Fangirling

My kids didn’t know about this website until last night, and I don’t know how that’s possible!?!

 

My oldest kid said, “This will sound goofy, but I didn’t know blogs were on websites.”

 

My youngest said, “I thought websites were like these fancy, hard-to-get things.”

 

I had to explain that websites aren’t super hard to get, and that yes a blog is usually on a website, and that I’ve had this one for five years now and like how did you not know???

 

They explained that I don’t often explain the ins and outs of writing and publishing except to let them know when I submit a story about them (we read it and I ask if they feel comfortable with it or not, and if they don’t I don’t) and to tell them when an essay goes live and occasionally they see me a bit bummed when I get a rejection. My oldest will ask me how my day was and nod approvingly when I mention that I got a lot of words down, or did revisions, or handled submissions, or found a new literary magazine to submit to, or went mildly viral on Twitter for something mildly embarrassing. But they didn’t know this website here existed.

 

We Googled pictures of ourselves. They don’t have any online easily attached to their names yet (no social media accounts so far) so it’s funny to see their alternate lives as a cross-country runner from Minnesota or model and photographer in Paris. When I look up “Kristin Wagner” there are sooooooooooo many women who are not me. Gynecologists and real estate brokers and what not. I didn’t think about how common my married name was until the last couple of years. I shifted the name of this site to kristindemarcowagner.com and when I look up “Kristin DeMarco Wagner” it’s all undoubtedly me. Most of the pictures are from here or Twitter or Instagram. Showing the boys that Google search led to their realization that I have a website, and my astonishment that they were clueless about it.

 

But also!!!

The Google image search led me to an article I had assumed hadn’t happened because I missed when it did come out. Editors from The Kitchn had asked fans of Samin Nosrat’s book Salt Fat Acid Heat to share what they loved about the book. I jumped at the chance to fangirl over it a bit, because I absolutely adore the cookbook and the Netflix series and have prints of the illustrations for it in my kitchen. And the Google image search last night led me to 8 Cooks on Why Salt Fat Acid Heat is Such a Special, Unlikely Hit and I am in there as one of the cooks! A home cook, absolutely. A home cook who made Rachel Ray Sloppy Joes and tater tots last night. A home cook who has two kids who, when I exclaimed “Oh, I love when I get to do even a little food writing!”, said to me confused “You don’t do food writing”. I told them that maybe they don’t know everything I write while they’re at school for 6 and a half hours a day, since they didn’t even know I had a website for my blog posts. And then I defrosted another gluten-free bun in the microwave so that my youngest could have seconds and we talked about school.

Salt Fat Acid Heat.jpg
Some of my cookbook shelves, with Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat displayed

 

And perhaps that’s what I love about Salt Fat Acid Heat so much is that it is a cookbook that is detailed and specific and techy, but also incredibly accessible. It lives and breathes with people who are just working on making everyday meals with people we love more enjoyable as much as it resonates with really accomplished and finessed world class chefs. So last night was neat. The link to the article is embedded in the title of the article above.

 

Talk to you all later!

Kristin

 

P.S. A quick note about the sloppy joes-I added seasoning to the meat at a different time because of Samin. I added a splash more vinegar because of Samin. I cooked the meat and vegetables differently because of Samin. Every simple meal is just tweaked a little bit for the better, even on a really ordinary night.

 

Buried Treasure with Frame
An illustration from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat that’s on my kitchen wall called “Buried Treasure” featuring radishes and beets

When Fiction and Reality Meet

Room

My favorite reading experience, where the book I was reading matched the circumstances around me perfectly, used to be easy to pick out. I often used to take the train from the Chicago suburbs to Champaign-Urbana, when I bounced back and forth between my parents’ house and college. This particular trip I took was in the evening in the middle of a cold, clear winter. While the train was usually full enough that I was obliged to make small talk with a seatmate, this time it was almost completely empty and silent. Every other time I sat under fluorescent lights with dull grey metal all around me. This time I found myself in a refurbished Pullman car. Red velvet lined the seats, with a fringed gold trim edging the armrest. A sumptuous carpet rested under my feet. The lights had a soft glow emanating from ornate sconces. I burrowed myself into my seat, cushioned and alone, and picked up where I had left off reading The Shining for the very first time. The opulence matched The Overlook Hotel, and as I glanced out the window at an endless stretching snowy winter, seeing a single farmhouse light in the distance echoed my own isolation and that of the Torrences. For nearly twenty years that has been my favorite.

I may have a new contender. I have been sick with a really horrible protracted cold, and my boys are now sick with the same excruciatingly slow virus. My husband is traveling for work, and the boys have now missed three days of school. Last night my oldest wanted to sleep on the couch, so when he went to bed I tiptoed to my room and grabbed a book since I was not going to be able to fall asleep at 8:30. I had bought Room by Emma Donoghue more than a year ago and hadn’t touched it since. I’m not sure if I was worried that my heart wouldn’t be able to take it, but for some reason it nearly jumped off the shelf at me this time.

We are told the story through the perspective of a five-year-old boy named Jack. He and his mother are held captive in a small room by the man who kidnapped his mother years ago. The book opens on his fifth birthday and describes how they manage to make a life for themselves in “Room”, a place Jack has never left. It opens on the day of the spring equinox. I began to feel eerie, as yesterday was the spring equinox as well. Jack describes what TV shows he likes to watch, and because this is set in contemporary times, they are all shows my children watched too. Backyardigans, Wonder Pets, Dora the Explorer. The way his mother helps structure their days reminded me so much of what it was like when the boys were small, when one day can bleed into the next if it is just you together in the house, seeing no one else, going nowhere else. A state I am in right now. It is just us, quarantined away from the world, only using the resources we have on hand, and with each other as our sole company. It is both intimate and confining all at once.

Jack counts his teeth with his tongue when he is trying to distract himself. Each time he does I do the same and am reminded that a crown popped off one of my teeth earlier in the day. As I think about when I’ll be able to get that fixed Ma takes a ‘killer’ (painkiller) because her bad tooth is aching very badly. She is also waiting to get her tooth fixed, though for her it may never happen.

I read more than half the book in that one sitting, entranced, both seeing myself and the day I just had and the day I was about to have stretched before me, and seeing how much more I had that they didn’t. A window. A telephone. Food in the cupboards. The ability to open the door and feel fresh air on my face. Things I would never have stopped to appreciate that I still have even if I don’t have the Outside right now.

I’m not capturing how odd it felt, how odd it feels when your reality and fiction blends so perfectly together that you cannot extract one from the other. It isn’t something you can plan, though luckily sometimes it comes together. I read a scene from The Signature of All Things where the protagonist laments how useless paper is on a tropical island exactly one day before discovering all our paper was a humid mess in Puerto Rico. We read Harry Potter for the first time through the 2016 election and the coincidences were spooky (though that is an essay for another time). I guess I’ll tell this story better after twenty years than I do now, but I wanted to say…

Books are magic in a totally unpredictable and unusual way. And in the middle of a boring household cold, I got to experience that again.

 

Happy Irish-Italian-American Day!

irish-Italian
[Picture of red tomatoes and a box of spaghetti above. Picture of shamrock and plaque that read “Home is where your story begins” surrounded by Celtic knots below]

I am half Irish-American and half Italian-American, more or less, give or take. On the Irish side there are a few Scottish and French ancestors, and on the Italian side we are more accurately Sicilian. This is a fairly common background for people who live near Chicago, Boston, or New York, as both of these European immigrant groups settled in these cities in large numbers. I get that it isn’t very common in the rest of the country – when I lived in Tennessee and Texas I was hard-pressed to find anyone who was either Irish-American or Italian-American, much less both.

Chicago, however, is city that dyes its river green every St. Patrick’s Day and has a bag-pipe filled parade. It is also a city that celebrates St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th with groaning tables of Italian food and the color red. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, Joseph the patron saint of Italy. It stands to reason, that in the Chicagoland area March 18th should be Irish-Italian-American Day. You know, split the difference and celebrate the best of both cultures.

My brother and I went back and forth on suggestions. Maybe of viewing of Brooklyn or Return to Me (apparently there is an Irish-Italian restaurant). I can’t remember if it is A Bronx Tale or Goodfellas that features characters who cannot be full mafiasos because they are part Irish-but I’m thinking I’m tired of Italian heritage being reduced to the mob. Maybe I’ll watch the beautifully animated Song of the Sea again.

My general feeling is that I would be best served eating Italian (and Italian-American) food while listening to Irish (and Irish-American) music. Gnocchi, lasagna, caprese salad, tiramisu, cannoli, lemon knot cookies, pizzelle, agli olio, espresso, eggplant parmesean, stuffed artichokes, pasta fagioli. Gaelic Storm, the Cheiftains, Van Morrison, Flogging Molly, U2.

The reverse would be all right too, if perhaps a tad less illustrious. I really do love a good stew, potatoes are always a favorite, and my oldest kid even likes cabbage. I can appreciate opera (Nessun Dorma sung by Pavarotti is heaven) and Frank Sinatra will always have my heart.

I could binge read, James Joyce and Dante, William Butler Yeats and Petrarch.

Check out the artwork of the Book of Kells, and the Renaissance.

Drink beer or wine.

And both places are beautiful.

You know, it is almost as if there is no wrong way to celebrate.

So for everyone out there who has both Irish and Italian heritage in America, in between Shamrock Shakes and sweets tables, there is one day that could celebrate both. Let’s do it!

Happy March 18th, everybody!

Expecto Patronum

expecto-patronum

These are dark days. Exhausting days. Days that promise a new affront to decency and stability every damn hour.

I am trying.

I have been filling a journal with things that make me happy, unfailingly happy.

Activities.

Songs to dance along to.

Song to sing along with.

Foods.

Movies and TV shows.

Reminders to take my medicine on time.

Reminders to breathe.

Lists of things I want to teach the boys.

Things I can do to make my environment more orderly.

Beautiful things.

Silly things.

Lists of painters I love.

Lists of comic strips that make me smile.

Reminders to stretch.

A list of exercise classes I can get to quickly.

Nail polish colors.

Names of people I love.

Inside jokes with my husband.

Lists of things with soothing textures-smooth stones and fluffy hair and grass.

Descriptions of places I love.

Little things I can to do show my family I love them.

 

Anything I can think of to pierce the darkness, it goes in the journal.

 

I flip through it whenever I need to, and I need to almost hourly right now.

 

I am not going to lose my soul to this fight.

Expecto Patronum.

Surrogate Soulmate

pearls

My husband is most certainly my soulmate, the constant North Star whose presence points me in the right direction. Well, he’s actually more of a wandering star, traveling for work nearly every week. Houston, Calgary, Paris, London, Rio …Cincinnati. All the glamourous destinations. I miss him, greatly. Oh, the family grinds on and our boys have inside jokes with me that their dad is unaware of (I’m not going to tell them here, that would spoil our fun), but it is hard. That person who makes me laugh the most, and who never asks me to help him with common core math homework, he is gone a lot. And it often feels empty.

So I have gotten myself a surrogate soulmate, for when my real one is unavailable. If I am feeling the onset of insomnia borne from loneliness, I will get out one of my Pearls Before Swine comic books by Stephen Pastis. Now, no getting on my case. I have read and appreciated fine works of literature: Steinbeck, Austen, Camus. I used to teach them, even. None of those authors reminds me for even one second of my soulmate the way this collection of comic strips does.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? No, I shall compare thee to an anthropomorphic rat, goat, pig, zebra, crocodile and the occasional lemming. This comic strip is subversive and smart and dumb and hopeful and misanthropic and silly and honest and funny. And so is my guy. I don’t get lost looking at the empty side of our bed, cast in dark shadows from my nightstand lamp. I giggle quietly for a few minutes before I set my glasses down, click off the light and burrow into my pillow to sleep peacefully. Because both my soulmate and my surrogate soulmate know how to sell a really bad pun, making me laugh every single time.

My Social Media Confession

Social Media Confession

 

I don’t consider myself to have a diagnosable issue with OCD.

I have a lot of rituals and routines that seem to provide me with some relief from anxiety, but they are largely invisible and don’t cause problems. Does it really matter that I turn on the playroom light every time I turn on our house alarm, or that I take the empty hangers out of my husband’s closet the moment he travels so that I don’t have a visual reminder that he’s gone for the week, or that I have to eat my frozen enchilada meal oriented in the right direction? Is it the end of the world that I have parking spots I prefer (the ones that are directly next to a sidewalk, for instance) or that I like to arrive at important doctor’s appointments at least ten minutes early? Our household philosophy is “It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.” That may sound silly, but what it means is that we try to give ourselves leeway about our quirks. If they start to get out of hand, then we give it our undivided attention to try to get it back to manageable. It’s a little like when you know the house is gotten a bit messy, but you don’t obsess over it. Then you trip over a basketball and land on Legos and yell, “This is why we don’t let it get this bad around here! Time to clean up, now!” All of our family quirks are like that, when it is a problem we fix it, but we don’t consider it a problem until it really is one.

Well, my OCD tendencies are becoming a problem, in one very specific area – my phone.

I am going to confess something I’m a bit ashamed of. Every morning I have to check my social media. HAVE to. It has become something that causes me a lot of anxiety and distress if I

A. Don’t do it at all.

B. Do it out of order.

Or

C. Don’t complete my rounds.

I HAVE to check Facebook, then my e-mail, then Pinterest, then Timehop, then Instagram, then WordPress, then Buzzfeed. It takes a ridiculous amount of time. Most mornings I am up too early anyways, so my rounds don’t interfere with anyone or anything else. I’ve tried to slow down but I find myself extremely anxious at not completing this routine. It bothers me immensely. I feel very unsettled and cannot move on with the other things I need to do. There is no good reason for this compulsion, and the interference with daily life – this is when you get into diagnosable territory. This is when it becomes a real problem and not just a “quirk”.

This morning, though, was the worst. My oldest had to wake me up at seven because I needed to get up and make lunches and give my youngest a bath. I knew I was running late. I knew I had forgotten to plug in my phone, so it was on very low battery. I knew that my oldest had been sweetly responsible in waking me up, and that he had been up for an hour and wanted to chat. What I did, instead of making breakfast or actually talking with my son, was I stood next to the charger with my phone plugged in, checking my rounds and ignoring him. I nodded and didn’t make eye contact, and I said, “uh-huh” in response to every question, and I left him out. He barely seemed to notice how much I had just invalidated him, how I had just demonstrated how much more important my rituals and my phone were than anything he had to say. That was the saddest part of all, his acceptance that he should play second fiddle to my anxieties and to a stranger’s comments on Facebook, and that he still loved me and felt no resentment towards me over it. It’s not a problem until it’s a problem. It is a very big problem.

I don’t have a resolution to this problem yet. But it sure as hell has gotten my undivided attention now. I am going to fix this, because my son shouldn’t have to be happy with scraps of divided attention; he shouldn’t have to share me with an iPhone.