Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Meat Loaf and Mood Swings

The only way in which I even remotely resemble Martha Stewart is weekday meal planning - no, I’m not smoking my own lox or carving radish roses, but I’ve learned to prep dinners in the morning, so on hectic days of driving kids to activities until dinnertime, I have something ready to heat up. This is less a display of organization than a bribe to myself (if I get through the hellish afternoon, I’ll actually have a dinner I enjoy instead of stale leftovers or take-out I can’t afford).

This morning was fairly typical - during the time it took me to assemble one meatloaf, I went through a day’s worth of perimenopausal mood changes. First I was patting myself on the back for getting dinner started. Then I started to feel sorry for myself - I’m not feeling well, and if I didn’t have kids to shlep and cook for, I’d be in bed. Then I started blaming myself - I’m a bad mom, I haven’t taught my kids enough to make dinner for themselves, alternating with, oh, come on, I’m not that sick, it’s just a cold, stop the pity party. (And this was just while I was getting the ingredients out!)

Chopping the onion gave me an excuse to cry, which strangely enough led to a wonderful sense of caring for my family (my husband loves this new meat loaf recipe I cobbled together from a few different cookbooks plus my childhood memory of the one my mom used to do). I may not be as famous or financially successful as, oh, nearly everyone with whom I went to college, but I’m a grounded, devoted mom and wife who knows what’s really important. At that point, I decided to try cooking the onions before I put them in, to see if I could avoid the “eww, what’s the crunchy white stuff” complaints, and I started to feel sorry for myself again, all I’m doing is cooking and cleaning instead of writing brilliant essays or getting quoted by the New York Times about how to solve the fiscal crisis.

Then I figured, what the hell, this is life, put on your big girl panties and be grateful you have enough money to buy food, enough free time to prep dinner in the morning, and a family to cook for. I even had a moment of feeling connected to my mother (as I used her trick of ‘frosting’ the loaf with ketchup, which sounds incredibly dull and suburban but keeps the meatloaf moist). And in the midst of all this newfound blissful serenity, I promptly knocked over the open bottle of Worcestershire sauce and gave myself extra work to do. (Fortunately, I was cooking while indulging in my current guilty pleasure, watching taped reruns of America’s Next Top Model - I know, my husband is horrified that an ivy league graduate has such unintellectual taste, but I think it’s a hoot and I occasionally learn something - but anyway, having the mess to wipe up let me finish the episode guilt free.)

They say that cooks transmit some of their emotions into the food they prepare - geez, I can’t begin to imagine what I’ve put into this meatloaf! But here’s the basic recipe, and feel free to add in your own mood swings -

Chop one small onion really fine, and saute in a bit of butter. Meanwhile, beat one egg, add the sauteed onion, a pound or so of lean ground beef, a handful of breadcrumbs, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, approx. 1/2 cup light sour cream, a splash of soy sauce, a dollop of ketchup, and a tiny bit of mustard. Mush together, put in a loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray, and ‘frost’ with more ketchup. Bake at 350 for oh, around 35-45 minutes or until it’s as done as you like.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Black Hole Of Facebook

Which are your five favorite movies? What ancient ruler are you most like? Who is your favorite character from Gilligan's Island? What Grateful Dead song are you? What Harry Potter wizard are you? Can you list 25 randomly annoying things about yourself? How many hours have you wasted taking - and reading - these ridiculous quizzes?

(I was going to write a cute line at the end of that list of surveys, saying "Which one of these isn't an actual quiz on Facebook?", but in doing a tiny bit of research I discovered that just on Quibblo, an affiliated quiz site, there are 613 quizzes about the Twilight series alone, so probably no matter what weird topic I would make up for a joke, someone has probably already created a quiz about it!)

I'm obviously not the target market for these quizzes ("How obsessed with the Jonas Brothers are you?"), but I'm not the only adult on Facebook these days. I regularly hear from high school classmates, people I used to work with, even old boyfriends, and it's also a great way to check up on my teenage son, even if all I usually learn is that "David is bored and thinks he'd like some ice cream". I tend to check it every few days, scroll through a mind-numbing list of tedious updates ("Melissa is psyched for the weekend", "Joey loves pizza, yo dude"), post an occasional staying-in-touch-note ("Love the photo, your kids are gorgeous"), and ignore the rest. But the other day I saw a theater colleague post his score from a 'how-well-do-you-know-Broadway-musicals" quiz, and challenging his Facebook friends to try to top him. I couldn't resist the challenge - and in fact I came within a few points! - but I can't believe I let myself get sucked in. I spent valuable time trying to remember how many Tony Awards were won by Angela Lansbury, and I realized how dangerous these quizzes can be.

There are tens of thousands of them on every conceivable topic (including art and literature, not just Zach Efron's love life, although that's there too), so no matter what subject you think you know, there is a quiz to tempt your vanity. I wonder how people have time to take all these quizzes - and then I start to wonder about the quiz creators. Like when those e-cards started popping up all the time, and I'd wonder who had the time (or inclination) to create a bunch of singing teddy bears or fluttering birds unfurling a 'happy spring!' banner. Hello, people, don't you have anything better to do? And don't get me started on Twitter (do I really need to see hourly 'tweets' about what someone is thinking about eating for dinner, what he ate, and what it did to his digestive tract?0

Making fun of Facebook and Twitter is ridiculously easy, like shooting fish in a barrel (or making fun of George W. Bush's word use); but someone has to point out how insane we're all getting, before everyone drinks the Koolaid and think we really need to spend our valuable time determining what beer we are (or trying to prove I know more about musicals than my friends). So here's a quiz for you; would you rather a) take 10 Facebook quizzes a day, b) catch up on sleep, c) have sex, d) read my blog, or e) go out and get some fresh air? (Hint, if you answered a), you probably won't have much time for the other activities!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rock This House

My 12-year-old son is an aspiring rock/jazz/whatever musician - he plays drums (which means that eventually the band will have to rehearse at our house) and percussion in the school band (which means he loves experimenting with anything around the house that makes noise when banged, and he's learned to play the piano with his two index fingers pointed like xylophone mallets). I love that music is part of his life, even though it does mean we all have to schedule activities requiring concentration (business calls, homework, thinking) when Ben isn't practicing drums.

Who knows what he'll end up doing with it - but sometimes I wonder, what was it like for Keith Moon's mom when he was in middle school? Did Phil Collins' mother ever have to remind him to stop banging and start practicing his rudiments? Will I end up going to his concerts with earplugs and a walker? Occasionally I get little glimpses of my future as a rockstar's mom - the other day Ben played drums for a show I wrote & music directed at our synagogue for Purim (gotta love us Jews, Purim is a holiday all about spoofs and costumes, and in fact it is a commandment "to get so drunk you don't recognize anyone"). He did quite well, and after the show, several girls his age casually sauntered over to hang out and look at the drums - I tried not to kvell (yiddish for 'beam with pride til your kid yells, God, mom, you're embarrasing me'') as I watched Ben nonchalantly toss his sticks and show the girls a few fills. My husband's comment was, Wow, drummers really are chick magnets!

Ben has also discovered this wonderful computer program called GarageBand - no, it's not a video game, it's software that works as a home recording studio when you pair it with a midi-synthesizer (which is just about any cheap keyboard, trust me, I'm not that tech savvy!). I use it all the time for work, recording demos, making accompaniment CDs and editing other tracks, and it's pretty incredible, especially considering it's free (but only with Macintosh computers, yet another reason why I won't buy a PC). Sure, there are some limitations, but it's saved me thousands of dollars in recording studio time for projects that don't need album quality. Anyway, I showed Ben the basics, and he figured the rest out for himself (god love these modern kids weaned on nintendos and texting - they're not afraid of anything technical!). I found one of his compositions, and I alternated between gaping admiration and hysterical laughter; it was a long meandering opus with 3-minute wild guitar solos, and he had played with the speed to create impossibly fast drum beats, and while it definitely wasn't ready for MTV, I thought, sheesh, this isn't that far from those artsy pieces by 70s bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer or ELO. Actually, it was exactly what I would have expected from Keith Emerson if he'd had Garageband as a 12-year-old.

There are definite ups & downs to being a musician's mom - sure there's the noise, and driving to lessons, plus drum heads and the various paraphenalia get expensive. But oh, it was incredibly cool to play the synagogue show with my son, and if nothing else, having so much noise in the house has improved my ability to concentrate. In fact, I wrote this whole entry while he was practicing, apart from the break I took to argue with Ben about whether he'd practiced only 5 minutes or the 20 that he claimed - sometimes, even geniuses hate to practice!

Monday, March 16, 2009

My dinner with Andre

Last night my sons took me out to our favorite local Mexican restaurant, and I had visions of a lovely evening full of stimulating conversation, intelligent discussion, and familial bonding. Right. When you're done snickering, read on to find out what really happened.

This auspicious occasion wasn't prompted by my birthday or another celebration, but by my having blown my stack last week, screaming at them about how they were disrespectful and I was tired of being treated like the maid, adding, "I was going to take you guys out to dinner Sunday while Scott is at a gig, but you can forget that!" So after I stopped foaming at the mouth, and they apologized and promised to be perfect angels for the rest of their lives (or something along those lines), Ben actually came up with the idea of still going to dinner if they paid. Which is sweet, but not as amazing as one might think, given that both my boys have way more petty cash on hand than I ever do; David has a job as a hebrew school aide, and Ben collects loose change and hoards allowance on those rare occasions I remember to give it. Still, I appreciated the thought, as well as the chance to skip cooking for a night.

And we did have some lovely moments - David drove (ah, the dreaded permit) and only took 8 attempts before he sort of fit into the parking space; Ben opened the door for me (and didn't slam it in David's face, for the most part); they both waited for me to order first - so in my relaxed optimistic frame of mind, I decided it would be a good time to start talking about Ben's bar mitzvah project (they have to create some sort of community service effort, for a cause of their choice). David suggested something to do with animals, I mentioned we could check out the animal shelter where we got our dog, and suddenly both boys were off on a discussion of how gross the various cages would be, and what different animal poop might look and smell like. At this point, they both were in hysterics and Ben had Dr. Pepper coming out of his nose. My pitiful "Boys, I'm serious, this is important!" just made them laugh harder.

They eventually calmed down, and I settled for hearing about the movie they'd seen at their dad's, when the waiter brought a lidded container of piping hot tortillas - Ben lifted the lid, steam poured out, and this prompted another giggling conversation about how effective a weapon they could make out of hot mexican food (and yes, flatulence did figure into the discussion). Meanwhile, I stared enviously at the family at the next table with three well-behaved little girls who were probably talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder and saving polar bears. But when I refocused on my own family, the boys were in a deep discussion of why bar mitzvah parties were cool and what kind of suit David thought Ben should wear - okay, it wasn't Nietzche, but it was still heart-warming.

So all in all the evening was a success - only next time, in the hopes of a slightly more civilized conversation, we're not going anywhere near a restaurant that serves beans. (Mothers of sons will understand what I mean!)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

If Jessica Simpson is Fat, What Does That Make Me?

The tabloids and entertainment magazines are filled with the recent brouhaha over Jessica Simpson's figure. Apparently, she was photographed in a couple of not-so-flattering outfits, and after she read some unkind comments about her weight gain, Ms. Simpson blogged and blurted her way to several cover articles, detailing how hurt she was, and how she was comfortable with her womanly curves; several other celebrities offered support, including Jessica's lip-synching sister Ashlee. On the one hand, I love the fact that a tabloid darling is resisting the pressure to be a size 0; on the other hand, this is the same bubblehead who gave umpteen interviews about the workout regime she used to get into short shorts to play Daisy Duke, and honey, if you became famous largely because of your body, it's a bit hard to complain that people are judging you based on what you look like.

Still, Jessica looks like a model of sanity and healthy self-esteem compared to this month's issue of More Magazine, which I usually love for its intelligent perspective and focus on women over 40. The March issue has an article about older women with amazingly firm bods, and after breathlessly detailing how hyper-sinewy cougars like Madonna and Sheryl Crow get so ripped (severely restricted calories and two-hour daily intense workouts), the article simply concludes that it takes a ton of work to look that good. Excuse me, where is the rant against societal pressure? Where is the reassurance that the rest of us can look good without such extreme measures? More, I'm disappointed in you - or maybe the other half of the article never got finished, because the writer felt compelled to quit work and go start her 3,000 crunches?

Normal people who have to work, run homes, raise kids, etc., can't devote that kind of time and attention in order to look like a muscle-bound starving marathoner - but even if we could, would we want to? Since when did being bony-yet-with-a-6-pack become our standard of attractiveness? Years ago, back when fashion models were only a few pounds thinner than average women, the beauty icons were women with luscious figures, like Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Annette Funicello, none of whom would be able to appear in People Magazine today without critical comments about their flab. Granted, my resemblance to Marilyn is about as faint as my resemblance to Paris Hilton, but at least I wouldn't have to starve myself and work out for 15 hours a week to emulate Marilyn's figure - a good push up bra would do most of the work!

Fortunately, my husband is like most men, who prefer curves to sinew. I knew I loved him when he saw Nicole Kidman's photo and said, "Ewww, she's way too skinny", and he sealed the deal when he told me he hoped I didn't lose any weight, he liked a woman with a figure. His actual phraseology left something to be desired; he was trying to compliment my legs, so he told me he loved how my calves 'had so much meat on them' - as his friend Doug commented, "When talking to a woman about her body, never use the word meat!' - but he tried!

So Jessica Simpson, good for you for eschewing the super-ripped bod, and for doing something else besides being a busty bimbo who thinks Chicken of the Sea isn't tuna; but could we stop all the discussion of her weight ups & downs? If my husband sees one more photo of her in her short shorts, he's liable to ask me to put on some Daisy Dukes, and as comfortable as I am in my curvy body, that's one act of self-celebration I think I'll skip.