Friday, November 26, 2010

Gratitude: A Scoop on Poop

This holiday, most bloggers are eloquently posting their gratitude for friends, family, sound shelter, and the like. While I too am thankful for those things, I spent part of my week being absolutely overwhelmed with a certain compassion provided by strangers: the patience of women who wait in restroom lines because my son is taking a twenty minute poop.

God bless mothers. We put ourselves at great risk each time we boldly venture out of our homes with small children who roll us naively into predicaments. This applies to situations as seemingly mundane as a trip out for coffee and a cookie, especially when a trip to the restroom is likely to be involved.

“This is such hard work!” my four year old said as he strained on the toilet at Starbucks recently. Meanwhile, I was beginning to panic; we’d already endured one knock on the restroom door from a waiting woman. A few minutes after calling out that the room was occupied, my son was still working on some kind of mass production. I stuck my head out the door, murmured an explanation and apology, and retreated back toilet-side to anxiously encourage my son.

“Hurry up, son!”

“I has one more poop!” he said.

After we washed up and left, the young lady outside the restroom was most gracious despite what must have been an uncomfortably pressing bladder. My wee boy tripped happily and lightly past her the way my dog does after relieving her own discomfort in the yard. While many women see the post-poop dance and are amused by it, I have experienced incredibly rude remarks from a few angry non-mothers. I tell them I cannot control my son’s poop. (Sorry, ladies, but if you believe that you can control a boy’s poop now, just wait until you enter a relationship with a grown man when shit becomes a metaphor for something else.)

Lately, I am often trapped near the public toilet waiting for my son to finish up his dedicated service. I have thought about constructing some kind of sign that reads “Small Child at Work” to hang on restroom doors when we regretfully discover that the restroom is a single stall experience and that something other than urine will run afoul. To that sign I would make, I should add these words: “Please pardon anything you hear while you wait!”

“Come on, baby, you can do it!” I’ll say.

“Otay, Mommy!”

“People are waiting. Are you finished yet?”

“I still has poop.” (This statement is followed by a massive grunting sound from the small child.)

“Sweetheart, don’t touch that. And no, it’s not time to play with your wiener. Hurry up!”

“Mommy, my poop is stuck. I need help.”

“Focus, Tiny. You can do it!”

Anyone hearing applause from inside a restroom has to know massive accomplishment has taken place in there. Mothers spend the first several years of a child’s life teaching incredible life skills including proper hygiene and relieving oneself. We need all the understanding we can get while our children are so young. Not only are we teaching our sons to not spray the walls with those little firehoses of pee they wield, but how to wipe their own bottoms without spreading fecal matter on the toilet seat. This is a kind of work that requires surprising diligence and fortitude. Anytime my son needs to use a public restroom, I freeze and hope he does not have to conduct the dreaded number two. I pray that if a line of women develop outside, that these women will be understanding, gracious, and patient.

This weekend at a restroom near the highway, we took a break from travel, and Tiny once again parked himself on the throne. When he was done, the woman waiting outside was so kind to us about having been made to wait. To her and to all women who wait on small children to conduct small, but serious business, this mother is grateful. Thank you!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Peel Her a Grape

Yesterday, tired from studying, I took a break to exchange an extraordinary amount of gossip with my oldest step-daughter. Between chortles and guffaws, I realized how much I miss her. She has a powerful presence in the best way. I often joke that she is the Mae West of our household—voluptuous, saucy, quick with words, and unforgettable. She is direct and her intentions unmistakable. One of the funniest people I know, she has a wonderful sing-song voice when she humorously hints at a situation. For example, if she suspects tension in a room, she voices with a rise and fall of melody in soprano, “Uncomfortable!”

Mae does not seek high spirited adventure, but it finds her, such as this summer when we went swimming in the river. She and her sister begged me to swim out in the currents with them, but I chose to sunbathe on the rocks instead. (I grew up on the Mississippi River; I know better.) As I watched the girls plunge toward a large boulder in the river, a strong current picked up my husband’s firstborn and hurled her downstream over a small waterfall. Horrified, I ran along the riverbank calling her name. When her head finally appeared from the dark waters, she was laughing at herself, but still caught in a dangerous pull of water. A young man swam to her and guided her to sure footing and a place to rest. Frankly, I don’t know which of those two, the young man or our Mae, was more delighted for that particular opportunity.

The holidays are coming, and I will have the divine pleasure of wise cracking and carrying on with the queen of slick nice-nasty, as she calls her rather underhanded sarcasm. She has already promised to coach my fashion choices in a shopping expedition and, like her sister, is keenly anticipating decorating the Christmas tree. Having both Mae and her sister in my life has begun to change me. They bring out some of my best qualities and take the edge off the head-banging frustration of dealing with frequent and drastic change. This past summer was a period of sheer elation and joy that has helped restore the spirit of this household. For these wonderful girls, I will always be thankful. I think I can agree with a quote by the true Mae West, whose wit and sex appeal flashed across the silver screen so long ago: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

Note: I came across this website of Mae West quotes. Laughed till I cried over some of them. Click here and amuse yourself.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Note on Music Blog

I left one thing out of yesterday’s blog. I forgot to mention the absolute pleasure of sharing music with someone who feels it as intensely as I do, someone who appreciates and understands the connections of history within certain pieces, and who will not make disparaging remarks should I become temporarily overwhelmed with the moment. Such a gift to share interests with the love of your life.
Bless you, Husband, for taking me to the symphony.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Music: The Seasons Project

Last night, my husband and I attended the awe-inspiring live performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Led by soloist Robert McDuffie, the orchestra followed Vivaldi’s composition with Phillip Glass’ "Violin Concerto No. 2". This performance, called the Seasons Project, showcases Glass’ reconstruction and American adaptation of Vivaldi’s original composition. I cannot remember the last time I was so stirred and inspired by such a performance. The sensory feast lay not just in the emotional power of sound, but in the visual effects of men and women whose music playing becomes their sole purpose of being.

The violinists stood to perform. During Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the group swayed and bent in the emotional heights and tinglings of Baroque. Like fields of tall grass that ruffle and splay in wind, musicians alternately seemed to bow under the roll of music. Clusters of complementing accompanists nodded in wordless communication to each other. McDuffie himself, his eyes often closed and his face unable to restrain the effects of his own playing, conversed with his fellow musicians through leaning, turning, and bowing gently. Music swelled and receded. Notes painted pictures of falling leaves, rain, and yawning summer fields. My husband, with his leg pressed against my own, closed his own eyes under the dancing and tumbling notes. Crescendo after decrescendo, he fought to remain seated against the tide of harmonious string.

After intermission, McDuffie and the orchestra plunged into Glass’ concerto. One can easily trace the elements of Vivaldi that appear, but Glass’ composition is not at all as delicately structured as Vivaldi’s Baroque pieces. Glass is American by birth and his music is as dramatic and powerful as the reputation this country has developed. There is strength the sound of his simplified orchestration. Musicians suddenly no longer worked in conversation, but drew together as a unified team and moved sharply together. The seasons seemed to not be so separate as much as they merged, and the feeling, which is most American, can only be summed up by this word: forward.

A little glimpse of Glass’ concerto is here as it is discussed by the conductor working with the symphony in the video. For those of you who don’t think you are familiar with Glass, if you click here you can listen to Glass’ composition, "Truman Sleeps", for The Truman Show. A segment of the composition for the pinnacle of the film, which you are most likely to have heard, is this one:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tiny Force of Destruction

My husband lay exhausted in bed this morning. His day had not even begun.

 “You know that blog you wrote on routine?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Tiny Man destroys my morning routine. He comes downstairs and tells me, ‘I need. I want. Can I have…?’ and then my eggs are cold and I am late for work.”

Yes, Tiny Man destroys a lot of things, routine being the very least among them, but somehow we continue to love and adore him. This past week, my little son managed to do the following things:

He cut all the wooden beads off his lamp.
He pulled several strings out of his rug, thus losing the privilege of having a rug in his room.
He squeezed out half a bottle of toothpaste to “clean” his gladiator helmet.
He hid the toothpaste.
He ate the toothpaste.
He ate my very nice and pricey anti-aging Mary Kay lotion.
He dumped my jewelry box over, un-pairing earrings and losing earrings in the process.

What he does not destroy, he creates. Some of what he creates is not discovered until the aftermath, such as the liquid soap he painted on the toilet seat. This went unnoticed until my husband planted his rear on said toilet seat. (I am sure that in Tiny’s mind, he was cleaning the seat. So, what do you do?) Out of concern for the dog, he has tried to wash her—with powdered detergent. My understanding is that she actually sat still for this. He has painted abstract pictures with peanut butter on the kitchen window. We have the remains of toothpaste expressionism on the bathroom mirror upstairs.

This was all in the past few days. You may ask, “So, what is Catiche doing when all this is going on?”

Here is my list:

Tutoring my daughter 
Trying to potty in peace
Trying to cook
Trying to scrape playdoh, pumpkin pulp, or whatever the kids have had off the walls and floor
Folding laundry
Washing the afternoon dishes

I wish I could say I was on the phone exchanging juicy gossip, lying on the couch with Belgian chocolates in hand, or even surfing the web. I am not. My childless neighbor tried to give me suggestions one day, bless her heart. She is a woman for whom I have much respect and admiration, but one has to note that she was one of three girls. Girls are different animals. She asserts that her mother only allowed them fifteen minutes of cartoons before pushing her and her siblings outdoors to play. When they were inside, the girls folded laundry, swept the floor, et cetera. This all sounds very lovely. Obviously, her mother was not raising the bear cup that we have here.

Yesterday, my daughter sat down to homework and I began to mix spices for dinner, so I rolled the little man out the backdoor to frolic outside. I have a full view of the yard from two substantial windows in the kitchen. Within moments, my daughter called out that her brother had a hammer. When I looked up, Tiny had his hands full and the dog was running from him. I also noted that he had brought out the broom, a forbidden item because he wields it as a weapon (thereby eliminating sweeping as an entertainment option).

“Son, hand it over! I know what you’ve got!” I stood on the deck with my arms on my hips and watched my son try to hide behind the shed. The dog, poor old girl that she is, slinked in relief toward me, and then bolted to the now-open back door. There was no movement from behind the shed.

“One!” I said. My son stepped out and looked at me.

“Two!” This time, he ran behind the shed, retrieved his booty, and relinquished it.

A hammer, two screwdrivers, and a can of WD-40. Don’t tell me to put this stuff up high. We already do. We have all seen my son scale the kitchen cabinets using drawer pulls for leverage. He has also been caught standing on top of the bathroom sink reaching for the toothpaste that we keep on top of the mirrored cabinet.

I considered my neighbor’s advice, refuted it, and plopped Tiny down in front of PBS for 45 minutes so I could fold three loads of laundry in peace. When it was done, we did an exercise video together (which was hysterically funny to do with my son—and really the best part of my day). In the meantime, my daughter finished her homework, poured herself tea, and drank it without a little certain someone stealing the cup or spilling it for her. We were all happy again.

My son destroys a lot. Genetically, his kinetics and highly mischievous behavior seem to have flowed directly from my own uncles, one of whom was so bad my grandmother tied him to a tree so she could conduct housework without worry. She was happy and the neighborhood was safe. I have assurance from seeing my uncles that Tiny will grow out of his wildness, but a little doubt plagues me. We still have years ahead of us; he is only four. I have already announced that if he does not choose college, that he will be enlisted into the military at my earliest convenience--that’s if they’ll take him of course. I don’t know if they accept weapons of mass destruction as gifts from civilian mothers. We’ll see.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Handel's Messiah a la Mall

A wonderful performance of Handel's Messiah, promoted as a random act of culture in a Philadelphia mall, can be seen and heard here:
Who could not be moved by this most powerful and uplifting orchestration of voice and organ?

Big thank you to my adoring sister who sent it this morning! Happy listening!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Little Lessons in Vocabulary

Tiny Man ran through the kitchen, bulleted into the dining room, and clocked his head on the dining room table. I wiped away his tears and gently cautioned him about cracking his noggin.

“Like Humpy Dumpy?” he asked.

Don’t you just love the things children say? My daughter, at ten years old, still confuses syllables and invents words. Her vocabulary list includes the following:


Pablo Piccasillo (Picasso)

Tooken (as opposed to taken)

Celia Cruzz (She rhymes the last name with fuzz, but Cruz should sound like cruise.)

She also likes to pass on her wisdom to me, which yesterday was this juicy prize: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him lead you to water. To tell you the truth, I think not only is she right, but this one is more precise in meaning than the original expression.

My son used to say something like chismomus. We did not know what chismomus was. After months of scratching our heads, we finally figured it out—transformers--the toys. He has also asked me for tassee (coffee) and most recently, wanted to know if something was attend (pretend). Last night, my husband sat at the table and translated a whole series of expressions for me, a curious irony since I am around Tiny the most, but this must mean that step-father and step-son are on the same wavelength.

My husband’s own girls used to pray at the dinner table, “Goddess bless.” Know one knows why. I still love how in a version of grace an in-law’s children sing, the little ones pipe out, “God’s our man! God’s our man!” Surely God blesses any child who diligently makes an effort to say grace before meals especially considering that child’s still maturing tongue and facial muscles.

My absolute favorite blundered words have to be my daughter’s accidental profanity, which she never failed to scream out in excitement in a public place. When she was about two, her father and I held her as we rode the down escalator in the Tampa International Airport. On the carpet, designers have emblazoned manatees among other things. My little girl saw fish-like qualities in the manatee at the foot of the escalator, and because she had a habit of reversing word sounds, pointed and yelled, “Shiiiittt!” at the top of her lungs. God forbid a firetruck round the corner. For that, she would shake her fists and holler, “Firefuck!” Fortunately for us, people were largely understanding when the errant profanity broke loose. But I would have to really work to stop my own laughter before explaining the original intentions of our little lady.

I can already imagine the comments and emails I’ll get about this topic. Send me your vocabulary list and I’ll post the best ones.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Periodically, I pick on my husband for his routine, mostly because I inadvertently do something to disrupt it. I am learning his ways, improving with time, and occasionally telling him his attempts to assimilate my ways are futile (nod to the Borg he was for Halloween). Once, during a sort of negotiation over where to hang towels, he asked me if I had particular preferences or routines I wished to preserve. After weeks of thinking about this, I can definitely list key things that establish order in my day. Also, I despise interruption in the process. (Yes, Handsome Husband, I admit it.) This is important because if I can just preserve the small things, the big things, which are absolutely out of my control, will matter less.

In the morning, I like coffee. Strong coffee with some kind of milk and some kind of sugar so long as those items are not chemically altered—no powdered creamer, or that strange faux-milk hazelnut flavored creamer stuff, or artificial sweeteners. I like to be showered and dressed before setting foot downstairs. I don’t feel right unless I have taken the time to fix my hair and apply cosmetics-- something I promised myself I would always do for two reasons: to avoid the question my naked face usually prompts in public (“Are you sick?”), and because I used to watch all the frumpy, worn out, disheveled mothers of babies and swear I would at least try to look groomed, polished, and less stressed than I usually am. (Is it working?)

The AM drop-off procedure allows me to sandwich errands on the way home before lines develop in stores, thus preserving valuable time. Child A, bus stop; Child B, personally delivered to school; grocery, bank, gas station, pharmacy, et cetera. By the time I get back here to the desk, never later than 10 AM, the potential warmth and smoky flavor of a second cup of coffee beckons. And so it must be these steps: heat coffee, have conversation with dog (most important), household and children’s administrative tasks, and if time allows, write a post for this blog. After that, the other work begins, and it must be done with as little noise as possible. I cannot edit to news, television, or music. There are breaks for chores and meals. Errands to Target, Home Depot, or the vet, which are in a different part of town from the kids’ schools, are scheduled 45 minutes to an hour before the youngest is released from school.

Routine is mini-tradition. It makes things sure and provides normalcy when everything else is new, changing, and uncertain. I love returning to routine at the end of holidays or vacation. We subconsciously create these customary habits out of necessity, and then later we consciously strive to preserve them. Even the family dog has her rituals: where she sleeps, when she rises, how long she prefers to be outside for her morning potty break, and the food bowl dance.

As I write this, I check the clock. I have scheduled chunks of desk time this week to work on an essay for graduate school--a big thing, a big maybe, and totally out of my control as to whether or not I will be accepted or live here long enough to complete. Researching and writing to apply for school though? This can fit snugly into my routine. I am assured that I will have at least accomplished an attempt to apply to school by the time January comes.

Humans love sameness no matter how much we claim to fight it. Given a free seating choice in a classroom, most people choose the chair that they will continue to use each time class meets. Friday nights become the norm for movies at home or date nights with friends. We make our coffee the same way each morning or order the same drink, a bloody Mary, each time we indulge in Sunday brunch. We choose the same route for driving to work or we frequent certain restaurants on the weekend. I know one certain handsome husband that must shine his shoes each evening when he returns from the office.

Today, I am ahead of schedule, but pushed myself there due to a lunchtime obligation with my daughter at her school. You know, that sweet event might be a nice break from… routine.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Pink Tomatoes Here

Any good New Orleanian judges a restaurant on the quality of the bread served there. Our bread is distinctive: a thin, crisp crusted French bread with a dough center so light as to be ethereal in taste and texture. Across the country, other bakeries have bragged about their replication of French bread. They are misled. New Orleans bread, baked in brick ovens, and risen against a certain degree of humidity, is exceptional and unique.

Having left the city of my youth, I have since adapted other rules to restaurants. Last night, my husband and I discussed this over a very nice meal at a local wine café. While the recipe for the meal itself was wonderful, I was disappointed over the quality of the fruit cup, and I began to muse about the melon and cantaloupe in my bowl.

Restaurants often offer a fruit cup and the medley in the bowl is almost always the same. Cantaloupe and honey dew serves as the foundation for this side dish. You might be lucky enough to get a strawberry in there, maybe a few blueberries. Considering all the fruit available, why do we always have to have melon? I wouldn’t complain if it was actually tasty. Someone who orders the produce for commercial kitchens is failing to do a routine taste test. In all my years of restaurant fruit cups, I have seldom had any melon that tastes the way it is supposed to taste. Most of the time, it is bland. It is a pointless fruit, served as a filler, and makes the hunt for the magic slice of strawberry more urgent than necessary. Why? I have only had one restaurant-offered honey dew that was exceptional. The sweetness and smooth flavor was indescribable. Surely, this melon was picked and served at the height of its own natural ripeness. Since then, I have ordered fruit cups in hopes of experiencing this sublime tasting again. I should have known better last night: it’s October. I suppose it is best to hunt for wonderful melon at the local farmers’ markets and street stands during season.

Serving bad tomatoes is another restaurant sin. If a pink tomato arrives with the meal, the complete taste experience only slides downhill. No wonder many people hate tomatoes. Garden fresh maters are explosive, tangy, and rich. They have a firmness and depth that is like nothing else in the produce department. A good tomato tastes, well, like the color red (as opposed to the washed out, bleachy green of an under ripe, poorly chosen melon). The average tomato served at the average restaurant has the lure of cardboard and little aroma.

If it isn’t good, it should not be served. There are wonderful places to eat that have served their produce right out of the garden that grows behind the restaurant, but for those places that really don’t have the space, the time, money, or the philosophy to support that, the produce should at least be sampled, sliced, tasted, and tested before routinely ordering it from a supplier. And regular taste tests should be run across the week.

All right, now that I have gotten that diatribe out of my system, it’s time to make my own lunch here at Café Catiche… a sandwich of leftover roasted pork loin with a diced vegetable and Creole mustard marinade, homemade pumpkin bread (with fresh pumpkin puree that I made myself), and maybe there is one last plump, sliceable sandwich-challenging tomato in the drawer. Mmm!