Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Funny Valentine

OK, I admit it. I forgot it was Valentine’s Day. I thought February 14th was maybe a Wednesday – certainly not a Monday.

So when H woke up and Big A rolled over and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I smiled and blurted out, “Oh no!”

While H shouted his alphabet and numbers back to his favorite Sesame Street characters on TV, I scrambled to find something special to make for the lovely holiday.

After clicking through two of my favorite sites – Food52 and DesignMom – I had come up with an easy craft and a dinner menu, neither of which would require a trip to the mall.

H and I hurried through the morning: swim class, trip to the supermarket, lunch, and an early afternoon nap.

While H dreamed, I whipped up some lemon sponge cakes. By 3pm, H was up and I was rubbing a chicken down with some melted butter and had hacked up some sweet potatoes to roast. The broccoli rabe was in the steamer, ready to be jazzed up with some garlic, raisins and toasted pine nuts.

While singing “Baa, baa, black sheep” and “Twinkle, twinkle” with H, I clipped some red felt into hearts and colored in some eyes with a black Sharpie. With some teal, orange and hot pink thread, I wove the shapes together and stuffed them with cotton balls.

At 4pm, the doorbell rang as I shoved the chicken into the over. I scurried down the stairs. A lovely woman handed me a vase-full of roses and hydrangea, wishing me a nice Valentine’s Day. How has the man who hates holidays remembered to send me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers and I – the one who excitedly looks forward to any occasion to celebrate – forgot?

By 5pm, everything was in place for a nice evening for the three of us. Chicken roasting: check! Potatoes in the oven: check! Adorable heart-shaped pillows for dinner place settings: check!

And then, splat! Things turned precipitously downward.

Big A came home early, while I was tossing some shrimp onto a plate. Then, as I was trying to plop out some cocktail sauce, H ran straight into me, yelling, “I run fast, mama!” and the sauce splattered all over the floor. Welcome home, darling!

In my haste, I forgot about the chicken and it was now overcooked. The potatoes were burned on one side, since I didn’t remember to toss them once they were cooking. The rabe was bitter despite the sweet raisins and crunchy pinenuts.

As Big A and I ate our less-than-special dinner, H took a few bites and refused to eat any more, opting to gulp down water out of his big-boy cup and throwing his heart-shaped pillow on the floor.

And then came the burp. It was a big one. It was the kind of burp you expect from a seasoned old man, saddled up to the neighborhood bar. It was a juicy one.

Our heads spun toward H, just in time to catch the torrent of water and some dinner bits blow out of his little mouth.

“No problem!” H smiled. The burp and barf didn’t even phase him. I cleaned him up, let him have some special lemon sponge cake dessert and released him to run some more before bed.

Big A kept eating. I could not.

That’s when H came back into the kitchen, carrying the cordless phone, aimlessly pressing every button. When I leaned down to ask for the phone, he promptly bonked me on the forehead.

“Boink!” H exclaimed. I guess Cupid decided to substitute his arrow for a phone tonight.

The sink was full of dishes, my baby smelled of vomit, and I now had a growing welt on my forehead.

I got H ready for bed and tucked him in. I love you, sweet boy.

When I emerged from H’s room, Big A just looked at me and smiled, “I know you think this was a disaster. It’s really not bad. I like my potatoes a little brown around the edges. The chicken is good and so is the rabe. It’s tough to get a meal like this on the table by 6pm with the little guy running around. This is very nice. Thanks.”

His kind words overshadowed the red, yellow and pink roses.

“I guess now’s the perfect time to tell you,” I couldn’t help but laugh. “H plugged the toilet while I was making dinner. Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tripping over Inspiration

Oh, I've been silent for far too long. I apologize. The hustle and bustle of the end of my school semester rode into Christmas, which spilled over into the new year. Now, I am lighting a fire under my ass to get writing again in this space.

I'm taking a new class this semester: magazine writing. My hope is that I will hone my writing skills and be able to start selling some of my pieces to a few nationally recognized magazines.

The first assignment was an interesting one. Our instructor asked us to write our own version of "Why I Write." For inspiration, I read George Orwell's piece, and then, I read Joan Didion's. I sorted through old magazines - The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Elle, old issues of New York Times Sunday Magazine - and flipped though Annie Liebowitz's At Work. Her black and whites always get my creative juices flowing.

But I felt like Diana in A Chorus Line. I felt nothing.

I kept churning the assignment over and over in my head. And finally, on Sunday - the day the assignment was due - I stubbed my big toe, tripping over the journal lying on the floor next to my bed. My source of inspiration had been hiding under my bed all along.
I flashed a smile over my shoulder at my parents before I tossed my over-stuffed, black L.L. Bean backpack onto the airport security belt. It was then that I saw my mother’s panicked face, as she started running toward me, rummaging through her black purse.

“Wait!” she yelled, running alongside at least a dozen confused-looking travelers in the security line.

As she stretched across a nylon barrier, my mother held out a pocket-sized, maroon notebook and I reach out to grab the notebook’s spiral end.

“Write everything,” she said, still gripping the paper side of the notebook. “So you don’t forget anything.”

She let the notebook go and grabbed my shoulders. Yanking me toward her, she delivered another lip-glossed kiss on my cheek before bounding back up the ramp toward my waiting father.

I shoved the notebook into the front pocket of my backpack, rushing through security so I could catch up with the rest of my high school classmates at the gate. I was bound for Paris, France – my first trip to Europe, my first plane ride without my family.

After shimmying down the 747s’ narrow side aisle, I settled into a window seat and watched the hard-sided baggage being loaded into the underbelly of the plane. As my stomach churned in excitement, I turned my eyes downward to the crisp, light-blue-lined pages of that maroon notebook and wrote in Catholic-school cursive, “I’m off! My dream of going to Paris is finally coming true.”

Today, I giggle and shake my head at how innocuous that first journal entry in April 1993 is – nothing profound, just the exclamation of an almost 17-year old girl about fulfill one of a growing list of dreams. But it was my first travel journal, and the beginning of my habit of recording all of my important – and not so important – life events. I started writing because I didn’t want to forget.

Next to my bed, I now have a stack of black, leather-bound notebooks. The previously blank white pages are bursting with words, sketches, ticket stubs, postcards, prayer cards from funerals of loved ones lost. I keep these journals next to my bed because they are what I would grab if my house was on fire.

Each page chronicles details of a day’s events over the last 18 years: sitting in a dark subway car on a Paris Metro during a bomb scare; getting my first job after college and wondering if I would ever learn enough to get promoted in a job I knew nothing about; asking my future husband on our first date to see an Italian movie during a March blizzard; walking across the Mass. Ave. bridge from Boston to Cambridge in the hours after the World Trade Center towers were decimated by terrorists; encountering a swarm of sharks while diving Belize’s Blue Hole on my honeymoon; the sweat dripping down my shoulder blades on that hot July day when my grandmother passed away; the sinking feeling of failure after another negative pregnancy test as I crested over a year of trying to conceive my first child; the roast beef sandwiches my husband and I ate the day we brought our son home from the hospital.

I write because I don’t want to forget these moments. Because one day, my mind and memory may fail me, like my grandmother’s mind and memory slipped from her tender grasp. But I will have all my notebooks, including the spiral-bound, maroon one my mother handed me as I boarded my first trans-Atlantic flight.