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!