Thursday, March 08, 2007

Econ 101:: There Were Signs

In the last 3 years real estate agents, well meaning strangers, and countless others have let me know in every conceivable manner that this day would never come. I've been laughed at, corrected, admonished, lectured, snubbed and pitied, because I dared to speculate that the *Hot Housing Market* was a hot air bubble and not an irreversible trend. I wasn’t making a lucky guess. I countered every attempt to convert me with irrefutable evidence: There have been housing bubbles before and when people over pay and over-finance, then the cycle is doomed to repeat itself. And still people scoffed, and said, “This is different,” and “This is unprecedented,” and “You must be joking, housing will never go down in California.”

Geoff and I have withstood the jeers and pressures of a crazed market, rabid realtors and loan wielding sharks. It has been humbling, frustrating, depressing and scary. Now it’s their turn. And I am not happily pronouncing any kind of Victory for our side, because I don’t think it’s going to be at all pleasant in the next year, or longer, to see more and more people struggle and even fail to make their mortgage payments and to see homes in foreclosure. Houses were being bought and traded like commodities and for many they were unaffordable as homes, safe havens to raise families. And maybe we are wrong. Maybe our government will rescue the system again, refute that there is real inflation, and manipulate interest rates to protect the status quo, an economy that is based less and less on productivity. It would be a sad and dangerous course.

I like looking for my own economic indicators, little signs that realtors are ready to be nice to me. For instance, I was invited to a housewarming party for a new neighbor. His selling agent gave invitations to everyone in a 30 block radius to come meet “Larry,” followed by lots of personal details about how great Larry is and how great Century 21 is. Oh, and it also said, “There will be pizza, soda, beer and juice for children who need it.”

Panda eats, shoots, and leaves.

What Is Love

Maria and Benjamin love to torment each other.
He sleeps in her bed and attacks her stuffed chick; he chases whatever she is dragging behind her.
She hugs him in a fashion reminiscent of a sumo wrestler. She plays shepherdess and herds him around the house, knocking him from his perch, removing him from his curled up naps.
If he is happily dozing in a spot she wants to occupy, she casually and firmly shoves him out of her way and as he stumbles away dazed and indignant, she says, “There you go,“ in a kind and graceful tone.
She loves to admonish him for minor kitty crimes, like sitting too close in front of the TV or peering over the dining table from her booster seat. She raises her voice, sternly wagging her finger, saying, “Ben-bee ‘top it.”
They both make messes, they both seek attention, they both want to get outside and explore in the yard, and they are both very cute.
And when Maria is enjoying her bath, splashing and swimming, Benjamin watches her. He hangs over the sides of the tub and paws at the water. He’s fallen in twice.

Maria likes it when Benjamin comes in to the bathroom. She points and lets her face turn a little and says, “Oh, cute-cute Ben-bee. Cute-cute.”

Would you believe we are camping this weekend, as in "starting tomorrow?" You see unfortunately I fell for a rumor that started a few months back that a certain game would be done by the end of February. I was not totally naïve: I reserved our campsite for ten days after the deadline, allowing for slips and slides. So, still in the recovery phase of our colds and congestion and with a house that could be condemned for neglect and abuse, I am supposedly going to retrieve our own true home, the RV, load it, fuel it and drive up to the school tomorrow afternoon and take four very eager children camping. They are giggly with anticipation. They want campfires, weenie roasts, sleeping bags under shady oak trees and butterfly nets on long hikes. They want to read The Hobbit by flashlight.

Me too. I love oak trees and acorns and ponds with tadpoles and cattails. I want to sit around a campfire and let the night and smoke ease my senses, and relax the grip that the city and suburban responsibilities keep on my imagination. I could go farther away, but I couldn’t be any further away than when I am in that old county park and doing the same easy things I did as a girl, like looking for lilacs, following trails and making paths. Being there is a way of coming home. Since I have no family home, no physical place that has been a constant in my life, I am especially taken with the places I went with my mom and my brothers, the places where we played and explored and made our own.

Geoff has to work, and he might only be able to join us for a Saturday hike and dinner. The house really is a mess. If I stay home we won’t see Geoff any more than if we went away. And if we stay home, the house is as likely to get messier than really clean. I’ll probably wear myself out just gathering supplies and buying the groceries, but when we get there… the scrub jays will be acting like it’s spring time already and there may be early lilacs, faint blue and sweet. We can look for tadpoles and maybe there will be water in the creek. I’ll tell the boys about the little bluegills my brothers and I used to fish for, but refused to eat. I’ll tell them all the old stories that come to mind when we are enjoying the evening fire, and they’ll start telling me stories too. It could be worth it, just to hear their stories.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

So, I have mentioned Geoff's work schedule before, right? He works seven days a week. He stays all night many times. It's crazy.
It's interesting to see where the walls crumble, how things come apart. Luckily our foundation somehow manages to stay intact. Geoff and I are both tired, cranky, sometimes irrational and we have even been heard squabbling in some incomprehensible dialect. But we love each other. We can still laugh. We still want to vacation together, ride in the same car, hold hands. And we love our children. Maybe some people think that should go without saying, but I don't agree. I am happy to repeat that we love our children. William, Alex, Max and Maria are the joy and the inspiration for everything we do, for everything we hope to do.

So, now that I have described the soundness of our foundation, let us turn our attention to those aforementioned walls. After many months of Geoff working triple time and all of us still trying to move-in and unpack, there are things that simply stop working and there are still other things that I somehow cannot or will not fix. The vacuum is one example. The new vacuum is dead. The receipt will never surface and there is nothing to do but pay for it to be serviced or chuck it. Haven't done either. The old vacuum could be serviced and tuned, but that would mean lifting it, carrying it to the car, driving to the repair place and waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for the repair and paying the bill. Not going to happen. We have found the limits of my strength or my ability to cope with seemingly simple tasks. Take the telephone. Since we moved we have not found more than one phone jack that works in this entire two story 3,000 square foot house. Our phone or the phone jack ( we don't know which) does not work well. The reception is horrible. People ask me to "speak up" or they say "you're breaking up." Our bad phone makes people irritable. They accuse us of deliberately being third world, of being annoying and difficult to talk to. It's gotten worse, because now the phone won't work to dial out. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. The boys couldn't reach me the other day, when I left them with Maria while I ran errands. I came home to a very sad daughter and three worried and frustrated sons. I got so mad, I kicked the phone, and you know what? I got a dial tone! Works every time. If you need to make a call out, lift the receiver and kick the telephone, then dial, and remember to speak up, because on the other end they'll think you are calling from a raft in the South Pacific.

There are two kinds of tired. The first kind of tired is from a long or hard day, or after a difficult night. This kind of tired needs nothing more than a thick slice of chocolate cake, a nap or a glass of wine with dinner. This kind of tired is the kind experienced by people without children and they think they are exhausted, but in truth they will recover by the weekend. The other kind of tired comes when you have a new baby in the house, or when you are doing night-watch in an Iraqi outpost, or when one partner works 112 hours per week and the other partner is home trying to keep four children fed, clothed, healthy, safe, educated, and entertained, while cleaning, unpacking, paying bills, clearing clogged drains and being a model of parenting excellence. This last variety of tired cannot be resolved so easily. It can only be juggled, shifted, and managed, so sometimes even the simplest chores will have to be left undone. I should proofread and perhaps elaborate my vague, disjointed statements, but that ain't gonna happen.

Maria is sitting on top of the clean clothes. Actually she is stuck, sitting in the basket of clean and folded clothes. She sneezed on the hangers, then said, “I wovee you mom. Night-night.”

Last night she helped me prepare dinner. While I worked on the spaghetti sauce, Maria measured teaspoons of salt and separated cloves of garlic. Max was appalled to see the salt poured out over the kitchen counter, and he only seemed mildly convinced when I explained to him that she was cooking.

“Cooking? How is this cooking?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, she learned how to say garlic, and she learned how to separate the cloves, and now she is practicing pouring and measuring,” was my happy reply.
“But what about the mess?” Max countered.
“Messes get cleaned.”

I think I am realizing that for me, writing is a compulsion. I am keenly aware that I am publishing a lot of stuff that will litter the Internet like dust motes in a sitting room; meaning my thoughts go largely unnoticed. Yet, in spite of my humiliation and self-conscious embarrassment, I cannot seem to keep from writing. Everyday I send my thoughts and reflections, the daily rituals and details of our family life out in to the ether. At least for our household and me it serves as a family time capsule, or large scrapbook, so that we can revisit happy times, silly moments, rough patches and memories that might have drifted away. And I cannot explain why blogging is the method, the tool, the page for my journal. I cannot justify my choice, except that I do want to connect with other family, friends, so I keep on writing.

I am not a particularly skilled writer and I do not have the most innovative or engaging website, and knowing this sometimes troubles me. I feel inadequate, small. And I also feel reminded of a trend that I recognize in our society. I don’t know if I can describe it clearly, but the trend I see has to do with a lot of people wanting to be Special, Famous, Recognized and Rich, and not necessarily for any particular reason. In other words, there are a lot of Paris Hiltons. Naming one celebrating is a weak way to make my point, and yet it is still somehow effective. Paris Hilton is rich by way of inheritance and she is famous by way of doing nothing of genuine value for society. Is she special? Well, you would think she is, if taking magazine covers and news’ headlines in to account. I see far fewer acknowledgments for the people who actually work, sacrifice, plan, endeavor, strive, dedicate, apply, sweat, create, fail and try again, innovate, and go back to do it again everyday, without the hope of a severance package, awards show or free home-makeover. Our society keeps widening this tremendous gap between wage earners and individuals like the ex Home Depot CEO whose severance payout was 210 million dollars. 210 million dollars for a job poorly done, or how good a job could anyone do to merit that amount of money? Or how about Spend it Like Beckham? Yes, it’s a business move and he is a franchise that generates interest and more money, but I feel for his teammates; are they worth so much less? And what about the children aspiring to be professional soccer players? Will they fully understand that success can be found without millions of dollars and product endorsements?

We cannot all be famous, not even for 15 minutes. We won’t all get rich fast and easy. Very few of us will get tickets to Oprah’s Favorite Things giveaway show. I don’t think it is good for so many people to cling to the hope of fame and prosperity, to wait for their lottery ticket to save them, to idealize the lives and faces of a lucky few. I think that as we find more and more people without the nicest cars, the shiniest homes and the newest handbag, we will face a crisis. The widening gap between the 1% with everything and the rest of us will cause a great deal of anger, resentment and bitterness.

I used to really enjoy watching Martha Stewart’s television show, the old one, before she was famous for going to jail. Her half hour program featured tips for home keeping, cooking, crafts and hobbies. She shared her skills and she invited skilled professionals to teach their crafts. She went out in to the community to find craftsmen, farmers, fishermen, jewelers, hobbyists and cooks, many different people with talents and interests. The show was not about promoting celebrities or making product endorsements. The program was about regular people that knew how to do something useful or simply beautiful and it was about giving the viewer an opportunity to learn something new and interesting. I miss the unique experience of hearing from a person that knows and loves her work and is content to go on working for the sake of the process and the product and not for fame or huge sums of cash. There is something genuine and endearing about that kind of person.

Do I want fame and riches? Well… hmmm… well kind of, but … hey, it’s infectious! I could enjoy a little recognition. I would like to hear that I am worthy of a trophy, some swag and a write up in TIME, and money is very useful. I would love to test my skills in philanthropy, to build the house of my dreams. I don’t want fame, not for what I do, not for the cost of privacy and freedom. I don’t want to make winning the Lottery my goal or plan, or to pine away for a windfall that will make my life perfect. I do want to continue writing and posting pictures on Chickenblog and maybe making someone laugh or feel connected a bit. And I will remind myself periodically that this is for the sake of the process, for the product, for the pleasure of it…

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Max's Progress Report:

"Max is very hardworking and enjoys finishing his work daily. He excels in math. We are working on having Max realize that he is an exceptional student. His progress in reading is continuing. Max's polite and respectful attitude allow him many friends in the classroom."

The only issue is Max's self-esteem. He does not accept that he is doing very well. I was tearful listening to his teacher praise him; she thinks he is amazing and she loves having him in her classroom. He always completes his work and it is always correct. He does not misbehave, not ever. He needs to be told what to do only once. He has many friends and many children seek him out. This little boy, challenges and all, is doing so amazingly well that teachers from all over the school tell me how great he is. I see the whole history. I think of where we were 6 years ago, the setbacks we went through 4 years ago, and I am profoundly amazed and thankful for this moment in time. Maybe he cannot understand how awesome he is; I look forward to trying to help him realize how well is work is paying off.
What can I share today…the good, the sad, the bad, the ugly, the tedious, the cute, the bitter, the oh so quotable? One of each? I know, I know. I’m groveling again. I keep hoping someone will want to converse.

After the night I had, I am in no condition to hold a conversation. Maria seems to suffer from growing pains. About once a month she wakes up crying. She tells us her legs or feet are hurting. She stays awake 2 or 3 hours, repeating, “Ouchie, ouchie, coco,” as she grabs her feet or holds her shins. I am able to distinguish her cry of frustration from her cry of crankiness, and this is definitely a cry for help. Maybe my training pays off and she falls asleep because of the massage, or maybe she just falls asleep from being awake since 2 a.m.

Sounds like a job for Dr. Alex, my super dependable, tattooed pediatric acupuncturist. Our regular guy is fine for measuring kids’ heights and taking temperatures, but for genuine ailments and mysterious conditions I trust no one more than Dr. Alex. With little or no fuss Dr. Alex and his expert team have cured lingering coughs, hives and body rashes, breast lumps, colic and symptoms of allergic reactions and other affects of Asperger’s syndrome. Have you ever had a difficult, impossible to cure or diagnose illness or condition, and then seen it evaporate like a raindrop on hot asphalt? Honestly, my experiences with acupuncture have been so straightforward, easy and successful that I almost don’t trust my very own memories.

She’s fine now… Maria. She is watching a little Dora while her mommy writes. William is upstairs working on 3-D Studio Max. William and Geoff were up late discussing questions and problems William has been working on. The car is on empty and I need to take lunch to the boys, and would you believe the house needs cleaning? We are all still trying to recover from colds and from the very difficult schedule Geoff is keeping, so things are definitely unraveled, frayed, disheveled and grouchy around here.

To be practical… my list:
Get gas in Odyssey
Deliver lunches
Finish laundry
Ask William to write thank you cards
Submit “Resident Application for 48 Hour Yearly Recreational Vehicle Parking Permit”
Relish thoughts of pissing off neighbors with our RV parked in front of the house
Dread after school meeting with Max’s teacher
Meet Max’s teacher: She wants to discuss his “self-confidence”
Get children home from school
Remind William to write thank you cards
Clean some more, anything, just make a dent
Make appealing, healthy dinner
Take luxuriating nap
Home facial
Finish Great American Novel about a girl living between cultures and growing up to make her own path, while staring down her demons and achieving success that defies conventional expectations…

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Around here you'll find whole grain hens at breakfast, maybe for dinner some nights too. Now that breakfast time is over, I have turned my attention to cleaning. Of course my attention is always divided, so I peak out in the garden where Max and Maria are coexisting. Max is cleaning out the sand table, which is full of rain water and fallen leaves. Maria is like a butterfly, lighting on every surface, sampling and then flitting away. She played with chalk, then sat in the big chair beneath the olive tree.

She crouched down to inspect the sweetpeas that have sprouted.
Maria helped me plant the seeds a few weeks ago. I felt determined to make any kind of garden, even if it meant only a handfull of sweetpeas. Now she is bringing me leaves. She must be plucking the azaleas.

I have most of the laundry washed and dried, so I'll spend a greater part of the day hanging and folding. I already loaded the dishwasher. We still don't have a working vacuum, but if I vigorously drive our old one across the carpet it rolls up horrendous hairballs and other filthy fluff. I debate whether or not to clean the floors. Our floors are tile... big tiles with slim grout lines. I am not sure what sort of surface these tiles would work on, but they do not work in a house. The tiles are slick, slippery, sliding tiles with an ice like sheen that always looks wet. I think each of us has had a bad fall on them, even when they are dry and when they get wet it's even worse. A week's work of grime and stick gives them some texture, friction. They are much safer when they have built up a dulling patina.

Spring is coming, so I guess that means we'll be on the lookout for more flowers and yearning to pick up tomato seedlings, stop at feedstores, smell mountian lilacs. Yes, my attention certainly does get divided...

I really should take a picture of Maria. She is a mess. I love the kind of mess she is. She has been busy in the garden and it shows from her chalky hands and bottom, to her grass stained knees and the mystery gunk across her shirt. Her cheeks are colored, her eyes are bright. She looks excited, delighted and lively. She tried to climb the tree. She pulled on the laundry line, and turned over the pail of rain water. She balanced on the low concrete border, and she over saw Max's cleaning project. She is a picture.