Saturday, September 27, 2008

Off to the Mountains

It's the boys' fall break, so we're headed west and up. I'm hoping for some crisp, fall weather. What it sounds like we're getting is a lot of rain. That's okay; my big plan is to knit for hours, if not days, at a time. I'm in total knit mode right now. It's all those leaves outside my window about to pop out in glorious shades of red and orange and yellow any second now. Just makes a girl want to pick up her needles and have at it.

I hope to return to you next week refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated, or at least with half my Christmas knitting done. See you soon!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Blustery Thursday

Fall has shown up on time this year--shocking! Usually I'm complaining well into October about heat and humidity and other miseries of living south of the Mason-Dixon line, but the last week or so has been lovely. Today it's overcast and blustery and sixty degrees, perfect for all sorts of activities, but most perfect for drinking tea and knitting.

Which is what I'll be doing most of the day, since I have a cold. I will resist moaning and groaning about it, because a) it's not that bad of a cold; and b) there's nothing worse than someone moaning and groaning about how lousy they feel, especially when their condition allows them to take a day off of work and knit. I can't write when my head is stuffed, so I don't even try. Well, I'm writing this, but this is fun writing. The other kind of writing I do is fun sometimes, but most often is akin to picking out bubblegum from a shag carpet with a toothpick.

Anyway. Knitting. Mostly I knit socks, because socks are portable and fast and they almost always fit. But I must admit, sometimes I want more of a challenge (sock-knitting only looks hard because you're working on three needles; in fact, it's easy as pie), and most recently I took up the challenge of knitting a lace cowl, thanks to Heather, who modeled this cowl a few weeks ago on her blog.

I'm not sure that a woman such as myself, a left-handed woman with two sons and a puppy and a husband who likes it when I actually glance at him from time to time during our conversations, should be knitting lacy things. It's so easy to get thrown off a stitch, and one stitch is all it takes to throw off everything. Which is to say, I've cast on this cowl eleven times and frogged it ten times. I think I finally have it figured out and may finish it up today since I'm--cough cough--too sick to work. I'm telling you though, as soon as it's off the needles, I'm framing the sucker.

While I've been knitting and hacking away, I've been listening to the most lovely podcast, Sticks and Strings, by David Reidy, an Australian bloke, as he puts it, who likes to knit. He seems like the nicest guy in the world, and I love hearing him talk about wool (that's yarn, to us Yanks) and what he's working on, and the latest knitting books. If you're a knitter, or just someone who likes to listen to Australians talk (it's awfully pleasant), I highly recommend tuning in.

I was going to post about what's going on with Jack right now, but I think I'll wait til tomorrow. I'll say this: I had no idea boys got into those icky, mean triangles that girls do, where one kid gets left out by the others and is generally made to feel miserable. I thought boys just beat each other up, which seems to me a much more honest and sensible approach. Who knew?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Auto-Pilot Morning

The first five minutes of the day are my worst five minutes of the day. I have actually developed a coping mantra that I start chanting in my head the second my feet hit the floor. It goes: Don't think, don't think, don't think. Because for the first five minutes of my day, every thought thunk is a negative one. Full of anxiety, up to its ears in stress and dread.

Once I'm actually awake and have had a sip of coffee, I'm usually fine. This does not mean I'm functional, however, which is why I do all my morning preparations the night before. I make the boys' lunches while I'm making dinner. I lay out clothes, including mine, put socks with shoes and put the shoes on the mantle (otherwise the dog will eat them). I place the backpacks by the door and make sure homework folders are in the backpacks. If the boys have requested french toast for breakfast, I mix up the eggs and milk and cinnamon and put a pan on the stove.

I do this not because I'm the queen of organization. I do this as a favor to my morning self. My morning self is capable of very little given her own devices. Drinking coffee. Blinking slowly. Cajoling children out of bed. That's about it.

In fact, there is little evidence that I'm actually awake as I'm getting boys out of bed and pouring the coffee and saying, "Time to brush your teeth, yes, you do have to brush your teeth or else they'll all fall out before you're seven that's why."

Which is why it should come as no surprise that this particular morning Jack, my lovely fourth grader, my wonderful child who has the sense of inchoate lemur, who is even less of a morning person than I, managed to go to school in his pajamas.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. He did put on his shorts (underwear? I'm not going to even check), but the shirt? It's the one he slept in. Which actually happens to be the shirt he wore to school yesterday, which for some reason he did not change out of last night. That would explain the double set of toothpaste stains.

Oh, it is a wrinkled, dirty shirt--and worse, it's the shirt he wore yesterday afternoon when he got his hair cut. So it is wrinkled, dirty and hairy and most likely itchy.

And I didn't notice it until he was grabbing his back pack out of the front seat when I dropped him off this morning.

Fortunately he's a boy and he doesn't care, and he will spend his day surrounded by other fourth grade boys who won't notice and fourth grade girls who might notice but who are too busy wondering what Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers are doing right this very second to care. I suppose his teacher might feel compelled to call Social Services in the face of such blatant parental negligence, but if she did, I'd quit room parenting and she'd have to do all the little "it's your day to read at lunchtime" reminder e-mails, so she won't.

Still, it's pretty pathetic. I should probably get up a half hour early and have a cup of coffee before the boys get up, just to avoid mishaps such as this. But I won't. Because I hate morning, and I'm willing to sacrifice my children's social status and physical comfort (that shirt has just got to itch) for five more minutes of sleep. That's just the kind of mother I am.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just Checking In

I've been trying to take a picture of the apron I made my mother for her birthday. It is a full length apron (that is, chest to knees) and needs a proper draping job to show off its cute little skirt. Unfortunately, Will is too short to model it effectively for the camera and Jack is too dignified. I've tried draping it over a bush and hanging it from a tree, without impressive results.

Add to the draping issues the problem of its needing to be ironed. I was hoping if I got the right play of shadow and light, you might not notice how wrinkled the apron is. Who was I kidding? A blind man would have noticed. (Please note: I was planning on ironing it before sending it to my mother. Honest, I really was not going to pretend it got wrinkled during shipping.)

Tomorrow I will iron and try again. The nice thing about showing you a picture is that you'll never know that it hangs sort of funny when worn by an actual human being (as opposed to a tree), or that it will probably fall apart during its first washing. My mom won't care. She's a mom. She knows that when it comes to a gift from a child, it's the thought that counts, even when said child is 44.

Despite my difficulties sewing an apron a four-year-old with decent fine motor skills could make, I am still determined to learn how to sew, if for no other reason than to convince myself I just can't be as stupid as sewing makes me feel.

Which reminds me: The other day I flipped through a file of old papers and found some of my elementary school report cards. There's one from fourth grade, and I've received check-pluses in everything except math, in which I've received a check-minus. My father has written a note in the comment section: "We are concerned our daughter is having problems with math. Is this a soft spot for her?"

If only my teacher--Mrs. Daughtery, an elderly woman with powdery skin and a penchant for polyester--had written back, "Math is a gaping, black cavity of despair for your daughter, and it always will be. From your note, I predict you will waste hundreds if not thousands of dollars on tutors and SAT prep courses for her, and later regret every dime when it finally dawns on you that, mathematically-speaking, your daughter is as dumb as dirt."

Really, it would have saved everyone a lot of grief in the long run.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Menu Plan Monday (etc.)

Here's the week's menu, brought to you (mostly) by Weight Watchers!

Sunday: General Tsao's Chicken, Egg Rolls
Monday: Turkey Kielbasa with tomatoes and brown rice
Tuesday: Spaghetti
Wednesday: More spaghetti
Thursday: Chickpeas with pasta
Friday: Hot dogs and tater tots for the boys, Weight Watcher's dinner for moi


I'm writing this while taking a break from writing. I'm revising a novel,which I hope to have back to my editor by the beginning of October, at which point she will pronounce it perfect and let me go on my merry way (if only ... sigh).

Whenever I'm working on a book, everything around me goes to pot. I can't think of the last time I cleaned the upstairs bathrooms. The floors all need a good scrubbing. And I regret to inform you I'm falling behind on my room parenting duties. Last night I remembered I needed to reply to a parent inquiry which I seemed to recall coming into my e-mail box sometime around Thursday ... whoops! Make that Monday a week ago! Fortunately, time was not of the essence when it came to my reply, but nevertheless, at least one parent has lost all faith in my room parenting abilities, and it's only September!

I'm losing my back-to-school energy, I can feel it. Do you get that back-to-school buzz, when you're on top of things, an organizational wizard, a brilliant maker of school lunches--you actually plan the lunches, make sure your grocery list is filled with delights that will send your children swooning at lunchtime--and then one day, the buzz is gone. Gotta get up, get the clothes, get the lunch (yogurt and a spoon! again!), drive the carpool, come home and clean up ... you do what you've got to get done, but without any pizzazz. School has become the new normal, and you've reverted to your same old self.

I had hoped being a room parent would stave off the entropy of mid-September, when it all starts to unravel. I will say that two weeks ago, when I was Miss Organized, I did a lot of advance work, because I know myself so well. I have learned over the years that when the mood to organize hits me, I should organize as much of the future as possible. I write dates down in the calendar through the following year, make appointments, sew buttons on shirts. Later, I thank myself for it. I really do.

Unfortunately, you can't respond to future e-mails. Ah, but that you could ...


This morning I went to Will's classroom to talk about being an author. I saw my friend the librarian beforehand, who handed me an Arthur book and asked me if I would please make the distinction for the kids between being an author and being an Arthur. Apparently, the two are one and the same for kindergarteners. So I did, but frankly, I don't think it cleared up much for them. If anything, they looked even more confused. Was I the arthur of the Arthur books? Did I know Arthur? Why is DW so mean?

I did my "I am an Author" talk four years ago, when Jack was in kindergarten. I even brought the same posters I'd made about my writing process, which Jack had illustrated for me. You know what's weird? He was a better drawer in kindergarten than he is now. How can that be?

The difference between this visit and the visit to Jack's kindergarten class? Well, when I visited Jack's class lo those many years ago, he immediately wanted to control everything. I brought a stack of my books for Jack to pass around, and he got very involved in that, giving everyone five seconds to look at a book before grabbing it and passing it on to the next kid. He told his classmates to be quiet when I was talking. He rode herd. In short, he acted like a typical first child.

Will, on the other hand, was totally laid back about the whole thing. He sat in a chair next to me (the other kids sat on the floor) and looked oh-so-nonchalant. 'Yeah,' his expression seemed to say, 'this is my mom, she's an arthur, no big deal.' He passed out the books, kept them moving, but otherwise, stayed out of things. Rolled his eyes a few times, especially when I suggested that to be a good writer you had to practice, the way that Will had to practice if he wanted to be a good baseball player. "Mom," he said. "I'm already a good baseball player." "But you want to be a great baseball player, and you'll have to practice really hard to be great." Deep intake of breath from Will. Roll of the eyes. As if to say, I believe we already know that I am great, okay?


Okay, back to the book. If you don't hear much from me in the next week or so, it's because I'm blowing all my creative energy on revising. But don't worry, if something really stupid happens to me--and it always does--I promise to tell you all about it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two Quick Notes

According to Will, when someone whines in his kindergarten class, his teacher says, "Well, honey, put your big boy pants on and deal with it." That's my kind of woman.

Today was school picture day for both boys. I don't know why I even bother ordering the things; I know they'll end up at the bottom of a desk drawer. Both of my boys are nice-looking children, so why can't we get a decent school picture of them? In his four years at Our Fine School, Jack has always had his picture taken right after gym AND NOBODY HAS EVER TOLD HIM TO COMB HIS HAIR! Kindergarten through third grade, each and every picture features a sweaty-headed Jack with his hair willy-nilly.

I think his teachers think it's funny.

Today I laid out a nice shirt for Will, a red and white striped polo shirt, and when he came downstairs, I helped him adjust the collar so it was sitting just right, and then I shooed him off to school. It wasn't until he came home that I realized that the shirt was inside out.

The thought that someone could have told him to change it so it was inside-in didn't occur to me until dinner, that's how unlikely that possibility was.

I'm sure his hair was perfect.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Here's what's up this week:

Monday: Smoked Cheese Pasta Bake
Tuesday: Ditto
Wednesday: Escarole with Bacon and White Beans
Thursday: Chicken with Broccoli and Garlic
Friday: Tacos (boys); Weight Watcher's Dinner (me)
Saturday: Pizza night


All the meals above with the exception of the pizza and tacos are either Weight Watcher's or Cooking Light recipes. Tonight I'm rejoining the ranks of Weight Watcher's International after a year away. Oh, the weight she do come back on. Not all of it, but enough to make me think it's time to get back on the wagon.

Really, I could do a whole blog about my life-long struggle with weight, dating back to the time of my first Twinkie, circa 1967. I fear it will always be a struggle. I've gotten to my goal weight and then skyrocketed back up too many times for me to think there is something at this late date--when my metabolism has more or less kicked back for the duration--that will put a halt to the cycle. Will power? Nope, that comes and goes. Triathalons? My knees are pretty shot already. Surgery? Doesn't work. Drugs? Don't like 'em.

No, the only thing to do is sign up for Weight Watchers, count points, exercise more, eat less, until I can't stand it any more. Then I'll take a break, gain back weight, panic, and begin the cycle again. I am the yo-yo diet poster girl, only when I do diet, it's in a healthy way. I don't starve myself, I eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, I never pass up dessert.

I will say, if you have to diet, Weight Watchers is the way to go. It's a very sane approach to eating and weight loss. Does it work in the long run? I think for a lot of people it does, in one way or another. I know a fellow WW vet who's lost over a hundred pounds and she struggles to keep the weight off, hits big, bad plateaus, gains. But she shows up every week and gets weighed, and I think that's the trick if there's any: showing up and getting on the scale. I always know I'm in trouble when I can't bring myself to step on the machine. That's how it's been all summer, and I'm paying for my lack of fortitude now with tight waistbands and flabby upper arms (who are we kidding? I could weigh 115 and still have flabby upper arms).

So expect skinnier menus in upcoming weeks. Fortunately, my husband's in the mood to lose, too. Of course, he'll drop ten pounds in two weeks, the way men do, and I'll have to grit my teeth through week after week of half-pound losses. Really, it's not fair. But at least he won't complain about eating mock shepherd's pie. The boys? Oh, they'll complain all right, but they'd complain anyway, and besides, they can eat whatever they want and not gain a pound. Talk about unfair!

Okay, off to rid the house of chocolate ...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wedding Report

I went to a wedding this weekend. My husband's young cousin was getting married to a beautiful girl from the mountains. My hope is that I would get some good stories to post here, tales of tackiness and horrible couture. Unfortunately, my husband's family is comprised of upstanding, well-dressed Southern Baptists who don't drink at weddings and therefore are not the least bit outrageous. It's disappointing, really.

But I held out hope that maybe the other family--the bride's family--would be a little bit awful. Mother in five-inch heels with tattooed ankles, gum chomping sisters for bridesmaids, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, they also were appropriately coiffed and clothed. Oh, some of the younger women wore too much make-up--this was true across both families--and I could have done without all the strapless dresses. It's not a look that I find generally appealing, mostly because dresses without straps fill me with anxiety. They are so poised to go very, very wrong.

The ceremony itself was lovely, and clocking in at eighteen minutes (my husband timed it), the exact right length for little boys who don't know how they can survive five minutes of all that froth and frippery, much less an hour. Music by Bach, Beethoven and Pachelbel. Bridesmaid's dresses complete with straps, and quite attractive. Handsome groomsmen, always a welcome addition to any wedding party.

At the reception, I sat at a table with my husband and sons and ten or so of my husband's two trillion cousins. I was seated next to Cousin Linda's husband George. I never call George "George" because I can never remember if that's actually his name (it is). Anyway, George has always been a reasonably friendly, laid-back kind of guy, and yesterday he was particularly talkative, telling me about his cameras and his job and how he told the Sears delivery people they better bring his new washer and dryer on Sunday unless they wanted to lose the sale.

It was a nice enough way to pass the time, though I would have rather been talking to Linda about children and clothes and family gossip. Then, today, I find out what the family gossip is: Linda and George have separated after their daughter found some of George's e-mails to another woman. George attended the wedding to put a good face on things. In retrospect, I wondered if I'd been put in a compromising position without knowing it. But life's too short to worry if you've been made an unwitting pawn in somebody's else's marital spat. And I suspect that George was just happy to have someone to talk to who didn't know the terrible truth about his marriage.

All in all, it was a good wedding. The bride was glowing, the groom was over the moon, and the roast beef was rare. I felt cute in my new dress and accessories. Nobody had a strapless dress emergency (I think my prayers held all the dresses up). Really, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon if you believe in everlasting love and extra servings of wedding cake, which I most certainly do.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Shopping News

As I write this I am wearing a necklace.

I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, except that this is, to the best of my knowledge, the second necklace I've purchased for myself since 1979.

I am not a shopper. There are reasons for this. One, my weight tends to fluctuate twenty pounds this way, then twenty pounds that way, so 50% of the time I can't abide the idea of trying on new clothes (or any clothes, for that matter). It's depressing. Add this to the fact that my mother is a notorious tightwad and as a result of her training it is nearly impossible for me to buy anything that isn't on sale, reduced by at least 40%, preferably 80%. Which means I'm forced to shop in the dregs.

Also: When left to my own devices, I will buy nothing but black vee neck tee shirts and khaki capris and black shoes. That's it. I don't, as a rule, accessorize.

But last year I had a somewhat transforming shopping experience, thanks to my friend Danielle. I had to buy outfits for upcoming author visits at various schools. Danielle, who is very stylish and always accessorizes, went with me to Kohl's, parked me in the dressing room, and began bringing in clothes for me to try on. She brought in shoes. She brought in jewelry. She picked things I never would have thought would look good on me, but they did. She picked things I never would have picked in a million years, but I really liked them once I tried them on. It was my own episode of "What Not to Wear."

I learned a lot shopping with Danielle. Have I applied what I learned to shopping sessions since? Well, I do make myself try on things that I might not normally try on, and I try on things even when they're not on sale (so many of the nicer garments never are). Those have been good lessons. A big lesson is, sometimes it pays to pay more. You pay for quality, and quality lasts. This is a hard truth for the daughter of a tightwad, but I'm trying to absorb it.

But I still haven't gotten the knack for accessorizing. Mostly, it's laziness. Who has time to pore over the racks of jewelry, all of it looking pretty much the same? I have all kinds of loopy and hoopy earrings, dangling earrings don't work with my hair, and all the rest of the earrings look like earrings I already have.

But today I had to buy a dress to wear to a wedding this weekend. It's a church wedding followed by a parish hall reception. People will dress nicely, but not city-fancy-nice. Many of the younger women in attendance will wear dresses that are too slinky and tight and only one or two of them at most will get away with it.

I found a simple dress, black and gray and pink, scoop necked, just below the knee hemline. Pretty, but not too formal for this kind of wedding. It fit,it looked nice. But with that scoop neck, I knew--because I have been tutored by Danielle--that I needed a necklace. And probably some earrings to go with the necklace. So I went to the jewelry counter and begin sorting through strand after strand of necklaces until I found some black pearls (fake) strung at one-inch intervals on a silver chain. Pretty. I found some pink pearl (fake) earrings that matched the pink in the dress.

In short, Reader, I accessorized. I bought two black vee neck tee shirts to celebrate, and when I got home, I put on my necklace, which I've been wearing all day. I wore it to pick up Will from school and suddenly felt at home among all those chic kindergarten mothers I see everyday and up til now have always felt apart from.

Who knows, maybe tomorrow I'll go out and buy a bracelet. I am swooning at the very thought.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Close Encounters of an Imaginary Kind


Today Will had a playdate with Matthew, his best friend. It was decided that I would drop off Will at the pool, where Will and Matthew would swim under the supervision of Meg, Matthew's mom and my good pal. Will taught himself to swim this summer, and has become a strong but cautious swimmer, sticking to the shallow end and the slide.

It wasn't until I got home that panic seized me. What was I doing letting Will go to the pool without me? What if Meg began chatting with a friend, lost sight of Will, and he got tangled up with some other boys and was held under without anyone realizing what was happening? What if he drowned? It was all I could do not to yell to Jack and his friend Aidan to jump in the car; we were going back to the pool to save Will.

It's hard to explain how visceral this all was, how scared I suddenly felt. I went deep into my imagination. You're having a perfectly normal day, better than some, because the weather is lovely and it's a holiday, so there's not all that driving around to do. And then the phone call comes, and your whole life changes because you were stupid and neglectful...

It is nearly impossible for me to imagine life without Will. A future without Will. Will not growing up, becoming a man. But this afternoon, I let myself feel it. And I knew I couldn't survive it.

I kept an eye on the clock. I'd dropped Will off at 12:30, and Meg's plan was to take the boys to her house around 2. Every minute that passed was a minute closer to that time when Will would be out of the water and safe. Meg won't lose sight of Will, I kept telling myself. There are lifeguards there. Will is strong and won't let himself get in harm's way.

Slowly, the imaginary grief of losing Will left me and I went about the business of my afternoon. When the phone rang at 4, I knew it would be Meg reporting in (we do this, just to keep the other updated on the ongoing successes and failures of the boys' playdates). "We just got back from the pool!" she said. "I couldn't get the boys to leave!"

Ever since he's been home, I've kept my eye on him. Not because I think anything's going to happen to him here (except that if he keeps practicing his slides across the family room carpet he's either going to break a leg or get a serious rug burn). No, I just want to keep him in my sights, pay attention, commit his lovely and wild five-year-old self to memory

How strange to feel like I almost lost him today.


My husband met a bear today. In the woods. By himself. A million miles from nowhere.

I'm sure it's a story he'll be telling the rest of his life: The Time I Almost Got Eaten by a Bear. He's a good story teller, and he'll embellish and exaggerate and make it funny. And there are funny parts to it, like when he thought about getting his camera out and taking a picture of the bear, but then thought better of it. He imagined his mauled body lying across the trail, his camera in his hand, the park rangers shaking their heads at his idiocy. "Shoulda run," they'd be saying. "Idiot shoulda run instead of taking pictures."

He didn't run when he saw the bear crossing the trail in front of him. He backed up slowly, and then a little faster. The bear was distracted by the sound of branches breaking up the hill, and my husband hoped she'd follow that noise instead of his scent, but she turned back to him and approached. He backed up, she walked toward him. Finally he scrambled up an embankment so he'd look bigger to the bear. He continued to move away from her, picking up a big stick as he did. She didn't scramble after him, and must have lost interest, because after a few minutes she let my husband go on his way.

What an exciting story! What an adventure! How close my husband came to being eaten by a bear and I didn't even know it! What a fun phone call that would have been--when it finally came; how many days would I have waited until they found him?

Now that I've written this story down, I don't want to think about it anymore. I don't want to wrap my overactive imagination around it, sift through alternate endings. I think instead I will let the story mellow a bit and soften around the edges, until it's nothing but funny.

That should be in about a hundred years.