Five Kids Will Also Get You Black Walls & Appliances

Two weeks ago, Whirlpool invited Jim and me to spend a Friday night walking through a Victorian house in the heart of San Francisco, every room of which had been gutted and meticulously redesigned by a series of interior decorators to showcase the wonders of this bowl. 

The rest of the decor in the house was pretty alright, too. 

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There were gold-flecked rugs that looked like wood floors, creeptastic haunted forest letters crawling up walls, teency nooks for making phone calls or smoking cigarettes or reading books pretty much everywhere we turned. I could have spent 14 hours in the potting shed alone, but the kitchen completely stole the show, as Kitchens of the Year are wont to do. 

Black herringbone backsplash, you guys. 

The whole kitchen was black, in fact. The cabinets were black, the appliances were black, the backsplash was black, the wallpaper was black with shimmering black mica flakes (or something really similar to that) in it. You'd think this would eat a kitchen entirely, but it didn't at all. It worked beautifully, actually. It gave all the natural light in the kitchen something to do with itself, instead of just bouncing off all the pale surfaces and making that room 17 times larger than it already was.

Pics from SFGate.com

My favorite appliances I've ever owned in my whole entire life were my black Whirlpool Cabrio washer & dryer, which I had to leave behind in Texas (and they don't even make anymore, ask me how broken I am about that). I've only ever seen black kitchen appliances in matte, but the Whirpool Black Ice appliances in the Kitchen of the Year were shiny, sleek, and entirely badass.

Our friend and bombdiggety food blogger Stephanie Hua got a picture of the Whirlpool fridge in the House Beautiful kitchen -

Photo snagged from Stephanie Hua of Lick My Spoon

Which is slightly more sensibly-designed than the fridge in our House Cluttered kitchen. 

Still Life with Five Kids #fridgie #cryforhelpie

Still life with five kids. #fridgie #cryforhelpie

We were treated to a live cooking demo with Chef Robin Song, who owns a whiskey, ham, and oyster bar in San Francisco - propelling him to the top of Jim's 'People to Become Best Friends With' list. He prepared a quinoa salad that I not only didn't hate, I am pretty sure I would eat it every day of my life - propelling him to the top of my 'People Who Obviously Practice Voodoo' list. He also made that bowl up there. When you walk through a $17 million home and at the end of that walk have one thing only to say, and that thing is, "Man, I really love this bowl," it's kind of nice to be able to say you met the person who made it. He was a pretty cool dude - not at all pretentious. He gave us a lot of cooking tips that ended up, "Um, well, just do what works for you." Stephanie asked him what he always kept in his fridge and he said something like, 'Errr...does beer count?' Pretty refreshing from someone who's career is kind of exploding right now. 

Speaking of refreshing, this is the recipe for that salad. For real, make it. Once you make it, you will realize that you can change it 5,284 ways and it will still be amazing. I'm pretty sure I'm going with lime and steak and cotija crumbled on top next time, and then tomato and basil next, but this spring veggies one was killer - minus the asparagus, obviously. Jim even liked it, and he'd sooner eat cicadas and chicken fetus' than put a vegetable, or worse, QUINOA, in his face.

A Time to Kill

For 17 years, I was a serial hamster killer. It wasn't an intentional thing; I think it's entirely possible I was cursed by my crazy grandmother who had a penchant for channeling George Washington and/or The Prince of Darkness. No, not Ozzy, you stoner. The other one. No matter the why: if you were a hamster and you ended up in my house it was not a question of if, but rather when, you'd end up getting stuck in the wall for a few weeks/getting dropped one too many times/being thrown across the room when you crawled across my neck in the middle of the night/sliding down the heating duct and roasting like Chirstmas dinner/chewing your own leg off to escape us. I could go on. Dozens of hamsters died on my watch. 

When I grew older and they wouldn't sell me rodents anymore, I moved on to Cookie Carnage. I can bake the most insanely complicated holiday Yule Logs and the most delicate thank-god-you're-lactose-tolerant cheesecakes, but when it comes to cookies, I may as well have had a machete and a hockey mask. The cookies I baked for birthday parties were rock hard and the ones I baked for Santa disintegrated on the cookie sheet - and those are just the drop cookies. Rolled cookies? HAHAHAHAHAHA. Grown men have wept at my cookies. Children have run, crying for their mothers. 

Then I got a cell phone. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. The very first day I got my very first cell phone, I dropped it in a toilet in Aurora, Colorado. Since then, I have gruesomely murdered at least two dozen cell phones. I left my first pink Motorola X on the hood of my car in Denver, CO, trying to put groceries in the trunk. I dropped my second one in False Creek, Vancouver, BC, trying to take pictures of my now sister-in-law's dragon boats. The trail of broken phones, dropped and shattered while getting into cars and getting out of cars, walking down the street, or just standing there doing nothing at all, spans much of the southwest of the USA, and several scenic locations along the West Coast.  

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For a brief time in Arizona, I tried my hand at Handbag Homicide, but the sight of the one and only Gucci bag I will ever own flattened by a 30 minute onslaught of oncoming traffic was enough to scare me straight. 

I've never been much of a watch person. When I was younger, I had a calculator watch. I loved that watch. I wanted to shave my fingertips down to sharp, pointy stubs so that my watch and I would have the most symbiotic relationship possible. The cool kids who threw really good punches in grade 4 didn't love my watch as much as I did, however, so I retired it and instead imagined myself entirely too cool to be tethered to the constraints of something as arbitrary as, like, time. Unfortunately, the constraints of time directly correlate to the constraints of payday, so I probably couldn't have afforded a watch anyway.

When I was older, I didn't ever wear a watch because watches only do one thing, and I was a young mother of two small boys. You had to serve at least two simultaneous functions in my life for me to even acknowledge you existed. 

AT&T (@ATT) sent Jim and me Pebble watches to try out and we spent the first few weeks texting each other ridiculously love notes to and from our wrists, as we do. It was lovely and is still - as far as I am concerned - the single best thing about having a smartwatch. No matter what meeting he is in, or how stuck in airport security he is, I know he will get the 8,502th sappy romantic emoticon I've sent him this week. These things matter. 

But second-best to more-efficiently harassing some cute guy I met online is the fact that this watch is actually saving me from Mobile Murder. I was walked though San Francisco a few weeks ago, on my way to a client meeting and waiting for another client to call me before my next meeting. I was in high heels on cobblestone, chugging a coffee, rushing from one meeting to the next, hanging on to my phone so I'd feel it ring and not miss the call I was waiting for. My laptop bag was throwing me off-balance, and what it wasn't doing, the cobblestone was. I almost dropped my phone three times before I remembered that my watch would vibrate when the call came in. I didn't have to flail about Union Square, scaring the tourists, tempting fate. I could tuck my phone safely in my bag and not miss a thing. So many helpless phones could have been spared, had the Pebble only been invented 10 years previous.

The ability to reach someone via their wrist is completely underrated. I can't tell you how many times I have called and called and called and called my 14 year old but have gotten no answer because he left his phone in bed or by the toilet or outside in the driveway for me to run over when I get home. I pay $50 a month to a phone provider for the privilege of never getting through to this kid.

So his dad and I bought him a Pebble, too. 

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Jim wrote about a bunch of other Pebble features that we both really love, like being able to check a text at the movies and not worried about getting shot, or being able to screen phone calls discreetly, or convincing the kids their dear old great grandmother has possessed their television set. It also has a great fitness/running app in it that works with your phone to notify you of your progress during a run and then shows the map of your path after, and it even pings you later with encouragement to do better the next time. I know this because I've used it exactly once. If you want, I can tell you how long it takes before it gives up on you. 

I was switching out the watchfaces every week or so, but I've landed on a steady rotation of Calculus and Fuzzy. They're everything I've ever wanted from a watch - something to show my geek streak, and something to let me keep pretending like I am too cool to care what time it is.

Of course I tried to kill this thing, because we are who we are, after all. I took it in the shower, but it turns out, you can totally shower with it on or bath your kid with it on or wash the dishes with it on or sit in the hot tub with it on. 

So I don't know what I'm going to kill next. I've gone from living creatures to baked goods to personal technology. Maybe there is no next; maybe I'm a changed person. I can bake a decent cookie now, I have a watch I really love wearing, and I haven't broken a phone in months. Maybe it's time to start gardening or something.

Got/Gone

I never really had a grandfather. My dad's dad was born three days before my birthday and died three days after my third birthday - and that's about the extent of my connection to him. The guy my mother called her dad died well before I was born, and wasn't her dad anyway. The guy who actually was her dad either didn't know it or didn't  acknowledge it - she never met him, and neither did we.  She knew his address, which was just a few blocks from ours, and I remember this one time he was in front of us in the mall parking lot. We all laughed and shouted, "Hurry up, grandpa!" and that was the most we've ever said to him. 

You don't walk into someone's life 40 years later, you just see them at the store or the bank or on the highway and you imagine all the things you will never know about them. 

I never even thought about not having a grandfather. Where I come from, men at all are pretty rare commodities. I didn't know anyone who had a grandfather in their lives. We had a dad occasionally, so we were doing better than most, anyways. Count ye blessings and all. 

My step-mother, who was just my dad's girlfriend for a lot of years, used to bring us to her parents' house when we were visiting Colorado for the summer. It was years before they thought of us as their grandchildren, or before we thought of them as our grandparents, but it happened eventually. We all learned to trust each other over the summers spent in their backyard and their fridge. My oldest brother and I eventually lived in Colorado, just a few blocks away from them, and we found a way to forge independent relationships with these little Italian people not old enough, or tall enough, to be our grandparents. 

Her father, my step-grandfather, had a chair that he sat in, quietly watching the comings and goings of his wife, his children and grandchildren, the neighbors, the kids they took care of during the day, and more John Wayne movies than a body has a right to. I met him after he retired, and occasionally he'd look up at the thermostat, and then over at me, and say, "Hell, it's happy hour somewhere." We never talked about anything important, we never debated ideals or shared our dreams, but we talked all the time,  once upon a time, sitting out on his porch at scotch:30 PM. 

My first birthday party was at his house. My first wedding was, too. He rolled with everything life threw at him, from the navy to his four kids and a sea of grandkids - including four that weren't technically his, but I don't think he technically gave a shit. He was wonderful when we needed him to be, and let us all bow as quietly out of his life as we creeped into it.

He was a good man, with dry humor and a heart three sizes bigger than his five foot nothing frame could hold. That heart stopped beating at 5:26 am this morning.

I wish I'd told him all of this before I couldn't. 

Biente

My mother's birthday was Saturday. Wait - maybe it was Wednesday. If it was Wednesday, then my little brother whom I don't talk to anymore had a birthday on Saturday, but I kind of feel like his was Wednesday. He'll be thir...*I'm39minusthreeyear*...tysix. He'll be thirty-six now. My mother? Christ. She was either 23 or 25 she had me and her mother was 18 when she had her and she married my dad when one of them was 18 and my dad was born in 49 so I think maybe she's 63ish? 

This one time I tried to do Ancestry.com and I got stuck at "grandmothers' middle names." My family is *amazing* at secrets. 

I used to get so mad at people when I was in school and they would, in all sincerity, ask me questions like, "If you don't celebrate your birthday, how do you know how old you are?" Because math, maybe? I couldn't understand how they couldn't understand that not having a party didn't equate not counting years. Of course, they had never not celebrated a birthday and I never had, so neither of us were going to understand. They never woke up on their 10th birthday to Tuesday.  I'd never woken up on the day of my birth to anything other than whatever the hell day it was that day.

Until I turned 19.

On my 19th birthday, my father threw me a party. He threw me a first birthday party, because he'd waited 19 years to do it and he wasn't about to let either one of us miss out on the Pooh decorations or the 101 Dalmatians cake or the Perma Frost shots until I couldn't walk a straight line. What? Everyone gets their minor child completely shit-faced at her first birthday party, shut up. (If you don't know what Perma Frost is, I envy you your childhood.)

After that, I kind of got what those kids couldn't understand. I got how a birthday meant something completely different when someone else, anyone else, acknowledged it.  39 years into being my mother's daughter I have no idea what her birthday is, and only a vague guess as to her birth year. I don't know any of my siblings birthdays (except the one I still talk to, and I get his wrong by a day on either side every damn year) and I won't because they don't celebrate them so there's no reason for them to tell anyone, and less reason for anyone to remember. 

I've been alive for 39 years, but I just had my 20th* birthday** a few weeks ago. That means next year? 40/21. Everything bad happens for a good reason, people. #vegas

My friend Ben the Blue Lobster tagged me in this Facebook meme where he picks an age and you talk about where you are now vs where you were then. Perfectly, albeit unwittingly, he picked 20 for me. I'm supposed to do this on Facebook but this is 20. We do what we want.  

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Where I lived then: I started my 20s living in Denver (well, in Arvada, which is just northwest of Denver and just southeast of Boulder and hasn't made pot legal yet, in case you were wondering) with my dad and step-mother. This was the year I moved into the one and only apartment I'd ever live in as a single woman. I loved that apartment. I loved the autonomy, the silence, the power that comes from being completely unhinged to any one or thing. I lived in the apartment on top of the office of a storage facility in Golden, CO, and every evening, so long as I looked up and out, and not down, I watched the Rocky Mountains devour every delicious ray of sunlight. I learned more about myself in those months than I think I have in all the years since. Aside: If you've never seen a sunset in Colorado, you've simply never lived.

What I drove: I'd just traded in the car my dad gave me when in my senior year, his 1983 Datsun Nissan Stanza red stick shift that I rode in with all six of my immediate brothers and sisters as a child, and all of my high school friends as a senior. We drove up to Boulder every Friday night - moonroof open wide, BADII blaring from the cassette player, our ironic berets nearly blowing away in the gusts of cold mountain night air, the car barely making it up the incline from Louisville to Boulder on I-36. My two little brothers vanished with their mother (for good reason) in the mid-eighties, and didn't resurface again until the mid 2000's (thank you MySpace) and that car was the last physical tie I had to them. When I traded it in for my Mitsubishi Eclipse in burgundy with a turbo-charged engine and an adaptor port for one of those compact disk players that year, I found one of my little brothers' army toys buried beneath the seats of the car and had one of the best cries of my life right there in front of the car dealer.

Who had my heart: I was right in the beginning of the end of a relationship with the one guy who'd ever been genuinely nice to me in my entire life. Even when we were in high school and I was fixated on the idea that he was the one, the answer, the beginning and the end - and he couldn't get far enough away from me fast enough - he had still been nice to me. We dated for years after high school and I pushed him away every way I could during that time. When I was 20, I met some guy at work. He wasn't nice to me. He pushed me away. Obviously, I had to have him. I didn't even try to get him for a long time after, and didn't success for even longer, but at 20 I knew he had me, and I think he knew it, too. 

Where I live now: I grew up in the actual 'hood, and the road I've traveled so far has taken me from So. Philly/Northern Delaware way up & over to Colorado, then all the way up to Canada and all the way down to Texas and across to Arizona. All long, I've dreamed of living on a farm. If i had my way, I would own some land, grow my own food, keep a few animals. Nothing major, nothing profitable, just a life that includes simple, quiet contact with the earth. I didn't quite get my way, but I came pretty close. I ending up settling down for the long haul way in the very suburbanized end of a cozy little farming community on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area.

Yes, there is a farming community in the bay area. No, not even the people in the bay area know where it is. (It's that impossibly far away place where you have to drive your kids to play soccer in the summer.)

I don't live anywhere near the cable cars San Francisco is famous for, and there are no fog-lined bridges near my house. My neighbor lives in an old cottage and keeps goats, and the biggest town event of the year is the local corn festival (NorCal Corn Capital, representin'). You have to drive through either an enormous wind farm or 11,000 acres of active farmland to get to my house. It takes me as long to drive to the city in traffic as it would to drive to Lake Tahoe. We can pick our own fruit; hell, we could grow it if we weren't so lazy. I pretty much got exactly what I dreamed of and I have a nice basil and mint plant-thing growing in in my kitchen windowsill for happy hour to show for it. 

What I drive: I had a five-passenger Jeep, and Jim has a five-very-skinny-passenger Volvo. We have five kids between us, so we needed something bigger, and there was no way we were going to live in the one place in Northern California where you can get away with owning a truck and not own one. So we bought this.

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I'd like to tell you we bought it so that we could get everyone around town one car, but I'm really pretty sure that one of us bought it to play Toby Keith real loud and also this.

Who has my heart: This is the year that I legally ended my relationship with that guy I met when I was 20 who wasn't very nice to me most of the time, but did end up giving me the three greatest gifts I ever could have asked for. He didn't have my heart for very long, mostly because once I realized what my heart was in for with him, I took it back and hid it in a deep, dark box inside of myself where no one would ever find it and fuck with it again. Except I underestimated this guy. He saw right through my heartless facade and over time, over years, he helped me remember what corner I tucked my heart away into. He helped me find the courage to go into that deep, dark place and re-examine what I'd hidden away. His faith in me was constant and pure, without condition or pretense. He offered me nothing but support, and he asked for nothing in return. He taught me to trust again, to open up to the possibility that my life could be different, even good. He showed me what I looked like through a lens not warped by co-dependence, but one bent for potential.

This thing that I have become, it is all because of him.

Who has my heart now? I do. I have it and I feel it and I follow it and I trust it and I'm grateful for every hole poked in it, because they are the spaces he was born to fill. Who guards it and nourishes it and heals it and drives the very beating of it? This amazing, wonderful, funny, beautiful, intelligent, creative, ridiculous, driven, inspiring, loving, passionate, protective, nurturing man. This guy that makes every single thing I had to get through to get to this point in time with him worth it. This guy that brings order to my chaos and reason to my insanity. This guy that is my perfect complement, and my exact counterbalance. This guy that takes my breath away every moment he is alive, either in awe or laughter. He also has my tackle box.

This is a pretty big deal.

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*I also recently had a 22nd birthday. I have 19 years of missed birthdays to catch up on. Judge not, friends.)

**HTML is fun

Distance Makes the Heart

My kids left yesterday to spend half of their spring break with their dad. There is nothing in the world more bittersweet than having the house stay exactly as spotless as the housekeeper left it 24 full hours ago.*

There are traces of them everywhere: the humming of the Wii left running, the smell of teen spirit wafting from my oldest's bedroom, the T-Rex frozen in time on the Whiteboard of Glorious Correction and Societal Alignment for the Advancement of the Revolution, whom I've named Fupa. Because shut up. 

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The fact that I can't figure out what to do with myself when they're gone tells me that it's important they go. The fact that I have spent 12 straight hours in this same spot on my couch hyper-focused on work in the first day they're gone tells me that I need them to go. 

Minutes take hours and hours pass in the blink of an eye. I check my phone and my watch and my phone again for text and right at the moment I stop waiting for them the phone finally rings, and they are short-spoken and distracted on the other end of the line, somewhere on the road between this life with me and that one with their father. I am relived. They are perfectly happy. They don't need me the way I need them. They are going to be just fine.

I have to get through six more days of this quiet, but I only have six days left of this quiet. I try to remember to save each extra fragment of time these elongated minutes give me, because it will be an even longer time before I hear this silence again. I close my eyes and try to conjure the things I like to do when I have any option in front of me. The smell of bath salts, the way the hair behind my ears clings to the cold of nighttime air, the taste of a cocktail at the audaciously early hour of 8pm.  

I break the silence, turn the TV on, and catch up on all the shows the show I like. I work and work and work and work and work and am grateful for the luxury of time to see something, anything from the beginning to the end, without once having to make the impossible choice between my children and anything else.

I pass each of their rooms and whisper goodnight to them, just like I do every night and I imagine I will continue to do so long as I am able. I crawl into my bed and drown myself in the tiny sounds I can almost never hear - the creak of the house, the chirp of the crickets, the buzz of the streetlamps. I cherish this fleeting eternity without them, and in their absence I am reminded that my choice to be some small part of their lives has always, and will always, supersede my obligation. 

(And no, I cannot believe I have a housekeeper, even one who only comes every two weeks. I have a ton to say about it that I just may, someday, but if you want to read a really thought-provoking post on the subject, click here.)