Saturday, September 28, 2013

Battling olfactory offenses

While normally I'm amazed by the ability of my nostrils to unearth memories buried deep within my brain, this week I fear the horrific paths my nose will lead my future self.

The culprit for this reign of odoriferous terror? 

Butter vomit*.

Let me back up.

On Wednesday, I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies because they're delicious and they make my house smell like I'm some sort of domestic goddess rather than the frumpy, debris-covered picture of domestic calamity that I am normally.

I left two sticks of unsalted butter on the counter to soften and went about my business. When cookie-making time came, I was collecting supplies and went to grab my freshly softened sticks, only they were missing. Spirited away by some butter- thieving sprite.

He still feels really bad about it.
It took less than a quarter of a second to figure out the perp -- who never actually left the scene of the crime and ironically had the balls to be staring up at me hopefully, wagging his tail ever so slightly. 

"Snacks, you're an asshole," I told the dog. "I hope that feels good coming out later." 

Luckily I had more butter (although not unsalted). I forged ahead with the cookie making.

In between dough mixing and baking I popped my head in the living room to check on the girls and found them playing amongst themselves. Snacks was also hanging out with them, too, standing calmly on the carpet while Jovie played with her kitchen.

A little too calmly. 

I went further into the living room and found Snacks staring at this (it's about to get real graphic up in here ... and I apologize for that. But you know what they say about a picture being worth a 1,000 hurls ... err ... words). 

That's paper, partially digested dog food and, of course, butter.
Because, you know, when you need to yack up two sticks of wrapped butter and your dinner, the white living room carpet is the best place. 

When I found Snacks, I'm pretty sure he was considering the pluses and minuses of eating the butter vomit. (Positives: It was delicious the first time around, I don't even have to chew and it's still warm! Negatives: It's my own vomit).

Before he could follow through on the inevitable, I sent Snacks out to the sunroom and began butter vomit cleanup -- which involved a lot of paper towels, carpet cleaner and gag reflex control.

Despite not being an especially gifted stain cleaner (sad considering how many I've had address on this very carpet) I was pretty pleased with the results. Other than a faint yellowish tinge, you really couldn't tell a heaping pile of grease and kibble had just occupied that space.

There was just one small, teensy problem. 

My living room smelled like a movie theater. Now, I know that might, at first whiff, sound like a good thing. Who doesn't love the smell of buttered popcorn! But I want you to think about the movie theater smell. Like really think about it. Because yes, it smelled strongly of buttered popcorn (well at least the butter part) but then layered in there was the stench of sticky movie theater floors, and crusty movie theater seats sat on by hundreds of moviegoers and the sourness of movie theater bathrooms. 

Right in my living room. Without the benefit of a movie starring Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon Levitt** or somebody of that level of ... talent. 

It was not pleasant. 

And the situation didn't improve when I decided to cook chicken with creamy mushroom sauce the next night. And it really didn't improve when I decided to fight movie theater/butter vomit with a "Frosty Air" scented candle which smelled like vanilla mint gum. Which on its own might not have been a problem. But when combined with butter vomit and chicken with creamy mushroom sauce smelled just ... awful. It was awful. 

So I blew out the candle and opened windows hoping the whole smellsaster would just blow away.

Some of it did eventually. Today I think I sponged away the last of the stench -- or maybe I've gotten used to it. But I'm seriously worried about the next time I go to the movies (not that that will happen anytime soon ... as I've already established) but I'd like it to at least be an enjoyable experience. 

"Olfaction is an ancient sense, the key by which our earliest forebears learned to approach or slink off. Yet the right aroma can evoke such vivid, whole body sensations that we feel life’s permanent newness, the grounding of now," Natalie Angier wrote in the New York Times. "... Numerous studies have shown that smell memory is long and resilient, and that the earliest odor associations we make often stick."

I'll always associate the smell of Romance by Ralph Lauren with my wedding day, the smell of sawdust and coffee with my dad and the smell of crayons with my adorable lime green VW Beetle. 

And now to that list I get to add movie theaters and the disgusting smell of regurgitated butter. Ahh. sweet bliss.

* I apologize for writing about vomit again

** His adorable mug was all over the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. See: 

And on a totally non-obnoxious-fawning note I got really stoked about the possibilities of hitRECord -- where Levitt is creating this collaborative community of artists. Here's a good explanation for how it works. My sister Sarah and I have this deal that if I write something and submit it, she'll doodle something and submit it. So now I just have to write something. Which shouldn't be a problem at all**. 

*** That was sarcastic.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bemoaning the equinox (but not really)

When I went to a yoga class last week, the instructor talked about how fall was the season for letting go. "Ugh," I groaned to myself (in no small part because of my aching abdominals courtesy of Boat Pose), "she's right. I have to let go." 

Lately, I've been harvesting a lot of resentment toward fall. I'm not sure where it came from -- just that that first day I noticed the sun seemed a little more removed and the air a little crisper, I felt sad.

But how do you let go of summer and embrace fall? 

I've been thinking about my autumnal anxieties since last week. What is it about this fall that leaves me cold?

I think this year's fall getup is
 more elaborate than last year's.
It used to be my favorite season. I loved going back to school and the smell of notebook paper and sharp crayons. I loved the crunch of colorful leaves underfoot and the sweet earthy smell they make. I loved how my parents used to buy giant bags of apples and spend weekends making fresh applesauce -- reddish-brown because they left the skin on -- and how we'd get to eat steaming bowls of it sprinkled with cinnamon. I loved how my mom talked about buying punkins (never pumpkins) for the front stoop. I loved visiting the Chantilly's farmer's market and getting lost in the hay bale maze and sipping apple cider from styrofoam cups. I loved the anticipation of Halloween and stoked fireplaces and warm sweaters. I loved putting an extra blanket on the bed. 

When Brad and I were planning our wedding, I knew I wanted to get married in the fall. It was a season of transition and color and celebration -- perfect for starting our lives together. 

But when the oak leaves started blanketing our backyard a few weeks ago and acorns rained down -- thunk, thunk, thunking our patio roof -- I found myself getting annoyed. Annoyed at the squirrels racing up and down the oak tree to partake in the smorgasbord on the ground. Annoyed at the dog for barking at the squirrels. Annoyed at the half-eaten acorns littering the yard and digging into my bare feet. Annoyed at the chill in the air that meant I had to make sure the girls had sweatshirts on before going outside. Annoyed at the candy corn at the grocery store entrance and the Halloween decorations in the $1 section of Target. 

It was as if summer was being ushered out the back door like an unwelcome guest. 

And I wasn't done with summer, yet. Or, rather, I wasn't ready for fall. But the problem isn't fall. The problem is all that fall baggage -- namely the holidays. And the holiday buildup and the holiday let down. I'd just as soon avoid it altogether. Every year we're sold this version of how things ought to be, and much of the time, they're just not that way and you're exhausted by the effort of trying to make it that way. 

But fall isn't to blame for my holiday hangups. My unrealistic expectations are. And since it's the season of letting go -- perhaps I should start with those. The holidays don't need to be what I'm sold. They can be what I make of them -- and hopefully that's as simple as a good excuse to visit family and to witness those bursts of magic that come with celebrating with children.

The yoga instructor also said that fall is a season of gratitude. I'm still grateful for the memories of falls' past, and as it turns out, there's plenty to love about this year, too.

Like watching Snacks bound through piles of leaves. Or the inspiration the changing light, colors and mood offers for novel writing (the book starts off in late fall). Lily is already talking about visiting the "punkin patch" and as for Jovie, two words: 

Footie Pajamas:

I mean, right?
So happy (almost) equinox world. 

Celebrity cruise update

I watched the video below a couple of days ago -- and it got me thinking about my celebrity cruise. While Louis CK is on a list of people I'd love to meet -- I don't know that he's celebrity cruise material -- if only for the fact that I don't think he'd enjoy it. At all. But I am in awe of him. When you talk about how important vulnerability is in art, this man gets it. He's just this walking open wound of a person. He's painfully honest, cynical and dark but strangely enough still finds beauty (and lots and lots of humor) in life.

Anyway, the cruise roster has grown sense last I mentioned it. Here's who I'd invite: Tina Fey, Terry Gross, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Ritter, Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell. It's an odd little cruise. May Louis and I can just get coffee some time. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Playing Redbox roulette

Occasionally, Brad or I will hit up the RedBox for a little weekend movie night fun.

We don't usually have anything in particular in mind that we know we want to see, so one or the other of us is left to guess which movie would be mutually enjoyable (ie: no movies where everyone has English accents cuz Brad says he doesn't always get what they're saying and also no movies where there's a possibility that anyone will break out in song cuz that makes Brad uncomfortable). We also have to find something that's short enough that neither of us will fall asleep before it's over (so under two hours). 

This methodology of movie selection is further refined by our belief that when nothing else stands out -- we can generally rely on picking one that features one or more of the following people: Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Tina Fey and/or Will Ferrell.

(This strategy means that since we've had children, we've seen very few Oscar-worthy films together -- just "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Moneyball"*. On the other hand, we have seen four of the seven movies Paul Rudd has been in since 2012. If you haven't seen "Wanderlust" yet -- get on that -- if for no other reason then this scene (aside within an aside time: Mom -- don't watch this clip. Also, anyone else who doesn't want to watch Paul Rudd talk about his ... umm ... apparatus).)

Anyway, following our standard movie selection procedures, last night Brad came home with "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" starring Steve Carrell as the Incredible Burt Wonderstone. The movie itself was fine for a pair of overtired parents looking for a couple laughs on a Saturday night (Alack, I suspect it won't be a contender for the 2014 Academy Awards.) 

There was this great moment at the beginning of the movie that made me think about writing.

In the opening a you meet Burt Wonderstone as a kid. He eats some tree bark, gets punched by a bully and comes home on his birthday to an empty house. His mom has to work, but she left a birthday present for him to open by himself, dinner in the fridge and his favorite cake on the counter. Only the cake is a box mix that Burt will have to make. She leaves him instructions for how to make the cake which includes stirring in two eggs -- which he will have to pick up from the grocery store because they're out. The scene ends with him eating the cake, on which he wrote "Happy Birthday to Me" and opening his gift. 

I loved this scene -- not because poor Burt Wonderstone had the crappiest birthday ever -- but because one or more of the movie's six credited writers were faced with the challenge of imagining the crappiest birthday ever and came up with this one where the kid has to make his own cake (but not before running to the store first to get some eggs). Brilliant.

This is kind of how novel-writing has gone for me -- I have flashes of these "crappiest birthday ever" moments that my characters are in and I write them down -- knowing that eventually, I'll have to go back and put them in some sort of sensible order while also sewing them together in a meaningful way. It's not novel-writing so much as word quilting. 

I've never written a novel before -- so I'm not sure if this is good form. But it's actually how I end up writing everything -- from news stories to blog posts to columns. I hardly ever start at the beginning (even though I hear it's the very best place to start). Sometimes I start at the end or in the middle and then go back to the beginning or hang around in the middle then head to the end then back to the beginning -- or maybe it will be beginning end and then middle. 

Hopefully, it works out -- otherwise, I'll just have a file full of random disconnected thoughts featuring imaginary characters. If nothing else I'm pretty sure I have at least one or two scenes that are of "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" caliber. So that's something.

* Thanks to free premium channel weekends on DirectTV, I've also seen "The Descendents" "The Help" and "The King's Speech." In reviewing the list of 2011 Oscar-nominees I was surprised that we'd seen five of the 10 nominees ("Toy Story 3,"** "Black Swan,"*** "The Fighter," "Inception," and "The Social Network") -- until I realized that we saw most of these right before Lily was born when we were trying to stockpile enough moviegoing to tide us over for the next 20 years or so. 

** I remember sobbing while clutching my giant pregnant belly in the theater during the opening of "Toy Story 3" as they fast-forward through Andy's childhood because I realized that my unborn child would one day leave me for college. Hormones might have played a small role in this moment.

*** Watched this one with Brad's parents. If you like long, awkward silences on movie nights, may I suggest watching "Black Swan" with your in-laws. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Floor scrubbing results in novel epiphany

I had a novel epiphany tonight -- one that sent me on a flurry of note-taking and outlining and drawn-out explanations to my patient, but perhaps slightly bewildered husband. 

It all started with this Tweet my friend sent me this morning:

Which lead me to this post which lead me to this post about how an almost homeless J.K. Rowling took a single idea she had while riding on a train and she began to write.

"Didn’t wait. Didn’t say she would do it later. Didn’t say she would do it when she had the time."

Thanks @bcleve19* for offering a much-needed kick in the pants. 

Of course, a kick in the pants is only good if said pants are made of common pants material -- like cotton or denim or some sort of synthetic blend. If, say, those pants are made of iron, or better yet iron covered in foot-maiming spikes, well then that kick will have no effect on the pants wearer (and it would definitely be detrimental to the kicker). 

Apparently, I was wearing my iron** pants today, because I read that post and I thought to myself, "Self, you should probably heed the ways of J.K. Rowling. She seems to know what she's doing." 

And then I got home and with a work-free evening in front of me, and self said, "You know what? Sure, I could write and build some momentum toward completing my novel, which would result in a lot of pride and happiness and sense of achievement for realizing a lifelong dream  ... or ... I could scrub the kitchen floor." 

Naturally I decided to scrub the kitchen floor.

I've sunk to some Marianis-Trench-sized procrastination depths when I choose to scrub the kitchen floor over writing.

But now I really feel like there was a reason I needed to scrub the floor -- and it wasn't just the sticky,furry expanse of funk that was establishing its own ecosystem in the grout. 

While I scrubbed, I listened to an episode of RadioLab about a couple whose baby was born prematurely and the harrowing journey that followed. At about the midway point of my floor scrubbing, I had this thought about a journey one my character could take -- and how that journey could solve one of my major frustrations with writing the novel, which is that I don't think I have a strong enough (OK, or any) central conflict to drive the narrative. But I was really bemoaning the plot point -- like I didn't want to have to take my character through this event and would it be too much art imitating life and cause potential rifts and all the things you worry about when you're writing fiction that's mostly fiction but also secretly nonfiction at times. Apologies for all the vagaries. 

Anyway in the midst of my mental hand-wringing, the dad of the premature baby started talking about how he'd read to his daughter to help bond with her and calm her down. What did he read to her? 

"Harry Potter"

I know I'm creating coincidences and connections where maybe none are to be found, but the moment I heard him say "Harry Potter" I felt like I was being given some sort of blessing from the writing gods/J.K. Rowling/my own neuroses to pursue this plot driver that could very well help solve my writing woes. It was as close to an "aha" moment as I've had on this word-venture and I thought I needed to share it. 

Sometimes magic happens. Even if it takes a lot of scrubbing. 

*If you're looking for someone to follow who consistently posts amusing and/or thoughtful Web ephemera, follow him!

**To be clear, that's iron, not ironed. Because who has time to be wrinkle-free when there's procrastinating to be done?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The glories of unintentional unplugging

I've been on an unintentional phone-cation the last few days, and I have to say, a girl could get used to life without 4G.

Saturday, I drove down to Virginia with the girls to visit my BFF Rebecca* and left my phone in her purse ... because why should everyone have to carry a purse when walking down the street to get some afternoon FroYo? (Especially when they're more than likely also going to have to carry a 23-pound toddler and/or a 29-pound preschooler.) 

And even though I told myself as I was packing up the three (THREE!!) bags I required for one measly daytrip, "Self, don't forget to get your phone out of Becky's purse." Self was all like, "Yeah, sure I'll remember to tell you ... NOT!" You know, like what you used to do in elementary school to amuse and annoy your friends, like, "Sure, I'll do my spelling homework and practice playing 'Hot Cross Buns' on my recorder ... NOT!"**

It's really rather irritating when Self gets cheeky. 

Here's one of the last picture I took on my phone before it went on a holiday.
It's a fly eating a spider. I think.
Although on second look it could be a spider eating a fly.
Either way. It's pretty scary.

Anyway, short story long, I left my phone at Becky's house. She offered to drive it up on Sunday and I told her not to worry about it because that's a lot of driving and she has a broken foot and that just seemed cruel and also, I didn't really need the phone anyway. Brad has two, so I could just borrow one of his in case of emergencies. 

But I think this was all part of Self's master plan to get me to stop spazzing out so much. 

See, the past couple weeks have been a bit ... frenzied. I had a gazillion articles/blog posts/interviews to complete in a short amount of time and as such spent all of the time I was not working on the gazillion articles, blog posts and interviews worrying about how the hell I was going to complete them. I'd take the girls to the park to scale tall playground equipment and play in the mulch, and I'd be worried. Or, I'd  read them "The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream" for the 30th time in a day and I'd be worried. Or, I'd drive down to Virginia to see my BFF Becky and be walking down the street to get some FroYo and I'd be worried. 

You get the point. Anxiety about what needed to be getting done was high. Enjoyment about what was happening in that instant was low.

What does this have to do with the phone? Well the phone with its e-mail and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Text Messages and Camera and Peekaboo Barn is also a bit of a distraction from enjoyment of what is happening now. In fact, it's a huge distraction from it. 

I get updates on assignment deadlines and interview responses that need to be formatted via e-mail. Texts about various family drama. And Facebook updates about how wonderful and awesome and totally fulfilling and perfect everybody else's life is (thanks successful high school classmate who just moved to Key West with her three beautiful children, thus living out the daydreams I've played out in my head when I'm not worrying about the gazillion articles, blog posts and interviews.)

I spend so much time trying to get pictures of the girls in the midst of some adorable behavior or another that I'd miss the actual joy of the moment. 

I had this realization in yoga last week, too. I spent most of the class over-analyzing my poses and so most of the class was not actually very helpful by way of reducing stress and centering myself and letting go and all that. During half pigeon, while I was trying to perfect my hip stretches, it occurred to me that in all the repositioning I was missing It. Because the whole goal is to do the pose and then let your body sink into it deeper and deeper. That's what makes it effective. Not spending the whole time readjusting my leg or twisting my hips or fidgeting my arms. When you spend the whole time fighting gravity you're missing that wonderful (and sometimes painful) sensation that comes with giving in and letting go and being in the present moment.

You know. It.

As usual, I realize I'm not writing anything that hasn't been written before (over and over again). Unplugging and living for the moment are not revolutionary concepts. Maybe the reason they're such popular topics is that people have such a hard time with them -- maybe now more than ever when technology is constantly demanding our attention. 

My phone comes home tomorrow. But maybe I'll just forget it somewhere else. (Although not out of state, cuz that's not convenient for anyone). 

*Quote of the day: "I just want your skeletons, you can keep your corpses." Becky, who's studying forensic anthropology ala Bones on "Bones," said this whilst we were splashing about her condo's pool with the girls. Obviously, she was just referring to the research specimens she requires for her graduate thesis research (No icky tissue samples please!) But I think "You can keep your corpses" would be an awesome name for a death metal band.

**I imagine the "NOT!" jokes made in elementary school, while lame in of themselves, were not nearly as lame as the one I just came up with. Of course, given my uber-lame status in elementary school, I very well could've uttered a lame-upon-lame "NOT!" joke, such as the one mentioned above. If I was even un-lame enough to be uttering "NOT" jokes at all. Which probably wasn't the case.