Sunday, July 30, 2006

Here are the caricatures we had done of the kids in Central Park when we were in NYC a few weeks ago. Apparently Enthusio got the idea to have this done back in May when Reasonable Man took him to Legoland. RM didn't want to pay fifty bucks to have it done at Legoland, but Central Park is rife with artists willing to capture your likeness in Sharpie, so we didn't have a hard time finding someone to make Enthusio's dream come true for a much more reasonable $15.

He knew exactly what he wanted, and instructed the artist thusly: "I want to be like Batman riding a skateboard, only not with wheels -- with rockets." The artist didn't even seem to think this was a weird request -- he just nodded and went to work. At some point he asked Enthusio to make a face like a superhero. Enthusio complied:

Yeah, I've never seen superhero making that face either. Enthusio's picture didn't have that expression. He seemed a little disappointed when it was done -- RM and I think he was maybe embarrassed at the size of his teeth in the picture. We assured him that that was just the way caricatures are drawn, which is true, but between you and me, the teeth are actually not all that exaggerated. I imagine he'll grown into them some day.

While Enthusio was having his picture done, Mermaid decided that she'd like to have one done too. The guy who did Enthusio's had a portrait to do first, but he said he'd be available in about an hour if we could come back. Mermaid surprised us by agreeing that she wanted to wait -- it was pretty humid out and she'd not been enjoying the weather, so I had figured she'd want to head back to Aunt Dana's apartment sooner rather than later, but once Mermaid makes up her mind about something, that's pretty much that. So we took a little walk past the Central Park Zoo and had a snack, then headed back to wait for the artist guy to finish his portrait, and in the meantime, another caricature artist set up his stuff nearby, so we had him do Mermaid's instead.

I may not have mentioned it before, but this past year, Mermaid has decided she doesn't want to smile with her teeth showing. The first reason she gave was that her friend Allyn doesn't smile with her teeth showing, and later on, she told me that when she smiles with her teeth showing in a picture, it makes her "look like a ghost." Yeah, I don't know either. Anyway, no way no how was she going to show her teeth to the caricature artist. No big loss, since as you can see from the finished picture above, he captured her Mona Lisa smile perfectly. He also did a very good job of following her instructions that she wanted to be singing with the Beatles -- I'm not sure how well you can see it in the picture, but it's pretty clear that he's drawn, from left to right, Paul, John and George. (George has enormous ears in the picture. Did George have enormous ears? I have no recollection of that.) Of course, Mermaid did have to point out to me the other night that Paul is holding his guitar the wrong way (right-handed instead of left), but otherwise we all think the artist did a pretty awesome job.

First we went on vacation for nearly three weeks. Within two days of arriving home, I was sick with a nasty cold. So what do you think happened when I was finally getting over that? If you guessed that I pulled a muscle in my back, keeping me away from the gym for even longer, you're absolutely right! So now it's been a solid month since I've been to the gym with any regularity. No wonder I'm feeling so fat.

Of course the book I'm reading right now isn't helping. Fat Land by Greg Critser is a very thorough explanation of "how Americans became the fattest people in the world," and it's not a pretty picture. Contrast the amount of bickering and naval-gazing that goes on just for the powers-that-be to make a decision what they should tell the general population about how much exercise we should all be getting with the free-for-all that goes on with advertising sugar- and fat-drenched foods to kids and the terrible ingredients that make up so much of the food on the market and it's no wonder so many of us are fighting -- and generally losing -- the battle of the bulge.

In other words, my kids picked the wrong week to try to get out of swim practice. I may not be exercising much lately, but they are for damn sure going to if I have anything to do with it.
This house-buying thing has gotten complicated.

First, a caveat. I know there are bigger problems in the world. This town is an expensive place to live, and we've gone from contemplating a major kitchen remodel, which we can afford, to moving to a new house, which we can also afford, while many people around us aren't able to make a move or buy a house in the first place. We live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and none of us would suffer if we had to stay here for a good long while, even if we didn't remodel the kitchen. In other words, I know this doesn't exactly rank in the top 947 great tragedies of the 21st century. Nonetheless, it is currently a dilemma for us, so please bear with me.

From day one of our decision to start looking for a new house, I have maintained that size is not the issue. Our house is small by the standards of some people, but I've always felt like we had more than enough living space here, and one of my biggest beefs with this house is that a lot of the living space we have -- our living room to be specific -- doesn't get used (we don't really need a second sitting room most of the time) or is unusable (the western exposure of our house makes that room too hot to sit in after 1 pm during the summer). The fourth bedroom we added a few years ago suffers from similar problems. And so we spend a great deal of our time in the family room, which is somewhat cramped. In addition, the upstairs of the house is difficult to heat in the winter and even more difficult to keep cool in the summer. Add the fact that the kitchen needs a major overhaul and we don't have nearly enough outside/garage space for bikes and such, and you have more than enough reasons for us to be shopping for another house.

Yesterday I saw a house that I really liked. I sent Reasonable Man over to look at it and he liked it too. The price is right. It has one story and four bedrooms, one of which is at the front of the house and could function as exactly what we would need it for: a place to put the computer, a place where the kids could keep their school stuff and do their homework, and where we could put the futon and have guests stay. It would be an extension of our living space when we didn't have guests and a guest room when we did. The layout of the house is big and open, there is a ton of built-in storage, and the backyard is big enough for us to put in a pool and still have plenty of room for patio furniture and our trampoline. The kitchen would need some work, but it's attractive and it has a pantry. And on the "location, location, location" front, it's basically in the same neighborhood where we live now, where we are very comfortable and where many of our friends live.

So what's the problem? It's smaller than the house we have now, by about 200 square feet. The space it has is everything I think we need when I envision the most efficient house possible for us, but probably not one inch more than that. The family room is not smaller than what we have now, but it's certainly not much bigger. There's no place to put anything bigger than a small dining table, so hosting things like Christmas dinner would be a problem. The family room furniture we have now would fit just fine, but there would never really be any options for moving things around too much.

I've looked at a number of houses since we decided to move, many out of our price range, and although I maintain that size is not that big an issue, the times I've walked into houses with a big, wide-open living space, I've swooned just a bit. The idea of having a family room where you could have one of those great big ginormous sectionals and not have it completely fill the room is awfully appealing. One house in particular stands out in my mind. It's on a busy street, and the backyard is pretty tiny, but when you walk in -- well, the word "cavernous" comes to mind. There is a huge living room, a huge kitchen/family room, and then there's also a huge loft. After Reasonable Man saw it and thought it was pretty cool, I said to him, "but don't you think that's way more space than we need?" He didn't, but I did.

I still think so, but I've definitely come around to the idea that I would like that much space. And therein lies the dilemma, because I can still walk into a house like the one we found yesterday and just feel so sure it could work for us. But five years from now, after doing the work on the kitchen and putting in a pool, will our family of two adults and two teenagers feel crowded, and will we wonder why we bought this house when we could have gone bigger?

This is similar to the the questions I have about my car. I drive a minivan, but I chose the smallest one available, with the best possible gas mileage. Even so, I often wonder: do I really need to drive a minivan? I only have two kids, and we only drive extra people around every once in a while. I could drive a sedan that gets much better gas mileage -- a hybrid even. Then again, it's nice to be able to haul extra kids around when we need to, or drive another family on outings. We have friends who have traded cars with us for an evening or overnight so they could transport more people all in one car than their sedan can hold. Long car trips are more comfortable in our minivan than they used to be in our old Toyota Camry, and storage is never a problem. We can even haul the occasional piece of furniture without any trouble.

In other words, we don't need the extra space every day -- but sometimes we really do need it. Does that occasional need justify the fuel we consume by driving it every day? Similarly -- do the occasional times we feel crowded or want to host a big holiday dinner justify buying a house that's bigger than we need, with the added costs of heating and cooling, not to mention furnishing it? A small house, one that has only the space we need to live on a day-to-day basis and no more, equals smaller energy bills and no reason buy new furniture. That means a smaller ecological footprint we're leaving, and I really do like that idea. It's very Davis. And it's not like we'd be depriving ourselves of nice things, like a pool and a new kitchen. In the end our quality of life still goes up.

Just as long as life with teenagers doesn't feel more crowded than life two grade-school-age kids does, I guess.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I am SO sick, and last night ranks among the most miserable nights of my life. The area around my nostrils is positively rubbed raw, my throat is the sorest it has been in my life, and one of my nostrils is either completely plugged or a veritable faucet at all times. I've gotten way past being glad to be home, being grateful that I didn't get sick until after we got home, or being able to appreciate the merits of our dry Davis heat over the humidity of the east coast we experienced a week ago, because guess what, people? It was 111 freaking degrees here yesterday. Please pray, cross your fingers, get out your worry dolls or do whatever else you like to do to wish our air conditioning unit health in the next couple of days, 'cause I am petrified that thing is going to die and then we will have no choice but to go live at the Holiday Inn Express for a few days.

One of the Few Musical Entries You Are Every Likely to See In This Space

Buuuuut the cat came back (I didn't see her, but Reasonable Man did)
She couldn't stay away
She was sittin' on the porch (under the bushes by the garage, actually)
The very next day (last night)
O the cat came back
She didn't want to roam (anymore, since we're back now and there aren't strangers living in her house anymore and we've been leaving her treats outside the garage)
The very next day (well, last night)
She was home sweet home (actually we haven't seen her since that one sighting, but at least now we know she's not dead and the butt-kissing we'll need to do to get to come back and live in the garage again can commence in earnest)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Mystery of Emma

We were gone on our trip 19 days, during which time some friends stayed at our house, which was actually very nice. Yes, I had to do more cleaning in the days before we left than I would otherwise have done, but when we got back, the house was spotless, and even though I know it's unlikely that our house will burn to the ground, fall down, explode, implode or otherwise suffer major damage when we're away, I still always breathe a little sigh of relief when we come around the corner and see that minty green edifice we call home still standing there, and so on this, our longest trip ever (so far), it was good to know someone who had our cell phone numbers was staying here and it was likely she would call us if any of those imagined disasters were to befall the Green House in our absence.

We returned Monday evening to find everything as it was when we left -- everything, that is except for our garage, which was missing one cranky 14-year-old female cat. Further examination revealed that her litter box had been used at some point, as had the garage floor. Hey, she's old. All specimins, which were NOT examined closely, appeared to have been left a while back, but it's been hot, so, you know, things dry up pretty fast. In other words: Emma was not in the garage, and there was no indication that she had been in the garage for quite some time.

This obviously made Reasonable Man and me kinda sad. Emma was our first baby. We adopted her on December 27, 1992 -- our six-month wedding anniversary, and for the two years between then and Mermaid's birth on December 31, 1994, Emma was the princess of our household. She spent long evenings luxuriating on our laps on the couch in front of the TV. We squeezed the water out of tuna cans and gave it for her for a snack. We played string with her, took pictures of her, and delighted in her antics.

After Mermaid was born, Emma accepted her demotion in status gracefully. Right around the time Mermaid started to crawl, Emma waged a wily (and ultimately successful) campaign to be let out into the yard (until then she'd been an indoor cat) by yowling loudly by the back door whenever I was trying to get Mermaid down for a nap. She was in her element there in San Luis Obispo -- less so after we moved back to Davis and she was banished to the garage due to her unfortunate habit of peeing on the living room carpet in our new house. Since then, she's been cozy in the winter on her heated pet bed, not so happy in the summer. Sometimes Reasonable Man gets an earful when he's leaving for work in the morning, because her dish is empty or maybe there have raccoons or other varmints invading her space sometime during the night, and other times she will clamor for a little attention. Mermaid rediscovered her out there a year or two ago, after completely ignoring her for about 7 years, and she would go and spend time with her, but otherwise our contact with Emma has been pretty limited in the last 6 1/2 years.

Nevertheless, we're unhappy that she's disappeared. I liked to think that she had maybe felt unwell and crawled off someplace dark to die peacefully -- it seemed unlikely that something more violent would have happened to her after she'd lived in the garage without incident for so long. I asked my neighbor Kim, who is the only person I could imagine would have noticed her around, if she'd seen her. Kim said she hadn't but told me about a time one of her cats got cheesed off about something at her house and disappeared for six days, only to come back after she'd given him up for dead. That made me feel better -- maybe it's not like Emma to leave her shelf in the garage for any length of time, but then, this was also the first time we've ever left for almost 3 weeks and let other people live in our house while we were gone. Who knows what was going through her little cat brain? Kim recommended that I leave food and water for her somewhere outside the garage. I figured I had nothing to lose by following her advice.

Yesterday morning, there was a hopeful sign in the garage -- fresh cat poops under my car! (No, I didn't examine them closely -- I just kind of poked at them with my shoe to see if they'd squish. Sorry to get graphic on you there.) After I swept the garage out, I called Emma's name a few times, and I'm pretty sure I heard her meow back at me. I left some tuna juice out near the bushes next to the garage in case she wanted a treat. It was gone later on, and of course some other cat might have consumed it, but I'm choosing to remain hopeful that our first baby is still out there and might come back to live in our garage again soon.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Books, Books, Books

I eventually brought my total books read on our trip to 7, which officially makes it my best vacation ever! Far and away the best book I read was Alive, the story of Urugayan plane crash survivors in the Andes mountains who had to resort to eating the bodies of their co-passengers in order to survive. Icky, yes, but absolutely riveting. It is absolutely amazing what they went through and how hard they fought to live through ten weeks up on a freezing mountain top together. The events actually happened way back in 1972, but if it sounds familiar, it may be because they made a movie of it about 10 years ago, which by the way I will never watch, and not just because it stars Ethan Hawke. While I understand why they did what they did and commend them for having the will to live, I don't care to see any kind of re-enactment of it...

A couple of fun books I enjoyed: Autobiography of a Fat Bride by Laurie Notaro, who seems to have gotten a little funnier with each book she's written, and Jane Austen in Boca by Paula Marantz Cohen, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice with Jewish senior citizens in a retirement community. Hilarious. I saw online that the author has written another one in Scarsdale -- I will have to check that out!

Dirty Secret

We packed pretty light for our almost-3-weeks-long vacation, figuring that we would be able to do laundry easily everywhere we went except possibly Manhatten, where we stayed at my sister-in-law Dana's upper east side apartment. Little did I know -- Manhatten would the be easiest place to do laundry of all! Did you know people who live there don't do their own laundry? They take it to the laundry down the street, where they pay someone sixty cents a pound to do it for them! We took ours in on a Sunday morning and got it backed -- washed, dried and folded -- that afternoon. I couldn't believe it. Why don't they have this everywhere? I have been informed since I got back to Davis that you can have this done at a laundrymat here in town, but I am betting it costs more than sixty cents a pound, or else everyone would be doing it.

Under the Weather

We picked up a bug during our travels and now we are all feeling a bit sluggish. My throat is sore, Mermaid has been all stuffed up, and Enthusio got pink eye -- gross! When I went to the Rite-Aid pharmacy the other day to pick up his prescription eye drops, the girl at the counter said "hi, Tracie!" Yes, apparently I frequent the Rite-Aid pharmacy often enough that they know me by name there. The girl behind the counter said that she sees my name a lot and that "you're always really nice." Hopefully she would still think that if she knew I have no freaking idea what her name is, even though I'm pretty sure she wears a name tag.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Yeah, But It's a Dry Heat

I want to post more about our trip, but right now my thoughts and feelings about it are unfairly clouded by my blissful relief at being home. My friend Jane, who along with her family graciously provided us with shelter and sustenance during the final days of our trip, says that it doesn't matter how long or short your trip is -- the last day or two, you just want to get home. I don't know what percentage of the time that's true, but I can certainly agree that I always feel that way on any trip of a week or longer. In this case, the time we were away actually passed really quickly and it didn't feel like we were gone nearly three weeks, but those last couple of days were tough, even though we spent them doing fun things with people we enjoy.

It didn't help that the east coast humidity that I had dreaded on this trip really cranked up the last 5 or 6 days we were out there. I'm sorry to all you east coasters (and midwesterners -- it's bad there too, right?) but I don't know how you live with that. California may be brown and ugly for a lot of the year, but at least your clothes and hair have a fighting chance when you step out the front door even on the hottest day.

That said, it's supposed to be 108 here tomorrow! I just hope our air conditioner can make it through. If not, make no mistake -- we will be checking into a motel.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Random Vacation Notes

I'm reading my ass off on vacation. First, I finished the piece-of-crap true crime book I was reading when we left Davis during our layover in Dallas and just left it sitting there on the seat when our flight started boarding. Maybe someone picked it up and started reading it, but I'm hoping security got nervous about something being abandoned in the airport and decided to blow it up right there where it was abandoned, like I saw done at the Paris airport many years ago. It was that bad. Then I started reading my book club book, which is okay, but then I was handed a stack of more appropriate beachy-type reads, so I've been plowing through them. Note: the first Ya Ya book, Little Altars Everywhere, is far superior to its celebrated sequel, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, which was a mediocre book made into a seriously lousy movie. The Glass Castle is a pretty riveting memoir in the "my crazy and/or substance-abusing parents never should have had kids" genre, and guess what? I am finally reading The Da Vinci Code. I've been resisting for three years, but the time has come, and guess what? I'm enjoying it.

We've had our share of disasters this trip, including getting on a commuter train to Grand Central Station instead of our Amtrak train, and having to high-tail it on the subway from GCS to Penn Station, with all our luggage, to catch up with that Amtrak train. We did it, though. And the kids were troopers all the way. I love travelling with school-age kids. Everywhere we go, I see toddlers and pre-schoolers, and just think damn, I'm glad they don't stay that little forever! It is, in many ways, great while it lasts, but there are definite advantages to having that phase be over.

Can't seem to add photos to my blog right now, so I can't show you the cute caricatures we had done of the kids in Central Park right now, but suffice it to say, they are fabulous.

Also, I am pleased to say that, 28 years after my first visit, I still adore the Statue of Liberty. How anyone ever got up the energy to build something that big and that cool, I will never understand, but I salute them!