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?"