Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Housing Crunch

I began this house hunt swearing I would not settle for a place where I had to live with orange shag carpet or harvest gold kitchen counter tops. I didn't want to look forward to a future of DIY weekends spent removing disgusting grout from aging bathroom tile or renting a wallpaper steamer. I wanted to keep the part of my European lifestyle that involved walking to the grocery story and five-minute jaunts with the stroller to the park. "It's a buyers' market!" they said to me. "You'll find a great bargain for pennies."

It's never that easy, is it? I'm picky, I want space and a fence and I prefer wood floors. I refuse to pay top dollar when it's supposedly time to low-ball. And I've unexpectedly found it hard to choose a house because I spend too much time gazing into that metaphorical (or, in some of these houses literal, if you count the light fixtures) crystal ball, imagining my lifestyle of the next ten or twenty years, and I'm paralyzed.

Where do I want to grocery shop when I turn forty? Which school has the best set of miniature trucks in its kindergarten toy bins? Is the yoga studio down the street one of those overheated ones, or is it more my style? Will my friends drive up and think, oh, they got a good deal or will they say oh, surprising they couldn't find anything better in this market? In fifteen years will the neighbor's tree be so tall that it will overshadow the skylight? Is there a place for my quilting supplies, when I finally learn how to quilt?

The other, more practical part of my brain, is reminding me about last time we tried to find a place to live. It was torturous, there were tears and compromises and it was not a good way to begin a big life change. I'm a little bit afraid we're off to a bad start again. We've already hesitated and lost at least two places, and we learned this morning that our latest candidate, which had been on the market for 17 months, was likely sold at auction(!) the same day we viewed it.

But I'm working hard to look at the bright side, which today includes waffles at the breakfast buffet and Theo reaching out to some weeping guy on a TV talk show and yelling HUUUUUUUUGGG.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Booked Out

I have a friend who just gave up reading one day. He still reads stuff for work and newspapers and the occasional magazine, but he altogether stopped reading books. This is a person who majored in English in college, and who I used to regularly swap books with and discuss how long it took to get through that latest Krakauer book, two days or three.

He vaguely mentioned a few years ago that he'd kicked the habit but I didn't really believe him, in the same way that I suspect most smokers usually bum a cigarette every now and then at a bar when they're drinking cheap lite beer. Not long before our conversation, I'd given him Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, winner of the Booker of Bookers (best of the best). He told me he'd never finished it. I figured he just didn't like it that much but eventually he would come up with some other author he loved and away he'd go. But it was not to be.

Astute readers have noticed that last month was devoid of a "books" entry. That's because I did not read any books. I blamed it on the move and the hot weather and the kid learning to walk. But we're over halfway through August and I haven't picked up a single book, and since I'm staying in a hotel and my most strenuous daily activity consists of playing defense against Theo as he tries to dodge past me in the elevator and hit the alarm button (Incidentally, why are those buttons always at the bottom of the stack, exactly toddler-high?), you'd think I might make time to at least thumb through something by Maeve Binchy. But I just can't get motivated. I haven't even finished all the articles in the September issue of Vanity Fair and it's almost September!

This morning I was riffling through the stack of junk stuffed in the drawer of my bedside table. Underneath the free copies of USA Today, I found my copy of Midnight's Children. I'd forgotten I started reading it at the beginning of July. And never picked it up again, not even when Theo was asleep on the plane or at night before bed during Olympic weight-lifting prelims.

So I'm writing this to warn you never to read that particular book, unless you aspire to give up reading books forever. And if you see me wandering around, a half-finished National Enquirer tucked under one arm, blame Salman Rushdie.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Land that I Love?

When did Ryan Seacrest become more famous than Oprah?

When did everyone decide that GOING GREEN was the cool thing to do, and that they needed to put it on labels and bumper stickers and billboards and t-shirts and in places that could not possibly be environmentally friendly but we're going to force it anyway because it's so trendy?

Why did they turn my favorite greasy suburban Chinese restaurant into a sketchy Mongolian BBQ place?

When did Crocs become business attire?

Why oh why did my local newscaster get bad plastic surgery so that she now looks like Janice Dickinson with a dye job?

When did Dr. Oz become the new Dr. Phil?

Monday, August 11, 2008

American Fries

There's really nothing more American than a country church pot luck supper. I'd forgotten about these kinds of meals, featuring orange Jell-o with carrot shavings, homemade brownies with frosting, grocery store rolls, twelve kinds of mayonnaise-dressed salads, and heaping platters of fried chicken.

The church ladies keep the groaning buffet table stacked with plates and pasta salad with celery, and blocks of margarine.

It's been a long time since I happened upon food like this. Even before we left for Germany, we spent most summer Sunday afternoons grilling flank steak and marinated asparagus, or sampling Asian pear-apples from the farmers' market, or something lame and yuppie like that.

But yesterday we were invited to join our friend Aaron and his family for a celebration. Aaron was Jeff's roommate in college and beyond. They lived together when neither of them could afford a bed so they slept in sleeping bags on the floor of their summer apartment, both doing shift work to earn money for school. They shared a couple of different rental houses after graduation, when Aaron was a first-year science teacher and Jeff was riding the bus to an office downtown.

We've all been all over the place since then. We missed Aaron's wedding in Guatemala a few years ago, so we really wanted to be there for this big day. I am so proud of him, and so hopeful for his wife and three sons. I don't know anyone kinder or more patient or who appreciates life more than he does.

I spent all afternoon watching Theo chase after a bunch of kids he'd never seen before, but whose parents I'd known since before I knew how to grill asparagus. And I licked the chicken grease off my fingers and remembered that home is about tastes and people and sounds we know well, even if we haven't visited in a very long time.

Travelin' Man

I really do have a new post a-brewing for you, but here's something fun to tide you over until that happens. We've been featured in Ohdeedoh's Adventures and Outings series. Take a look!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mamas Worldwide

I was proud to be invited to join the team at Mamas Worldwide, a new international parenting site run by my blogging friend, Christina. I'll post a series of product reviews there in the coming weeks; my first review is up today.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Well! That was fun.

I've been in the USA for less than 48 hours and your assumptions that I've already cranked up the air conditioning, consumed nachos AND a tamale, and tooled around town in not one but two different SUVs are correct. I deserved some hedonism (woo-hoo, I've always been such a party animal, look at me wasting gas and downing the trans fats) after being told on Wednesday night by the Lufthansa ticket agent that our flight had been canceled and our best bet would be to drive to Amsterdam(!) and try to get on a plane (any old plane? I guess?) there. At least fifty new grey hairs sprouted from my scalp during the next twelve hours as we huddled once again in the bathroom - but this time at the hotel since Theo was asleep in the main room - with the cell phone and laptop, frantically calling and searching for a way to get the heisse scheisse out of there. And so we did.

And since there's really nothing more boring than hearing about the long long security lines and the delightful French ticket agent at Charles deGaulle, and the SIX HOURS we spent in the Salt Lake City airport, I'll just say it's good to be here, even if I'm befuddled every time a stranger speaks to me which seems to be all the freaking time. Yesterday some guy jay-walked in front of me and then stopped to apologize to me for crossing against the light.

There's no place like home.