Did I do something right?

If I were to categorize my blog posts, I’m guessing 10% are literature and bookishness, 70% are teeth-clenched comedy about how I barely made it through the day with my adorable and irrepressible children, 10% are raw and unfiltered posts in which I admit to being completely overwhelmed by life, death, and the days when those two coincide, and 10% are crowdsourcing pleas in which I seek solutions for managing to stay alive during one of my indomitable children’s…um…phases.

I don’t know yet that I’ve posted enough “I do believe I might have done something right” posts to actually register on any NaptimeWriting highlights reel. This Halloween might be different.

Berkeley upcycles its trash into art. Hard to feel like I'm #winning next to that.

Berkeley upcycles its trash into art. Hard to feel like I’m #winning next to that.

I woke this morning totally panicked about our Halloween policy. The first few years, with just Peanut, we adhered to a “have two pieces a day until it’s gone,” policy, and despite relieving the bag substantially in the evenings, Halloween wore on WAY too long into November. Once we had two children old enough to carry a treat bag, we offered the idea of trading candy for books or toys, but Peanut, the oldest, would have none of it. We settled on a friend’s approach: two days of unfettered access, then all the candy goes away.

This year the kids loved the plan. They knew unfettered access still meant they had to eat three meals a day, all veggies and protein. They knew this was non-negotiable.

But they were like crazed maniacs on Halloween night, sprinting from house to house to maximize their haul. The four-year-old dashed up stairs, knocked on doors, beamed his brightest “HappyHalloweenthankyouandhaveagoodnight” as he grabbed all he could hold. And at 7:00 November 1, both kids were leaping on my bed, hollering, “go make eggs so we can have protein and then eat all our candy!”

I freaked out a bit.

I texted my most awesomely conscientious mom friends to ask their policy. One allows a single piece a day, and sneaks out the egregiously colored stuff. Another negotiated a trade of all but four pieces in exchange for a book.

Mmmmmm. Homemade caramel.

Mmmmmm. Homemade caramel.

I mentioned those candy-management options to my kids, who laughed and, I’ll be honest, openly judged those parents aloud for being “too unfair.” (I talked to them about fairness and candy and starving children. My grandmother would be proud.) After wolfing down their eggs, my sugar-fiend cherubs agreed to take the most toxic of their stash and trade it for the brands I trust. I stocked up on candy made with natural ingredients, colored with fruit, sweetened with organic sugar, and made sustainably so I could give their dad the stuff that will color your liver for months. (What? It’s not rude to give your ex toxic candy, right? Not the stuff with razor blades; just partially hydrogenated oils.) So some of what the boys devoured at 7:35am was candy that they’d already selected from my Alternative Treat stash.

But the haul was still grotesque. Gorgeous to the candy-loving child/teen/adult in me. Disgusting to the parent I have been posing as for almost nine years.

While they ate we talked about red dye #3 and red #40, blue #2, yellows #5 and 6. Coal tar, guys. Those colors, in more than 30% of your candy, are made from coal tar. Some are banned in other countries and some are banned in the U.S. in cosmetics, but not in food.

“Don’t care,” they shrugged. “it’s two days of the year. We never buy this kind of candy, we always eat well, and we worked hard to get it.” My eight year old genuinely said these things.

They wore me down. Not because they’re right, but because I am easily pushed off the perch from which I fear going too far toward the self-righteous Berkeley I both celebrate and disdain. I’m also freaking exhausted from all the negotiations and battles and teachable moments about brushing teeth and not calling names and being kind and embracing difference and standing up for anyone who’s being pushed around and treasuring people over things and …I’m seriously just exhausted. I was willing to look the other way while my kids are coal tar artificial colors, child-slave-labor chocolate, and highly processed high fructose corn syrup.

So they got as much candy as they wanted between meals today.

For the record, they were miserable cretins all day: whining, annoying each other, throwing fits, and flitting around like hummingbirds. I kept telling them that their behavior told me next year should be the Halloween of Two Pieces Total.

And then tonight, the big one called me downstairs when I finished the four-year-old’s bath. He showed me more than 60% of his remaining candy in a pile. Candy he likes as well as candy he likely wouldn’t have eaten. all the duplicates and several brands he knows his dad likes. All lumped in a big pile to trade. “What would this get me?” he asked. It was such a significant gesture from a candy hoarder (he keeps a stash of candy that remains uneaten from random holidays stored in a clandestine backpack; and he asks once every few months if he can eat one of his bits of treasure), such an unbelievable change of heart, that I told him he could pick a book and a toy for his efforts.

The little one, apparently done freaking out about how his socks never quite line up across his toes correctly, stomped down the stairs and surveyed Candy Central. He saw what his brother was trading away, and he shoved his pile at me. “I’m done with this. I don’t even want to trade. I’m just done.” He kept one bag of organic, vegan gummy bears.

"Don't worry, mom. We don't need candy, we have kale. And we don't need toys, we have cardboard."

“Don’t worry, mom. We don’t need candy, we have kale. And we don’t need toys, we have cardboard.”

Both my kids had way too much candy today. They each likely had 30 pieces of candy.

But they’re done. Done. They don’t care any more. The novelty has worn off. They want LEGOs and books, instead.

I don’t want to say this too loudly, or anything, but I might have inadvertently done something right this Halloween.


Found this daily roundup and am grateful. I wish I had time to agglomerate all the best news from the week. Happy that New Communities Daily by Genius Now Blog is doing this for us. My favorite article featured? The Salon response to the hysteria all over the Interwebs last week when Oxford University’s PR office issued a request that all press releases follow AP style. Serial-comma purists everywhere freaked, thinking that Oxford University was dropping its eponymous comma. Passion, tirades, and hilarity for grammar nerds ensued, for it’s rare that we have opportunities for punctuation smugness outside of The Blog of Unnecessary Quotations Marks.

What else caught my eye? A disturbing article about the misinformation from Japan about the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I’ve already read a report that my local dairy and produce has radioactive materials from the nuclear plant’s meltdown. I don’t know what we can do about local, organic food that tests high for radiation. Buy McD*n*ld’s instead? Hell no. Processed C*nAgra crapola? Of course not. So I feel helpless. And I can’t help thinking about the pain of generations of Japanese parents as I fear for all of us, especially our little dudes.

After that downer, I can tell you something that made me smile this week, though. A fabulous Saturday morning, getting my favorite breakfast next to my favorite random art (yes, that’s a hand-knit bike-rack cozy) and tromping through our favorite creek. Oh, so much smiling that morning. Bread and cheese and yarn bombs and water and lichens and dogs and sunshine and kids. Doesn’t get better, y’all.

What else? Well, there’s the debut of this. A couple of my friends were tired of feeling lost and frumpy and frustrated with their jobs. [Note: *feeling* that way. They are smart and funny and awesome and supportive. So their itching to use their skills for more than reading riot acts and writing lists of house rules I completely understand, but their sense of frumpiness was all in their heads. I thought they were 20 kinds of amazing before their new venture.] Now they’re standing tall in the name of replacing our yoga pants with real clothes. Go subscribe to their blog…it’s new and content is coming fast and furious.

What I dig about Dump Your Frump is the insistence that whatever is important to you can stay important to you, even when parenting (or work of any stripe) dominates your every waking moment. You do matter, and you can take little steps to remind yourself of that every day. The delightful ladies behind Dump Your Frump haven’t inspired me to care about makeup or clothes, but they have goaded me into shaking off my intellectual burlap sack. I have lists and lists in my daily notebook of priorities, as though writing down what’s important will make me cleave to my passions. Hasn’t worked. I still just have lists that make me feel like an underachiever. But Dump Your Frump is making me look at those lists…HARD…and commit to them. Writing. Reading. Exercise. More writing. Doctorate. Novel. Hard work, belief in self, meditation. Okay, fine…maybe some EWG-approved mascara and lip gloss. Because the little things really do make a difference.

now that's dumping your frump!

Tis the season. In Berkeley.

Know why I love living in Berkeley? Because everyone this morning around town is wishing each other a Happy Winter Solstice.

It is, after all, the next holiday. And an obvious one, since children all over town are up well before dawn because the damned planet is conspiring to remind us how completely in control physics is and parents are not. I’m hoping the solstice is soon because I want my sunrise back to sometime before lunch. Channukah’s almost over. Christmas is almost a week away. Next up? Solstice. And around here, it is another excuse to be nice to each other. It’s not L.A. or Boston at the CheeseBoard, I can tell you that. It’s friendly happy time. You’d think all these secular humanists actually treated people with respect despite their blatant heathen lifestyle.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Gee, I wonder where to live

Our dilemma:
Median Home Cost Seattle $422,190 Berkeley$660,500

Precipitation Days Seattle 155 Berkeley 64
Sunny Days Seattle 152 Berkeley 256
Graduate Degrees Seattle 17.19% Berkeley 34.02%


Source: Sperling’s Best Places, which is good clean time wasting fun for the geographically ambivalent.

IJ quote of the day 26

“The most hated Incandenza film, a variable-length one called The Joke, had only a very brief theatrical release, and then only at the widely scattered last remains of the pre-InterLace public art-film theaters in art places like Cambridge MA and Berkeley CA” (397).

Having lived in both, I can tell you that audiences in each city would still “shell out for little paper theater tickets” even after they’d heard from friends what the film was.

Sweater vest or no, go read Infinite Jest with us at Infinite Summer.

When the world stops

Words fail me…a friend just posted a link on his facebook page about a boy he worked with…

Zachary Cruz was walking from kindergarten to his after-school program and was killed by a car.

His parents, grad students at Cal, have set up a memorial page. There’s a link to help defray their son’s funeral costs, and info about the Oxnard and Berkeley memorials.  Two weeks before his sixth birthday.

Can you imagine?

Can you help, please?


This amazing, wonderful little boy that I worked with for the last two years died Friday in a tragic traffic accident in Berkeley on his way from kindergarten to his after school program. He was mind-bendingly sweet and adorable, a really old soul. His parents, grad students at Cal, have set up a wonderful memorial website for him and could use help to defray funeral costs. Check it out and make a donation if you can…”

Can’t we just live at The CheeseBoard?

The center of my sense of home and community is The CheeseBoard Collective on Shattuck. Living near there formed some of the most important pieces of who I am, and visiting now brings back a flood of revelations, realizations, and nine-plus-senses pleasures that make me happy to my core.

So I took Peanut there.

He’s been before, but this time we went to the store/bakery and to the pizza joint. The latter is not at all the CheeseBoard where I lunched countless afternoons in the ’90s and ’00s. It’s bigger, since they took over the shop next door and expanded with more tables (shock), a bathroom (gasp), and a full area for the musicians.

The pizza of the day was roasted cauliflower, caramelized onion, mozzarella, cheddar, chive, and garlic olive oil on the trademark sourdough crust. It was gorgeous and drippy and wonderfully flavorful. But I’ve rarely had a bad slice there.

The band was the California Honeydrops. They sunk their teeth into a soulful performance and totally captivated my son.

So we ate, me a slice of heaven and him a cheese roll from the Collective. We listened to the blues. We watched the locals and newbies, alike. We basked in the glow of the new paint, the cheerful tile, and the clean bathrooms.

And he said to me, of my favorite place in the world, (except my aunt and uncle’s house at Thanksgiving), “this place make Peanut happy!”

I cried. “Me, too, bug. This place make mommy happy, too.”

I love you, CheeseBoard family.

Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings—-review, sort of

Let me begin with a caveat: I’m not a music critic. I’m not a professional reviewer or musician, and, quite frankly, don’t know what I’m talking about. But Counting Crows’ music has always had a place in my life, for various reasons, and my response to the new album is different than I expected. So I thought I’d throw it our into the blogosphere. Be gentle. These are just personal reflections.

(The short version: I started out not liking most of the tracks. Then David Foster Wallace died and I can’t stop playing the album. What seemed trite and pedestrian is now deeply meaningful. What failed to resonate is now rocking my soul. I guess I wasn’t depressed enough for a Counting Crows album until last week. Now, the band that used to know my confusion and delusions once again speaks to me. The album was growing on me with repeated play. After the suicide, though, I can’t find many faults with it. It probably won’t ever pluck the chords of my self-seeking and disillusioned gypsy soul the way previous albums did, but we’ve all turned a corner in our lives,  and at least I have a friend in the CD player again. The lyrics still grate a bit. But the instrumentation intrigues and the album finally feels like the old friend I’ve always found in the Counting Crows.)

The unapologetically long version:

Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings was purportedly intended as a musical chronicle of the hard living/remorseful hangover pattern most of recognize from some point in our lives. I figured the album would have little in it for me, since my Saturday nights can not have one iota in common with Adam Duritz’s, and my Sunday mornings are farther from my idea of a Sunday morning than I ever thought they would be. We’ve taken different paths, The Crows and I, and, even though we were never even on the same road, I was sure that this album wouldn’t even have a shadow of the hope-doubting, 3am-ceiling-staring, surrealist aspirational beauty I so crave from this band.

The earliest Crows’ albums hit me in two ways. Some of the surreal and intensely soul-wrenching lyrics pluck a moment of my inner world and echo its exact vibrations for the duration of the song. Others wrap me into a world I can’t know, but allow me some enormously cathartic empathy surfing. All of their early songs find me in a crowd, resonate within me, and then leave me speechless, jolted out of complacency and scanning my surroundings to find something familiar. For some reason Duritz often hits chords, metaphorically, that know me, shake me, and comfort me. Each of the early albums seemed to understand my current stage of hopeless hopefulness. The Counting Crows always felt like home, even though they left me feeling achingly isolated and out of place.

So I imagined that this album would disappoint me, not musically, but in its capacity to find and touch me. I’m sure that, on the artists’ list of creative and musical goals to accomplish, finding a way to address their hopes, joys, and mental anguish to me personally ranked somewhere around 365,741,980th. But I was willing to taste that morsel, stuck to the tread of the boots worn by some roadie who swept up after a Dublin concert.

As I expected, I have little in common with the Saturday Night Crows. I don’t particularly like “1492.” “Hanging Tree” is lovely and catchy, but foreign to everything in my dizzy life. “Los Angeles” bandies about all that I loathed about living down there, and makes me yearn for my “ghosts in San Francisco” even more. Now that I’ve moved back, and DFW found the soullessness of LA too much, I like the song infinitely more. While the Boston reference in “Walkaways” still makes me cry, “Los Angeles” and its mentions of Boston leave me cold. “Sundays” sounds fine, and “I don’t believe in anything” either. On paper I can really get into (Except the skinny girls bit, which will always be offensive for so many reasons.) “Insignificant,” is now playing incessantly in my head on runs–a good sign that this is old school Crows. I, too, don’t want to be insignificant, or feel so different. Similarly, the lyrics of “Cowboys” resonate, and the tune is wearing off its original shiny annoyingness to feel like worn old leather. In my original review draft, I was beginning to think I was just dead on the inside, in the little spaces where a batlike Adam Duritz used to hang upside down and keep watch on my neuroses while I closed my eyes for just a minute. David Foster Wallace swept the cobwebs from my terror, my anxiety, my literary mind; now the song is like a blanket on neurotic nights.

The album’s first half sounds fine, and, as I said, I’m not a skilled enough ear to tell you if their work here is genius or artistically middling. And I don’t care. They’re entitled to be brilliant in their hard living, fast driving chapter if they want. That’s not my world. Maybe it’s because the secret fears and horrifying sights the Crows used to paint just captivated me is now composed in a angry, driving, rock and roll voice that I just don’t have the energy to hear anymore. I’m getting too old for this.

And maybe that’s why the Sunday Morning Crows feel like they’re in the same neighborhood, if not actually home. I thought morning-after laments and impulses would irritate and alienate me (way to prejudge and artist’s work), but I find (probably in the desperation that comes from hoping you still find at least something worth in an old lover, else re-foment your otherwise forgotten regret) exactly what I remember and want and need in the band’s Sunday Morning section. It helps that they began the Sunday Morning segment with a ballad that aches of homesickness and nostalgia, for I groove on those motifs, always. Duritz’s surrealism is decidedly more obvious, overexplained, and approachable on this album, which irks me. But the music itself is more intense, nuanced, and compelling than earlier Crows’ orchestration. Though there were high points in previous albums (think This Desert Life’s “High Life” and its unexpected but gorgeous instrumentation), this album is more consistently arresting musically.

For example, the music on “Washington Square” weaves a classic Crows rock with a haunting Irish fairy dance, allowing each to ride over each other and fade in a phase-shifted wave oscillation kind of way. It’s intensely beautiful. The two lines come together then dance apart to create three musical stories beneath the lyrics.

I still haven’t heard most of “On Almost Any Sunday Morning” because the harmonica leads me off to other, lovely places. The lyrics of “When I Dream of Michaelangelo” frustrates me in their references to earlier songs, even though intertextual references are part of the Crows’s appeal for me. The song could be so strong on its own, with the friendless electrifying dance on vulnerable skin, that the angels’ presence irritates me. This is the place on the album I feel most strongly that Duritz’s surrealism has departed from a stream of consciousness that I can follow. I like to wend and stumble through his mind without having my hand held. This imagistic walkway seems to have airport-like, overly obvious signs proclaiming its otherworldliness. As it grows more worn with play, tough, I forget how out of place the play-by-play seems. And I cut him a whole lotta slack because I can’t have any more brilliant but tormented artists off themselves. I need these guys.

“Anyone but You” recalls August and Everything After. I’m still not in love with it, but its complex themes and chording are still working their way into my consciousness.

“You Can’t Count on Me,” like “Sundays” feels like a track from the Hard Candy album, which is not a bad thing, but that album was also running a course tangential, rather than parallel, to mine. The two songs are lovely and tied in knots and weren’t my cup of tea. Until Wallace’s death. (This repeated reference is getting old, I know, but it’s true, and cathartic to realize how one moment on a Monday totally shook me to the core, and how this album has a been a soft, neurotic place for me to nurse mself back into combobulation). I just fell into these Sunday morning songs like I do the couch at grandma’s. I don’t see them for what they are, but for the comfort of not having to think about them.

In beckoning us to dance, “Le Ballet d’Or” strikes me as a wilted, gravelling smoker’s siren song. In it I recognize the Moulin Rouge and theatrical back alley drinkers. Doesn’t mean I won’t go to the ball. Just means it’ll take a particularly remorseful morose impulse to get me to dance my cares away. Before DFW’s suicide I resented that the Crows didn’t even notice I need a babysitter before I can drag my sad old self to the dance. Now it sounds really, really nice to just forget myself in its repetition.

Even further from my reality, “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam,” takes all the compelling old elements—the highwire, the turned back, the rider—and fades them into a repetitive whimper that allows only the piano to shine. And man, does it.  Makes me think Ben Folds.

But the newest Counting Crows album ends with “Come Around,” which closely enough resembles the Crows I know, to suggest that the little pieces of me that echo with their music will again see them come around back to a reality I can recognize.

There. You have my rambling review. My overall advice is, keep listening. They’re a different band now, but if you let them into your life, they’ll start feeling as though they belong. I’m not sure yet if this album cracks my top three Crows albums. But only the top two are thus far insurrountable, so that third spot may be theirs, if life keeps playing out the way it is this fall.

(Side note, YouTube is a conflicting place for me. I was all excited, in an unrelated Google search, to find a clip of the band playing Washington Square on lower Sproul. Talk about surreal. It never occurred to me, as a music lover not a star f*cker, to ever research the singers, songwriters, or bands that make the music I love. I don’t know about personal lives, I don’t listen to interviews, and I don’t visit fan sites. I like the music I like, and that’s it. I don’t even go to concerts. So it was unsettling to see Duritz on Sproul , only because I always thought that hearing his music and thinking of Berkeley, of successes and failures under the broad-reaching halo of theCapanile , was coincidence. Thinking now that I might have heard Berkeley in his music because there IS Berkeley in his music, that an iota ofDuritz and a particle of me link through Oski’s bloodline is more than strange. And I don’t have time to rethink all my Counting Crows associations, the bulk of which are either from Boston missing California or from California missing a me I was trying to be. So I’m kind of mad to have found those videos. And I’m not linking to them, ‘cuz I’m still a little discombobulated about it all. It feels like a one-night stand you only barely remember, having formed all your stories and meanings about it in a vacuum, then hearing the real story from the real person rather than the idealization.)