Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Report

My mother is a hoot. She is 72-years-old and more active than most 20-year-olds I know. She belongs to three book clubs, one lunch club, serves on about a hundred church committees, and recently completed a four-year course called EFM (Education for Ministry) to become a lay minister in the Episcopal Church, a course in which she engaged in such light reading as the complete works of Augustine and the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. She takes classes on digital photography. She uses Skype, she Twitters, she has a Facebook page.

She has also gotten to the point in her life where she says whatever she feels like. This can be a little embarrassing if you go out to lunch with her and she gets candid with the wait staff, but for the most part it's refreshing and often quite hilarious.

Yesterday I called to tell her I made Andrew (see previous post) unfriend her on Facebook. She was relieved. "I was getting tense whenever I logged on," she admitted. We chatted about this and that, and then I mentioned that my new book had gotten a good review that she could find online.

"I have that book," she said, "But I just can't get interested in reading it." Pause. "I guess I shouldn't say that, should I?"

She went on to list all the books of mine she loves and has read over and over. What's interesting to me is that the two books of mine she's not crazy about ("I'm just not interested in the lives of girls in their early teens") are a) two of my favorite books that I've written; and b) two of my most autobiographical.

My theory is that she doesn't want to relive the pain of my early teen years. I had all sorts of drama with my friends, and one girl I knew was particularly mean to me. My mother knew what was going on, but was helpless to do anything about it. And now she doesn't want to read about it. Who can blame her?


My boys are going up to the mountains this weekend, and I'm staying home to paint Will's room. The painting part will be easy. The hard part will be the four or five hours it takes to peel off all the stickers from the walls, deconstruct the mucus mosaics, and wipe off the lovely crayon mural created in the midst of a long-ago hissy fit. It is possible by the time the walls are prepped I will be too old, my spirit too broken, to actually lift a paint brush.


I hope everyone has a great weekend. To all my friends Down Under--stay cool! To my friends in the UK, take heart! Spring is coming! To all my friends in the U.S., if you don't feel like watching the Super Bowl, come to my boy-free house on Sunday. We'll drink white wine and talk about ballet. It will be fabulous, dahlings.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Old Friends, Part 2

Sometimes I think my life would be perfect if it weren't for other people.

I should clarify that, shouldn't I?

I don't mean my friends. I depend on my friends for my sanity. If it weren't for Amy and Danielle supporting me these last ten years, I would have sold my children to the gypsies ages ago.

Still, there are those people who make life difficult, the ones we do our best to avoid, the ones who prove to us we're not half as charitable as we thought we were.

Andrew is one of these people.

I met Andrew my senior year in high school. He was a sophomore, a friend of my younger brother's. He thought I was cool. He developed a crush on me. We got to be friends, and over the years stayed friends, but it was always an uneven friendship. I didn't do much to encourage it, Andrew would not be discouraged.

In his late teens, Andrew was diagnosed as being severely bipolar. Over the years, he's made several suicide attempts, has gone through tons of electroshock therapy, and has stayed highly medicated. When he's manic, he takes to the phone. My brother, who shares my wariness when it comes to Andrew's attentions, now screens all his calls. If you pick up when Andrew calls, he will keep calling back every night until you tell him to stop.

I get a call from Andrew every couple of months. Sometimes he's in good shape, sometimes he's not. I keep the calls short, but try to be friendly and sympathetic. He's had a hard life and he needs friends. Nonetheless, after I get a call from him, I tend to screen calls for the next few days, just in case he goes on a bender.

The latest thing: Facebook. A few weeks ago, I signed up on Facebook, on a whim. Andrew found me there. Andrew, it turns out, is one of those people who lives on Facebook. And he is so happy to have me there, so he can send me his poems and deep, philosophical thoughts and maniacal musings. Constantly. Recently, he befriended my mother, who really does not need his mania (some of which can be quite profane) in her life.

I'm thinking about getting off Facebook.

What do you do about the Andrews in your life? I don't know, I honestly don't. I live in fear he's going to show up on my doorstep one day. He wouldn't harm a fly, so it's not that kind of fear. It's more the fear of that much craziness too near to my children, the fear of not being able to get rid of him.

So Andrew is difficult. And I have other difficult people, too, people who my life would be easier without. But they won't go away, and I don't know how to deal with them. Do you? If so, let me know. I'm at a loss.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Old Friends

Saturday I went to see my best friend from college, Audrey. Here's the shameful thing: we live fifty minutes apart, yet go for years without seeing each other. Well, you know how that goes. Frankly, I have friends who live fifteen minutes away who I go for years without seeing. It ain't right, but that's how it is.

Audrey and I have been friends for twenty-five years. Man. One of the best things about our friendship is that it's stayed current and contemporary. We almost never talk about old times. And best of all, we've let each other grow up. We both did plenty of stupid things when we were younger, had dumb ideas, said things that would make us cringe today. We also had big dreams that didn't necessarily pan out. Life doesn't work out the way you think it will when you're twenty. You never imagine how many ways you'll have to compromise.

But you grow up, get married, have kids. You accept the compromises you have to make. But there are people from your past who will pop up and say, "Why aren't you still the way you used to be? Why don't you still believe the things you used to believe? What happened to you?"

Audrey and I don't do that to each other. We let each other be who we've become.


Among other things, Audrey is an artist (which she's always been). She's a printmaker and a painter, and in more recent years she's become a quilter. One reason I was eager to make the trip to see her is I knew she would inspire me creatively, which she alway has. I'm inspired by her art, and I'm inspired by her household, which is funky and offbeat, but also cozily domestic. I'm inspired, too, by her willingness to jump into projects, take risks, and have fun.

So I came home and started working on the quilt I've been planning. I'm working with blue and green fabrics to match a room in the mountain house my husband recently painted--you guessed it--blue and green. It's an odd green, though. Say you had a medium olive green and added a few drops of blue. It doesn't sound all that attractive, but weirdly enough, it looks great.

I'm not in love with all the greens I'm using, though. Too much yellow. But I'll get it figured out. I'll rip out what I have to, make the necessary changes. I'm willing to compromise in life, but in art? Never!

Friday, January 23, 2009

School Notes

At Our Fine School, the kindergarteners study Japan, which means there is a Japanese Hot Lunch served in early February. Guess who's on the Japanese Hot Lunch committee for Mrs. B's class? Guess who desperately did not want to be on the Japanese Hot Lunch committee for Mrs. B's class, but who was last in line for the sign-up sheet?

I have nothing against Japanese cuisine, other than the fact I don't eat it. I'm not a seafood person in general, and raw seafood holds no appeal for me. Add to that the fact I cannot cook rice for more than four people at a time, and I think you'll agree that I'm not the best mom for the job.

But I'm stuck with it, so yesterday morning I trudged into school at 8:15 for the Japanese Hot Lunch Committee Meeting. I wasn't in any way, shape or form looking forward to it. For one thing, my fellow kindergarten moms are much too young and attractive to deal with first thing in the morning. I had Will when I was 38; clearly the other moms were child brides who bore their children shortly after graduating middle school. A number of them are consistently fashionably dressed, which this season means short skirts and high heeled boots. It is a fabulous look, and a slightly ridiculous one for the kindergarten hallways. Just sayin'.

Here's the good news: my fellow committee members all wore jeans, and two out of three had crows feet. None were a size 2 (a common malady among the younger moms at Our Fine School). Best of all, at the beginning of the meeting Mrs B said, "Y'all can cook if you want to, but if I were you, I'd just go to that Japanese restaurant over by the TJ Maxx. That's what my moms did last year, and the food was great."

Meeting over. Well, we did have to divvy up who would bring forks and napkins (moi) and who would place the take-out order (Wendy), and we agreed if we went over our $100 budget we would happily split the difference. But that was it. So as it turns out, I love being on the Japanese Hot Lunch Committee. Piece of cake.


After the meeting was over, I strolled over to see the lovely "I have a dream" posters the kids in Will's class had made for MLK's birthday. Oh, the sentiments expressed were lovely and dear: "I have a dream everyone gets enough to eat." "I have a dream no one would die." "I have a dream for peace."

I eagerly searched out Will's. It was all the way at the end of the row of posters, a little bit in the shadows. It read: "I have a dream everybody could use the same bathroom."

I was a bit taken aback. What could that possibly mean? Will doesn't even like using the bathroom, and I'm sure if he could have his own, private porta-potty to haul around with him, he would. So why does all the sudden he want to use the bathroom with everybody else?

Fortunately, a woman who was also reading the posters noticed my obvious distress. "You know what? I bet Mrs. B told them about how blacks and whites used to have separate bathroom facilities. I bet that's what he's writing about."

Thank goodness she cleared that up for me, or I would have spent all day wondering what the heck Will was talking about and why my children are so weird. Still, I wish Will had come up with something a little more profound (and a little less dated, quite frankly--his dream is about forty years behind the times). But I guess you go with your gut when it comes to what you dare to dream.


Jack would leave his rear end at home everyday if it weren't tied onto the rest of him. Good Lord, that child has no sense--and no long term memory. He has yet to remember one "come to school dressed like an insane person" day, and the fourth grade calendar is replete with them. Today it was "Come to School Dressed in Your Jammies Day!" It completely slipped Jack's mind until we picked up A, who walked out of his house in pjs and a robe.

Jack got that stricken look he gets when he realizes he's forgotten yet another important landmark occasion. He paled. His mouth trembled a little. "Mom, could you bring my baseball pajamas to school? And a small stuffed animal?"

I said I would. I didn't want Jack to miss out on any fourth grade zaniness. I mean, I'm not a monster. Later, thinking about it, I realized if Jack had forgotten his homework, I wouldn't have brought it in. I would have made him take the consequences for forgetting. I would have taught him an Important Life Lesson.

But jammies? How can you deny a boy who wants to wear his jams to school like all the other kids? You can't. You just can't.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Can Knitting Be Considered My Day Job?

(I can't get this picture straight, and it's making me slightly dizzy. In any event, it's the scarf I just knit, which is keeping me very warm these icy days.)

A long time ago I taught writing at a nearby college. I loved teaching and I loved my students, but what I didn't love was all the work I had to take home. It was a job that was never done. In that way, it was very much like housework.

Now I make my living as a writer. When I'm working on a book, I feel like I have a job, and I organize my day around my writing. If the bathrooms don't get cleaned, if the attic remains steeped in junk, well, that's how it is when you have a job.

But when I'm not working on a book, my day feels a bit more nebulous. What is required of me? My presence, of course, when the children are home. My cooking skills, most definitely, and my willingness to chauffeur children hither and yon. Because I like things to at least appear orderly, I am employed daily in the fight against chaos: I wash dishes, make beds, fold laundry, pick up, pick up, pick up.

My workday runs from 6:50 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.. But during that time, there are long stretches when I am not occupied in ways that contribute to the running and maintenance of my household. It is my tendency at those times to sit down with a cup of tea and a book or my latest knitting project.

The problem is, I always feel like I should be doing something else. Because there's always something else to be done. Errands to run, attics to organize, clothes and toys to be sorted to take to Good Will, hardwood floors to be mopped, a refrigerator to be cleaned, and on and on.

I suspect this is the plight of every housewife, every stay-at-home worker. When is our work done? Never. Never, ever, ever, ever.

But I'm going to argue (to myself, mostly) that reading and knitting (and quilting and scrapbooking and Sudoku and blog reading and writing) contribute to the happy life of a household. If books enlarge my mind, making me a more lively and interesting member of the collective, and if knitted socks keep your feet warm, aren't we all a little better off at the end of the day?

Yes, we are. So housewives of the world, let's slack off a little today, okay? Let's knit and read to our hearts' content. Let's work on projects we find relaxing and amusing. Let's find quiet time in which to meditate, and maybe watch a little TV. Let's blow stuff off and take a nap. Let's do it for our families. Let's do it for love.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Snow Day

I have been in hibernation. January's like that for me. After the high energy of the New Year wears off, my job becomes getting through the winter with my sanity in tact. No small job.

True, here in North Carolina, where the average January day temp hovers around 50, it's pretty easy to coast along during the daylight hours. But when darkness sets in around five o'clock, I get to feeling claustrophobic. I'm trapped in January! Will I ever escape?

It snowed last night, and it's snowing still. There is beauty everywhere. It is beauty heightened by the knowledge that it will be gone in 48 hours.

I'm knitting, knitting, knitting. I'm sitting in a rocking chair by the fire and knitting and listening to an audiobook of The Two Towers. I take the little CD player with me when I walk the dog. The Lord of the Rings is a great walking story. That's all they do, walk and walk. I am on a journey with Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippen.

In an hour, I will sit down to watch the Inauguration. Ah, the peaceful transfer of power, how I love it.

Back to my knitting.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Romantic Notions

(I took this picture on my walk this morning. It was interesting to carry a camera--I usually don't--I found myself really looking at what I was seeing, if you know what I mean.)

I'm working on a new sweater from the Fall 2006 Interweave Knits. At the bottom of the pattern is a little bio note for the designer which informs me that she "lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and daughter on a farm full of sheep, pigs, chickens, cats and dogs."

That description is like catnip to me. Lives on a farm? in western Mass.? With her husband and her daughter and pigs and chickens and cats and dogs? Could anything be more perfect?

Now, instead of enjoying the thought of this woman living her life on her farm, I start getting anxious about it. Shouldn't that be my life? Why don't I live on a farm designing knitware and baking bread all day with my little daughter in her adorable overalls while the chickens cluck outside the kitchen window and the light streams through the curtains and dances across the floor. Shouldn't I be living this life? Isn't this the perfect, problem-free life that I so richly deserve?

Forget the fact that I'm almost forty-five and know that no such life exists. Forget the fact that I'm fully aware that this woman has a laundry list of problems as long as mine, maybe even longer.

Forget the fact that I've actually lived in western Massachusetts, and while it is beautiful and scenic and all that, it snows from October through May. I hate snow. I went through month-long funks living in western Massachusetts because the snow wouldn't go away.

Forget the fact I've actually stayed on a farm in western Massachusetts. A scenic farm with cows and pigs. And lots of cow and pig manure. It smelled to high heaven. You couldn't get away from the smell. I did not smell that smell and have deep, meaningful thoughts about nature's ever-spinning cycles. My thoughts about those smells were irritated and surly and not at all friendly.

Forget all of that. It is January and I am human and I will romanticize this woman's life if I want to.

But to balance it out, I'll try to imagine how, if she read my short little bio, she might start romanticizing mine.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I Am in Love with a Tin Can

I have no philosophy about this tin can. I have no spiritual insights.

The beans were good.

The label is very green and says what it has to say.

The beans cost fifty-nine cents. One can fed the whole family, or at least the three of us who actually eat.

After pouring the beans into the pot to heat them, I washed out the can and put it on the dish rack.

I found myself staring at it all day.

I am idiotically pleased by this can.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


(Above: Hat knitted for Theo in Alabama. The pattern is called "Reid's Woolen Hat" and is by Heather over at Pneuma. Behind the hat, a gray, rainy day.)

Last year, for the first time in years, I made New Year's Resolutions. I don't think I was so audacious as to actually call them that, but I did to write a list of six or seven things I hoped to accomplish in my journal. I accomplished roughly zero percent of them, surprise, surprise, so this year I'm back to my usual New Year's stance: I resolve to stand up straight. I'm pretty much a sloucher, but from time to time throughout the year I remember to throw back my shoulders and hold my head up. Resolution accomplished!

I have to say, I would like to do a better job of managing my time. I seem to be exceptionally capable of frittering time away. Part of it has got to be the nature of keeping house when you're as unorganized as I am. You're doing a load of whites in the wash, so you go to various bedrooms to grab socks from under the beds, and you notice all the dust bunnies and so you go grab the vacuum, but you can't find the attachment, and while you're searching for it in the mud room you realize that there are an inordinate number of plastic bags floating around that needed to be collected and taken to the grocery store for recycling ... and so on and so on. In this fashion, nothing is ever accomplished.

(Not to mention that I can be stopped in my tracks halfway through any chore with the thought that wouldn't it be nice to sit down with a cup of tea and do some knitting.)

So a lot of days I finish up feeling somewhat fragmented and out of sorts. I'd had all sorts of plans for the afternoon--work on the quilt I'm planning, finish reading my book for book group, e-mail the missions committee at church, write thank you notes--but I was never able to get around to them, or only did bits and pieces of each thing.

I feel like there must be a system or a plan or a magic elixir to deal with this problem. Or maybe it can't be solved until the children are grown and gone and the only people left in the house are grown-ups who put their socks in the hamper, insuring the dust bunnies will go undisturbed for years.

The funny thing is, when I mentioned this to my mom, she said she'd had the same sort of problem all year, not really get much of anything done. So it's possible that a) it's the zeitgeist and nobody's accomplishing much; or b) it's hereditary, in which case I should just stop worrying about it.

Maybe that will be my resolution: to quit worrying about stuff. In fact, maybe I'll make this The Year of Accomplishing Nothing. Which will make it the same as any other year, only now when the year is over, I'll feel like I achieved exactly what I set out to do.

I like this idea. I like it a lot.

I am sitting up straight as I write this.