Monday, August 30, 2010

First Day of School—and the Rest of Your Life

My first grandchild, Bradley, went off to Kindergarten on Monday—his first day of real school. A preschool veteran, Bradley was excited about this new experience, especially the part where he got to bring his brand new Superman backpack. His dad and mom escorted him into the classroom, cameras flashing, and I got to greet him when he came walking out at the end of the school day. He looked happy, proud, and excited about the whole experience.

I’m not sure he fully understood he’d be doing this nearly every day for the rest of his youthful life…

Bradley’s first day brought back memories of my first day. I remember being terrified when my mother left me at Kindergarten. Mom says I “cried a little.” No wonder. She had just abandoned me in a room full of strange kids and a woman I’d never seen before named Miss Hequembourg. I was certain she was never coming back and all the coloring and easel painting in the world didn’t relieve my fears of this new experience.

At least for the first few minutes.

Apparently I came bounding out of the classroom and told my mom, “That was fun!” after she’d spent the last couple of hours worrying about me. Then I asked her if she knew what a “lavatory” was.

After one day of school, I already thought I was smarter than she was.

My dad, according to my grandmother, really had a hard time on that first day of kindergarten. My grandmother had walked him to school, escorted him into the classroom, and returned home, thinking “Little Eddie” would be fine. But moments later my dad slipped out the classroom door, followed her home, and hid under the front porch until he saw the other kids coming home from school. He got away with this for nearly two weeks, until the principal called asking where “Little Eddie” was.

I’m sure I would have done the same thing if I’d had a porch to hide under.

My husband Tom says he doesn’t remember much about kindergarten. Just that there was something called “Nap Time.” He must have learned the alphabet and how to color, but all he remembers is that he had to take a nap.

He really nailed that skill.

When my first born went to school his first day, I remember hanging around the Vista Grande school yard for quite a while, not ready to cut the cord and leave my son. I arrived to pick him up a half an hour early, just to make sure he knew I hadn’t abandoned him, like my mother had me.

But he was smiling broadly, carrying some art work that I’m sure I displayed on the refrigerator until it disintegrated. Like his father, he doesn’t remember that day either, but I do. He liked his teacher, he’d made a new friend (Grady), and he’d taken the first step toward independence.

Of course, he was surprised to find out he had to go back to school the next day. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d be going for the rest of his youthful life.

I was afraid he might run home and hide under the porch.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When You're Out of Work, Make Lemonade

This was not a good time to buy an RV, which is exactly what we did before my husband got laid off from work.

He’s in the construction field—electrician—but building is down, money is tight, and even our relatives are taping together their loose wires rather than calling an electrician.

So he’s been hanging around the house, reading the newspaper until noon, peeking over my shoulder to ask me what I’m writing, and generally driving me nuts.

If this is a sign of his retirement days, we’re in big trouble.

When he was first laid off, I gave him plenty of honey-do tasks to complete, like fix all the broken stuff and change a light bulb or two. But he still managed to find plenty of time to read my emails, critique my shopping receipts, and tell me what I should write.

Then, when I saw one of the neighborhood kids setting up a lemonade stand, I had a brilliant idea. You know the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, I have a new one: “When life lays you off, make a lemonade stand.”

Lemonade stands seem to be the one reliable business in these unreliable economic times. I figured all we needed to do was cut open a large cardboard box, hang a correctly spelled sign, whip up some lemonade, and start making money.

As CFO, I’d finance the business with all my column-writing money. As CEO, he’d manage it.

I could just picture him, out there on the sidewalk behind that cardboard booth, hawking tasty lemonade to thirsty neighbors for a hefty profit. Maybe the kids who already had their stands wouldn’t like it, but hey, this is America. It was time they learned an important lesson about healthy corporate competition.

Unfortunately, my husband didn’t even apply for the job. He was sure he’d be hanging up a “Closed due to the economy” sign on the stand by the end of the first business day. His motto had become, “When life gives you lemons, you just have to suck it up.”

So now we’re thinking about ways we can cut back. Sell the RV comes to mind immediately. But it may end up being our future home if things don’t get better. I offered to give up HBO, salon haircuts, extra cups of Starbucks lattes, and new clothes to wear when I write my columns.

He’s going to cut down on driving the SUV, barbecuing steaks, buying beer, and wearing underpants. And we’re both going to eat out less, turn off more lights, clean the house ourselves, and skip the dream vacation for an overnight in the RV parked in front of our house.

Or, we could take the RV on the road and bring that fresh lemonade straight to the people in the Valley, much like the ever-popular ice-cream truck. We could blast cool music from our radio speakers, like Lady Gaga or the National Anthem, and offer a variety of lemonade drinks, like Pina Lemonada and Lemonade Latte. It’s sure to be a hit.

Because sometimes, when you’re out of work, you just have to give that lemon a twist.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Impressions of Impressionism

I’ve been to the de Young Museum a lot over the past year, mostly trying to find places to kill people that won’t be captured by all the surveillance cameras. Hey, it’s my job. I’m a mystery writer and my new book, HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH, (due out August 3) is set at the de Young.

The art is cool too.

So when my mother called and asked if I might take her to the museum, I said, “Been there, done that—a lot, lately. How about a trip to a local KOA in our RV?”

“How about Paris, circa 1874?” she countered.

Turns out my mother was eager to see the “Birth of Impressionism” exhibit, which had traveled all the way from the City of Lights to the City by the Bay. The de Young was “the only place in the world besides Paris to see the masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay,” she claimed.”

How could I refuse?

My mother lives in West Sacramento and doesn’t drive much, so I picked her up on a Tuesday and brought her back home to Danville. Although I knew this would not be an easy task, I wanted to make sure she got her fill of lily ponds, ballerinas, and old women in rocking chairs. Meanwhile I’d look around for other places I could hide a dead body.

Traffic to the city was thick, as usual, and once we got to Golden Gate Park, we saw a line outside that wound around Music Concourse like a Rousseau snake. The good news: Those people were there for the Academy of Sciences which is free to the public on the third Wednesday of the month. The bad news: The parking lot was already full.

My mother whipped out her handicapped placard and we found a blue space not far from the entrance. Once inside I got her a free wheelchair to use. But the exhibit was as crowded as a Seurat Sunday afternoon on the Grande Jattee. After I ran over the toes of a couple of crabby art lovers, my mother decided to use the wheelchair for support rather than a free ride, and maneuvered skillfully throughout the exhibit without me.

On my own, I wandered through the life-size picture book of 100 paintings ranging from the mid- to late-19th century. There was “Whistler’s Mother”—not the often-caricatured cartoon but the real thing, practically rocking right in front of me. I could almost hear Manet’s “The Fife Player,” feel the breeze in Renoir’s “The Swing,” and enter the world of Monet’s “The Magpie.” I found it hard to believe that the impressionists—considered the most popular artists in the world today—were once ridiculed by the public and rejected by official exhibitions. (“Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape,” wrote one critic.)

Want to take a trip to Paris in the 1800s? The exhibit runs until September 6th, then the Post-Impressionists—Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Degas—move in and stay until January.

As for my new mystery, I hope some critic doesn’t write: “Bird-cage liner in its embryonic state is more polished than this book.” I may be forced to hide his body in the picturesque de Young frog pond.