Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Madame Foreperson

My sister is about to undertake a kitchen renovation. It has long been acknowledged in the family that my sister is the "non-cook", thus providing us with ample amusement when she launches into her cooking questions ("how do I make homemade lemonade?") How she came to detest cooking I cannot tell you. While I was in the kitchen at a young age learning how to make sugo alla nonna, Cara was running and hiding behind the barn until the food was prepared and layed out on the table. So it is with just a tinge of irony that she has decided to rehaul the kitchen, which she formerly referred to as "the room you walk through to get to the back door".

This is my fault, or my brilliant idea, the case for which one remains to be seen. I saw a bright, modern-styled galley kitchen photo in Sunset Magazine recently and took it to Cara. She stood at the back end of the galley as I had her look at her drab and cluttered room and then presented the "wow factor" of the photo. "This is your kitchen layout! The galley, opening into the dining area. You could do this!" And after saying she would never have looked at that picture and put it together with her own kitchen, she exuberantly, giddily agreed. She has come a long way...she now wants a functional kitchen in which she can actually and efficiently {gasp} cook.

The reality of cost has impeded her vision, however. We've spent several hours at hardware stores and tile suppliers to browse colors and countertops and cabinetry. The expense is a formidable obstacle, one that can be overcome, I offer, by utilizing and rearranging the current cabinetry but ordering new, sleek countertops to elongate the room and tie it into the dining area. That I'm using words like "elongate" and "juxtiposition" and "color blending" is a strange occurrence. I'm not an interior designer for goodness sake. But with the bright idea now comes a new job: I will be, it seems, the project foreman, since I'm the the smarty-pants with the vision in the first place. So we're now talking colors, how to "brighten", add "flow" and tie it all together.

I'm enjoying the new job. I like looking at colors, and having already finished repainting my own house, I can now spend someone else's money and unload the countless paint sample cards I've accumulated in the process. I'm giving instructions on lists for her to work through, questions to ask, ordering timeframes to coordinate. It's all rather fun, really. It's just the title I'm having problems with. Foreman. I just don't know that fits for me. I would have preferred "your colorful majesty" but now that I see it in print that does sound a tad pompous. So I think I'll settle for Madame Foreperson instead. Dignified, even with ripped jeans and paint splatters.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Swimming the Linguistic Seas

I love Italy. It is a fact of my life that I have an unending fascination with the history, the architecture, the art, the beauty, the food...so much of what makes up the incredible fabric of this culturally-rich country. It is a dream of ours to one day live there for at least a couple years. To do that, of course, I will need to learn the language.

I have gotten my feet wet during trips to Italy, learning key phrases and conversing in a stunted kind of way to get across my meaning. The Italians have proved themselves incredibly patient with this linguistic slaughtering on my part, smiling and nodding and assisting me frequently, even pretending that I am quite conversant, offering complimenti on speaking Italian molto bene, completely ignoring the fact that I am desperating grasping my dictionary and spitting out pigeon Italian, unable to twirl the r's or get my tongue around the double dipthongs.

I waded into the language a bit further by taking a beginner's Italian class a few years ago, but I still do not have a real indepth knowledge, or even the ability to converse in full sentences, which I really need in order to make the most of our travels, and our hopeful residency there.

So when my dear husband saw a listing for a Conversational Italian class through our local university's continuing education division, he began in earnest to "strongly encourage" me to enroll, mostly to alleviate the pressure to be bothered with the language himself, thus assuring he can continue to rely on my linguistic skills, however meager they may be. "Just do it," he said and thus continued to "encourage" (well, pester) me. So I decided to take the plunge and dive into the rather advanced Italian Conversation class. I'm in over my head. I belly-flopped into the deep end and now find myself desperately treading water.

The other classmates are far more advanced, understand much more, and have a much better grasp of grammar than I. They have been formally learning the language for several years and easily, confidently converse using the imperfect, the past tense, the future tense, indirect object pronouns...all of which are murky waters for me. They give me pitying glances when I try to translate sentences. But I will not let their linguistic arrogance deter me. I shall mutter and grunt out phrases in the present tense, such intelligeable statements as "When I am in Italy two years last ago and me go to north and it is much snowing....", and I will not let their tortured looks of incomprehension stop me!

I just hope that in the midst of this determination I don't get a cramp and sink to the bottom. But for now, and maybe for the duration, I'm gurgling and snorting sea water as I try to keep my head above water. As I listen to their superior flow of words, I may begin to learn more. They may even help me swim the doggy paddle instead of treading in one spot searching for a life preserver. At least that is my hope. If not successful, you may find me on shore, traveling Italy while muttering disconnected Italian words. In the present tense only, of course.

Copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Haircut From Hades

What is it about a bad haircut that just ruins the week? I have had one recently, and it has made me quite miserable! Not that my mood is usually so alterable as to be affected by a minor occurrence, but this...this is unspeakably wretched! An unexpected, bad haircut can affect mood and confidence, as I've come to find out.

It started innocuously enough. Tired of driving across town to my usual stylist, I made an appointment for a salon nearby. I called, ascertained it was an Aveda salon, which usually have extensive training and good reputations, and made an appointment with a cheerful person who we'll call Anna. She assured me that yes, indeed, she was well skilled at cutting fine-textured hair, and at assisting in determining the best short style for my face shape and hair type.

To her credit she did ask me a lot of questions about what I liked, how much time I wanted to spend styling my hair, what I did and didn't like about my previous cut. And then she proceeded to skillfully use her scissors to turn my hair into a snipped and wavy disaster. Oh sure it looked okay enough when I left the salon, as it always does. One stylist I used to go to had been called the "cocktail queen" for her adept use at concocting styling libations for the hair using as many as five products. Her styles, too, always came out looking great...for about five hours. The next four weeks then turn into despair as there is no possible way to recreate the look at home.

This cut was supposed to be "easy style". I followed the verbal instructions and tried to "finger-comb" my hair "while drying from the root" and "allowing the natural curl to create texture". The result looks like a clipped pomeranian with a bad perm. Is it too severe a punishment to wish Anna to be sent to the burning lake of fire? Probably, but my hair looks like it has emerged from there.

Why is it so hard to get a get a decent haircut? I don't ask for much. I don't have expectations of emerging from the salon looking glamorous, or with perfect beauty miraculously being bestowed upon me. No, I ask only a cut that can be consistently styled at home, by me, without spending an hour fighting with my goops and brushes and hair dryer and curling iron, which is the sad state of affairs in which I currently find myself. And for all that effort I am rewarded with a look akin to a short bouffant gone bad, discontent, and a bad mood causing me to throw down my brush and scream, "I HATE this stinking haircut!"

So it will grow out. I know that. But until then, you'll find me weeping in frustration in my bathroom, muttering about the price of bad haircuts and slicking on more styling paste in a desperate attempt to tame the 'do and be able to walk with my head held high again.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider