Thursday, July 31, 2008


We've got Strep! Or at least Jack and I do. I think my husband does as well, but he'll never admit to it. He's very stoic about being sick. He'll deny being ill for days and days, until he finally collapses in a heap.

I should say that although I'm quite happy to tell everyone I'm sick, I rarely go to the doctor. I don't know why. We're just not very doctor-y around here. Jack and Will rarely get sick--neither of them have ever had an ear infection--and the few times I've taken them to the doctor, I've been told what I already know: lots of fluids and rest. In general, it seems like a waste of time and money to me, unless soaring fevers and flaming red throats are involved.

I almost didn't go to the doctor for this, having neither fever nor sore throat. But then I found out my niece had come down with a sore throat when she got home from her visit here and had been prescribed antibiotics. It wasn't so much that I was thinking, "Oh, we must have Strep" (that would have been too obvious). It was more like, "You know, I am so tired of feeling sick, and now Jack's feeling sick, and who knows, maybe somebody can give us some drugs to feel better."

So off we went to Urgent Care, and two throat swabs later we were dropping off penicillin prescriptions at the pharmacy. I still feel sick, but I have to say, I'm so much happier knowing that I have something specific and that it will be resolved in a the next couple of days. I'm happy, too, that Jack won't have to sit around for a week feeling ill (and missing camp next week). He will most likely bounce back by tomorrow. In fact, he seems pretty cheerful today--but then my children have never cooperated with illness. Even when they're sick, they're up and about, asking to play on the computer, wondering what there is to eat.


Today is our fourteenth wedding anniversary. Or at least I'm pretty sure it is. I suppose it says something about how romantic and sentimental I am that a) I've waited to make this announcement five or six paragraphs into today's entry; and b) that I'm not actually sure when my anniversary is (neither is my husband). It's either two months after my birthday (the 30th) or one month before my mother's (the 31st). I've decided it's just easier to remember the last day of July than the second to last day of July.

My husband said this morning that we're friendlier and more romantic every day than most people are once a year on their anniversaries, so that's why we don't make a bigger deal out of it. And I would say that if there is any single key to long term happiness, other than natural compatibility, it's making a concerted effort to be friendly and polite to one another. I learned this from my husband. I was much surlier when we were first married, known to be difficult first thing in the morning, and highly resistant to saying "I'm sorry" or swallowing my pride. The thing is, my husband is perfectly capable of surliness and bad moods and pride, but he makes an effort to be--well, friendly really is the only word for it. And over the years it has rubbed off on me. I'm a much better person than I would have been had I not married the man I did.

Of course, I married him because he's cute. The rest is just gravy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Down from the Mountain

When I tell people my mother-in-law has a house in the mountains, I always wonder what they envision. A Swiss chalet beside a ski slope? A log cabin tucked into a clearing, smoke coiling from the chimney? A gingerbread cottage perched on the edge of a cliff?

The mountain house is made out of brick and sits on the side of a double-lane rural highway. It is not a romantic getaway-type house. But it is pleasing. Across the street Cane Creek bubbles along, and on the other side of the creek, holding onto the side of a hill for dear life, is a red barn that from time to time deposits horses and goats onto a sloping field. The land around the mountain house (five acres of which are owned by my mother-in-law, some of those acres running alongside the creek), is either flat expanse or gentle hills.

Yesterday morning I sat on the front porch in my pjs, knitting. People drove by and looked at me out of their windows; some waved, some just gawked. I felt wonderfully scandalous and at home.

My mother-in-law lives in a city two-and-a-half hours away from the mountains. She and my father-in-law bought the mountain house fifteen years ago for a song. They were both working then, my father-in-law as a truck driver, my mother-in-law as a store manager, but they escaped as often as they could up to the mountains. My mother-in-law has told me that they used to pretend they were running away when they went up to the mountains, that they joked they would never return to the city. Sadly, they always did.

Since my father-in-law's passing a year and a half ago, my mother-in-law doesn't go up to the mountain house as often. She has made the trip a few times with one of her sisters, but she doesn't like to go by herself any more (when she was younger and my father-in-law was still alive, it wasn't unusual for her to go up by herself for days at stretch).

We had planned to take her with us when we went on Saturday, but then she kept falling. One of her sisters finally took her to the doctor, but when she got there my mother-in-law claimed to be perfectly fine. The doctor examined her, took some blood, and let her go home. By the time we arrived at her house on Saturday, she claimed to be feeling better, but she didn't think she should go up to the mountain house with us, so we went without her.

I will be honest: once at the mountain house, I examined it with a proprietary eye. My mother-in-law has offered to sell it to us for what she owes on it. Once upon a time, the plan was to leave the house to us, but that was before my father-in-law died. Now my mother-in-law is worried about money. If we buy it from her, she can still have access to it but won't have to make payments on it or worry about insurance and upkeep.

The house is eighty-seven years old. It needs a new roof. It has indoor-outdoor carpeting that should be pulled up by the roots and burned. A few years ago the furnace exploded and there is still soot on the walls and the ceilings. The house is loaded with furniture and odds and ends, the kitchen cabinets filled with more pots and plates than could be worn out in several lifetimes.

But imagine the fun of walking through an old house with good bones and high ceilings and pondering what you would do here and what you would do there. You wouldn't have to do everything all at once; in fact, you could take years. Imagine this house is in an area where you can still find antiques at a steal, where beauty is as common as dandelions.

Oh, it was fun imagining all of that. Whether or not we'll end up with the mountain house is another story. My mother-in-law may change her mind. She may want to sell it for what it's worth on the market. And while the price she would ask us to pay is a bargain three times over, it still would pinch our budget.

But there's a root cellar out behind the house, and plenty of land for a big summer garden, and my boys could run across the road and be fishing in the creek in a minute whenever they wanted. No air conditioning, because the house stays cool even when the thermometer reads 86 degrees. So even though big trucks hauling loads over the mountains into Tennessee scream past the front door every few hours, and teenage boys squeal by in their souped-up cars on Saturday night, it's a kind of dream house.

Now I'm home and glad to be here. I'm still sick, if you can believe it, but feel like I'm on the mend. Today I'll do laundry and take the boys to the pool if the weather holds. We'll pick up the dog from the kennel and he'll pee all over us from excitement. It's always good to be home, to be working in your own kitchen, checking the garden for ripe tomatoes, pinching the flowers from the basil plants. But I know I'll keep thinking about the mountain house, wondering what the hardwoods would look like if we took up the carpet, imagining the hills in the fall when the leaves change, how everything smells like woodsmoke then, how the owls hoot at night like they have something important to tell you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What I'm Thinking Right This Very Minute

I'm thinking homemade Christmas. I'm thinking if I don't start thinking about a homemade Christmas right now, it won't happen.

Actually, what I'm thinking will prove most problematic is not the homemade stuff (right now my list includes lots of socks, two purses, and a smock), but exploring the world of the Gently Used. For a long time, I've wanted to see what Santa could bring the boys secondhand. But buying secondhand stuff takes time--in my opinion, more time than making stuff. I guess that's because you don't know what's out there secondhand. You've got to search. You've got to shop. I don't like to shop.

My plan is to start out as simply as possible. E-Bay legos and baseball miscellany. That ought to be do-able. From there, who knows where we'll go. Hopefully not to Target.


I've got a bug. I seem to get this bug every summer. I don't know if it's a stomach bug or a head bug or both or neither. Loss of appetite, tiredness, tight chest, burning eyes. It seems to last four or five days. If I can't nap (and when would I get an opportunity to nap?), it feels better to move around. If I just sit there, I become aware that I feel cruddy. If I move around, I forget.

The timing is bad on this (not that it's ever good), since my niece is up visiting for a few days. What an interesting experience to have a teenage girl in the house! She is a very young, very sweet fourteen, and seems to love playing with the boys. I'm teaching her to knit, and she's catching on, though making all the usual first scarf mistakes, dropping lots of stitches, adding lots of stitches. The yarn I bought is kind of chunky and funky. The good thing about chunky, funky yarn is that the mistakes don't look so bad. The bad thing about chunky, funky yarn for a beginner is you split a lot of stitches since it's hard to tell exactly what a stitch is supposed to look like.

I like to think that in twenty years she'll be telling everyone how her wonderful Aunt Frances taught her to knit and it changed her life forever ...


We're going up to the mountains for a few days, so at least I'll feel cruddy someplace cool and serene.


The good thing about being sick is that when you're done being sick, you feel so marvelous simply because you're not sick anymore.


Off to make brownies. It is amazing how much fourteen-year-old girls eat (and still stay skinny). I suppose this is good practice for when my boys morph into teenagers. I assume Will will be eating by then. It's interesting to think that one day he will eat of his own volition, making selections from more than one food group. Is it possible?

Happy weekend!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Mother's Guilt


I was supposed to sign Jack up for a Harry Potter camp this summer. They're having one at his school. It's a morning camp, runs for a week, and costs--yikes!--$190. This spring I told him I would sign him up, but I kept putting it off, putting it off. It's like I just couldn't remember to do it.

About a month ago, I finally e-mailed the camp director. Was there still space in the camp? Yes, there was. All I had to do was go to the school Web site and sign up. I went to the school Web site, but the link to the summer programs was broken. I'll deal with it tomorrow, I told myself. But tomorrow never came.

I think the problem was I didn't want to spend that kind of money on a camp. If it were a full-day camp, sure. But that's a lot of money for a half-day camp. And even though Jack is a huge Harry Potter fan, and I know he'd have a great time, it's hard to justify the price tag. So my mouth said yes, but my heart said no.

Then we made some plans to have my niece come for a visit this week and then take her home, pick up my mother-in-law, and head up to the mountains for a few days (my mother-in-law has a house up there, and she's been wanting us to come up and help her with a few things).

I was sure the camp was next week, which meant that if I signed Jack up, he and I would have to skip the trip to the mountains. Jack loves the mountains, loves his grandmother. That was a tough call. But Jack remained hopeful; maybe the camp was the week after next week and he could do both.

Well, it turns out that the camp is, in fact, this week. It's going on right now as I write (10:27 a.m. Monday morning). And Jack still wants to go, even though he will have missed a day, even though his cousin, whom he adores, is coming on Wednesday.

Of course we told him no. Maybe next year. Couldn't he see it would be rude to his cousin to sign up for a camp the week of her visit?

No, he couldn't see that. All he could see is that we promised him he could go to this camp and now he can't. When I told him he couldn't go, his face sort of crumpled up and he turned away.

So now I feel terrible. I knew I was procrastinating about that camp for a reason, and I should have faced it head on and told Jack it was really too expensive. But instead I was passive about it, hoping the problem would somehow go away.

I told Jack I was sorry. Maybe I'll tell him the truth about not wanting to spend all that money on camp. Maybe we'll work out something for next year, where he can save up if he wants to go.

Oh, but I hate to see my boy cry.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mid-Summer Report

I realized this morning that there are only five weeks of summer left. Not official summer, of course, but summer vacation summer.

What's amazing is that we've passed summer's midpoint and I've yet to fall into my typical summer funk. Normally by now I'm in some state of despair. Mostly I blame it on air conditioning. By mid-July I am typically chilled through--my bones, my toes, my brain, my soul. I feel stuck inside, claustrophobic, in need of fresh air and birdsong, but a quick walk to the mailbox is enough to convince me that the direct July sun isn't my friend either. So I stay inside and wither.

But not this year, baby. This summer has been a brand new ballgame. Why? Two words: screened porch. I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on my porch. When I get a chance to take a break from chores and herding boys, I take it on the porch. When the AC gets to be too much, I thaw out on the porch. This is the most time I've spent outside in summer since I was a camp counselor at Belton Lake in 1984.

The other thing that has made this summer bearable is an almost completely open schedule. In the past I've signed Jack up for three or four day camps, which means loads of driving hither and yon, and have also hired a babysitter for a few afternoons a week so I could write. Weirdly, none of this seemed to buy me much time in the long run, mostly because I was spending most of my waking moments coordinating chores and errands and carpools and picking up and dropping off the babysitter and dropping off and picking up Jack ...

This summer: one camp. That's it. Jack doesn't mind. He likes being able to sit around all morning and then going to the pool in the afternoon. We all like it. I like it especially now that Will is swimming. I still get in the water and play with Will, but he's pretty happy just doing his own thing a lot of the time. I've even sat at a table and read a magazine a time or two.

There have been hectic days, and I still feel oddly routine-less. But I don't feel depressed. I go through mild to moderate depressions from time to time, and summer is one of the worst times (February is the other). I do have five weeks to get through, so it's possible that I'll still get hit by the funk. But I have my fingers crossed that this summer the black dog will pass me by.


This morning I went to the Farmers' Market at eight, thinking I'd beat the crowds. I didn't. It wasn't quite as crowded as it is at ten, but there were a lot more people than I'd expected. Nonetheless, I felt like I could take my time and explore a little more. I bought peaches and grapes, basil plants, two kinds of potatoes, corn, carrots and tomatoes (we have lots of tomatoes on the vines, but they're all green). And I bought a pound of green beans, which I blanched and froze when I got home. My first attempt at food preservation! We won't starve this winter, boys, no we won't.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

So What Does Thursday Have to Say for Itself?

Not much, really.

An appointment this morning, followed by an errand. Home at 11:15. Cleaned the kitchen. Will's friend Benjamin came over for a playdate around noon. At 3, we dropped Benjamin off and went to the pool. Chatted with Amy and Kathryn and watched Will go down the slide five hundred and thirty-six times. Looked over at the four-feet section to see Jack and Spencer spitting water at each other. Lovely. Home by 6:15 for dinner (leftover pasta salad).

It's the sort of day where no big chores get done, no fun projects are pursued, nothing feels accomplished. I did sort through my e-mail in-box and got some of the clutter out. During the day I keep a running list of things to sit down and do after dinner, but somehow my evenings evaporate. I've been trying to figure out how this happens for months now. Dinner's over, someone else is responsible for the dishes, you go to check your e-mail and somehow it's nine o'clock. What about those menus you were going to plan? the book you were going to read three chapters from? the letter you were going to write?

Every night at nine I'm at a loss as to what happened to my time. It's not all spent checking e-mail and blogs, I swear. It's like five minutes get chucked over there, and fifteen minutes are swept under the bed with the socks, and seven and half minutes are spent staring in the mirror wondering where all those wrinkles around my eyes came from.


Three magazines have recently crossed my threshold: the August Martha Stewart Living, the July/August Mary Jane's Farm, and the most recent Countryside & Small Stock Journal: The Magazine of Modern Homesteading. Interestingly, I find them all of apiece, just to different extremes.

We all know Martha, of course, but do you know Mary Jane? I've picked up this magazine now and again for the last few years. I don't quite know what to make of it, though I often enjoy reading it. Mary Jane Butters is an alleged farmer somewhere out in Idaho. You can go to her farm. You can pay to work on her farm. You can stay at the bed and breakfast on her farm. Can't make it to Idaho this summer? Then you can buy some of Mary Jane's genuine farm cooking products via the Internet, biscuit mixes and chili mixes and all sorts of good stuff, all of it organic.

Mary Jane is clearly the Martha of the midwest, and I don't know quite how to take her. Is she really hoping to unite all the farm girls and wannabe farm girls of the world into one organic front tilling our half-acre/hundred acre gardens and sewing up aprons on our machines? Or is she a marketing genius who has figured out how to make lots of money off of would-be back-to-the-landers such as myself? Without a doubt, she knows what buttons to push--yer basic "nostalgic for the farm we never had" button, for one thing.

If she weren't trying to make so much money off of me, I'd think that at heart she means what she's out there saying. But it's hard not to be suspicious of cowboy boot-wearing women in aprons and braids who keep telling you how smart and good and womanly and organic you are while they're reaching into your purse to get your paycheck ...

The editors of Countryside Journal could take Mary Jane's cowboy boots, run 'em through a grinder, and serve them as sausage the next day for breakfast. These are people who make Pa Ingalls look like a city slicker. I got kind of anxious reading Countryside Journal until I reminded myself that no one was going to make me put a "Nature's Head" composting toilet in my backyard, despite the fact that it is compact yet has exceptional holding capacity. My plans are for a bigger vegetable garden, not neighborly relations with the Unabomber.

Once I got past that "just because other people are doing it and I think it's really cool doesn't mean I have to do it, too" feeling, I enjoyed Countryside Journal a lot. You can tell the readers, who write really, really long letters to the editor, are cranky iconoclasts who are pretty fed up with us electricity-using types. God love 'em.


So what will Friday bring? Another play date here for Will, another trip to the pool. Spencer is coming over for dinner and some Wii. Will I finish sewing the curtains for my study that it took me two months to get cut out? Will I plan my menus for next week so that I can go to the farmer's market on Saturday morning with a shopping list in hand? Will I finally, finally put away the suitcase that's been sitting almost empty by my bed ever since we got back from the beach? All I have to do is put that one last pair of underwear back into the drawer. That's all it will take to get 'er done, boys.

But the question is: Will I get 'er done? The suspense is killing you, I know. Yeah, me too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Homemade Life

So of course after my post on Monday I whisked Will off to the library, where I checked out thirty books on the following topics: Organic farming, Country Living, Chucking it All and Moving Fifty Miles from the Nearest Grocery Store, and Living Like the Amish Do Except with Cuter Outfits.

Will checked out books about baseball and bird watching, which suggests to me, despite my concerns about children's characters and proclivities, that my husband and I have done something right.

So I've been reading my books, but they're not quite right for my state of mind, it turns out. I think it's because I want to do something now, and what I'm not going to do right this very minute is make my husband quit his job (which he'd be very happy to do, by the way), buy that beautiful farmhouse outside of Oxford that I found online, and move back to the land to raise goats and chickens.

I'm not saying that we'll never buy the long-dreamed-for ten acres. I hope we do. But for now, we're here. So how do I live a homemade life in the here and now?

All this to say, I'm working on a manifesto. I was going to call it The Suburban Homesteader's Manifesto, except it turns out there's a book called The Suburban Homesteader, so that name is taken already. Maybe I'll call it The Homemade Life Manifesto. This is what I've got so far:

1. Living a Homemade Life means making and growing as much as your own food as possible (without going crazy).

I like this idea a lot. I'm seriously thinking about investing in a deep freeze for the garage and a book about how to build a root cellar. I also want to learn how to preserve food. Bread, I do already. Pasta, I'm willing to make the straight and narrow stuff (no more ravioli!). Breakfast cereal? Who will wean Will off of Corn Chex? And what will keep him from starving to death once one of his main food groups is taken off his menu?

2. Living a Homemade Life means buying local whenever possible and eating seasonally.

3. Living a Homemade Life means making it yourself, doing it yourself, and buying as little as possible (and when you do have to buy something, trying to get it secondhand first).

That would mean weaning Will, Jack and my own sweet self off of Target, a frightening notion. But I like a challenge. Some years we make our own Christmas cards, and I like to make Christmas and birthday presents when possible.

4. Living a Homemade Life means involving your family in all the above as much as possible.

So those are my first four Manifesto entries. Here's the thing: I think they're do-able, but I also think if I tried to overhaul my life all at once, I'd go bonkers. So I'm going to do what I can, starting with food, since I've been dabbling in the art of going local/seasonal/homemade for awhile now.

I will keep you posted on further Manifesto entries as well as my success in becoming a back-to-the-land-Little-House-in-the-Big-Subdivision pioneer. Now I'm off to find a hand-cranked washing machine and a scythe. More soon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rainy Monday Musings

I'm writing this on the screened porch. It's just started to rain. We've had a lot of clouds lately, and several late afternoon/early evening thunderstorms, but very little rain of the gentle morning variety. You can hear the garden applauding.

Just finished Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food. I actually started reading it last May, but it got me too excited about gardening at a time when it was too late to put in a good vegetable garden (we'd just moved into this house and hadn't had a chance to get digging), so I had to stop reading. But now I've got a vegetable garden in the backyard, thanks to my husband, and all that excitement generated by reading about locally grown food has a place to land.

I love the idea of growing and making as much of our own food as possible. For one thing, home grown and homemade just taste better. But also, I think making and growing your own food is good work. It's satisfying, it's creative, and it serves a purpose.

That's what I've been thinking a lot about lately. Wendell Berry, one of my heroes and favorite writers, posed the question succinctly: What are people for? To be honest, I think we don't know any more. Surely we weren't made to spend our lives in front of screens, were we?

Most of us--including me--are divorced from the things that sustain us. We don't grow our own food; we don't even know where it comes from. We don't make much of anything. A lot of us make our living doing things that aren't particularly meaningful to us. No wonder everyone's depressed. Our lives are arbitrary in so many ways.

And what are children for? Sometimes the answer seems to be that children are for being kept entertained and amused at all times so they don't bug us too much. Or for being sent to school, so that they can learn the skills they'll need to get jobs they don't much care about so they can make enough money to consume lots of products that will satisfy them so little that they'll have to run out and buy some more.

More and more, I'm thinking about what kind of good work I want to do and what kind of good work I want my children to do. This weekend at the farmers' market I met a man who quit his job to raise goats. His two sons (9 and 11) were there selling the goat cheese their family makes on their farm. They were quiet, competent kids, wrapping up logs of fresh cheese, taking money, making change. According to their dad, who I had a nice chat with, they help raise the goats and make the cheese. They are a part of their family's economy. They contribute. The work they do is actually meaningful.

I don't know if my husband and I will ever chuck it all and move to ten acres somewhere. We dream about it from time to time. My husband would be a great farmer. He loves being outdoors, loves growing things, loves having projects. I would love having chickens. And mostly I'd love to see my sons learning how to build things and take care of animals. I would love for them to have good work to do, work that means something to our family.

In the meantime, I'll continue to try to find work here that they can do and that will benefit our little home economy. I want to teach Jack how to make bread. I think the science of bread-making will interest him. I may get Will to make our Christmas cards. I suppose teaching them to sew their own clothes is out of the question (since, for one thing, I myself don't know how to sew clothes), but I bet I could teach them how to wash their own clothes. Oh, the possibilities are endless.

And important. I want my children to live lives that don't feel arbitrary. Hell, I want to live a life that doesn't feel arbitrary. That's the problem for those us raised in the suburbs and who are raising our children in the suburbs--you can feel like your life is weightless. You eat, sleep, go to work or school, find some way to keep yourself entertained while the household machines do their (your) work, the dishwashers and dryers humming along. You look for stuff to do, you look for stuff for your kids to do--and to what end? Where is the meaning?

Of course, I'm a believer in God, so I believe meaning is afoot in all our actions. But belief in God brings us back around to the question What are people for? What have we been created to do? I'm not sure of all the answers, but it's got to be more than keeping ourselves amused.

And I really, truly think the answer has something to do with growing our own tomatoes.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Failure of Ravioli

This is the second post today, but I just have to write. The boys are downstairs playing on the Wii; my husband is doing the dishes. I am in mourning. My homemade ravioli was a failure.

I've had such good cooking zen lately. I even stopped myself in the nick of time before trying out a shrimp recipe that was doomed to die on the plate. It was a cold shrimp and rice salad, made with zucchini and rice wine vinegar. I've fallen for a version of this over and over again, forgetting every time that I don't like the taste of cold pickled zucchini--and who eats zucchini with shrimp anyway? This time, I bought all the ingredients, and then the morning of the planned dinner, I snapped out of it. I read over the recipe and thought, No! No! Don't do this to yourself and your family and all those innocent little shrimp! I quickly switched gears, bought a little chorizo sausage, and made a great shrimp and sausage dish. I felt like freakin' Julia Child.

Pride goeth before a fall, isn't what they say? Yes, I was feeling cocky today when I thought, 'I'll make ravioli. Didn't I make wonderful fettuccine last week? Am I not the diva of freshly made pasta?'

The answer to that, Dear Reader, is a resounding No. The ravioli came out thick and flabby. It wasn't pretty. The only thing to do with is was cut away the pasta around the very center and eat what was left of the prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella that didn't leak out during the cooking process. To add insult to injury, it took an awfully long time to make it. I used five very expensive organic farmer's market eggs, and the whole process left the kitchen a wreck.

The sauce I made to serve with it, zucchini fresh from the garden sauteed with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil, was very nice. The bread was pretty and freshly baked. My husband was complimentary (believe me, he was being kind), and Jack said he actually sort of liked it, and he really liked the salad I made. That's when you know you've really blown it--when even your nine-year-old realizes you could use a little cheering up .

So now I'm exhausted and my clothes are covered in pasta dough and flour. I'm mad at all those books I read at the beach about life in Tuscany and Provence, books that make you feel the whole purpose of life is making your own pasta and eating lots of cheese, books in which there are no children and the adults sit out in the garden drinking wine for hours. What was I thinking about? Ravioli? Moi? Not in this lifetime, girls.

The Week in Review

First: Another Beach Insight. In years past, you'd go to the beach and most of the women who didn't fit in size 12 or below suits covered up in extra-large tee shirts. Some of them just wore tee shirts and shorts didn't bother with suits at all. They'd go into the water and emerge with their tee shirts plastered to their chests, their bras glowing whitely beneath.

This year almost everybody, regardless of size, wore a bikini.

Oh, not me. I wore a bikini in third grade. It was not particularly revealing. My dad still made fun of me. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, at the beginning of my beach week, noting the glut of bikinis on all sizes and shapes of gals, I wondered what cultural shift had caused for this sudden baring of skin. I decided it had to be one of two things: Denial or defiance. Because I personally can gain twenty pounds in a few months and be in complete denial about it, I wondered if was possible to be a size 20 and still put on a bikini and see a size 8 in the mirror.

But I preferred my defiance theory. I liked the idea that these women had decided that whatever size they were, they wanted to wear a cute suit. And maybe they weren't a size 8, but that didn't mean that their curves were unattractive. And to be honest, I saw a lot of women who looked lovely and rubenesque. I was happy they were enjoying themselves in the sun.

It took til the end of the week to occur to me that the reason I was seeing so many larger women in cute suits was quite simple: manufacturers have started making cute suits for larger women. In years past, if you were size 16 or up, you didn't have much of a choice. Now you do. And I'm glad women are choosing to toss the tee shirts and don the the bikinis. Just as long as they remember their sunscreen.


So this week I've been working harder on working harder on my children. Lately, I've been more conscious of how spoiled they are. Because they are generally well-behaved in public, and pretty okay at home when they're not at each other throats, they get cut a lot of slack. We've not made them do a ton of chores. It's easier for me to cook and clean and get the job done right than to take the time to make them do chores and teach them how to do them correctly, and because they protest so loudly and longly it doesn't even seem worth it. What it comes down to is, I've been a slack mom.

But the good times, boys, they are over.

It started with making Jack make chocolate chip cookies (which is not a bad place to start, as these things go). I got out the hard-to-find-when-you're-a-clueless-nine-year-old-boy ingredients, got out the Joy of Cooking and turned it to the right page, and then I told Jack to get going. And he did it. We've done a lot of baking together over the years, so it wasn't difficult for him. He made a fine batch of cookie dough.

He's been less happy about having to make his bed every morning and put his clothes in the hamper and pick up the books he leaves around everywhere and raking up the leaves under the magnolia tree and writing his birthday thank you notes (two months late) and clearing the table and training the dog, etc. etc.

I, on the other hand, have been very happy. And not just because it means less work for me. I'm happy because I think kids need to do chores and work hard, but as often happens with me, I don't always follow through on what I know is right. I am lazy. I avoid stressed out situations like the plague. By making Jack do what he should be doing around the house, I'm actually doing what I should be doing around the house.


I'm still waiting for the summer to settle into a routine. The weather can't decide to be cloudy or rainy. One of my best friends is moving. Appointments pop up here and there and throw the day out of whack. Sometimes I find myself standing in the middle of the kitchen feeling sad without knowing why, and I think it's because I'm not sure what's coming next.

And then I eat some chocolate, and it's all good.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I'm Back

I've actually been back for a week, and I meant to post right away. Honest, I did. But there was the unpacking, and the decluttering after the unpacking, and then there was the headache that started Wednesday morning and didn't let up until Friday afternoon. I get one of those suckers every three months or so, when my back and shoulders get out of whack and all the muscles clench up and it's like a vise tightening around my forehead. Sometimes they last a day, sometimes longer. And they're certainly not conducive to writing or any other creative production.

It's frustrating when you have a load of plans and then get knocked on your rear end. I came back from the beach full of ideas about life and how to live it. Bake more bread! Make my own pasta! Organize the house! Paint the walls!

And I did actually bake some bread, the sort that takes about twenty-four hours from sponge to finished loaves, and I'm very proud to report I made my first batch of homemade fettuccine and it was marvelous! I've had Amy's sister's pasta machine for about two years now and have lived in fear of it the whole time. Turns out, there's nothing to it, even for an old left-hander like me. I'd wondered if the end product would be worth the time and effort, given that you can get good dried pasta at the grocery store pretty cheaply. I'm here to say there really is a difference, and that homemade pasta is worth it. I don't know that I'll make pasta for every pasta dish I serve--it is a time-consuming process--but I'll definitely make it when I can.

So I did accomplish something last week, but then the headache hit, and all I could manage was basic house maintenance. Then, as my headache faded, we got hit by a huge storm and lost power for twenty-four hours. It wasn't so bad--the weather wasn't too hot, so the downstairs stayed moderately cool. But by the time the power came back on, I was too behind on the basics--laundry, grocery shopping, etc.--to get my Big Project Groove back on.

Anyway, I had lots of important insights from the beach to post, and maybe I'll get around to posting them this week. Here's the one I'll leave you with: At the pool, people seem happy or at least content (except for the mean moms and the terrified toddlers who won't get near the water). At the beach, people seem filled with joy. There is a kind of beach ecstasy. I think it's all that beauty and majesty right in front of you. Everything smells good, the water and sun feel good, and the ocean is so much bigger than us that all you can do is surrender to it, and then you are free.

More soon.