Sick-apocalypse

Zombies!

I hear The Walking Dead is a great show. Apparently I’m living it with an extra special meaning. The zombies are germ and bacteria infestations. I’m being chased by these zombie germs. I fight to protect mini fragile bodies from turning into messy heaps of zombie germs themselves. But I can’t fight the zombie germs off and several of us fall down as our flesh is infected. I limp around the house, dragging my feet, moaning and hacking and blowing my nose endlessly. My daughter was up all night barking a croupy-zombie cough. My son’s fever clung to him for days.

When my zombie self watches tv, I see all of those cold and flu commercials are directed at me. Those marketing folks know exactly what they’re doing. This past week we needed stronger medicine than what those commercials offered: three out of five in our family is either on Amoxicillin or Zithromax.

How to go to Battle During the Sick-apocalypse

  1. Be aware. October might as well have a flood gate, or a starting line painted around its middle stating: START OF THE SICK SEASON. On or around Halloween is the epicenter.
  2. Go into the season prepared: Flu shots. I have yet to read or hear a good argument against them. For reluctant shot-takers, the nasal spray works seamlessly. It’s a live vaccine so one might feel a little feverish but I have yet to see that happen with my three. Most doctor’s offices carry both the spray and shot, but often they run out of the spray.
  3. Pharmacy stock up: Invest in the medicines now instead of waiting until someone is in pain and you have to go to the pharmacy in your pajamas. Pain reliever/fever reducer (Tylenol or Motrin), cough syrup for kids over 5 years, cough drops, Vick’s Vapo Rub, boxes of tissues with lotion, and a powerful humidifier.
  4. Grocery stock up: In case any of the sickness comes with gastrointestinal issues, stock up on soups (chicken noodle) and plain crackers, Gatorade and/or Pedialyte, and bread. Remember, for the big D the acronym is: BRAT; Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast.
  5. Invest in an easy, trustworthy thermometer: Especially for the littles, the Braun ear thermometer is just awesomeness. No sticking it uncomfortably under the tongue or pit. It’s probably not as accurate as under the tongue but it’ll signal you if it’s time to head to the doctor’s office.
  6. Cleaning Supplies: I’m not a big fan of bleach and chemicals with my cleaning supplies, but during the cold and flu season I definitely ease up on my morals. Clorox antibacterial wipes and a roll of paper towels is really all you need. Just remember to wipe down doorknobs, faucet handles and any other shared spot in the house. Paper towels can replace the hand towel in the bathroom temporarily.
  7. Rest and Fluids: duh, right? The good and the bad: no, wine doesn’t count as a fluid but yes, watching the entire season of Narcos on Netflix does count as rest.

Feel better!
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Sick-apocalypse

South Beach Boondoggle

Poolside

Last week I promised I would come up with a good jingle/mantra/slogan to counter the plucky quip “..mix, mingle and not to be single!” found on South Beach Magazine’s post for a Girl’s Guide to Nightlife. I had to ask myself, what did I find myself doing over my 72 hours in South Beach? What were my goals versus what I ended up actually doing? What was the pulse I felt as a 41 year old woman/mother/wife visiting this vibrant slice of Miami?

I came up with a few:

“to swill, chow and gain fat blisters from too-tall heels”

“to imbibe, munch and people watch”

“to wonder where all the people were our age, ogle tiny dresses paired with giant boobs, and order nachos at 3am”

“order extravagantly, drink lavishly, and regret not sleeping more”

In our version of the Girls Guide to South Beach Nightlife, you will traverse the hot concrete of South Beach with us as we actually did it.

Thursday – we stayed at 1 Hotel, right on the water. Huge hotel (by Tom Colicchio) with 5 pools, a rooftop bar and of course, the beach.

Dinner at Beach Craft – I gave it an 8 out of 10. We ordered the Stone Crab largely because I had never had it and I wanted to eat local. Hefty price tag of $45 for 3. The octopus was tough and delicious with long tentacles. The tuna crudo was fresh and spicy with its jalapeño topping.

Fed and having washed it all down with a few glasses of white and bubbles, we headed up to the rooftop bar and pool. Exactly the kind of vibe you would expect: tiny dresses, fancy drinks, and a salty breeze coming from the direction of the sea.

Our first night! Rooftop @ 1 Hotel
Our first night! Rooftop @ 1 Hotel

Late night we wandered to a nearby decidedly more grounded watering hole called Sweet Liberty to drink beer and nosh on cauliflower nachos. (We knew this was our place when they referenced a tv sitcom from 1982).

Talk about your awesome slogans...
Talk about your awesome slogans…

Friday – we walked down Collins Avenue to Lincoln, a street lined with retailers and restaurants. We opted to lunch at a place called Yuca and ate al fresco. We went local with our entrees; my friend had ropa vieja and I had vaca frite – both a variation of meat and plaintains. A couple of El Presidentes from the DR paired extremely well with our lunch.

Then it rained on us, we made for a taxi, shopped a little, and headed back to the hotel for an all-important nap.

Cuba Libres
Cuba Libres

That evening, we started our happy hour at the Bar Centro in the SLS hotel on Collins. The Cuba Libre, basically rum and Coke, was good but super sweet. I imagined it did the same for me as a Red Bull and Vodka (hello!). We had dinner at Sea Grape in the Thompson Hotel and sat outside on the back patio. Although Sea Grape was a great meal, the service was lackluster and the scene verged on boring.

After dinner we went back to the SLS hotel to check out their “nightclub by the pool.” Way too young, way too “Girls Guide” plus we paid $40 for two vodka sodas. We left.

I wanted to dance so I dragged my friend to the local gay bar/club Twist. Rooms and rooms and more rooms of go-go dancers, various forms of house music and videos on mounted televisions. The music wasn’t quite what we (I) was looking for so we headed to the Delano hotel for dancing at their club the FDR. This was surprisingly fun…initially. The DJ was definitely skewing to those who were closest to his booth, and he started out with some good 80s and 90s mash ups. But then he changed the tunes and our dancing feet became increasingly leaden. We left. We then made our only bad decision of the weekend: we went to the W next door for a late night beer. It was sweaty and packed with pill-fueled twenty-somethings. We couldn’t make our way out of there fast enough.

Keanu Reeves
Johnny Utah at a hotel on Collins Ave

Saturday was mostly pool. The weather was finicky, first hot and balmy and then raining. When the rain shooed us from the pool, we took a free “house ride” in the hotel’s Tesla to the Broken Shaker. This was the bar/pool scene at the Freehand Hostel. Because it is a hostel, it had this bohemian, hipster vibe: the Brooklyn/Silver Lake of South Beach.

The scene @ Broken Shaker
The scene @ Broken Shaker

Saturday pm we went to The Edition, a hotel 5 minutes away, and had dinner at the swanky Matador Room. This was our finest meal. What won our hearts was the local dish, Arroz y Pollo (chicken and rice). Simple yet delicious. I’m hoping my friend can replicate it on her food blog.

Dwayne Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union sat a few tables away. The word was there was a bowling alley and bar downstairs, yet we opted for the bar at The Edition afterward. Great scene, a perfect way to end an amazing weekend.

In sum, South Beach is super fun, full of everything you would hope to find in a balmy, glam, southern Floridian city on the beach. As for the Girls Guide…we didn’t hit a single club they suggested. There’s always next time…

South Beach Boondoggle

Meeeeayyyyymeeee!

fountainbleu

On Thursday I leave for what inarguably will be my most exciting trip this year: Miami. Never been in all of my 41 years. With my best girlfriend. For 3 full nights. Sans kids.

And while poking around the web for fun restaurants, bars and beaches, my BFF stumbled upon the Girl’s Guide to South Beach Nightlife, apparently written for South Beach Magazine. It refers to “…a nightlife guide designed especially for you ladies wishing to further your amorous adventures…” Ok, not so much for me and my pal; two ladies of the recently turned 40 age, with a husband and kids at home.

It also starts with, “Face it girls, most nightlife guides are written by, and for, the boys.” So I decided what we need is a nightlife guide written by, and for, the young 40 somethings.

Do we want to go to these same places where boys are on the prowl and girls are looking to hook up? Not so much. Do we want original, local food prepared by reputable chefs? Yes. Do we want drinks that are not watered down nor chock full of sugar? Yes. Do we want the views, the lounges, the rooftop decks? For the most part. We’re also not afraid of a good dive bar flavored with a lively, local crowd. And we’re going to find all of these places and affairs and I’m going to report it back for you.

I will counter the Girls Guide offer to, “… mix, mingle and not to be single!” with my own catchy rhyme after our trip. Stay tuned…

Meeeeayyyyymeeee!

(Non) Chick Lit

car reading

I never post reviews on websites. Sure, I’ve joined online communities like Goodreads, Audible or Amazon. I read and value what other people say, I’ve made purchases based on what strangers with likeminded tastes have recommended.

But there are two books that so profoundly impacted me this month that I have to write them up.

A Little Background:

A benefit of moving to Los Angeles, (a hidden benefit, or you might say a backhanded benefit): audio books in the car. Not surprisingly, I spend much more time in the car than I did in San Francisco. Oodles. When I drive the boys to school in the morning, the drive time can vary from 17 minutes to 35 minutes. Doesn’t seem like much but that’s almost a 20 minute variant! Who knows what this depends on – right when you think you have it figured out it changes on you: holidays, school in session, accidents, road work, or the way the wind blows. During that drive time we have started listening to Harry Potter in the car. This is great for a couple of reasons. First, the boys don’t complain about being in the car. Instead they get so completely lost in the world of wizards and muggles that they barely even register the passing homeless tent cities or feel the sedentary motion of sitting in gridlock. Also, they don’t get scared. We read the first two books at home, at night right before bed. They are scary! The first one had a scene that spooked me to the core (ahem, I’m 41), and I’ve heard they continue to increase in scariness. In sum, listening to audio books can guarantee fewer nightmares.

But back to me and my books. These two that I fell in love with are total opposites … yet, not. I realize I’m a feminist to my core and I love women writers and narratives about women (and women musicians and singers for that matter). The first book is Yes Please by Amy Poehler and the second is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

Yes Please

Poehler is famous. Big time. She spent years on Saturday Night Live and most recently wrapped the primetime series Parks and Recreation. What’s fascinating about her though is her story. Amy (yes, we go by first names) describes to us readers/listeners about growing up in Boston with an accent that wouldn’t go away, about her family dynamics, and about the successes and failures that vaulted her to fame.

Yes Please

But she also talked to me confidentially. Really, just to me, not to the thousands of other fans who bought her book or downloaded her audio version. Just me. She told me about a regret she had playing a mentally challenged woman on Saturday Night Live, who later she had a correspondence with after many years of guilt and regret. She brought me to tears when she told me about her love for her two sons, and about the secret to time traveling, and about a post-divorce trip to Haiti. Her writing is eloquent yet accessible. As I drove down the boulevards in East Los she would create simple metaphors to illustrate her point, or remind me to get rid of that little self-shaming, critical voice inside our heads. A bonus to the audio version is Amy reads the book, but also has guest readers like Kathleen Turner, Carol Burnett and her parents.

My Brilliant Friend

The second book couldn’t be more unlike Amy’s wry memoir in style, yet touched me in a similar way. Elena Ferrante (if that’s even her real name) is a famous recluse who gives few interviews. She has written a strong handful of books, one being tied together as a series aptly named The Neapolitan Series:

Elena-Ferrante-series

As I write this I am one third through the second novel. The first novel, My Brilliant Friend, rang my bell. This book was published in September of 2012 — where have I been and how could I have been living my life for three years without having experienced Ferrante’s prose?

But it’s not just the prose of course; it’s the storyline. It’s the setting (Naples), it’s the characters (poor town, two best girlfriends), it’s the conflict (domestic violence, life choices) and it’s the unraveling and raveling of all of this interacting through time.

I constantly wonder about the author. It even isn’t clear who the brilliant friend is. But it’s about girls, impending womanhood, fears and thrills. I can’t stop listening (you’ll often find me parked in my driveway long after arriving home.) Hillary Huber reads the audio version and she has such subtle nuances to her voice, all melted together in a soft purr of dictation.

The most difficult aspect to listening to books in the car is that I’m unable to underline. The sentences these women wrote would elevate me from myself, but then they float away and I can’t perseverate on the prose. With Ferrante, it’s the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to purchase a tangible book so that I can soak in the writing with my eyes, not only my ears.
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(Non) Chick Lit

So Go Downtown…

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares”

Downtown, Petula Clark

Sunday has become our day to explore our new biome (fun diction credit: my 8-year-old son’s vocabulary word last week). Our urban biome, that is, and yesterday specifically it was to explore downtown Los Angeles.

The five of us spent the first part of the day lazily around the house, and left for downtown around 4pm. At that time of day, the freeways were jam packed – not at a standstill, but crawling thickly like metallic slugs. I wondered where everyone was headed on a Sunday afternoon; there was no Lakers game or convention. Out for a Sunday drive I suppose.

We took the Olympic exit and wound around to Chick Hearn Street (once Siri directed him, my husband clucked “the Chicken!”) We parked and crossed the street to the unassuming Grammy Museum on Flowers Street.

The museum is open late by museum standards (6:30pm on a Sunday) and it was well attended yet not crowded. Super interactive; cool exhibits with headphones and touch pads that relay mini music lessons related to the history and events of the time period. There’s a room with instruments to play, exhibits on Tupak Shakur, Ravi Shenkar and the Supremes…and of course the Taylor Swift Experience. There’s almost an entire floor dedicated to Swift, the young musical phenom and now cultural icon. Our three-year-old daughter had fun dancing on the light up cubes to the video “Shake it Off!” and I foresaw my future life with a teenage girl.

After the museum we walked two blocks to treat ourselves to a fancy family dinner at The Palm. My husband and I had skipped lunch to afford the calories we planned to consume.

The maître de was so kind, taking our littlest by the hand and letting her pick out our booth. He comped us a plate of homemade chips, which satiated our museum-ed-out and starving boys. For the kids, they ordered a plate of butter pasta and chicken strips (not so creative) and for us we started with sharing their “Gigi” salad, and I had the swordfish and my husband had the New York Strip. Naively, I ordered a side of Three Cheese Potatoes Au Gratin, which was large enough (and designated for, apparently) the entire family. We finished off the hugely satisfying meal with key lime pie, donuts and chocolate cake! Wha? Then we rolled home to bed. And promptly got up this morning for a 5-mile run (um, yeah right).

On the 2-block walk back to the car in the crepuscular light, a breeze blew between the tall buildings with their flashing video screens. We walked by LA Live and I was surprised to see so many out on the sidewalks, or eating al fresco at the restaurants.

Cranes and construction sites were on every corner, building high-rise condos for the influx of Angelenos moving to the increasingly hip downtown. I don’t want to move there, but I’m glad to live so close. I miss the city of San Francisco, the feeling of condensed buildings and pedestrians and good music, food and drinks offered from long-standing venues. Downtown LA will be my newly adopted downtown, fulfilling my need to feel the heart beat of a thriving metropolis.

Our first day venturing out in downtown together was more that of a tourist’s sip than a unique taste test. But it was a baby step and I look forward to a deeper exploration of all that it has to offer.

 

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So Go Downtown…

Los Angeles – the Wild Life

Griffith Park
Griffith Park

While we were still living in San Francisco, but in escrow with a house in Los Angeles for our upcoming relocation, my husband visited our new house with a friend. He only wanted to drive by and show his friend our pending slice of LA when he noticed news vans parked all along our street. A helicopter hovered overhead. He and his friend decided a young, tortured actress must have offed herself in her home and so started scouring the Internet for news about our street. That’s where he learned about P22.

There was a mountain lion, or cougar, in the crawl space beneath the house across the street from us. Right- it was not under our house, phew, but still across the street is miles closer than we want to be to that kind of animal (especially with three kids, one being three years old). More on him later.

You can imagine how nervous this all made me. We were leaving the Bay Area with mixed emotions, and what I would miss most (after friends) would be the natural beauty of Northern California. Yes, we lived in the city proper but you could easily drive 15 min any direction to get the quiet Redwoods on Mt. Tam, or a fog-laden beach at Half Moon Bay, or the deliciously sunny and warm climate of the East Bay.

We weren’t moving to the beachy side of Los Angeles, with its long stretches of sand and palm trees and coastal canyons. We were moving to East Los, and my preconceived notion allowed me only to project concrete, suffocating heat, and freeways.

But I was wrong. We live near one of the largest urban parks in North America, Griffith Park. I’ve only known it in the summer, when it’s dusty and the foliage is parched. But apparently the park gets very green (please, rain.) In our backyard we have hummingbirds and dragonflies, woodpeckers and Blue Jays. We have a vast amount of lizards, and I’ve seen one beautifully alien-esque Praying Mantis.

afternoon
afternoon walk

The wildlife continues to get larger and more thrillingly scary. Neighbors have warned us about rattlesnakes in our backyard. When our kids go out to their playstructure, we’ve been instructed to take a stick and go verify it’s reptilian-free. This morning I went for a walk in the park and was a little startled to read a sign warning me of rattlers.

And there’s the coyotes; its population in the park alive and well. I’ve heard many stories of coyotes attacking small dogs, even a woman walking with her stroller, and not always at dusk or night. I’ve seen only one coyote in the three months I’ve lived here. I was driving up our street right before dusk and there he was, trotting down the sidewalk as though he had a bus to catch, not looking particularly shaggy or underfed. Definitely not having any qualms about trotting through a human neighborhood. Late at night, every single night, there’s 60 seconds of howling. It starts with one or two and escalates until it sounds like the hills are chock full of werewolves. I’ve grown to love it, while safely tucked in my bed with children behind locked doors, but I don’t know if I would feel the same if I encountered one out in the open.

This brings us back to P22, the largest predator (besides us humans) in the area. He’s a beautiful mountain lion, tagged P22 by researchers and scientists who are monitoring his life. He is a local celebrity, even featured in National Geographic, and his trek to Griffith Park is astounding. P22 was born in the Santa Monica mountains, and he traveled about 20 miles toward downtown LA looking for a soul mate. He crossed not one but two major, eight-lane freeways. He ended up in Griffith Park, and continues to live there. Back in April at our neighbors house, after hours of being “hazed” with beanbags (and other humane methods),  the relatively docile cat finally left on his own the following morning.

Los Angeles has pleasantly surprised me with its natural side. It is dangerous and wild, both probably appropriate metaphors for its human side, too. But I’m ready to tentatively welcome it, and say goodbye for now to its tamer cohort known as Northern California.

Los Angeles – the Wild Life

The Au Pair Chronicles

au pair: noun, a young person (usually a young woman) from a foreign country who lives with a family and helps to care for children and do housework in return for the opportunity to learn the family’s language – merriam-webster.com

November 2013 – Exhausted. That’s what I remember. It was when my husband was traveling weekly, I had a newborn and two boys under seven, and I was teaching part time that my husband and I opted to dive into the world of au pairs. Soon thereafter, we were picking up our new housemate at the airport with a single suitcase and a stuffed bear. Jet lagged from a long flight from Poland, it was our young au pair’s first time on an airplane, first time in the US, and all of this with a single year of college English on her tongue.

poland-map

Our au pair, whom I’ll call Poppins, was from a university town in Poland and flew almost six thousand miles to San Francisco in January of 2014. She and our family signed a contract for 12 months through an agency called Au Pair Care. Although some people have coordinated an au pair from another country on their own, it’s a seamless process (and, ahem, did I mention legal?) to use the services of an agency. It is not, I repeat, not, cheap. However, it’s important to know that it is still cheaper than the price of a full time nanny.

The low down on the cost: Here’s a great breakdown on Au Pair Care’s website about the cost of an au pair. After the agency fees, we end up paying Poppins about $5/hour for three children, for up to 43 hours per week.

I think most people in need of full time childcare would go for this option with the exception of one tiny thing: you must have an extra bedroom. Poppins has told me a few (slightly horrific) stories about windowless rooms and makeshift basements. But most agencies require a home “inspection” before a contract is signed.

I do not think having an au pair is a sign of affluence, although often I’m embarrassed when mentioning it in conversation (I resort – sheepishly – to calling her a babysitter). I’ve come to understand that having an au pair is akin to living in a small village where the oldest child takes on the responsibility of being a third parent.

Poppins was 23 when she arrived. 23 is at that delicate age when one is an adult yet only recently finished their teenage years. Some au pairs are as young as 18, and maturity levels definitely vary. Here’s the thing, you can’t not want an extra child. Or maybe an extra dependent is better diction. Over the course of the year I helped Poppins sign up for English classes by driving to the local community college and applying in person, I took her to get emergency dental work, I watched her get her heart broken by an American boy, I’ve helped her buy her first iPhone, and I’ve taken her to the DMV for her drivers test(s).

au pair

With that being said, it’s amusing to have a young twenty-something in the house again. It’s always fun to see her get glammed up for a night at the clubs. Poppins is respectful about coming home quietly (many au pairs are given curfews, we chose not to), is never (obviously) hungover when we need her early on a weekend morning, and she pitches in with household chores even when she’s not on the clock.The kids treat her like a big sister/auntie and they relish the fact that someone will get down on the floor and play. We feel lucky since rematches are common. A rematch is when the host family and the au pair have agreed to go their separate ways before the term of the contract is over. For some this means moving to another city. But if an au pair cannot find another family to match with, she/he will have to go back to their home country.

Lastly, the international exposure broadened our family’s experience. We are all exposed to another language (which has huge benefits), culture, history, food and lifestyle. My middle son laughs so hard when Poppins slathers her pizza with ketchup, my daughter just stares when she microwaves her bowl of honey nut cheerios and milk, and my oldest son has convinced her to become a Cholula hot sauce fanatic. They have learned Polish tongue twisters, I’ve learned about her father who commutes weekly to Germany to drive a taxi, and she now loves the newfound delicacy of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

With all of this being sad, when it’s time for Poppins to return home we won’t opt to sign with another au pair. Our daughter will be heading to school and we won’t need as much help going forward. But someday we hope to make a family trip to Poland, and visit Poppins when she has her own brood to watch over.

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The Au Pair Chronicles