Archives for : Life in the Burbs

To Snack or Not to Snack

Finally, pool time! My favorite time of year. Junior and Daisy were both taking swimming lessons this year, so I was speeding through my housework early in the day to take them to the club later in the morning. I generally sit with the other mothers as we quietly watch our young fish splash about in the shallow end of the pool. The sun isn’t too hot yet so I’m able to get a little base color on my pale arms and legs as a benefit. Sometimes after the lessons we stay for a while and set up in the area that is reserved for my squad. It’s not really reserved formally, but it’s where we all sit everyday and no one else tends to grab the chairs there.

I always pull up a chair for Mags next to mine so we can talk while I keep an eye on the kids. The lessons are really paying off and Junior’s legs are looking leaner and he is getting taller. His little man muscles are super cute. Daisy uses the lessons to be more social and asks a lot of questions from the instructor. The weekdays at the pool require me to really plan better. Besides getting the housework done early, I try to pack lunches for the kids. They are really hungry after swim lessons and the snack bar food is fairly expensive. I don’t mind an afternoon ice cream run as a treat, but I try not to load the kids up on food they wouldn’t eat at home. The mama bears take good care of their cubs.

The weekends at the pool are very different. With the men in tow, the dynamics change. We still sit in the same area but next to our spouses. The men rarely use the chairs much because they tend to be in the pool either standing around chest deep and talking, tossing around a ball or throwing the children around. The papa bears enjoy their cubs too.

On the other hand, the snack bar is the go-to food venue. The kids get whatever they want as long as they order and get their daddies’ food too. The sunshine and pool play makes everyone extra hungry and the guys often make a trip over to the snack bar for a cold beer when it’s available. After eating, the kids sit on their outstretched towels and play cards behind us. Adult swims are fun for all of the big people as we gently glide around the pool together while the kids reluctantly wait on the sidelines. The club manages to satisfies all of the many needs of our family. Everyone seems happy there according to their own interests. Although I have always pined for a backyard pool, I’m not sure I could replicate the fun that everyone has as a group at the club pool. Maybe it’s better to have to wait for some things; it gives you time to think about your wishes.

Spell It For Me

School would be over soon and our card parties would be taking a summer break too. Edie had volunteered to hostess the final one and we were all looking forward to getting a chance to explore her home a little more. Although I probably had more secret information on Edie than anyone else, I looked forward to watching my squad quietly check out Edie’s. Edie’s house was thoughtfully decorated and like Mags’ home, she didn’t have to worry about displaying precious treasures or constantly wiping down everything that little hands can reach.

Edie did not disappoint. Fresh flowers spilled from two vases. One giant bouquet was placed on the dining room table which was beautifully set and the other shorter arrangement was placed on the glass-topped coffee table. A glass top; I shuddered at the responsibility that involved.

There were bowls of candies too. Little multi-colored jellies that were sugary and shiny. Milk chocolates whose swirling tops held a code for the candy center. Edie’s tablescape had food displayed at different levels on cake stands and her cut crystal was lovely. Edie’s jello creation had fruit suspended perfectly. I wanted to take a picture but I didn’t bring my camera. After our first cocktail, we all sat down to play but there were no cards on the table. Edie disappeared for a minute and returned with a box of Scrabble. We looked quizzically at each other, laughed and opened the box to play. It was great unexpected fun. It had been a while since I had played but made a good showing. It was fun to mix up our game. Edie provided a giant dictionary for reference for questions over “pretend” words that shouldn’t be counted in the scores. I wondered if her giant dictionary was the same one she used in her romance writing. After all, how many ways can you say something without looking up a synonym or two?

After several hands, we ate and walked around admiring Edie’s home. I noticed that the door to the sunny office was closed. Edie maintained her secret identity.

At the end of the afternoon, we sat around comfortably and thanked Edie for the fun. She is really remarkable. I’m going to have to be more creative to keep up, but it’s a good challenge!

In Ralphie We Trust

The late afternoon sunshine streaked through the front picture window creating puddles of light on the gold carpet. I still believed that God hung out in the sunshine, just as I did as a child. Seeing sunshine streaks always reminds me to say my little girl prayers. I have no idea how all of that even got into my head. Either my mother or dad must have told me that a long time ago. It reminded me to be careful what I was installing in the minds of my little ones. It’s so easy to believe in those we trust.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard some gentle banging on the back door. The kids were at school and I was busy putting together a casserole for dinner. No one ever knocked at the back door, so the noise surprised me. The inside door was opened a little due to the nice weather and at the other side of the storm door was a small boy. I recognized him as Ralphie Brown, Sandra and Joe’s son. I hadn’t gotten to know them very well yet and he was definitely too young to be visiting on his own. Granted, they only lived a few houses away and I had seen them playing in their backyard. Each yard had its own fencing – some wood, some wire, some just shrubs, so it was easy to see what was going on when families were in their own backyards. I opened the door and the little boy entered. He didn’t seem too frightened of me and climbed up onto a chair at the kitchenette. I automatically brought him a cookie and a small glass of milk. He ate happily, crumbs falling from his mouth. I realized that I had been speaking to him the entire time, asking him his name, where his mom was, what he was doing here, but he never answered any of my questions. Actually, he didn’t pay any attention to me. I sat down next to him and looked directly at him and he smiled back at me. I asked his name and realized that he probably didn’t hear me.

I grabbed a bottle of Daisy’s bubbles off the kitchen counter and blew some his way. He giggled out loud. I pulled some of Junior’s soldiers from the box on the toy shelf and lined up a few on the table in front of him. He did what little boys do. Picked them up one by one and walked them around each other and eventually rammed them into each other and they fell down. That gene must be strong in males. But he seemed to enjoy himself and smiled and laughed as they fell. He looked up at me and smiled. I could see his baby teeth. I decided to return my little friend.

We walked hand in hand down the front sidewalk to the Brown house. As we approached the front door, it swung open and a very worried Sandra Brown came out to greet us. She grabbed her toddler and hugged him tightly. Mrs. Brown turned back to me and thanked me profusely for returning little Ralphie. She explained how he must have roamed away from the backyard where he was playing with his sister. Obviously, she said, he didn’t hear me when his name was called. A bell went off in my head. He never heard me talking to him either. Sandra and I talked for a few more minutes and I made a promise to myself to try and include them more in the activities on our block. The annual party would be soon. Maybe it was time to reach out and get to know this family better. Maybe little Ralphie could even come over for a real visit. I’m sure his mom wouldn’t mind after she knew me better and built up some trust in me. I missed having a little boy around. I was already used to children who didn’t always listen to me; Ralphie might help me learn how to communicate better.

When In Doubt, Do Something

Almost every afternoon this week, I have managed to sneak in an hour of reading time. Romance novel reading time. I have found it very enjoyable and in fact, learned a little history about the roaring 20s and sober 30s. This particular work of history involved a speakeasy where a lovely young thing named Rebecca worked for a mean aunt who ran the club. Auntie was a bit of a despot who expected Rebecca to keep track of all the money they took in, pay the bills and work in a terribly cold basement office while listening to all the music and fun being had by the upstairs patrons. Edie had written the back story to include descriptions of the entertainment, clothes and illicit drinking and gambling. I could picture it in my head because Edie made it so visible. One night, a stranger finds his way to the office and encounters poor Rebecca and is smitten with her. It was a little like the Cinderella story in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but for grownup women.

It was so intriguing to hold a book in my hand that was written by someone I knew. I had nothing of interest to tell anyone and had no idea where Edie found all her words. A lot of thoughts did swirl around in my head though. Sometime back, I had started to write my personal thoughts in a journal. I have always wondered what made us all tick. I often watched for differences in the ways my friends raised their children and dealt with their husbands. We talk about our families a lot and try to help each other with suggestions on child-rearing and husband-handling. Was I really different from my friends? The only way to know if I was capable of understanding would be to continue to document my thoughts. Maybe after more careful examination, I would have a better answer. My new slogan would be – When in doubt, do something. Like write it down.

An Original

The doorbell rang and when I answered it, a beatnik awaited me. Longish brown hair, a fringe of a beard, dark sunglasses and a striped shirt stood before me. I finally had the courage to say hello and he answered with “TT here.” I had no idea what that meant so he repeated it. I had no idea what that meant so he repeated it. Finally, he took off his sunglasses and told me he was Tommy Todd. My surprised face must have looked funny because he chuckled.

Lucy had nicely arranged for her brother, the artist/painter, to visit our house to check out the bedroom wall I wanted painted. I took a very deep breath and I invited him in, barely remembering to introduce myself. Tommy followed me to Junior’s bedroom and I gave him my thoughts. He stared at the wall for a good minute or so and told me it was a bold move. But that he liked bold ideas with paint. When he told me when he would be able to do it and what it would cost, I figured that I could always paint over it if it didn’t work out.

Later that week, after everyone left for the morning, Tommy arrived and started painting. I wanted to check from time to time on the progress but Tommy closed the door. He said that he wanted to keep the paint fumes out of the house and he did have the windows in the room open. It was excruciating. I knocked and offered to make him lunch which he turned down but as far as I could tell, he only left the room to use the bathroom.

About 2 o’clock, the bedroom door opened and Tommy found me in the kitchen. He had splatters of sunset colors over his face, hands, and used-to-be white overalls. He was grinning, which I took as a good sign, and he motioned for me to follow him. The wall was gorgeous, sublime, stunning and amazing. The colors gradually climbed down to the floor in a perfect sunset.

Even better, a very lifelike small cactus had been placed on one side of the painting. It really was a giant painting. In fact, it was signed, with a scripted TT in the bottom corner.

Riding Off Into The Sunset

Sarah and Roger were planning some renovations to their home and Sarah asked me about using the company Stubbs owned. Stubbs and Judy Anne had done some renovations to their home already and her backyard kidney shaped pool was on the top of my wish list if we ever changed things. I encouraged Sarah to check with Judy Anne to see her changes. I have seen the trucks from Stubbs’ company in different neighborhoods in Monterey Park. I guess as homes and families aged, renovations were always needed and wanted when affordable.

I was thinking about redecorating Junior’s bedroom. He is heavily invested in a future as a cowboy. Although concerning, especially since I was unsure of the profitability of roaming the Old West, I played along most days and didn’t try to dissuade him from his fantasy. I really wanted to paint the wall behind his bed in a sunset but had no idea how to accomplish it. I mentioned my dilemma to Steve and he rolled his eyes. I guess the thought sounded as impossible as the execution.

I decided to stop at the wallpaper shop to see if maybe a mural or some other solution was available. With the bookshop on the way to the decor shop, I stopped in for a quick look at the new titles. Lucy was behind the cash register helping a couple choose between two different books on antique collecting. Lucy found me looking through the fiction paperwork books, specifically the romance novels. She looked at me sideways and I understood her surprise. When she realized I felt a little uncomfortable getting caught looking for Edie’s books, Lucy stuttered a little and agreed that as genres go, romance novels included a little history lesson also. I laughed a little and told her that I wasn’t planning on reading any of them but wanted to find a particular author. Author. I was trying to make it feel a little more professional than it was considered. I gasped a little when I saw the name R.L. Newquest. There was a whole shelf of them! I grabbed three different titles and told Lucy that I changed my mind.

After paying for my books, Lucy asked me if I was doing anymore shopping. I told her where I was headed and even told her about my crazy idea about painting the sunset wall. Lucy thought it sounded beautiful and offered the name of her brother as a possible painter. Apparently, Tommy Todd was a local painter/artist and might be able to make my idea a reality. What a day, Edie’s fantasy books and my crazy idea coming together. Life is strange like that.

Cleaning my World

The first shade of green lawn always looks the freshest. It’s almost unreal and I like walking around barefooted in the morning outside the back door while the sun greets the day. The smoke from my cigarette rises in bright white swirls in the cool air. It’s my alone time, pre-morning chaos. Soon everyone will be up wanting something. Coffee for Steve, breakfast for everyone, lunches for later. Last minute requests are suddenly urgent – papers that need to be signed, clothing that doesn’t fit right, lost ball caps. I am useful in the morning.

Just as quickly, everyone is off with a quick kiss and my work day begins. Spring means extra work with windows, doors, walls, and everything that needs a thorough cleaning. Clothes need to be changed out for warmer weather and shopping lists need to be created for summer clothing. I love my job. Caring for others is very gratifying. But sometimes, I dream of more. I know more is dangerous for some people, but just a little more at a time would be helpful.

Since Edie shared her writing secret with me, I have had a nagging feeling about my sporadic journaling. Sharing my rambling thoughts on my little world is much smaller than what Edie has created. She managed to develop a whole world. Maybe that’s the key. If you make it up, it can be as big as you dream.

Edie and I had a nice talk after she showed me her office. Artie thought the writing was okay as long as Edie didn’t spend a lot of time doing it while he was home. I was a little jealous of her and told her so but she reminded me about her lack of babies to care for and I understood better. We all judge each other’s lives against are own. But no one ever will agree to swap lives. We hold on to our own little issues because they belong to us. Maybe I could spend a few minutes today writing these thoughts down. I don’t want to forget them since they might be the secret to more ideas. But first, it’s time to tackle the baseboards!

Roman Lemonade

Edie and I had not talked about whether she wanted the other girls to know about her writing, so I didn’t bring it up at the next card game. We were at Judy Anne’s and her theme was daffodils. I had no idea what that meant but I knew that she had beds of the most yellow daffodils springing up around the two trees on her front lawn. I didn’t really own any yellow tops so I opted for a light turquoise dress. As it turned out, nobody except Judy Anne was wearing yellow, so I didn’t stand out too badly.

As usual, her table was gorgeous. Judy Anne could teach a class in how to dress a table. She always manages to make it look formal but fun, balancing her well-made sweets on cake stands. She had quite a collection. I always feel like I should wear white gloves when I visit her house.

A crystal punch bowl was set up at the end of the table with delicate glass cups. Judy Anne described her punch as Lemonade with a kick. It sounded delicious and was addictive. She had frozen a ring of fruit in a mold and floated it in the bowl. While we played cards, there was little small talk or gossip. The more competitive of our group had made that a rule long ago. As the afternoon wore on and we sampled more Lemonade, the talk increased. The last hand or two definitely saw a drop off in interest.

The last part of every card party ended up with all of us nibbling off small plates and sitting around the living room. It was a transition back to our real jobs.

Edie had picked up a book that was laying on the coffee table. She was skimming an page on Ancient Rome. Judy Anne was enjoying the pleasant feeling of a well-thrown card party (and multiple glasses of lemonade) and started to kid Edie about the boring book she had found. Judy Anne laughed and confessed that she had bought it just for looks and had never even cracked it open. I realized that Edie was probably doing research for her new book and when she looked up and saw me looking back at her, I smiled. Edie smiled back and asked Judy Anne if she could borrow the book, letting her know Artie was very interested in Roman mythology. Judy Anne laughed again and agreed.

I wasn’t sure about what to think of Edie’s behavior. It was her secret to keep and not mine to share. I’ve kept secrets before and have a few of my own also so I think I’ll let her reveal her alter ego if and when she is ready.

Only the Lonely

My days are pretty busy. Monday is laundry day, Tuesday is grocery shopping, and the rest of the week involves all the other tasks of housekeeping. Every other Wednesday was a card party day and I did manage to squeeze in a few calls to my squad during the week; some days I barely had time to sit down with a cocktail by 3 in the afternoon. I wondered about Edie’s days and how she spent them. There couldn’t be much work for just two adults and Artie was away flying a couple of times every week. I would have shopped more or even visited museums with my extra time if I were Edie, but she didn’t seem to leave her home very much.

I know she reads because there is a big stack of books from the library on her side table in the living room. Her home is exquisitely clean but she never mentioned baking too much. A regular round of sweets would ruin her terrific figure anyway. Edie was a little mysterious; not as mysterious as Zettie Louise, but still, I was hoping that she wasn’t suffering from the curse of the suburbs – loneliness.

Yesterday, I baked a batch of Lemon Ricotta Muffins and placed four into a cute little basket with a brand new tea towel. I scoped out Edie’s house off and on all morning and didn’t see the car move, so after lunch I walked down with my basket of goodies. After answering the door, she invited me in and I told her that I should have called first to see if she was busy, but she waved a hand and told me to come on in. We sat at her all white kitchen banquette, sliding into opposite sides. I presented my muffins and Edie gratefully thanked me and offered to make some coffee. Her gleaming percolator was already set to go on the stove. Wow, I would have had to dig the grounds out of the top and pour out the old coffee for a new batch. It must be great to be always company-ready. We made small talk while the coffee perked. I didn’t really want to beat around the bush for my information, so I took a deep breath and blurted out my question about what Edie did all day. She was momentarily shocked by my question but regained her composure. Edie quietly got up and silently returned to the task of getting our coffee ready. She filled the creamer and placed the sugar bowl next to it on the table. She poured coffee into a porcelain cup and placed it quietly in front of me. The saucer held a dainty spoon. I could live like this. My mug of coffee at home usually got a splash of milk and a teaspoon of sugar but sometimes the teaspoon was from an old set of cutlery that might not match the everyday set. I silently fixed my coffee while trying to figure out if I should apologize for the question. Edie looked thoughtful as she fixed her cup, sat down across from me, smoothed down her skirt and said “Well.” I told her that I didn’t mean to insult her and she motioned for me to wait. We stirred and sipped for a few minutes. I could tell she was thinking about something important.

Edie rose and asked me to join her. We left our cups and I followed her into a small sunroom off the back of the house. It was bright and warm with peach walls and filled with white shelving and furniture. There were a couple of shelves of paperback novels on the bottom of one of the units that seemed out of place, but I wasn’t concentrating on the titles. Edie had redecorated the sunroom as a ladies office. It was dainty and beautiful. On the little desk was a typewriter and a stack of paper, a pile of typewritten pages and some large envelopes. I looked at Edie.

She reached over and handed me the first few typewritten pages of a manuscript. The name of the book was Virtuous Venus and the author’s name was R.L. Newquest. I read the first three paragraphs and realized that it was a dime store romance novel. I looked at Edie and asked her if she was typing someone’s books for them. She smiled slyly and answered that they were her books. It took me a moment but I smiled and then laughed with surprised. Edie laughed too. Mystery solved. Edie was a romance writer in hiding!

A Farmer’s Life for Me

Steve often told the kids stories about visiting his uncle’s farm in the summers of his youth. There were tales about hard work, getting up at dawn and great meals prepared by his aunt.

Stevie’s teacher asked for volunteers for their class trip to the farm and Steve thought it would be a great chance for the “men” to bond. Knowing that farms generally are muddy in the Spring, have fragrant undomesticated animals and work left me out, but I knew that tromping through the muck, semi-milking cows and laughing at livestock was considered great fun for young boys.

On the morning of the trip, the guys dressed in boots and jeans based on the previous two days of thunderstorms. I made sure that they had a hearty farmhand breakfast to send them off and Steve drove over to the bus lot with Junior. Daisy was a little teary-eyed that she couldn’t go but I whispered in her ear about the possibility of a trip to the pharmacy after school for ice cream. She smiled knowingly and drank her juice.

When Daisy and I came home from our treat, I was greeted by a giant pile of muddy pants, shirts and boots at the back door. Steve and Junior must have stripped down to their skivvies when they came home. Daisy went to her room to play and I followed the giggling I heard coming from the bathroom. Steve had little Stevie in the shower. A smaller pile of underwear lay on the floor. They didn’t hear me at the door so I left them to their work to start dinner.

Over pork chops and mashed potatoes, Stevie regaled us with tales from the trip. They went on a hay ride, milked cows, ran with goats and managed to get as dirty as possible. I silently wondered what the clothes of the little girls in the class looked like. Was it possible boys deliberately tried to get as dirty as possible? I threw the farm clothes into a separate wicker basket to try and wash in the morning.

Junior fell asleep easily and after tucking in Daisy, I checked on Steve. Apparently, farm life was tiring. I found Steve sitting up sound asleep in his chair in the den. I guess those tales about working on the farm pertained to visiting them also. I gently lifted Steve’s drink glass from his hand and encouraged him to go to bed. “Sun up” would be here soon enough and he needed to go back to work in the morning.