Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fractured Mishearings

Big Bro [after listening to what sounds like a disaster on the computer, involving Rhapsody music service]: Why don't you figure out how to make a playlist, Tyke?

Tyke: What? I'm not hairless!


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I actually went to a mall

. . . reconfigure, regroup, revamp, recall, reflect.

I'm freaking out because today I have nothing to say in writing. Usually the ideas are waiting in a long queue, screaming, "Take me! Use me today!" But today I just feel drained and relaxed and kind of comfy and sad. This is largely because my in-laws and neice (their granddaughter; my husband's sister's daughter) showed up Friday afternoon after a long drive from Upstate NY. Having them here for three and a half days was a decadent diversion that we rarely get. I always feel maudlin the day after they leave. I guess the maudlinity hit me in the blogosphere.

It Immodiumized my chronic blogorrhea.

We had the joy of the men going off to Boston for a huge family reunion of people whom they've never met, and then rejoining us and telling us the stories and showing us a collection of antique photos on CD. This is gratifying; theirs is a very famous name, descended from a controversial historical figure, and it's great that they got to learn more about a background that until now has been somewhat elusive .

While the "big men" were gone, we opted for the safe and vapid. The rest of us got a day of fatty eggy pancakey breakfast out and a completely airheaded day at the mall. I hate malls and never visit them unless I absolutely have to; they give me massive headaches and wear out my feet and I just want to beam myself out as soon as I arrive. But it was refreshing to zone out on stupidity for a few hours. There was some mystical strength in numbers going on. The others diverted me from the commercialistic depression to which I am always prone when I shop alone. A heavily tattooed sales woman kept my mom-in-law busy at MAC for an entire half hour. [Do we get a tattoo with this as a "special-gift-with-your-purchase"?]

Since we were on the second floor overlooking the center, the rest of us were unexpectedly treated to an "American Idol"-type contest apparently hosted by a local radio station. Some of the singers were actually good, but the space's acoustics did not flatter even the best of them. I was impressed by the number of young people who had the guts to go out there and belt out whatever struck their fancy. I can't remember what they are supposed to win, but there were to be twenty finalists notified by phone so as to avoid anger, disappointment, humiliation, and, probably, mall-bashing and looting.

We visited a Swarovski crystal shop. I have only seen the stuff in the display windows and had never gone in before, figuring it might not be my cup of tea. Indeed within two minutes I started feeling nervous, empty and self conscious gazing at gleaming crystal Mickey and Minnie Mice that cost $275 each. And a very large, featureless crystal moose that must have been over $1000, but I didn't bother to look at the price. All I could think about was how many other things than a crystal Mickey or Minnie I'd like to spend $275 on. Also, how could you stop at one, you'd have to get the other one because everyone knows they have to go together. But for $275 (or $550 for the pair), I could do so much better. Getting a haircut and color, comfy shoes or new snow boots, or veneering my ugly teeth, for instance. As soon as I saw the conglomeration of Disney drivel my face went hot and I felt swoony and had to get out of there. Luckily on the way out I saw some artificial topaz earrings and some non-aquamarine earrings and those were kinda pretty and stopped me from throwing up on the way out.

I learned again that a woman must never go to a mall with men or boys unless it is exclusively into the shops they like. I was not allowed to go into any shoe stores without their abandoning me entirely. I cannot stand to get separated from my group anywhere; for example, I hate going to the grocery store with the boys/man when I'm seriously shopping and they take off with my cart and slip off aisles away from me when I am looking at the merchandise. Hello-o, I'm shopping, here! I am the one who needs the cart. I am not going to gather a bunch of large items in my arms and chase you endlessly around. Fortunately I found a comfort shoe store [always the pragmatist, no Manolos or Jimmy Choos on these tootsies] and directly across they found a Discovery store, where they are wont to play for hours. The elder immediately sat in a demonstration massage chair with a remote control, and the younger went toward the back where all the nature games are. I found no comfort shoes, for although there was a "sale" they had only one pair of each item on sale and they were all tiny sizes and they were all over $100 anyway. Oh, well. I'm sure I can find some old-season Uggs online anytime, and it's too hot to think about now.

Also, my mom-in-law is not a destination shopper, but an inveterate browser. Just before apparently being absorbed into the walls of Swarovski, coming back out, and then going back for seconds (why?), my mom-in-law went into L'Occitane for some smell-good-ums or froo-froo water or whatever you call it. My wimpy sniffer went on the fritz after about four minutes, but hers kept going strong. Shortly the rest of us parked ourselves outside the store waiting for her. After she must have snorted every item they had at least six times, she came out with a bottle of "house perfume" (parfum maison is the commercial term, I believe). When we got home, she presented it to me. It was the only thing I liked in the whole store. I might have bought it for myself except that I already knew my family would not allow me to use it in THEIR airspace, so I didn't bother. So now I have a nice bottle to smell all by myself when they have their backs turned, but never to actually spray anywhere except obscure corners where no one will notice.

We went into Borders books and bought the neice manga and the tyke some Darby Conley comic strip books ("Get Fuzzy" series). We somehow eschewed Williams-Sonoma, where my mind goes all soft and jiggly and I want things, and Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn, where I have to touch absolutely everything, especially the fabrics. We bypassed the big department stores, which is good because I tend to have radar for inexcusably expensive Kenneth Cole Reaction shoes. I was feeling fairly smug and accomplished when we got to Victorinox. We liked looking at the watches. I need a new watch badly, but their style is not mine, so despite being descended upon by numerous courteous sales people I escaped into the cool-and-clever kitchen-gadget section, which I always find amusing.

Finally we arrived at one of our only intended destinations: a rock 'n Goth shop full of black garments, leather with spikes, and fingerless gloves called Hot Topic. I had never seen this shop before and was curious, so we had fun in there wondering how expensive the huge black and metal lace-up boots were and trying on gloves and choosing rock T shirts for the young teen boys. The neice has adopted a sort of mild pseudo Goth style, so we figured we'd find something for her. It brought out my inner pirate and that was fun.

How sad that I am so unadventurous and unconnected to and uninterested in things most Americans consider "normal" that a mall trip with family became a freak treat.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


If the past week or so is any indication, the Tyke is still the undisputed king of the bon mot.

Adult family friend: So, Tyke, are you pretty happy with your new shoes?

Tyke: I think I might spontaneously combust! [The shoes carry the Nerf brand, which I'd not seen in shoes before, and they are spongy shoes that he can wear to the beach and into the water. Orange and gray. Trendy. Bet no one else at the Cape will have them.]


Tyke asks Mom: So, Mom, C[middle name] is my butler name, right?

Mom (as usual): Whaaattt!!!??

Tyke: C[middle name] is my butler name, like D[my middle name] is your maiden name, right?

This is the second time the "butler" theme has appeared. Last time it was "butlers" and "butlesses."


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My Big, Fat Green Thumb

Over the years I have at times been famous for my plant-care skills. At one time I had over 50 thriving houseplants, including a couple of large ficus trees (a lyre ficus served as a Christmas tree before I went to graduate school). My Victorian apartment had two huge picture windows in the kitchen in which I hung a rather strange set of plant shelves made of string and wood that somehow stayed up by leaning on dowels and using the plants' own weight to hold the dowels in place. Since my apartment was upstairs and had no air conditioning, I kept the windows (behind the shelves) wide open. One afternoon there was an epic summer thunderstorm and the wind blew the entire contraption to the floor. This happened while I was at work, and I did not have the pleasure of seeing the new, all-dirt-and-pot kitchen "carpeting" until I was well and thoroughly tired after my day.

Not to be undone, I simply screamed loudly once, and got to the sweeping. I had to go to K-Mart to get a bunch of new pots and soil. I replanted everything. I did this with cheer and actually kind of felt better afterward, as though purged and renewed.

I've also had some pretty spectacular vegetable gardens in my time. One was on the outskirts of Chapel Hill on two acres behind the duplex where I lived. Enough room for potatoes, melons, long rows of corn and even peanuts. There were other things, too: several kinds of beans, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, 'maters, zucchini and summer squash, Chinese vegetables, broccoli, peppers, and multiple varieties of lettuce. In Albuquerque, among many other organic things, I had squash coming out my ears and sunflowers seven feet tall with faces the size of dinner plates.

Thus it is a testimony to my decline in older age that I am neither so gung-ho about plants nor so gifted in maintaining their thriving lifestyle. After having children, my attention has frankly been heavily deflected elsewhere and I rarely slow down long enough to remember the pure joy I used to get from nurturing really healthy plants. I really did used to feel ecstatic about them, especially the blue African violets. Also, plants don't talk back or whine or manipulate or hit you.

Don't even ask about my attitude toward outdoors plants these days. The physical situation of living in relentless tangly woods with yards that are 100% shade all times of day has put a damper on any aspirations I have had to grow sunflowers and veggies. I confess to a very strong hankering for homegrown, juicy, sweet tomatoes, squash and pole beans. I have considered razing historic trees to get a little shaft of sunlight spread broadly enough to grow sunflowers and square Japanese watermelons. But growing conditions are rotten here, and I am convinced that between the shade, unmitigatable weeds, relentless poison ivy and ravenous deer, to start a garden here and expect it to live to germination and beyond would be folly. I am also, sometimes, a tad bit negligent. I don't always notice problems until they are well underway.

Let me introduce you to my hall of shame. Such as this:

Heh, heh. Oops. This is a seashell in which I planted the offspring of a spider plant that originally occupied the shell. The mother plant I transplanted, and she's doing fine. But somehow this baby didn't like being in the shell. I cared for it devotedly, but apparently the soil I had was infested with some sort of white fungus, and killed the plant despite my ministrations. Too sad. Not even my mother, a plant hater and self-described "Black Thumb," could kill a spider plant if she tried. They live through everything. My mother-in-law keeps them overwintered for six months WITHOUT EVEN BEING HOME or watering them, and they do just fine.

Then there's the Hinoki, which is typically a charming diminutive relative of junipers and cedars:

You are wondering: "What Hinoki? All I see is a stick." For almost four years I have been trying to save the Hinoki. It started out as a cute little tree--think Bonsai-like-- that grew naturally in a spiral pattern and was about two feet tall. But I knew it was ailing from the beginning. So I pruned it and cut away all the sick parts and washed it and loosened the soil and mulched it. Then, this March, the roofers droped the roof on it and broke eight inches of its top clean off. The rest of it just looked pathetic. It had never responded to my care. So I've decided to dig it out and replace it with something else. But to make it easier to dispose of, I cut off all its branches . . . here's what's currently left, in all its splendid humiliation. Thank goodness no one who knows us actually comes to the front doorstep and sees that.

And another hallmark of shame is the little table in the dining room, which bears what remains of a plant I got eight years ago and initially named the QEP (quite enormous plant). This was was once a magnificent spathyphillum. At one time it took up an entire corner of our little arts and crafts livingroom in Illinois. I bought it at great [that is, highly inflated] price from a well-reputed greenhouse in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. At that time it was huge and thriving, and bore one large spathe flower, which looks kind of like a calla lily. This plant has borne a couple of new little plants, but despite growing vigorous new leaves, has never flowered again IN EIGHT YEARS, and the developed leaves seem to be browning and dying at a faster rate than they are being replaced.

*Weep*. If only you had seen it in its former glory, you'd know how tragic this is.

But not absolutely everything is dead:

The coleus I put in containers this year out of sheer desperation to find something that could survive in the shade are doing quite well. So are the spikes and the vinca, which always deliver.

The hydrangea I cut back last year came back like gangbusters, and its shape is much improved. It blocks the entire living room picture window:

And the deer might actually have missed the buds on one of the daylilies we brought from New York state (but note the weeds are trying):

Best of all, the once gorgeous hydrangea on the edge of the stone porch, which has NEVER bloomed in any of the summers we've lived here, finally blooomed because I figured out how to conquer its powdery mildew problem:

Online it looks like a Nikko Blue, but it is really a lacecap and it is a deep, bright orchid color, much more purple than it looks here. Because I solved the powedery mildew problem, the phlox were happy and bloomed this year, too.

Of course, since they are on the steepest part of a nearly inaccessible hill, they are flanked by weeds just as towering as they are. But it's very exciting to get something to come back after years of failure. I used to hate phlox. We had them in Chicago and I thought they were a common weed. I spent two whole weekends hacking out what seemed to be a LOG of a root system, and the darned thing lived anyway. Then I moved to the land of Noah Webster, whose colonial home is right here a few blocks away. The Webster dooryard is full of towering phlox. When we toured the house we learned that the Websters had been weavers, and phlox was the plant from which we get flax--the raw fibers for linen. Ever since then I have held the phlox in high esteem and am happy to let it occupy one of the only tiny patches of sun we get. It reminds me of Noah and his swell dictionary.