Orange You Glad You Live in California (#209)

When I was a little girl, I always got an orange in my Christmas stocking. I would have preferred chocolate, but oranges were traditional. My parents got oranges in their Christmas stockings, and so did their parents, because back in the day, oranges were an amazing, exotic treat in northern locales.

Also, perhaps, because citrus crops are harvested in the winter.

Today, oranges are less special, thanks to big growers and modern transit. In fact, most of America’s seven million tons of oranges are now processed and turned into juice. When I shipped some belongings to college, a crate of oranges leaked all over my stuff — some of which wasn’t washable. One of my Florida classmates loved to come into my dorm room and sniff. “It reminds me of the orange processing plant back home,” she told me.

There are probably citrus trees in half the backyards in Southern California. Orange County, in fact, used to be filled with orange groves – hence the name. People from the Northeast find this unfathomable. I have relatives and friends who will insist on sending me Florida citrus every Christmas. Which is sweet, but my backyard looks like this:

When Baby Brother and his Excellent New Girlfriend came from NYC for a winter visit, they stopped in Palm Springs first for a romantic weekend alone. On their first early morning run, Excellent New Girlfriend spotted a grapefruit tree. She’d never seen a giant Oro Blanco grapefruit just hanging over someone’s back fence, ripe for the taking.

So she took it. Then she sprinted back to the hotel with the purloined grapefruit wrapped in her shirt, exhilarated by her treasure, yet terrified someone would call the police.

Baby Brother immediately dubbed her the Grapefruit Thief. He told me the story less than five minutes after they’d arrived at our house.

“The best part,” Baby Brother gleefully related, “was that when we got back to the hotel, there were complimentary grapefruits offered with breakfast! And by the pool! And at lunch!”

“But they weren’t as good,” the Grapefruit Thief argued, “My grapefruit was biggest and best and I’m lucky no one chased after me to get it back.”

Andy laughed so hard he was incoherent, mystifying the native New Yorker.

I explained. “There are so many citrus trees around, no one would care. If they saw you take one, the owners might run after you – but only to give you a bag and tell you to pick all you wanted!”

“No!” the Grapefruit Thief shook her head vehemently, “No way! No one would give away grapefruit.”

“No, really, they totally would. Grapefruit and oranges and lemons? They’re like…zucchini back east. They all ripen at once, the fruit is enormous, and people can’t get rid of them fast enough. Then you have to worry about rats.”

I don’t think the Grapefruit Thief believed me. Unless you experience Southern California’s citrus abundance, it’s hard to imagine. Take my nephew.

First Nephew grew up in snowy New Hampshire. The closest he ever got to an orange grove was his daily orange juice, fresh from a carton — until he came to visit us as a tween.

He loved being able to run around the neighborhood and shoot Nerf guns in shorts in December.

He didn’t love the fact that we did not have his beloved orange juice carton in the refrigerator. He sighed the first day. He whined the second day. The third day, he complained loudly.

For the third time, I reminded First Nephew there was an orange tree outside and he could pick his own oranges if he wanted them so badly.

“I don’t want oranges, I want orange juice.”

Irritated, I said, “Listen, mister—”

Andy stood and interrupted. “First Nephew, get up.”

“What?” asked First Nephew. But he got up from the table. “Why?”

Andy only said, “First Nephew, follow me,” and led him into the yard.

“What are we doing?” asked First Nephew.

Andy handed First Nephew a telescoping fiberglass pole with a basket on one end and took him to the orange tree. He said, “Reach up with that, and pick some oranges.”

After First Nephew had a bucketful, Andy led him to the hose. He handed him a vegetable scrubber. “First Nephew, wash those oranges.”

“Why? I said I didn’t want an orange.”

Andy didn’t answer. First Nephew washed the oranges. When he finished, Andy handed him a towel and said, “Now dry the oranges and take them inside.”

First Nephew said, “But I told you, I don’t WANT an orange. I want orange juice!”

Andy merely repeated, “Dry the oranges and take them inside.”

First Nephew grumbled, but brought them inside. Andy handed him a knife and a cutting board and said, “Now cut them in half.”

“But I don’t want—”

“First Nephew, cut them in half.”

Sulkily, First Nephew cut the oranges in half. I had the juicer ready when he finished slicing.

Andy said, “Now, First Nephew, put the orange on top of that juicer and press down.”

Our juicer in action.

First Nephew pressed. The juicer rotated, scooping out the inside of the orange and pressing against the peel. Juice flowed into the pitcher below. After several oranges were juiced, Andy poured the juice into a glass.

He handed the glass to First Nephew and said, “Drink this.”

First Nephew took a sip of his fresh orange juice and complained, “It’s pulpy!”

Since Andy looked like he might explode, I took over, placing a strainer over another glass. I said, “First Nephew, pour your juice into this glass.”

First Nephew did. I handed the strained glass of juice back to him. He drank it down and declared, “That’s the best orange juice ever!”

Then he said,

“But it still doesn’t make up for the days when I didn’t have orange juice.”

Like a Pill (#208)

I had headaches most of my childhood. Maybe it was my poor eyesight. Maybe it was bad nutrition. Maybe it was the stress of divorces, remarrying parents, and more siblings. I tried all the drugs in various parents’ medicine cabinets, to no avail. I learned to power through head-pounding misery.

I worked as a cashier in high school. An assistant manager noticed one night that I was more sullen than usual. She asked if I was okay. I explained that I had a headache.

She said, “I have something that will fix that right up.”

“It won’t work,” I told her. “I’ve tried aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin. Nothing helps.”

“Give it a shot,” she said, handing me a maroonish, brownish pill with “Advil” written on it.

Twenty minutes later, my headache was gone. I turned cartwheels and called it a miracle.

I’ve worshipped at the altar of Advil ever since. Or at least until the generic version of ibuprofen came out, because that is way cheaper. If I feel a headache coming on and I can get to ibuprofen fast enough, I can prevent migraines, even the ones with nausea and stabbing pain in my eye.

I carry a bottle in my purse, my gym bag, and my backpack. I’ve taken it for the flu and torn muscles. Ibuprofen was the only pain reliever that made menstrual cramps bearable until I went on birth control pills in my twenties.

But you know what? When you’re trying to get pregnant, ibuprofen is forbidden. Early in pregnancy, it can cause a miscarriage. Later, a fetal heart defect.

When my gynecologist broke the news, I let out an involuntary moan. Okay, maybe it was more like a loud shriek. A nurse poked her head into the room to ask if everything was okay.

“NO!” I howled. “The mean doctor says I can’t take ibuprofen while trying to get pregnant or being pregnant! And it’s the only thing that works!”

The nurse clucked sympathetically and left.

“You can take Tylenol,” the doctor said.

“Oh, yay,” I told her. “I’ll take it with some fairy dust and foo cha tea and I’m sure any headache will disappear immediately.”

“Some of my clients swear by acupuncture,” she offered.

“That’ll go great with my vasovagal response to needles,” I shot back. “We’ll get to spend a lot of quality time together in the Emergency Room after I pass out.”

“Essential oils—”

“Essentially useless!”

“Then you’re down to icepacks and moist heat on your forehead. Good luck and take your prenatal vitamins.”

*****

My luck lasted three weeks.

I missed my ibuprofen the day after a grueling volleyball tournament, but the hot tub at the Y and some stretching got me through.

When a loose pit bull mix went after my dogs on a walk, I got knocked down and dragged before my ferocious Fey sent him on his way (with scabs). I pined for my ibuprofen that afternoon as I covered my bruises with ice packs.

Then came the evening when my forehead started to throb. My stomach grew queasy. The pain spread over my head, down to my neck. I lay in a dark room for a while before crawling to the bathroom.

“Want me to get anything?” Andy called out. “Some ice?”

After I finished retching, I weakly called back, “A gun. So you can shoot me.”

Bastard only brought me a pillow and a blanket, though.

I fell asleep some time before dawn, and woke up pain-free.

I repeatedly congratulated myself on surviving a migraine without ibuprofen throughout the day.

The next day I got my period.

And I cursed. I could have taken ibuprofen and spared myself all that misery because there was no fetus in danger of being miscarried, damn it.

I called Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and bitched. “I can’t believe it. I was so sure I’d get pregnant right away!”

“You might be lucky you didn’t. There’s no official stats on it, but when I was working my OB rotation, this one super experienced obstetrician talked about how she’d just seen too many weird pregnancies with multiple embryos and complications when her patients got pregnant on their first cycle after going off the pill. She always advised at least one regular menstrual cycle before attempting to get pregnant.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that.”

“It’s just anecdotal,” Dr. Sis said. “It’s not like there’s any research to back it up.” Dr. Sis is a mega-fan of peer-reviewed studies and has killed no small number of mice in her own research. “But I found it moderately interesting. And hey, how are you enjoying your first period off the pill?”

“Oh, it’s fabulous.”

“Really?”

“Of course not, Dr. Sadist! It’s come back with interest or a vengeance. I felt like there was a knife in my gut and now I’m bleeding like there’s a knife in my gut.”

“You don’t sound that bad.”

“Of course not,” I told her.

“Because I already took four ibuprofen.”

New New Year’s Eve, Same Old Shit (#207)

366 days ago, I thought, “Next year, for sure, we’re going to do something fun on New Year’s Eve. We’ll go dancing, at least!”

2017 had other plans. Andy ruptured his quadriceps tendon in September. Yesterday he was finally cleared to jettison his brace, but it’ll be months before he can walk normally. Dancing? Out of the question.

Going to a party? Forget it unless they have a recliner and some ice.

Having a party? We did that on Christmas Eve. Andy had to go lie down in the middle of the party. I still haven’t finished returning the house and yard to their normal state.

Once again, my big plans will be walking dogs and envying the shiny, fabulous people driving off to parties. Then I will remember that my envy is based on heaps of false advertising by companies that distribute alcohol. The reality is a lot of obnoxious drunk people and vomit.

Besides, everyone on social media will remind me that most of us are at home with our pets anyway. Bring on the photos of dogs in 2018 glasses and party hats! Bring on a 9:30 PM bedtime!

Remember your earplugs, because your neighbors probably have illegal fireworks.

Before 9:30 PM, though, I’ll remember how very fortunate and privileged I am, because my husband’s injury was minor. He’ll make a full recovery. Our family members are in good health. My grandmother is going to be 98 in 2018!

It’s not all roses, though. We’re going to be thoroughly screwed on our taxes in April, thanks to the “Only Billionaires Get Breaks” Tax Bill. Yet we will endure until the November elections give us something to smile about again.

And next December 31st, damn it, we’re going dancing.

Here are my musings on staying home from NYE 2016. Enjoy!

 

 

Christmas Morsels

You know what Christmas means to me? Cold weather. Snow, if you’re really lucky. Sledding. Getting three Chapsticks in your stocking and being thrilled because your lips really were about to fall off.

Christmas won’t be Christmas if I’m stuck in Los Angeles.

This year’s hunt for a Christmas tree versus last year’s. Who wouldn’t be bummed?

But I am stuck in Los Angeles. My injured husband can’t travel. As he’s not a holiday person, he’s thrilled to have a relaxing holiday at home.

The weather is clear and sunny. The palm trees are swaying. My orange tree is filled with fruit.

Blech.

Memory lane is more enticing than oranges today. So below is a recap of all the fabulous Christmases I spent in cold — and sometimes even snowy — places, having proper Christmases. May they fill you with holiday cheer!

First, a post about Andy’s first Christmas in New Hampshire.

For all the kids of divorce, I’ve got the story of how my mother — and J.R.R. Tolkien — brought magic back to a broken family.

Are you a last-minute shopper? Enjoy A Walgreens Christmas. (Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister swears up and down that it was actually a CVS Christmas, but you get the idea.)

And here’s one about clueless WASPS and Christmas stockings.

Finally, I hope all those traveling enjoy fewer storms and better weather than we did last year.

Merry Christmas!

Spun (#206)

You may have noticed some outrage on my page these days. And those are only the public messages, not the private ones. Some people are seriously pissed at me for writing posts that do not laud childbearing.

To which I say, why? Why is it so important that we revere pregnancy and procreation?

I’m gonna go with the marketing of Big Religion. Once birth control went mainstream, women suddenly had the option of not spending their lives trapped in an endless cycle of what The Women’s Room termed “[baby] shit and string beans.” More and more women saw they’d been denied the opportunities of their male counterparts. They got angry. They demanded the pill and equal rights.

Big Religion pushed back, utilizing Christian conservatives. Religious types blasted feminists as harlots and undesirables, while praising traditional, stay-at-home mothers. Conservatives labeled women shrill. Ball-busters. And don’t think this ended in the 1970s. Rush Limbaugh is still obsessed with Hillary Rodham Clinton, mocking her 70s pants, hair, and glasses this century.

Much of America couldn’t get past the avalanche of conservative spin. The Bible Belt certainly couldn’t. Hillary Rodham took Bill Clinton’s last name. She ditched the glasses, dyed her hair blonde, and traded in her pants for pink suits with skirts.

It worked. Arkansas embraced her. America embraced her.

And Hillary bided her time until she thought America had evolved enough to accept a strong woman in pants.

Turns out, we hadn’t. 53% of white women voters went for Trump instead. A guy who bragged about assaulting women.

Last week, 63% of white women in Alabama went for alleged child molester Roy Moore. Were we going backwards or what?

Not all of us. If you break down the numbers, those women think of themselves as Evangelical Christians. The same group that went for Trump. How can two such sinful men get so much of the so-called Christian vote?

Religious spin, of course. (Racism, too, but that’s another post.) The same Big Religious Patriarchy that went all in on feminist harlots went all in on abortion. They made the embryo the most sacred of all cows, and motherhood the holiest of all callings. (Once you have a kid, though, it can starve to death or die from lack of medical attention, especially if it’s poor or not white.) And the southern states bought in, big time. They ignore other issues, because abortion is murder and murder is bad, and you don’t vote for what is bad and that makes voter research quick. It’s a win for the lazy voter and religion, a loss for the country.

Big, Religious Patriarchy has been effectively spinning for years. The more kids their adherents have, the more their power religious leaders wield. No wonder the womb is sacred. Of course religious leaders praise women for fulfilling their “traditional” roles and being “obedient and “feminine.”

And even if you aren’t religious, this reactionary spin seeps into our media, our culture, and our bones.

*****

Spin is everywhere. Even here, on my pages. On my previous posts, where I list reasons not to have children. That doesn’t mean those reasons aren’t legitimate, mind you.

And I still think people should think – long and hard – before having kids. I wish we all hit puberty with a form of birth control. Then humans would have to consciously opt in to have children, rather than consciously having to opt out.

But, perhaps like the religious right, some of my spin came from fear. Big Religion fears women gaining power, realizing they’ve been complicit in their own repression, and screaming “I’m outta here!”

I feared being a terrible parent, with a terrible temper, like my father. I feared that, like my mom, I’d be worn out, an emotionally empty vessel after all the years of taking care of children. I feared I wouldn’t be able to give a child all that it needs.

I got past those fears — mostly. I came to terms with adopting a child in need. Singular. One kid only, I could manage. But then my husband didn’t want to adopt. He wanted that one child to have half of my genes, and half of his.

And that’s even more terrifying. That’s goddamned genetic roulette.

Especially if your family has some, er, atypical genetics.

Like mine.

Starting with triplets. Yes, triplets. On her second pregnancy, my mother’s overachieving ovaries released three eggs. THREE! There were complications, including one stupid male doctor. Mom lost all three embryos, plus a fallopian tube and an ovary. (Don’t worry, she rallied and made up for it by having another five kids.)

There was no way in hell I could be a decent parent to 3 infants at once. Andy and I were on our own. We couldn’t afford a nanny. I told Andy that, in case of triplets, we would offer two of the babies up to two of my girlfriends who were planning to adopt. He thought I was joking.

I wasn’t.

He came around, grudgingly, when I pointed out that the alternative was not having kids.

But that still left us with one other genetic issue:

Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s runs – nay, GALLOPS — in my family. If you’re familiar with Asperger’s, then you know it’s not officially called by that name anymore, but you’ll also know  the type of high functioning autism spectrum disorder that I’m referencing.

If you aren’t familiar, the character of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory is probably the best example of Asperger’s in pop culture. Enigma code breaker Alan Turing is an excellent historical example.

“Aspies,” as some self-label, are characterized by being brilliant thinkers and social nightmares. Like one of my nephews, they might teach themselves to read and do long division by age three. Like one of my sisters, they may spend kindergarten in a corner, reading a book, painfully aware of their classmates’ ridicule.

They miss social cues. Their speech is sometimes flat, sometimes grating, and often alienating.

Aspies often require early, intensive intervention in order to fit in with their peers and make friends. Until recently, most Aspies didn’t get that intervention.

My father certainly didn’t. He’d never heard of Asperger’s until I informed him that he clearly had Adult Residual Asperger’s. I don’t think he believed me until one sister, her son, and another grandchild were officially diagnosed a few years later.

Dad had manners and social graces pounded into his head by his mother, though. He learned to fake neurotypical behavior well enough to achieve some career success (aided by being a white male with familial connections). Conversations with Dad often devolve into lectures, however, with the focus on HIS thoughts about HIS favorite topics.

That’s not surprising. Perseveration and one-sided conversations are two common indicators of Asperger’s.

It’s not just my genetics that are problematic, though. Do you remember who else on this blog perseverated relentlessly? On everything from doors to male grandchildren? And lacked the slightest bit of social grace or awareness?

Andy’s father Jay. There’s no way that man did not also have Adult Residual Asperger’s.

I pointed this out to Andy. Andy agreed.

I asked, once more, “Are you sure you want our own kid? We could have triplets. All. With. Asperger’s.”

Andy is an optimist. He said, “Or we might have one sweet, charming little girl.”

I snorted. “First, I already told you, we’d have a boy. Boys are something like five times more likely to be on the spectrum. Second, the Bossy Ashbough Tyrant gene is dominant. Are any females in my family sweet and charming?”

“Uh…Ex-Stepmother?”

“She was only an Ashbough by marriage and you know it. So let me ask again: are you absolutely sure you want to spin that genetic roulette wheel? Because there’s a good chance it could land on a red three.”

Andy’s a gambling man. He set his jaw and said, “Yes.”

And we spun.

Baby Battle (#205)

My parents procreated like rabbits. Then they got divorced and procreated some more. Given that having children is pretty much the worst thing a regular person – not an Exxon Executive or a Donald Trump – can do to the environment, I figured someone in my family owed it to Mother Earth to NOT have children.

There was just one problem. My husband wanted a kid.

I came up with a brilliant solution. We’d adopt an existing child. And since my husband was Chinese-American and I was a feminist, I thought a little girl from China would be perfect.

My husband had a slightly different take. He said, “No.”

My husband NEVER says a flat no. He hates confrontation. I asked, “What do you mean, ‘no?’ No Chinese baby girls? Do you hate the land of your father or what?”

“No adoption.”

“What? Why?”

“Because.”

“Because why?”

“I want my own kid. I want our kid. Not someone else’s.”

I should have expected that sort of response, given my husband’s reaction to the neighborhood kids who stopped by to play with our dogs. Like many men, Andy was the lion who wanted to kill any cubs that weren’t his. (Though he didn’t actually want to kill them so much as have them conveniently disappear.) I glowered and said, “I do not understand you. We adopted our dogs and you love them just fine.”

“A baby is not a dog!”

“And you,” I informed him, “are not the one who will have to host a parasite and swell up like a hippopotamus with gland problems in order to have a child of your own. YOU won’t throw up constantly. YOU won’t get ripped to pieces. ”

“It might not be that bad—”

“It will be that bad! I saw what happened with my mom and Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister. I can expect all that and probably more.”

“I thought your mom loved being pregnant.”

“Mom’s mental health always was questionable,” I said with a sigh. “What’s unquestionable is that her body was a mess afterwards. You’ll owe me all kinds of surgery.”

“No problem,” Andy assured me. “I’ll start saving now.”

I snorted. “You say that, but the baby will take all the money. You’ll have to max out the flexible spending and health care spending accounts.”

“Of course, of course!” Sensing victory, Andy rushed to promise me everything.

But I had some ammunition left. I knew how much Andy adored his niece and how ambivalent he was about his nephews. I told him, “And you know what, honey? If we have a baby, it’s NOT going to be a girl.”

“What?! No!” Andy yelled. “You can’t possibly know that!”

“Oh, yes, I can,” I told him. “Our child would be a boy.”

“Is this like your grandmother’s witchy sixth sense?” Andy demanded. (My father once caught an illegal ride on a milk truck when he was a teen. At the exact moment he fell off the truck, or so the story goes, his mother dropped her hand of bridge, said, “My son is hurt,” and took off. She drove to the exact spot where Dad lay in the road, put him in the car, and took him to the hospital. Supposedly this was the only game of bridge Gram never finished.)

“I dunno,” I said. “I just know we’d have a boy. So if you want a little girl, the only way you’re going to get one is if we adopt.”

“I don’t believe you,” Andy scoffed. “What if you’d married Ethan?”

“Ha! I would NEVER have married Ethan,” I told him. “But if I had, we would have a girl.”

“You — you can’t know that. Or this. Or anything like that or this!” Andy sputtered.

I shrugged and said, “Maybe not. But I do anyway.”

Andy glared at me. The desire for a sweet little girl and the desire to pass on his genes warred for a few minutes before he told me, “I still want my own. And you might be wrong.”

“I might,” I conceded. “I mean, when you think of all the times we’ve disagreed in the last five years or so, I’ve been wrong how many times?”

Andy mumbled something.

“What was that?”

“Two!” Andy answered. “Two, okay?”*

“I like my odds.”

Andy mumbled something about Ashbough witches and then said, “So we’re agreed? We’re gonna have our own kid?”

“Not so fast, mister. We can TRY. But we might not succeed. And then what?”

Andy rolled his eyes. “You’re kidding, right? You’ve been telling me for years that your family conceives at the drop of a hat. You insist on backup birth control. And now you don’t think you’ll get pregnant?”

“It’s possible,” I argued. “There might be something wrong with your sperm.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my sperm!”

“You don’t know that. You’ve never had it tested. Maybe your little spermies are drowners, not swimmers. Or maybe they go in circles and bump into walls.”

“My guys are fine!”

“Okay, but what if they’re not? What’s Plan B? Do we use your brother’s sperm?”

“NO!”

“No spermy, no baby. Are we going for an anonymous donor?”

“I’m telling you, we won’t need one!”

“And I’m telling YOU, I need a plan,” I crossed my arms, planted my feet, and said, “No plan, no baby.”

******

It took 4 days for Andy to capitulate. Then it took a week to hash out the details:

We’d spend 6 months trying to get pregnant. If we were unsuccessful, there would be testing.

If my eggs/ uterus were problematic, we’d find a donor/ surrogate.

If Andy’s sperm were problematic, we’d look into adoption.

Andy remained quietly convinced that Plan B was utterly unnecessary.

And me?

I was kinda hoping for drowners.

*Andy wants everyone to know that this conversation took place years ago and that, as of December 2017, he has been right 7 times. But I tell him the last one doesn’t count because it’s become very clear that Donald Trump cheated. So he’s really only been right 6 times.

 

Thanksgiving Smorgasbord

If you’re traveling today, or just need to read something turkey-related, I’m serving up hot holiday helpings right here.

Are you far away from your family this Thanksgiving? Do you miss them even though they are dysfunctional as fuck? Here’s a post for you: Sunny, with a Chance of Thanksgiving.

Are you bringing a significant other home for Thanksgiving? Are you worried that they won’t fit in? Try this post: Hearts & Turkeys.

If you’re gonna play it sane and do a leisurely little 5K Turkey Trot, I’ve got a post about people who chase turkeys for 2 miles.

If you’ve been training hard to kick someone’s ass in a 10K Turkey Trot, you can read about my one — and only — 10K attempt.

If you lost hours slaving over a Thanksgiving dish that a) got eaten by the dog, b) got burned when your husband accidentally set the oven to “broil”, or c) got dropped on the floor, here’s a post from last year’s baking disaster.

Wishing all my U.S. readers safe travels and loose pants this week!

Top 10 Reasons To Have Babies…Refuted (#204)

My husband wanted a baby.

Meanwhile, I literally had a whole list of reasons NOT to have a baby.

But in the interests of fairness, I interviewed and studied various parents. I came up a list of reasons why (other) people want children…along with reasons why those reasons are screwed up.

#1. RELIGION. Various religions have spent centuries insisting it’s God’s will that their congregations reproduce like rabbits. In Utah, for example, Mormon Elders are horrified when women talk about putting off marriage or childbirth. “But what about the poor souls in Heaven?” they ask. “You’re not thinking of the poor little souls just waiting for a body!”

Why, sure, Mr. Elder. And you’re not thinking about how the more your congregation procreates, the more money their progeny’s 10% tithes generate. (Fun fact: The LDS Church will actually bill their members based on their W2 forms.) And the evangelicals? Don’t get me started on how those pastors actively seek to expand their flocks and their control of their flocks by insisting on 19 kids and homeschooling.

Since I don’t believe in God or Heaven, though, I am unmoved by the supposed horror of spiritual traffic jams. Next.

#2. SECURITY (i.e., Medieval Social Security). This one is especially big in Chinese families. It’s expected that the son will take care of his aging parents, physically and financially. Even my Chinese-American husband Andy, who has a 401K, a pension, and a social security check waiting for him, has made comments about how a child would care for him in his old age.

But depending on your children is questionable. Even in a rule-following, age-respecting society like Japan’s, adult children dump their aging parents. Some grandparents even seek imprisonment to get shelter and food.

#3. SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS That Motherhood Is the Highest Calling and All Women Shall Aspire to That Pinnacle of Womanhood. More medieval logic — the kind that coincides with keeping women away from the corridors of power and sometimes financial autonomy.

Modern women, armed with modern birth control, can pick their own pinnacles. Everyone else, shut up.

#4. LONELINESS. I know women who can’t stand being alone. They think that having a child will mean never being alone again. They have a point. A demanding child means you won’t even go to the bathroom alone for about 5 years.

Yet how entitled and repulsive to make your own child’s small presence responsible for your happiness. I suggest therapy instead.

#5. A SENSE OF PURPOSE. This was my mother. She was addicted to being pregnant and shepherding new life into the world. It’s a little (OR A LOT) like today’s conservatives, obsessed with the survival of All The Zygotes — until they leave the womb.

Once Mom’s kids were born, though, we grew up moderately feral, as she was too busy shepherding in the next new baby to get her kids to school. Or the doctor. (Notice again the parallels with the GOP’s slashing educational funding and medical insurance for children.)

#6. ENTRAPMENT. I hate, hate, HATE that I have to mention this one, because it wounds my liberated female soul, but I’ve seen it firsthand. One of my dance partners – an independently wealthy one – had a hookup deliberately get pregnant and get child support.

What a special scenario. Someday the kid asks, “Mommy, how was I made?” and she’ll get to answer, “Through greed, child.”

It’s never too early to ready your child for the major leagues.

#7. GLORY DAYS. There are parents who’ve realized that their own dreams of greatness will never be realized. So these Sports Dads and Dance Moms live for the successes of their progeny. Sometimes, the progeny succeed. Mostly, though, these children wind up in pain or even suicidal.

#8. THEY JUST LOVE BABIES. These persons are also known as “Baby Hogs.” Loving babies is sweet, sure, but remember that babies are much like puppies: cute and squishy when small, but destined to grow into less cute, more obstinate creatures with astounding destructive powers.

I suggest puppies or kittens instead, as they at least don’t have the opposable thumbs necessary for automatic weaponry. (Thank God, right? Imagine your hungry, pissy, sociopathic cat with a Glock.)

#9. TROPHY KIDS. Nope, it’s not just for wives. There’s a whole bunch of McMansion owners who, not content with having just one kid, use a second, third, fourth, or even fifth child to proclaim their status: “Look at us! We can afford the $250,000 necessary to raise an American kid 4 times over! Suck on that, Joneses!

#10. IMMORTALITY. People like the idea that a piece of them will live on after they’re gone. And the more kids you have, the more likely that one of them will survive to pass on your DNA. Once upon a Black Plague, this attitude was understandable.

Now that overpopulation is the greatest accelerator of climate change, a desire for immortality through multiple kids only serves to ensure that it’ll be cockroach DNA inheriting the earth — not yours.

*****

As you can see, I found not a single noble — or even rational — reason to bring a small human into being.

On the other hand, I did think of an amazingly noble reason to raise a child.

I thought of the millions of adoptable kids around the world. Children who lost birth parents to war, poverty, or disease. Their birth mother might not have had access to birth control. She might have been raped. Maybe she struggled with addiction. Whatever the reason, when there were so many existing children who needed loving homes, I found it difficult to justify creating new ones.

Maybe, just maybe, I could get my husband on board with that.


Shout out to adoptive parents around the world

and two particular Moms in Los Angeles.:

Well done, you.

Warning: Slow Cook in the Kitchen (#203)

My kitchen at the height of Baking Season: Christmas.

When we get new neighbors, I usually take them a plate of baked goods. If they’re lucky, the newbies moved in between October and December, which my husband dubbed “Baking Season.” Baking Season starts with cream cheese sugar cookies shaped like fall leaves and moves onto maple cream pie, apple pie, maple sugar rugelach, and candy cane meringues.

The new neighbors usually bring back an empty plate and sexist mouthful of compliments. “You’re a fantastic cook! Your husband is so lucky!

“Thanks. But actually,” I explain, “my husband Andy is the real chef in our house. You should taste his pot stickers or homemade ravioli. I only bake.”

“Uh, er, um, really?”

“Yep. I’m a whiz at the oven, but terrible on the stove top.” I tell them.

And off they go, perhaps contemplating their default assumptions about women in the kitchen. Or maybe they make the distinction between baking and cooking for the first time.

I, on the other hand, have been pondering the differences between baking and cooking for years.

Because while I can make a Devil’s food cake with poured ganache frosting to die for, I really, really suck at cooking.

And I hate sucking at stuff.

*****

If you don’t follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you should. While this blog is mostly a memoir, my Instagram account and Twitter feed are relatively current.

Currently, Andy is disabled (gruesome pictures on Instagram).

Two months ago, Andy tore his quadriceps tendon. Maybe he was trying to one-up my torn quadriceps muscle. Maybe Andy’s just got problematic tendons, since he already ruptured his Achilles tendon. Maybe all Chinese-Americans have problematic tendons, cuz look what just happened to poor Jeremy Lin.

Andy’s immobilizer.

Whatever the cause, the result is brutal: surgery involving drilling holes in Andy’s bones to reattach the tendon, then months with the knee immobilized, raised and iced. Once his knee returns to being orange-sized as opposed to melon sized, he can expect 6-12 months of physical therapy.

Worst of all, he can’t cook. (I say this is the worst part. Andy disagrees. You can probably guess what activity he can’t do that’s got him super upset.)

My siblings understood that the loss of the household chef was a calamity of the highest order. We all grew up with food issues; we all married people who are amazing in the kitchen. My sibs chipped in and sent a generous GrubHub certificate. Several of my girlfriends also dropped off dinner.

I picked up a lot of take out. But eating out is expensive and often unhealthy.

At some point during Andy’s lengthy recovery, I would have to cook.

God help us.

*****

My first night in the kitchen, I burned the rice. In the rice cooker.

Andy fretted over the fact that he’d put off mounting the fire extinguisher in the kitchen. I rolled my eyes at him. “A fluke,” I insisted.

My second try was pasta Carbonaro. I underestimated the size of the pot necessary for the noodles and dumped them in the water too fast. Some flipped out of the pot, fell into the gas burner, and caught on fire.

I put out the fire with an oven mitt and the cat squirter bottle. Then I sheepishly got the fire extinguisher out of the garage.

I retreated from the kitchen for a few days, then returned with a meal I’d made before.

My spicy Thai tofu wasn’t burned or flambéd, but it wasn’t spicy.

“I don’t get it,” I groaned. “I’m using the same recipe! How can it not taste like yours?!”

“It’s fine, honey” Andy assured me.

“You mean it’s EDIBLE,” I corrected him. “Edible is not the same as fine. Especially not when your husband thinks edible includes everything from sheep’s brains to cold jellyfish.”

“I think maybe it’s not quite spicy enough.”

“But I used SO MUCH red curry paste!”

“Yeah, the paste sometimes lacks the proper punch. If it doesn’t taste spicy after simmering for a few minutes, I throw in a jalapeño.”

“Wait. You taste it? Before it’s completely cooked? Isn’t that unsanitary?”

Andy shrugged. “Maybe it’s unsanitary. But it’s necessary.”

“Easy for you to say! You have that cast iron Chinese stomach!” It’s true. The man never throws up. Partially cooked Cantonese cuisine weeded out weak stomachs centuries ago. Andy and I can eat the same questionable restaurant meal and I’m the only one lying on the bathroom floor for the next 24 hours.

“It’s only tofu, honey. Not raw meat.”

“But you taste the meat stuff, too, don’t you?! That’s why your food is so much better! You have an unfair advantage!”

Andy was unimpressed by the light bulb that was practically visible over my head. “All chefs taste as they go.”

I thought about this as I washed the dishes. I didn’t do much tasting when I was baking. Baking is chemistry, really – you carefully measure ingredients, add them in strict order, and heat to transform them. You can’t be tasting a cake halfway through the baking process and adding more sugar.

So if I was going to play to my strengths, I needed a style of cooking that was front loaded like baking. A style where there’s measuring, prepping, browning, and then the food gets shoved in the oven. Food is forgotten until a timer goes off, and then comes out delicious.

You know what that style is?

The slow cooker.

And here is the book that saved the day.

I’d actually gotten Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker for Andy after my brother-in-law made the Italian pot roast and served it over polenta. The meal was delicious. I wanted it again. In a fit of subtlety, I gave Andy the cookbook and a crock pot from Costco. A few times a year, Andy made the Italian pot roast.

He never tried any other recipes, though. Andy is partial to his pots and wok and gas burners.

The first recipe I tried was the split pea soup. I baked some homemade bread to go with it (i.e., so at least we’d have something edible in case of failure).

Andy said, “Huh. Not bad,” and ate his entire bowl.

Next up, was Tuscan bean soup (and more bread, in case the first success was a fluke). Andy had two bowls.

I branched out with beef burgundy. Andy eyed it with trepidation at first, but then had three helpings.

I tried chicken tarragon next. Only I realized partway through the cooking that tarragon smells like licorice, which I hate. So I replaced the offending tarragon with rosemary (which grows on our patio) and thyme. The chicken turned out well, with only a hint of licorice in the potatoes.

Did you know you can do pinto beans in the slow cooker? Once you have beans, you can do burritos or nachos, easy.

After pinto beans, I made Irish potatoes and plum pork.

We had Mr. Picky for dinner. Mr. Picky is a huge fan of meat and mushrooms. He’s also a huge fan of Andy’s beef stew. I’m pretty sure he wanted to bail once he figured out I’d be cooking.

I made beef burgundy.

He loved it. He said, “This is even better than Andy’s stew!”

I shall glory in those words forever and I shall never let my husband forget them. The slow cooker rocks.

Best of all, I haven’t had to use the fire extinguisher once.

Yeah, I made that beef burgundy. Nom, nom, nom.

Road Maps (#202)

There are some free spirits who eschew calendars and maps. They are content to see where the day and the road take them.

I don’t understand these people.

One such free spirit is my friend, JM.

I don’t understand her, either.

What one of my daily lists looks like.

I’m a planner. I have a Daily “To Do” list. I have a monthly “To Do” list, with 3 different categories: Regular Work, Writing Objectives, and Miscellaneous (dates bills are due, household repairs, upcoming birthdays needing cards/ gifts, etc.) I even have a yearly “To Do” list that involves travel.

Before a road trip — before smart phones and Google Maps — I had road atlases and computer printouts ready. Last time I drove across the country, I had carefully mapped out interstate routes and made hotel reservations. It took me three days.

My friend JM? She drove across the country on back roads and only ate at non-chain restaurants. It took her a week.

Once upon a college football game, she drove us to San Diego.

As we approached the city, I asked, “What’s our exit?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “The stadium is at the university, right? So we’ll exit there.”

We exited at the university. We drove around the university. We found an overgrown stadium that hadn’t been used in years. We asked students for help. Given that we were wearing the opposition’s colors, we got very little help.

The help we did get nearly landed us in Tijuana. I think we made it to the game for the fourth quarter.

Our friendship went on hiatus after almost-Mexico.

But we reconnected about the time I started dating Andy. JM helped me find my perfect wedding dress. She even threw me a bridal shower.

Only she hadn’t accounted for 405 traffic and was an hour late. She was also driving my friend KL (co-bridal shower-thrower), so KL was late, too.

But that was okay. Because I am a planner. I’d dragooned Andy into making killer Martha Stewart hors ‘devours that morning. The day before, I’d baked several dozen cupcakes.

As she left — with leftover cupcakes — JM laughingly noted, “Wow! You threw yourself a great shower.”

*****

I’m a planner because stress makes me psychotic. I lose my temper and I’ve been known to throw things. Long-term planning alleviates stress. Long-term planning also helps you get good deals on airline tickets and pet-sitters, though climate change is now making a mockery (and a misery) out of air travel.

Most of my siblings are also planners. Maybe it’s how we coped with all the divorces, deaths, and upheaval in our childhoods. We’ve been known to organize B&B takeovers during weddings more than a year in advance. We have the food responsibilities for Thanksgiving broken down by September. Secret Santas are set by Halloween.

And yet I hadn’t planned out the most important life choice of all.

Having a child. Or not.

Andy and I had done premarital counseling. I knew he wanted two kids, but would settle for one. He knew I was on the fence about having kids, but one was possibility.

Andy thought I’d change my mind and want kids.

I thought Andy would change his mind and want to keep having sex.

Andy started pushing for kids.

I pushed back.

He sulked.

I bitched about it to JM over dinner one night. “Kids are so much work,” I groused. “And it would be me staying home with the kid, doing all that work. I’ve already got two dogs and two cats that interrupt my writing for food, bathroom breaks, and attention!”

“So no daycare for you guys?” asked JM. “No nanny?”

“Huh. We never really talked about it. I guess it seemed premature to hammer all that out before even getting pregnant.”

“Really? Stevie Hollywood and I did.” JM had recently married a TV producer. She still oozed unbearable newlywed smugness when she gave relationship advice, all prefaced with phrases such as: “Stevie and I think,” “Stevie and I would never,” “Stevie and I already solved that issue by…”  Which was a bit much, given that JM met Stevie at the beginning of college football season and they were engaged by the Rose Bowl.

I made a rude noise and said, “You did not talk nannies and daycare during your whirlwind romance. You never had time, you sanctimonious liar.”

“No, really! We did!” JM protested. “Because my family doesn’t have your family’s ridiculously fecund record. I asked Stevie, ‘Do you want kids? Because my ovaries have issues and I might not be able to have one. If you must have kids, you have to be okay with IVF, or a surrogate, or adoption. And so we agreed we’d try them in that order, because he really wants kids and is partial to his own sperm. And then I said, ‘Okay, who is going to stay home with the kid?’ and he said, ‘Oh, we’ll do daycare or a nanny.’ To which I replied, ‘The hell we will. Why have a kid if neither of us is raising it?'”

I said, “Damn.”

JM continued, saying “And then I told him he could stay home, or I could stay home, but one of us was staying home or there was no kid and if that was not okay, then there was no marriage.”

It took me a few seconds to close my jaw. It took me a few minutes to finally admit the truth. “I can’t believe it. You fucking OUT-PLANNED me.”

“Only on the important stuff,” she said. “I’m still a mess on regular things. Like, can you pay tonight and I’ll get next time?  Because I left my wallet in my other purse.”

I was so flummoxed by her new, long-range planning skills that I agreed, even though it was a more expensive restaurant than our usual place.

Later, though, I wondered if she’d planned that, too.