Friendships

I think, sometimes, that I’m not very good at friendship. Part of this is circumstantial. We moved often enough as I was growing up (preschool, 4th grade, 9th grade) that childhood friendships just didn’t stick. I remember that before that last move, I’d just settled into a group of girls I loved. I have this group shot of us  (that I can’t find right now) and I remember that I was so, so happy being with them. That day we danced around the pool singing along to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” and I totally felt the love. And it was really real, just like the song said. Shortly after that, we moved away. I don’t keep in touch with any of those girls. I can’t even remember all of their names.

I think falling in love so young wasn’t great for making and keeping girlfriends, either. Cute W was my friend for a year and a half before there was any kissing involved, but once there was, it was all over. I don’t think that having a romantic relationship has to destroy your friend prospects, but I do think it makes it tough when most of your friends are still single. In college, Cute W and I knew that if the two of us were alone at a dining hall table, no one would ever join us. We’d have to move over and jump in with our friends who’d discreetly avoided our Beautiful Couple Meal Time. Later, working in an office, friends assumed I’d rather go home to snuggle on the couch instead of out for drinks with a side of flirting. I used to visit family near an old high school friend once in a while, and I’d call to see if she wanted to meet up until I sensed that my spontaneous invitations were irritating her.  I think she attributed my lack of planning to a belief that she didn’t have anything better to do, without  a husband (and then a baby) like me. But really, I’ve just never been a huge planner. When she seemed downright angry at an invitation, I said to myself, “Well, I’m clearly bugging her, so I’ll let her call me next time.” And we haven’t spoken since.

Working from home is wonderful and flexible, but it can be pretty lonely, too.

And, of course, my lack of planning, my aversion to the phone, the fact that I am constitutionally incapable of doing things like posting Facebook pictures of adult-me with a pack of women and ardent, emoji-filled captions. . . well, that doesn’t help, either.

This topic has been knocking around in my head so long that I had to do a post about it, but I’ve been reluctant, too, because I know: it sounds pretty pathetic. Part of the problem is that I’ve been re-mourning my neighbor, Mary, now that her husband has moved away. Having him next door helped keep her present. If he were here right now, we’d be talking about how much she loved to smell our white lilac tree at night. I can tell you all, too, I suppose, but you can’t smile back fondly at the downright rapture that evening scent inspired in her.

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Ugh, now I’m getting maudlin. Truly, I’m not as tragic as this sounds. I have excellent friends. Cute W really is my best friend, and my cup runneth over with sisters, too. You don’t have to feel Morally Obligated to comment your Undying Girlfriend Love to me.

In fact, I’ve been “working the problem,” as Cute W would say, by trying to connect with people in a more intentional way.

To that end, last weekend I went on a road trip to meet a girlfriend from high school I’d seen only once in the last 25 years.

For most of high school, she was my best friend. We wrote crazy, marathon notes and recorded mix tapes for each other. She brought me along to do musicals at the school where her mom was a teacher and girls were scarce enough that we could nab parts. I’d sleep over at her house, where we’d scrawl graffiti on the walls of her unfinished basement.  We’d polish off leftover Chinese take-out from greasy cartons and swipe a bottle of Asti Spumante from a case her parents had stored away and forgotten, pouring it into jelly jars full of ice to drink it as we lazed on the cast-off furniture.

Then, senior year, she started melting into a brittle bobble-headed doll. I remember the school nurse asking me if things were okay and I covered for her, because the nurse had never bothered to talk to me before. But it only got worse. We friends monitored, observed, questioned, and conferred. We set shards of evidence next to each other and built a picture that was too scary for us to handle.  So we decided to talk to her parents. Our delegation was an uneasy alliance between me and a frenemy, my rival in all sorts of affections, the girl who’d taught my friend how to purge in the first place. She provided eyewitness accounts of behavior that only troubled her because it had moved beyond recreational use, while I provided the prim, stifled panic.

If this were an after school special, talking to Responsible Adults would result in swift action, effective treatment, friend reconciliation, and hugs all around.

I wish.

Instead, my constant harping against self-destruction earned me a cold shoulder, and so we were out of touch through her decades of struggle with one thing, then another. It was good to see her finally healthy and well. It was good to talk with an old girlfriend.

But it also brought back old pain. All these years later, I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. My extreme honesty was clearly a tactical error, but I just didn’t have the wisdom to know that you can’t save somebody without their help. Losing her friendship crushed me, and yet I can’t be angry, because running from me hurt her so much more than it ever hurt me.

And all of this is happening as I see my daughters’ friendships shifting and changing, so it makes me re-consider everything in terms of how I’d advise them. Things like maintaining your own integrity even if it means losing a friend, considering that even the best relationships can have unintended consequences, and valuing and loving your people the best you can right this minute without thinking too much about forever or even tomorrow. I have all this friend wisdom that I’ve been acquiring for decades, ready to share with them. Except that they probably won’t really believe any of it until they’re my age.

 

 

 

 

 

Current Pastimes

Can you believe this streak of weather?

Weather ForecastGlorious! I took that picture from weather.com days ago, but once again I’ve been shuffling a blog post to the bottom of the To Do list. It’s amazing how often an afternoon that sounds like it’s going to easy gets overtaken by homework drama, household incidents, or various other curve balls. For example, I just finished an activity that leaped out of nowhere onto the agenda:

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That’s right: I’ve spent the last hour buying and then writing inspirational messages on bananas. J and M have their Girls on the Run practice 5K after school today, and no one had claimed these refreshments as of this morning. But they’re cute, right?

We’ve also all been spending a lot of time outside playing 2-Square or 4-Square. Only Cute W calls 4-Square “Daddy’s Home Square” because he’s a massive trash-talker. I vaguely remember playing 2-Square and 4-Square when I was a kid, but I can’t remember it being so complicated! Now, before someone starts, they might call “Bus Stop. . . Popcorn. . . Double Touch!” and I’m saying “What. . . ?” while the ball bounces between my legs. But whatever: it’s good clean family fun.

When she’s not outside, one of M’s favorite hobbies these days is painting with nail polish. It’s funny, actually, because I remember that at Christmas she was interested in all sorts of rainbow colors of nail polish, and I was baffled. Because she never paints her nails. And of course, they were colors that I’d never choose, but I chalked that up to her being 12 and me being much older than that.

Turns out, she has no interest in painting her nails. But her alarm clock is another story.

 

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She also likes re-vamping Altoid tins–cute!

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In fact, now I try to keep my mints hidden. Not only do the kids like to eat them, but they’ll gorge on them to get more raw materials for crafting. Maybe I should start getting them to paint bananas instead?

Getting Better

Okay, it’s improved. Look at that sky!

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And better than that, the leaves are coming back to the trees. It’s about time. Today I put a few flowers in our front planter and in the hanging pot in the screened porch. This is partly because it was a beautiful day for outdoor chores and partly because Cute W has been fretting that our house is an eyesore that will prevent people from buying our next door neighbor’s house. He’s impatient for flowers. So rather than waiting for the perennials, I bought some annuals to spruce us up. I always end up doing this before Niska-Day, anyway, because we’re on the parade route and we get an annual letter which politely reminds us not to embarrass ourselves or our community. Not in those words, but that’s the jist. But I was also trying to make Cute W feel better about the house.

Actually, come to think of it, everyone’s down on the house lately. That’s partly because the girls have been watching House Hunters. In fact, we were talking about it, and one of the girls said, “I like that show, but it kind of makes me feel like we live in a dump.” I laughed and agreed, and I said that that was why I sometimes avoided shows like that. Then I pointed out that if they were watching people shop for small, crappy houses, it would be not as fun and possibly depressing. “It’s just like how, when you watch tv shows, everyone’s weirdly and unbelievably attractive–have you noticed that? It’s considered more entertaining.” They agreed that this is probably true, but they’re still watching. I’m fortunate: I tend to not notice all of the glaring deficiencies that Cute W sees, and when I’m feeling annoyed that, say, my kitchen cabinets are ugly and don’t close all the way, I can just look at pictures of our old bathroom and suddenly I’m filled with gratitude for what we do have. But poor Cute W has a long list of things of more substantial fixes and improvements that the house requires, and I am not competent to do most of them. But I can put in flowers! And I’m sure I could do other things, but then I wouldn’t be doing them exactly right and I would just make Cute W crazy and he’d have to do it over again, like how I rearrange the table after he sets it. Better to stick to flowers. So now we’ve got some in the front to go along with our smattering of daffodils and hyacinths

I’m also super-excited that it looks like it’s finally warm enough to put some of my house plants outside. This is always a gala event for me, because our house is small and I’m not good at pruning back the plants. So it feels like they take up way too much space inside. When spring comes, I think we’re all happier. The plants get a nice little hose-down and some unfiltered sunlight, and the rest of us get some breathing room.

J’s finally turned in that dang school project. It seemed particularly cruel that the kids had the pile of homework this week, when the weather was so awesome. In our school, the reputation is the 4th grade is challenging, culminating in this project, and then 5th grade’s a breeze. So I’m hoping that J can go into coast mode. I was also thinking that, just like winter’s extreme weather can mean that kids are treated to a snow day, it would be great if spring offered a reprieve, too. I’d love it if teachers would cancel homework on extremely warm and beautiful days.

 

Not My Favorite Week Ever

It’s been a gloomy week. The weather has not been helpful. It is almost May and I would like some balmy weather. The cold is bringing me down. And yet there’s enough blossoming now that I seem to be suffering from seasonal allergies. Most mornings for the past week, I’ve woken up with a pounding headache and a phlegm-inspired sore throat, and then I wouldn’t feel good enough to go to my SJCC class, and then I wouldn’t feel great because I hadn’t exercised, and then it became a vicious cycle, pretty much, for the whole week.

I don’t even remember getting allergies when I was younger, so part of me wonders if it’s another fabulous aspect of the aging process. Plus, I’m pretty sure that I’d be doing better if I were eating a more Plan-ish diet, but I’ve pretty much fallen off the Plan wagon. Which really means that I eat Plan foods about three-quarters of the time, but that’s not enough, dammit. The Plan really demands the kind of constant vigilance with which I’m not motivated enough to comply. My arthritis is still better than it used to be, but the exciting side-effect weight loss has pretty much reversed itself. So that is. . . not awesome. And yet not so terrible that I can bring myself to say, “No thanks, I’ll just wait to go home and re-heat some vegetable soup” when I’m at a Chipotle counter. Sometimes it feels like the universe is conspiring against me. Like, one weird non-Plan-friendly-food-that-seems-like-it-would-be-healthful is turkey. For Easter, I had enough grocery points to get a free ham or a free turkey. Neither of them are Plan-ish, but they were free. I’m pro-free. I should have just donated the damn thing to a soup kitchen. Instead I opted for turkey. My whole family likes turkey, and they particularly like it when I serve Thanksgiving-style dinner. Everyone was happy with dinner, but then no one wanted the leftovers. I have no idea why. I really hate to waste leftovers. It’s a trait I inherited from my father. I’m always the one who’s saying, “No, no, that cheese isn’t bad! Cut off the mold and the rest of it is fine!” or “Ignore the expiration date! If it smells fine, it’s fine! They’re just trying to cover their booties by being overly cautious!” So the damn turkey just sat there, and it was making me crazy. I spent quite a while cutting off convenient slices and separating the yucky stuff for the cat, and I still couldn’t move the merchandise. Then I got the clever idea to make a pot pie, because my kids love chicken pot pie. They seriously got all excited, and then, like an idiot, I said that it was turkey pot pie, and everyone was like: never mind. What’s the problem here? You like turkey. You like pot pie. You should like turkey pot pie. No dice. Cute W is avoiding gluten to try to sleuth out his own stomach issues, I don’t think J even tried it, and M grudgingly had some when she couldn’t think of anything better to eat. This damn thing has been sitting in my fridge all week, and today I gave up and had some for lunch, making any other good choices today entirely worthless.

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Meanwhile, another sign of aging? I got my first prescription for bifocals! Whoop, whoop! Strangely, I was pretty pleased about this. I feel like I’ve been squinting at labels for a while now, and so confirmation that I could use a bit of help was validating, somehow. Plus we had a bunch of use-it-or-lose-it money to spend, so I splurged on multi-focus Transitions glasses and burned through the budget. I haven’t gotten the glasses yet, but I hope I like them.

With the kids, this whole week has been rough because J is struggling with a school project. It’s the same problem as usual: when she has a project designed to be creative and fun, she spends about 85% of her time wringing her hands about how it might not fulfill her perfect vision because she’s unequal to the task, 5% of the time actively sobbing, and only 10% of her time working on the project. So I’ve been prompting her constantly to try to stay on task and actually do something instead of fretting about it. I hate nagging. And having to factor in all of the extra fretting time, it is way too much work. It also hits a little too close to home, because just as she is practically my physical clone, we share many personality traits. At some point during the week I had the revelation that, lately, I share pretty much the same approach when it comes to writing. It was what a former professor used to call “an epiphanic moment” for me.  A while back, I stepped back from blogging with the plan that it would allow me to devote time to other, more creative writing, but the truth is, it hasn’t. Before, blogging was a must-do almost every day, so I wrote almost every day, even if sometimes it was just me whining or sharing links. Now writing is at the bottom of an on-going list of things to do, and after cooking, laundry, driving kids places, doing KidsOutAndAbout stuff, nudging kids over homework, cleaning, and running out for last minute birthday presents, I never actually make it to the bottom of the list. So I feel like I made a tactical error, but I’m not sure how to fix it. I’m feeling stuck. Since I made the connection between J’s and my anxiety-prone, perfectionist-induced paralysis, it’s made trying to get her through the project even more unpleasant. Here’s Susan B. Anthony in front of her work-in-progress courthouse to commemorate when she was found guilty of the crime of voting. J’s opinion: “I think the bricks look too modern.”

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On Friday I got Facebummed. This is a word that I just invented, but surely the phenomenon isn’t unique to me? J lasted for about two and a half minutes in Girl Scouts, but pretty much all of her friends are Girl Scouts. On Friday night, my feed was full of smiling girls in lovely dresses with their proud dads for the Father-Daughter Dance. Now, M’s actually attended this annual event, and even when I had a kid attending the dance, mine was the one who insisted she was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and only grudgingly changed in the parking lot when she realized that her mother was right and everyone else likes to dress up once in a while. And I know that it ends up being a clump of men standing around, checking their phones, while the girls are off, not necessarily doing much dancing. And yet, seeing all of them looking so pretty and excited, I felt sad that J was missing it, sad that she’d left Girl Scouts, just plain sad. I know the same thing will happen in another month when everyone starts posting their dance recital photos. Sigh.

Yesterday we said good-bye to our neighbor, Mary‘s husband, Gene. He is not well, and his family decided that he should move in with his son, far away. The swiftness of the transition took us all by surprise, and we almost missed saying goodbye to him at all. It’s awful to see him go, and we’re still not over losing Mary, so Cute W and I are sad.

Today I pretty much lost it on each of my kids. J was making me crazy over her project. I came down this morning and she was busily cutting cardboard and I thought, “Phew! She’s finally getting something done,” and then she proudly showed me that she was making a cat toy mobile. Terrific. Then there was Soccer Laundry Drama which involved jersey armpit-smelling and vehement disagreement about stink levels. I ended up fleeing the house to take a walk, we bought dinner instead of cooking, and I still have less than zero patience. The girls just had one of their perennial disputes about who should turn off the tv, and I am ready to turn off the tv by ripping it from the wall and smacking it onto the floor. But that would be expensive, so I’ll just imagine it and hope that I can maintain my composure until they are asleep.

 

Carrying the Kids

It doesn’t seem possible that I  can keep it up much longer, but I still carry my kids.

Okay, granted, with M it’s a bit of a joke. We pride ourselves on being strong, so it’s a challenge when she says, “Mom, carry me,” and latches her arms around my neck.  I’ll support her back with one arm while she drapes long legs over the other arm, and then I stand there while we see how long I can keep her aloft. Or I’ll play the old trick from when the kids were little and drop my arm from behind her back quickly, so she’ll fall backwards, gasping, and I’ll catch her before her head smacks. I’m pretty impressed with myself that I can still do it. And just like when she was three years old, it still scares her every time.

With J, every once in a while, I still carry her upstairs. This is ridiculous. For the last year, each time I carry her upstairs, I think, “This is almost impossible and potentially dangerous and probably the last time I’ll ever do this.” In fact, it’s been years since I started a schtick where, when someone would ask to be carried upstairs (usually because they were half-asleep on the living room sofa), I’d answer. “I’ll carry you. . . emotionally.” What this entails is me walking alongside the sleepy child, possibly while holding hands or pressing a palm against someone’s back as propulsion. Which is partly just a joke, of course, but I remember being a little kid and having to go up those stairs all by myself, and I hated it. There’s a wide gap between my three older sisters and me, so it felt like I was always getting sent upstairs to sleep when all the fun was just beginning around the kitchen table.  Bedtime meant being exiled, and I’d sneak to the top of the stairs and strain to  follow the too-grown-up-for-me conversation.  It feels like walking upstairs takes a bit of the sting out of that. So that’s what started me on the “I’ll carry you emotionally.”

Carrying kids is tough, but not carrying them is pretty hard, too. Children growing up and away from us is such a literal metaphor. The idea that my children were once contained entirely within me would be unfathomable if I hadn’t lived through it. And then, once babies are born, they’re still attached in the most literal sense, rooting and grasping or nestling themselves into our folds and spaces. That’s the way it should be with a newborn. I remember when M arrived and was put into the NICU, the forced physical separation made her birth feel more like an amputation, leaving me to press against a plastic box, empty arms and swollen breasts tingling like phantom limbs.

As a new parent, I’d see enormous, elderly children climb up onto their parents’ laps and I would inwardly roll my eyes at the weirdness of it. I always thought Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever was creepy. And actually, I still think that lady’s a stalker, coming in while the kid’s asleep as a teenager. But I’ve come around a bit. A few years ago I posted about cuddling with big kids, and while some of that’s been outgrown, most of it hasn’t. I’m thinking, now, that we might never outgrow it.

The truth is, even as a grown-up, sometimes I’m half-asleep on the couch, and I wish that someone would carry me up to bed. Since nobody can, I have to just suck it up.

Destination: Girl Power

At J’s school, they make a big deal about the 4th grade’s “Spotlight on New York” project. Each child researches a different New York-related person, place, or thing, culminating in a big display of their research with papers and tri-fold presentation boards and the occasional sculpture or diorama. When M did it, her topic was Ellis Island, and we’ve still never been to Ellis Island. It is three years later, and I regret that I didn’t make time to go to Ellis Island for her research project, especially after I overheard the school librarian talking about how great it is to go visit whatever topic you’re researching. Talk about a guilt trip.

It feels like only a few years ago, I was much less inclined to take road trips. I hate driving and I have no sense of direction, so I’ve always been reluctant. But in the past year, between far-away soccer tournaments and gymnastics meets and a one-day round trip to Cape Cod, I’ve become much more easily reconciled to the idea of jumping into the car and going somewhere. And I like it. I feel like, as a family, we are way too apt to just slob around if we don’t have a specific plan in mind.

So when J arrived home and announced she’d been assigned one of her top choices, Susan B. Anthony, as her topic, I figured that April break was a great opportunity to take that Girl Power Road Trip that I’d  been thinking I should do for a while. It was particularly well-timed, because I’d just finished Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World, which I really loved. I loved the portrayal of their friendship, including some fun quips and the two of them complaining about women fighting against the right to vote, calling them jackasses. It was a very accessible history, so much so that now J’s reading some of it.

Anyway, on Tuesday we drove out to visit the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, spent the night there in Rochester, and then headed home by way of Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention and the Women’s Right National Historic Park.

I thought that I’d be very clever and get the girls prepared by having them watch Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony
during the drive west. This turned out to be a miscalculation. The girls thought it was too slow-moving, and then when we arrived at our destinations, much of the information was repeated, which detracted from the tours. It was a good try, though.  A better idea was to Yelp it up in search of fun food, and we arrived in Rochester just in time for lunch.

Okay, so what’s the deal with all of the Ethiopian restaurants in Rochester? I don’t know, but we’d never tried Ethiopian food before, so we headed to Zemeta to give it a shot. Following the advice of reviewers, we ordered the vegetarian combination, which was huge. Here’s the platter:

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There’s some green salad, a couple of different kinds of lentils, some potatoes, some green beans, some spinach, and much more, all served with rolls of injera, a squishy-spongy, sour bread. We also tried a chicken dish, and a lovely beef dish that looked like a floral bouquet:

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The forks are deceptive in that first dish, because you’re supposed to eat with your hands, so that was new for us. There were tons of different things to try, and between our three dishes, the girls and I all found things that we liked, and we ate until we were slightly too full. Will Ethiopian supplant our ethnic favorites (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, & Mexican)? Umm. . . no. But we were glad to have tried something new.

Then it was time to head to the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. This is one of those historic houses that you can only walk through with a tour guide, and there are no pictures allowed, so here’s your one-and-only photo:

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I actually forgot all about the blog while we were there, and I just took a bunch of pictures of J for her project. But if you look at this one closely, all three of us are in it: there’s the top of J’s head, then a reflection of me with my camera in the window next to her, and M’s reflection in the next. The tour was pretty good, and the staff were supremely friendly. They had a special packet full of information that they gave to J when they learned that she was working on a school project. It was cool to see historic photographs of Miss Anthony (as they called her during the tour) in her home, knowing that we were standing in the same place.

After the tour, we went just down the street to check out the sculpture of Miss Anthony having tea with Frederick Douglass.

 

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After that, we were craving a little good old-fashioned comfort food after our lunch of Culinary Adventure. We headed to Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream, where the girls had chocolate that they both declared the best chocolate ice cream they’d ever had, and I ate some salted caramel that was almost too salty for me.

Then we headed to the brand-new Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Rochester. This was fun because they’ve only been open for a little more than a week, and I got a tour of it so that I could write up a review for KidsOutAndAbout (and yes, you can read it here).

I loved the elegant Tiffany lighting throughout the hotel. Seriously, if I ever win the lottery, I will find a designer and say, “Bring me light fixtures like the ones from that Hilton Garden Inn!” I couldn’t stop taking photographs of it, which wasn’t particularly relevant for the review, but here are a few:

Pretty, right?

Before our trip, we had made Yelp plans to head to SEA Restaurant for some Vietnamese food, and we weren’t feeling particularly energetic after a museum tour, ice cream, and some hotel pool swimming. . . but we rallied. And I’m glad we did, because it was yumma. I particularly appreciated that there were plenty of vegetables in all of our dishes, so it felt pretty light. . . .

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Which was good, because after my tour of the hotel, I felt morally obligated to try the homemade potato chips because. . . well, because a good reviewer who hears about homemade potato chips must order some. It was, like, a sacred obligation. So we had a late-night snack.

In the morning we headed back east to Seneca Falls and the Women’s Right National Historic Park. Honestly, a visit during the summer would have been better timing, because there are a cluster of different places to visit, and they weren’t all open in April (like Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house). But the National Park Service’s Visitor Center was absolutely worth the trip. There were a tons of exhibits. Because Susan B. Anthony wasn’t at the first women’s rights convention, there wasn’t too much about her, but there was enough to keep J happy. She liked standing at the pulpit, imitating Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

 

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They’ve got a nice space for little kids, too.

 

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And there are a bunch of exhibits on a variety of topics, like women and girls and sports, with stories from long ago as well as more recent history.

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And they do a terrific job of drawing parallels between distant history and issues today, like uncomfortable corsets and current fashion trends.

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Another part I liked was a spot where there were face holes that you could look through and into the mirror, so girls could envision themselves having different jobs, like a construction worker or President of the United States. You can’t be what you can’t see, right? J was inspired, too: she wrote on the chalkboard:

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“I don’t want to be first lady. I want to be PRESIDENT.” Hmmm. . . sounds like some other woman I know.

Before heading back home, we stopped at the statue along the river commemorating the first time Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met, when they were introduced by Amelia Bloom (note the once-scandalous bloomers that they’re wearing–which reminds me, I put all this history to use in a letter to the editor, smacking down a woman who said that girls should stop whining about inequality and just be grateful that no one’s throwing acid in their faces. And then I was annoyed, because the Gazette put out a tremendously irritating editorial about how parents are mindless sheep following the lead of the self-serving, conniving teachers’ union, but someone else is going to have to write to them about that, because I was just in the damn paper. Incidentally, checking those links made me realize that the last few letters critical of the governor regarding education “reform” are ending up online only instead of in the paper–coincidence?).

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The girls were excited to see this in person, because I actually have a photograph of it at my desk. We took some more pictures where it looks like they’re all hanging out together.

And then it was back into the car and home on Wednesday, with just a bit of spare time to tidy up the house for the second half of our spring break, a visit from Grandma and Grandpa!

Easter Weekend

Happy Easter and Happy Passover, everybody!

We went on a quick road trip over Easter weekend.

On Saturday, we headed down to NYC to see the art show that my little brother was in. Man, he’s adorable. I know that he’s a grown man and all, but seeing his art spirals me into time warps, back to when he was a little kid painting at our kitchen table, or a bigger kid who drew so well that everyone thought he was tracing.

My little brother John, who's currently studying painting at Yale's School of Fine Arts

But meanwhile, present-day John is on a completely different artistic intellectual plane, well beyond my understanding. Years ago I visited the Musee Picasso in Paris, and I really loved how it was organized chronologically. You could see Picasso’s evolution, what interested him, what he was working on, and how one phase of work followed from and built upon another. And I remember that, during my visit, I walked through one of the galleries of Picasso’s work while he was in his 20s, and I realized, he’d lost me. Or, I guess, I lost him. He moved on, and I stopped grasping what he was doing. I feel a little bit like that with John. He’ll explain why he used a particular material, or that he used one piece to create the other piece, or that he is using a sculpture to create the sort of images that you’d normally see in paintings or paintings in a way that makes them sculptural, and I can follow it. . . mostly. But to explain with any kind of depth, he needs to reference artists, writers, and whole cultural movements with which I am wholly unfamiliar. He’ll say, “You know . . . ?” and I’ll shake my head, mute, and then it happens a couple more times. He is passionate about important artistic problems that have bypassed my life–let’s face it, most people’s lives–entirely. And yet there’s a brilliant, super-artist segment of the population to whom his work speaks eloquently.

So it is almost comical to walk around looking at his art, because he’s used to critiques where artists challenge each other on every choice that they’ve made, but instead he’s walking around with his big sisters who are saying things like, “I like how that part is swirly” and “this one’s my favorite.” He digests our comments with just as much earnestness and sweat on his brow as if we were making well-founded arguments about his approach that he’ll need to take into consideration to Grow As An Artist, when really it’s all just code for “We love you! We’re so proud of you! Look at how great you’re doing!”

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We had a fabulous Yelp day in New York, starting it off with super-delicious pizza from Isola and finishing with margaritas and Mexican food at Casa Mexicana, where we feasted on guacamole and margaritas, and I had some shrimp.

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We were fortunate to have a little bit of extra time to walk through Columbia University and peek inside the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Now, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but I went to graduate school at Columbia. I didn’t enjoy my time there: I’d say most days ranged from tolerable to abject misery. But the bright spot was being a docent at the cathedral. I love that place. If you’ve never visited, you should. So I was practically skipping around the cathedral, pointing out stone carvings and stories in the stained glass window. I really wish I’d realized that we were going to go in, because I would have looked at my old notes. I only took a couple of photos while we were there, and that when I noticed that the 20th-century niche for the “person of the century” series had been filled in since I’d stopped volunteering there. If you look below, you’ll see (from right) 17th-century Shakespeare, 18th-century Washington, 19th-century Lincoln. I used to ask my tour folks who they thought should go into the blank space. Now it’s filled in, but they clearly couldn’t make up their minds, because it’s a crowd: MLK, Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, and Gandhi. This got me very excited because J’s doing a project on Susan B. Anthony. I went looking for her and found her slouching on a chair, clearly not as jazzed up about the cathedral highlights as I was. Yes, she’d heard about the statue. What? Oh, yeah, she’d grudgingly come with me to see it herself. But she was clearly ready to move on to ice cream.

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We spent Saturday night in a hotel since we had plans to rejoin most of the family at my sister’s house in New Jersey for Easter afternoon. This presented a bit of a logistical problem for the Easter Bunny. Traditionally he hides the Easter baskets somewhere around the house, but there’s not much you can do in a hotel room. Well, that bunny is awesome, because he came up with a clue note treasure hunt that took the kids from their hotel room to an upstairs ice machine to the lobby, an outdoor courtyard, the fitness room, and the lobby again before looping back up to the hotel room where the baskets had presumably been hiding all along. What a great bunny!

 

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The only complication was when the girls were led to a planter by the lobby’s front door, where there just wasn’t a note. This was odd. Our hunt took place at 6 am, and my bet is that it was at least 10 pm when the notes were left. If I know this particular bunny, I’d say that the bunny likely explained what was happening to the attendant at the lobby’s front desk so that they would leave the notes alone, and, for good measure, each note read, “Please do not remove.” So it was peculiar when my children were searching the planter for an extraordinarily long time as Cute W and I made confused hand gestures to each other. Finally, someone at the front desk signaled to me and quietly placed the note on the counter. So, what? They saw it, took it away, but didn’t throw it away? I wonder what harm they thought a small pastel note hidden behind a planter could do to the other guests? In any case, it was fortunate that they hadn’t ripped the note to pieces or anything, because we went with the time-honored “look again” strategy, and just like the tooth fairy’s money, it seemed to appear magically where we could have sworn it wasn’t a few minutes ago.

After the gala basket hunt, Cute W consulted Yelp again and found Montclair Bread Company for some traditional Easter donuts. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you: the donut in the lower-left has a maple frosting garnished with small slabs of bacon. But those weren’t even the most decadent choices: the swirly ones contained enough Nutella to supply your entire days’ worth of saturated fat. Lenten season, be gone!

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The afternoon was beautiful, and the kids were very excited to hang out with their cousins and frolic in one of the coolest backyards ever, complete with a two-story treehouse, a zipline, and more.

Then it was home again and a day of rest before our next road trip, which I’ll tell you about next time.

Treats for Me

In my last post, I was whining about the snow. Due to my general bad attitude, we didn’t tube or ski or do anything active that Saturday. Instead, with an unexpectedly free afternoon and a gift card in-hand, we went to Cafe Tesoros for a family lunch. One of the burdens of being a member of my family is that when we go anywhere fun, they have to wait for me to take review pictures or ask the staff unnecessary questions and such. The most onerous burden of all is holding back and not immediately digging into food because “Mom needs a picture!” first. I understand that it’s irritating. So with no particular obligation to review lunch, I was going to keep the camera tucked away. But then look how cute my Camarones al Ajillo looks, with the plantains standing up at attention! I couldn’t resist.

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The entire family enjoyed the guacamole. M has been a fan for years, from way back when she was little and guacamole looked too scary and squishy to her, but she’d beg for little diced pieces of avocado, which were an entirely different matter.  J is a recent convert to guacamole. She’s surprisingly willing to try new foods these days. A while back, I pointed out that two of her favorite foods in the world (Buffalo Chicken Dip and cheeseball) were things that she either didn’t want to try or things she didn’t like the first time. Now she’s wised up, and if the adults are enthusiastic, she’s all in.

J ordered Colombian Empanadas, M had a quesadilla, Cute W ordered the Cubano, and everyone was happy. I would have cooked the shrimp a little bit less, but this made the rest of my family laugh, because I err on the side of under-cooking and everyone else feels more comfortable if whatever they’re eating is, as they call it, “cooked dead.” The empanadas were particularly the perfect size for J’s lunch, and she also had a yummy mango smoothie. After lunch we split a couple of dessert crepes: you can’t go wrong with crepes. Now I’m looking forward to warmer weather so that Cute W and I can go for Tapas and Wine and walk home.

In other news, I got a new phone! It’s pretty exciting. If you’ve been reading a while, you know that I’m about as much as a Luddite as someone who blogs can be, so my previous phone was my first “smartphone” as opposed to a track phone. Except apparently it just wasn’t very smart. I’m not sure why. I could never really check email or get onto the internet with it, and anytime I tried to add an app, there wouldn’t be enough memory. I’d be on a blogger trip and someone else would take a photograph and Tweet about it and I’d scribble little notes to myself on paper. But the absolute worst part was messaging. First, the phone didn’t support group messaging, so I’d end up with streams of conversation like this:

Mom 1:
I can drive to practice tonight.
Super!
Okay
Alright. X, you fine to drive?

Mom 2:
Great, thanks. I can drive home.
Oh, wait, we have an app’t. . . let me check
Nope we’re not going.

Mom 3:
I can drive if she can’t
Yep, got it.
What time are you picking up?

And then I’d have to piece together the conversation, which was annoying enough, but it would also take me forever, because in order to read the messages, I’d click on “Mom 1″ and my phone would say “loading. . . loading. . . loading” while I’d hold the phone and shake it and think about how my hair is getting greyer and my skin is losing elasticity and I’ve still only traveled to two continents so far. Or I’d wonder if someone had asked me if I could drive, which I could, but first I had to figure out if everyone had already figured it out. Or, I’d answer the group text, but it would only go to the individual person, and then everyone would text each other, “What did Katie say?” because this was quicker than trying to text me.  It had started to feel like I was not a functioning adult.

I still don’t understand why the old phone was so very bad, but the new phone is a vast improvement. It’s an HTC Desire 816, and suddenly I’m capable of checking multiple email accounts on the same phone (you guys! I could totally teach Hillary how to do that!), and I can text with ease (although not with two-handed rapidity of a high school girl, come on), and when I’m waiting in line I can do the sorts of things I should have been doing all along, like re-tweeting KidsOutAndAbout contributing organizations and such. The one funny thing is that this phone is large. It’s like, unmanageably large. I am a small-ish person with short-ish fingers and I almost can’t hold it. M thinks it’s hilarious: she always says, “Oh my gosh, mom, it’s like you’re holding a brick!” But, as someone who only fantasizes about having a phone, she’s a snobby iPhone connoisseur. But, generally speaking, I’m super-excited. It’s like I’ve caught up to at least 2012. And I can use the phone for useless things as well.

For example, I was sitting in traffic the other day, and I took this photograph for you. You might recognize that the station is the one that used to be a pop station, then was briefly an all-Christmas-all-the-time station and now has settled into some sort of old pop station. It plays many songs that were hits when I was an adolescent, and many of them were already bad back in the 80s, but then occasionally you’ll run into an old pop song that you haven’t heard in forever. I’ve heard both Erasure and Yaz on this station, so it gets to keep the Preset status that it lost while it was playing Bing Crosby. But do you see the song title?

 

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Clearly someone very young was doing data entry, because no one who was alive and aware in 1981 would make that mistake! And there’s a certain pride in knowing that I am old enough to know every single lyric from Billy Joel’s Glass Houses (Please! Nobody remembers any other song by Tommy Tutone) and yet young enough to text and Tweet.

Enough Already

Oh dammit you guys. Come on. For the love of humanity. Snow. We woke up to snow, and that was terrible, but now it’s snowing again?!? Seriously, are you freakin’ kidding me?

I am done. Done, done, done. I’ve ranted about this sort of thing before. But I’m not just pissed off about the continued snow. My generally pissiness is tinged with guilt. I have a couple of tubing passes that we never got around to using. It’s almost time to return the girls’ rental skis. So, if I were a better person, a person with more energy, a gal with some vim, we’d be out there, trying to make the most of this last snowfall. And by “last” I mean, for the love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, please let this be the last snowfall.

I just don’t wanna.I’m tired of embracing winter. We actually did a day trip of skiing at Bromley, and it was mostly very fun, except that toward the end, M lost one of her mittens. Which led to general family stress, of course. We checked out the store, but because she’s at that too-big-for-kids, awfully-small-for-grown-ups size, nothing fit too well and it was all too expensive, especially for something that doesn’t fit well. Then she refused to wear Cute W’s or my mittens. J had been going strong, and M’s enthusiasm had gone down the drain, and next thing you know we’d given up and left the girls to nosh on waffles while we grown-ups skied. The season went out with a whimper. And we still haven’t gotten around to buying new mittens, which I should probably do, but our enthusiasm is low. You know I hate to shop, anyway. But then, anytime I feel the slightest bit motivated to do something involving cold weather, I remember that we’re not properly outfitted yet. And then that tiny little smidgen of motivation just fades away entirely.

So, what do I want to do?

I want to walk around outside barefoot. I actually prefer to be barefoot as much as possible. I was never a slipper person, I work out barefoot or  barefoot style with Vibrams, and not having that option in the winter is so irritating. Just for things like running the recycling out or cooking on the grill (which incidentally, I had to stop doing because the grill was snowed in, but whatever), I am a barefoot girl late into the fall and early in the spring. I’ve actually run out barefoot a couple of times already this year. As you might guess, it was pretty freaking cold. But that’s lovely, too, because freezing my bare little piggies brings on these strong sense memories from when I was a kid. From 4th through 9th grade I lived next door to a nature preserve, and one of my springtime rituals was to go rambling in the woods and take off my shoes to do a quick wade in the creek very, very early in the season. The water was just-barely-melted snow and it would always be literally painful in its frigidity, and I was sure that my mom would be appalled if she saw me without shoes, much less ankle-deep in ice water. So there was the sweetness of doing something illicit along with the joy of impending spring to make it a magic little treat each early spring. And now, running out to pull the trash to the curb, it’s like I briefly time travel 30+ years (holy crap) to those sweet spring days.

I want to sit and lean back on the asphalt and feel my palms burn while I watch the girls do a Razor RipStik ballet. (1. Yes, that is a thing that my kids do. They are pretty excellent, and I should probably record them and post it online so that they can be Youtube sensations; and also 2. Why yes, you can buy this thing on Amazon. I swear I’m not going to be irritating about this Amazon thing, but I honestly already would have linked to it, anyway, because people don’t know what a RipStik is, but while I’m at it, what an awesome Easter present–I like it when the Easter Bunny brings things to encourage outdoor activity. But perhaps the Easter Bunny spoils my children and everyone else is making due with jelly beans and sidewalk chalk).

I want to wear a t-shirt to a soccer game.  Last weekend, I kid you not, I was wearing ski pants, my heavy coat, mittens, and a balaclava to watch M’s soccer game. The referees were in shorts–apparently, there are no provisions for long pants in regulation referee uniform. Today’s soccer game was called off because of the increasingly unplayable field.  I’m daydreaming of beautiful soccer game days when J will be happy to come along and just frolic outside. Yes, we’ll have to apply and re-apply sunscreen. Sure, there was that time that I spent an ungodly amount of time checking for and removing ticks from J and her friend. Sssshh, I say to myself. Don’t think of that now. Just think of warm sun on your shoulders.

Incidentally, J just walked upstairs from the basement and said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so snowy! I hate the world!” Apparently she has inherited my bad attitude.

I Like Free Stuff And I Cannot Lie

I recently ran into someone who was a reader from way back, and she told me about the super-cool library pass program. I’d written about it a long time ago, but now’s a good time to acknowledge that not everyone in the Capital District has read and remembered every single morsel of my blog. And this person was right: it’s a great program. We were chatting about visiting museums, which made me recommend membership to her. And then urged me to make sure people don’t miss this stuff. And she’s totally right. I was going to write something new, but then my membership schpiel was so long, I’m just pasting it in. Which means that the numbers might be outdated, but the point (that memberships, especially with reciprocal programs) are a really great deal. I’m throwing it together so that I can have them, handy, and link to them from my Favorites page for easy reference.

Back in the Ssssshhhh. . . Library Secrets! post, I mentioned various extras that libraries provide, and many of them may be outdated at this point. But I double=checked, and many area libraries continue to offer a special program that allows families to visit museums and other cool cultural destinations. Basically, you check out a pass, use it to visit someplace for FREE, then return the pass. Click the links for more information about the pass programs in Schenectady, Albany, or Troy.

As I said in a post about miSci. . .

When it comes to museums, membership is an awesome plan. Okay, bear with me for a minute here. If you purchase a family membership at miSci, it costs $80.  When you’re members, you get free admission to the museum exhibitions as many times as you want for a full year and 4 free passes into the planetarium. For my family (2 adults, an 8-year-old, and a 10-year-old), a single visit to the museum with the planetarium show would cost $52 and a second visit without the show would cost $32, for a total of $84. So if we visit twice, the membership is a good idea, but then members get other discounts (like $20 off that Spark! series & a 10% discount off birthday parties and at the museum shop).

But it rocks even more than that because of the ASTC Passport Program. Many museums and science centers are members of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, which offers a reciprocal program that allows you to get into a bunch of other museums for free. Now, the one teensy bit of bad news is that the other places you visit have to be at least 90 miles away. CMOST ($80 for a basic membership) is also an ASTC member (so is the NY State Museum, but they’re reworking their membership program right now), membership at either miSci or CMOST will get you these fabulous reciprocal benefits when you travel out of town. So, for example, I could pay $80 for a membership at miSci and then travel to Boston and get out of paying admission for the family to the Boston Museum of Science ($82 for our family) and the Boston Children’s Museum ($56 for our family) or  check out Liberty Science Center ($58.50 for our family). If I made those visits, plus those couple of visits to miSci, I would save $200 in museum admissions!!

And now are you ready for your head to explode? Because miSci and a bunch of other New York museums (including the Albany Institute of History & Art, The Hyde Collection, and The National Museum of Dance) are part of another reciprocal program called the Empire State Reciprocal Membership Program. Free admission for everyone! I feel like Oprah giving out cars!