Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas Report

The Wednesday before Christmas, I finished wrapping the presents, baking the cookies, and got the house cleaned for the holidays. I welcomed my mother-in-law into our home, cooked a nice dinner, put the children to bed. Around 10 p.m. my stomach started feeling a little funky. Around 1 a.m. I threw up in the downstairs bathroom.

Yes, that's right, boys and girls, after all that talk about leaving myself time to spiritually prepare for Christmas, the minute I was ready to walk through the Great Mystical Christmas Doorway, I got sick. Two days in bed-terrible nausea-deeply exhausted-nothing jolly about it- sick.

Ain't life grand?

The problem with nausea is that it zaps you of strength and hope. You can't look forward to the future--to eating Christmas dinner, for instance, or playing with your Christmas presents--because your thoughts can't escape the nausea you feel as you think them.

So here's what I did: I slept a lot. I let my mother-in-law run the show (thank goodness she was here!). I thought about the people with cancer going through chemo over at the hospital a few miles from my home and prayed that they would feel some relief during Christmas, if only for a few moments. I thought about my friend Kathryn, who is in her fourth month of pregnancy and still experiencing all-day morning sickness. There's nothing I can do to relieve her symptoms, but at least I could for a time feel the deepest empathy. I called her up and said, "Doesn't feeling nauseated all the time suck?" We talked about how tired it makes you, how depressed.

When you've got a stomach bug at Christmas, it's hard to feel merry. But Christmas stripped bare of all its ho-ho-ho's isn't all bad. It reminds you that all sorts of folks feel like hell all the time, and that's it particularly awful to feel like hell at Christmas. There's not much you can do but say "I feel your pain" and actually mean it, but I think maybe that helps a little. Being sick is so isolating when everyone around you is healthy.

I'm still sick as I write this--apparently this bug lasts between two and three weeks--though I feel much better and not nauseated, just sort of tired all the time. I'm not alone--a bunch of people around here have the same thing--which makes it better, and once I learned that the bug would hang around for a while, I just decided to ignore it and get on with things. So it's not so bad.

Christmas day was lovely. Santa Claus came (despite Will's Christmas Eve fears that the big man would be a no show due to Will's evil ways), the roast beef turned out nicely (I used the recipe from the January Cook's Illustrated, and it worked perfectly), and everyone seemed happy with their new stuff. Wednesday and Thursday we hung out in our pjs and played board games and read. I stayed in my pajamas until 2 p.m. on Thursday, a personal best.

Slowly we're emerging from the Christmas dream state. My husband went to work today. I've been surreptitiously carting toys up to the boys' room and doing loads of laundry. Jack is already anticipating Christmas next year.

Tomorrow we'll take down the tree and put away the decorations. I'm ready. But I think in spite of being sick, I'll look back on this Christmas fondly. We visited with friends, went to a Boxing Day party, and enjoyed seeing Jack play a Wise Man in the Christmas pageant. I managed not to feel too sorry for myself, and I got all of the books I asked for. Really, it was lovely.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's Eight O'Clock in the Morning ...

And I'm in the mood to write something funny and cheerful, though I have absolutely no idea of what to write about. I will spend my morning cleaning Will's room to bring it up to Health Codes before my mother-in-law's arrival on Wednesday. My big plan--Martha Stewart, take note--is to throw piles and piles of things in a box and shove the box in the attic until after Christmas.

Will's room is a collection of tee-tiny pieces scattered hither and yon. Lately, he's been getting sent to his room quite a bit (the last month or so his automatic response to any sort of instruction has been "No!", which is tiresome, as is being called "Stupid Head" at least three times a day during the Christmas season), and during his protracted stays, he gets out all his little pieces of things and examines them, makes up secret lives for them, and then throws them under his bed or in his closet with all the other little pieces, which, when they get a little time alone together, seem to breed as steadily as rabbits.

Put simply, Will has too much stuff. He's the younger brother, so he gets all the stuff that once belonged to Jack, and then he gets new stuff every Christmas and birthday. This stuff adds up to a ridiculous amount of toys, puzzles, games, guys, Legos, Lincoln Logs, crayons, books, trucks and so on. I do occasional purges, to no avail.

And I haven't even talked about the food and drink he secrets away in his room while no one's looking. And the hermit crab carcasses and the two cups of kidney beans scattered all over the place--where did they come from? (Well, I know where the hermit crab carcasses come from--they come from dead hermit crabs, several of whom, while alive, Will so thoughtfully released into the wild. We are done--done, I tell you--with hermit crabs in this family, no matter how much the boys beg the next time we go to the beach).

You can imagine that writing all this down is increasing my enthusiasm for tackling the project. But it will be so satisfying when I finish. And it will last all of five minutes, but it will be a lovely five minutes. Maybe I'll drink a cup of tea in there and read poetry and not think one single thought about the futility of cleaning a five-year-old's room a week before Christmas, when two million more little pieces will roll in, and I will be done for.

Friday, December 14, 2007

An Advent Story

This story begins many years ago, when I was packing up my things to move and listening to the radio. There was a story about a recently re-released recording, a symphony of sorts, composed around the looping of a tape of an old man singing a hymn. Over and over, the old man sang the hymn, and little by little strings were added on top of his singing, and then a full orchestra.

At some point, I stopped packing and just listened. It was such a compelling, beautiful piece, and I'd never heard anything like it. I wrote down the title and tucked it away somewhere where I wouldn't lose it. This was in the early '90s, in the days before or I-Tunes, but I thought maybe after I moved I could go to a record store and see if I could find a copy or order one.

Of course, I never did find where I put the piece of paper with the title on it, and I couldn't remember exactly what the title was. Eventually I forgot about it. And then, some years later, I heard the recording on the radio again. Did I write down the title then? I don't think I did--I must have thought that this time I would remember.

But later, when I thought how much I'd like to listen to that music again, memory failed. I'd do occasional Google searches, seeing if I could hit on the phrase that would help Google work its magic--"old man singing blood of the lamb hymn"--to no avail.

And then yesterday, a day that found me feeling vaguely despondent, feeling God was far away and not accessible through the usual available channels--through church, through books, through other people--I was catching up on one of my favorite blogs, Don't Eat Alone: Thoughts on Food, Faith, Family and Friends, and I found this:

Since I worked brunch today, Ginger and I both got to be home together tonight, each at our respective MacBooks writing away. I plugged the speakers into mine and turned on Gavin Bryars’ recording, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which is a classical piece built around the singing of a London street person. Here is Bryars’ description:

In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realized that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith.

And, of course, that was it. Finally, finally the song had come back to me! I always knew I'd find it again. Oh, it felt like a gift. I downloaded it from I-Tunes and have been listening to it ever since.

Here's what I wrote in my journal yesterday afternoon while listening:

Sometimes I try to think my way into faith and faith eludes me.

The last week or so I have felt stressed and not connected to the Advent stories I've tried to read. I've gone to Morning Prayer and for the most part not felt prayerful or moved. Do I even believe? I want to believe and I wish I did and most times I do and sometimes I don't.

There is something about this song, how it starts with one human voice, one voice looping over and over for almost five minutes:

Jesus' blood has never failed me yet,
never failed me yet,
never failed me yet,
Jesus' blood has never failed me yet
It's one thing I know
For he loves me so

The loop slowing, speeding up, and then overlaid lightly with strings, harps, building into a full orchestra, another voice, the raw, broken voice of Tom Waits, and the beauty of it, which is beyond what I can say, other than it makes me hopeful that there is a God too big for words to contain.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Sweater that Would Not Die

This is the picture of the sweater I will be sending to my brother for Christmas. Note: I will be sending him the picture, not the sweater. The sweater has sleeve problems. The sleeves are too big in circumference. When I try to put them in using the various methods suggested by the experts, the sweater looks bunchy and bad. My plan is to frog the sleeves down a bit and decrease the number of stitches by ten.

Edit: My plan is to frog the sleeves down a bit and decrease the number of stitches by ten when I get around to it. Which may be before Christmas, it may be after Christmas. In the meantime, my brother will have this lovely little picture to keep him warm.

A Christmas Carol

Yesterday Jack and I went Christmas caroling after church. I did not want to go Christmas caroling after church. I'd been at church since 9:30 that morning (pageant rehearsal). I'm a big fan of God and everything, but an hour or so of church will do it for me on any given Sunday.

I tried to talk Jack out of caroling, but he wouldn't budge. He's the world's biggest fan of Christmas carols, and he loves to sing. I suppose I could have put my foot down. But who wants to discourage an 8-year-old kid from singing and being part of church life and all that? Not me, brother.

So off we went. Now let me point out a few things: It was seventy degrees outside. It was December 9th, which is entirely too early for caroling. Very few people are truly in the Christmas spirit by December 9th. Oh, we may be in full-on Christmas prep mode, we may have freezers full of cookies and presents under the tree, we may want to feel Christmas-y, but it's not time yet. Personally, I don't truly get in the Christmas spirit until around December 22nd. Often, around the 16th of December, I start to despair because I'm not in the spirit yet, and there are years when I never get there. But normally, right around the 22nd, when it gets dark so early and the lights on the tree seem especially beautiful and necessary, the spirit enters me and I'm as giddy as a child.

But I felt no giddiness as we set forth down Kimberly Road yesterday. I felt awkwardness, since most of the group was from the choir, and like all choirs, bands and theater groups, there was a certain clubbiness. So for the ten trillionth time in my life, I felt on the outside of things. Plus, our choir has an inordinate number of young men, and so there was a lot of joking that felt less than, well, spiritual.

But at every house we went to, Jack was front in center when the singing began, and he was clearly having a good time, so for the first thirty minutes or so, I was a trooper. Look at me, I praised myself, aren't I a wonderful parent, sacrificing my afternoon for my child's happiness.

Around minute thirty-one, a definite crankiness set in. I was tired of feeling socially awkward. I'm 43 and overall have come to terms with my misfit state, have learned to suffer through it quietly, have learned to silence the defensive thoughts that creep into my mind when I'm hanging out at the edge of large groups ('I bet I'm smarter than they are, I bet my friends are smarter than they are, I bet if they knew I was a published author, they'd talk to me,' etc.). But sometimes it still wears me out.

I was also plain tired. I was wearing heels. We were walking up hills and down gravel driveways. I'm an alto and was having a hard time finding a comfortable place to pitch my voice. I kept telling myself maybe a redeeming moment would come, something wonderful that would make it all worthwhile. Look for the light, I told myself, blah blah blah. Quite frankly, I wasn't buying it. Some events have no redeeming moments. Some things are just a waste of time and the only lesson to be learned is Don't Do This Again Ever.

Oh, I was getting crankier by the minute. Neither the church rector or curate had joined us, and I found that irritating. Okay, so they'd been up since dawn probably, preparing for the Sunday services, but still, even if they'd only joined us for thirty minutes, it would have been meaningful. It would have made the caroling feel more communal, less like a field trip for the choir. It felt wrong to me that they weren't there.

And we were caroling in the neighborhood around the church, a country club neighborhood. Why weren't we spreading good tidings and cheer downtown, where people could actually use a little Christmas comfort? Why were we circling a golf course instead?

Finally, seventeen hours or so later, we reached Marian's house. Marian is an elderly parishioner who still dyes her hair jet black, Lord love her. We stood outside her door and sang two songs, and after we were done, she invited us in. Oh, please God, no, I thought. Please, don't make us go in. I turned to Jack. "Do you want to cut out and go home?" Of course he didn't. He never does.

So into Marian's house we trooped. She led us into her small dining room. She brought out a cold litre of caffeine-free Diet Coke, my most hated beverage, a stack of plastic cups, and a package of store-bought mini-cupcakes. Kate poured each of us a cup of Coke. Ben asked Marian if there was anything else she'd like us to sing. "Oh, 'Silent Night'!" she exclaimed. "My grandfather used to sing that to me in German every Christmas."

So we sang "Silent Night," and Marian teared up and said, "That was my first Christmas present of the year, thank you so much," and we trooped back out into the balmy afternoon.

I was still cranky, and if you want to know the truth about it, I was still pretty sorry I'd come. But even I could recognize that I had been received into Marian's home in the way we are all meant to receive strangers into our homes. And I suspect that in years to come what I'll remember about the one time I went Christmas caroling after church is Marian and her Diet Coke, which tasted so good after walking all that way in my high heels, and her lovely little cupcakes from Kroger, which were delicious.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Is It Time to Panic Yet?

Every day this week I wanted to sit down and write something here. I wrote a bunch of posts in my head. But I never did sit down and write, because all week I was constantly seized with the feeling that I had to be doing something to prepare for Christmas. So much to be done, so much to be done!

It finally occurred to me yesterday that I was stressing way too much for the the first week of December. Especially given that I've already got most of my shopping done, which for me is the hardest part (that and the wrapping--I'm much too left-handed to wrap presents).

The primary source of my stress is the sweater I'm knitting for my brother. I can knit just about anything, but the finishing kills me, particularly necklines and sleeves (shoulder and side seams aren't a problem). It's a v-neck sweater, and I'm having a bit of a problem with the V in the neck. First, the instructions, badly translated from the German (it's a Lang pattern) are useless. I followed them to a tee and did not get a V. So now I'm having to make it up as I go along. This could take years.

Yesterday morning I started to despair as I knit and watched "The Waltons" (a favorite show of my youth). This sweater is eating up all my available time with its infinite do-overs. I felt the need for a cigarette, a sure sign that the stress was taking over (especially given that I haven't smoked in ten years). I turned off the TV and thought. What if I don't finish this sweater? What if I don't get the Christmas cards out? What if I don't get all the out-of-town packages mailed on Monday, per my plan?

Well, the world would fall apart, naturally. Christmas would come to a dead halt. History would collapse upon itself and the baby Jesus would never get born in the first place.

Clearly, I needed a little perspective.

And then, in a flash, I had an idea. I could take a picture of my brother's almost-finished sweater, and if I don't finish the sweater in time to mail it with the rest of the gifts I'm sending, then I will put the picture in a nice box and wrap the box and put a pretty bow on top, and I will send the picture in the sweater's stead.

I like this idea so much, I may not finish my brother's sweater on purpose. Because a picture in the box will make him laugh. And it will make me laugh to send it.

On top of that, I did finish the quilt for my sister-in-law (which I will take a picture of before I send it and post the picture here) and it looks grand, despite the fact that there are no right angles or straight lines anywhere, and its general shape is more that of a rhombus than a rectangle. But still, it's really cool and will make her happy, and that will make my brother happy. Happiness all around! Christmas is saved!

So today I don't feel so stressed out. I have some other things I want to write about, and maybe I will write some more later today or tomorrow. I want to write about how I've been looking for light every day and how cool that's been, how when you're driving and keeping an eye out for light--the sun breaking through the clouds, a tree that has held onto its outrageously bright yellow leaves, etc.--the world becomes amazingly beautiful in the most ordinary places. So, more later. I'm off to chill out some more.

Monday, December 3, 2007

And so it begins ...

Last night Jack set fire to the Advent wreath.

It was a brief, small fire. The wreath is artificial, and plastic evergreens, as it turns out, burn slowly. Jack wanted so badly to light the first candle of Advent, but he doesn't know enough about matches to know to hold them sideways and not vertically. The flame consumed the match quickly and burned Jack's thumb. Jack dropped the still-lit match. The wreath caught fire. I blew it out.

You know, you plan things, you map them out, you dream of perfect results, and then real life kicks in. I had imagined the first Sunday of Advent as a holy day. I awoke early to read some Advent devotions. Jack woke early, too. So did Will. Will wanted to watch TV. I said no. Will threw a fit. I sent him to his room. Jack set up camp in my favorite reading chair. I barked at him to get out. Holy, holy, holy, indeed.

My husband had to be out of the house all afternoon. I planned on finishing the last bit of the sweater I'm making for my brother. I planned to knit in a meditative sort of way and think about hope and joy. For the last two months, my children have been wonderfully self-sufficient, so I thought I could get away with this. But yesterday they couldn't leave me alone for two seconds, couldn't find a thing to do that didn't involve me driving them somewhere or supervising. I didn't sit down to knit until 9 p.m.

I have found that when I want most to connect to the spiritual side of things, I am least able to. I think that happens to a lot of people at Christmas time. You want to feel the Christmas spirit, and what you end up feeling is irritable and cranky and hateful. You want to wait for the light, but what you're mostly waiting for is for everyone to leave you the heck alone.

Today, I'm not going to try so hard. I'm going to read my devotions and take a walk. I'm going to bake Christmas cookies and put them in the freezer. In the afternoon, I'll see if Will wants to help me bake banana bread. I'll try not to scream at the children too much for being, well, children. And I'll try to remember that Christmas is a beginning, not an end unto it itself. The light remains even after the last Advent candle burns out (or the wreath does).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kitchen Aid

On Saturday, Jack asked me if he could officially be my kitchen assistant. I said yes and immediately put him to work peeling potatoes. So, okay, it took him thirty minutes to peel eight potatoes, and it took me thirty minutes to clean up the potato peels flung hither and yon, but I think we're at the beginning of something good. I've always wanted my own personal sous chef.

Jack has been helping me in the kitchen since he was two. We've made a lot of cookies together and kneaded a lot of dough. Around the time Jack turned three, Amy hipped us to Mollie Katzen's Pretend Soup cookbook for kids, and together we made just about every recipe in the book.

Jack hadn't shown much interest in cooking for awhile, until we signed up to serve refreshments at the church coffee hour. The first time we had coffee hour duty, we made brownies and chocolate chip cookies. They were a hit. Jack was a hit. He really, really gets into serving refreshments at coffee hour, and it's hard not to like an enthusiastic eight-year-old who's handing you a sumptuous brownie (Joy of Cooking recipe, mid-century edition, make sure eggs are at room temperature, etc.) in the name of God.

Last week, we made three Bundt cakes for coffee hour--pumpkin spice, coffee cake, and chocolate. I thought we were possibly overdoing it. Our church is of the Episcopalian variety, and there are some of us who are not often moved by the Spirit to stay after church and socialize. But there is always a core group of folks who do, probably about one and a half Bundt cake's worth.

Last week, coffee hour was in the Parish Hall, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from the main church building. It is a hop, skip and a jump that many won't make, not even for a cup of coffee, which is why coffee hour is usually held right outside the church doors. It ups the numbers significantly. However, on Sunday last, our good rector announced that coffee hour would be in the Parish Hall because of inclimate weather, and furthermore, he expected people to attend because Jack was serving refreshments. This child is serving God by serving you food, Father Bob said. In other words, Show up or else.

And show up they did. They ate all the cakes. The men shook Jack's hand, and the women all said to me, "Aren't you lucky to have a son that cooks?" I concurred. Later, my friend Sally, a long time church member, said, "They ate three Bundt cakes? At coffee hour?" Her mouth fell open in a shocked capital O. Clearly, the mass partaking of the cakes was unprecedented at our little church.

So Jack came victorious into Thanksgiving week. He made another Bundt cake to take to my mother-in-law's house in Charlotte. And on Friday night, preparing for our second Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, Jack made two pumpkin pies. By himself. All I did was help him pour the pumpkin pie mix into the pie shells. I wasn't even in the kitchen for the most part. And the pies were good. They were, in fact, excellent.

Today at coffee hour, Miss Betty came up to me and handed me her famous Ginger Snap cookie recipe. I've been looking for a good ginger snap recipe for ages. The ones I've tried have always yielded cakey ginger snaps, not snappy ones. Miss Betty promised me her recipe would rock my world. Okay, she's seventy-four and she didn't say that, but that's what her promise implied.

As soon as we got home, Jack went on ginger snap duty. I helped him measure out the vegetable shortening, but otherwise he was on his own. He was cool with that. And I have to tell you, what he ended up with are the best ginger snaps I've ever had. So of course I will share the recipe with you, because everyone needs to get snappy sometimes. These would make great Christmas cookies--have your kids bake some today!

Miss Betty's Ginger Snaps

You'll need:

2 C flour
1 Tbs ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup Crisco
1 C sugar
1 unbeaten egg
1/4 cup molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients (through salt). Miss Betty, of course, recommends sifting, but I don't have a sifter, so I told Jack just to whisk stuff real good.

3. In a separate, large bowl, cream shortening. Add sugar gradually until shortening and sugar are well blended. Beat in egg and molasses.

4. By hand, mix dry ingredients into shortening mixture. Form teaspoon-sized balls of dough by rolling in palms of hands. Roll dough balls in a pie pan of granulated sugar; cover entire surface.

5. Place cookies two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for ten minutes, or until tops are slightly rounded, cracked and lightly browned.

6. Remove and cool on rack.

Friday, November 16, 2007

That Time of Year (Already)

"On the first Sunday in December, I sit in church and hear these words:

Now is the time to wake out of sleep: for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed

And I think: now is the time to make a purposeful trip to the supermarket and do the shopping for all the baking that needs to be done. Now is the time to make sure all the church programs and neighborhood parties and school activities are penciled in on the calendar so we don't overbook like we did last year. And if we really are going to get a goose for Christmas dinner, then now is the time to order it from the butcher.

Now is the time to pick up last year's party dress from the cleaners! Now is the time to get up in the attic and dig out the Christmas decorations! Now is the time to get the children to the barber, and see if we can't get the carpets shampooed before the open house on the fourteenth, and call the university to see if they have any decent tickets left for this year's performance of A Christmas Carol."

--Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, "Advent"

It is two and half weeks before the first week of Advent, and yet I am already feeling behind in my Christmas preparations. Which is, of course, insane, except for the fact that it's not, not if I want to be intentional about Advent and Christmas this year.

I don't mind that Christmas is a big blend of the religious and the secular, but in my experience, if something's going to get squeezed out of the equation on any given year, it's the religious stuff. Too much glitzy and glimmery competition. The religious celebration part of it sinks beneath a pile of wrapping paper and credit card receipts.

Don't get me wrong, I love the glittery aspects of Christmas. I love trees and presents and shiny paper. I love secular Christmas carols (though I could do without hearing them until mid-December) and baking sugar cookies with the kids. I love the Christmas specials--"Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "A Year without a Santa Claus," and "Rudolph."

But I always feel sad those Christmases when I don't feel the true Christmas spirit, which comes, for me, from feeling connected to the wonder and excitement of Jesus's birth.

So this year I'm planning ahead. I'm already thinking presents. I'm already thinking Christmas cookie decorations and wrapping paper and extra scotch tape. I'm already thinking, 'Time to address the Christmas card envelopes.' Because when Advent begins on December 2nd, I want to be there. I don't want to be so distracted by ten million other Christmasy things that I forget to put out the Advent wreath until mid-December.

This year we're going to do up Advent around here. We're going to be talking about waiting. We're going to be talking about wonder. And, sure, we'll be talking about Santa Claus, too. My big hope is, if I get the running around done now, there will be time to talk about everything. This year I want time to ponder, to sing, to listen, time to hear the animals talk, time to watch for the light.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This and That

I been sick. Just the wiped out, slightly feverish kind of sick, nothing to visit the doctor over. It's a drag, though, when there's so much to be done around here.

On Friday, before I got sick, Amy and I took the kids to the playground. We talked about this and that, about Thanksgiving plans and whether or not I should take up scrapbooking (Amy, a scrapbooking enthusiast, thinks I should). We talked about the December Martha Stewart Living, which Amy, a subscriber, had a copy of. As Heather of Pneuma pointed out in a recent comment, it's a sort of disappointing cover. I am tired of seeing people on the cover of their own magazines. Tired of seeing Oprah, tired of seeing Rachel Ray (well, I'm tired of seeing Rachel Ray period--talk about not my cup of tea), tired of seeing Paula Deen (though I love her and her million pounds of butter in every dish). Now it's true, we haven't seen Martha on a cover in ever-so-long, but on the Christmas issue? It's just not working for me.

The December issue of MSL is now on the stands, but I have resisted buying it. I'm doing some Christmas prep, but once you get the December Martha Stewart Living, you're in it. You've accepted that Christmas is coming and that you will make all sorts of plans that you will regret later (from deciding to knit everyone socks this year to agreeing to bake five dozen cookies for your kid's school Christmas party). You've accepted the hours of your life you will hand over to wrapping presents, including the time it will take to track down the scissors and tape, which never, ever land back in the handy-dandy "wrapping center" you bought at Organized Living three years ago. You've accepted the miles you will travel to buy your loved ones Christmas presents, knowing your gifts can never compete with the electronic gizmos that rain down on them from distant relatives. You've accepted exhaustion, bitterness, and the inevitable three-to-five pound weight gain.

I am not ready for that yet. So you will have to wait until after Thanksgiving for my December MSL review.

I did purchase one last November magazine this week. I had to choose (not being made of money) between Better Homes and Gardens and Country Living, though, honestly, it wasn't really a contest. Here's what I have to say to the BH&G editors: Too much content! Chill out! I simply cannot process BH&G anymore. As with Real Simple, after I'm done reading (which can take days, if not weeks), I feel overwhelmed. Where to start? Turn my backyard into a fish pond? Remodel my kitchen? Buy all new furniture?

If they only published one issue a year, that would be great. But each issue is like one year's worth of material. You read BH&G two months in a row, and you start to wonder, 'Do they really expect me to completely revise my life twelve times a year?' Because every month it's a whole new set of furniture, seedlings, patio styles. A whole new set of expectations as to how I should be living my life. Enough already! BH&G is a magazine I will buy in March (when I want to get psyched about gardening) and in December (when I buy every magazine published).

So Country Living it was. CL is fast becoming one of my favorite mags. It's like the poor man's Martha Stewart Living. Reading CL, you never feel like you should have a second home (or two), you don't even feel like you ought to live in the country (a plus for all us suburban dwellers). The content is fairly simple: some crafting, but not too much (like MSL, the November CL has a how-to article on candle-making, but this one seems actually do-able, and it's very cute--making candles in flea market tea cups), a few good recipes, a few pages of antiques, a couple of decorating tips. The lay-outs are attractive and enticing, but do not produce anxiety--as in, I love that look, but lack the two million dollars it would take to achieve it.

Does the November Country Living pass the holiday test? How could it not? Throw in some antiques, some turkey recipes, open up with a very nice spread on decorating your Thanksgiving table with do-able decorations, mention a flea market or two, and everyone's feeling that Thanksgiving love.

The only thing that gives me pause about CL is its ads. They carry an enormous number of drug ads (the kinds that run for three pages because of all the warnings) and lots of just generally cheesy ads that don't run in MSL or BG&H (but that you might see in, I don't know, Depressed Grandmothers' Monthly), and there are pages and pages of them up front. It's like one page of an article, three pages of cheesy ads, another page of article, another three pages of cheese. It's a little distracting--just as you're getting a flea market buzz or a cool new way to craft with felt buzz, there's that ad for a medication to take care of a certain problematic feminine dryness or what have you.

Back to the playground. As Amy and I stood by the swingset, we concurred that as far as we're concerned, Martha Stewart's true gift is as an educator. The parts of MSL that I dig the most are when she gets down to brass tacks: Listen up, gals, and I'll tell you how to get that grout cleaned once and for all. Amy testified that because of MS, she knows how to fold a fitted sheet, no small accomplishment, we can all agree. I personally can be found avoiding housekeeping by reading MS's Homekeeping Handbook, which could not be handier. You just know you're getting the straight domestic scoop from Martha. Her recipes don't always work, everyone's sick of hearing about whatever house she's bought and decorated now, but, baby, if you've got a mildew problem, Martha's your girl.

So that was our afternoon, trying to keep the boys from killing each other (actually, trying to keep my boys from killing each other; Amy's boy was just fine and not the least bit homicidal) and trying to keep little Riley from falling off the swing, although she wanted so badly to swing on the big kids' swing, and she's only two, bless her heart. So she swang and she fell, swang and fell, but she kept getting back up, and she didn't cry once.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Holiday Magazine Watch: November Martha Stewart Living

Reading the November issue of Martha Stewart Living has made me reassess my review of the November Real Simple. I realize now that in order to properly evaluate a holiday magazine, you have to have an aesthetic in place. You have to have standards.

For a holiday magazine to be a true success, it must be infused with the spirit of the holiday--i.e. all content should speak to the holiday at hand, even indirectly. For instance, the November MSL has an article about vacuum cleaners, and you might wonder, vacuum cleaners? Their Thanksgiving significance is--? But of course vacuuming is perhaps the number one chore of the holiday season, which begins with Thanksgiving. A vacuum cleaner article in the November issue could not be more timely.

Ultimately, the November Real Simple failed the spirit of the season test. Because it ended with recipes for Thanksgiving fare, it did leave me feeling a bit Thanksgiving-ish, but the feeling was short-lived. A good holiday magazine will stay with you for days, if not your entire life (ref. Martha Stewart Living, December 2000). There were far too many articles about things that had nothing to do with Thanksgiving or getting ready for the holidays. An article on colds--definite January material. "Garages" to park your various i-pods and cell phones--no, no, no.

Real Simple, please bow to your master, Martha Stewart Living. Note the obsessive detail to serving platters and gravy boats. Note the long how-to article on candle making. Pumpkin candles, darling little orange pumpkin candles that you can do yourself (if you have three or four years to devote to candle-making). Note page after page on making the upper crust of a pie crust, the fluted-disk crust, the faux-lattice crust, the absolutely insane leaf-lattice crust. Note the visit to a cranberry bog. It doesn't let up.

I admit, there was one article that failed the holiday spirit test for me: "By a Thread," about using needlepoint and crewelwork to update upholstery. The subject didn't bother me as much as the the photographs illustrating the article. The photographer lit the rooms so as to evoke summer mornings and bright afternoons. In one picture, green leaves show through a bedroom window.

In a January issue, this sort of lighting would be welcome, a harbinger of good things to come. But in a November issue? All wrong. November has its own particular, evocative light. A November issue of a magazine should help us conjure crisp fall days teetering on the edge of winter. In November, we will still brave the outdoors to rake leaves and tidy up the yard, but we want the house cozy when we get in.

Despite this singular lapse, the November Martha Stewart Living is well worth the admission price. It is a keeper and the standard by which the other 2007 November magazines will be judged by.

Holiday Magazine Watch

It's that time of year, when the holiday magazines appear on the stands, winking brightly at us beneath the grocery store's florescent lights, promising perfect Thanksgivings and Christmases if only we'll shell out the $3.99 cover price.

I am a sucker for magazines in general, though in recent years I've curbed my profligate monthly purchasing. The fact is, you could subscribe to Family Circle or Women's Day for one calendar year, save all your issues, and then just recycle through your stash ever after. If there's a new issue of FC or WD on the stands, I can promise you the following headlines: Walk Off the Weight! Twenty Minute Dinners Your Family Will Love! Ten Medical Tests You Need to Know About!

But when it comes to the holidays, my heart melts. I actually save most November and December issues of MS's Living and lesser magazines as well, just because when I start feeling Christmassy, I want some literature to feed the fire.

My first holiday magazine of this season is the November Real Simple. Now, as we all know, Real Simple is neither real, nor is it simple. I usually start having a mild anxiety attack about five pages in. The "Why Not?" feature gives you six ways to simplify your life. I don't have time to simplify my life in six ways. In fact, having six ways to simplify my life actually complicates my life. What are these people thinking about?

As someone else has said, if Real Simple were actually simple, it would be three pages xeroxed and stapled. Instead, this issue comes in at nearly 400 pages. How many of those pages are ads, you wonder? Really, almost all of them.

The fact, is Real Simple is pretty much about all the neat things you can buy in any given month. This issue has a spread on what you need to fill your cleaning bucket (p. 135). You won't believe it: you'll need rubber gloves and a scrub brush. Who woulda thunk it?

There are articles about what you'll need (and how much you'll need to spend) on stuff to keep your skin from looking all wrinkly and the lovely hostess gifts that it would have never occurred to you to purchase before reading this article. The RS editors kindly tell us which dish rack works best (the one that costs $20, natch) and present a selection of makeup pencils that will be sure to make us look just like the twenty-year-old models batting their eyelashes at us from the pages.

When RS gives us actual content, I often quite like it. My favorite section is where readers have written in with advice on a particular subject (this month, Thanksgiving Shortcuts). There's an article on the art and etiquette of invitations that was full of good, commonsense tips about dropping people from your party list and ensuring no one thinks your invitation includes their twin Boston terriers. And while I felt wildly irritated reading the article on using screens to divide living space (for what the screens cost, you could add another room off the kitchen), I thought their ideas for Thanksgiving decorations were nice and--get this--simple.

Did I finish this issue of RS feeling ready for Thanksgiving? Since we go to to my mother-in-law's for Thanksgiving (my husband comes from one of those fabulous southern families where about 75 people show up for Thanksgiving dinner at Cousin Jane's house and there's at least eleven green bean casseroles and seventeen plates of cornbread), I don't have much Thanksgiving prep to worry about. But I did enjoy reading the recipes and looking at the pictures of the stuffing (my favorite Thanksgiving food), and I felt sufficiently cozy and pilgrim-like when I finally put the magazine down.

Next up: the November Martha Stewart's Living.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Arbitrary Housewife

This fall has not turned out as I planned.

First of all, it was hot almost all the way to the end of October. So in fact, it did not feel like fall. It felt like a global warming nightmare: summer, summer, all year long. Now, if you live in Florida, then, hey, no big deal. But here in North Carolina, in the heart of the lovely southeast corridor, you expect fall and winter and spring. We are not Louisiana. We are not Corpus Christi, Texas. We are North Carolina, and Halloween should be brisk.

So, it's been hot. And on top of the heat, there were the above-mentioned global warming fears. Ten years ago, the heat would make you moan and groan. Now it makes you moan and groan and feel guilty every time you fire up the car.

Plus: drought. We're in the middle of a big one here. They say my city has about seventy days of water left. The drought might just be drought, or it might be the result of too much development and, yes, our old friend global warming. So on top of whatever guilt I might be feeling about my excess carbon emissions, now I get to feel guilty for any use of water that might be deemed as excessive, including rinsing dishes and showering longer than three minutes.

All this said, it's hard to work myself up into my usual Autumnal state, which involves feeling vaguely nostalgic for my childhood and the strong desire to can something. It also usually involves a lot of knitting and domestic joie d vivre. But who wants to knit when it's 86 degrees in October?

Cool weather makes me straighten up and fly right. I get things in order. I make lists. Hot weather, particularly out of season, makes me feel schlubby. I don't exactly know what schlubby means, but I know what it feels like. Lethargic. Mildly depressed. Uninterested in canning (which, by the way, I have no idea how to do and nothing to do it with), cooking, baking or other housewifely pursuits. I do housework in unseasonably hot weather, but with no sense of mission.

Now, we have had a couple weeks of moderately cool weather, so I'm hoping things are looking up. I'm also hoping for rain, though none seems to be on the horizon. And I'm definitely hoping my friends who pooh-pooh global warming as a myth and a sham are right. I don't think they are, but a girl can dream.

Now, on a complete tangent ... Jack and Will have been getting along lately. Not all the time, mind you, but for the last month or so they've been tolerating one another reasonably well and sometimes actually just hanging out. Two weeks ago we finally got the matching twin bed for Jack's room, and now every night Will sleeps in Jack's room. I'm actually tempted to make them share a room, but we don't really need Will's room to be anything other than Will's room (thank goodness for walk-in attic space), and I don't want to start any rebellions. But I think it's good they're pseudo-sharing Jack's room. I don't even yell at them (much) for chattering into the night. I'm happy to hear them talk to each other and have fun.

Complete different tangent: Went to Linens 'n' Things for some hand towels today. When I got to the checkout line, there were two people ahead of me with relatively small purchases. The checkout clerk looked slightly, well, not bright. The first transaction took five minutes (should've taken about thirty seconds). The second took approximately two years. At the end of Year Two, when it was clear we would be heading into Year Three, I abandoned ship. Just lay the towels down and walked out the door.

It could be argued that I had been standing in line for almost two years and five minutes, why not wait a couple of more months? But you just get to a point where you can't wait any more. Where incompetence can no longer be tolerated. Where you don't trust yourself to be civil when it's finally your turn. Also, I'd heard the clerk ask the woman in front of me for her phone number at the beginning of the transaction, and I had yet to come up with a polite way to say, "Hell, no, I'm not telling you my phone number. Zip code, what the hey. But if you want my phone number, you can look it up your own damn self."

So I left. And I may never, ever go back.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Coming Home

I'm back from another trip, this time to Kentucky. More school visits. My husband works hard to keep things going while I'm gone, and I have to give him his props: he does a pretty dang good job. I came home to children who were alive, basically clean, and in good spirits. The laundry and dishes were done. The fish had not died (I'm very fond of this fish, despite the fact it has remained nameless for over a year now; it always seems so happy to see me when I walk into the room). Nobody had gone to school lunchless or underpantless. In short, a job well done.

But the fact remains, that my husband, while possessing a healthy respect for cleanliness, cares not one whit for tidiness. He does not do tidy. He does not notice when things are untidy, when the school papers (checked homework, field trip notices, Read-a-thon sheets, Weekly Readers) pile up on the tables and under the tables, when the mail teeters precariously on the edge of the kitchen counter, when the rinsed recyclables seem to have taken up permanent residence beside the sink. Not even on his radar. So my job upon returning from my travels is to tidy up, room by room.

I don't mind tidying, though when I'm away, I always have grander visions of what I'll do when I get home. This time I thought maybe I'd finally whip that attic into order. We have a walk-in attic off the second floor, a wonderful and dangerous thing. In our old house, we had no storage space; here, we have the attic and a garage (detached, no less). The temptation to just chuck everything in there that doesn't fit in the closet is just too great to be resisted, and resist it we don't.

But suddenly, on the road, I envisioned an attic of order and light. An attic where there is a corner devoted to children's toys that are only played with on occasion, and a corner for the Christmas decorations, and a neat stack of file boxes against one wall ...

I remember when I read Anna Karenina a few years back, one of the scenes that struck me most is when Levin is riding home on the train; he's been away for a while and now he is filled with hundreds of plans for what he'll do the minute he arrives. He'll fix this and plant that and get the whole place in ship shape order. When he finally does get home, his energy completely evaporates and all he can do for a couple of days is wander around aimlessly.

That's me. Get me out of the house, all I can do is come up with big plans for the house. Return me to the house, all I can do is tidy up here and there and wonder when I can sneak in a nap.

So today I tidied. The attic remains lumpy and dumpy, everything strewn hither and yon. It is safe for another day--or probably another month. But the living room has been voided of clutter and all the Star Wars paraphenalia has been returned to its rightful owners, and the ten billion catalogs that arrived during the three days I was out of town have been recycled. That's about what I can do for now. That attic will have to wait.

Monday, October 8, 2007


At some point during the cleaning cycle, my house completely loses it. By cleaning cycle I mean this: At the beginning of the cycle, I clean frantically before a) the arrival of out-of-town guests or b) my book group meeting, and then I rest lazily on my laurels for the next two-to-three weeks until I can no longer walk into the upstairs bathroom without sinking into despair. During week two of the cycle, the house teeters on the edge of respectability, and then one day it falls into the abyss of the downright dirty.

It seems to happen suddenly, this falling off, but of course on some level of my psyche I'm observing it as it happens. There is a certain amount of denial that goes on. I do a little touch up around the sink with toilet paper, wiping up little hairs (how I hate them) and bits of dried toothpaste, and I tell myself, "There, that should do it for another week." I dab at spilled juice in the fridge, run a finger over a bookshelf, and feel the house has been rightly restored to its pristine state.

Yesterday I realized that my house and I have come to one of our frequent impasses. It desperately needs to be cleaned, I desperately need to do a dozen other things. But while it's possible to put off dusting for long stretches of time, and the junk drawer can be reorganized at a later date, there comes a time when bathrooms can no longer be ignored. And if the floors aren't swept and vacuumed sooner rather than later, who knows what manner of vermin will feel free to move in and settle down?

So today I am cleaning. I am taking little breaks between the tubs and the beds and the desktops strewn with debris (kleenex, tiny car wheels, game pieces, sundry playing cards, Valentines from 2003, Kohl's price tags) to write this. Right now I am full of energy. After I clean Jack and Will's bathroom, I will probably be done for. It is a horrid bathroom, tiny and full of nooks and crannies. We moved into this house in May, and it is a good 1,000 square feet bigger than our last house (which was quite small--I don't want you to get the idea we've moved into a McMansion or anything), but the bathrooms are miniscule (the house was built in 1965, long before luxury bathrooms were all the rage).

So, take one tiny bathroom, and two boys who are not always possessed of the most accurate aim, and a bathtub filled with assorted plastic pieces that were once attached to other plastic pieces, but now float around rather abstractly by themselves, and add one woman and a spray bottle of Mrs. Meyers, which smells so good but doesn't actually clean all that much (I'll pull out the Comet and other toxic cleaners when nobody is looking), and you have me and my morning. An island of frustration and little tiny hairs. Fingers crossed that I'll survive.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

An Ode to Quilts and the Quilters Who Quilt Them

I am almost finished with the quilted patchwork throw I've been working on since the summer. This is my first foray into anything resembling quilting, and I've really loved it. I don't think I'll ever be a classic quilter; I am too messy for that. But I found a book in the library called Liberated Quilting, and I'm pretty sure this is the art form for me.

Liberated quilting, from what I can tell, is quilting for people who can't color inside the lines. It is for people who understand a little messiness is a natural part of life. It is, in short, for left-handed people who have difficulty sewing in a straight line.

I found Liberated Quilting by Gwen Marsten when I was at the library looking for books on the kind of quilts I would love to be able to make. Most of these quilts are by or are inspired by African American quilters. They have wild colors and rhythms and are rarely symmetrical. Straight lines are not required. And they are beautiful. Incredibly, heart-renderingly beautiful.

This afternoon I sat down with a quilting book I have checked out more than once from the library, and one day will actually buy: The Quilts of Gee's Bend, a whopper of a coffee table book that is filled with the quilts and words of an an amazing group of women, all of whom live or lived in the same tiny community in Alabama and made quilts that are nothing less than art.

You can evaluate these quilts formally if you wish; talk about pattern, rhythm, line. And many of them show the handiwork of artists who intuitively or intentionally made great use of classical elements in their work. But what I love so much is that these great works of art come from the stuff of daily life, work clothes and curtains and dish towels and old Easter dresses. Go look at what's inside your laundry basket and imagine it as material for artwork that I would argue rivals the great modernist painters. Ain't that a pip?

I have always wanted to paint, but I am a lousy painter. But I can see making abstract, liberated quilts. I could see quitting knitting and taking up quilting full time. A confession: I am not one of those people who goes all crazy over yarn. I go into yarn shops and see lots of beautiful stuff, but it doesn't make me swoon. I appreciate it, I like the feel of it, but I don't end up spending hundreds of dollars and then hiding the credit card bill. I have virtually no stash.

Fabric, on the other hand, I could look at for hours. I'm nuts about it. And now I have reason to believe I can actually do something with it. This is big. This is very big.

Monday, October 1, 2007

When You're Too Tired to Cook ...

Last week I went to South Carolina for four days. Three of those days were spent talking to middle school students, doing a song and dance I do about writing and books, signing copies of my books, and hanging out with media specialists, formerly known as librarians.

When I came back, I was exhausted. But there was no time for relaxing--I had a conference to attend here in my hometown, a meeting of the regional Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. My editor, who came down from New York, and I did on an hour-long session on how we work together. I worried that the session would seem solipsistic and self-congratulatory, so both Caitlyn and I focused on how much work it takes to make a book, how many revisions we go through, how getting a book accepted for publication is just the beginning. We spent very little time gushing over one another. We didn't want anyone in the audience to throw up.

Caitlyn was here with her family (after the conference they would continue to drive south, destination Hilton Head), so the weekend also involved entertaining her husband and two little girls, which turned out to be an easy job indeed (her five-year-old daughter and any my almost five-year-old son were clearly separated at birth--they are both a mix of sociability and contrariness, lots of bluster, a good dose of sweetness tempered by an impressive self-assertiveness--they had a great time together). Nonetheless, by the time the weekend was over, I was beat. I'd planned to make salmon and new potatoes for dinner, but when the time came, I couldn't muster the energy.

Sick of pizza, my husband suggested something just as easy and a lot cheaper: spinach linguine. This is something I avoided for a long time after starting Weight Watchers. There are certain meals it's hard for me to control myself around (there is a pasta dish I make with sausage and mozzarella and tomatoes that completely does me in), and spinach linguine has been one of them. It is serious comfort food. But we tried it a few weeks ago and I did the Weight Watcher's approved half cup of pasta, and I was good with that. Also, since I no longer serve it with fabulous, buttered Italian bread, there are fewer calories overall to be consumed.

Here's what you need for spinach linguine: a package of Stouffer's creamed spinach and 12 ounces of linguine. You can use a whole pound, but it spreads the creamed spinach a little thin.

Boil the pasta according to directions and microwave the creamed spinach according to directions. When they're done, mix them together in a large bowl. I add salt, pepper and about a half teaspoon of nutmeg, and if I have parmesan cheese on hand I throw some while I'm mixing things around and also put a bowl of it on the table.

This dish takes as long as it takes to boil the pasta (ten minutes; the creamed spinach microwaves in four). It tastes high in fat, but is actually not. It's warm, it's filling, and best of all, it's quite tasty. Jack likes it. If Will actually ate food, he might like it, too. A girl can dream.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The World's Most Perfect Food

My friend Amy is going to the beach this week. That is the only reason I'm not completely despondent over the resurgence of warm weather we're having--back in the high 80s after a week of mid-70s. Just when it was feeling like fall, summer comes back for another slap in the face. But since it will make the beach nicer for Amy and her family, I can live for another week of unbearable weather (which will be even more unbearable in South Carolina, where I'm headed this afternoon for three days of school visits, where I'll talk about my books and be asked "Where do you get your ideas" approximately 587 times).

Anyway, for me, the beach is about one thing: sitting on the screened porch and eating pimento cheese crackers. My husband and I live on pimento cheese crackers at the beach, supplemented by tall, icy glasses of Coke. This year, for the first time, Jack got into the game, too. He'd resisted pimento cheese for a full eight years, but finally, he could resist no longer. It happens to the best of us.

I never had pimento cheese until I moved back to North Carolina after several years of graduate school up North. I'd heard of it, seen it in little plastic containers in the Food Lion, but had not once been moved to eat it. I don't know what happened. I think my husband, a native North Carolinian, must have challenged me to try it (he did the same thing with liver mush, which is also downright yummy when fried up in a pan). I tried it. I liked it. And one day I made some myself.

Unlike banana pudding, you can have pimento cheese whenever you want it. However, I like keeping things seasonal and special, and besides, pimento cheese isn't exactly health food. So I make pimento cheese twice a year--beach week and the Christmas holidays. It is simple to make, and so delicious that you can't stop eating it. Here's the recipe:

Pimento Cheese

8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz. pimentos, drained
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs. dijon mustard
1/2 cup onion, minced as fine as you can get it
enough mayo to hold everything together (start with 2-3 tablespoons and keep adding til you have it like you like it)

Pretty much you just mix everything together and let it sit for twenty-four hours before you eat it. When we go to the beach, I make pimento cheese as soon as we've checked into our house, so it will be ready by lunch the next day. It really is important to let it sit so all the flavors can blend in with each other.

When grating the cheese, try to grate it so the pieces are kind of short and stubby. That gives the pimento cheese a more pleasing texture.

I haven't given an exact measurement for the mayo because mayonnaise is a very personal thing. I personally can't stand too much, where the mayonnaise overwhelms everything else, but you have to have enough to hold things together and to make the cheese spreadable. Usually I start with a couple of tablespoons and just keep adding until it's right.

Serve on sturdy crackers--I use those Stone Wheat ones you get in the semi-fancy cracker section of the supermarket.

Once you have eaten homemade pimento cheese, you will never turn back.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Last night I made my son a peanut butter sandwich. It was the first peanut butter sandwich I'd made him in six years.

He wouldn't eat it. In fact, he was pretty sure it would kill him if he did.

When Jack was two (yep, I'm outing Fine Young Son No. 1, because I'm tired of writing Fine Young Son No. 1 and No. 2) he ate a cashew at playgroup. I didn't think a thing about it. A minute or two later, he started to complain that his throat hurt. Suck it up, I told him, or something equally as warm and maternal. He continued to complain. I thought he must be tired and ready to go home, so we left.

In the car, he complained that his eyes itched. Checking him out in the rearview mirror, I saw the skin around his eyes was a blotchy pink. I finally made the connection between the cashew and Jack's symptoms. As it happened, we were right by an Urgent Care facility, so I whipped into the parking lot, grabbed Jack, and ran inside, screaming that someone had to see Jack that very minute, that he was having an allergic reaction to nuts. I thought he was going to die.

Long story short: Jack was indeed allergic to nuts. He didn't go into anaphylactic shock on that day, nor has he ever. In fact, he has only had one other allergic reaction. About six months later, I bought some Nestle's Chocolate Chunks to make cookies with. I knew that Nestle's chocolate chips were nut free, and I assumed that the Chunks were too. Jack ate a handful, and almost immediately hives popped up around his eyes. I checked the package, and there it was, plain as day: This product may have been processed on machinery that also processes peanuts.

When Jack was diagnosed as being allergic to nuts, I went into a deep funk. Knowing your child is just a nut-laden cookie away from death can really get to a girl. And every time I thought I'd made peace with Jack's condition, some kid would get near to him with a peanut butter sandwich, and I'd just about lose it. His first day of preschool, the mom in charge of snack brought in peanut butter crackers, despite the letter that went out to all the parents in Jack's class that no snacks with nuts were allowed. After telling Jack a hundred times not to eat those crackers, I went back to my car and wept.

How on earth were we going to get through school and birthday parties and Halloween and the people who don't believe in nut allergies and the people who say, "Oh, this cake--these cookies--this chocolate candy doesn't have nuts in it," and then are stunned when they actually read the label to find out it does have nuts? How would he survive--how would we survive--without keeping Jack under constant surveillance?

Sixth months after starting preschool at age four, Jack taught himself to read. This was a blessing, because now Jack could read food labels for himself. In fact, he has done an amazing job of self-policing over the years. And he has been a great sport. He has had to pass up all sorts of birthday cakes because the cake mix box had been thrown out or the store label had been torn off the plastic box and we had no way of knowing whether or not the cake was nut-free.

I should take a second here to give a shout-out to our many friends and neighbors who went rooting through the trash to find empty cake mix boxes or cookie packages or called the bakery that made the birthday cake. Another one goes to my friends who never forgot about Jack's allergies, who always made certifiably nut-free cakes and cookies, who always checked the labels on the crackers or the chips without having to be asked.

When Fine Young Son No. 2--aka Will--came along, we treated him as though he were allergic to nuts, too. It wasn't hard to do, since we don't keep peanut butter or any nuts at all in the house. We told his preschool teachers that we were treating him as potentially allergic to nuts, and they asked parents to bring in nut free snacks for snack time.

We were told we should get Jack tested around age eight, and so yesterday, we did. For good measure, we got Will tested, too. A nurse swabbed their backs, drew a lot of little horizontal lines, each one with a little code under it, and then she poked and pricked and we waited. One of the pokes was with a histamine, and on both boys that turned into a welt almost immediately. Other than that one welt, Will's back stayed clear. A short line of four welts appeared on Jack's back. When the nurse examined him, she said: Cashews. Almonds. English Walnuts. Hazelnuts.

No peanuts.

When you have spent six years worrying that your child will die after innocently consuming a fraction of a peanut, it is an amazing and wonderous thing to hear that he is safe.

"Let's go buy some peanut butter!" the boys yelled. And so, on our way home, we stopped at a mini-mart and bought a small jar of Jif. When we got home, I made the first peanut butter sandwich I'd made in six years.

No one would touch it.

Will, of course, does not eat strange food on principle, even when the idea of the food is appealing to him. Jack, on the other hand, is more adventurous. But psychologically, it must be hard to eat something that for your entire thinking life you have assumed would kill you. He may never eat peanut butter. I wouldn't blame him.

But if he wants to, he can. And I can let him go to Europe now, and New York City, and all those other places that would take him far away from me and his dad, without worrying that if we're not there to save him, who will? We'll still worry about drunk drivers and child predators and freak accidents and a wide and various assortment of diseases. But not peanuts. They're off our list.

But I'm keeping the epi-pen, just in case.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

So last night I'm at the preschool Parents' Night. The teacher describes all the interesting, neat things the kids are doing this year, which makes me want to be a fly on the wall everyday just to watch. Then she points to a row of drawings on the wall and tells us these are pictures the children have drawn of themselves doing their favorite things. Beneath each picture, the teacher has written a caption. "Go to the fair." "Play with Trucks." "Play with my friends."

All the parents scan the wall eagerly. What have their precious children drawn? It only takes me a second to find Fine Young Son No. 2's portrait. He has drawn himself using a gold crayon, little head, cocoon-like body, no neck or legs (but feet). The caption reads "Eat lunch at home."

My children are not subtle. When we took Fine Young Son No. 1 to the hospital for a tour before his brother was born, he was given a crafts project to do. Draw a happy face on this paper circle, the nice tour lady told all the children, and then we'll glue it to the popsicle stick, and when baby brother or sister is born, you can wave your picture at them--baby's love to look! The other children drew happy, smiling faces, clown faces, flower faces. My son, age three-and-a-half, scrawled a monster face all in black. With fangs. I still have it, little portent of things to come that it is.

Now, another parent in the preschool classroom, seeing FYS2's self-portrait, might get warm, fuzzy feelings imagining what FYS2 means by "Eat lunch at home." Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup at the kitchen table while he tells Mommy all about his day. A mug of hot chocolate. A plate of freshly baked cookies. When FYS2 is done eating, a crust or two left on his plate, he runs off to play with his trucks, pausing first to give Mommy a sweet kiss on the cheek. "T'anks for the great lunch, Mommy," he croons into her ear.


The only problem is, FYS2 doesn't actually eat. He scorns food, gives it the hairy eyeball, finds everything but frozen waffles and goldfish highly suspicious. I believe the only reason he continues to grow at a fairly regular rate is that he drinks copious amounts of chocolate milk.

Last year I tried to get him to go to lunch bunch. Give me one more hour, I pleaded silently. Out loud, I told him it would be like a daily play date with his best friend Benjamin, a longtime lunch buncher. I bought him a Batman lunch box. I bought juice boxes, which we usually only get for special treats. FYS2 was excited--until he realized the lunch bunch ladies actually expected him to eat his lunch. At that point, he rebelled. No more lunch bunch.

Every month or so, I'd ask him if he'd changed his mind. Nope. He wasn't going to do it. And I should say it wasn't just about the eating. If it had been, I might have pushed a little harder. But it was clear that three hours of school was enough for him. It wore him out. He loved school, but school was a lot of sound and color and light coming at him all at once. He could only take so much of it. Fair enough.

This year, I haven't even mentioned lunch bunch. Knowing my son, if I bring it up, he'll just dig in his heels more deeply. I hope that by spring he'll want to try it, because I worry about next year, when he'll be in school all day. He needs to start training for the marathon. But I have kept my mouth shut. No dropping of subtle lunch bunch hints, no wondering aloud about how much fun the lunch bunchers are having out on the playground. I've played it cool. It's a nonissue.

But FYS2 is taking no chances. What's your favorite thing to do, sweet pea, his teacher asks. And instead of saying, "Playing with my superhero guys," or "Dressing up as Batman," or "Pestering my big brother about watching his computer time," he says, "Eating lunch at home." Just in case anyone's thinking about making him stay for lunch bunch. He's Mr. Strategy, Mr. Taking No Chances. Now they probably wouldn't let him come to lunch bunch if he begged them to. "Go home and eat that nice grilled cheese, sweet heart," the lunch bunch ladies would tell him. "We can't take that away from you."

Smart, this kid. Very smart.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

South Paw Blues

Once upon a time a few years ago, I was trying to convince my friend Danielle to take up knitting. I was sure that she would enjoy it. It would help her relax, meditate, be one with the universe. I did my best to sell knitting as a cure-all, but Danielle was hesitant. She was too left-handed, she felt, to be crafty. Too left-handed? Is there really such a thing, I wondered?

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that when it comes to arts and crafts, the answer, quite possibly, is yes. Left-hander that I am, I, too, have struggled with all manner of crafting, from pottery to crochet, cross stitch to quilting. I think it's possible that some of my, shall we say, limitations as an arts and crafts girl are related to my status as a south paw.

What I've learned is that I just have to work harder than other crafty girls. I'm going to make more mistakes, misread more directions, and generally just get it plain wrong more often, than my less challenged sisters. I've learned to anticipate where I'll be most likely to mess up. I transpose knitting directions onto a legal pad, writing things out, drawing charts, so I understand what I'm trying to do. But if I don't mind starting over, over and over and over, I can get the job done and feel pretty good about it.

My latest endeavor, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, is sewing. Yesterday, I spent an hour or so working on the throw I'm making. As always, I'm learning. My first lesson: I was an idiot not to buy a seam ripper the minute I bought a sewing machine. In fact, I think there should be a law that all sewing machines have to come with seam rippers scotch-taped to them. Why did I think I could live without one?

Imagine me last fall, novice sewer, stitching up my aprons with the smallest stitches possible--I thought it looked pretty that way, sort of french--sewing the most crooked seams you've ever seen (I'm thinking about having little labels made up that read "I was not drunk when I sewed this item"), and then picking them out with scissors. That right there is the reason it took me over a week to make an apron that was essentially an oversized handkerchief with ties.

Yesterday, I sewed plenty of crooked seams (though I also sewed some straight ones--I'm getting better with practice). With my handy dandy seam ripper, it took me about thirty seconds to rip them out. Genius!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The View from Saturday

My dream of a perfect Saturday consists of this: A crisp fall day, a brisk hike, enjoyable errands—a run to the yarn store or the fabric store (or the wine store or the shoe store). A little leaf raking, a little bonding with the neighbors. A cookout planned for the evening, or else an outing to a restaurant. There would be reading time, knitting time, time spent chatting with my husband about all the amazing things we’re going to do with our house and yard over the years.

And the entire time I’m engaged in all of this pleasantry, my children would be in the woods out back, building a fort.

Understand this: the construction of this fort would in no way involve my driving to Home Depot to buy supplies. I would not be the one who came up with the exciting idea of building a backyard fort. Maybe Fine Young Son No. 1 would have thought of it himself after reading a book about some kids building a fort in the woods. Maybe Fine Young Son No. 2 would have found a two by four in the garage and yelled to his big brother, “Let’s build a fort!”

Together they would procure their supplies. They would go out into the woods and find large fallen branches. They would come up with an ingenious way to secure those branches into some kind of structure. Periodically, FYS1 would send FYS2 into the house for snacks.

Together they would decide that in fact what they were building wasn’t a fort at all—it was a pirate ship, and FYS2 would come in asking for black construction paper and white crayons, so they could make a pirate flag. FYS2 would come in and ask if they could take a couple of knives and pretend they were swords. I would suggest cutting swords out of cardboard instead.

They would work on their fort all day. They might squabble a little, but for the most part they would work together. FYS1 would finally realize that what we’ve been telling him for ages is true: if he is nice to his little brother and includes him in stuff, his little brother will worship him like a god.

At the end of the day, they would ask to sleep in the fort. My husband, the camper, would get them set up. Around nine, FYS2 would wander back into the house because he heard some strange noises. At ten, my husband would go out and collect the fast asleep FYS1 and deposit him in his bed.

It doesn’t seem like such an impossible dream, does it? But so far it hasn’t come to pass. Mostly I blame myself: Despite our limits on TV and computer, my children spend too much time indoors, immersed in their technological lives--or waiting for me to entertain them. I should do what my mother did: Kick 'em out of the house. Don’t come in ‘til dinner, I’ll tell them, and then I’ll bar the doors.

But maybe not all is lost. Maybe the idea of a fort is just beginning to ripen in my children's minds. It just needs a little more time to come fully to fruition. Fall is around the corner, the mosquitoes will die off, and our little woods behind the house will cry out to be explored. In an age of miracles, my children will abandon their Leapsters, their infernal Nintendo DS's, and run outside, free at last. And in the best possible way, I’ll be free, too.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Subversive in the Suburbs

My last post garnered a comment from Isabella in the 21st Century herself, in which she writes, "I am the Internet's foremost suburban subversive." I just have to say I love that so much. Because the thing is, it's so common to be subversive in the city. Everybody's doing it. But out here in the suburbs? You're on your own, kid.

It's actually one of my favorite things about the suburbs: If you've ever had any desire in your life to be bohemian or radical, this is the place to do it. It doesn't take much. Start a compost heap in your backyard. Homeschool your kids. Grow your own tomatoes in your backyard or buy them in the farmers market. Sit down one morning and write a poem. Or read one. No tattoos necessary! Nipples? Leave 'em unpierced.

I remember one time last summer, driving to the farmer’s market, I saw a sign for a yard sale, only it read “yART Sale.” This pleased me to no end. The sign was in an old suburban neighborhood, brick ranch houses circa 1960, a little bit shabby in spots, but one I’d suspected might have a little something going on underground. And it turns out I was right: in one unassuming little ranch house there lives an artist, and this artist has artist friends, and on this particular summer Saturday they decided to gather together and put on a show.

This kind of thing is right up my alley. I am in love with the local and the idiosyncratic, and anything that’s homemade and interesting to look at (or eat) will get my attention every time. I’m pleased to report that the art was good and so were the prices. I got myself a quilted pillow case, a simple pattern with beautiful fabrics, ivory and pale pink and ocean green, for a whopping fifteen bucks, and baby, it was a bargain. And I got to see somebody’s lovely backyard garden and look at some very nice prints and jewelry, to boot.

Most of all, I got to enjoy the fact that sometimes things can get funky in the suburbs. Admittedly, this particular suburban neighborhood had a higher funk quotient than most, because it’s a little older and so there are tall trees and variations in the houses, and it’s the sort of place where an artist on a budget who’s got a couple of kids running around might land.

It’s easy to get down on the suburbs. Not enough yART sales, for one thing. Too many SUVs for another. Funk quotient: very low. There’s a book out now called Death by Suburb that I’ve been meaning to read, just to confirm all my prejudices.

But one time when I was watching my son’s soccer practice (yep, I’m a soccer mom, yep, I drive a minivan), just as I was about to launch into a silent tirade against suburban folk, armies of which surrounded me on all sides, I realized everyone around me seemed like pretty decent human beings. I mean, it was nice that all these people had come to watch their kids practice soccer. Slightly insane, maybe, but nice. They sat on those collapsible chairs you can buy at the hardware store or Target and chatted with one another and handed their kids icy water jugs whenever the coaches called a water break.

It would have been easy to make fun of them (somehow, even though every Wednesday I was doing exactly the same thing as all the other soccer moms and dads, I didn't count myself in their number, maybe because I was doing the artsy-fartsy knitting thing while I was sitting there, maybe because I had a Drive-By Truckers CD cued up in the van, maybe because I’m too stupid to notice that I was there watching my kid practice, too). What a cliché, right? A bunch of overprotective parents who can’t bear to drop their kids off at the soccer field and let them fend for themselves. Everyone is middle class or upper-middle class, nobody’s got any fashion sense at all, ninety-eight percent of the conversations are about the kids—this one’s just been diagnosed with ADHD, that one is gifted in math but has no social skills, the baby still isn’t sleeping through the night. It couldn’t be more banal.

But the fact is, they were there. Some of them clearly left work early to take their kids to practice, others were stay-at-home moms like me and looked slightly frazzled after a long day of running errands and yelling their heads off or trying like hell not to yell their heads off. They were busy, they were stressed, who knows what was going on at home, but they got their kids’ butts to soccer practice every week at 5 p.m. and they cheered and signed up to bring snacks for the game on Saturday. They showed up. Maybe they showed up too much, I don’t know. But at least they were trying as hard as they could to do the right thing. Not everybody does. A lot of people don’t.

I have many days when I wished I lived in some cool downtown arts and crafts bungalow and had neighbors who could discuss the new Drive-By Truckers CD with me. None of my current neighbors can. I’m pretty sure none of the women I’m friendly with at the gym can, either. I’m downright positive nobody at church has the slightest idea who the Truckers are. It makes me feel a little lonely, if you want to know the truth.

But here’s the thing: living downtown, a yART sale would not yield the same delightful surprise it does in the suburbs. Of course you’d find a yART sale downtown, with all sorts of angel-headed hipsters milling about, making knowing comments and sarcastic asides, wearing supercool shoes. What fun is that? The big fun is when life pops out where you least expect it. Big flower decals on the side of somebody’s minivan, the cramped comic book store tucked in between the Harris Teeter and the TCBY, the guy who looks like your basic corporate pawn, but whose tee shirt on closer inspection reads “Rednecks for Peace.” Downtown, nobody would give that stuff a second thought. In the suburbs, it makes you happy to be alive.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Revolution Begins

There was an interesting post the other day over at Isabella in the 21st Century ( called "Women's Work and the Simple Life." Ultimately it's a pean to women's traditional skills, why they should be valued, and why those of us who employ them or seek to learn them are countercultural, practically revolutionary.

It's fun to think that every time you knit a sock, you're sticking it to the man.

Reading domestic histories, where I'm confronted by the amazing skills women (and men) once had to possess in order to run a house, I feel sorely lacking. I confess this Blog's title is somewhat of a misnomer. Instead of "Left-handed Housewife," it should be something like "Left-Handed Homebody Who Wishes Somebody Would Clean Up Around Here."

I do cook, and I knit, and I have an herb garden. I would like to learn how to can vegetables. My husband's Aunt Jean is a major league canner, and I'm hoping we can get her over here for a tutorial one of these days.

Nowadays my dearest wish is to learn to sew. I bought a machine last fall, but haven't done much with it. Two aprons to be exact. Today I started sewing the throw I've been working on. I'm not sure I'm coordinated enough to do this. In fact, I called my mother the other day to ask for tips for machine sewing little squares of fabric onto a piece of muslin approximately the size of Rhode Island. I was having a hard time visualizing how one does this, shy of investing in a room-sized quilting frame and a church full of elderly women with bifocals and sharpened needles.

My mother has machine sewn a number of quilts. She is a skilled seamstress in general. She has one of those amazing computurized sewing machines that you can sew a modular home with if need be. I knew she would clarify things for me, unlock all the secret mysteries of machine sewing. After all she is right-handed, which is to say, her brain functions in an orderly and systematic fashion. Unlike some people's I know.

"You just kind of scrunch up the fabric as best you can until you get the part you need to sew under the needle," was my mother's sage advice.

And you wonder why I can barely tie my shoes.

But you know what? It worked. I scrunched everything up and manuevered it here and there, back and forth, and I actually got two pieces sewn on before it was time to go pick up Fine Young Son No. 1 from school. And really, the profanity was at a bare minimum. Just enough to keep things interesting.

I doubt I will become an ace seamstress any time soon. I'd like to think that one of these days I'll sew myself a shirt. Certainly some napkins. Maybe even a sun dress for my goddaughter.

But no matter what great heights of housewifery genius I aspire to, I will never, ever be able to twist the head off a chicken.

Just thought I'd be clear about that from the get-go.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Banana Pudding: The Final Days

There are those who believe that summer ends when school begins, even if school begins the third week of August. These people are wrong.

There are some who believe that summer ends September 23rd, the official first day of fall for 2007. My third grader, legalistic child that he is, belongs in this category. He is wrong.

There are some who believe that summer ends in February. They live in Australia.

But I believe most of us, at least those of us in this particular spot of the Northern Hemisphere, believe firmly in our hearts that summer ends the day after Labor Day. And we are correct.

That is why on Labor Day, it is important to serve Banana Pudding, before it's too late. Because after Labor Day, Banana Pudding is no longer allowed. It is a thing of summertime. Oh, sure, it can make an early appearance, along with potato salad, at Easter or Passover celebrations, but really it's to be brought out on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and any day in August where you're feeling that late summer malaise. Verily I say unto thee, Banana Pudding will cure what ails you.

Against my better judgment, I'm going to share my Banana Pudding recipe with you. Please do not take this as permission to make Banana Pudding off-season. I'm only sharing this now because I have the recipe out, and because some of you reading this may be from Australia, and therefore are at perfect rights to serve Banana Pudding in the upcoming weeks.

Note: This recipe is for chilled Banana Pudding, a very different creature from baked Banana Pudding. I like both, though I only make the former. Be forewarned, once your children have chilled Banana Pudding, they will be more than likely to turn their noses up at baked Banana Pudding. Baked Banana Pudding, while often delicious, is not as visually attractive to children. Also, it lacks copious amounts of Cool Whip in its makeup. This can be fatal when it comes to attracting a child's attention and securing his or her gustatory love.

Creamy Banana Pudding
(Makes 8-10 servings)


1 (14 oz) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1.5 cups cold water
1 (4-serving size) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups whipped cream
36 vanilla wafers
3 medium bananas, sliced and dipped in lemon juice

In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and water. Add pudding mix; beat well. Chill five minutes. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon one cup pudding mixture into 2 1/2 quart glass serving bowl. Top with one-third each of the wafers, bananas and pudding. Repeat layering twice, ending with pudding. Chill thoroughly.

When you make this--next summer--you will be among the beloved. I especially recommend taking it to church suppers or neighborhood potlucks. You will be the most popular girl on your block. Trust me.

Monday, September 3, 2007


So Saturday I'm in the shower, multitasking. I'm conditioning my hair and scrubbing away mildew between the wall tiles with an old toothbrush. I hate cleaning the tub, and I try to do as much as I can while I'm actually in it. What I really hate is cleaning the tub while fully dressed, especially the part where I'm rinsing away Ajax with the shower head. The water always goes up my sleeves. Brushing away mildew while I'm showering is a stroke of housewifely genius, as far as I'm concerned. I can hardly stand how brilliant it is.

I finish the job. I put the toothbrush down in its little corner of the tub. Then I turn and straighten up--and whack my head against the side of the hold-steady bar on my shower wall. My head must have been going forty miles per hour, because it is a serious whack. I've hit my head close to my right eye. Later, I will wait to see if a shiner surfaces, it was that close. But I can't even find a bruise.

I have a little bit of a headache for the rest of the day, about what you'd expect. But Sunday when I wake up, my head really hurts. The spot where I hit my head is tender to the touch. I feel vaguely ill.

Nothing touches the headache, not ibuprofin, not napping, not ice packs, not wine. I clean some and write some, but mostly I just lie on my bed and read and rub my head near the crown. That seems to help a little.

I'd planned on going to church and the grocery store. I'd planned to spend the afternoon at the sewing machine. None of this comes to pass. I read the middle grade novels I checked out of the library last week to get me motivated as I start a draft of a new book. I finish Easter Everywhere by Darcey Steinke. I read Letter to a Young Teacher by Jonathon Kozol. I read and read and my head aches and aches.

When I finally go to bed, I worry that I'll wake up to another day of my head hurting. So when I wake up Monday morning and my head feels fine, just a little sore at the spot where I whacked it, it's like getting a gift.

The best part is, I'm so happy about being back in a good head that my usual morning anxiety stays undercover. I have always had free-floating anxiety in the mornings, from the time I was little. When I was a kid, the anxiety manifested itself as a general nervous feeling that gave me butterflies in my stomach and made eating breakfast difficult. Nowadays it comes in the form of worry, mostly about things that are far off in the future--my parents are coming to visit in November and the house is a mess!--or things that in reality I know will be fine, including author visits to schools and school field trips when I'm the volunteer driver.

I don't have anxiety every morning; in fact, I go for long stretches without it. Interestingly enough, I never get it at the beach. And when I do get morning anxiety, it's easy enough to disperse. A brisk walk usually takes care of it (too much coffee, on the other hand, is a big mistake--with enough caffeine, I'll feel anxious until lunch).

Nonetheless, it's a real bummer. Negative thoughts come at me and I bat them away. I tell myself that in thirty minutes it will all be over. But there's always the fear that the anxiety won't go away, that today is the day it will finally make itself at home, set up shop, sit a spell. So there's anxiety on top of the anxiety. Great.

I'd had one of those anxiety weeks last week, where every day I woke up and thought, "Oh, no, there's so much I'm not getting done and I need a new bra and new clothes and I haven't done anything for Start-up Sunday and I have to get my teeth cleaned in two weeks ..." So when I woke up Monday, my head clear, my heart light, no worries, it was so lovely that I walked three miles and smiled at everybody, and when I came home I took the boys to the pool for two hours, even though I had lots to do at the house.

Although I hate that sometimes it takes a whack on my head to set me straight, it does seem to be the case that having a real problem--in this case, a deabilitating headache--cuts through a lot of noise. It gives you perspective. The things I get anxious about aren't problems at all. And while staying in bed all day because you have a headache is pretty minor league stuff (though it did make me feel awfully sympathetic to my friends who get migraines), it's real enough to kick the make-believe problems out the door.

At least for a day or two.