Friday, January 21, 2005

All├ęz Cuisine!

I wasn't remotely cool enough to take part in the hip underground club scene in my youth. Thus, I never had the experience of watching in horror as my favorite obscure indie band suddenly got discovered by the mainstream, becoming that most dreaded of all things . . . popular. In fact I used to think people who groused about this were the worst sort of posers. God forbid they should sip from the same mug of pop culture as the rest of us hoi polloi! Then last Sunday night the previews for Iron Chef America came on, and I realized that I know exactly how they feel.

At the risk of sounding like a poser myself, I was a fan of Iron Chef long before it became a Food Network staple, when it aired as Ryori No Tetsujin on Fuji TV, entirely in Japanese with English subtitles.

This was way back in 1996, when Chef and my brother Gooch and I were pretty much inseparable, newly repatriated from the so-called Humboldt Nation and clinging to each other as a life raft as we somewhat uneasily settled into our new lives as grown-up, responsible, suburban working drones. After each long week of delicately learning to negotiate such previously unheard of challenges as rush hour traffic, public transportation, and corporate politics, the weekend always came as an enormous relief. Every Friday night we all gathered for a lively, joyful Shabbat dinner at Mom and Dad's, then caravaned over to the funky third-floor apartment Chef and I shared to unwind, drink a few beers, maybe smoke a couple of joints, and laugh until our sides ached as we imitated people we worked with, gossiped about our friends from college, and decried the many indignities of moving back to our hometown - the unwelcome high school reunions every time we went out to buy groceries and the yentas who saw us around town and reported our every move to our parents.

On one of these evenings, we were idly flipping around the television dial when we stumbled upon the weirdest show any of us had ever seen. From what we could gather, it was a bizarre amalgamation of pro wrestling, Kabuki theater, and Julia Child's Kitchen, featuring flamboyant costumes, excitable color commentators, melodramatic battles of honor, and theme ingredients - from lettuce to live octopus - rising magnificently from the floor in a cloud of smoke. The subtitles were often the funniest part: as the narrator breathlessly announced the latest developments, the English translation would read "Chef Sakai is perspiring profusely!" or "Man alive - I believe he is going for the fermented bean curd!"

From that first night on, Iron Chef became must-see TV for the three of us. Nobody else we knew had ever heard of the show (it only aired in in very limited markets, Los Angeles and San Francisco). It became another one of our many inside jokes; the catchphrases and characters integrated into our daily language.

Many people look back longingly at certain times of their life through the rosy glow of nostalgia. Usually this happens with concretely defined stages like "high school," "childhood" or "college." For me, this brief, free-floating time that I shared with my husband and my brother as we tried to find our place in the world, was - looking back - one of the happiest times of my life. I wish I had appreciated it more when it was happening, but I think then we were more focused on the things that we didn't have, like jobs that paid well, money for a down payment on a house, or even well-defined career goals. The flip side of that, however, is that the three of us had so much time and freedom to laugh, commiserate, and bask in each other's company, before the inevitable encroachment of job transfers and kids and mortgages and adult reponsibilities assured that we would never again experience that same type of carefree closeness.

As it turned out we were not, indeed, the only people to have discovered the Iron Chef. The show was referenced in a couple of newspaper articles, and soon afterwards Jon Carroll used it as a subject in one of his columns. Around this time Chef and I finally joined the 20th century, purchasing a modem and connecting to the world wide web. One of the very first things I did upon logging on was to do a search on the show. To my surprise there was a whole website devoted to it, with detailed episode summaries and a message board where a small but passionate band of followers debated the chefs' strategies and the judges' rulings. I became an enthusiastic participant, and discovered that the show's fans were - like us - quirky, intelligent, interesting people with highly developed senses of humor and irony.

It is a cliche that all good things must end, and so before long, the intrepid members of the Iron Chef fan club were mourning the news that the show was being dropped by Fuji TV. Instead it would be broadcast by the Food TV Network, one of the fastest-growing cable channels in the nation. Predictably, the subtitles were being phased out in favor of tacky voice-overs, which of course would have nowhere near the subtle humor and charm. And the worst of it was, the fans of the show would no longer be a select community of kindred spirits, since it was being reformatted and sanitized for a typical middle American audience.

It was true - once the show aired in its new, cable-friendly form, the experience of watching it had irrevokably changed. Of course by then so many things had changed anyway. Gooch got a job promotion and moved several hours away, Chef and I bought a house and had a baby, and then another, and in time all of our lives became busier and more complicated. Gooch has his own family now, a lovely wife, two bright, spirited stepsons and one very active infant. It is wonderful to see both our families grow, and it is a true pleasure to see our kids all running and playing and roughhousing together, and to know that we are finally where we had hoped to be in life.

Still, I can't help but feel wistful when I realize that the days of staying up until all hours talking, of soaking in the apartment's hot tub under the palm trees after work, of discovering strange and wonderful surprises on late-night television together, have disappeared as completely as the Ryori No Tetsujin we knew and loved.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Stormy Weather

After six months of struggling to get Bee enrolled in pre-school, it appears that she is now mastering the fine art of playing hooky.

On her first day last Tuesday everything went smoothly, She dashed right into the classroom, so dazzled by the vast array of toys that she did not even notice when my mom slipped out the door. Although she was getting over a bad cold, and stubbornly insisted on wearing large rubber rain boots which caused her to repeatedly trip over her own feet, the staff reported that she did well and remained in good spirits throughout the day.

Things have gone downhill since then. On Thursday she spent the morning tearfully clinging to my mom for dear life. She was fascinated by the goings-on, watching with saucer eyes as the other children played, painted and sang songs. Finally she joined in at recess, riding the tire swing and slipping down the slide with glee. Mom took this opportunity to drop off some paperwork in another part of the building, and when she returned Bee was crumpled on the floor crying inconsolably. She wouldn't let any of the teachers near her. "I'm going to take her home for now," my mom informed me via cell phone. "We'll try again next week."

Determined that today would be more successful, I made sure she had a good nap and a hearty dinner last night, and put her to bed extra early. I quickly got dressed this morning so I would have more time to snuggle with her and give her a good start to her day. It didn't work. She howled as I tried to remove her pajamas, refused to put her arms into her shirtsleeves, and pulled off her diaper as soon as I put it on. I rocked her, soothed her, talked to her softly, gave her a hug and kiss, and handed her off to my mom, at which point she began shrieking so loudly that I could hear her OUTSIDE IN MY CAR.

An hour later my mom called. "I don't think we are going to make it to nursery school today." Apparently Bee continued to storm and rage after I left. At the height of her tantrum she shut herself in the garage, where she proceeded to rip off all of her clothing, including her diaper - my mom found her standing stark naked next to the water heater, screaming her head off. It was a battle just to get her pants and shirt back on, and never mind attempting shoes and a jacket - Bee wasn't having any of it.

I know some kids are naturally high-maintenance, but I can't seem to shake the feeling that I have done something terribly wrong in raising her. I was so confident at first, so secure in my conviction that Attachment Parenting was the proper way to produce happy, trusting, self-assured, independent children. After all it worked for Bug, didn't it? I held him constantly, let him nurse whenever he wished, carried him around in a sling and kept him in our bed until he was weaned. As a result he transferred as seamlessly to his own bed as he did to a sippy cup, and started pre-school at age one without shedding a single tear.

Bee is a different story. She just turned two and would still nurse as much as a ravenous newborn if I let her. I have finally succeeded in minimizing our nursing time to just before bed, but that doesn't stop her from constantly trying to lift up my shirt, yanking on my bra, and throwing herself down across my lap expectantly - despite the fact that we may be in synagogue, at the mall, or in the middle of a dinner party. And there seems to be no end in sight to the co-sleeping - she simply CAN'T settle down unless she is laying next to me, one hand entangled in my hair and the other arm wrapped around my neck. I seem to have missed the window of opportunity where I could have "sleep trained" her or Ferberized her or whatever you are supposed to do to get kids to sleep by themselves. Maybe I should have just done the old-fashioned thing and let her cry it out, but with Bee I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have worked - not before the neighbors started to complain or call the police, anyway. The girl can SHRIEK. For HOURS. At one point I bought a book that I thought might help, "The No-Cry Sleep Solution" but I was too tired to read it - so here I am, waking up each morning with my head on the nightstand because Bee has commandeered my pillow.

I hate to sound like I am being bossed around by a two year old, but I guess I am. If she doesn't want to do something - you just can't get her to do it, no way. Take strollers, for example. She hates 'em. Never in her life has she consented to sit in a stroller for any length of time. I spent a good deal of my maternity leave pushing an empty Graco LiteRider up and down the Iron Horse trail with one hand while holding Bee with the other arm. This tendency of hers to STEADFASTLY RESIST SITTING DOWN WHATSOEVER has really cramped our style. Other parents can plan wonderful treks to, say, the zoo or Disneyland - for us it is just out of the question unless I want to lug her around in my arms for hours and hours. I can't take her grocery shopping because she won't sit in the cart. I can't even go on the long, leisurely bike rides that I used to enjoy, back when Bug would nap contentedly on the back seat - I tried it with Bee a few times and she was screaming before I even left the driveway. And she doesn't just cry - she thrashes and flails and whips her head around with enough force to flip her stroller over like a Suzuki Samurai, so I can't force the issue even if I wanted.

Oh, how I cherish my little spitfire - I am so overwhelmed each day with love for her funny, bossy little personality. I could just die when she yanks Bug off the couch and makes him dance with her to the Higglytown Heroes theme, when she tenderly rocks and feeds and burps her new baby doll, when she "helps" me set the dinner table while humming the ABC song softly under her breath. And I must admit that, much as I'd love for her to fall alseep on her own, the feel of her sweet, sleepy face on my shoulder, with her soft chubby arms around my neck, is one of the great pleasures of my life.

The funny thing is, I have always been a very timid, non-confrontational person, so afraid to seem too demanding or opinionated. I have often wondered what I might have achieved if I were bolder, more of a go-getter. So in a strange way I am actually quite surprised and pleased to have produced such a determined, headstrong hellcat of a daughter. No shrinking violet, Bee will always be the type of person who knows what she wants and has the personality to get it - and god help anyone who stands her her way!

On the other hand, once she turns thirteen . . . god help me!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Every Breath You Take

There was a 30-minute wait at the Old Spaghetti Factory last night, so we decided to kill some time at the bookstore up the street. As we walked in my gaze passed over a rumpled older man in a faded windbreaker smoking a cigarette near the doorway. For a second our eyes met. I quickly looked away and continued into the store, my heart pounding.

It was my stalker.

Stan and I worked together at a small social service agency years and years ago, back when Chef and I were in our 20's, childless and living in a third-floor apartment overlooking the Nordstrom's parking lot downtown. I liked him well enough at first, especially the way he livened up our weekly meetings with a steady stream of sarcastic commentary, but mostly I thought of him as sort of a sad sack. He'd been divorced for years, lived alone in a crumbling converted military barracks by the train tracks and didn't appear to have much of an outside life. He came to work each day in a dented old car, dressed in threadbare ties and shirts straining at the buttons, and gave off the resigned air of someone who has just given up.

The workers at the agency were a close-knit group and we often gathered for lunch at a Mexican restaurant near the office. At one of these meals, I happened to mention how frustrating it was that Chef and I had completely opposite schedules and did not get to spend as much time together as we liked. At the time he was going to culinary school and waiting tables at night and on weekends. It wasn't an easy period - I was asleep when he came home at night, he was asleep when I left for work in the mornings, and each night I either came home to an empty apartment and ate dinner by myself or I hung out with my friends Ken and Tim at the gay bar they liked to frequent next to the 7-11. I eagerly looked forward to the time that we could be like a normal married couple: sitting down for dinner together each night, watching movies, having long talks in bed. In the meantime I felt at loose ends - I was married but didn't really feel like it because I was on my own so much. Of course I knew it was only temporary, and it certainly was nothing that would threaten our very solid union - I just got sick of the situation sometimes and needed to vent. But I think that was all it took to fuel Stan's fantasy that I was a neglected wife in need of his rescue.

After that lunch there was a marked change in his demeanor towards me. He started paying close attention to what I said at meetings, pulling me aside afterwards to give me advice on certain cases I was struggling with. That alone wasn't a red flag - I was more concerned when he began to regularly inform me what my horoscope predicted each day, often going so far as to cut out particularly "noteworthy" ones and leave them in my mailbox. I asked him point-blank once why he was so interested in my astrological chart, and he laughed it off and said he did that with everyone. I told him not to bother in my case because I thought astrology was complete bull and I refuse to read horoscopes on principle. The horoscopes stopped appearing. Instead, he began to barrage me with newspaper and magazine articles that he felt related to me in some way. Reviews of books I might want to read, articles about bands I may have mentioned in passing, lots and lots of Jewish recipes and columns about Jewish holidays . . . all with Post-It Notes saying "I thought you'd find this interesting!"

Things hit the fan one afternoon when we were working on a report together at the office. As we mindlessly entered data into a spreadsheet, he began telling me how he had a side business designing and creating custom silver jewelry. "You would look great in silver," he remarked suddenly. "In fact I designed a couple of pieces with you in mind." He flipped open the sketchpad on his desk. I nearly passed out at what I saw. For pages and pages, my name and my initials were arranged into intricate bracelets, brooches and charms. This evidence of his obsession made my blood run cold.

I was too shocked and freaked out to say anything to him, and I didn't feel I could approach my supervisor. What was I going to say, Stan keeps reading my horoscope to me and designing jewelry using my initials? Instead I instinctively cut him off completely: I didn't sit near him at meetings, didn't look at him, avoided any projects that involved working with him. Of course he noticed. That is when the phone messages started. Dozens of them almost daily, on my voice mail at work:

BEEP! ... This is Stan, I just want to know if there is anything wrong. Did I do something to make you mad?

BEEP! ... This is Stan, can we meet for coffee this afternoon? I just want to talk to you, that's all, and find out why you are ignoring me.

BEEP! ... This is Stan, I've left several messages and you have disregarded all of them. If you can't see your way clear to answer a simple phone call, well, you're not even worth my time. Consider our friendship over!

BEEP! ... This is Stan, I'm really sorry about my last message. I don't want our friendship to be over. I just want to know why you won't talk to me. Why won't you talk to me?

I know, I know. I really should have brought this to the attention of someone in management. Why didn't I? Partly it was because deep inside I felt pity for this sad, deluded, pathetic old goat. I didn't really want to get him fired. Nor did I wish to get mired in a complex investigation of the issue. At that time I was very actively seeking a career change, for unrelated reasons, and I hoped in a short time I'd have a new job and the whole problem would be behind me. It almost worked, too - within weeks of my job search I was offered a position at the recruiting firm where I am still employed.

But because I never informed my previous boss of Stan's creepy behavior, she thought we were still friendly and saw nothing wrong with telling him the name of my new place of employment and even providing him with my email address there. Oy. He emailed me Chanukah and High Holiday greetings, and sent a big package full of books to the office on my birthday, which I immediately pressed on my baffled new coworkers. He left a voice mail requesting that I meet with him for an "informational interview" (apparently he'd developed a strong interest in the exciting field of technical recruiting), then left an angry, profanity-laced message rebuking me for refusing to answer his request for an interview, then another message apologizing for bothering me at all. I didn't respond to any of this, on the theory that if he failed to get the attention he was seeking, he'd eventually leave me alone.

It took a long, long time, but it finally worked. His emails petered down to breezy little greetings once or twice a year: "Hey, it's me, ran into Deb and Sue last week and they said to say hi, email me when you get a chance!" I ignored those too, and at last he just gave up entirely. I hoped maybe he had started dating someone, or perhaps even moved out of the area. Eventually I stopped thinking about him at all; he just became a distant figure from my past, a cautionary tale about sharing too much personal information at the office.

As I hustled my kids into the children's alcove of the bookstore, I worried that he might come in after me, and wondered how I should handle it if he did. Should I nod politely, ignore him completely, pretend I had no idea who he was? But after a few minutes I realized I was safe - no way was Stan, who always hid behind the safety of emails and phone messages and "anonymous" notes left on my desk, going to have the nerve to approach me while I was surrounded by my husband and kids.

Still I felt uneasy, thinking he might be out there in the shadows, staring at us through the window. I briefly considered escaping through the rear exit of the store, but I dismissed the idea - I'm not afraid of him. If anything, he's the one who should be sneaking off, ashamed and embarassed.

And sure enough when we went outside, he had disappeared into the dark of the night.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Highlights From My Vacation

Actually, I didn't take a vacation in the strict sense of the word, as I didn't actually go anywhere. I almost did. My parents rented a timeshare in Southern California for a week so they could visit my brother and his family, including my 5-month old nephew, and my mom initially suggested that the kids and I join them since Chef had to work all week. Soon afterwards, though, I noticed that my parents were really trying to discourage me from coming. "It'll probably be pretty cramped with all of us there," they warned "and you won't have a car of your own, so you'll be stuck doing all these boring things with the two of us. You'd hate it!" I took the hint. Lord knows, my parents are entitled to a relaxing vacation by themselves - and my mom especially deserves a break from taking care of my kids!

The minute they arrived at their hotel in Newport Beach my mom called me up on her cell phone. "You should have come with us - the place is HUGE! Our room looks right over the beach and you could have had a whole separate bedroom to yourself. Too bad - Bug and Bee would have had so much fun playing with their cousins!"

Sigh.

So, I missed an all-expenses paid trip to a luxury hotel on the beach - so what? The kids and I found plenty of things to do right in our own backyard:

The Jungle

Knowing I was going to have this time on my hands at the end of December, and that the weather would likely preclude excursions to the park, I purchased several guest passes to the Jungle at the Sunday School silent auction weeks ago. My intention was to coerce some of my friends into joining me, as the Jungle is definitely not the sort of thing you want to face alone.

"It'll be great," I assured them. "It's not crowded at all during the week, so it should be quiet and low-key. The kids will be occupied for hours and we can sit and drink Starbucks and catch up!"

I must have been on crack when I said that. I was basing the statement on my last visit there, which occurred when I was on maternity leave two years ago. The difference then was, Bee was asleep in her infant car seat the entire time and Bug had only just learned to walk, making it much easier to contain them both in the toddler area. It didn't work that way this time. First of all, the schools were on winter break and the place was packed and clamorous. Not five minutes after we arrived, I turned around and realized Bee, who had been right behind me, was nowhere to be seen. At the Jungle, when a kid is nowhere to be seen, it typically means they have disappeared into the massive, multi-level maze of tunnels and tubes that wind through the entire facility. I had no choice but to crouch down painfully on my creaky, middle-aged hands and knees and crawl in after her. After searching in vain for a good five minutes, I finally heard a distant sound of a child wailing "Mommy!!" Following the cry, I found my poor girl practically drowning in a ball pit, barely able to hold her little head up above the colored plastic. I dove in and hoisted her up to the steps, thinking she'd want to escape to safety.

No such luck. She quickly made a left turn and scrambled through a dark tunnel, with me scurrying along after her like a hamster in a Habitrail. Mercifully the tunnel soon ended, only to reveal . . . another tunnel. I could see people walking around next to me, but I could not figure out how they got there. Reluctantly, I again followed Bee through an endless series of narrow, twisting, colorful tubes. Children skittered by, glancing at me quizzically as I muttered "I'm pretty sure this is what Sartre was talking about" under my breath. Just as I was ready to give up, we came upon the Great Yellow Slide of Deliverance, which shot us down four stories back to where we started from.

My knees tattered and my hair a tangled mop, I staggered into the toddler area clutching Bee like a trophy. It was at this point I discovered that Bug was missing.

I never did get around to sipping any Starbucks that day.

Fairyland at Night

Fairyland is one of those places that warms the cockles of my hippie, anti-corporate heart. In a world full of Disney Princesses and incessant McDonald's movie tie-ins, it is wonderful to retreat to this simple, charming fairy tale theme park which remains essentially unchanged since it opened over 50 years ago.

This year they did something new, keeping the park open late the week of Christmas and offering special holiday programs and activities. We bundled the kids up in coats and hats and headed over to Oakland. I am so glad we went - the place looked magical, with sparkling lights everywhere. There was free hot chocolate and apple cider, and the kids got to ride the train and the merry-go-round, climb aboard Captain Hook's pirate ship, slide down the dragon's tongue and drink pretend tea in the crooked man's house. The only time Bee got a little fussy was during the Snow White and Rose Red puppet show which depicted a pair of sisters and their friendship with an enchanted bear (really a prince under a wicked spell, naturally). Bee was instantly enamored of the bear, and whenever he exited the scene she would shout "Bear go? More bear! More bear!" When the final curtain closed and she realized the bear would not be returning, she burst into a crying fit so loud that children two rows in front of us turned around to ask if she was okay. I felt a little embarrassed saying "Oh she's fine, she just, uh . . . well, she misses the bear." But, being kids, they nodded sagely as if that explanation made perfect sense.

Thurman G. Casey Memorial Library

There is something about living in the same small town in which you grew up, with your parents just a few short minutes away, that often fosters some regressive childlike tendencies. For example, my mom still makes me blueberry bran muffins each morning for breakfast, much to the amusement - and jealousy - of my coworkers. Even worse, I am thirty-six years old and she still checks out my library books for me. She has often hinted at the possibility that it might be high time for me to take over this reponsibility for myself, but I always balked at the idea. My mom is so much better ar this kind of thing than me, keeping track of due dates and getting materials back on time and all that. Plus, I had a strong suspicion that I was on some sort of perpetual "wanted list" at the library for lost books or unpaid overdue fines from long ago, and if I applied for a new card they'd say "GOTCHA" and a bunch of goons would jump out from behind the stacks and grab me, and how mortifying would that be?

But by the Thursday of my second week at home, it had been raining for several days in a row and I was running out of places to go with the kids that were indoors and did not cost a lot of money. So, with visions (again, possibly crack-fueled) of each child sitting happily on a chair for hours, flipping quietly through a pile of picture books, I headed off the the neighborhood library of my youth. When I walked in I immediately turned right, expecting to see the sprawling children's section that I remembered so well, but instead I was met with rows and rows of adult fiction. Shockingly, sometime in the past 30 years they rearranged things a little bit, and after wandering aimlessly for awhile I found the spacious, newly remodeled kid's area.

It was a well-appointed section, with a big picture window, several large stuffed animals and an oversize Curious George book that was even taller than Bug. The kids ran right over and started playing hide-and-seek within the pages of the book, knocking it over several times and bending one of the pages. Mortified, I tried to call their attention to the numerous collection of storybooks. "Here, let's look at some of these - okay, look, here's Maisy!" That got their attention - unfortunately, there was only one Maisy book and they both wanted it desperately, leading to a tearful confrontation which almost destroyed the book in the process.

At long last I got them settled down at the table with a bunch of books featuring snowmen and monkeys, their obsessions of the moment. They enjoyed hearing the stories and looking at the illustrations and were reasonably well-behaved. Still, I could not help feeling self-conscious during our entire visit simply because the library is just so. damn. QUIET! The kids were speaking in a normal, regular indoor sort of voice but the sounds just reverberated in that still mausoleum of an enironment. Nobody was shooting us dirty looks or anything, but not one other person in the entire place was making a whisper of a noise, so ALL you could hear were Bug and Bee going "Wow - I see baby monkey!" I didn't want to keep shushing them and telling them to be quieter - they would just have gotten frustrated and upset and I wanted them to like the library so I didn't want to make the experience a big drag for them. And who knows - maybe their level of noise was just fine - see, if I'd gone to the library a little more often instead of using my mom as a delivery service, maybe I'd have some idea of the expected standard.

So I took a deep breath, walked up to the counter, and applied for my VERY OWN library card . . . and they gave me one! I guess their records are not sophisticated enough to pick up on my criminal trail.

Lindsay Wildlife Museum

By Friday I was at my wit's end. It was still raining and I had completely run out of ideas for what to do with the kids. The Jungle was too nerve-jangling (and we'd been there twice), the library was too quiet, and every other place was too far away, in Oakland or San Francisco. In desperation I drove to a place I'd only been to once or twice in all the years I have lived here. I wasn't sure exactly what they had or how appropriate it would be for young kids, but at least it was close, indoors, and not too expensive.

It turned out the best the best thing we did all week. The museum rescues wild animals and either returns them to the wilderness or, if they are too injured or too accustomed to humans, they keep them, care for them and use them as teaching tools. We arrived just in time to see one of the trainers feeding a nice fresh fish lunch to a 10-pound bald eagle with a broken wing, and then we spent several minutes watching a furry ground squirrel jump from branch to branch, taking a break to gnaw on a pinecone. The kids were fascinated by all the animals: we got close-up views of a desert tortoise, bobcat, gopher snake, opossum, grey fox, red-tailed hawk, and even a great horned owl. The museum could not have been more kid-friendly; it was small enough that I could keep an eye on them at all times, and there was even a "Discovery Room" just for toddlers. It was set up like a little animal hospital, with stuffed animals and plastic medical instruments to care for them.

I was so charmed that I filled out a membership application on the spot - I love this place! Now we can drop in anytime we like for free, have the kids' birthday parties there, even sign up for their multitude of nature classes. In fact I have Bee enrolled in the "Wednesday Wiggles" class starting later this month.

Back to the Grind

In a way it is a relief to get back to work. I can drink my coffee while it is hot and catch up on my email and favorite websites (the minute I log on at home the kids are at my side, wanting to play the Dora the Explorer adventure game). It's nice to get dressed professionally again, as my wardrobe really devolved while I was at home - my track suits are just so comfortable! - and to have uninterrupted conversations with other adults.

But I really miss spending those long, luxurious hours with Bee and Bug; I loved not always having to kiss them goodbye and rush off every day. And now that I know how many fabulous things there are to do around here during the weekday - it seems a terrible shame to be cooped up in an office all day long.