Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Frenzy

I have ten minutes to write this before it's time to pick up the boys from Summer Faith Adventure. It's been that sort of day, ten minutes to do this before it's time to do the next thing. Here's the deal: we're leaving for the beach tomorrow. We're going to the same beach we go to every year, staying at the same house we've stayed at for three years now. So you'd think I'd remember whether or not the kitchen has a cheese grater ...

But I don't. So I'll pack one. And I'll pack a sieve and a cutting board and measuring cups and spoons. Just in case. I'm pretty sure the kitchen is stocked with all this stuff, but just to be safe I'm bringing mine. I know there's not one decent frying pan, so that's definitely hitting the road with us. And I always bring my own knives.

Because of Jack's nut allergies, we don't eat out much, though now that we know he's not allergic to peanuts, we're freed up a little. But it's cheaper to cook, and I like it. We'll eat seafood a couple of nights, and that'll be nice. Other nights I'll cook two-night meals, so it's not like I'll be slaving over the stove the whole time.

The big beach treat: pimento cheese (go here for recipe) and crackers. Pimento cheese is my favorite southern delicacy (yep, I love it even more than pigs feet), and because I like to keep special things special, I only make it twice a year, at the beach and at Christmas. The beach is the only place I drink real Coke, too. I love real Coke, but neither my waistline or my dental insurance can tolerate a steady intake.

I'm in the process of packing, which is to say I'm in the process of overpacking. It would take me three months at a monastery to read all the books I've packed, but I can't help it. I live in fear of running out of good books to read. What if some of the books I've packed are bad, boring, or just not right for the mood I'm in? To be safe, I'll bring around twenty, five or six of which I'll read.

The boys will bring more books than they can read and more games than they'll have time to play, and my husband will complain as he loads and unloads the car, and threaten to take over the packing next year, but it's all a bluff. The beach is a place for dreams and excess.

My ten minutes are about up. I'll be back week after next with sand in my shoes and a head full of literature. Oh, and a soul full of pimento cheese crackers and real Coke. Ah, bliss.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday Rebellions

For some reason, I had a hard time with Blogger yesterday and couldn't post. This ruined my clever plan of posting every day this week, each post with its own alliterative Day-of-the-Week title. Although come to think of it, I'm not sure what I would have done with Tuesday ... Tuesday Tidbits? I don't think so.

I'm sorry I couldn't log on, because I wanted to direct you to Our Red House . Kate hosted a Make it From Scratch Blog Carnival yesterday, and I participated. You can still go and check out all the very cool stuff that people contributed. I sent in my banana pudding recipe, as it is officially Banana Pudding season.

Heather blogged the other day at Pneuma about participating in the World Wide Knit in Public day on Saturday, and how she's usually not a joiner, but she was going go head and get on the public knitting bandwagon, committed knitter that she is. I completely related. I am all for community efforts and parades and Maypole wrappings and other group events, but for most of my life, I've been content to watch. I'm by nature an observer, a little shy, a little worried about appearing goofy in public.

As I get older, though, the fear of public goofiness appears to be fading somewhat. I guess after you've given birth in front of a team of doctors, all your private loveliness exposed to complete strangers, what's left to fear?

Plus, when you have kids, the gig is up. You're waving your hands around in Mommy 'n' Me classes pretending to be a goose flying south for the winter, you're hopping up and down to the Wiggles just like Dorothy the Dinosaur, you're chasing naked toddlers across the playground pleading with them to come back to mommy. In short, for the sake of the children, you forget about personal dignity.

One thing I used to never do? Clap along in public to music. I'd go see bands and dance around like crazy, but stand at a show or a concert and clap in rhythm with everyone else? For some reason, I just couldn't do it. I do not come from a family of public clap-alongers. We are a reserved people.

But when I had children, that changed, and for one reason: I want my children to be people who can have fun in public, clapping, wrapping the Maypole in ribbons, waving their hands in the air, whatever the spirit moves them to do. So now I clap along. I wave my hands in the air. When the singer on the stage yells out, "Everybody sing!" I sing.

And when Kate over at Our Red House hosts a Blog Along, I blog along. I participate. It's possible that people will make fun of my banana pudding. They will read my banana pudding post and think I'm goofy and too dumb for words. That's okay. I've given birth without an epidural and there's nothing anyone can do to hurt me now.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday Miscellany

There are two kinds of moms that stand out for me at the pool. There is the Good Sport Mom, who plays happily in the water with her kids for hours on end. She looks genuinely delighted to be tossing sopping nerf balls and playing Marco Polo and participating in contests to see who can hold their breath under water the longest. She seems fun and sweet, like somebody you'd like to be friends with, except for the fact that she makes you feel so guilty for not frolicking with your own brood that you can barely bring yourself to look her in the eye ...

Then there is the Mean Mom. Mean moms fascinate me, because they deviate so sharply from the suburban pool ethos which stresses Smiles and Niceness at all times. Occasional stern looks and sharp commands are allowed, but they must be followed by jokes and hugs. But the Mean Moms, they don't play that game. They don't care if you think they're nice or not. They are happy to harangue and yell and threaten for extended periods of time. They seem unaware that everyone around them is wildly uncomfortable and slowly edging to the other side of the pool while they reprimand their children.

At our pool, we actually have a hybrid Good Sport-Mean Mom. She plays in the water with her kids, encouraging them and pushing them around in their little floaty devices ... and then something makes her mad and she is Serious Mean Mom. She's like the General Patton of the Mean Moms. She starts yelling and everybody cringes. Everybody, the kids, the adults, the lifeguards, waits to get into trouble.

Interestingly, she's actually quite pleasant to have a conversation with.

What am I, you wonder? I am the Sitting at the Side of the Pool Making a Slight Attempt Not to Appear Criminally Negligent Mom.


Today we had to get up and dressed and take the dog to the vet for an 8:45 appointment. Only two weeks into summer vacation and this seems like a violation to me. What was I thinking of, way back in mid-May, making an appointment for 8:45? These days 8:45 means a cup of coffee and blog surfing. Jack's in his room reading, half the time Will's not even awake. Madness to actually have to be somewhere!


Why is it so hilarious to see a dog walking around completely unaware that something is stuck to his rump?


Tonight is the beginning of Vacation Bible School, though at our church it's called Summer Faith Adventure, which has a slightly zingier ring to it. We'll see how Will does. Two friends of his will be there, including one of his very best friends, Matthew. But Will's such an odd kid, he may rebel and refuse to participate. He loves singing, he loves games, he loves coloring and storytelling and arts and crafts. What he doesn't love: Crossing the threshold from here to there, from life at home with the family to life elsewhere. Once he crosses over, he's fine. He's actually very social and quite often a leader. But it's hard to get him to take the necessary steps. He's a psychologically interesting kid. Which may be another way of saying that he's weird. But we're all weird here, so why should Will be any different?


There are three baskets of laundry on the floor of my bedroom waiting to be folded and put away. Where is the laundry fairy when you need her?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life with Martha, Part 2

(Above photo: Latest card + Ginger Root Man)

So, after a string of 100-degree days, here we are at a relatively chilly 90 degrees. The difference ten degrees makes is phenomenal. You can walk outside and not feel like you're about to burst into flames, for one thing. Lovely.

It's 2:29 in the afternoon, and so far it's been a good day. Jack's been reading, Will's been playing with the dog, now they're both playing with the Wii and being quite friendly to one another. Yesterday they were shrieking and pestering, and I thought a little hari kari might be in order for the three of us, just to put us out of our collective misery.

But today we are friends. I've read, cleaned, done arts and crafts, and prepped for dinner (we're off to the pool later in the afternoon, and it's so nice to come home and not have to start dinner from scratch). As I was reaching into a cabinet for a bowl to hold chopped veggies and found exactly the bowl I like, a little clear bowl that's the perfect size for the job I was doing, I thought about what Martha Stewart gets right: she reminds people that the domestic life can be lovely and creative. There's an art to it. There's beauty involved. For so long domesticity has been mocked and discounted and looked down upon. But anyone who practices it knows that skill is involved, art and craft.

Martha knows that. She gives it to us in its most idealized version, yes, and just once I wish MSL would do a spread on some working class person who keeps a beautiful home (it's always rich people with ridiculously well-appointed houses that you find on Martha's pages). But at least Martha recognizes that the work so many of us do is important and good and at times very, very satisfying.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Life with Martha

So I just got my July Martha Stewart Living, and you know, it's so lovely and so chock full of ideas, and yet I can't quite make the correlation between what I read and see in its pages with things that happen in real life.

Still, it's fun to pretend. You could pretend, for instance, that you might throw a Fourth of July party like they do in the July issue and spend hours tying ribbons into little drink decorations. The fact is, I would enjoy tying ribbons into party decorations. I love that sort of thing, but just thinking about what it would take to make it happen gives me a headache. Let's make a list, shall we?

1. First, you would have to get to the store to buy the ribbon. Take the kids to Michael's and listen to them complain the whole time you're there? Or spend $10 an hour on a babysitter? You decide!

2. Discover that that arts and crafts store you choose to patronize does not have exactly the kind of ribbon you're looking for. So do you spend another 45 minutes driving to another craft store (and hence another $10 bucks for the babysitter, if you've gone the babysitter route) or buy the inferior product? You buy the inferior product, of course, because you are so good at winging it when it comes to arts and crafts projects.

3. Three weeks later, when you finally have time to make your ribbon into lovely drink decorations, you sit down and get to work. Realize that the ribbon you got is twice the width of the ribbon Martha uses for her drink decorations. So you carefully cut your ribbon in half lengthwise. Only you're not that good at cutting, so the ribbon doesn't fall so much in neat halves as in two maniacal zig zags, at which point you have to put the kids to bed.

4. A week before the party, you remind yourself you need to sit down and make those ribbons.

5. Three days before the party, you remind yourself again.

6. The morning of the party you go to the store and buy swizzle sticks with little paper flags attached. Ta da! Decorations for your drinks!


Now that I'm three issues into my MSL subscription, I have decided to name my house, because, of course, Martha names all of her houses, and if Martha does it, than so shall I. Sadly the names Turkey Hill and Skylands are taken, so I shall call my house Spencer Street Farms, at least for the rest of the summer, at which point I will change my house's name in hopes of fooling people into believing I have more than one house.

And now it is your turn. No matter how humble or homely, whether it be a ranch or a split level, it is time to name your house. Once you do, always refer to your house by its given name. Then, even when the beds are unmade and the drinks are undecorated, you will still feel as though life is grand and it's time to have a party.

At the Pool

My friend Amy loves the pool. She looks forward to its opening every year. She arrives in her cute suit with her bag packed with snacks, her children slathered in sunscreen, ready to splash in the water, slide down the slide, to soak up the rays and breathe in the chlorine-drenched air.

Pretty much the only thing I like about the pool is getting to hang out with Amy.

I am 44 and fair-skinned. There is something absurd to me about standing in the middle of a sparkling body of water with the sun beating down on my head, little melanomas just waiting for their chance to shine.

Still, I'll be there almost every day this summer, because the boys love it and it passes the time. It seems churlish to complain. I know a lot of working moms (and dads) who would love to spend their mornings or afternoons poolside. And, really, it's not torture or anything. Just hot and pre-cancerous.

The thing I love about the pool, besides spending time with Amy and other friends, is the people-watching. The first day I was at the pool this year, Memorial Day weekend, I saw a group of fifth grade girls who looked so golden and mean, I could have written a novel about them on the spot. Of course, the most interesting characters would have been those girls walking five steps behind, baby fat still in their cheeks, so completely desirous of being in that inner circle. I remember what that was like.

Everything about people at the pool is fascinating--the sixty-year-old women working on their savage tans, the teenagers in all their gawky self-consciousness, the big-bellied men who you can tell think they look great. I wish women could be as comfortable in their skin as men. There are women completely miserable because they're ten pounds overweight, and these huge, roly-poly guys convinced they're God's gift ...

Right now my favorite people at the pool are the little girls who make friends with me. Now that Will can play in the three-feet without me having to be in the water with him, I sometimes lounge in a chair at the pool's edge, and I'm often joined by some nice six-year-old or another who wants to discuss my red toenail polish or the things her big sister gets in trouble for. I was a shy child, so I'm just amazed by these chatty cathys who seem happy to share their every thought with me. I wish I had one of my own. And then I remember myself at 13 and think maybe I'll stick to boys.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Arts & Crafts for Dummies

I'm trying to apply what I know about the art of writing to the art of rubber stamping. The rules are pretty simple:

1. Don't expect to get it right the first time. Do lots of drafts. Expect the first draft or two (or three or four) to be cruddy. Persevere anyway.

2. Practice every day. You will get better no matter what, if you just sit down for a half an hour a day and write whatever comes into your head.

3. Learn from others. Copy the masters. Don't worry about being original, worry about learning your craft. Don't be afraid to get feedback.

The frustrating thing about writing and other creative endeavors is that you start out with big ideas and it's almost impossible to get what's in your head onto the page unperturbed. My skills can't match what my imagination thinks up.

Which is why I have to remember the rules: Lots of drafts, daily practice, feedback. Also: pay attention to children. Will has been doing lots of stamping with me, and all his stuff is really cool. He just stamps the heck out of every piece of paper that's in front of him. He draws a tree, stamps a bunch of birds in the tree, stamps some flowers in the sky, and calls it art.

Like I said, copy the masters.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My First Card

It is an admittedly modest affair. Humble, you might call it. And yet, I had so much fun making it yesterday morning that I ran out to A.C. Moore last night and spent all my birthday money on rubber stamps and paper and ink pads. Will and I were up to ten stamping birds and sea shells and all sorts of things.

Yesterday was the first day of summer for us, Jack's first day after the last day of school, and it was mighty fine. Will's friend Matthew came over at 9:30, and they played until one without fighting. Usually they have at least one squabble, and lately they've been having big blow outs right at the end of their play dates. But yesterday, they played and watched a little "Scooby Doo" and all was well.

Meanwhile, I sat on the screen porch with the dog and made my card. I looked at cards in a Somerset Studios magazine and gathered ideas and drew out little rough drafts and played around with watercolors and practiced with my letter stamps. Usually I just plow on through and then am disappointed with the results. This time, I was patient, and while the card is nobody's idea of amazing, I think it's nice for a first effort.

After lunch, I threw three boys in the car and off we went. First, we dropped off Matthew, then picked up one of Jack's best friends, Spencer, and sped to the pool, where the boys played happily until 4. Will did some swimming (he's just learning how) and a lot of splashing and sliding down the sliding board. The water was cool, but not freezing.

Spencer came home with us for dinner. He's a great kid and actually makes an effort to include Will and to try to deal with Will when Will gets temper tantrum-y. I always want to tip Spencer at the end of one of his visits over here. Just a little something to let him know I appreciate his efforts.

After Spencer's dad picked him up, I went to A.C. Moore and had a lovely time spending money. Then home, a little arts and crafts, an episode of "Friday Night Lights" on the DVD, and then off to bed.

Today it's going to be almost a hundred degrees, which will make it seem like we've gone from the sweet days of summer right into the belly of the beast (usually you don't feel this way until after the 4th of July). So the sweetness may have been short lived, but for twenty-four hours we had a lovely time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Library Day

So I know I said I was going to go with the flow this summer, but I really do want to do some arts and crafts, particularly stuff with paper and rubber stamps and collage. To that end, when we went to the library on Monday, I checked out about twenty books on how to make paper, how to stamp paper, how to make your own books, cards, postcards, luggage tags, what have you.

It was me, Will and Jack at the library, the big, glorious downtown branch, and between the three of us, we probably checked out close to a hundred books (there's a fifty book per patron limit at our library, a dangerous temptation for some of us). The librarian was not pleased, you could tell. I did not try to humor her, as she looked rather humorless, I just worked hard at getting the checked out books in our bags in an orderly fashion.

Anyway, I love the first trip to the library of the summer. It's full of hope and possibility. Maybe this will be the summer when the boys and I fall into easy mornings of craft projects and coloring. Maybe this will be the summer Will stops having a fit every time you tell him, no, he can't have any more computer time. Maybe this will be the summer Jack stops shrieking at his brother at the least little irritations. Oh, a girl can dream.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Joy of Gardening

In March, my husband built a raised bed in the backyard for growing vegetables. So far we've had lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and sugar snap peas, though the snaps have not been plentiful, much to my dismay.

Coming up: tomatoes, peppers, basil (two kinds), thyme (two kinds), sage, marjoram, cucumbers, and who knows what else. The lettuce has had its run, the cabbage is now coleslaw, and the broccoli is on its way out. So there's room to grow, as they say. I'd like a little zucchini (without overdoing it) and some of those golden cherry tomatoes that are like eating candy off the vine.

We've been wanting to grow vegetables for a long time, but our last house had too much shade. Now my big dream is to get a deep freeze for the garage and grow lots of peas and beans to freeze for the winter.