Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Daffodils Come First

Signs that spring has sprung:
1) Flowers 
The place where I teach has a parking garage. I don't make much so I try to keep parking costs to a minimum and have gotten the time it takes to grab a parking ticket, find a spot, get to class, teach and pay for parking, down to a science. All in, it's 90 minutes and my parking fee comes to $3.50. The parking ticket machine doesn't like credit cards or wrinkled dollar bills, but it's pretty good about taking tens and twenties. On Monday, I gave the parking ticket machine a $10 bill. It gave me back $6.50 worth of nickels. That's 130 nickels. As I dumped the nickels into my purse (there were too many to fit in my change purse), I cursed everything. But later that day, I noticed that the daffodils had popped up. And as I pulled into our driveway, I saw that the snow had so totally melted, you could see the dog poop on our lawn.

2) Public Bathrooms The bathroom near the snack bar at the park where the kids play Little League is now open ---if you know someone. For years now, my neighbor and I have been taking our dogs for runs in the morning. We run by the park, where kids play baseball and roller hockey. This is the park where I grew up badly playing softball, before the coach's wife up and left him. But nostalgia aside, it is a large, pretty park that includes public tennis courts, the town pool and the fire house. You would think with all these public buildings, at least one might have a bathroom open during the winter for us middle-aged ladies who might need to make a pit stop mid-run.

Alas, no. (Believe me, I know there are alternatives to indoor plumbing. Occasionally, I have followed my dog into a bush.) But I try to be a tiny bit civilized while I'm sweating like a pig, and today, as I was running towards the park, I saw some trucks and big piles of dirt. Little League opening day is coming up, the fields are being prepped and where there is construction, there are construction workers. I didn't see any Port-a-Potties, and my heart filled with hope. The park bathroom might be open for the construction workers! I walked towards the snack bar, which is near the bathroom, and there was my friend L. She is both an art dealer and the queen of Little League snack bar operations, titles she wears with dignity. A new oven was being installed and she was there to supervise.

I looked at her, and gave her the same pathetic, begging look my dog gives me when she needs to go out.
"Could I use the bathroom?" I said.
L. looked at my dog. "Can you tie her up?"
I nodded, tied her up and ran in.
Thank God for spring!

3) New Food Source  My kids are on spring break for two weeks and my in-laws have been kind enough to take my younger son for five days. They've shown him a good time in and around Philadelphia but today was his day to come home. I drove two hours to get him and when I got there, my mother-in-law had made lunch. As a special treat, she had picked up marinated mushrooms, peppers, eggplant and olives. I ate more than my share (okay, I ate them all). When we arrived home, I was motivated to find more prepared marinated vegetables. A couple of years ago, the Whole Foods near our house relocated to a bigger space two miles away. That doesn't sound like much of a distance. but we have two other supermarkets in our town to choose from so once that Whole Foods moved, it was goodbye Whole Foods. But last night, a bunch of us took our friend T. out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. (Afterwards we went to see "A View from a Bridge" with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, which was depressing, gripping and fantastic.) We all live in the middle of the New Jersey suburbs, where restaurants that deliver are at a minimum. (Domino's doesn't count.) You cook or die out here, or you get mediocre take-ot from the supermarket. My friends were all raving about the new Trader Joe's that had taken Whole Foods' place. There you could get frozen edamame and marinated eggplant. You could find excellent vegetable dumplings. So after we drove home from Philadelphia, I dropped my younger son off and drove to Trader Joe's.

I found a parking lot right away and on the way in, I ran into not one but two friends---my friend S., an accomplished cook, and L. from the snack bar! We all kissed hello and L. squeezed her knees together, winced and demonstrated to S. what I looked like as I was begging for access to the bathroom. Then S. and I went shopping.

What a wonderland! I loaded the cart up with eight ounces of dried bing cherries, shredded barbecue chicken, shrimp spring rolls, cold sesame noodles, a large bag of mixed nuts, a wedge of fontina, gazpacho, tomato bisque, corn salsa, maki and a wonderful invention called "salad in a bag." This beautiful concept consists of spinach, dried cranberries, spicy pecans, shredded blue cheese and ginger dressing. I finished off most of the dried cherries, paid for the groceries, and walked out into the sunshine to my car. It was an overdue culinary awakening that everyone else had discovered months ago.

When I got home, I set out all the food for my kids and my older son's friend. They had been playing hockey on the driveway (another sign of spring). My older son's friend was particularly impressed with the food (though after he left, my older son told me that I really have to learn when kids are "sucking up" to me.) And my husband, after poking at the spring rolls, complained that the food was "not all it was cracked up to be" even though he finished off the chicken and sesame noodles. Party poopers. It was new food for a new season and it was a beautiful day.

4) New Music  The Chieftains have a new album out, "San Patricio," which is a blend of Celtic and Mexican music. I have never been to Ireland and it's been a long time since I've visited Mexico but I love "San Patricio." Maybe it's because my father loved the song, "Quanta La Mera." (This album doesn't include that song but it could.) My stepfather is Irish Catholic so there's that influence. Anyway, Liam Neeeson narrates "March to Battle" and Linda Rondstadt sings "A la Orilla de un Palmar" in Spanish. The song "Lullaby for the Dead,” by Moya Brennan of Clannad, could almost make you cry. I tried playing the album for my older son, my nephew and my sister-in-law in the car yesterday, and they (kind of) politely told me to turn it off. But it's great, I tell you. My mistake was that I started at the beginning of the album, which is a little cheesy and bouncy. I should have begun with the seventh song ("The Sands of Mexico") and kept going.

5) New Books  There are so many great new books out this season. I just finished Dani Shapiro's Devotion (lovely memoir about a mild mid-life crisis), Cathleen Schine's The Three Weissmann's of Westport (tart portrayal of a failed, fifty-year Manhattan marriage, the beautiful apartment that went with it and the divorcee's subsequent life with her daughters in a Connecticut cottage) and Elizabeth Strout's Amy and Isabelle (Okay, this book is ten years old, but it was new to me.) I picked it up after not being able to put down Strout's Olive KitteridgeAmy and Isabelle is one of the best books I have ever read. It is an intimate portrait of the power struggle between a single mother and her teenage daughter and takes a microscope to the religious, social and digestive life of  a small town (many characters talk about going to the bathroom). There's one appealing character who turns out to be very, very bad, and some beautifully written scenes involving this character made me cringe in retrospect. My husband just finished Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on his Kindle, and he loved it so much, he actually offered to let me use his Kindle so I can read it too. I've read the first few pages of Patti Smith's Just Kids, a memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It's a good book to read with the windows open on carpool line.

6) Good Reasons to Eat and Drink (aka Religious Holidays)  Passover and Easter are around the corner. We will be eating, singing, searching for matzhoh and Easter eggs, trying to avoid products with flour, cooking brisket and reading about health care. Let's lift our cups and point at the flowers. Happy Spring.

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