Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Spring Break

So, the kids were off from school last week on spring break. We did the usual -- spent hundreds of dollars keeping them occupied because we weren't actually going AWAY on a vacation. There was bowling, eating out for lunch, shopping, eating out for dinner, going to the city--where we ate everything that didn't eat us first.

I thought it would be nice to take the kids to Central Park to row the boats. It was mid-week and kind of overcast. Not too hot for sitting in a man-made lake under the blazing sun, not too cold to be in a boat with a wind blowing. It was a perfect day for rowing.

We took my car because Mike's was getting serviced. No sooner were we in my car, and he starts with the complaints about how uncomfortable the seats are in my luxurious Ford Focus station wagon. I decided I would ignore this. After all, we were going row boating in Central Park. Mike never wanted to do it before -- because it was too hot, too crowded, not enough time, he'd rather choke on his own vomit, you name it. But on this day, in a weird, weak moment, he agreed to it. So I was happy. And I ignored his rant about how his back was going to be out "any second now."

We got to the city, and there was some traffic. Because it's NEW YORK CITY. Mike started complaining about how we should just go downtown and walk around the Village. Already, I could see his mind working to get out of the boat promise. We went to drive across Central Park to get to the Boat House, and there was a major line of traffic.

Mike: "This is great. We're not going to be able to get across this park."

Me: "At some point in our lives, probably within 15 minutes, we'll get across the park. Relax"

Mike: "I'm relaxed. I'm just saying, there's no way we should be in mid-town during the week. The traffic's a joke, there's not going to be anywhere to park. And who comes to New York to row a boat anyway?! You come to the city for the city, not to pretend you're in the country. ...And my back's killing me."

Me: "But you're relaxed."

We got across town, searched for a space for about 15 minutes, and just as I said, "Mike, you get your wish--let's just go downtown," we found a space.

The boating was actually great. Mike let Cara and I row around -- as his back was destroyed and apparently ready for traction because of the seats in my car. Ryan had fun looking at the fish that kept jumping around in the reeds. We spotted a big black bird that looked like it was in the egret family (I'm SO getting an honorary membership in the Audobon Society with that analysis).

It was a lot of fun and we saw a whole new view of the city.

Afterward, we dropped a stupid amount of money on a paltry amount of candy at Dylan's Candy Bar. Note: the Tropical Nerds Rope that you can get at Five Below stores for 60 cents goes for $2.50 at Dylan's. I mean, I know it's a tourist trap. But, seriously, come on.

Why this candy store is on the must-visit list with Cara and Ryan is anyone's guess. Yes, it has a wall of Jelly Belly jelly beans in every flavor known to humankind, a bank of M&Ms in every color imaginable, stools that look like spinning peppermint drops when you twirl them, and candy pieces embedded in the risers of the lit-up stairs. Plus, an entire section of sour candy. And every song coming from the speakers has to do with candy -- from "Candy-O" by the Cars to "I Want Candy" by Aaron Carter AND Bow Wow Wow.

Yeah, and this sugar deluge covers two levels under one roof. Fine, I get it. But why don't my kids recognize that I could get the same candy at places like I'd put "Good Ship Lollipop" on repeat-play on my computer while ordering. No? Not the same experience?

Well, after saying "no" about a thousand times to various candies (edible candy bubbles that you blow in the air and try to catch in your mouth--right), candy-related items (Littlest Pet Shop twirling lollipop holders?!), and non-candy items (T-shirts, Tootsie Roll pillows), I got them checked out.

But, keeping the Salfino spirit of "we need to complain about this day" alive, they decided to fight over who got to hold the bag once we got outside. I grabbed the signature blue plastic bag, went back in the store and considered smashing the cashier over the head with it. But then I recognized that the cops would NOT recognize that I was overreacting to a day filled with trying to convince everybody of what a good time we were having. So I just got a second bag. And pulled it over my head until I passed out.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Partyin' Out o' Bounds

When Mike recently told me he'd be gone for most of this past weekend because of the Tout Wars (I swear to God, there's no shame when it comes to competition among men. You're playing FANTASY sports. Do you really need to use the term "War?" "War?")

Anyway, his being gone gave me the excuse to have a girls' night at my house. With all the friends who've either had me over or included me in the many nights out we've enjoyed over the years. Or they've had my kids over. Or had my kids in their pool. Or fed my kids. Or picked my kids up from school. This one night was my big chance for reciprocation.

So, because a few of my friends had never seen my house before, and I'd been to theirs--and they were all sickeningly impeccable and absurdly well-decorated and obnoxiously well-stocked with food and drinks--I got a little freaked out. There was no way I could learn to make haute appetizers and become a floral designer -- not to mention, hire a contractor to blow out the rear of our house, expand the kitchen, install new cabinets and designer appliances, add a deck, create a powder room and renovate the basement bathroom -- in two days.

Recognizing these shortcomings, I decided I could attain the modern, open sensibility I yearned for combined with perfect decor and sublime epicurious delights by plying everyone with liquor the second they walked through the door. I think I'm submitting this tip to HGTV.

I basically had a day to clean up this place. And anyone who knows me or my kids knows that I should have just hammered myself in the head because it would have been less painful. Maybe I'm the only person who has been through this, but for me, it's kind of a regular occurrence: I have to start cleaning up, and there's so much to do, I decide I need to call old friends, touch base with my family, send some e-mails. By the time I got that done, I was too tired to clean. So I did some shopping for prepared food items. When I had roughly an hour before I had to get the kids and their friends from school, I started clearing clutter. Which I finished at about 10 Friday night.

Saturday, I decided I owed it to myself to go to the gym. Then I took Ryan to his swim class. Then I paid a couple of bills. With literally nowhere left to hide, I hunkered down to the cleaning. Which was a LOT of fun, so much so, I can't believe I don't do it more often.

By the time the party started, I was on Advil and pouring myself mugs of coffee.

And that, my friends, is how you party like a rock star....

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Desert Times

Joshua Tree, California: Town motto: Where being dead just doesn't seem so bad.

Ah. The desert. The brown. The gray. The cactus prickers that are drawn to your denim like metal shards to a super magnet. That's where we "vacationed" this past week.

We went because Mike's grandmother has an aneurysm. When it was diagnosed, the doctor said she could go in two months or two years. That was at least 2 years ago. So, obviously, we were overdue.

We decided to go to Joshua Tree in February, because after about March 1, it's hard to see anything through the wavy heat that rises off the dusty dirt.

And it seemed like a good move, to leave in February. Because despite there having been nary an inch of snow all year, the weather had become downright hypothermic.

We left last Wednesday. But not before hearing about the ice storm that was coming. And I'm not talking about the a re-release of that Kevin Kline action flick, either.

See, it wouldn't be a Salfino family vacation if it didn't involve weather that could be defined as "crappy." One year, we decided to go down the shore for a week. New Jersey was locked in drought conditions for two months before we left. We hit the beach and the skies opened up two hours later. For five days. The day after we got home, the clouds parted and angels sang.

That pattern's been repeated many a time.

So when we left for California last Wednesday, it was in the middle of Ice Storm 2007. Meteorologists nationwide were giddy with delight. Only, we got to Newark airport on time. And our plane was scheduled to leave on time. And we all boarded on time. And then -- the pilot announced that we needed to wait a bit for our co-pilot to reach us from the airport hotel. WHICH WAS AT LAGUARDIA. Since we hadn't left the gate, Divided Airlines was kind enough to let us de-board to make alternate arrangements. Mike was out there trying to get us somewhere besides New Jersey, when I marched out to ask him if he'd heard about how late we'd be taking off.

Mike: Yeah, I heard about the co-pilot being at the wrong airport.

Me (loudly): More like he was drunk with a bunch of prostitutes!

Mike (strangely calmly): Go back on the plane and check on the kids.

Me: The kids are fine!

Mike: You need to go back on the plane.

Which is where I went and got a Bloody Mary at 9:45 in the morning.

We flew to Chicago. And then Los Angeles. And then got on a commuter plane (which is lots of fun if you want to re-enact the scene from "The Aviator" where Leo DiCaprio's test flight ends in a residential neighborhood).

After we got our vehicle rental, which was about midnight our time, we headed to the High Desert.

Joshua Tree, California: Town Motto: Please don't leave! Please -- for the love of God -- STAY!!

See, there's not much to do in Joshua Tree. It's a place where pensive Angelenos go to get in touch with themselves in those quiet moments when the pills wear off. If you don't rock climb, you'll find yourself considering what it's like to scale the face of a 60-foot boulder. And if you're drinking, and it's a good chance you are because there ain't much else to do, rappelling down a split rock the size of the Woolworth Building almost doesn't seem crazy.

Joshua Tree, California: Town motto: We're petitioning Crayola to make "Dusty Dirt" a real color.

So, I went for a jog, as much for exercise as for a form of entertainment. Because after you've looked at the dusty landscape for a couple of days, and pondered why U2 named an album after desolation that's home to a 30% poverty rate, you look for something to do.

Running on the dusty dirt trails that double as roads was actually better on the bones than the $50 million track our town installed around our high school football field. And the weather was cool and dry.

But my jog took a turn for the weird when I realized Ted Kaczinski II might be living in the shed-like structure that boasted an outhouse in the rear. That's when my jog turned into a full-fledged run. Because after I passed Ted's house, I found myself going past a scattering of "homes" whose owners may possibly have already sent out save-the-date cards for their impending demolition. That's when it occurred to me that if everything here in Jersey suddenly went bust, I could start a Desert Cardio Vacation business for the burned out entertainment set. Nothing like real fear to get the heart rate up.

Oh, the desert and I: we're one with each other.

Catherine Schetting Salfino

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Training Camp

Well, except for the bloating under my eyes, my waistline and my American Express bill, I've recovered from the holidays.

And now I'm in training for the mother of all parties, my brother Ed's and his wife Jessica's Super Bowl spread. (There, a profound discussion about how the Super Bowl should be on a Saturday inevitably ensues. Looming hangovers are quick to inspire such banter.)

I kicked off my training a couple of week's ago at my friend Daria's house. She threw together a girls' night (save for Jay and Tom) bash that was kind of a post-New Year's/yay, the kids are back in school/we need to scrounge up an excuse for making pomegranate martinis event. Mike was all about the playoffs, so he didn't care where I took the kids. Daria's girls were there for Cara and Ryan. Her party started at four in the afternoon, we bailed near midnight. It was a good training day.

The next Friday, I get a call near 5 o'clock from Jay's wife Nancy, saying we should come over for drinks and snacks. I dropped Cara off at swim at 5:30, went for drinks and snacks, picked Cara up at 7, went back for drinks and pizza--and left around 11 at night. That counted as some solid nighttime conditioning.

Last night, Daria and I went to Montclair for Ethiopian food (truly, it's not sand), and a movie, and then coffee. The drinking was light, but it was 1:30 a.m. before we got home. This night was about building stamina for the long haul.

This afternoon, Annie called asking us to come over tonight after Cara's swim meet. Which can only mean one thing: be prepared for a serious workout. I didn't sleep well last night. (Could have been the Ethiopian food, could have been Ryan getting us up at 7....) But this will test my ability to perform under duress. I think a venti-sized Starbucks is in order.

But next weekend, I'll be facing the hardest drill of all: I'll be taking Ryan to his friend Jake's birthday party. At a place called The FunPlex. There will be no alcohol. I can't chew gum anymore because my lockjaw hasn't gone away. The party doesn't begin until 4 in the afternoon. The stress of being around 800 kids and their 8 million germs, which will bring on the inescapable stomach virus, will be great. There is no truer test of grit.

Listen, I only have a couple weeks left before the Big Game. I'm keeping my eye on the tiger.

Cue Survivor.

Catherine Schetting Salfino