by the Coconut Girl on November 20, 2014

For twenty-five years, clients have hired me after their design budget spreadsheets were already singing on key.

I’ve come in, most often as part of a team, to join the middle verse: designing what they’ve dreamed up to build.

Eventually, the clients and I find ourselves standing in that realized dream. No matter how big or small the project, the walls feel like a skyscraper rising around us. We look out like tiny, awe-faced action figures. I never get used to it, that moment when drawings that have resided in my head–sometimes for years–transform into places where people can dwell.

Like most architects, I exit at the coda, when clients carry in their furniture and potted plants.

At least this was my professional routine until the summer of 2014, when I realized my own dream of being both client and architect. Filled with hope and terror, I initiated a project and managed it from concept to completion. I had a great team of builders and advisers. And an ample stash of Tylenol PM.

I started with the project spreadsheets. In my naivete, I thought they’d shimmer like a Kiri Te Kanawa aria. In reality, they were more like a Bonnie Tyler B-side—until I reduced the design scope. This brought things back up to the vicinity of a Whitesnake power ballad, which was something I could work with.

The middle part of the project was the pleasantly familiar design and construction phase. But when when the coda began and it was time for the furniture and potted plants, my spreadsheet ran out of notes. Even foam sofas from a Swedish retailer were out of my range.

So I dropped the needle on Mackelmore, and hit the thrift circuit. It was a homecoming of sorts, because I grew up at the hem of the world’s greatest thrift shopper: my mother. She can spot a diamond in the rough, tell you where it was mined, appraise its value, and polish it to—a shimmer.

“Take a look at these chairs,” I’d say on a call to her from a consignment store. “They’re asking $300; I’m going to offer $250.” I’d text her a photo. “They’re French country,” she’d reply without missing a beat. “Check the cording. The manufacturer. The springs. The joinery.” I’d report back, and wait for her verdict, yes or no.

In this way, and with her parallel thrifting efforts in her town, we furnished my project on key.

The scores of passes I made through local consignment stores played not like a coda, but like a full opera. Comedy and tragedy sang out from the shelves as I rifled through jumbled merchandise that once resided in other people’s dreams. This was especially true on the wall art aisle, where one day I found a signed photograph of a skyscraper the world once knew. It was just waiting for someone to recognize it, beneath a portrait of a cat in a beret.

Oh my beloved father,
I love him, I love him!
I’ll go to Porta Rossa,
To buy our wedding ring.

Oh yes, I really love him.
And if you still say no,
I’ll go to Ponte Vecchio,
And throw myself below.

My love for which I suffer,
At last, I want to die.
Father I pray, I pray.
Father I pray, I pray.

–translation, O Mio Babbino Caro, by Giacomo Puccini



Chicken Cutlet

by the Coconut Girl on November 5, 2014

Recently I taught my eight-year-old how to bread a chicken cutlet. As a thank-you, he accidentally showed me how to shoot gasoline out of a fuel pump like a firehose. To celebrate our personal development, we flicked crumbs across the dining room table, and talked in English lady voices.

They are like Sundays to us, these moments of weird communion. I had them with my brothers and sisters, too, when we were growing up. We’d lie splayed-out on the sofa watching “Bewitched,” and someone’s foot would cruise up to someone else’s nose. It was our Hallmark card. A smellagram that read, I love you. Stop.

At the center of our dinner table sits a produce pileup from my trip to the store yesterday. The banana has its foot in the nose of the pear. The avocado butt-bumps the delicata squash. Fruit flies aren’t a problem at this time of year, so I don’t have to shoo. The downside is the Rachel-Carson-quiet since the birds have gone south. I squeeze the kiwis in silence, feeling for some give.

Across the house, the kitchen is dark from Daylight Savings. Lunchboxes tip over to dry. One will hold a chicken cutlet tomorrow. It won’t be as crispy as it was at dinnertime because a night in the cooler softens the crust.

“What are the three dippings for breading chicken?” I quiz my son as I wash the dishes. He gathers his things for the morning. “Tell me in order of application, please,” I add.  He looks at me, puzzled by the word. “Application is what you put on something else,” I explain through the steam. He nods and nails it: “Easy. Flour, egg, and breadcrumbs.”

He leaves me to put on his PJs. I step outside and scatter the remaining crumbs for the birds who stayed behind.

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The River

by the Coconut Girl on September 26, 2014

We went down to the river

And into the river we’d dive

Down to the river we’d ride

–Bruce Springsteeen

Vapor rose from the river just yards from where we stood. I saw it reflected in the surface first.  That’s how still the water was, like a mirror that had closed around our legs. My children and I stationed ourselves at different spots by chance: my son by a fallen tree, my daughter on a sandbar, and me on the bank, scanning for broken glass.

The hot air sucked in the mist. I pictured Betty Draper, styled in 50′s housewife boredom, dragging on a cigarette. I grew up in the 70’s, and still, many mothers smoked.

They were also mostly home. At least in my neighborhood they were. So were the kids. Not all of them, but enough to cobble together a passable afternoon’s play. If a kid wasn’t playing in the street, it wasn’t because he was off learning lacrosse. He was grounded. Or grabbing an elderly neighbor’s weeds by the handful for fifty cents an hour.

As I waded towards my children in the river, my toes snagged a wet wig of algae. “Gross!” my son called, holding up a used Band Aid that had floated over the little dam he’d built. There was so much to say about it, I sighed and said nothing.

Water comes in handy in emergencies, and not just the fire and chemical kind. I drove my kids to the river because we were on our ninth consecutive day of playdate fails. When I picked them up from school that afternoon, I delivered the news:  it would be just the three of us again. They cried tears of frustration. “Did you text Allyson’s mom?” Yes. “Did you call Jeremy’s dad?” Yes. “Did you stop by Michelle’s house?” Yes. “Did you…did you…“ Yesyesyesyesyesyes.

I knew the river was the only safe route to dinnertime. Just like tub baths were the only navigable path through weeks of flu when the kids were little.

In general I like to think I’m a decent parent, but when it comes to scheduling my children’s social lives, I’m deeply ineffective. I try, but I’d need an Excel spreadsheet to track their friends’ activities. Only a few children reside in our neighborhood, and when we knock on their doors, echoes answer. I call and text parents to see if their kids are free. They write back, “Would love to see you, but we’re at SoccerPianoGymnasticsGuitarJudoAfterschoolBaseballYogaGirlScoutsAutoMechanicNursingHome-WellChildAppoitment.” Like me, they’re juggling a lot. Too much. We live parallel, separate lives.

When few people can be found, sometimes it’s best to admit you’re sunk, and go where there are no people at all. Nature’s good company. Even medical waste is, like that Band Aid flipping in the white water. I knew the kids would protest going to the river, and right on cue, they did. Enduring the disappointment of others is a hard-won skill, but an essential one in parenting. Either I’ve mastered the reality that I can’t fix everything, or it’s mastered me.

We waded farther up the river. Grey fish darted from rocks, and we chased them. Our feet sank into soupy sand flecked with mica. My son flung his empty water bottle up river, and we sprinted to straddle its path downstream so it would float between our legs. Why? Because why not.

“Sadie!” a voice called from the woods along the water’s edge. From the brush bounded a large golden retriever that soaked us as she ran across the water, zig zagging from bank to bank. Several more dogs followed, and we forgot that we’d been driven to this spot by loneliness. We left not long after, our feet pruney, and our work and school clothes splattered with mud.  On the drive home, my children silently pulled wet rocks from their pockets. They turned them over to inspect all sides, and the hands on the clock clicked effortlessly to 5:05.





Chicken Cleavage

by the Coconut Girl on September 8, 2014

Don’t worry about the big bulge on my back; it’s just my eight-year-old son under my shirt. He’s been my Velcro Buddy since school started last week. This close proximity only poses a problem when his SuperGlue Sista (my ten year-old daughter) has her head up the front of my shirt. We just walk sideways, the three of us, from the dining room to the kitchen, trolling for food.

There was a time when two other orbs under my shirt provided some nourishment. But the big, talking, school-aged orbs presently portruding from my torso prefer that I cook. Cook a lot. Cook constantly. Cook totally different meals for each of them. One wants cornichons, seaweed sheets, and Middle eastern dips. The other wants sides of cows.

“I saw that the debit charge from the grocery was over $400,” my husband texted me the other day. I told him it was all the food. Especially the meat. For years I barely bought any. There was the bi-monthly box of organic breakfast sausage links, but that was about it. Now my third grader has a barrel chest rivaling Jack Lalanne’s. I can’t serve up the protein fast enough.

The shirt-spheres and I shuffle over to the CSA bag we filled at a farm on Saturday. Let’s see. Miniature purple onions. Whole, unwashed okra. Rock-hard carnival squash.

The freezer’s no better. Mangos, rice, popcorn, ice.

What I need is a chicken cleavage for my son (pig out, Sigmund Freud), and a babaganoush bra for his sister. Then they’d be happy. And by happy, I mean full for ten minutes.

Writer Andy Moore reflects in a funny-poignant essay about parenting college-aged kids,

For all the hullaballoo of raising small children, it’s really just one constant thing. A humongous deal that’s no different day-to-day.

With all due respect to Col. Moore (a friend), them there’s fighting words.

Today for my small children, it was chicken fingers and brown rice sushi, a sports tryout rejection, and a best friend who moved to Cali. Yesterday it was hot dogs and stir-fried tofu, the retirement of a lifelong lovey, and the first solo trip to the pool showers.

The menu changes too often at the Coconut Cafe, almost minute-to-minute. Which is why the patrons sometimes pull their chairs in verrrrry close so they can hear the house band: Lub Dub, Lub Dub, Lub Dub.




July 9, 2014

Along my route home last night, I saw two people standing alone by the side of the road. They’d pulled over to photograph a town-wide rainbow that followed a sudden thunderstorm.  I was inside a home-improvement store when the deluge hit. Rain pounded the metal roof pan overhead. For a moment, the other shopper in [...]

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My Writing Life

July 4, 2014

Blog hops are catching on like wildfire, and I’m so excited to participate in one thanks to my friend and fellow-blogger, Miller Murray Susen. What’s a blog hop? It’s when a group of bloggers post on a common topic in a loose sequence, and then refer readers to other participating bloggers they admire. For this [...]

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A Stop in the Hall

June 10, 2014

With so many worthy causes to devote one’s time to, there’s not much use campaigning for more interesting hallways by restaurant bathrooms. And yet, being someone who spends a lot of time in these spaces waiting for my children, I wonder: what if these corridors were beautiful? My son peeks around the restroom door on [...]

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Yucky Lunch Box

May 12, 2014

The person who invented the vomit idiom, “take another look at lunch” knew what she was talking about. I’m willing to wager a pack of King Dongs that the phrase struck her, like a wave of nausea, as she emptied her kids’ lunch boxes at the end of the day. Perhaps she was decanting a [...]

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Internet Security

May 1, 2014

I_smell_good_I_smell_so_so_good That’s what’s known as a fantastic website username. And this related password will get you an “Excellent” rating as you type it in: I_smell_so_so_so_good_always_n_not_just_4_today Note the password contains a capital and a number. Sadly, those examples are already taken. But this username may still be available: I_smell_really_good_I_smell_really_really_good It goes with this password: I_smell_really_really_really_good_I_do_4_real_realer_realist_reals Unfortunately, [...]

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April 28, 2014

Ah. It’s a book bag. Oh. It’s a sack of money. A-ha. It’s a bottle of hooch. What do these things have in common? 1) I thought they were babies, and 2) none of them were babies. Yes, I was way off the mark. But in fairness, all three infant imposters were the chesty parcels [...]

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