Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas, Christmas Time Is Here....

My son has many ideas for Christmas merry making.

Ryan: "Let's go to Lowe's and buy some stuff for outside. My friend has deers that move and a blow-up that looks like a snow globe. Also, I saw polar bears. Also, we've never had a blow-up Santa or Snoopy. And did you see the house that has blinking lights around the WHOLE ROOF??"

No, I didn't, son. But don't let that stop you from giving me things to feel bad about.

Ryan: "Let's go to Michael's (arts and crafts) and get a new thing for our village."

"Let's go to Target and see what decorations they have."

"Let's decorate outside."
"Let's decorate inside."
"Let's make Christmas cookies."

When it comes to Christmas activities, Ryan is good for shopping expeditions. Spending my money is one of his favorite activities. After that, his feeling is: participation optional.
We went to Lowe's the week after Thanksgiving, and it was out of everything but a
pink light-up deer.

Ryan: "I'm not a girl. Let's go."

So we went to Michael's and got the last of the lighted candy canes.

Ryan: "This isn't enough! We HAVE to go to Target. We SHOULD HAVE done this BEFORE Black Friday. Everybody is out of EVERYTHING!!"

Ryan Salfino, retail analyst.

Target yielded a fe w more items, enough to keep Ryan happy. My kids know we're never going to be a destination holiday house. We'll never have moving trains, disco icicle lights dripping from the roof and a synchronized musical
light show on our front lawn. Not as long as I'm drug free, anyway.

We get home and Ryan says, "Okay, let's put this up, Mom."

By "let's," Ryan really means, "Have at it, Mom." Because when you're 10, you've got bigger fish to fry. Like Xbox "Black Ops." What 5th grade boy has the time to deal with tangled lights, extension cords, timers, tangled lights, frozen fingers, duct taping exposed outlets, #@*! tangled lights?

Ryan: "Call me when you're plugging in the candy canes."

Me: "Where are YOU going?"

Ryan, running into the house: "Well, Dad was working before so I couldn't go on Xbox, and all my friends are on it today so I just wanna see...."

Ryan Salfino, delegator.

A few days later, when there was a break between pouring rain and freezing temperatures, I got Mike to bring in the massive tubs of Christmas decorations.

My sister and I had a long conversation about how we're both cutting back on how many decorations we put up. "It's too much. What's the point?"

Two days later... all the same stuff plus a few new items are up.

At the end of Day Two of Christmas Decorating, I was wading through empty tubs, putting away the hammer (a ubiquitous Christmas tool), the screw drivers (really, don't ask) and bringing all the extra decorations downstairs to decorate my office space, when Ryan catches me in a near-down moment.

Ryan: "When are we doing Christmas cookies? Can we go to the store and get stuff for oatmeal cookies and gingerbread cookies and...."

Me: "Why don't you help me put this stuff away and decorate the basement?"

Ryan, running up to the attic TV: "Wait. My friends are on Xbox and I have to just do this one round and then...."

WE will start the cookies any day now....

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Holiday All Over & Over & Over Again

I just want to kick this off by saying I like hosting Thanksgiving.

Sure you end up going to the grocery store about three to seven times a day leading up to The Big Day. Sure you end up going to extortionately priced alternative grocers, in a desperate effort to avoid the hellishness of going to the grocery store to the masses. And, sure, you inevitably end up forgetting a few things, like butter. Or beer. But it's all okay, 'cuz it's Thanksgiving! It's fun to keep going back to the store.

Truth be told, the only thing that makes all those trips bearable is the fact that the kids -- and by that, I mean Ryan -- are in school or in bed when I go. Nothing like blindly throwing items on the checkout counter, mindlessly and frantically bagging them -- making half an effort not to crush something with cans, bottles or a 20-pound turkey -- only to find yourself unloading two kinds of ice-pops, some cheddar pretzels and a power toothbrush when you get home.

But Thanksgiving was great. I had most of my family here. Later, we Skyped for the first time, reaching out to Mike's mom and family out in California.

The next day, the leftover party began with Cara breaking out some stuffing and apple compote for breakfast. Lunch was turkey and bacon sandwiches. Except for Ryan, who had the less traditional open-face grilled cheese and bacon. Still more turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and assorted root vegetable dishes were re-heated and consumed over the course of the long weekend.

By Monday, I wanted it gone. And I had this great idea that I could just layer whatever was left into a baking dish, top it all with mashed potatoes and call it Thanksgiving Shepard's Pie. Everthing gets mixed up on the plate anyway, right? How quaint! How clever!

"How to ruin perfectly good leftovers," Mike said.

It might be hard to believe, but Ryan wasn't into it, either. He started circling the kitchen around 5 p.m., when he could smell something cooking that didn't have that familiar and pre-approved pizza, pasta or burger scent. I knew what was coming, so I attempted diversion tactics, using one unpleasant task to distract him from what he'd immediately deem a very unpleasant and unwanted meal.

Ryan: "What's for dinner?"

Me: "Do your homework."

Ryan: "Really, what are you cooking?"

Me: "I'm just re-heating something. Do your homework."

Ryan: "I want cheeseburgers for dinner. Dad can make them."

Me: "Maybe tomorrow. Just do your homework before you get STRAIGHT F'S, for GOD'S SAKE!"

Full disclosure: My end of that probably went on a little longer, and the semantics may have been a teensy bit stronger.

But when dinner was being put on the table, Ryan went in full Ryan mode.

Ryan: "WHAT!?! WHAT IS THIS???? I'M NOT EATING IT. (Turning calmly belligerent) I'm just not. I'm having a burger."

See, Ryan doesn't like turkey, mashed potatoes, carrot souffle, stuffing, gravy, etc., etc. He also doesn't like his food to touch. He'd still be using toddler divider plates if we didn't chuck them out. So to him, this was a heinous act on my part.

Me: "Sit down. It's this or nothing. And you can go to bed."

That got him to the table. Where he carefully picked the turkey out of the rest of the happy mash-up, making a face like he was dissecting day-old, West Texas road kill. For 10 minutes, he masterfully avoided all root vegetables, including the mashed potatoes, and complained bitterly about his fate.

Ryan: "I can't believe you're making me eat this. I could have just had a burger. Who would ever eat this? Look at it: it's the Devil's grave!!"

Thank you, my son, for warming my heart. I think I'll relay this oh-so-very-tender moment to one of those family groups that's forever promoting the importance of sharing dinnertime with your offspring.

When Mike finally recovered from doubling-over with laughter at Ry's keen hilarity, he cleared the table. And scooped the rest of the concoction into the garbage can, posthaste. Good thing he did: I was ready to resurrect the dish that night in a vengeful tour de force to be known as "The Devil's Grave 2: In Your Sleep."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Giving Me The Creeps

I'm not agoraphobic in the traditional sense.  I'm just not a fan of creepy spiders, which in my book are pretty much any spider that's not a Daddy Long Legs.

When they're outside, I'm all, "Live and let live."  But when I see one crawling along the bathroom sink or basement carpet, that's a no go.

Luckily, our indoor cat thinks any spider that unwittingly enters our house is a new toy we picked up for her at PetCo, where the pets go.   I believe I can thank her for taking out the thing that looked like a mangled Black Widow next to my desk.  And only because we live in Jersey, and not Cali, am I not freaking the #%@! out right now.

I could go ask Cara to give a post-mortem on the remnants.  But I value my life, and don't relish getting mowed over as she makes a cartoon-like impression in the wall running from said bug.  I said this spider was particularly creepy, right?

But here's what I don't like: I don't like having to be brave about getting rid of a spider -- dead or alive -- if Mike's not around or if he's on deadline or watching an NFL game or a particularly riveting episode of Discovery ID.

Sometimes, I want to be a baby and not the mom.

But seeing as that's not actually an option for about 30 more years when the kids are picking out my diapers and nursing home,  I still regularly have to deal with spiders.  Which is why I could kick myself for letting my Marie Claire subscription lapse -- right in time for the autumn spider invasion, no less.   That magazine had just the right engineering: it's easily rolled, yet has enough heft to make a lethal impact.

Unfortunately, I let the Marie Claire subscription lapse because well,  I don't know.  Something about size zero 19-year-olds in $5,000 Burberry Prorsum and Valentino concoctions makes me feel more withered than aspirational.  Even worse, Cara was reading it... and then sending me links to apparel web sites.

That leaves me with Sunday paper inserts to phwack spiders, Asian stink bugs and assorted other arthropods and arachnids.

Which is why I'm grateful our cat Molly finds bugs highly fascinating.  She'll bat them around like mini soccer balls, perhaps engage them in a little "trap and release." She might wrap up the play date by eating them.  Or leaving them by my desk, to show off the prize kill.

Sure it's primitive in a suburban kind of way, but it keeps the cat happy.  And the bug juice off the wall.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pumpkin Folly

I would like to think the squirrels in my nabe are a step above the average hyena or North Jersey gavone.  Sadly, they ain't.

To wit: I put a pumpkin out on Thursday afternoon.  By Friday, a squirrel was making like Michael Phelps  diving into that thing.

It emerged two-fisting the pumpkin seeds, drunk from vegetative overload.   In record time, my front steps were covered in pumpkin guts and seed scraps. 

I grabbed my cat, parked her by the front door and told her she was on patrol until further notice.  Cats are really into following orders.

Cut to Columbus Day, which was about three days after the Great Pumpkin Massacre.  The town's schools were closed, so my son and I decided it was high time we went apple pickin'.  Only, back in April when New Jersey had a spring break, the temps hit 90 degrees.  So everything bloomed two weeks early.   Even apple blossoms.  So, apples were done and gone two weeks early.  Who knew?  Not us, that's for sure.

We got to the farm stand, and farm stand boy informed us, "You're too late, ma'am."  After I gave him a beat down for practically calling me "granny," we bought tickets for a hay ride to their pumpkin field.  That's right, I was taking my chances on getting more pumpkins.  I figured our cat had been on the job and secured the perimeter.  No squirrel in its right mind would breach our border.

Ryan told farm stand boy we'd take five pumpkins.  When I reminded Ry I have only two arms, the total got cut to three pumpkins.  Which was one too many considering... I'm me.  The pumpkins in the field were all average to huge in size.  Ryan said I should ask the dude running field ops for a bag to carry my two pumpkins.  It was a GREAT idea, except that the uber gourds didn't get any lighter or smaller in the Hefty bag.  But at least we got the damn things to the car without resorting to kicking them through the parking lot.

All was hunky dory until we got home.  That's when I saw, in our absence, the squirrel had eaten the ornamental kale I'd set out.   #!%@!!  Instead of a decorative purple and green cabbage on the steps, I was left to look at a plastic pot with four chewed up leaves and a white spiny middle staring up at me.

I yelled for Molly, our cat.

Me: "What happened?!  What's going on?!  Are you sleeping on the job or what!?"
Molly: "Mmmmph? Purrrrt."

My three Great Pumpkins?  They're in the living room 'til Halloween.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's Eataly'n You?

An incredible new Italian food emporium opened recently in NYC.  It's got fresh Italian cheeses, fresh Italian charcuterie, fresh Italian bread, fresh Italian fish -- oh, wait, I guess they could be Italian-American fish.

But there's produce that a produce person armed with Ginsu knives will chop up right in front of you, ala Benihana, whose chefs don't seem that Italian.  There's also an Italian wine shop, a gelato bar, a chocolate counter and Italian coffee caffe.

It's Eataly! This 42,500-square-foot food emporium in Manhattan's Flatiron district is the brainchild of superstar chefs Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich, and Batali's long-time partner and Lydia's son Joe Bastianich.  It's also their homage to the slow food movement. 

So, if you like to eat Italian food, head somewhere else.  Or spend a few hours buying all your groceries here, standing on 8 different lines, and then heading home to cook it yourself.  Or wait 90 minutes or so to snag a spot at one of their "restaurants."

Mike: "Why are we doing this?  What kind of business plan IS THIS?! I'm hungry and we're surrounded by food we can't eat!"
Me: "It's fun, it's new.  Just be patient.  We'll figure it out."
Mike: "I don't want to figure out how to eat.  We can go to The Village and be eating in 20 minutes."
Ryan: "I want to eat NOW, not even in 20 minutes.  Let's leave!"

As much as I hate to agree with Mike and mini-Mike, they were right.  Eataly is a food mall where you you can't eat, unless you don't mind waiting an hour+ for a table at one of their "restaurants" which are smack dab in the middle of the food supermarket, where every hipster, granny or snot-nosed whiny kid can stare at you and your food and wonder, usually out loud, "Why do THEY have a table?!"

And I mean table.  Not every table even has a seat.  People were just standing there in the middle of the madness with people banging into them as they nibbled their Italian cheese platter and sipped their  Italian wine -- all while being badgered with questions like, "How did you get this table?  Where did you get that cheese platter?  Where do you get bread?  Why are you not letting me eat your food?!"

Nuts is the only way to describe it.  You want cheese? Stand at the cheese counter for a half-hour.  You want salami?  Stand at the meats counter.  Same with bread.  Or produce.  You stand on a different line for each category of food you want, and then go on a hunt for the check-out, which is located on the other side of the block, I mean, the food mall.  How many people are just going to scarf their food without bothering to find the cashier, that's what I'd like to know.  

The Record newspaper ran a story recently about the place.  One of Eataly's people said patrons will learn about not just eating, but cooking.  The person actually said, and I quote (from The Record): "People will come to us and buy bread, buy prosciutto, buy a tomato and have us slice it, buy mozzarella, take it to the park and eat it.  And that is cooking." 

Really?!  I'm half Irish, and even I don't consider that to be cooking!!  Good to know, though, next time somebody asks what I'm scarin' up for dinner.

We did get a selection of formaggio and charcuterie only took an hour to procure, as well as a loaf of bread and lemon soda.  I wanted wine, but never did find the wine shop amidst the crush of humanity. 

We hovered over an errant table that was shoved against a wall, slapped our stuff together with bits of bread and savored the Italian goodness.  Within minutes, though, we were on red-alert, as the passersby thought we were running a sampling station.  The four of us formed a blockade around out table, backs to the bastards, as we scarfed our cheese and prosciutto like ravenous hyenas.

Granted our cheese, cured meats and bread was very delicious.  And as fun as I've made the whole experience sound, I don't really see us putting in the effort to repeat it anytime soon.  We experienced their slow food movement.  But I'm afraid it's a crusade that will have to go on without us.   

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gross & Grosser

I need to find a weekend etiquette camp for a grade-school boy.  I'm not naming names.  I'm not even admitting I know the kid.  God knows, I wouldn't want anyone to think I was related.

But the boy's sister, who long ago declared him a total-disgusting-foul-gross-pig, may have had a point.

This sister isn't even aware of the boy's latest infraction, which involves using a neighborhood lawn as a  urinal.  Nothing like a call from the school vice principal to break up a parent's day.  Apparently, this was good for laughs among the boy and his friends as they walked home from school.  So funny, they had to yap about it at school -- within ear shot of the vice principal!  Just one humiliation after the next for those parents!

Up til now, the boy's grossness involved boogers, burps and other gaseous bodily emissions.

Then again, there was the incident where he was overcome by the need to hit the head, but he was in the middle of an evening bike ride, so under the cover of night, he let loose in the street before his mother could catch up to him.  And, come to think of it, there were other incidents where the boy was shooting hoops in the driveway and, when the "urge" hit, instead of running into the house to use the bathroom, he ran behind the garage for relief.  But this boy's house is not in woodlands.  It's in the middle of a crowded block in a crowded town.  When his mother found out about this, screaming was heard throughout the neighborhood.

Said boy also has a habit of using his shirt as a tissue, a napkin and a sweat band.  If it's a T-shirt he's wearing, he just lifts the crew neck up to wipe his nose, face or forehead.  I hear this is definitely NOT something he was taught by his parents or teachers.  Again, I hear his mother has "quietly discouraged," "firmly admonished" and "gone nuclear"over such grievances.

So, this weekend, some poor, tired, strung-out woman -- who shall remain nameless! -- will be in search of an etiquette class for a very déclassé kid.  It's either that or she'll instill some class via a good swift, kick in the ass.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Secret Agent Girl

My teenage daughter is entertaining thoughts of joining the CIA or FBI.  No, not purely to lock up Ryan for life.  It goes beyond that.  Her interest is actually trending with other teenage girls I know.

And for this, I blame television.

It used to be you blamed television when your kids got fat or stupid.  Hell, it was easier than looking inward.  But here I am using TV as the scapegoat for why my little girl is aspiring to become a G-man.  And here's why: Hot guys, kick-ass women... in that order.

Starting with shows like "Numb3rs," FBI agents were portrayed as very smart, good-looking, very likable, and able to return to their witty family and friends each night in time for dinner.  The women were very smart, very attractive, respected and when necessary, very quick with a gun or a roundhouse kick to the face.

Then USA Network came up with shows like "White Collar."  Teenage girls everywhere are now getting the misguided notion that within the bland walls of FBI buildings everywhere, hotties like "WC"'s Neal Caffrey character are running around.  If that were true, well, damn -- even I'd want to join up!

USA Network also has "Covert Affairs."  Piper Perabo stars as a young CIA agent who can speak about 5,000 languages, drive like Mario Andretti, and punch like Mike Tyson -- all while wearing Christian Laboutin pumps and sexy dinner dresses.  It's like a mirror of my life.

I want stats on how many girls thought about joining the FBI and CIA before these shows hit the air.  I mean, did "Charlie's Angels" inspire young women to join law enforcement -- or just get a new hair style?

There's something about these new shows that's getting young women to think it'd be cool to go mano-a-womano with terrorists, drug cartels and your average weapons runner.  And that's why I blame television for this movement!!

This new crop of programs portrays women as brilliant, brave and in possession of wardrobes whose value far exceeds their government paycheck.  And they come into regular contact with guys that look like candidates for the next Abercrombie & Fitch photo shoot.

But considering Cara doesn't even want to be in the room when Ryan and his XBox Live pals are engaged in a "Call of Duty" or "Halo" marathon (Cara: "These games are sick!"), I'm starting to wonder how much she's really thought this through....