Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Circadian-Free Life

A couple of weeks into my family leave, the non-schedule schedule has gotten way too comfortable. It isn't so much that the clock no longer is in charge of my life. It's that nothing else has stepped into the power vacuum. I suppose it can be said I feel young again if by "young" is meant "infant with his days and nights mixed up." Or, worse, a college student.

Physically the past couple of weeks haven't been overly taxing. I have to say there's not a lot of mental down-time, though. It's like a chess game where every move is planned three moves in advance. My respect for stay-at-home moms is greater than ever.

Of course, I'm scheduled to be returning to work in a couple more weeks, so it's important to stay grounded as much as can be managed. Through e-mails and phone messages I've been able to keep up with the major issues at my office. I've continued to play an active role in heading off problems and, when necessary, generating effective solutions decisively. For example, just this past Friday there was an e-mail asking for recipes for the office fund-raising cookbook, and I was able to send several.

A few observations at the mid-point of my family leave:

  • It may be just my imagination, but I swear the cats like me better now that I'm the one feeding them. I guess my usual cat-job - cleaning the litter box - just isn't as high on the cats-appreciate-it list.
  • I don't care if it does make my wife laugh at me - there's a right way and a wrong way to make a tuna salad sandwich and, dammit, I'm going to look up a recipe for it.
  • A major discovery: making double portions means not having to cook a meal from scratch the next night. Remember, you read it here first.
Cooking remains an active focus. So far the winner of the truly strange recipe contest comes from, where the Neeleys posted a shrimp corn-dog. (It's basically a hot dog made of a shrimp mixture, instead of the meat by-products, insect parts, and heaven only knows what else mixture regular hot dogs are made of. You batter it and process as a corn-dog and, voila!) Yes, some of the ingredients are a little expensive, but the look on people's faces when you tell them you've made a shrimp hot dog? Priceless.

Tonight I begin my Yom Kippur fast. Not to worry, though. Making food for others when you're fasting - my wife is not Jewish and, despite their fondness for whitefish flavor Friskies, neither are Willie and Lilly - is just something you get used to.

So You Think You Can Dance

While canoodling on Youtube the other night, I came across the clip embedded below. It's from Stormy Weather. Cab Calloway and his orchestra performing Jumpin' Jive is worth seeing on its own merits. But it's the performance by the Nicholas Brothers about 1:36 into the clip that, I'm warning you, may blow out the circuitry on your computers. It is, simply, astonishing. This is about a five minute clip, and if you give it a look I'm certain you'll be very glad you did.

While on the subject of dancing, Dancing with the Stars is normally light fun, the only reality show I like to watch. But that gorgeously human moment last week when Kelly Osborne ran to O
zzy and Sharon after she finished transcended the show, celebrity, and anything else superficial. The famously outrageous and occasionally bizarre rock couple were exposed as actually being a wonderfully ordinary set of loving, proud parents. It took a while, but a little reality finally made its way onto a reality show.

One Day at a Time, Indeed

Waking up in a drug-induced haze to find you've been sleeping with someone who looked like Papa John Philips would be a traumatic experience even if he weren't your father, and so daughter MacKenzie is a good example of how wrong it so often is to speak of celebrity children as being privileged. As often as not, such kids are well-financed but otherwise unprepared for the rigors of navigating life once they're out of their protective biospheres. That said, I'm wondering what develops during a public childhood that leads one to think so intensely personal a matter is best handled in a public forum. Odd thing for a blogger to say, I suppose, but I'm also not here writing about that time I...well, never mind.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rehearsing Retirement

I find myself unexpectedly on family medical leave for about the next three to four weeks.

No, no one here just gave birth. [Wiping brow in relief just at the thought.] This past Monday my wife fell and injured her knee. Finding the ER waiting room surprisingly empty (I guess you don't get a lot of gunshot wounds at Labor Day picnics), we got taken care of in pretty short order. We received mixed news:

  • On the up side, the injury turned out to be a slight break, not as bad as the previous one, requiring an immobilizer but not a cast.
  • Also on the up side, I got a lot of compliments on my improvised scrap wood and duct tape leg support-immobilizer attachment for the wheelchair.
  • There was some bad news too: due to budget constraints, the hospital no longer validates parking for the lot across the street.

My wife isn't in any pain other than what would normally be associated with having me home 24 hours a day. Mostly she's just understandably frustrated about being immobilized.She'll be laid up for a few weeks and, until she can look after herself, needs someone with her. With the boys away at school and the cats saying they'd like to help but it's not in their cat-union contract, it looks like I'll be home for a while, playing the role of gentleman farmer.

There are adjustments to make and every day we're figuring out work-arounds to manage another one or two normal things. The overall pace of juggling house tasks is constant but not hectic. After several days of me sleeping on the sofa and my wife sleeping in the lounge chair - getting upstairs is not an option at the present time - we finally remembered yesterday that the sofa is the sleeper kind, so last night was actually spent in the relative comfort of a real bed.

The cats, much of whose daily routine revolves around our normal bedroom, are walking around very confused these days. The whole business of us relocating our lives to the living room was disorienting enough for them. Yesterday, when a bed magically appeared there, their bewildered stares moving back and forth over it nearly made everything we've been through so far worth the trouble. I can only imagine what they're thinking, since it's in the very spot that, every December, a tree that blooms cat toys mysteriously grows.

One good part of all this is that I'm getting to do some real cooking. Up until now I've made mostly fun, individual items when I felt like it - baking a pie, things like that - or making a batch of something or other to have for lunch that week. For the first time I'm having to plan out and make contiguous meals - a protein, starch and vegetable that are coordinated enough to seem like they're
not the culinary equivalent of a ransom note with glued letters from eight different newspapers. It's fun and interesting and requires a lot of "ok, let's see what we've got in the house and what can I do with it," something the plan-every-step-beforehand cook I've always been never had to do. I'd always been a disciple of Ina Garten for the odds-and-ends stuff, but now that I need regular meal items on a daily basis I'm quickly coming to appreciate Tyler Florence. Great stuff, and not complicated for someone making it the first time. Yesterday alone I made two of his on the spur of the moment: roasted rosemary potatoes, and green beans with almonds and caramelized onions. At this rate I'll be going through his entire list of recipes before my leave is finished, kind of a K-mart version of "Julie and Julia." Other recipes are coming from wherever I can find them; an outstanding (and thankfully simple) baked salmon recipe came from the back of the salmon fillet package. I'm learning a lot, too, from my wife's directions.

In some ways the hardest part of all this is not having a day-structure provided for me. That kind of freedom is fine for people with discipline, but what about the rest of us? I'm hoping to keep up with what's going on at work through phone messages and e-mails. My goal is to keep them from realizing how well they function without me.

Unrelated Item 1: No Love Lost

Memo to self: Do NOT get Serena Williams angry.