloth and shoved it into my mouth, where it promptly unfolded into something the size of a tablecloth. I chewed as vigorously as I could, not because I was enjoying it but because I was afraid that if I stopped the kale would get the upper hand and grow yet again.

Meanwhile, my daughter waited expectantly for my reaction.

And waited.

Something tells me it’s time to start buying more plotted plants.

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My daughter, Clementine, spent this last Christmas and New Year’s traveling Ireland and the U.K. To her great credit she only had one breakdown. This, I think, is pretty much average: everyone has that one moment when they are traveling when everything just falls apart. When despite all of your hotel reservations, All-City Passes, and money pouches that force you to duck inside the bathroom every time you need to get out change for the bus, you still absolutely lose it. Mine was in a cafe in Glasgow, when my request for a latte was met with so much swearing and hostility that I ran outside and had a breakdown on the sidewalk. A girl I remember from college had hers when the giant lollipop she had carried all the way back from Disneyland fell and shattered on the airport floor. And Clementine’s came when she had to push an overladen luggage cart with a wonky wheel through a rainy parking lot in Shannon.

Clementine will kill me when she finds out I am telling this story, just like the aforementioned college friend (her name was Rachel, by the way) would kill me if she ever discovered I was sharing her lollipop story. Because our first instinct is to feel intense embarrassment when these moments happen. I mean, it’s just a cup of coffee, right? It’s just a luggage cart. It’s just a stupid lollipop, for crying out loud. It’s not like getting caught smuggling hash over the Turkish border. It’s not like showing up in Russia without the proper visas, because—ahem!—you thought you didn’t need Visa since you already have a MasterCard (truly one of my favorite travel faux pas stories of all time). It’s not that big of a deal. And it certainly isn’t worth standing on a sidewalk, or in an airport, or in a parking lot crying your eyes out over.

Except for the fact that, actually, it kind of is.

Look, there’s something about travel that just absolutely breaks you. And that’s good. That’s why you do it. Or at least it’s one of the reasons why you do it—although that might not be so obvious when you’re the one stuck with the wonky luggage cart. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

I once read a great piece of advice about creating fictional characters that also applies to real people. “Characters,” it said, “are like geodes. You have to break them to see what they’re made of.” Of course, characters in books are lucky (or, if we were honest, unlucky) enough to have all of their breaking take place during Very Important Events. They break on the way to Mordor, or in the middle of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, or when their boyfriend’s cancer comes back again.

In real life it doesn’t always happen that way. We break in line at the grocery store when someone calls us out on having too many items for the express line. We break when we miss our exit on the freeway. And we break, a lot, when we are trying to do normal things in abnormal places. (Or at least in places that are not normal to us.)

But that’s okay. Because after the breaking comes the good part. The part when you get up, spare a few choice words for rain, luggage carts, and wonky wheels, and keep going. When you walk away from the broken mess that was your (in all likelihood truly disgusting) lollipop. When you decide that, actually, a beer sounds way better than a coffee anyway.

When Clementine was traveling she learned where to find the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, Eamon de Valera’s jail cell in Kilmainham Gaol, and Platform 9 ¾ in Kings Cross Station. But perhaps most importantly, she learned to find her fortitude in an airport parking lot in Shannon.

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A few weeks ago someone asked me how long I had been writing this column.

“A while…” I said, trying to look mysterious and enigmatic. Of course they replied with a blank stare, and who can blame them? After all, Twilight jokes are pretty much passe these days. But the truth is I wasn’t really trying to channel Edward: I honestly didn’t remember. And so when I got home I looked in my files (read: dug through the pile of crap on top of my desk) and got the answer. As of last May I have been writing this column for ten years.

Damn. That would have been a good excuse for a party. Or at least a bottle of fancy liquor. Oh well, I was always crap at anniversaries: whenever someone asks me how old I am I always have to do the math in my head, which ends up making me look like I’m trying to decide exactly how much I’m going to lie. Which is all kinds of ridiculous, because I never have to think about how much I’m going to lie—the answer is always the same: a lot.

Anyway, when I started this column I was writing about what it was like to live with an infant and a kindergartener. I wrote about laundry and temper tantrums. Now, ten years later, I’m writing about living with two teenagers, and I’m writing about… um, yeah, still writing about laundry and temper tantrums. The laundry is no less disgusting, and the temper tantrums are more HBO and less Disney Channel, but other than that things are remarkably similar.

And ten years from now? Well, hopefully I won’t be writing about laundry anymore (because we’ll all be living in the future, and there will be Spandex Jackets For Everyone), and hopefully the temper tantrums won’t have landed anyone in jail, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll still be writing about my children. Because no matter how old they get they’ll still be my children. Which means that they will still frustrate me, and amuse me, and horrify me, and impress me, at least once a week, and all I really need is one good story a week to make a column, you know?

If my mother wrote her own column (which I’m sure she could—all of the Poe women have wicked senses of humor) then I’m sure she would feel the same way; I’m sure that I still do something frustrating enough every week to inspire at least 645 words. And I probably always will. I remember when Clementine was born there was a mother and daughter who lived on our block who were 95 and 75 respectively, and they still bickered. And I’m also sure that if the 95-year-old had been given the space she could have written an awesome column about the trials of having septuagenarian offspring.

The idea that my children will ever be old enough for me not to have something to say about them is kind of like saying that one day they will be old enough not to need my (unasked for) advice, and that’s just ridiculous.

Of course, as my children get older it does get harder to write the really embarrassing stuff about them. For one thing, they can read now, and if they ever bothered to read my column they would catch me doing it. For another, the embarrassing stuff that teenagers do is less along the lines of “Kids Say the Darnedest Things,” and more like “You do know that’s still illegal in Utah, right?” Besides, how can I lecture them about keeping their incriminating photos off of Facebook if I then turn around and put a detailed description of those same incriminating acts on my own website?

At least the hypothetical 95-year-old columnist never had to worry about that. Probably.

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Whisky In The Jar

My husband collects bottle openers—the tackier the better. And so of course my daughter, Clementine, decided to find him a tacky Irish bottle opener when she was in Dublin last week. And since everyone knows that the best place to get truly tacky stuff is tourist shops, that’s where she went. (I assume she just searched until she found the place that most looked like someone had gutted a family of leprechauns inside.)

Having thus located the perfect store, I think she must have taken her time finding the Very Tackiest Bottle Opener in All of Ireland, because she was there long enough to hear “Whisky in the Jar” several times at least. Clementine is not the biggest fan of traditional music, and so it was in sympathy that she asked the poor shop boy on her way out, “So, how many times have you heard this song?”

In the most morose tone she had heard in all her time in Ireland he replied, “It’s on a loop.”

Ouch. That’s worse than the Christmas music mall workers have to endure. I mean, even as long as the Christmas season is, it does end eventually. Ireland, however, never stops being Ireland. I’ll bet if that poor guy walked into a bar in Dublin and someone started playing “Whisky in the Jar” there would be literal bloodshed.

Clementine’s story reminded me of the time I worked at Snowbowl back in the 80s, back when they still had a shuttle bus to haul people up and down the mountain. Some marketing genius had figured out that the drive up and down Snowbowl Road was the perfect opportunity to subject skiers to a long ad touting the glories of Snowbowl (never mind the fact that if they were on the bus they were pretty much already committed to skiing at Snowbowl). Not to be too obnoxious about it, they carefully layered the Snowbowl ads in between “popular” songs like “Money For Nothing” and “Back in the High Life” (remember, it was the 80s.) Altogether, there were about four songs and four ads during the seven mile drive up and then back down the mountain. Nothing too obnoxious, really, considering the fact that the skiers only ever had to hear it twice a day.

But the bus drivers—oh, the poor bus drivers. They had to hear those songs and ads dozens of times each day, five days a week. In the end some of them just gave up and covered up the speakers. Others gouged out the Snowbowl approved compilation and replaced it with their own tapes, one of the best being a twenty minute loop of “Jahhhhh Love…Ja-ah-ah Love.” Of course my favorite was the one who played Jane’s Addiction at top volume at the end of the day while gunning it back to the bus barn. To this day I can’t hear “Been Caught Stealing” without remembering what it feels like to go into a power slide on Snowbowl Road.

The point is, none of us react well to being forced to listen to the same thing over and over. Which is why I don’t understand how the people who are responsible for making those “Kid Bop” CDs haven’t had to be placed in protective custody yet. Or why groups such as “The Wiggles” don’t have to have plastic surgery at the end of their careers.

Maybe, however, karma is more vindictive than we think. Maybe Christmas mall workers subjected their parents to nonstop Teletubbies, and maybe the Snowbowl bus drivers had played “Another Brick in the Wall” over and over again during a seventh grade field trip (oh wait a minute: that was me).

And the Dublin shop boy? I don’t even want to think about what sin would deserve a punishment like that.

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I really thought I had avoided it.

By the time my daughter Clementine started to show any interest in anything even vaguely resembling make-up she was already of the firm opinion that I didn’t know anything about anything, and so my advice on the subject was neither welcome nor solicited. Which was fine with me, because, on this at least, she was right. What I know about make-up could fill a small thimble and still leave plenty of room for the thumb. And so, yeah, I was pretty psyched when Clementine decided that she was going to figure all of that stuff out on her own, and then did. I assumed that meant I was off the hook.

What I didn’t figure on, however, was my son, Clyde.

Don’t get me wrong. Clyde isn’t going through his Billie Jo Armstrong phase or anything. He’s not wearing guyliner. (Although guyliner is actually kind of hot.) He’s not signing up for mani-pedis. (Although I kind of wish he would—boy feet are disgusting.) No, it’s worse than all that. Clyde is a dancer, and, apparently, dancers need to wear make-up when they are on stage. Make-up that I’m expected to know something about.

When he brought home the list of make-up products that he would be required not only to own, but apply before his upcoming performance I was completely lost. Out of the eight items on the list I only recognized two—and I thought they were both the same thing. I mean, mascara and eyeliner are both black, and they both come in tubes, right? They both get stuck in your eye, don’t they? Why would they be two different things? And yet, apparently, they are.

At one point in my life I knew people who understood make-up. I don’t know if I cut them out of my life or they cut me, but in any case it means that these days all of my friends have about as much experience with make-up as I do. Well, actually, probably a little more, since they all at least used to wear it in high school. I didn’t even have that—the first (and only) time I tried to put make-up on I was reminded of my deep-seated fear of clowns, and that was it for me. Not that having friends with lots of make-up experience would help that much, anyway, unless said make-up experience included putting make-up on twelve-year-old boys. (And if that is the case then I want to know why they’ve been keeping all of the really good stories to themselves).

And I know that, in the grand scheme of things, I have gotten off incredibly lucky: I see what the parents of the female dancers have to go through, with not only make-up but hair, and I realize full well that things could be worse. Much worse. As in: time to break down and finally buy a hairbrush, worse.

I suppose that this really isn’t any different from the time Clyde tried to play hockey and I was confronted with a pile of pads taller than he was and told to “get him suited up.” And in fact, at least with make-up I know that it all goes on the face—some of that hockey gear I still wonder which body part it was supposed to protect. Which is why, in the end, I took the same approach to Clyde’s hockey gear as I eventually did with his make-up: I took a long, calming breath, sorted everything into different piles, and then… left.

Some other mother got Clyde dressed for hockey, and I’m sure some other mother will help Clyde with his make-up as well. I know, I’m a coward, but what can I say: it works for me.

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