Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Words to Write By, Plus Something About Salad

The following words have kept me going these past few weeks. I don't know where I ran across them—little torpedoes of useful and not-so-useful information come at us every which way these days. For all I know, they were on bumperstickers or someone's t-shirt. So, the first is a challenge:

Dare to suck.

Yes, of course! It's not like a choir of angels began to sing when I read the words, but there's no denying that the tension in my shoulders eased up considerably and I thought, "I can do that! I can totally suck!" It's still writing, after all. Even if it's sucky writing.

The second was a simple statement:

An idea is not a story.

Hmmm. Good point. Excellent point. When you start out with "I have this idea..." it's just not going to go anywhere. Because, really, stories don't come from the same place as ideas. This is difficult to remember, especially during a rough spot when you start wracking your brain for answers. I know it's a cliché, but if you're looking for answers, aim a little lower and to the left. If that's unsuccessful, try your solar plexus.

~~*~~*~~*~~*~~* An Aside ~~*~~*~~*~~*~~*

Doesn't it drive you crazy when someone orders a salad and then, when the waitperson places it in front of them, they hoist their fork and start to stab at it with a Norman Bates-like enthusiasm, every movement producing that horrible clacking sound of fork on porcelain? This is especially true when it's a composed salad of some kind, and the diner feels they need to have one cherry tomato, one chunk of feta, one cucumber, one leaf of romaine, and one slice of chicken breast in every single bite.

Take it easy on the salad, everyone. The salad has never done anything to you.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Bayanihan or "Watching Filipinos Dance"

Many things stood between us and The Bayanihan: the girls' 11:00 soccer game, a Cal game that effectively rendered null the idea of driving to Berkeley, my fear that public transportation (BART) would prove unreliable, and my endless worry that one of the girls (or all of them!) would require a restroom at an inopportune moment. This last item involved a strategic doling out of liquids, a task that proved tricky since R & V had spent 45 minutes running up and down the soccer field in 80º weather.

But whaddaya know? The planets aligned, and we arrived on Shattuck a solid 45 minutes before curtain time. We made the short trek to Zellerbach, found a shady spot near the Bear's Lair, and quickly downed the picnic (okay, well maybe "picnic" is too glamorous a word) I'd prepared. It was then that I noticed a familiar-looking Pinoy gesticulating wildly as he chatted with a young couple. "There's Rhett!" I said.

"Who's Rhett?"

"Never mind, never mind. Just go over there and say 'Hi! We're Veronica's children,'" I said.


"Never mind! Just go, go. Come on, go!"

I'm sure you've noticed I do this all the time. I make people do things simply to feed my daily quota of necessary amusements. I am horrible that way. Anyway, they then proceeded to inch the fifty yards towards Rhett. They stood about ten feet behind him, giggling and taking turns pushing each other forward, taking a few steps back, whispering, and whatnot. All this was lost on Rhett, who continued his conversation. The spousal unit and I looked on. Finally, Rhett turned around. And since I don't know what transpired as they spoke (although I seem to remember seeing him mouth the words, "Veronica who?"), I will leave it to Rhett—Mr. Newly Minted American! Naks!— to report or not report the exchange.

All I know is that he gamely walked over to us, kids in tow, and gently berated us for scaring the hell out of him. "I heard these children's voices saying 'Hi Rhett!' and I thought...should I turn around?" So he was quite delightful.

But—and I'm sure he will not mind my saying so—not as delightful as the Bayanihan dancers. I am no judge in these matters, but between the costumes (at one point, all the women came out in black and white, and I audibly sighed with pleasure), the music, and the choreography, I was enthralled. I especially loved the piece they performed right after the intermission, "Mindanao Splendor," and most specifically their interpretation of the Sambi Sa Malong.

After it was all over, and we'd taken BART back to Daly City where we'd left our car, we ended up at the perfect spot to end the day: the In 'n' Out Burger in Millbrae. The spousal unit and I let the girls sit at their own table. They were quickly chatted up by three twenty-something-year-old men, who initially frightened me a little due to the fact that they all more or less looked like my personal idea of Satan. One had on a sweatshirt that read, "3 can keep a secret if 2 are dead." He never removed his hood. One—his name turned out to be Arturo—had stringy orange hair worn to the middle of his back, a goatee, and preternaturally large teeth that he continually bared (although to be fair, it was because he kept laughing). The last one was Federico, and he claimed to be Arturo's twin brother. His hair was black as night and sort of looked like Danny Patridge's, though with a lot more bouncin' and behavin' action, and he, too, kept a carefully tended goatee. Very curious, those three. Anyways, there was little to fear because, as the spousal unit pointed out, though you couldn't tell by simply looking at them, they'd make great babysitters.

At one point, Federico said to Risa, "So, where'd you guys come from?"

"Oh, we rode the train."

"Really? That's cool. From where?"

She looked at us for guidance, which we gave. "Berkeley," she repeated.

"Oh yeah? What were you doing there?"

"We watched Filipinos dance."

"What?" said Federico.

"We watched Filipinos dance."

"Dude! That's hilarious. Hey," he said, nudging the hooded guy, "Did you hear her? She was all 'we watched Filipinos dance'!"

And, well, when you put it that way, it was kind of hilarious.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Say It Isn't So

It doesn't really matter if this part is true; it's what I remember: I grew up in the Westlake section of Daly City, and there was a Chinese restaurant called "The Great Wall," and when you walked in you were immediately met with a glossy red circular architectural element and plenty of gold fringe. We used to take my grandparents there all the time.

This part is definitely true: Our menu selections always began with an order of silky Westlake Minced Beef Soup. I thought it was called this because it was invented at The Great Wall restaurant in the Westlake section of Daly City. I have believed this all my life, and have always felt a certain hometown pride when I would see Westlake Minced Beef Soup listed on the menu of Chinese restaurants far and wide.

(I love Westlake Minced Beef Soup)

Last night, when trying to scare up an idea for dinner, I realized I had all the ingredients for this beloved soup: beef, chinese parsley, green onion, eggs, chicken broth. It would have been easy enough to approximate the recipe, but I decided to google it just for the sake of googling it. And here is a blow-by-blow of my reactions as I read through one of the recipes:

Hmmm...first marinade the beef in a little soy sauce, sugar, pepper and cornstarch. I wouldn't have thought to do that. Hmmm...whip the eggs with some flour and then pour them into the soup through a sieve. Definitely wouldn't have done that. Hmmm..."Westlake minced beef soup probably takes its name from West Lake in Guangzhou, the soup's province of origin."

*look of horror and confusion*

Excuse me? Do you mean to tell me that Westlake Minced Beef Soup was not invented at the Great Wall restaurant in the Westlake Section of Daly City?

And just like that, my entire world was flipped topsy-turvy.

But I made the soup, and it was good.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


After I drop the kids at school, I usually take off on an errand run that seems to always include the trifecta of Mom-dom: Target, Trader Joe's, and Safeway (where, yesterday, I suffered the indignity of bagging Fuji apples while The Captain & Tenille's "Do It To Me One More Time" played over the sound system. Stop for a moment and picture that. It's sad, is it not?). There's nothing inherently glamorous about my day-to-day, but give me some lipstick and a cool pair of flats and I can turn anything into an adventure.

Today, though, I returned to my nesting ground. I hear only the hum of the fridge and, somewhere a few blocks away, the ubiquitous sound of leafblowers. I paid the existing bills and opened and filed the new ones. I returned e-mail, cleared the breakfast dishes (Risa left a nice chunk of her apple-cinnamon muffin behind; I ate it), swept the kitchen floor, and invited a playmate over for Lea tomorrow afternoon. And not once was my train of non-thought interrupted.

I have done nothing, and there is no other way to put it: I have reveled in the nothing of it all.

But now it's almost time to pick up Lea. Lunch, anyone?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ix-Nay The Usic-May

I was recently accused of being a "nitpicker," but to that I would answer:

1) It's better than being a nose picker


2) Someone has to see to the details

All of which is my way of saying...I've had it with the music they play at my local Safeway. With all due respect to Sarah McLachlan, I do not want to "listen as the wind blows/from across the great divide" while I try to pick a ripe cantaloupe. And while I'm certain there are at least two scenarios in which I could, indeed, take Enrique Iglesias' breath away (if I punched him in the rock-hard abs twenty times, for example), I hardly need to hear him whisper so while I reach for a box of Grape Nuts. Finally, I'll admit there's a place and time to assert aloud that "there's got to be a morning after/we're moving closer to the shore," but it is decidely not while I'm checking a Pop-Tarts nutritional label for the hundredth time to see if I can locate any redeeming value whatsoever. Or maybe it is. I don't know.

They should just play language tapes or something. Why not master Esperanto while shopping for dinner? Or why not just have a pleasant voice issuing random compliments: "You look great! Are you working out?" or "Your posture is nothing short of outstanding!" Things like that.

What? I'm not allowed to have ideas? Stop yelling at me.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Happy Post

After spending four days on the road, the weary spousal unit returned home for our joyous reunion, only to be greeted by a wife who would not shut up. I talked the poor man's ears clear off his head. He listened and listened and listened, and at the end of it all he said, "Okay. Now what's making you happy?"

Um, good point.

So without further residue, I present the things that are making me happy at the moment:

1) A little stipend from Bamboo Ridge, along with an invitation to possibly read at the University of Hawai'i in November.

2) Investigating Risa and Vida's desks at Back-to-School night. In her journal, Vida wrote a whole thing about a day when she got super mad and stomped up to her room. She illustrated it and made little thought bubbles over her head. They said, "Fine!" and "Okay!" Risa's teacher ends each day with a poetry reading. I like Risa's teacher.

3) A spousal unit who passed me a crumpled napkin as I passed by him on my way to do some job or another at the fundraiser last weekend. At first I was all hello? I'm not a garbage can, but then I uncrumpled it and it said...well, never mind. That's between us, ya nosy freaks.

4) Lea so comfortable and thriving at preschool this year.

5) E-mails from Barbara Jane and Joanne.

6) Tony Robles' e-mail agreement to do Author Day in February at R & V's school!

7) My local and brand-new Main Library, which is basically...paradise. I sat down at a computer there on Tuesday and wrote for two hours straight. The banter of four old men playing side-by-side chess games helped to keep things from being intimidatingly hush-hush. Of course I eavesdropped. "I'm not happy with my performance," said Man #1. To which his opponent responded, "Remember, it's only a game." Man #1 took umbrage: "Chess is not just a game! It is never just a game!" Yikes.

There. That wasn't so hard.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hark! A Skirmish!

I have a short and rather appalling history of entering into certain blog skirmishes. I've been wondering why this is, and all I can come up with is that I must be making up for those times when an actual face-to-face confrontation left me speechless and I wound up waking up in the middle of the night thinking Dammit! I shoulda said.... The blogosphere allows me to "write-fight," which comes much more naturally to me. Some might argue that the anonymity of the Internet makes me more comfortable saying what I feel, but I would argue that Nesting Ground is not an anonymous space: real name, real picture, real kids and spousal unit, etc. etc.

All of which is to say that I almost got caught up in it again, but I think I succeeded in reigning myself in. I don't know; check it out for yourselves in the comments here and here. What do you think, A.D.?—Have I learned anything?

Today I started reading a book called Packaging Girlhood by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. From the statement on their website:

We write about how “girl power” has been co-opted by marketers of music, fashion, books, cartoons, TV shows, movies, toys, and more to mean the power to shop and attract boys, and how girls are encouraged to use their “voice” to choose accessorizing over academics, sex appeal over sports, and boyfriends over friends. We expose these stereotypes and the very limited choices presented of who girls are and what they can be.

This is why I can't nod and say oh, I see now; you're totally right to those who support the imagery in the Generation 2 "Bebot" video with arguments like, "Well, it's like that in all the videos," and "There was no wardrobe for the shoot. The girls wore what they wanted to wear," etc. etc. Those are comments that simply reveal how easy it is for all of us to be manipulated. They are not comments that get to the root of the issue.

You know what gets to the root of the issue? This 7-minute documentary that the lovely Joanne found on Kiwi's blog. If you have 7 minutes, you should watch. If you don't have 7 minutes, you should watch anyway.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Emancipation of ViVi

(Not to be confused with the Emancipation of Mimi, which clearly involves an addiction to the inflating of various body parts, extending of hair, erasing of fine lines, and all manner of skullduggery...)

My particular mini-emancipation simply refers to a certain large fundraising event being nicely wrapped up late Saturday evening, and Lea heading back to preschool today. Not that I'm all loose-goosey-miss-throw-your-cares-to-the-wind-let's-go-to-the-spa person now or anything. It just means there's some time for those simple but essential pleasures (or pains, depending on my outlook on life at any given moment) that transform me from harpy to human: reading, writing, excercising. And so I am a few pages into Neil Gaiman's Stardust (at last, at last, I know the curious thing that occurs every nine years in the Village of Wall); I have cardio'ed (Pilates I've stayed with lo these past 2 months; cardio not so much); and I'm readying a story to be sent far, far away in the hopes that it will not return until set between a front and back cover.

And there's time for general anxieties, too, which is quite a luxury. I have time to be anxious, for example, about the little bit of talking I'm required to do at Back-to-School night on Thursday. It's likely that it won't amount to more than five minutes, but I have to tell you that five minutes spent up front and center before a group of 100 or so tired, rushed-for-time, blank-faced, and sorta squirming parents can be its own sort of hell. I know, I know: just imagine they are attired only in their underwear. Thanks.

Just heard from that most wandering of poets, Señor Pat Rosal, who is ensconced just 20 minutes away but whom I will have to miss this time around. And to this I proclaim: Bah! In honor of his visit and our mutual appreciation of shoes, I was about to post a picture of my most recent acquisition. However, due to technical difficulties here at Nesting Ground, a picture of the first tomato ever grown in our garden will have to...oh, shoot! I can't do that one either. Let's honor of Pat's visit, here is a picture of sweet Vida at her first soccer game (which I had to miss), where she was apparently injected with a full vial of testosterone and encouraged to skedaddle about like a feral beast. The title of this blog post now makes much more sense:

Monday, September 04, 2006

Still Here. I Think.

I read this on another blog (apologies for not remembering which), and it suits the moment: I'm not dead, but I am buried.

I feel like I'm lying down and there are 547 (not 546, not 543. 547) itchy, wet wool blankets on top of me. Every time I complete one of the often ludicrous tasks on my list, some unseen presence peels one blanket back. I don't know where the blankets end up, but I hope it's not on top of you. The good news is that 1) being buried and all, I am only dimly aware of the unprecedented mess that currently constitutes my home and 2) I should be free from most of the blankets by this time next week.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I'll be leaving the nest for a few days, my lovelies. I'm going to sign off with an excerpt from the story I'm writing. Or, to be more precise, the story I'm theoretically writing. When I return, it'll serve to remind me that writing is something I do.

'Cuz I keep forgetting, dammit.

Anyways, here's a little bit of it. No title, no nothing:

It is Marivic’s idea of what an old white woman might like: loose black tea, a tin of English lemon biscuits, petite cubes fashioned from pink sugar, and—Marivic loved this best—a tea strainer in the shape of a house. She’d packed it all with exaggerated care into a floral gift bag and tied it with raffia. But when she smiled and handed it to Mrs. Harrison, she knew immediately she’d made a mistake. Better to have brought a bottle of Scotch or a ladies’ polo shirt from Pebble Beach. Marivic made a mental note to always take her new mother-in-law’s subtle hints at face value: “Tish? Tish once played golf with President Bush! The older one, mind you,” she had said. And also, “That Tish loves her cocktail hour.”

“Well, thank you, sweetheart,” Mrs. Harrison said. She fingered the raffia as if it were the hair of an ugly child.

“You’re so welcome. Thank you for having us, Mrs. Harrison.”

“Oh, call me Tish. The only Mrs. Harrison I ever knew was my mother-in-law!” She passed Marivic’s gift to a small, doughy woman who seemed to have emerged from the kitchen for just that purpose. “Now let me look at you,” she said. She held Marivic’s chin in her hand—her fingers smelled of tobacco—and turned the young woman’s face from side to side. Marivic wondered if she should open her mouth and allow her teeth to be inspected. “Lovely, Jonathan! Lovely.”

“Thanks, Tish. It’s great to see you. It’s been too long.” He embraced his mother’s childhood friend, crushing her thin body to his chest.

“You always were just too, too handsome,” Tish murmured. She excused herself then, explaining that she couldn’t miss her afternoon soap opera. The doughy woman—whose name turned out to be Penny—showed Jonathan and Marivic to their room.

“You look familiar,” Jonathan said. “You’ve worked here a long time, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I have. I remember when you were just a boy. What a firecracker you were!”

Jonathan laughed and turned to Marivic, who usually couldn’t get enough of hearing stories about his childhood mishaps: the time he mistook shaving cream for whipped cream, for example, or his uncanny ability to break a window whenever a ball of any sort left his hands.

The first time Jonathan took Marivic home to his parents, she spent an inordinate amount of time leafing through the family photo albums, ever alert for any picture in which he appeared. Early on, Jonathan attributed this fervent curiosity about his childhood to her upbringing. After all, not only did the Lozada family know everything about each other, they made sure to know everything about anyone else who innocently wandered into close proximity. Jonathan thought of them as a human vacuum or—on his less patient days—as a giant preying mantis sucking all available information out of passersby. He had yet to recover from the time one of Marivic’s aunts—he couldn’t remember which; there were several—asked him how much his house had cost. “Excuse me?” he’d said. And she repeated the question a little more slowly, thinking that her accent was standing in the way of proper communication. Jonathan skillfully responded not with how much his house had cost, but with how much it was worth on the market. The aunt was mollified.

But today Marivic wasn’t interested in the firecracker of a boy Jonathan used to be as he treaded the well-kept sidewalks of Albany, New York. She wasn’t laughing, or even smiling. After Penny had left the room and shut the door behind her, Marivic said, “What, exactly, were you thanking her for?”

“Who? Penny?”

“No, not Penny, for God’s sake. Tish. Were you thanking her for saying that I was ‘lovely’? That so does not make any sense, Jonathan.”

At times like this, Jonathan realized what an excellent mother Marivic would one day be. He admired her unwavering idea of what constituted acceptable and unacceptable behavior. He loved the way she smirked when angry. The hand on her hip, the tilt of her small, perfect head. She had no idea that her scolding only made him want to remove her clothing as quickly as possible. “But you are lovely,” he said, tackling her onto the bed.