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bike racks and other marital traps

There are things in life that I try to avoid because of how much tension they cause between me and Tom. For instance, H&M t-shirts. Tom insists on hang-drying his so they don’t shrink, but sometimes I forget and put them in the dryer along with every other piece of clothing I wash, and then he gets really mad. I’m sorry that I ruined your shirt, Tom. Luckily, it cost $4.99 and there are another 3,000 of them at the Lloyd Center H&M.

Or how about grilling, at parties. I don’t enjoy throwing parties at which meats must be grilled, because Tom gets really tense if anyone even approaches the grill while he’s at work. When that happens, he gets a weird performance anxiety, and then we usually end up with under/overcooked meats. Our grill (a “Charbroiler”) is a true POS so it’s not really Tom’s fault—one side of the grill has never worked, and the starter is broken so you have to light the whole thing by turning on the gas and throwing a flaming paper towel into it from a safe distance and hoping for the best, and it’s just…not a good scene.

But listen, I have a vested interest in the outcome of the grilling. I’ve planned the menu and cooked the sides, and I’ve procured and marinated the very expensive cut of meat. So I can never help reminding Tom not to overcook the meat, which sounds to my ears like a friendly “Tom please don’t overcook the meat” but apparently sounds to Tom’s ears like a mocking “Tom, your penis is so very tiny.” Now that I think of it, it’s not just Tom. Most men I know are extraordinarily sensitive about grilling. My friend Ethan has an outdoor turkey fryer and when we do Practice Thanksgiving we all just watch him from inside the house, nursing our beers, because he’s super sensitive about being second-guessed on his frying time.

Grilling, however, is nothing compared to the marital stress bomb that is our bike rack. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you have witnessed my evolution from bike-hater to bike-rider. While we’ve had our bike rack for a while, this is the first year that all four of us have bikes. In advance of our first summer trip to Central Oregon, I took our bike rack, which has a 1.25″ fitter, to get it fitted to our new 2″ hitch. “Are you sure that’s going to stay on?,” I asked, as the employee affixed the rack to the hitch with a single, puny screw. He had his face turned toward the car so I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure I heard him roll his eyes. “Yep,” he said, grabbing the rack and pressing down on it for good measure. It seemed steady, but then again, he was a small guy. “Ok. But I have four bikes,” I said, nervously, leaving out the fact that Tate’s bike didn’t have pedals and weighed about 4 pounds. “Well, good thing about this here rack is that it’s made for four bikes,” he said. I narrowed my eyes, sensing sarcasm. “Anyway, it can hold up to 200 pounds,” he said. I perked up. 200 pounds! That was a lot. And this guy knew bike racks. He worked at a bike rack store, after all. I left feeling reasonably assured.

But then Tom loaded the bikes on the rack. And while I trust my husband, I didn’t feel good about how the whole rig looked. Worse, I had no experience with bike racks, so I didn’t know if all loaded bike racks looked so terrifying. But wait a second, this is why Facebook was invented, right? I snapped the photo below and posted it to my wall, asking whether the rack looked normal. I sat back, and awaited the reassuring commentary.
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The first comment came in, from my friend Tim. “NO WAY THAT’S STAYING ON.” Well. Alarming, certainly. But if I had to name one person I knew who seemed less outdoorsy than me, I would have chosen Tim, maybe after my Mom. It’s not like I’d ever seen a bike rack on his Boxer. So I ignored Tim and waited for other comments. More comments came in. Becky asked if that was a basket on one of the bikes. What did that matter?? Patrick commented that his bike rack had once fallen off on I-405. By this time we were on I-405, and I could see the bikes bouncing up and down through my rearview mirror. I looked on FB again. Ethan had commented. “DUDE.”

Fuck. Ethan is pretty outdoorsy, and grew up in Denver. More importantly, Ethan spends a lot of his free time on the Internet and has a lot of useless knowledge about random things. So I dialed Ethan from the car’s Bluetooth. “Does it really look bad?,” I asked. Tom sat next to me, fuming. The boys sat behind us, sensing drama. As for Ethan, he had no idea that he was on speaker, or that Tom could hear the conversation. “Well, I mean, why are the bikes sitting so far away from the car?,” Ethan asked. What did he mean? I hadn’t even thought about THAT. I had only worried that the bikes would fall off. Now I pictured them tipping my car over. I started to ask Ethan follow-up questions but then noticed Tom’s arm, gripping the console in rage. “Ha ha, it’s all good, Ethan,” I said. “I mean…” Ethan continued. Then I hung up on him.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” I muttered to myself. And it was fine. The bikes bounced a lot but made it all the way to Sisters. And back. And hopefully they will make it all the way to Bend next week, and back from Bend. I assume they will. Because Tom says they will. And like a ringer, Tom tends to be right when it matters.

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insane bitch mom

As kids, we quickly learn which neighborhood moms are the cool moms. The ones who will sneak you a cookie an hour before dinnertime, the ones who will let you watch TV and build forts under their dining room table. Growing up, my mom was a cool mom because she looked young and wore cool clothes and cooked delicious snacks.

Now that I have kids and live on a street with other kids, I am eager to be “Cool Mom,” or at the very least, “Nice Mom,” but what I’m quickly becoming is “Mean Mom.” I mean, sometimes it seems like I have a goddamned gift for it. It’s not all my fault. I blame a lot of it on the fact that of the families on our block, I am the only one with a 3-year old. A 3-year old who desperately wants to hang out with his brother and the other older boys on the block. A 3-year old who has yet to develop 1) a sense of self-preservation and 2) a conscience.

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Now that summer is here, parenting has basically boiled down to one thing, and that is to prevent Tate from escaping the house. But no matter how often we close the doors, he slips out. Sometimes we think he’s inside and then I’ll look outside a window and see him standing in the middle of the street, shoeless, swinging a large branch that I have to hope he didn’t break off a neighbor’s tree. Sometimes we think he’s inside, and he is, only it’s someone else’s house. Tate walks in and out of my neighbor Chrissy’s house with impunity, picking up her son’s Nerf guns and transporting them to his own room. Anyway, I spend a lot of time running around the perimeter of my house with a panicked look, muttering “Where’s Tate?” If I see a kid around, I’ll grill them about Tate’s whereabouts, as if it’s their responsibility to keep an eye on my kid. So right off, I’m that mom, the annoying, harassing mom who can’t keep tabs on her own kids.

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But where I really excel is in getting involved in neighborhood kid conflicts. I can’t help it. I have a strong sense of justice and a short temper. When I see injustice being rendered on one of my own children, my eyes essentially start dripping blood and my hands and feet turn into cloven hooves. Last week I watched as Finn waited patiently outside Chrissy’s trampoline as three other kids bounced inside for what seemed like hours. I heard him ask to have a turn. I heard the kids inside refuse. And that’s when I turned into IBM, otherwise known as Insane Bitch Mom.

I stormed into Chrissy’s yard. “Get out. Everyone needs to have a turn.” The kids inside stopped bouncing, and looked unsure. I mean, it wasn’t even my fucking trampoline. I could see the oldest kid looking hesitant, as if he meant to call me out on it. Best to nip that shit in the bud. “I mean it. GET. OUT. Or figure out a way to include everyone.” Finn, who had initially looked happy at finally getting a turn, was starting to look embarrassed. Chrissy had stepped outside to see what the commotion was about. But no going back now. “Everyone needs to have a turn. You guys have been jumping for a long time and Finn’s been waiting.” The boys climbed out, looking chagrined. Punks.

I walked back to my house and looked over the fence in a few minutes to see Chrissy, timing the kids’ turns on a timer. By then the anger had burned off and I felt remorseful. Especially for Chrissy. She’d already given a lot in taking on the beast—the neighborhood trampoline! There was no way I was getting one, because, hello, I took Torts in law school. And I had returned her generosity by going AWOL on her kid. Now, she felt compelled to TIME them, probably because of IBM. I resolved to do better.

So last night, when Finn ran sobbing into the house complaining about being pushed to the concrete, I held him and talked quietly about how things can get rough when people play, and told him to take some calming breaths. I breathed calmly, to encourage him. But then I saw blood on his ankle. And IBM was back, just like that. BLOOD!! What the fuck, was this a neighborhood or was it Lord of the Flies? Wait a second. Was my kid Piggy?? My kid wasn’t going to be anyone’s fucking Piggy. I grabbed Finn’s hand and pulled him down the street to where the crew of kids had gathered, replaying the highlights of the melee. “You guys, he’s BLEEDING. What happened?” I could feel Finn pulling on my hand, because he wanted no part of the denouement. And I quickly learned why.

“They pushed each other!,” the kids cried out, in a chorus. I looked at Finn and felt like a stooge. “Did you push your friend?,” I asked. Finn nodded, guiltily. Shit. I laid down a mini-lecture to all the kids about not getting rough on concrete, and then I looked around at all their adorable faces. I saw there what I tend to forget in my moments of helicopter parenting. That kids have a strong sense of right and wrong, and even the most stubborn ones know deep down when an injustice has been wrought. I felt a moment of gratitude and relief that my kids would get to grow up on this street, with this crew. There would be fights, there would be scuffles. But that’s where they’d learn how to figure it out. How to win, how to lose. How to belong.

I feel ashamed to have forgotten the immigrant lesson I learned early on. I came to America when I was five. Didn’t speak English, and was poor. I remember my mom, who fought like a cougar for me when I was picked on. But she wouldn’t always pick me up. And so I learned how to cope, and how to fight. How will my kids learn to fight, if I don’t let them feel hurt or fear?

IBM may have some thoughts on that. I’ll have to ask her, the next time she’s in town.

the salad i can’t quit

When Cuz lived here, she endeared herself to me by eating our leftovers. I am really talented at creating leftovers. I am also good at packing leftovers, and storing them in the refrigerator. But I am bad at eating them.

That’s because I’m highly prone to food exhaustion. Tom, on the other hand, can eat the same thing every day. When I met him in NYC he was subsisting on sushi and the Route 66 burrito from Burritoville. One or the other. Every single day.

When Baja Fresh opened in Portland ten years ago, Tom made me eat there all the time. And then one day, I stepped into a Baja Fresh and smelled that unmistakable Baja Fresh cilantro smell, and felt like I was going to throw up. I knew then that I could never eat at Baja Fresh again, no matter how many free jalapenos they offered at the salsa bar. The same thing happened to me at Chipotle, but I still have to go there for my kids. Actually now that I think about it, maybe it’s not food exhaustion, maybe it’s cilantro exhaustion.

Whatever. All I know is that I hate to eat the same meal twice in a row. Unless it is this salad, which I have eaten at least ten times since Mother’s Day, when I received “Super Natural Every Day,” the cookbook the salad can be found in, from my kids. I cannot stop making this salad. I cannot stop eating this salad. TOM cannot stop eating this salad, and he thinks of salads as punishment, or an evil to be borne. I brought the salad to a party last night and three friends asked for the recipe.

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mother’s day. photo by finn

It works for me because it’s a whole grain salad, and I dig whole grain salads. They seem healthy, but are substantial enough to be satisfying. And they pack well for lunch.

By the way, if you live in Portland, there is a lunch place downtown called the Picnic House that has the most insanely delicious brown rice salad. Take my word for it. I went to get one last week and they had just run out, and I started crying. Not SOBBING, but there was definitely moisture on my face. I mean, I’d had a shitty day up to that point so it wasn’t just the salad, but still. Go get one.

Or just cook this salad at home, which is different, but similar, in that feeling of nuttiness, chewiness, wholesomeness, deliciousness. This salad is interesting in that the flavors are Asian. My kids would eat their own shoes if they had soy sauce and sesame oil on them. If yours would too, they might like this. If you have leftover whole grains in your fridge, this can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.

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Kale Salad with Coconut and Sesame Oil

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

Ingredients:

1/3 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce, shoyu, or tamari

4 cups (lightly packed) kale, preferably lacinato/dinosaur/tuscan (about one large bunch) (large stems removed, torn or chopped)

1 cup large-flake unsweetened coconut

2 cups cooked whole grain (something firm–I like farro and brown rice for this, but bulgur, wheatberries, or barley would all work well)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Put two racks near top.

2. Put sesame oil, olive oil, and soy sauce into a jar or bowl. Whisk to blend, or just put the lid on the jar and shake the hell out of it.

3. Put kale and coconut in large bowl and toss with 2/3 of the dressing mixture to coat. This step works best if you use your hands to massage the dressing onto the kale leaves. Spread evenly over two baking sheets.

4. Bake for 12-18 minutes total, switching racks and flipping kale halfway through. You should end up with kale that is still green but toasted and brown at edges.

5. Combine kale/coconut with the whole grains. Toss to combine. Add as much of the leftover dressing as you like.

Serves 2-3 as meal, maybe 6 as appetizer.

Note: This is also really good with roasted butternut squash if you want more color and texture to the salad.

smells like a dad

Every day is father’s day in my house. That’s my line and I’m sticking to it.

Unfortunately, there is an actual Father’s Day on the calendar, and it’s Sunday, June 16, and if your husband is like mine, he’s been dropping hints about his gift for a solid month.

To be fair, Tom stopped dropping hints when we got our last Amex bill. Now he drags a huge imaginary cross across the floor saying things like “I don’t need presents,” or alternatively, “We can’t afford presents.” The latter is particularly cutting because the implication is that we can’t afford presents because I spent all our money on fripperies. Wait, where was I going with this post?

Right, Father’s Day. It’s in the works. Tom requested a ratchet set, so I’m working on that, even though every time I buy tools for Tom I feel the money would be better spent as kindling for a bonfire. When we first got married Tom bought a bunch of tools at Home Depot. I remember an orbit sander, in particular. He sanded a lot of stuff for a while, down to the nub. Today, despite the fact that he never uses his own tools, he continues to light up when he hears about the tools of others. “Wait,” he asked our neighbor Bill last night, while taking out the trash and discussing (theoretical) shelf-building, “You have a chainsaw?”

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Tom’s not getting a damn chainsaw for Father’s Day. He’s getting a ratchet set, as soon as I figure out exactly what that is, and assuming Amazon Prime sells it. And then he’s getting some cologne.

Tom has come a long way in his personal grooming. When I first met him I would watch in horror as he would wash his face with soap and then strip it with cotton balls soaked with Kiehl’s astringent. That was it. No moisturizer, no after shave, no nothing. The cotton balls would leave little puffs of cotton residue on his dry, thirsty face. I have no idea where he learned to do that, but it was less a skincare regimen than an exercise in self-flagellation.

He’s come a long ways, my Tom. But he’s always dismissed cologne as an unnecessary step in his grooming. And you might agree. But scent is a dangerously powerful thing. My first boyfriend wore Obsession, an ambitious choice for an 18-year old, but the scent of it on his skin has left an imprint on my brain and I can’t shake it no matter how hard I try. And don’t get me started on Drakkar Noir. My love of Drakkar Noir and the songs of Nickelback are the two things that most negatively impact my self-regard, but the heart wants what it wants.

Anyway, Tom seems to want some cologne. A few weeks ago, while we were getting ready to go out, he grabbed a scent out of my hand and spritzed it on himself. It was amusing the first time, but then he kept doing it. I love Tom but there’s a chance that the cologne could smell better on him than me, and I can’t have that. So I’m on the hunt. To find Tom’s signature scent. Something that makes him smell like this:

More or less, anyway. I’ve admired this ad for years but I fear that M7 may not be the cologne for Tom. The ad copy promises that M7 embodies “male sensuality,” but I don’t know if anyone at Tom’s office needs to experience that. I’ll probably go with something cleaner, more bracing. I’m soliciting recommendations. Please help.