Monday, December 14, 2009

Just Checking In

Once again, Christmas is kicking my butt.

I had a dream things would be different this year. All knitted gifts would be wrapped up with a pretty bow by October. The house would be clean and tidy and purged by December 1. Gifts bought and wrapped by December 2.

Oh, the best laid plans of mice and me.

I came roaring out of the gate after Thanksgiving. Big, big plans for cleaning and chucking and making straight all the paths. I had two days of beautiful purging when disaster struck: the dreaded stomach bug. Six days, shot. No knitting, no gifting, the end of purging. Lots of lying on the couch napping.

When I got back on my feet again, I was behind. I'm still behind.

It's like this every year. I make my big, big plans, all for naught. I always spend the middle two weeks of December in a mild or acute state of panic. I lie in bed at night making lists of all the things I need to do. I toss and turn.

This year my problems are compounded by the fact my parents are coming for Christmas. On the one hand, they are pretty laid-back customers and don't expect perfection. On the other hand, I want to make things nice for them. For everyone.

Did I mention I'm coming down with a cold?

And did I mention that the pattern for the sweater I'm knitting my dad just sort putters out at the end, leaving me on my own when it comes to the finishing? Yep. Thank goodness for Ravelry and the kind knitters there. I posted my problem in the Sweaters group, and an expert angel figured out what I needed to do and wrote out instructions for me--and they work!

Still, I was supposed to have finished that sweater in October.

So I haven't been blogging much, or visiting blogs, or doing anything except running around doing the next thing and the next. But here's the good news: I decided last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, that I will buy rolls for Christmas Eve dinner instead of making them. You can buy perfectly good ready-to-bake yeast rolls in the freezer section. High-falutin' rolls. Rolls my boys will gobble up and ask for more.

Which is to say, I haven't gone completely insane, at least not yet. Who knows what other projects I'll abandon? What other plans I'll toss into garbage bin?

I think I'll go make a list.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Giving Up

I'm sad to report that I am giving up on knitting lace once and for all. I have made two attempts (and a hundred attempts within those attempts, if you know what I mean), and they have undone me.

Even sadder, the spiral scarf I knit out of the silk yarn intended for a lace shawl after I'd given up on the lace shawl is a puny, scrawny little thing. No self-respecting neck would be caught dead in its sorry, spirally little grip.

What to think when you've invested significant time, effort and money into a project, only to fail? As a process knitter, I don't begrudge the hours. As a tightwad, I really regret spending the big bucks on the yarn. Do you want it? I'll unravel it and send it to you. It would give me joy to think someone might knit something out it. It's pretty, I'll give it that.

I guess what I'm wondering is who came up with this lace-knitting idea in the first place? Who thought, 'I know, I'll knit something up with yarn like dental floss, do lots of yarn overs and k2tog's and slowly drive myself insane'? Whose great big friggin' bad idea was that?

As for me, I'm going back to socks and sweaters. Knitting that makes sense. Real Woman knitting. Sane person knitting.

Let me know if you want the yarn.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


There seem to have been more newspaper articles than usual this year about insufferable relatives during the holidays. They have made me especially thankful. Across my extended families (mine and the Man's), you will find difficult people, the occasional inappropriate or ill considered comment, some misunderstandings, moments of tension. Not everyone is close. But there is a general feeling of good will and affection, and these things overcome most bad family behavior.

Still, I find myself expecting the worse when the holidays come and it's time to visit the relatives. It's like taking out insurance: If you assume the worst will happen, you're often happily surprised, and if the worse does happen, you're prepared. You came bearing no Norman Rockwell visions, and so aren't disappointed when the turkey is still raw after four hours in the oven and Uncle Pete is drunk and telling the same dirty jokes he told last year.

If you expect a certain passive-aggressive relative to drop some seemingly innocuous comment ("I think your face looks younger when you have a little extra weight on you"), and she doesn't, well, isn't that nice? And if she does, you were expecting it and it's funny. One of my favorite anecdotes I read this week was about two friends who played a kind of holiday family bingo. They had a list of comments they expected to hear ("Why aren't you married?" "That skirt makes your bottom look big"), and the first one who heard all of them called her friend and yelled, "Bingo!" That's a good way to survive with your sense of humor in tact.

One thing I've come to expect when visiting our older relatives is that they will get tired after twenty-four hours, and once they get tired, they have a much harder time not telling it like it is. My mother, when tired, will often remember comments I made about life and how to live it when I was seventeen. It is the rare seventeen-year-old who isn't an idiot, at least when it comes to the meaning of life, and I don't think it's nice to remind us what imbecilic things we've said in the past.

Here's how I disarm her: I say, "You're right, Mom, I was an idiot. Thank you for remembering."

Tomorrow we're going to Cousin Jane's for Thanksgiving, which is our tradition. I'll enjoy it, because no one there knows what an idiot I was when I was seventeen. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Man. Sadly for him, his mother was fond of recording her children during their more philosophical moments, and you never known when she'll break out the tapes. This is why we're coming home on Friday. And on Saturday we'll roast a turkey, raise a glass to family and friends, and turn off all recording devices.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Report

I made it back from Scarsdale alive. Now how many people can say that?

I will admit to you how pathetic I was at the airport last Thursday. I'd woken up that morning filled with vim and vigor, prepared to stare Nature in the eye and say, "You don't scare me." But by the time I'd dragged my suitcase from my car to the Delta desk, I was very much scared. The winds were whipping up, blowing folks sideways as they crossed from the parking deck to the terminal. I wondered why flights weren't being cancelled.

By the time I'd gotten through security and found my gate, I was starting to get upset. I was not helped at all by the announcement that those of us on Delta Flight 6349 should be sure to use the restroom and get something to eat, because given today's winds, there would be no in-flight service. We'd all be chained to our seats.

This is the point I started to have a mild freakout. Why am I doing this, I wondered. Why am I willing to die for money? Is it really worth the risk, flying in Gale Force 8 winds? I considered turning around and heading home. I tried not to cry. I prayed for courage, but didn't feel the least bit courageous.

(Here is the benefit of being a wimp and a writer--you often have occasion to take notes for future efforts, should you live. For instance, when one is trying very hard not to cry, it is an interesting exercise to stand back from oneself and observe how it feels to try not to cry, as it may come in handy later when describing a character who herself is trying hard not to cry, which pretty much sums up my entire childhood--the girl who tried hard not to cry and always failed.)

So then I did cry, but comforted myself that a middle-aged woman crying in the airport is not a shocking sight. Women cry at the airport all the time. No one would automatically assume I was crying because I was a wimp.

And then, something happened. Or more to the point, someone happened. A man took a seat two spots over from me and pulled out some chicken fingers from a KFC bag. I looked over at him and saw he wore silver wings on his shirt pocket and a tie covered with tiny airplanes.

I leaned toward him. "Excuse me," I said. "Are you a pilot?"

He nodded. "American Airlines."

"Should I be scared about flying today?" I asked, sniffing and wiping my eyes. "Because I am."

The pilot, whose name turned out to be Jeff, laughed in a booming, friendly sort of way. He preceded to tell me why I shouldn't be the least bit scared. Only thing to fear in the air is thunderstorms, he said. He'd flown in winds twice as strong as the ones we were experiencing, nothing too it. Oh, some bumps, sure, but overall flying in big wind was safe as houses.

A man and woman sitting behind the pilot leaned over their seats toward me. The man said, "We fly all the time for our jobs. It's going to be fine today." The woman said, "We swear to you if we thought it wasn't safe, we wouldn't get on the plane."

Then the pilot asked me where I was going and why, and I told him I was making an author's visit to a middle school, and he asked if any of my books were available on Kindle, and I said, yes, I thought so, and then he bought one of my books. So, not only did I survive my flight to Scarsdale, I made a sale!

My flights to and from New York were fine, with minimal turbulence, by the way. All that fear for naught! Except that I felt taken care of. I'd prayed for courage, and what do you know? It came to me via a guy with wings. Go figure.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Not So Friendly Skies

Tomorrow I'm flying to Scarsdale, New York, to speak with the middle schoolers there about writing and being an author. You can tell this is a rich school district: They're paying me a full day's fee for half a day's work. I'm not complaining, though I do feel a bit guilty about taking their nice money for work I won't be doing.

Here's the thing that's really on my mind: It seems like every time I fly the weather conditions deteriorate to the point where no one's quite sure that the plane will take off until the very last minute (and the decision always seems to be preceded by the air traffic controllers saying, "What the hey, let's give it a go--you only live once, right?"). This time around, we're picking up the tail end of a hurricane, so when my plane takes off tomorrow at noon, we should be experiencing gusts of up to 38 m.p.h. Whee!

How is it possible that on the three times a year I get on a plane, the weather is nigh catastrophic? After an issue with big winds a couple of years ago in February, I stopped booking school visits in the spring until mid-March; of course, when I flew to Michigan last March, the weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms, the very worst weather conditions you can fly in.

If I were carrying body organs on ice to wounded soldiers in Scarsdale, NY, I could be brave. The idea of flying in horrible, death-defying conditions for a cause--well, you could justify the trip. I keep pretending this is a test from God. Do I trust Him enough to get on a plane in bad weather? Trust that I'm in His hands? Maybe if I felt God were calling me to get on the plane during a tornado, I would feel better about the situation. But what's actually calling me is the tuition bill from Our Fine School that demands to be paid by January 15th.

Anyway, what this is about: Say a prayer for me, would you? It can be for good weather or courage or a winning lottery ticket that will take care of tuition once and for all so I never have to leave home for money again.

Oh, and say another prayer for me on Friday, when I return in the afternoon. Because, yep, more big wind, this time in New York. Just my luck.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Crankpots

On Friday morning, I was over at church helping Donna set up for Saturday's bazaar. We were putting price tags on Christmas ornaments and hand-crafted notecards when I asked Donna how Marcy, her three-year-old adopted daughter, was doing. She seems like a happy, gregarious little girl, so I assumed the answer would be "great!"

And in some ways it was. Marcy is happy and healthy and well-adjusted. Donna's concerns were more with her parenting abilities. Marcy is an extrovert, loves to be with other people, loves to be the center of attention. Donna is quiet and low key. Her son, Mark, who is six, is at the stage where he needs to be taken here and there for his various activities, and, as do a lot of second-born children, Marcy spends a good deal of time in the car while her brother is being dropped off and picked up, dropped off and picked up.

The conversation evolved into one of free-floating parental guilt. Donna wishes she had more time and energy to spend with Marcy; I wish we lived in a neighborhood that had more kids for the boys to play with. Donna wishes Mark had a brother to play with; I wish Will had been born a year earlier so that he and Jack might get along better.

We both felt vaguely guilty that we don't want more children (and since I'm 45, I really, really don't want more children--I mean, it's late, I'm tired). But when you're cranky people to begin with (and frankly I was surprised that Donna characterized herself that way; she doesn't seem all that cranky to me, but sometimes it takes your family to bring out the worst in you) and highly irritable, it seems unfair to impose yourself on more than two children at a time.

It was, to be honest, an enjoyable discussion. Maybe because we felt guilty about many of the same things, and maybe because our parenting personalities are similar--cranky, irritable, not really enamored of toddlers in any significant way, prone to boredom when playing board games--we didn't feel any urge to be annoyingly supportive of one another--"Oh, I'm sure the children don't notice how irritated you get!"--but instead just affirmed that yes, we are flawed as parents, yes, we wish were better parents, yes, we suppose saying "At least we don't beat them" is setting the bar awfully low.

I left the church feeling refreshed. As it turns out, confession is good for what ails you--as is any conversation about how we really live and think and feel, which you don't always get at church, but should. And on Saturday, the church doors opened at nine, and people from all over town streamed in, women mostly, most of whom probably feel guilty and inadequate about their own parenting skills. I wish they could have been there Friday. It would have been good for their soul.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dribs and Drabs

I tried writing here yesterday, but it was uninspiring. How I don't like decorating. Not for Halloween, not even for Christmas. I like a decorated house, I just don't enjoy being the one struggling with the lights and the tinsel and all the little doodads. It always ends in tears--mine, the boys', the dog's.

But it came out blah. I deleted.

Then yesterday afternoon, I saw the woman at Our Fine School whose clothing always goes beyond fashionable into the realm of stylish. Clearly she spends a bundle on shoes, but what shoes! She looks European, wears scarves and funky, chunky jewelry. Great hair, of course. So I thought about writing about her, but I don't have anything to write about, other than how unusual it is to see anybody stylish at afternoon pick-up. You see lots of young moms in skinny jeans and flats--the latest look in these parts--all very fashionable, but no one with flair, other than this woman. Who drives the biggest SUV in the world, by the way. Maybe that's why I can't get worked up enough to write about her. What's with the SUV? Why not an Audi, a Peugeot, something with a little class?

Really, she disappoints me.

I could write about the Halloween party in Will's class last week. I was one of the moms signed up to help. Actually, I was the the Head Mom, the mom in charge of e-mailing all the other moms who had signed up and telling them what to do. And guess what? They did it. They did it all. I didn't get a chance to do anything.

This always happens at the parties at Our Fine School. Typically there are four moms to a hot lunch or a class party, and typically one mom is completely out of control, bringing in twenty more things than she signed up to bring, "just a few extra decorations," and constructing snacks out of pomegranates and chocolate covered pretzel sticks imported from France.

Two of the other moms get very serious about distributing napkins and paper cups. That leaves the fourth mom--me, inevitably--standing there making small talk with the teacher's assistant. Every time I try to help, the other three moms insist no, no, there's nothing else that needs doing.

There's a trick to being one of the three moms that gets to do stuff, but I haven't figured it out yet.

So I could write about that, but I just wrote about that, and that's all there is to say about it.

Finally, I could write about Jack getting glasses. Jack has been complaining about his right eye since last spring and asking if I would take him to the eye doctor. Sure, sure, I told him. I'll make an appointment. But making an appointment entailed getting all sorts of insurance information and finding out which eye doctors I could make an appointment with, and it also entailed me actually remembering to make an appointment. Which I finally did--in September. It took two months to get in, so the appointment itself was last week.

And guess what? Jack's nearsighted, very much so in his right eye, the eye he was complaining about. So give me the Bad Mom award. Jack is very excited about getting glasses. He keeps going around saying stuff like, "Hard to believe I'll be getting glasses next week." He doesn't seem to hold it against me that he should have had glasses last May. Bless his heart.

More soon--when I have something to write about.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sweet Dreams

It amazes me to think that in a few years, I will no longer have to play bedtime cop, that the hours between seven and eleven might actually belong to me. For reasons I can't explain, after years of splitting bedtime duties pretty evenly with the Man, this year the bedtime routine has become my domain. Mostly, I suppose, because I think it actually matters that the boys have a bedtime routine. The Man likes the idea of a bedtime routine, but can't seem to remember what our established routine is. Every night it's like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High just walked into the room. "Whoa! Bedtime? Dude! I forgot that kids have to go to bed! Awesome!"

Now Jack can pretty much take care of himself; you just have to poke and prod him to get up to his room at the assigned time (an hour before lights out--and I'll admit it, my children have absurdly late bedtimes--Jack, at age 10, goes to bed at 10) and remind him to brush his teeth and wash his face and floss (yeah, like I'm sure that's happening).

Will has to be corralled. He resists bedtime like the Wicked Witch of the West resists taking a shower. His bedtime, at age almost 7 (the big day is Halloween), is 8:30. At the same age, Jack's was 7:30. Go figure. Anyway, you have to start warning Will at 7:45 that he has to go up in fifteen minutes. His latest, so lovely reply (to almost everything actually), is, "Why should I care?" Nice, huh? I have a fifteen-year-old trapped in a pair of size 6 Levi's.

If he's actually in bed, with lights out, by 8:30, I consider it a huge victory. In bed, asleep? Never in a million years. Unfortunately, we're all night owls, and no matter how much I insist that the house become a sanctuary of quiet as soon as the clock ticks 8:29, it never happens. The Man starts cleaning the kitchen (bless him), always forgetting to close the doors to the front of the house, so all the clattering and clinking travels right up the stairs to Will's room. Jack clomps up the stairs at 9, still full of vim and vigor, with all sorts of information he's neglected to tell me earlier in the day. And--always, always--he's forgotten something, so he clomps back downstairs and clomps upstairs and clomps downstairs ... Why we expect Will to fall asleep before midnight is beyond me.

Still, I can dream. I sit in my reading chair in my study, which is across the hall from Will's room, in hopes that my presence will at very least keep Will in his bed. If I go downstairs, the games in Will's room begin--basketball games, hockey games, games which are loudly announced and enthusiastically acted out. Or he turns on the hall light and sits in his doorway, perusing his baseball card collections or coloring.

So I take guard duty. It's actually not so bad; for years, I've been wanted a regular reading time, and now I have it. I usually read from 8:30 to 10, at which time I remind Jack to turn out his light, and I go downstairs to hang out with the man for an hour or so before I go to bed.

And then the next morning I look around my house and wonder why I never get anything done. Well, that's not true, I do get some things done, and I'm certainly getting a lot of good reading done. I remind myself that soon enough Will will go to bed on his own, that my little jock boy will be so exhausted by sports practices that he won't be able to keep his eyes open. That Jack's teeth will all fall out before too long due to lack of flossing, and I won't have to monitor his dental hygiene routine. I will have my nights back before too long--and will probably start falling asleep on the couch by 8:15.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back Home

I'm taking a break from cleaning the living room. Even before I left for Atlanta, it was a shambles, and after three days of no mom to regulate clutter ... well, you can only imagine. The kitchen is in good shape, the mud room is the mud room--there is no hope for it--and the children are alive and accounted for, so I have few complaints. But the living room ... sigh.

I stayed with my brother in Atlanta. My brother is a great guy, smart, funny, an all over decent human being, but he is not known for being Mr. Fashion Sense or Mr. Stylin', and never has been. So how amazing is it that he married one of the most stylish women in all of Georgia? My sister-in-law is an interior decorator, and is quite fabulous in general. Her style--both personal and professional--is a mix of classical and funky, and it's always fun to visit her house and see what she's been up to.

Of course, when I get home, my own interiors seems sadly ... I don't know, plain, uninspired, pedestrian. The great news is, my SIL gave me a ton of fabric remnants--beautiful, beautiful fabric, some of which cost hundreds of dollars a yard (her clients are incredibly wealthy)--for me to use for pillows and curtains. Wasn't that nice? Of course, once I start throwing high falutin' pillows hither and yon, I'll start feeling like all the furniture needs to be high falutin', too, and we'll end up in the poor house.

One of the great things about staying with my brother's family was that they have a dog. It occurs to me that hotel rooms should come with lap dogs. In the year and a half that we've had Travis, I've become accostumed to a certain amount of canine love every day, and I really miss it when I travel. But staying at my brother's, I had Bo, the Bichon Frise, to love and be loved by. I took him for walks and scritched him behind his ears. I felt slightly disloyal to Travis (who the Man said was very mopey without me), but a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do.


By the way, I'm writing this in my sweats. I haven't hung out in sweats since college, and now I'm wondering why. I mean, this is the life. Pure comfort. But I fear that hanging out in sweats when you're 45 is akin to standing atop a slippery slope. Sure, right now I don't wear my sweats outside of the house except to walk the dog. Soon, though, I could be wearing sweats to pick up Will from school (other moms do it). Next, I'll pull on my sweats when it's time for teacher conferences and PTA meetings. Before you know it, I'll be shimmying into my sweats for shopping trips. Church. Evenings out with the Man.

Hmmm ... maybe I ought to go put on some jeans. Just to be safe.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the Road Again/The Sweater that Never Ends

In the morning I'm off to Atlanta, for school visits. Then I only have one more trip, in November, and I can take a vacation from traveling until April. The nice thing about Atlanta is that I'll stay with my brother. One of the worst things about going out of town to visit schools is staying in hotels, though I've learned some tricks, like bringing a small fan for the white noise. And carrying chocolate with me. Lots of chocolate.

The boys and the Man went on their Cub Scout camp out this weekend, and I thought I was going to finally finish this sleeve I've been knitting. I'm making my dad a cardigan for Christmas, and I inadvertently picked a pattern that's almost all purling. I was halfway done with the back when it occurred to me that I was making very slow progress, and then it struck me: all I was doing was purling, with a few knit stitches thrown in here and there like little decoys to distract me from the fact that 90% of the stitches in this sweater are purl stitches.

I'm sure there's a name for the pattern of stitches used to make this sweater--first row, k1, *p1, k4, repeat; second row, p1, *k1, p4, repeat; third row, purl across; fourth row, repeat second row--but I'm finding some of my own creative names to mutter as I slowly purl, purl, purl for hours on end. Why does purling take forever and a day?

Anyway, I didn't finish the sleeve. I did do the grocery shopping and buy some new jeans and drive Jack twenty miles out to the campsite later Saturday afternoon, after he'd attended his friend's birthday party earlier Saturday afternoon. I did bake a chocolate cake for the boys to enjoy while I'm out of town.

Every weekend is the same. I plan to get lots of done, but I never do. I did take a nap this afternoon. It was wonderful. The dog napped with me, lying on my chest the way he does when it's just me and him and the couch.

So now I must go pack and prepare to be--once again--an introvert in an extrovert's world. I'll be back Wednesday night. Thursday, another nap. And then another.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Like Reading a Book

West Virginia was lovely. It is a state populated by friendly people and gorgeous mountains. My sessions at the book festival were filled with teachers who want to become writers. How can we do it, they wanted to know?

I gave my usual advice: Write every day, find someone you trust to give you feedback, revise, revise, revise. I made the suggestion I myself find impossible to take: Read the best children's books you can find and analyze them chapter by chapter. How does the author begin chapters? End chapters? How does the action rise and fall? Track the story arc through the course of the book.

The problem is, and I admitted this to my audience, if a book's really good, you get sucked into the story and forget to analyze. You can't stand back from the story and examine the parts. At least I can't.

Lately I've been on a kick to see where my time goes so I can figure out how to use it better. But I'm finding it's as hard to analyze my life as it is to break a book into its parts. Time flies away from me, and I wonder why I can't get more done. Is it the lure of the Internet? Is it the siren call of books? Is it just my own massive laziness?

One thing I've realized: When trying to analyze why I don't get anything done, I neglect to count all the stuff I do get done. Getting breakfast and a proper dinner on the table is quite a time-suck, for instance. From 5 to 7 every evening, I'm in the kitchen, chopping, sauteeing, stirring, grating, preheating, baking, basting, plating. During this time I'm also putting together lunches, washing dishes, and overseeing the boys' chores. From 8-9, I'm supervising bedtime and showers and laying out clothes for the morning and setting alarms and turning back the covers on various beds.

And let's not forget the driving. There's driving to school in the morning and picking up in the afternoon. There's taking Jack to taekwondo twice a week. There are dentist appointments and hair appointments and play dates. Oh, the play date driving! There's the time on the road and the time preparing to get on the road--time spent corralling the dog and turning off the lights and the radio and setting the alarm. I start getting ready to leave the house ten minutes before I leave the house, and since I leave the house three or four times a day a lot of days, well, there's a good chunk of time right there.

Add the time it takes to make appointments, break appointments and talk on the phone with my mom or my co-coordinator for the Interfaith Hospitality Network, call the Man at work to remind him to pick up Jack from taekwondo. Time spent quizzing Jack for his French quizzes and History tests, for helping Will with his Superstar Math.

Gathering the clothes in laundry baskets and putting them in the wash, in the dryer, taking them back upstairs, folding, folding, folding.

Walk the dog. Knit the sweater. Practice the fiddle every day from 2-2:30. Write in the Blog. Return the library books. Spend entirely too much time in the library looking at books there's no time to read, but check them out anyway, just in case there's a sudden two-week gap in my schedule where I have absolutely nothing to do.

Hang out with the Man, who likes to be talked to now and again.

There is no way to break my day into its parts and sum it up and make it seem organized. There is no narrative arc here, no exciting beginning or dramatic end. But if I step back far enough, I can see that each one of my days is like a paragraph. A paragraph doesn't seem like much on its own, but string enough of them together and you've got yourself a story.

It's a story where not many letters get written and the floors are rarely mopped, where the main character would like to knit more sweaters and take a class or two, but it's got its juicy parts, nonetheless, its fair share of conflicts and resolutions. Lots of chocolate is eaten. It's a story with chocolate and dogs and a fire in the fire place on cold winter days--not to everyone's tastes, but I'd read it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thumb Twiddling

Suddenly I'm a woman with time on her hands. Yesterday afternoon, with the click of a button, I sent my editor the first draft of my new book, and suddenly I have nothing to do.

Okay, I never have nothing to do, but sometimes, after running full speed in one direction it's hard for me to figure out where I am once I stop, and where to run next. What to do, what to do? There are curtains to be made for the kitchen, a fall garden in need of tending, hardwood floors that need scrubbing and polishing, and there's the mudroom to be straightened. There's always the mudroom to be straightened. Didn't I just do that? Yes, I did. Do it again.

Also: I want to make a new quilt and finish the one I started last spring that only needs four more blocks, and I want to knit socks for Christmas presents and I want to paint my bedroom and make curtains for the master bath ... there's just so much that I could be doing. And should be doing.

I suppose I should start by cleaning out the fridge. Let's take a poll: What chore do you hate the most? For me, it's a toss up between cleaning the fridge and scrubbing the tubs. Both have their share of horrors. I hate the little hairs in the tub, but you know what's worse? Little hairs in the fridge.

Hmmm ... maybe I'll start things off by knitting. There are so few little hairs involved with knitting, unless you're knitting with mohair, and I never knit with mohair.


I'm off to West Virginia tomorrow for a book festival. I give two talks (same topic) on Saturday, one at 10 and one at 4. I return on Sunday. Talk about having a lot of time on your hands, and in West Virginia no less. I'm taking lots of books and lots of knitting. I suppose I could try to be social and mingle with the other authors. I wish I were that way, making friends left and right. Ah, the curse of the introverted; I can only make delightful small talk for twenty minutes a day and then I'm over and done with.


Latest Undiet Update: As part of my undieting, I'm unweighing, too. The scale is not my friend--stepping on it is just too psychologically fraught. But I've decided to weigh once a month, just to see where I am. Guess what? I've lost three pounds since mid-September. I'm telling you what girls, if this works out in the long run, I'm writing a book and taking down the diet industry once and for all.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Catch Up

We were supposed to go to the mountains this weekend. It's Fall Break at Our Fine School, a three day weekend for fun and frolic. It would be lovely weekend to go to the mountains; autumn is in the air, mornings are crisp, the sky seems be hanging from a higher peg. Up at the mountain house, the apples wait on the trees, ripe for the picking.

But man, we've just had two weeks that kicked our collective Fine Family tushy. Last week we were sick, and this week the Man was sick again, this time with a flu so bad he actually admitted he felt a touch under the weather. I've done two school visits this week, one locally, and one an hour away, and now I feel the need to spend long, quiet hours staring at a blank wall. The visits themselves were fun, but they drained the energy right out of me. Us introverts really shouldn't spend a lot of time in front of groups being entertaining. We can do it, but it comes at a cost.

And my house. Don't look! Don't even knock on my front door. What I want to know is, where did all these shoes come from? Apparently, if left alone for long periods of time in the mudroom, tennis shoes breed like frantic little rabbits.

So we can't go to the mountains because I need to deal with the shoe situation. And the refrigerator situation. And the tumbleweeds under the bed situation.

And, if I can grab a few spare minutes, I'm going to clean up the vegetable garden and do some fall planting. But that's for fun, my friends. That's what I always put off until all the other work is done.


Thanks for all the encouragement for my undieting. So much of being an undieter is staying aware. It's a mindful approach to eating. Daydreamer that I am, it's hard for me to stay in the present moment, but I'm working on it. I've stopped reading while I eat, which is a biggie. I try to really pay attention to what I'm eating--so much food is quite aesthetic pleasing: who knew? But there are definitely days when I find a handful of food on its way to my mouth and I have no idea where it came from. I just picked it up somewhere--from a bowl on the counter, from an open box of crackers in the pantry--and started eating it.

One of the practices I'm trying to incorporate is sitting down at the table when I eat, even if it's just a snack. If I'm hungry and want a peanut butter cracker, I put the cracker on a plate and I sit down and I eat it slowly so the I actually taste it.

At first it felt like a lot of fuss for a little cracker. But I find now that I enjoy this little snack ritual of mine. I even say a blessing. Instead of feeling like I'm snagging a cracker on the sly and cramming into my mouth, snacktime feels more like a ritual. Peanut butter can be spiritual if you let it. Again: who knew?


I wanted to give you an update on my mom. A month or so ago, I reported that she's been diagnosed with CLL--Chronic Lymphotic Leukemia. Since that time, she's been to see a specialist--in fact, one of the top CLL docs in the country, who lives several hours away from her home--who agreed to take her on as his patient. Two weeks ago she went for her second visit. The doctor told her that after studying her test results, he believes her CLL to be of the nonaggressive variety and that while she'll always have CLL, he doesn't believe that it will have a serious affect on her overall health--most importantly, he doesn't think she will die from it. She'll continue to have blood drawn every month for testing, since there is always the chance that the cancer will become more aggressive, but all indicators suggest that it won't.

So that's amazing good news! Thank you for all your prayers. God is good.


One last chore for this weekend: I'm finally going to put up a clothes line! I'm tired of the dryer sucking all the life out of my clothes after a couple of tumbles, and it seems a waste of energy not to use the solar power available to me. My question is, can you still hang clothes out in the winter? Any clothes line tips appreciated!


Have a great weekend! Eat the cake!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Report

I am on an Undiet. I have given up dieting forever. I decided this two weeks ago, when I came to terms with the fact that although Weight Watcher's has worked for me in the past, I always gain the weight back. Maybe those people who say diets don't work are onto something. So anyway, I'm trying this crazy thing: I'm eating when I'm hungry and stopping when I'm full.

This sounds easy, but it's not. Not if you're me and have spent your entire life eating for all sorts of reasons, not one of them having to do with hunger. Yesterday, I kept willing myself to get hungry, because I really wanted to eat something. It took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. And what does "full" mean, exactly? Sometimes it's hard to tell. There's a fine line between full and stuffed, as well as between full and not full enough. I'm trying to learn what the right amount of full feels like.

I've been reading a lot about undieting and emotional overeating, because far be it from me to start something without reading dozens of books about it. The books claim that if you eat when you're hungry and stop eating when you're full, that crazy things begin to happen. Like you stop craving sugar. That you will actually start craving healthy foods. That you'll eat sweets from time to time, and not feel guilty afterwards. That your body will stablize at a healthy weight.

It seems too good to be true, and maybe it is. But intuitively it makes sense to me. Dieting doesn't. When I go on a diet, I immediately rebel. I sneak food behind my diet's back. I lose weight at first, and then I gain it all back.

So I'm giving this a try. It feels a little scary, to be honest. I've been having strange dreams. I won't even tell you about the one where I found one hundred boxes of Pepperidge Farm cakes stored in the garage that I'd forgotten all about. What could that mean? How could I forget that Pepperidge Farm cakes have to be kept frozen?

The funny part of the dream? Even though the cakes had been sitting unfrozen in the garage for over a year, I couldn't bring myself to throw them away.

Chew on that, Sigmund Freud. And then spit it out. Blech!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Greetings from the Sickbed

What fun! We're all sick at once. To make things even more interesting, we've all got different stuff. Will, for instance, has a simple, straightforward cold. Jack has full-fledged flu. I've got some bug that has pretty much wiped me out, but doesn't seem to have any other symptoms--no fever, no sore throat, no aches and pains.

The Man--well, he probably has all of the above, but will he admit it? No. He just motors on, denying that he feels the least bit bad--well, maybe he has a touch of headache, feels just the slightest bit run down ... But really, he's fine. Off to work!

Will's had his cold since Sunday morning (and is in school, though I kept him out Monday, just in case it was the flu masquerading as a cold). Jack's had the flu since Sunday night. I've had my thing since Monday morning around 10:23. Have you ever had that? Where you're feeling fine and dandy, doing your chores, and all the sudden you have some strange sensation that something's not quite right. Maybe you're hungry? Well, you didn't sleep all that well last night, you're probably just feeling the affects of not getting enough rest ...

And then it hits you: You're sick. Go lie down, because you're done in for.

Fortunately, you can still manage a household when you're wiped out, especially if your husband insists on being in denial about that fact that he feels wiped out, too. So we're managing just fine, except The Man and Jack fretting about whether they'll get to go on their big camping trip to the mountains this weekend.

I don't know why I'm sharing all this. Just an excuse to say "hi," I guess. I hope I'll be back in a day or so to let you know I'm fine and dandy once again. But until then, I believe another nap is in order.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Report

After a two-year absence from the carpool drop-off line at Our Fine School, I'm back. The past two years, I dropped off Jack, and then Jack and Will behind the school. It was an easy, aggravation-free gig.

This year, I'm doing two drop offs, and both of them are in the carpool line, one at the lower school and one at the middle school, and I'm talking a lot of trash while I do it. It's so hard not to, especially when half of my fellow dropper-offers are chatting away on their cell phones and consequently driving like idiots.

So far, I haven't cussed. I've been good about referring to other drivers as "honey" or "sweetie," as in, "Gee, honey, you drive like an idiot," or ""Sweetie, if you don't put down that phone, I'm going to put it down for you."

I know, I know, it's such a bad example for the boys, especially Will, who's a little parrot. My only hope is that it's teaching them that paying attention while you're driving is a good idea if you don't want to incur the wrath of other drivers. Or at the very least, it's possible to vent one's rage without resorting to out and out profanity.

I think those are important lessons, don't you?


I have been an inconsistent blogger and blogging neighbor the last few weeks. I'm working on a book, and I write in the mornings, which is usually when I blog and comment on my fellow bloggers' posts.

The writing is going well. I'm trying to treat it like a job that I'm expected to show up at every morning, not as an optional activity. I've been working steadily since the boys went back to school and am happy with what I've written. The only thing about writing steadily every morning in an empty house is that it's quite possible by the end of the fall I'll be stark, raving mad. It's not necessarily a great thing to live so firmly inside one's imagination for long stretches of time.

But it's really, really fun.


Last night we went to yet another Parents Night at Our Fine School (middle school division). This is the last one for the year, thank goodness, and by my calculations we only have eleven more years of them.

The great thing about Middle School Parents' Night? All the parents are older. You get to see what those young moms in the preschool look like five years later. Guess what? They look really tired. They've put on a few pounds and added a few gray hairs. But they also look a lot more relaxed. Their faces are softer. Their clothes are looser. They've come to terms with the fact that gravity wins in the end.

Yes, I felt like I was among my people last night, the tired, the stressed, the chubby. Long may we reign.


Have a great weekend. Be kind to yourself. Eat some cake. Eat all the cake. What the hey.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm a winner!


Dulce has given me an award! Though don't tell her, but "creative" is spelled wrong. Or is that the UK way, like "flavour" instead of "flavor" or pronouncing the "h" in herb?

Of course, I'm thrilled, as Dulce is one of my favorite citizens in all of Blogville, and I'm honored by this honor. Thank you, Dulce!

But there are strings attached in accepting this award: 1) I'm supposed to tell seven things about myself that you might find interesting; and 2) I'm supposed to then pass this award on to seven other kreativ bloggers.

But first, the rules:

1.Thank the person who nominated you.
2.Copy the logo to your blog (or at least into the acceptance post...).
3.Link to the person who nominated you.
4.List 7 thing about yourself people may find interesting.
5.Make your own 7 Nominations.
6.Post links to those 7.
7.Leave them all a comment to let them know you nominated them.

So, seven things you might find interesting about me (but don't feel badly if you don't):

1. I was born in Berlin, West Germany. Army brat. I don't speak German (tho I lived in Germany for part of high school), but for a long time I implied to a lot of people that I did. Okay, I speak enough German to order a beer--Nach ein Pils, bitte!--but that's about it.

2. I went to three high schools. I moved my senior year. When people hear this, they act like that must have been a tragedy, but it wasn't. I had a great senior year, much better than the one I would have had, had we stay put.

3. I have an MFA in poetry writing. One of the reasons I began writing children's books is because there is no money in poetry. Turns out there's not much money in writing children's books, either, but you do get nice letters from kids.

4. When I was eight, my dad sent me a radio/record player from Vietnam. From that point on, until my early 30s, listening to music was a mainstay of my life. I couldn't imagine being friends with people who didn't feel as passionately about music--the same music--as I did. And then one day, I realized that a lot of really cool, friendship-worthy people couldn't care less about Iggy and the Stooges, and I chilled out.

5. My favorite color is periwinkle blue. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that I look really good in periwinkle blue.

6. If I didn't dye my hair, I would be 65% gray. This has been true since I was 32.

7. I wish I were the sort of person who didn't care so much about her hair.

And the bloggers I would like to hand this award to:

1. Tracy: Cooking, reading, quilting, working, musing--I always look forward to reading about what's going on in Tracy's life.

2. Pom Pom: I love Pom Pom's enthusiasm for life, literature, and trees. Her blog always cheers me up.

3. Heather: Part poet, part philosopher, big time knitter and an amazing photographer, Heather's posts inevitably give me something to think about.

4. Ali: Another great photographer, Ali brings the domestic arts to a new heights. Always an inspiration.

5. Victoria: Victoria is an Op-shopper extraordinaire and an incredible artist whose work makes me laugh and wonder.

6. Tina: I visit Tina's blog because I love her gentle spirit and her domestic musings.

7. Gretchen Joanna: Another philosopher, you never know whether you'll find poetry, photographs or theological musings on Gretchen's Joanna's blog.


To all to whom this award has been awarded, feel free to pass it on or just enjoy. I'm happy to live in a corner of the Blogosphere where creativity and friendship abounds.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Brownie the Bear Makes a Visit

This year, Will is in Mrs. A.'s class. We love Mrs. A., who was also Jack's first grade teacher. We actually requested her for Will and were very pleased when he was assigned to her class. Mrs. A. is the quintessential first grade teacher. She is pretty and sweet and has amazing dimples, but she's no pushover. Mrs. A. runs a tight ship.

It wasn't until last week, crammed into little first grade seats on Back to School Night, that we remembered Brownie the Bear. Mrs. A. was going over the curriculum when her dimples got extra dimply and she pulled out the canvas tote bag with Brownie embroidered across the top.

The Man and I looked at each other in horror. Brownie! We'd forgotten all about Brownie!

Brownie the Bear is a journaling bear, which is to say, each day a lucky child in Mrs. A.'s class gets to bring Brownie and Brownie's journal home. He or she spends the afternoon and evening recording all the fun things Brownie sees and experiences.

I know, I know, it's a charming idea. In theory, I love it. My first Back-to-School night with Mrs. A., way back in 2000-whatever (I'm too lazy to do the math--Danielle, when did our guys start first grade?), when Mrs. A. brought out Brownie the Bear, I swooned. What a wonderful way to get the kids interested in writing! Everyone thinks this. How could they not?

And then comes the day when your child brings Brownie home.

Brownie never comes home on a day when there's nothing going on. Brownie only seems to appear on very busy days, Cub Scout days, taekwondo days, dentist days. Now, on the one hand, that gives your little first grade journaler a lot to write about ("We took Brownie to my big brother's basketball practice, and Brownie got run over in the parking lot!"). On the other hand, have you ever had the pleasure of helping a first grader journal? It takes forEVER. Bath time be damned! Bedtime? Nevermind. The journal must be written in, and the only way out is through.

And because we're all overachievers at Our Fine School, our little ones don't just write; they take pictures, too. So you better have ink in your printer when Brownie comes over, and batteries in your digitial camera. And, oh yes, make sure that you don't allow any pictures of Brownie to be taken on the couch the dog has been slowly eating over the last two years. Because, believe me, the kids won't be the only ones looking at the pictures taped into the journal.

So, anyway, guess who got to bring home Brownie first?

Brownie went with us to the middle school to pick up Jack after intermural volleyball. Brownie played lacrosse with Will, and met all of Will's "guys"--his insanely huge collection of stuffed animals, all of whom had to be dragged out of their special basket and arranged on Will's floor (where they still remain, of course) to have their picture taken. Brownie got to hang out with Travis the dog, who thought Brownie was an interesting new chew toy.

Brownie made it back to school this morning, and is now torturing Win's family. But he'll be back--in roughly three and a half weeks. And then again three and a half weeks after that. And again. And so on. And each time, we will have to think of new things for Brownie to do because being the overachievers we are at Our Fine School, each journal entry will have to top the last, until Brownie is flying on a plane to Paris for spring break while drinking champagne out of a stewardess's shoe.

How on earth could we have forgotten about Brownie?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

I've been wanting a nice hooded cardigan, a flowy, Eileen Fisher sort of deal, and last week I found a pattern I liked in a book called Knitting Simple Jackets. Of course, any sweater called "Cashmere and Silk" broadcasts pretty loudly that it's going to hit you hard in the pocketbook, so I immediately started looking for substitute yarns. Maybe a nice merino on sale? Something soft and drape-y that wouldn't actually cost twenty bucks a skein?

Or how about ... acrylic?

Oh, no, you say, anything but acrylic. I have to admit that as a rule, I'm not an acrylic yarn gal myself. But I'm not against it, either, as long as it's soft and pretty. And the silvery blue heather Caron's Simply Soft is very soft and pretty, and so on Friday I spent $26 for 2,200 yards of pure-T plastic yarn. I felt darn good about it, too. Well, I do worry how it will wear. Will it start to pill immediately? Will it lose its shape? But for twenty-six buckaroos, I'm willing to take a chance. And so now I have about eighteen inches of my fabulous hooded sweater knit. I'm keeping it away from open flames, of course.

I'm going through a phase where I'm trying not to feel guilty about stuff that most normal people don't feel guilty about at all, ever, like knitting with acrylic yarn, which is probably environmentally unfriendly but better than dumping my leftover ceiling paint into the creek, or buying Oreos for the kids' lunches, which is not at all defensible, except that they're yummy and Jack and Will like to eat them.

My sins against humanity and the environment are many, but sometimes I just get so tired of trying to be good. I mean, don't tell, but on occasion I even throw away paper. Normally I recycle every scrap that comes my way, but there are days where I just say, What the hey! and toss that ol' dehydrated woodpulp into the trashcan.

And I never, ever buy florescent light bulbs, which I realize is a sin of the highest order, but I just can't have my house lit like a subway station bathroom. I'm prone to mild depression, have I mentioned that? Florescent lightbulbs would send me over the edge.

And sometimes, when I go to pick up Will, I don't turn off all the lights in the house.

So there you have it: I am bad. I sit around knitting acrylic sweaters and watching "Gilmore Girls" re-runs while my children are running around like madmen at school, high on Oreos. I turn my AC way down at night, because I can't sleep when I'm hot.

I understand if you never want to read this blog again. What if my badness rubs off? What if, after reading this post, you decline to rinse out your cans before recycling them? What if you start buying tomatoes at the supermarket instead of growing them yourself? What if you start buying them out of season? What if you start buying potatoes that aren't locally grown? Inorganic broccoli? Laundry detergents with phosphates? Hot dogs made with number two red dye? It could happen. Stop reading now! Save yourselves!

Still here? Oh, good. And now, if the spoon doesn't spin around in the drawer and make the knife laugh and laugh and wake up the snoring dog, I'll tell you the story of Uncle Wiggily and the First Grade Boy Who is Very Cranky after six and a half hours of school.

Next time!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Back to School

School has started. The summer is so completely over, my head is spinning. Last week we were off to the pool, towels and sunscreen in hand, and this week we are fully in the grind. My brain is drained. I probably will not write one funny or interesting thing this entire post. You've been warned.

Although school has eaten summer up and spit out its splintered bones, I still don't feel in the routine yet. Of course, that might be because school just started yesterday, but I want my routine and I want it now! I am such a routine freak, and I accept this about myself. The older I get, the more things I accept about myself. For instance, that I accept that I will never weigh 125 again, and probably won't ever weigh 140 again, either, though that's my goal.

And I accept that I love routines. I love lunches made and stored in the fridge the night before. I love clothes laid out at night on the backs of chairs and shoes and socks set out above the fire place (where the dog can't eat them). I love backpacks packed before bedtime and left ready by the door. I love bedtime.

Ahhh, bedtime. My children were regular little anarchists about bedtime this summer, but they have accepted their bedtime routines without complaint now that school has started. Okay, Jack's complained a little bit about having to go upstairs a full hour before his bedtime, but thems the break, kid. The house needs to be quiet for Will to go to sleep, and if Jack's up and about, he's whistling and playing bongos on the wall and dropping books, and generally raising a ruckus.

By the way, Jack has gotten lost both days trying to find his classes at the middle school (even though we went to the open house on Monday and walked around to each classroom). What I love about Jack is that he's more chagrinned than embarrassed, and seems largely of the opinion that the fault lies with the school's architect, who's clearly an idiot.

Okay, Jack simply MUST I-Chat with his best friend from school, who he hasn't had a chance to engage in a serious discussion of videogames for at least five hours now, and Will wants a milkshake. If I'm going to get everyone to bed on time (and I'm going to!), I must be off. More soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Report

Today is the last Friday of summer vacation. We've had a nice summer. Unlike other summers, I have not counted down the days until school starts again. I have not had any major emotional funkiness. I never felt trapped in the middle of July. I've enjoyed the sound of the cicadas and the pleasure of hopping in the pool when it's 95 degrees. And now I'm ready for it to be over.

I'm ready for my children to be tired at bedtime. I'm ready for them to fall asleep before I do. I'm ready for Jack to be in P.E. an hour every day so I don't have to worry about what a slug he is. I'm ready for my house to be Wii-free from morning until 3 p.m.

Speaking of 3 p.m.: This is the first year that Will will be in school all day. I'm already preparing myself for the cranky little boy I'll be entertaining in the afternoons. I will do my best to have tasty snacks available and to not take his snarling personally.

Will is like me and The Man--he has limited social energy. Jack, on the other hand, is energized by being around other people. He is a people person, which you might not guess at first because he's so awfully quiet.

That's been one of my revelations this summer: That Jack is not like the rest of us. He digs company. He likes hanging out with a crowd. He's at his most creative and energetic when he's with other kids.

For years I've been so frustrated with him because left to his own devices, all Jack can figure out to do is read or play computer games. The Man and I are both project people, and when I was a kid I was always dreaming up something to do--build a house out of a cardboard box, turn my bedroom closet into a mini-apartment, draw all the characters in whatever book I was reading. I've spent oodles of time and money trying to turn Jack into a project kid. It's taken me ten years to figure out that's not how he works. He doesn't self-start. He plays well--plays best--with others.

It's been a huge relief to realize this. Jack is just who he is and how he is. I've not failed as a parent, he's not failed as a kid. It's all good.


Today Will's friend Win is coming over. He will be dropped off by his mom, Alison, who is simply lovely. It's also possible that she's simply twenty-five. Thirty, tops. When you have a kid at age 38 (which is how old I was when Will was born), the early school years can be rough on you. You're surrounded by perky, thin, very fashionable, very young women who had their children while middle school students and are impossibly sweet in the way of young southern females who joined sororities in college. On the one hand, I find them charming and fabulous. On the other hand, I'm not sure they catch my cultural references, and the way the skin on my neck is slowly collapsing scares them.


Tomorrow Jack and I will spend the afternoon making chicken pies at church. Our church has a bazaar every November, and on the morning of the bazaar folks line up to buy our chicken pies, which are made with Pillsbury canned crusts, have been frozen for three months by the time they go on sale, and are indescribably delicious.

Jack has been helping out on Chicken Pie Day for three years now. Last year, I was out of town on Chicken Pie Day, and so The Man dropped Jack off at church so he could continue in the tradition. I'm sure the day will come when Jack will no longer want to help out on Chicken Pie Day, and it will be a sad day indeed. But for now the good people of our town can rest assured that Jack will be hard at work making their pies, and that the pies will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


On Sunday morning, I decided I would ponder the carpool situation in the shower. Like Oprah, I do my best thinking there. How can I make the carpool as simple as possible, I wondered. How do I minimize the variables, other than dropping out completely, which doesn't seem sportsman-like, given the carpool was my idea in the first place.

Halfway through soaping up, it came to me: Divide and conquer. The two families who only want to carpool in the morning should carpool together, and the two families (one of which is mine) who want to carpool mornings and afternoons should carpool together. Easy as pie!

And, amazingly enough, this plan seems to work for everyone. Except for, of course, the family I've paired up with. Suddenly, they have doubts. Is carpooling really worth the extra time and effort? They have a preschool child to get to school, too, and a nanny who can pick up in the afternoon ... Is a carpool what they really need right now? Maybe next year would be better.

You know what? I no longer care. It would be nice to have someone drive Will home from school, but I'd enjoy that time with Will, too. Will is delightful company and, unlike Jack, will actually tell me what happened during his day. If you take Jack's word for it, nothing has happened at school for the last six years and no, he hasn't really learned anything new. Will's school day, on the other hand, is filled with intrigues and battles and actual knowledge being passed from teacher to student. It is a vibrant, lively day, and he's happy to share the details.

I think deep down in my heart I'm starting to accept the fact that I will never be like my mother, standing in the doorway in her bathrobe, a cup of coffee in her hand, cheerfully waving goodbye to us as we boarded the big yellow school bus. I'm always going to have to suck it up, get dressed, and hit the road by 7:30 a.m. There's no getting out of it, no amount of carpooling that will save me from my fate.

But it's only for twelve more years. And I'm sure the minute Will heads off for college, I'll wish I had the chance to do it all over again.


My mom saw her oncologist yesterday. The news was mostly good: Her cancer is at stage zero, her white blood count has stabilized, her red blood cells are healthy. The bad news is that her doctor thinks she may have the kind of CLL that is more progressive than some other kinds (but, thank God, she doesn't have the kind that's downright aggressive). It is a "time will tell/watch and wait" situation.

I asked her how she was feeling emotionally, and she said, "Disappointed." She's done everything right--exercised regularly since her thirties, eaten all her broccoli, stuck to a low-fat diet, doesn't smoke, only drinks on occasion. She did everything she was supposed to do, and still she has cancer.

The good news is that there's hope. She may still get her wish and die in her sleep right after her hundreth birthday. And in the meantime, if we were ever prone to taking her for granted (what? take your mother for granted? perish the thought!), we won't anymore.

That's for sure.

Friday, August 14, 2009


I'm trying to set up a carpool for school. The family we carpooled with last year moved, which is probably for the best, but it left me carpool-less for this year. So earlier this week, I did what any enterprising wannabe carpooler would do--I went through the school directory and wrote down the name and address of every kid who lives in our neighborhood. There's not a ton of them, since most of our neighbors are retired university professors, their children long grown and gone. But there are some. I went to the school's online parent directory and found e-mail addresses, and then I e-mailed the neighborhood parents of Our Fine School.

The only parent I actually knew, a sane and funny woman, replied that she didn't want to carpool, as mornings are a good bonding time for her and her daughter. Rats! One woman replied that she would love to carpool, but she could only drive in the afternoons. Two other women replied that they were interested in carpooling, but since their kids are in aftercare, they only wanted to drive in the morning.

Sigh. Within twenty-four hours, the logistics were already strangling me.

There are two families I haven't heard back from. Maybe they're out of town, or maybe they're too smart to get tangled up in carpool dynamics. Because last night I got an e-mail from one of the "Morning Only" drivers saying, oh, by the by, she's going to have surgery in the fall and won't be able to drive for three weeks, but hopefully someone else wouldn't mind driving and she'll make it up to us later.

Then I got an e-mail from the other MO driver. She's not actually committed to the idea of carpooling (she keeps writing carpooling in quotes, as if what we trying to organize isn't actually a carpool, but a fascimile of a carpool or a so-called carpool), and even if she does commit, sometimes she travels for work and leaves her car at the airport, and her husband drives a two-seater ...

And suddenly it strikes me: They're the family on Forrest Street with the invisible fence in the front yard and an obnoxious Irish Setter, the family that never smiles when they pass you on the street. I should have known.

Last night, when I tell the Man about my carpool planning woes, he starts going on in a manlike way about how it would really be simpler not to carpool, and I get really mad at him, but later it occurs to me that he might be right.

So I've just e-mailed the carpool group. It was a "let's make sure we're on the same page" e-mail, with a veiled agenda of getting the Obnoxious Irish Setter neighbor to drop out of the negotiations. I can deal with Afternoon Only Lady and I can deal with Can't Drive for Three Weeks Lady, but I have a feeling "carpooling" with Obnoxious Irish Setter Lady may be more than I can handle.


An update on my mom: She had bone marrow extracted on Tuesday, a process made if not pleasant, then bearable, by the presences of morphine in her bloodstream. She also hat a CAT scan, which came out clear. Her doctor still thinks her cancer is at stage zero, but she'll know more on Tuesday. Thanks for all your prayers and good wishes. Keep 'em coming!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Purge

I'm in the process of purging my house. It started earlier in the summer with my study closet. I pulled everything out, dumped it on the floor, and slowly, over the course of two weeks, dealt with it.

The minute I got my closet (mostly) straightened out, I started hauling stuff from the attic into my study. Over the years, when I just couldn't stand it any more, I'd swoop into Will's room and throw everything left on the floor into a bag, eventually to be sent to Good Will--"eventually" meaning "probably never, but a girl can dream." The result? An attic filled with two years worth of plastic bags stuffed with ... stuff. Lots of Lego, lots of plastic "guys" (mostly Star Wars characters, including a disturbing number of beheaded Death Star Troopers), lots and lots and lots of broken crayons.

Why can't I bring myself to throw away a broken crayon? Is it really because I believe that one day I'll melt all the broken crayons down in the cups of a muffin tin to make fun, new multi-colored crayons? Or is it because I was a child during the Great Depression and can't bear to throw anything away?

The trick to sorting through the junk in the plastic bags in the attic is to become mildly obsessed with the project, to truly believe you can make the earth absolutely clean (that's actually a line from a James Wright poem about shooting blackbirds--"it turns out you can make the earth absolutely clean of blackbirds"--but it comes in handy for a housewife on a mission). I spent Saturday afternoon throwing bits of plastic and crayon and Lego and nameless, brandless snap-it-together-building thingies that we appear to have over thirty thousand of, into piles on my bed. The Man came up at one point to take a nap, but quickly fled from the room.

Reader, I was making the earth absolutely clean of broken crayons.

My purging has been a summer-long project, but I think it's been kicked into high gear by the news of my mom's illness. I can't control cancer, but I can control my attic, by golly!

But even more than that, I'm feeling blocked. Not creatively, but just ... personally, somehow. And attics and closets are symbolic little subconsciousnesses, now aren't they? I really feel like if I could clean out my attic, streamline it, make it absolutely clean of blackbirds , then my own psyche will have a little more breathing room.

Or at the very least, we'll be able to reach the Christmas tree stand this year without breaking our necks.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

One Silly Thing, One Serious

I've written before about the perils of Facebooking, namely how people you would prefer to stay firmly in your past can pop up to invade your psyche. But one of the fun things about Facebook is the opportunity to find out what happened to folks you once knew, many of whom you haven't given one thought to since your last goodbye. It's neat to catch up, and Facebook gives you a way to do that without having to make any major commitments of time or emotion.

Or so I thought.

Here's the situation: Soon after I signed up for Facebook, I was friended by an old friend named Sandy. Not a close old friend, just someone I'd been friendly with in high school. Our lives seemed to run parallel--we were both "good" girls, made good grades, were the same kind of cute, and had a habit of dating the same boys. But for whatever reasons (probably the boy thing), we never were close. In fact, I don't recall ever hanging out with her outside of school.

But I was happy to hear from her on Facebook, interested to know what had happened to her. She's married, has kids, and lives in Saudia Arabia, of all places. She mentioned that she was going to be in North Carolina this summer, looking at boarding schools for one of her children up in the mountains. Maybe we could get together, she suggested.

Sure, maybe, who knows, I wrote her. Where you're going to be is a far way away from where I live, but if I happen to be out that way, etc., et al. Which is to say, I tried to say in the nicest possible way: No. I don't actually know this woman, you see. We went to high school together for one year. It was a good year, senior year, lots of memories. Good times. Good times that are now twenty-seven years old and getting a little yellow around the edges.

So anyway. Yesterday I get an e-mail: Sandy's in North Carolina, up in the mountains and feeling a little stir crazy. She's thinking about driving the four hours down here for a visit. Am I in town?

How to reply? Yes, I'm in town, but I am emotionally unavailable at this time? Yes, I'm in town, but not feeling the least bit nostalgic? Yes, I'm in town, but you see, we aren't really friends and the idea of you driving four hours to come visit someone you aren't friends with, have had no contact with for twenty-seven years but for a handful of Facebook exchanges in the last three months, strikes me as, well, nuts.

Right now, I'm opting not to reply. And hoping she doesn't call. And thinking about heading out of town.


The serious thing. My mom has just been diagnosed with Chronic Lymphoctic Leukemia (CLL). It is a slow-progessing cancer most often found in people over fifty (my mom is seventy-three). Like a lot of people with CLL, she was diagnosed in the process of being treated for some minor medical problems. Her urologist noted that her white blood cell count was high and told her she should have further tests. She went to her internist, who says she's probably had CLL for a couple of years. On Tuesday, she'll have bone marrow extracted in order to find out more clearly the nature and progress of her illness.

I've been doing a lot of online research the last two days and most of what I've read is cheering. While CLL is incurable, it is treatable. My mom's doctor told her he thought her CLL was at stage zero. Although CLL patients get tired of hearing it, a lot of folks refer to CLL as "the good kind of cancer to get, if you have to get cancer." The life expectancy rates of CLL patients continue to increase as therapies get more sophisticated.

We'll find out in a couple of weeks how aggressive my mom's CLL is. What my mom didn't tell me, but my dad did, is that her white blood cell counts have almost doubled in six weeks. I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound great.

So, if you're the praying type, I'd appreciate your prayers for my mom (her name is Jane), specifically that her form of CLL is not aggressive, and also that she not be afraid. She has a deep and abiding faith, many friends, a strong church community, and a supportive spouse. Still, when I asked her the other day how she was feeling, she said, "Overall, I feel positive, but every once in a while I get these pangs of fear."

If you could pray for my dad (Del), too, that would be great. He's prone to depression, and we're all worried about his state of mind. He's very down, which is natural, but it's too early for him to decide that the game is over and all is lost. That's far from the case, but my dad has a hard time staying positive.

If you're not the praying type, send positive energy out into the universe and wish upon the stars. That's good, too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Very Quick Late Night Post

I was just reading something over on Tracy's blog about her frustration with (among other things) the poor quality of fabric available in most fabric stores. The Very Fine fabric store is something that's on the way out, I fear, which is especially distressing for those of us who have just taken up sewing.

Tracy's post reminded me of hearing Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, etc.) on Fresh Air last night. He was talking about how we love watching the Food Network, but fewer and fewer people actually cook anymore. In fact, a marketing expert he talked to told him that cooking is on its way out. In the same way we can't quite get our heads around our grandparents going out back to kill a chicken for dinner, our grandkids will find the idea of cooking from scratch as very strange indeed.

As it turns out, Pollan just published a long article on this very subject (prompted, I believe, by the upcoming release of the film Julie and Julia, which I can't wait to see, Julia Child being a hero of mine) in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Here's the link if you want to read it. It's interesting and insightful, and in its way horrifying.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention this and to let you know that like sewing and chicken slaughtering, cooking dinner is about to become a thing of the past. One day you'll go into a store to get a new set of measuring cups and be flat out of luck. "I don't think they make these anymore," the clerk will say. "What did you say you use 'em for?"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Post #202

I just signed in and saw that my last post was #201. Who knew? I'm also almost at my two-year blogiversary, which I will probably sail right by and only realize later.

Speaking of anniversaries, as of today, the Man and I have been married for fifteen years. Last night he said, "I bet we've only had fifteen fights our whole marriage," and I agreed, as to not instigate fight number sixteen. Actually, I'd put the estimate closer to thirty. About twice a year we have major blow-outs, usually right after I've had the thought, 'Wow, we're so happy; I can't think of the last time we've had a fight.' Then, kapow! Something triggers a disagreement and we figuratively duke it out. Our fights don't last long, and they're usually resolved by the Man walking into the kitchen where I'm angrily scrubbing pots and pans, standing solemnly to my side and saying, "I know you're sorry that you were mean to me, and I know you didn't mean it, so I forgive you."

It works every time. I guess I'm just a sucker for a silly man.


The lace. Sigh. I've knit twenty rows in three days. I find that if I knit more than two rows at a time, I slowly start pulling out all of my hair and cursing the children. I ought to have this sucker done by Christmas 2013. Pictures will be posted.


We're off to the mountains this morning. This is the travelingist summer I've ever had--Kentucky, the beach, Chicago, and now Mitchell County, NC. We've heard rumors of a barn dance down to Little Switzerland and are excited to check it out. Well, the Man and I are excited. Jack's wary, and Will has made us aware that he doesn't dance. No way, no how.

In general, Will is in a contrary mood right now. We've hit that point in the summer where everyone is getting a little cranky. The boys are bickering a lot. Jack is bossing Will around and tell him to shut up, Will is biting Jack on the leg. Lots of boys spending time in their rooms. They claim they're not looking forward to school starting up in a few weeks (three and a half--oh my!), but secretly I believe they're ready for a shiny new pair of shoes and some quality time away from the family.


I'm happy to report that I have not had a summer funk so for this year. That makes two years in a row. I think it must have something to do with the kids getting more independent, or else the allergy medicine I've been taking.


Okay, must finish packing. Our official departure time is ten, which means we'll be hitting the road by noon at the latest (earliest). I'll see you next week!

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Am Knitting Lace. Why Am I Knitting Lace? Please Stop Me From Ever Knitting Lace Again!

I just got back from my fiddle lesson. It was a frustrating session. The song I'm learning, "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine," has one little run of notes that just eludes me. I'm learning by ear, which means I don't have written music to guide me. When I remember the right order of notes, I forget the rhythm, and vice versa. My teacher tried all different ways to help me get it, and a couple times I did, and then I'd lose it again.

At one point, after I'd practically collapsed from frustration, he said, "You're a perfectionist, aren't you?"

Reader, I was shocked. Anyone who has ever seen the inside of my car (or my attic, or my laundry room) would be shocked. A perfectionist? Moi? And then it occurred to me: Maybe I'm the worst kind of perfectionist. Maybe I'm the kind of perfectionist who thinks she's an imperfectionist, an uptight gal who believes herself to be loosey-goosey.

I don't know. I'm going to chew on this a little more. In the meantime, I've started knitting a lace shawl. If I'm a perfectionist, knitting this shawl will likely kill me. I'm 15 rows in, and I'm already faking it. I've cast on at least three times already, and I just can't bear to start again. But I really, really want to knit this shawl. I want to uncover the mystery of lace. I want to be able to make beautiful shawls for friends and family alike. I want to knit a shawl without screaming at my children, "Leave me alone! Don't you realize how HARD this is?"

Here's what I've learned about lace so far: Lace is insanity written up in a pattern and published in a magazine. Believe you me, I'm going to drive myself crazy knitting this shawl. But I spent $42 on the yarn (it's handpainted silk, it's beautiful), and I'm not giving up. Ever. In fact, I'm feeling slightly obsessed with my lace knitting, with getting it right, no mistakes, no gaping holes. Hmmm ... could I be a perfectionist after all? Or just plain nuts?

Don't answer that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Our Current Insanity

On Sunday, The New York Times ran a long article about the dangerous use of cell phones while driving. It featured a young man who ran a stoplight while on the phone and hit another driver, killing her. He was convicted of manslaughter and given community service.

You know what really gets to me? Sometimes this guy still uses the cell phone while he drives. He knows he shouldn't, but sometimes he just can't help it.

That's because he's an addict.

Lawmakers won't pass laws against cell phone use while driving because they know it will send the public into an uproar. Give up our phones while driving, even though we know that talking on a cell phone makes us more dangerous than drunks behind the wheel? Never!

We're all a bunch of addicts.

You can't sit in a waiting room or stand on the sidelines of your kid's soccer game without hearing the click-click-click of people checking their e-mails on the blackberries or Twittering or texting or talking away on their cell phones. When we were at the beach, I saw two lovely thirteen-year-old girls riding their bikes down the shoreline--and texting as they rode.

Yesterday, in Maureen Dowd's NY Times column, she cited a professor whose studies show that using digital devices gives the user a "dopamine squirt." Dowd wrote, "That explains the Pavlovian impulse of people who are out with friends or dates to ignore them and check their BlackBerrys and cellphones, even if 99 out of 100 messages are uninteresting. They’re truffle-hunting for that scintillating one."

I have this vision of the future where everyone walking down the street is texting or reading texts and everyone in the museum, the library, the restaurant, the school room, is doing the same thing. What am I talking about? It's already happening!

I find it all depressing. There's a lot about digital technology that I love. I love Google. I love Blogland and podcasts. I think that the communities that exist only online can be real communities, and I feel that my Blogland friends are real friends. But I fear what we're doing to ourselves with our devices when we can't turn them off even when we know it's dangerous to use them.

And I worry about those two girls, texting away on their bikes, ignoring the beautiful sunset taking place right beside them. What memories will they take into old age? What kind of life is it when you spend all your time seeking out digital connections but not real, live experiences? What kind of culture will kids who grow up spending all their time texting, instant messaging, and twittering create? What kind of art?

In Chicago I hung out with a dear friend who has strong feelings about institutionalized religion (he's agin it), and I'm not always crazy about it myself. But I do have to wonder if there's a connection between our collective loss of belief that life has a larger meaning than just satisfying our personal wants and needs and the way so many of us fritter (or twitter) our time away. I also wonder if our seemingly lack of awe about the universe is connected to our dwindling respect for the fullness of language (if u know wht i mean ;)) and the idiosyncrancies of lives lived locally, communally and in real time and space.

I don't know the answers to those questions for sure (though I have my suspicions). What I do know is, if you can't drive without talking, even though you're perfectly aware that you're four times more likely than someone whose blood alcohol level is .08 to cause an accident, you have a problem, and you need help.

We all do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Back Again, Again

The older I get, the longer it takes me to recover from my travels. I got back from Chicago last Tuesday night and didn't feel myself again until Friday. My recovery was slowed somewhat by the fact that I felt like I was coming down with something, which is how I've felt all summer. I saw my doctor on Thursday, who is of the opinion that I have allergies. He suggested a daily dose of Claritin, and so far that seems to be helping.

Anyway. Chicago. It was a good trip. A few librarians squealed when they saw me and asked to have their picture taken with me. It turns out a little of that goes a long way, but who am I to complain? It was nice to be noticed.


The soap opera in our lives right now involves the nuptuals of an old friend of the Man's from college. Let's call him Bill. Bill is getting married. Again. And he wants the Man to be a member of the wedding.

When the request came last spring, the Man forgot the age-old rule, Never say "yes" to any request until you've thought about it for 24 hours. Say, "Wow, that sounds great, but I have to check with my _____ (wife, husband, therapist, personal trainer, priest, what have you)."

Thus last week the Man found himself on the receiving end of a xeroxed, two page, single-spaced letter from the 28-year-old Bride-to-Be (Bill is 43), filled with the precise rules and regulations for being a part of her wedding, including the requirement that all members of the wedding show up on site two days prior to the wedding to begin the preparations for the Most Important Wedding Ever.

Now, this would be bad enough, but there's more. Bill's first marriage was to a woman that the Man and I are both very fond of. We are also fond of their three children. We were appalled when Bill left his family a year-and-a-half ago because he no longer harbored romantic feelings for his (now ex-) wife. It went against everything we believe about marriage, fidelity and family.

So why did the Man agree to be in this second, monster wedding? Because he's a polite guy, and he was shocked that Bill was getting remarried so soon after his divorce and, quite simply, he did not have his wits about him when the request came.

Because the Man is all about personal honor, he won't let himself bow out now. But he's going to call Bill and tell him he can't come to town two days early. I suspect he will be dropped from the wedding party like a hot potato. He'll still attend the ceremony, which makes me happy, since I think it's going to be a big, honking freak show and I want to hear all about it.

And then I'll start taking bets on how long Marriage No. 2 lasts ...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday Report

Spent an hour weeding the garden this morning. The beans and peas are over and done with. The lettuce is a distant memory. But those cukes and zucchinis just keep on coming and the tomatoes loom large.

I found a huge green caterpillar eating a tomato this morning. I plucked the tomato, caterpillar and all, and put it in a jar so I could show it to the Man later. I punched a hole in the lid. I don't know why. This caterpillar is my enemy. He's probably not even a caterpillar. He's probably a nematode in caterpillar clothing. He's beautiful and horrifying all at once. He needs to go, but I'm not an executioner.

The Man, on the other hand, will have no qualms sending the caterpillar to his doom. The Man speaks lovingly about how he'd like to take a shotgun to the rabbits out back (now that the rabbits are eating my flowers, I'm beginning to share the Man's zeal). He's not sentimental about critters. Or at least he talks a good game. Has the Man ever shot a rabbit or a squirrel or any living thing? No, of course not. Deep inside, the Man has a very soft heart.

But I do not believe his kindness extends to green caterpillars who eat our tomatoes.


I'm going to Chicago on Saturday and coming back Tuesday night. I'm going for the big, national library conference, where I will be a very small fish in a very big pond. I get a little nervous, thinking about how thoroughly I will be ignored as the librarians swarm around my much more famous peers. There is only one way to deal with this situation: Find the very shy people and be kind to them. We shy people need to stick together.


The children continue to sleep in. This is because they are staying up until all hours of the night. We send them upstairs to bed at a reasonable time, but they just can't stay put. Their throats are parched and dry--they must have water! Turns out that they forgot to each lunch, and now they're so, so hungry. Just a little snack?

It's time to come down hard. Only I'm going out of town, and the Man, Mr. Tough Guy, is a big talker with nothing to back it up. He sort of expects the boys will go upstairs at 8:30, brush their teeth, and settle into sleep without him even needing to bring up the subject. He gets caught up in his own projects and forgets bedtime. He decides that the boys really need to watch the big game.

But when I get back in town, I'm going to lay down the law. Serious bedtime routines will be imposed. Up at 8:3o, not to be seen until the next morning at ... 7?

Hmmm ... maybe I'll wait til we get closer to school. Because it's hard to beat a quiet morning in the garden.


If I don't get a chance to post before my trip, I'll see you next week, hopefully with all kinds of good stories about life in the big city. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm Back

Actually I've been back for a week, but I came home from the beach with a bug and took last week pretty easy.

The beach was the beach. You get there and are overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. You frolic in the waves, recline on the shore, obsessively collect shells, even though you're not actually all that interested in shells. You feel the luxury of a whole week spread out in front of you where you don't really have to do anything but eat and read. It's bliss, it's wonder, it's what you've always dreamed of--

and by Wednesday, you're ready to pack it in. Every year's the same: you can't help but hit the Wednesday trough. By Wednesday, you've had a whole lot of family togetherness and the mood is beginning to sour. Voices are raised, threats are made, no one really likes each other, and getting down to the beach seems like an overwhelming project that may just not be worth the trip--

but by Thursday the crisis has passed. By Thursday you only have two days left, and suddenly you realize how you've come to take the beach for granted--how could that be? Thursday morning you wake up extra early to drink up all the remaining beach hours in. You take long walks along the shore and realize you haven't been in a car all week. What a treat, not to drive.

Friday is a mix of pleasure and packing. Saturday is a rush out the door to make check-out time on time (which is 10:30). On Friday night, the Man ran out to the little convenience store close to our rental house and saw folks leaving the island, their cars packed, and thought that was a genius idea. Enjoy a full day at the beach on Friday, pack at your leisure, throw the kids in the backseat around 10 p.m. and get gone. We're going to try that next year.


While we were at the beach, Will decided that he was a dog named Andrew. It turns out that Andrew, unlike Will, obeys commands. It's easy as pie to get Andrew to brush his teeth and put on his pajamas. Andrew is a dog who listens to his masters. We rewarded him with treats and a lot of head-scratching.


So the beach was good, but it's good to be home, especially if I don't open any closet doors. The state of my closets and the attic is dire, but it's really too hot to tackle them, don't you think? Yes, I know you do, and that's why I like you so much.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tee Ball Mom

Somehow I have given birth to a jock. It's not that I'm unathletic--I played a fair game of tennis back in the day and wasn't immune to running long distances now and again--but I'm totally noncompetitive. I clutch in the clutch. I drop easy pop flies, miss simple shots. I have absolutely no game.

Will, he's got game. He is focused and assured. He's in the zone. He is six and king of the Tee Ball field.

Yesterday was his first game. I believe "organized chaos" would be overstating the case of what went on. "Anarchy in a Baseball Cap" comes closer. In Tee Ball, certain rules are relaxed. You can strike out, but it takes awhile. Three outs might or might not retire a side. Sometimes getting ten runs, one after another, retires the side.

It will come as no surprise to many of you that the parents are already out of control, even at this early stage. Okay, mostly the dads. My first sign of this was when the other side went up to bat. Our team--the Red Dragons--seems to be pretty laid-back, parental-wise. I liked that everyone clapped for every play, no matter whose team was up. That's the tee ball spirit! But when the Blue team came up to bat, the other side went wild. They were cheering and chanting. I think it psyched their guys out, quite frankly. The Red Dragons were victorious in the end, 17-15.

Of course, a score of 17-15 tells you everything you need to know about the quality of the defense.

Except, that is, for Will. I try not to brag about my kids too much in this space because it's unbecoming and nobody wants to hear it. Yeah, yeah, all our kids are geniuses.. But I'll brag on Will a bit, just because he's earned it. The kid is out back every day playing catch with his pitch-back contraption. He's fielding, he's throwing, he's batting. And I will say with some pride that the other parents were saying, "Who's that kid on third with the arm?"

"That's my boy," I said, mentally thumping my chest. My little jock.


We are off to the beach tomorrow. I'm thoroughly unprepared, so today--when the temperatures will be soaring close to one hundred--I'll be running around like a crazed person, buying groceries, washing clothes, and getting out the sheets and towels we'll need for our rental house.

I don't think our beach house has wireless, so I'll see you week after next, assuming I'm not eaten by a shark. Until then, be good, hug your children, and eat some good chocolate. You've earned it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Some vague, rambling, unconnected stuff (i.e. what you've come to expect)

I don't know about you, but last night I was hanging out at a ukulele jam. Yeah, I took Jack down to the local fiddle and guitar shop, where a group of ten or so ukeleleists were putting their own particular spin on "Sewanee River," "You Take the High Road, I'll Take the Low Road," and that great old Elvis Costello tune, "(What's so Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Would you believe me if I said it was incredibly cool?

Ukulele jams definitely fit under the category of "Homemade Good Times." If I sometimes long for days when folks sat on their porches and chatted and played guitars and fiddles (and, maybe, just maybe, the odd ukulele), it's because there is something about making your own fun that's awfully, well, fun. And there are no commercials to sit through, nothing to make you cover the kids' eyes.

Do-it-yourself entertainment: the wave of the future?


Second fiddle lesson yesterday. Why is it that at home I don't screech or squawk at all, but as soon as I sit down in front of my teacher, it's like my fiddle has turned into an outraged chicken?


Saturday I took Will to a birthday party at another one of those birthday party warehouses, the kind with giant inflatables and kiddie slot machines. When it was time for cake and ice cream, we were led into a small room where a college student dressed like a basketball ref served the kids pizza. If I could have discretely slipped this kid a tip, I would have. He put up with a lot of smack and smart talk (including, I'm afraid, some from Will, who has unfortunately decided that he's a comedian), all with good cheer.

It reminded me of the various lousy jobs I had during summer breaks, including telemarketing and camp counseling. Telemarketing was the worst; I lasted three days. As I recall, being home during the summers when you're a college student isn't much fun in general. I quit doing it after my junior year, choosing squalid, un-air conditioned apartments with a multitude of friends over having a curfew and watching the 6 o'clock news while eating dinner on TV trays, the air chilled to a perfect and constant 72 degrees.


It is way too hot for June. So why have I started knitting a cardigan for my dad? Because Christmas is coming! Will this be the summer I actually get my Christmas knitting done by September?

Um, yeah, I think we all know the answer to that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Philosophy 101

It's summer, and when it's summer my thoughts most often turn south. I live in the southeastern United States and spend a goodly amount of time in the Appalachian mountains, and when everything turns green I fall in love and start reading books with titles like Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lovers Guide to the South and All That is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region.

In general, I am a sucker for local cultures, regional foods, and old ways. When I practice my fiddle playing, it gives me a thrill to learn a song that people have been playing for hundreds of years. When I knit, I happily ponder the fact that folks have been knitting down through the ages.

I'm trying to work on a theory why this stuff intrigues me. Why do I enjoy being connected to the past? Why do I get excited when I read an article in the paper about a family-run barbecue joint in South Carolina? Why does the idea of a quilting bee or a knitting circle just tickle me pink?

I don't think it's nostalgia or being homesick for the home I never had (as Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum put it). I'm too old and cynical for nostalgia. The closest I've been able to get any sort of answer goes back to another question I've raised before in this blog (and of course has been raised since the beginning of time): What are people for? There is something about idiosyncratic self-expression--whether in the music we make, the food we serve, the socks we knit--that seems at the heart of it to me. Which means that mass produced culture is somehow antithetical to what we're supposed to be about.

These is the stuff I'm going to think about this summer while I'm knitting and fiddling and eating barbecue. If you have any insights, let me know.