Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Good, Long Day

Today was a good day, for some odd reason. Even though, or perhaps, it was dark and gloomy outside, and I had errands to run and Lily was home, too. She only goes to preschool three days a week and I am sometimes made to feel -- albeit very subtly -- from mom acquaintances that I'm not quite fulfilling the terms of the stay-at-home mom agreement because I've put my child in school for 3 full days out of the work week. I have gotten looks. And comments. And it isn't cheap either, 3 full preschool days on a one-worker income. But, what price sanity, eh? Having Lily at home is not a bad thing in itself, but it does make it harder to get dressed and out of the house before noon.

But it was a good day. We hit Starbucks for a gift card errand, but also sat and shared some chocolate milk and watched the big trucks go by in the rain. And then we hit the new, pretty library, with it's still nearly-empty shelves in the children's section (and probably in all the adult aisles too, although I couldn't tell you). What books they do have are all so new and crisp and the jackets are so shiny, though, which is nice. And then we came home for lunch and I made canned chicken soup with leftover breadsticks and the kids were literally rubbing their tummies and declaring, "this is soooo good, mommy!"

While Tucker napped with his stuffed kitty beside him, Lily perused her new books and let me get almost fifteen minutes of alone time on the bed with my new issue of Domino. Then we went downstairs and made white chocolate & oatmeal cookies together, which is always a patience-trying endeavor, and this session too was not without tears, and yet I didn't actually lose my temper in a bad way, and Lily was being legitimately naughty and stubborn and deserved the scolding she got. (Read: no bad-mommy guilt on my end.)

Part of the reason I made cookies was because I wanted to test out my newfound information on how to avoid flat cookies. I won't bore you with the details, but for years I baked cookies just fine, without too much thought. Yet recently, all my cookies are coming out much too flat and crisp, with the bottoms sort of concave and full of airholes. I may blog further about it tomorrow, if I take some pictures, and share the results. Basically, the first batch was just as bad as ever, the second was much improved but a little overdone, and the third came pretty close, but not quite. (They all taste pretty good, though.)

So it was a good day, but a little long. A fourteen hour day, beginning at 7am with the sound of my personal, shouting alarm clock down the hall, and ending at nearly nine -- the children were in bed, yet both were still yelling out their final comments and demands of the day, making sure they used up those last few drops of patience going to waste in mom's reserve tank.

The other reason I made cookies is because I have a friend coming over tomorrow, just for coffee and talk. She is a mom and will bring her little guy along with her, but thank goodness, she is a real friend, and not one of the moms who would ever make innocent-yet-snide comments about the fact that my daughter has gone to preschool for the last two years, and so I'm busting out my favorite pretty cups, with the best batch of cookies, and hopefully, it'll be another good day. Only maybe just not quite as long.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

And now a word about Neko Case.....

It's shocking now to think that just a couple of months ago, I had no real idea of who Neko Case was. Because I like alt-country and indie rock, I'd heard her name in the background for quite a while, but never connected it to anything. What's even more surprising is that my husband was the one who turned me on to her. I sometimes tease Myk that he has the musical taste of a 14-year-old boy. That's not really true -- he likes a broad range of stuff -- but he does seem to be a sucker for bands who make videos of themselves running through the woods wearing scary masks. Bands like Mushroomhead and SlipKnot, those love children of Marilyn Manson.

Myk would play her CD for me in the car, and at night, on those long drives home from L.A. or Orange County, I found myself wide awake and listening hard to each song, and then wanting to hear it again. And again. My first introduction was with her latest album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which was released in 2006, and made many critics lists as one of the best albums of the year. Even Rolling Stone had it listed among its Top 50. Now I wonder, how did I ever live without her?

At the beginning of this year, I made a resolution to see her perform live, so you bet we were thrilled to get tickets for her February 17 show at the Henry Fonda theater in Hollywood. And I was thrilled when, before her set began, Neko came out and introduced a Very Special Guest, who turned out to be country legend Porter Wagoner. Now, I admit that I couldn't name you one of his songs off the top of my head, but still I knew all about his TV show and how he helped make Dolly Parton a star, and of course those swanky, glittery Nudie suits. He was there with Marty Stewart, who produced his latest album (on the same small label that Neko records for), and then Dwight Yoakum and Billy Bob Thornton came onstage, too, and I nearly froze to death from the freakin' coolness in the room. And then they were done and we had to wait some more and it was almost 10:30 and my feet in their narrow black flats were killing me, standing there on the hard concrete for two hours. But then Neko came out with her band and opened her mouth and sang, "Oh, lie, I thought you were golden/I thought you were wild...." and our hair blew back from the force of her voice and the walls seemed to tremble when she hit the highest notes and I think I heard something about how the back wall of the place was blown out, too. And it occured to me halfway through the show that I'd never been at a concert before where I'd heard my favorite kind of music played so loud and so well....all that sweet ache of the slide guitar and power of the guitars right there in my chest, finally, after thirty-eight years on the planet.

It was a good show.

I don't know what to say about Neko's voice that hasn't already been said better and more eloquently elsewhere, but I'll try. She has a huge, huge voice, a physical force of a voice. It's been compared to Patsy Cline's voice many times, and I agree -- Patsy at her most hurt or fiesty, like in "She's Got You," or "Seven Lonely Days." She's not a singer, so much as a belter. Neko is often put into the alt-country or "noir-country" (whatever that means) genre, but really, she doesn't quite fit there, even though her music is full of banjos and slide guitar and deep, plucky bass notes. Highbrow honky-tonk, maybe.

Here's a comparison that I haven't read elsewhere: not so much in the earlier, twangier CDs, but in her last few albums like Fox Confessor and Blacklisted, the evocative mood and sound of her music reminds me very much of the intrumental tracks by Angelo Badalamenti on David Lynch's Wild At Heart soundtrack. Retro-edged, dark, spooky sounds to play on your car radio while driving very late at night. Also, a more literary comparison: the feel of Fox Confessor makes me think of Richard Ford's story collection Rock Springs, the cold, windswept, near-empty streets of his rural Montana in the 50s, and the ever-present dive bars that his characters (even the children) always seem to end up in at some point. And speaking of cold and windswept: I'm not the only one who finds Fox Confessor to be very much a winter album. The tone and texture of the songs remind me of bare trees, empty, steel-gray skies and a stripped-down landscape.

(Sigh. This is why I never became a music writer -- it's all comparison and similes, and nothing you can write can really evoke or come close to touching the work -- unless maybe you're Lester Bangs. And even then...).

But before I sign off on this love letter, I need to touch on the other element that makes Neko so amazing, which is her songwriting. Even if you ignored that voice, much of what keeps me coming back over & over to the songs is the power of her writing. I've already used the words evocative and moody and haunting way too many times in the post, and I'm really, really hesitant to use the word poetry unless we're talking about Bob Dylan, The best songs on Fox Confessor are no simple, catchy love jingles, but tricky and complicated narratives that tell stories, yet leave a lot of wide open spaces between the lines to fill in on your own. At first, I thought my favorite song on the album was "Hold On, Hold On," if only for this line:

"The most tender place in my heart is for strangers/
I know its unkind but my own blood's much too dangerous."

And then there's the pure storytelling in "Margaret vs. Pauline," about two girls from opposite sides of the tracks:

"Two girls ride the blue line/Two girls walk down the same street/
One left a sweater sittin' on the train and the other lost three fingers at the cannery...."

But in the end I think my favorite song on the album is "Star Witness," and it's dark tale of life and death among the lower-class. The sheer imagery in the song takes my breath away and reminds me, more than any book I've read lately, of the power words have to create whole worlds in just a few precise, brushstroking lines:

"Trees break the sidewalk/And the sidewalk skins my knees
There's glass in the thermos and blood on my jeans/
Nickels and dimes of the Fourth of July roll off in a crooked line/
To the chain-link lots where the red-tails dive/
Oh, how I forgot what it's like...."

My. Goodness.

Lately when I go out at night by myself, finally away from the demands of the children and the care and keeping of this house, I find myself driving effortlessly down the long streets of town, listening hard to Neko, and alone, alone, in the most perfect and empty way. I feel like I could keep on driving all night, across the freeway and hundreds of miles of open road, and not get tired with that voice in the car with me. Since Myk recently made me a big mix CD with four of her albums on it, all I can say is -- honey, consider yourself warned. Next time it's a really bad day, I might just get in the car, fill up the tank and keep on going until I'm at that surfboard shop in Mexico.

And finally -- finally! Let me just say this, which is true for all of my favorite writers and artists, the ultimate compliment, because it means I'm so deeply inspired:

She makes me want to write, to get it all out, and not stop until the story is told.

"And I said, "Amen..."

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Very Vintage Valentine... you. Yes, I know it's belated. That's just how things go around here these days. But I loved these Vintage Valentines a whole lot, so I had to share. Lily (okay, I) punched them out and we gave them to her playgroup friends earlier this week. (Although now that I look at this cover a little more, it seems a bit creepy to me, with Howdy Doody boy coming after Miss Apple Cheeks with those extra-long shears.)

Some parents force their tastes and attitudes on their kids by making them wear "Punk Rocker" baby onesies or Sex Pistols t-shirts. Me, I just make Lily give out retro Valentines. Cute, cute. As in, I wish I could tape one to my forehead-cute, if I could only pick which one.

We have quite a few left over. Maybe I'll save them and be on the ball enough to send them out next year. Ha! Good one. So instead, here are my Valentines to you out there in blogger-land. Along with my sincere wishes for love and sweet dreams and cherry-filled chocolates.

My own real Valentine's date was deferred until tomorrow night -- grandma is watching the kids while we go out to dinner and then here, to see her, my new musical love & obsession. Nearly every morning lately, I wake with one of her songs playing in my head, which is not a bad way at all to greet the day. With any luck I'll write a longer post on the subject very, very soon. Like in a few hours. But if not, you can at least bet that I'll be back with a post-show review.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

January is Gone

And none too soon for me. Yes, I know it's been a while since I've updated the blog. It doesn't feel like that long, but look at the date since the last post -- that's what? Almost 3 weeks ago now? And so just what have I been up to that I couldn't take the time to post?

Not much, beyond a low and vicious funk, such as I hadn't experienced in a while. I can't say why it happened, really. All I know is that I was okay, getting through my days, feeling a bit of those January blahs, but maintaining quite well. And then -- bam! I was slammed by some terrible speedball of bad hormones and bad karma and bad mojo and I don't know what else. But it just felt bad. When I was a kid and got into funks like that, my mom would sing me a little rhyme: "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I'll eat a worm." I felt like eating a lot of worms, as January came to a close. And if nobody liked me and everybody hated me, they'd have to get in line behind ME first, as I was the one hating myself the most, hating feeling so low and touchy and irritable and straitjacketed tightly into the mood, struggling against my self and those damn voices in my head. Gosh, they can be mean.

But it's over now. January is over, and February is here, and look at all the plans taking shape: plans for a concert date next week and plans for Lily's fifth birthday party and plans to re-do our kitchen with new cabinetry, and plans to take a big Hawaiian vacation to celebrate our 10-year anniversary later this summer. Plans! How I love you. Let's get crackin'.

The picture above isn't recent at all, since we haven't had nearly any rain this season. But this is the park that's right next to our house. It looks so peaceful here, after many days of showers that flooded out all the neighborhood children for a couple of days. I thought of this picture this past Thursday, when I took the kids down to play for a bit. I had our big tote bag of sand toys, a couple of juice boxes, and also one of those freebie parenting magazines that I grabbed as we walked out the door, just to have something to read. The kids ran to the park, and both started in on digging and shoveling the sand in the shade beneath the play structure, and I sat in the sand beside them and started flipping through the magazine.

Moments later, Lily got bored of watching the sand slip through her fingers, and started in on me:
"This is a ship, okay? [Meaning the play structure] And you need to get up on the ship. Right now."
Me: "No, not right now. I'm reading this."
"So, okay, when you hear the bell ring? That means it's time to get on the ship. Mommy? I hear the bell! Get on the ship! We're going to the beach and you need to get on the ship!"
Me: "Lily, we just got here. I'm reading my magazine and I don't want to play. YOU play, okay?"
"Okay, so, how do you want to get on the ship? 'Cuz there's a ladder, or these gray steps here, and so which way do you want to use to climb up on the ship?"

This is my daughter, fruit of my loins, with a will and a stubborn spirit even greater than my own. And I'm pretty damn stubborn. I mean, really stubborn. You know damn well I got up on that ship, right? You don't think I WON, do you? I never win, but I still try, and you'd think after nearly five years I would have learned the lesson this girl tries to teach me nearly every moment of every day, but no. Sometimes I think Lily was sent here simply because the universe is telling me that what I really need to do in this life is just roll over and shout "uncle!" up to the sky. And maybe I could try that, but Lily would ignore that too, and remind me it's time to get on the ship, mom, okay? Okay! Fine! I'm on the ship! Here I am, having fun. And yes, I see the beach over there, too. But don't think you're going to make me start yelling my McDonald's order into that damn intercom-speaker thingy again, because I'm really not going to do it this time! Okay?

(But where was Tucker, you might ask? Tucker was under the structure for most of all of that, happily pushing his trucks through the sand. This is the only reason that I'm not actually in a real straightjacket, yet. For if he had the same will as his sister -- or rather, chose to use his own formidable will to push mommy around like his sister does -- , I really would be shouting "uncle," over and over, to those nice men in their clean white suits.)

In case I needed outside proof that my daughter really is a tiny bit more demanding than most, five minutes after I returned to the sand and my magazine, two other moms arrived, each with a little daughter who looked about three. And while I sat there, flipping through articles about ADD and healthy snack options, I marveled as the two women sat on a bench beneath a tree and carried on a long conversation -- without any interruptions from their kids. Oh sure -- a couple of times one of the little girls called out, "look mommy!" across the park, and the mom would cut her eyes for two seconds at her child and say, "mmmm-hmmmmm, that's nice," and once, one of the girls asked to be pushed on the swing. "Okaaaay," the mom said, but she never got up, and the kid didn't ask again. What parenting book are these women reading?? What drugs are they giving their kids? I need to get in on this action. Now!

Meanwhile, I, ever the sucker, was up and yelling into the intercom-speaker thingy, insisting that no, I really didn't need a strawberry shake to go with my order of McNuggets and fries. Okay?! Okay. Well, maybe just one shake.

And because January is over now, and a new month is here, I can tell you that this was a good day and that I didn't need a shot of tequila, or a hit of smack, or even time alone in a dark closet to recover from our outing at the park. February, I'm loving you.