Friday, October 31, 2008

I Emerge Victorious

Let it be said that a six-foot long Storm Trooper costume is no match for me. No matter that it is made from some fabric loosely defined as a rayon/polyester/nylon mix that resists a needle and thread like nobody's business. No matter that I had to remove foam rubber arm pads and epaulets and then reattach them later to the slippery, nightgown-like material. No matter that I was flying blind, making it up as I was going along, winging it big time.

Will it win an award at next year's National Tailor's Convention? No. There are few straight seams, the sleeves are not the same length, and the elastic waistband is connected with safety pins (for adjustment purposes). But it fits and does not look ridiculous, and that's all I was shooting for.


Next project: Painting. On getting the house ready to sell, the previous owners, on the advice of their realtor, no doubt, painted the upstairs hall, master bedroom, and both upstairs bathrooms. I assume the realtor did not advise them to buy cruddy paint brushes that shed all over the wet paint, but that is exactly what they did. I also assume the realtor did not advise them to paint the aforementioned areas in office greys and beiges, but they did that, too.

So I've been looking at paint chips--peaches and periwinkles, light, friendly colors that make a girl look a few years younger--and now I'm working up to actually painting. First, I will buy the paint. Then I will realize that my husband has taken all the paint gear to the mountain house, so I will go back and buy brushes and rollers and pans and tarps. Then, sometime around next March, I will actually start painting.

Today is Will's birthday! We celebrated last night, as tonight is trick-or-treating. We added more Legos to his collection (because that's what he wanted and because we are insane) and a baseball pitch-back net, and some arrowheads and cards my husband made with the dog's picture on them.

So Will is six. I know he has to grow up, and it will be interesting to watch as he grows, but it makes me sad that one day we will leave the little boy version of Will behind. He is a fine little boy, a lover of baseball and Legos and trucks and dogs. He makes friends easily, is open and generous and good natured. His feet are still cute. I'm glad we have him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

I voted today. I always get very emotional when I vote; really, I tear up. I am moved by seeing democracy in action. I'm proud of the folks who volunteer to work the polls, and I'm proud of how civil people are to each other in line, chatting about the weather and the cute baby waiting for his mom to vote, talking about all kinds of things except who we'll be voting for. That's as it should be, of course. A vote is a personal thing.

For the first time in our marriage, my husband and I will not be canceling out each other's votes. We keep shaking our heads over this. Something serious must be going on for us to cast our ballots for the same candidate. It is possibly a sign of the coming Apocalypse, which is to say this could be a good time to invest in an underground shelter and start stocking up on canned goods.


If you don't hear much from me for the rest of the week, it's because I'll be altering Jack's Storm Trooper costume for Halloween. This was his big birthday present when he turned nine. I swear to you I ordered the large child size costume, but what we got was man-sized. Of course, Jack put it on and got it dirty before I could return it, so we're stuck with it, and it wasn't cheap.

The good news is, Jack is a tall kid, and the bottom half of the suit actually fits reasonably well if you ignore a little bit of a droopy drawers effect. The bad news is, the bottom half is attached to the top half, and the top half is humongous. Jack's chest is twenty-two inches; the costume's, forty-four. The sleeves are half a foot too long.

Well, I complain a lot about Jack being oblivious, but here's where having an oblivious child comes in handy. As long as I don't totally mess it up, Jack probably won't notice how goofy my alterations are. I'm going to separate the top and the bottom, put an elastic waistband in the pants, and see if I can pull in the seams of the shirt. Wish me luck. If you don't hear from me again by next week, assume the worst.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

See You in a Few Days

We're off to the mountains for a long weekend. I'd meant to post something witty and true about the awfulness of packing for trips, how bad my family is at it, how we never leave when we say we're going to, how we always forget something important, how I feel like this may be the time we finally forget the fish.

But I don't have time. We're supposed to leave in thirty minutes. Little forward progress has been made. I must run in hopes that we'll only get left one hour instead of two behind schedule.

See you next week!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Artsy Fartsy Weekend

I said I was going to have an artsy weekend, and by golly, I did. Usually my weekend plans are in tatters by the time Friday afternoon rolls around, and I never, ever spend Sunday afternoons writing letters and reading, though this is my intention every single weekend. But this weekend, I made plans and I kept them.

Friday morning I went to see the El Greco/Velazquez exhibit at my local neighborhood museum (it is convenient in more ways than one to live near a major university). Much to my surprise--and dismay--it cost fifteen bucks to get in. Fifteen bucks! I guess that's to keep those pesky poor people out, I don't know.

The problem with major exhibits that cost fifteen bucks is that you feel like you better have a profound viewing experience, because a) you paid for it; and b) at those prices, you won't be going back a second time. The other problem is they're crowded with people who are also after profound viewing experiences. Many of them have rented the $3 headsets, so their viewing experience gets in the way of yours as they cluster in front of paintings and listen to the voices in their heads.

Me, I like to live with a painting. I personally think that the best sort of art exhibit would be the kind where they let you check out the paintings one at a time to take home (along with a security guard) so you could ponder them at different times of day, in different lights.

The next best thing is to be able to go back to a gallery or museum over a period of a few weeks (or a lifetime) and visit the paintings and think about them and revise your thoughts about them and just exist with them. Since I live only five minutes away from this museum, and most of its exhibits are free, I've been able to do that.

But not with El Greco. Instead, I got bandied about by crowds and pushed aside by senior citizens on tour, but by walking back and forth and around and about, I got to spend a little time with the paintings and appreciate them. At the very least, I got a good feel for what the fuss was all bout.

On Saturday, I went to see "The Secret Life of Bees" with my friend Bridgette. I am one of five people alive who hated the book, and guess what? I didn't like the movie either, though the acting is great. What I liked was grabbing a bite to eat with Bridgette afterwards and tearing the movie apart and then going to buy hand lotion. It was a very girly sort of thing to do, and I hardly ever do girly, so I enjoyed myself immensely.

Sunday--The Quilters' Guild Show. Fabulous. Genius. No headsets. Many of the quilts were true works of art and made me think of all those jerk boys in college who asked jerk questions like, "If women are equal to men, why are there no great women artists?" I would have liked to march all those boys--who hopefully have wised up on their own by now--in front of those quilts and said, "Here are your great women artists, you big jerks. Women make art everyday; you're just too stupid to see it."

But I would have said it in a kind, gentle voice, as to not bruise their egos and thus blind them to the beauty in front of their very eyes.

Oh, but there's beauty before our eyes all over the place, that's the good news. Children, flowers, the light playing its little games in the trees. I suppose life could be artsy fartsy all the time if we'd just let it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Can I Pay Someone to Do This?

It has started. The weeding. The back-breaking, bond-bending, soul-emaciating weeding.

I began on Monday. Thirty minutes in the attic. It was all I was mentally capable of. I honestly thought I'd been in there an hour and a half. "No more!" I cried, running into the hallway. "I can toil no longer in that dark and gloomy cavern!" Or something like that, only with more cussing. I haven't been back in since.

I've poked my nose into Will's room a time or two, but I can't work up the mental and psychological energy to commence. If someone would give me permission to simply fill up four or five large trashbags with every last thing Will's room contains, I could do it. It's the parsing and sorting and redistributing I can't stand the thought of.

And then, for reasons I can not ascertain, I began on my study. The closet has been on my list for some time, but only in a sort of "ha ha, like that will ever happen" sort of way. Yet on Wednesday I began pulling out its contents and making piles of papers (it's all papers--school papers, church papers, publishing papers, stuff I've torn out of newspapers). I now have about ten pounds of paper that's headed straight for the recycling bin. The closet looks much better. My study, however, looks like I've been hosting Motocross races across the middle. Disaster. Another room I can no longer face.

Kitchen floor: still unmopped. Refrigerator: needs a good emptying out and scrubbing down. Boys bathroom: enter at your own risk.

However, I have been to see a lovely exhibit of El Greco paintings today, and tomorrow there's an exhibit of quilts downtown, and the boys are off camping with the Scouts, so I should get a lot of knitting done this weekend. Plus, I've been working on some nifty collages and reading Joan Acocella's Twenty-Seven Artists and Two Saints, which I highly recommend. What can I say? Yet again, Art triumphs over housework.

May it ever be thus.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Notes on a Tuesday

I spent most of the morning getting prepared for Jack's Southern Hot Lunch at school. I was in charge of fried chicken (buying it, not making it, thank goodness), green beans, mac and cheese and banana pudding. Normally I don't serve banana pudding after Labor Day, but this was a special occasion.

You would be proud of my organizational zest and zeal (especially those of you who know how unorganized I am most days). I called Hardee's yesterday to make sure they started serving chicken before noon and then later drove by Hardee's to see if they took credit cards in case I didn't have enough cash on hand to pay for the chicken (they did) (only wish I'd remembered to ask about that on the phone). This morning, while the mac and cheese was cooking and the beans were heating, I found a plastic bin to carry the serving platters and utensils in, and threw in some extra cups and spoons, just in case. I went out to the garage and got the coolers to carry the food and loaded them in the van.

At 10:45 I zipped over to Hardee's to pick up the chicken, only to learn it would take thirty minutes. No problem. Zipped back home. Got everything packed up in a neat and organized manner. Back to Hardee's to get the chicken. At school I went to the teacher's lounge to pick up the cart I knew was there because I'd asked the librarian this morning at drop-off if I could use a shelving cart to carry in my stuff (an idea that had come to me in the middle of the night) and she told me about the big cart in the teacher's lounge.

You're waiting for it, aren't you? The big mess up, the moment where I trip and launch banana pudding all over the principal? Didn't happen. Lunch was served on time, in an orderly fashion. The kids liked it. The teacher liked it. I sat with Jack and had a good conversation with his seatmates about books. I made it out in time to pick up Will from kindergarten.

Quite frankly, I am very impressed with myself. And totally, completely, wholeheartedly exhausted. Next time, I'm winging it.


The other day, Will watched the movie "Balto," about an Alaskan sled dog who saves a village by racing to get medicine and bringing it back just in the nick of time. Will has already listened to the audiobook, which we have, dozens of times, and that night he asked my husband to read him the book, which we also have. After my husband finished reading, Will looked up at him and asked, "What do you think Travis will do?" (Travis being our dog.)

"What do you mean, 'What will Travis do'?" my husband asked him.

"When he grows up?"

Boy, I don't know, but I sure hope Trav doesn't scootch across the floor on his bottom during his job interviews the way he enjoys doing around the house. Why does he do that, anyway? No, don't tell me. Let it remain one of life's little mysteries.

(But don't you love Will's question?)


This morning Will woke up covered in blue marker. He claims to have no idea how it happened. Face, hands, legs--and his white school tee shirt he changed into sometime in the middle of the night, the one he's supposed to wear at his music recital on Friday.


I really can't top that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's Monday ...

... And I have no idea what to do with myself.

That's right: I finished my revision. It is done! Over with! Completed! That is, until my editor tells me to revise it again, which she will. The big hope is that it'll be a smaller revising job and won't so fully consume my life next time around.

So here I am, the proverbial turtle who's had her head tucked away in her shell for the last couple of months and is finally peering out into the light. And what do I see?

First, I see Will's room. It's impossible not to see it, since apparently a huge explosion has gone off inside it and now its contents are spilling into the hallway. In fact, Will's room appears to be waging a campaign to take over the entire house.

I've written about Will's room before. It is impossible to keep up with, no matter what game plan you put in place. You can invest in storage bins, divest of huge amounts of clutter, make it a daily requirement that he tidy up, it does not matter. Entropy rules in Will's room. Chaos is the word.

Here's my rationale for ignoring the bombsite that is Will's room: Constant clutter is the price we pay to have a boy so happily occupied. Nevertheless, at some point there are health code violations to be considered. Order must be imposed. Dried mucus must be peeled from the walls and Skittles unstuck from the floors. A girl can only take so much.

The other thing that won't get out of my sight-lines is the attic. Even though the door is shut, I can feel the mounting clutter pushing against it, just waiting to get out. The fact is, the attic needs a good weeding. It's become half storage space, half holding area. Don't know where something goes? Throw it in the attic. Think this toy/pair of pants/plastic thingy needs to go to Good Will? Throw it in the attic. Wrapping paper? Attic. Old magazines? Attic.

So, yes, it is time to go through the attic, stack storage bins, buy new bins to replace cardboard boxes, and fill the cardboard boxes with stuff for Good Will. I'm trying to motivate myself by remembering that Christmas is coming and we have lots of stuff that would make great Christmas presents ... for other people's kids. I'm sure Santa would appreciate it if I got this stuff to Good Will sooner rather than later.

Those are the two big things in my sights, problems I'd like to solve, mountains I need to climb. There are loads of other jobs, too--mopping and polishing the hardwoods, straightening out the mud room and the laundry room, and if I don't mop the kitchen floor soon, someone's going to get permanently stuck there.

So I have a list of things to do. Now, the question is, will anything actually get done? Or will I sit around reading and knitting, occasionally rising to throw a plate in the dishwasher, rehang a bath towel? My potential for utter laziness is great. Well, "laziness" isn't quite the right word. I guess "inertia" is better. I've been working, working, working, been a body in motion staying in motion ... and now I've stopped. Is it possible to get going again in another direction, the direction of a clean and orderly house?

If the past is any indicator, I will make attempts to get going, take trips to the Target to purchase cleaning products and organizational aids, and in the end, I will pull my head back into my shell, where it feels safe and warm, and nobody has stuck their effluvium to the walls.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday Updates

You know you're getting old when you leave town for thirty-six hours and it takes seventy-two hours to recover.

For several years I've traveled without my family, usually for school visits or publishing events. I'm proud to report I've finally figured out how to ensure I return to a clean house: I get the boys so overscheduled while I'm gone that they're never actually inside the house except to brush their teeth and sleep. Works like a charm!

The children's school pictures came back on Friday. Can I just say that school pictures may be the biggest rip-off since Pssst Dry Shampoo? The worst: Now you have to pay extra for that blue or green "gemstone color" background. I assumed if I opted not to pay, I'd get a nice, cloudy sky blue like every other year--not "gemstone," but nice enough.

Big mistake. What came back are really weird-looking pictures--as though color pictures had been superimposed over a black and white photo. Both of my children have the gray pallor of coal miners.

Will's eyes are closed in his picture, by the way, and you can clearly see that his shirt is inside-out. For once, Jack doesn't have a sweaty-head and he's actually smiling (you can always tell the children of photographer parents--they've used up all their smiles by age four). Too bad he looks like the living dead.


I'm having a terrible time with Weight Watchers this go-round. It's not Weight Watchers' fault. They are offering the same old sensible advice, printing out the easy to follow guides, cheering me on with supportive cheers. No, the problem is me and my insistence on leaving the safety of my own kitchen.

In Boston, I went out to dinner at a place called Olives (not to be confused with the Olive Garden, thank you very much) on my publisher's dime. I'd had to give a speech earlier and then spent another hour or so chatting with many lovely and kind librarians. I was famished. And so when the opportunity came, I ate. I ate oysters and onion torte and the most marvelous greek salad and french fries (you can see I'm starting to get in trouble here) and half a turtle sundae. I drank two glasses of red wine. Oh, and there was the bread basket. Bread to die for, I swear to you.

I came home, hoping against hope that at the very least I hadn't gained weight. I'd done a lot of walking, right? Roamed Beacon Street and the Boston Commons and Boylston and St. James. I'd walked through airports and across hotel lobbies. Lotsa walking. Miles and miles.

In fact, I told myself after that wonderful spinach and feta omelet ... and homefries ... and toast ... that I'd probably lost weight on my little foray into the big world.

Nope. Gained three. Skipped my WW meeting last night. But I'm back on my program today and trying to be sane and eat enough but not too much. It helps that I'm not going out of town ... for two more weeks. And then three weeks after that, it's Thanksgiving. Then Christmas.

I'm doomed.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vacation Typology

Have you ever taken a personality quiz where it asks you about what kind of vacation you prefer? Are you the type who likes to wander around historic tourist traps? Dump the kids off with the hotel babysitter while you and your hubby dance the night away? Do you have the inner ear stability and the fat wallet to weather Disney World? Or are you the type of vacationer who likes to go to scenic spots and just sit around?

Me, I'm a sit-around gal. In fact, I'm already planning the trip to Italy I plan to take for my fiftieth birthday: I want to rent a farmhouse somewhere in Umbria or Tuscany for a month and just sit there. Doesn't that sound grand?

Fortunately, my husband also likes to sit around. Our vacations take us to two spots: the beach and the mountains. We overpack the van with more food than we'll ever eat, more clothes than we'll ever wear, and more books than it is humanly possible to read in the course of a week. We always leave home at least two hours later than we planned on, and race like the wind to get to wherever we're going in time to pick up the key from the rental agency. We get there, we unpack, we sit. Occasionally someone looks out the window and says, "Wow, it's really nice here."

This past weekend we went to the mountains, which is a grand spot for sitting around. Oh, occasionally my husband will drag the boys down to the creek to go fishing, and we even pondered hiking up Roan Mountain, but the mere act of pondering wore us out, and back down we sat.

It will amaze you, then, to know that I returned home exhausted from our little vacation. This is because we went to the mountains with my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful woman in so many ways, but who is, shall we say, psychologically complex. She spends a whole lot of time trying to figure out what you want her to say and do, and about fifty percent of the time she gets it wrong, and the other fifty percent of the time she irritates you to death because you wish she'd just say what was on her mind or do what the spirit moved her to do. I know she's this way because of how she was raised. I know she means well and wants to please. But after thirty-six hours of it, I crack. I say things I regret. I grow sarcastic and flippant. I have a constant need to nap.

We got home on Tuesday night, and I didn't know whether to go directly to bed or turn on the stereo really, really loud and do some theraputic yelling. Yesterday, I walked around in a daze. Today I'm doing better, but I have to fly to Boston tomorrow, so it's hard to settle down, enjoy the little things in life that keep me sane--writing, my dog, my funny children, my doting husband. I'll be back on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday I plan to take a mini-vacation in my living room. I'm going to sit down in my favorite chair, look out the window, and think, "Wow, it's really nice here."