Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent Journal: Season's Greetings

The other day I heard a woman say that she decorates her house for Christmas on the Friday after Thanksgiving and then takes everything down on December 26th. While I think people should observe the season as best they see fit, I have to say this approach to the holidays strikes me as supremely wrong-headed.

I know, I know. If you've had a tree up since late November, it's a definite fire hazard by the day after and you need to get it down. I get that part.

And I also know that a lot of folks celebrating Christmas are not religious, and so they're free to say "Game over" whenever they want. I get that, too.

Still, the idea of Christmas skidding to a halt at midnight December 25th is depressing. To me, Christmas really, truly begins on Christmas Eve. Before then, you might have some Christmas moments--feelings of good will when someone lets you cut into traffic, small moments of peace, especially when you hear Nat King Cole sing "O Holy Night" while you're making Christmas cookies--but not that deep, holy feeling of Christmas.

Do you know the feeling I mean? I was not a particularly religious child, but I remember getting that holy feeling as my brothers and I delivered loaves of banana bread for my mother late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The sky would be that glorious pink sinking into purple as we set out, and you could see the neighbors' trees in their windows. My brothers and I would sing Christmas carols and wonder outloud how we'd ever fall asleep that night. It would be dark by the time we got home. We'd turn out all the lights in the living room and sit in front of the tree until dinner, everything hushed and magical.

I don't think you have to have religious faith to get that holy feeling. I think it's there for everyone, free of charge, a gift from God. We may have given up on church, call ourselves "spiritual but not religious," call ourselves nothing at all, but we still seek out those moments where our souls feel at peace.

In my family, we begin decorating two weeks before Christmas, but the true desire to decorate doesn't hit me until the 22nd or 23rd. Yesterday I hung tinsel in living room. It felt like I was getting ready for a party. Which, I suppose, I was. The party will really begin Christmas Eve and will go on for days after Christmas, as we feast and celebrate, sing and play.

I will think of that woman in her naked living room, her life gone back to normal, her party already over.

***

Yesterday, I started thinking about the books I got for Christmas as a child. Little Women, A Little Princess, Mandy by Julie Andrews, Island of the Blue Dolphins. I think my father--it would have been my father who bought the books--went to the bookstore and said, "What are the best books for a girl to read?"

I still get lots of books for Christmas, and the days after Christmas are a reading fest for me. The food is cooked, the house is cleaned, I'm not doing laundry. I'll take breaks to play games with the boys and to grab some more Chex mix, but mostly what I'll do is read, read, read.

Bliss.

***

I expect this will be my last post before Christmas. I hope your Christmas is lovely, filled with light, joyous, holy, healing, and, of course, merry. Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Journal: The Purge Continues

I just finished making the boys' lunches for tomorrow. I fear I'm not a very good lunch maker. I tend to make the same thing over and over until the boys beg for something new. Except they rarely do. Like me, they are mostly monogamous lunchers, seemingly happy to eat the same thing everyday.

(I fear their teachers judge me harshly on the monotony of my children's lunches.)

Still, it seems like I should try harder to put a little more pizazz into their midday meals. Well, maybe next year. Right now I'm looking forward to Christmas break and its attendant cease-fire, lunch-wise. I'll wait til January to figure out how to fit a leg of lamb into a Star Wars lunch box.

***

Last week was my busy-busy holiday week. I made lasagna for Jack's advisory group at Our Fine Middle School and close to a hundred glittery blue and gold stars and moons for the Very Beary Breakfast for Lunch party at Our Fine Lower School. Somehow I managed to sign up for two things, at two separate schools, on the same day at the very same time. If you've wondered why I haven't been posting much, there you have it.

***

The purge continues, but I'm running out of steam. I wish I could in good conscience just throw everything out in the trash, but I can't. Too much good stuff, or at least useful stuff. The problem is, it's hard to find a place to donate gently used toys. Most places only take new toys these days. Apparently there's a spot by a nearby Catholic church where you can put out a box of toys and they'll disappear like magic.

Anyway, there's been a lot of going through stuff and making the Pirate Ship Ahoy game has all its parts and the Fast Trax race car tracks has all its tracks and Mouse Trap has all its traps. This will wear you down after awhile. This will get you drinking very early in the day. Or at least thinking about it. "A glass of Cabernet would hit the spot right now," you think around 9:45 a.m., stranded in the middle of ten million Hot Wheels.

So I've got my heart set on straightening out the closet in my study and our bedroom closet, and then calling it a purge. The attic is too cold. And too out of control. Just too dang much.

When will I admit it: The attic will never, ever be purged? I need to accept this and move on with my life.

***

Last week I stood in the middle of a music shop called High Strung Violins and Guitars and auditioned fiddles. I am not a person who happily plays fiddle in front of other people, especially not in a store filled with accomplished musicians, so you can imagine this was all I needed of Hell. My fiddle teacher, who looks almost exactly like Santa Claus and is very dear, came with me, so that helped. He's used to how badly I play.

So that's my big Christmas present: A fiddle of my own. I've been playing for about a year now (I took a break last spring when I was traveling so much), and I'm better than I used to be, but still not much good.

My New Year's Resolution: To start going to the Tuesday night fiddle jam at High Strung. I've been saying I'm going to do this for over a year now, but now I really mean it. I'm gonna jam.

***

I've been good about keeping up with my Advent readings, but as with purging, I'm running out of Advent steam. This happens every year, though. I start out the Christmas season feeling spiritual as all get-out, and then by mid-month the craziness sets in. Santa Claus starts edging out Jesus.

I would spend more time ruminating on this, except I must go wrap presents. And bake banana bread. And run to the post office and the art supply store and get some stocking stuffers.

You get the picture. Sigh.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Journal: The Purge


(The winter wheat survived its first winter storm.
Photo credit: The Man.)



I've done it. I've gone through the cupboard with all the orphaned tupperware lids and, yea, I have taken out the lids and verily I have put them in the recycling.

I have accepted that the mates to these lids are gone. They have run off to the wild rumpus, which is where wayward, wanton lids go.

I have kept the three or four containers that have lost their lids. They have some potential to be useful, and besides, there is something about a lidless container that makes you feel sorry for it. They're like men whose wives have left them for the milkmen. They've been duped, dumped, taken for granted. I am willing to give them a home until they decide to take a swim in the dishwasher and get melted into weird, unhelpful-for-food-storage shapes.

I have gone through the cabinet with the bowls and the 47 candlesticks we got for wedding gifts and the collection of candle stubs that I'm holding onto because ... because ... well, why am I holding onto those candle stubs? I finally forced myself to throw away the chipped cereal bowl that I've kept for years because one day I might make a mosaic table top. Really, I might.

I have been hating the clutter of these cabinets for well over a year, probably closer to two. Guess how long it took me to straighten them out? Fifteen minutes, tops.


(I believe the marigolds, a few days ago simply past their prime,
are now very much over. But didn't they go out pretty? Photo credit: The Man)

So, anyway, yes, I'm doing an Advent purge. We have too much stuff, and I'm tired of it. How can I prepare a straight path, as wildman John the B would have me do, if my pathways are stewn with candle stubs and chipped cereal bowls?

I spend most of my purge time today in Jack's room, going through his closets and taking out stuff he no longer plays with (or, in some cases, never played with--my kids have too much stuff!). Why, I ask you, why did he have one entire closet shelf piled with EMPTY Lego Starwars boxes? All the models have been built (and probably destroyed, their pieces dumped into the massive ocean of Lego flowing through our house), and yet, the boxes remain, gathering dust in some prime storage real estate.

Sometimes I do not understand my own life. Time to purge! Make straight the paths!

***

Jody asked what Advent book I was reading. It's a quite wonderful collection called God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas. It has readings for every day of Advent. Last week all entries were by Richard John Neuhaus; this week we hear from Scott Cairns. Other writers include Kathleen Norris and the poet Luci Shaw. There's a marvelous introduction by Eugene Peterson. It's a book I've thought about buying for years and am so glad I finally did.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Journal



(The marigolds, almost done for, still delight me)

A storm blew through last night that swept the last of the leaves off the trees. Now the sky is bigger. Now the light pierces everything.

I'm trying to pay attention this Advent, which is something I try to do every Advent. Usually it's a lost cause by December 10th, when all the hurry and the stress sets in. But for these first four days at least, I've done the daily readings and written in my journal, and kept a candle lit as I've sat at the kitchen table and worked on a revision.

We'll see how long it lasts.

(Lettuce and greens in our messy garden)


"Forbid that we should stumble through this day oblivious to the wonder in the ordinary," pled one of my readings this morning. The same author informed me that finitum capax infiniti is the Latin for the finite is capable of the infinite.

This afternoon, driving to pick up Will from school, I glanced in my rear-view mirror to see the woman in the car behind me laughing and talking a mile a minute. A second glance revealed her audience, a chocolate brown Lab in the backseat. It was just the two of them in the car, and they both appeared to be having a grand time. It was absurdly cheering.

I am grieving today for my friend Jamie, whose father died yesterday. It's a strange thing, to feel grief on such a beautiful afternoon. And strange to laugh at the woman and the dog in my rear-view mirror while grieving. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, she said, and so I did both.

(There are carrots growing in this here pot; there are a couple right
around 3:00--look for very skinny green leaves)



Another excerpt from my reading: "Christmas forces us to deal with all the mess of our humanity in the context of God who has already entered that mess in the glorious birth of Jesus."

We expect so many wonderful things from this time of year, but year after year what we get is mess because what we are is a mess. Some of it's funny, but there's a lot of grief and sadness, addiction and depression, lack of love, lack of affection, just a lot of mess we'd rather not deal with, and feel somehow like we shouldn't have to deal with, not at Christmas.

But what better time? In the middle of our grief, in the middle of all our human messes, a reminder that the darkness doesn't win. The light wins. Watch for it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!



This is my latest quilt. I started it in September, to teach myself how to machine quilt. I now know how to stipple. It is addictive.



Above: What stippling looks like up close. I learned to this from watching You Tube videos. Essentially you use your sewing machine to draw row upon row of little mittens. Very comforting.

***

Will finally noticed my haircut. Well, actually, what happened is this: I, not being able to stand it any longer, said, "Will, did you happen to notice I got my hair cut?" And Will said, "Uh, YEAH!"

Because I'm very wise, I didn't ask him if he liked it. First of all, I like it, and that's what matters. Secondly, what if he said he didn't like it? Where do we go from there? I can't style my hair according to the whims of an eight-year-old boy. Can you imagine? Actually it's sort of fun to imagine an auditorium of second-grader moms wearing the hairstyles their kids requested. I see a lot of long, flowing blond princess hair and a lot of purple hair in strange geometric shapes.

***

We're going to my parents' house in Kentucky for Thanksgiving. My younger brother and his family will be there, too, and I'm sure it will be a nice time. I have a nice family. Everyone gets along. It helps that my brothers married wonderful women with good senses of humor, and I married a wonderful man with a good sense of humor. The Outlaws. Where would we be without them? And who would wash the dishes?

***

For those of you who observe Thanksgiving, have a lovely holiday! And for those of you who don't, have you ever eaten cranberry jelly from a can? There's nothing like it! Come on over and give it a try!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Now We Are Farmers




The winter wheat is up! It's official! I would like a certificate of farmership, please! Somebody buy me a cow. Before I have one.




Our yard isn't full of spectacular colors like a lot of the yards around us; we don't have any amazing reds or oranges. But I love the November light in the late afternoon.


Before (as in yesterday):




And after (as of today):



Guess what? Neither of my children seemed to have noticed that my hair is five inches shorter and five shades darker than it was twenty-four hours ago. That's what I get for having sons.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just Say No

I was inspired by Tracy's recent post, How Do You Do It, in which she hands out some very practical advice for working moms. I especially like her suggestion about learning how to say "no."

I'm getting better at being a naysayer. This year, I've agreed to arrange arts assemblies at our Fine School (lower and upper divisions), which is a fairly easy job, all things considered, and now I feel free to say "no" to absolutely everything else that's asked of me.

Write auction copy for the Annual Our Fine School auction? Nope, can't do it. Fill in for the lunchtime reader who's come down with a sudden case of the sniffles? No, no, gosh, sorry, but no. Help out with the Ellis Island recreation for the third grade? No, I don't think so.

(By the way, I have no idea how I made the Ellis Island list, given that I don't have a third grader. It makes me afraid that having volunteered to be the Arts Assembly Lady, I'm now considered an easy mark and have made lists all across the Our Fine School Universe. Well, they'll learn soon enough, won't they? Though the Ellis Island thing does actually sound interesting ...)

Saying "no" is an art. I've learned to say it immediately, the very second my presence is requested. I used to fiddle-faddle around and say I'd get back to you, could I think about that for a day or two and drop you an email? For awhile, during my transition phase from doormat to Ms. Negative, I used the Man as my excuse. "Gosh, I really need to check with my husband about that."

But now I just say "no." To soften the blow, sometimes I'll say, "No, I'm sorry, I just don't have time for that right now." As I've watched the new PTA president visibly age after just a few months of service, I feel my confidence grow. Saying yes will cause you to prematurely wrinkle. Stay away from it.

***

The baking continues. The big hits so far (other than cookies and pies, of course) are waffles and honeywheat bread. The pretzels and crackers were eaten, but not with any overly-great enthusiasm. Listen, if my kids want to become the sort of people who snack on bread and jam or whole grain waffles popped into the toaster (I've been making big batches and freezing them), who am I to complain? Beats Twinkies.

Okay, well, I'm off to Will's Cub Scout meeting, where they'll be racing rockets tonight. The Man was out until midnight last night helping set up the wires they'll race the rockets on. This is a new thing the Scouts are doing this year. Do I have any reason to believe it will work, that the boys won't end up spending the evening throwing their little brightly painted, balsa wood rockets at each other and then stomping all over them?

No, no I do not.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Trying to Bring it Back to Normal

Okay, I'm home.

Home! I'm home! I'm home with absolutely no plans to get on another airplane in the near or distant future. Which is good, because I think I got some bad Dramamine this past trip. I had to lie down for an hour when I got home Sunday. Anyone reading this who gets motion sickness will understand that horrible feeling of closing your eyes while the plane descends and hoping, hoping, hoping that you won't get sick. I didn't, but it was close.

So now I'm home and trying to get back into my routines. I'm also trying to avoid the fact that my house is a shambles. I have bread to bake and books to write, quilts to quilt, socks to knit. Must I clean the bathroom as well?

Fact #1: If I don't, nobody else will.

Fact #2: The bathroom will not clean itself.

Fact #3: While I'm a hussy and a slacker on the best of days when it comes to housecleaning, even I have my limits.

Fact #4: When I walked into the downstairs this morning and looked around, I realized my limits had been reached. It's gone from being your average sort of "sink could use a scrub" bathroom to a rather prolific petri dish of wonders and, yes, I believe, fungi.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will clean the bathroom and de-crud the stove top and fold the laundry and mow the kitchen floor. I will think about the upcoming holidays. I have this crazy thought that maybe I'll get my Christmas shopping done early so I might actually have a spiritual experience sometime around December 25th. It's never happened before, but a girl can dream.

Tonight I'm going to continue to enjoy the feeling of not flying. Of not anticipating my next trip and planning my life around it. Of having long stretches of days to do what needs to get done--and, even better, doing what I want to do, like write books and bake bread, quilt quilts and knit socks. Sounds dreamy!

And whenever I have to walk into the bathroom, I'll just close my eyes.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Living the Vida Local

So we've got the winter wheat planted. I bought the seed off of Amazon.com, which is where I'm pretty sure most farmers do their shopping. It was just one of those whims the Man and I had. The Man swears he can catch yeast from the air, so who knows--maybe we'll have an entirely local loaf of bread. Well, except for the salt. And the grain bought on the Internet.

As far as I can tell, it's impossible to live an entirely local life, and I have no intention of giving up coffee, sugar, salt or bananas. But we've decided that it would make an interesting family project to try to live more locally than we do now. As oil prices creep up (along with amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), living locally seems less like a game to play on your way to a book contract and more like a way of life we're all going to have to adopt sooner or later.

Here on the farm, we're starting with food. Hence the pretzels of two posts ago, and the wheat thins I made this weekend, which were a little too delicious. "This tastes like a Christmas cookie!" Jack exclaimed after biting into one). Yesterday I made chicken broth from a stewing chicken I got at the farmers' market. And butternut squash soup, also from local sources. And whole wheat bread made from local wheat. And today, more bread.

In case you were wondering, this is a lot of work. In fact, I'm starting to wonder, why not buy food at the grocery story while the buying is good? If the Peak Oil theorists are right, major chain grocery stores will be a thing of the past in ten or fifteen years (there won't be any oil to fuel the trucks bringing us our tomatoes from across the country)--so why not live large now?

Still, homemade bread is just better, and so is chicken broth made from a chicken you bought from a farmer named Dale. I like Dale. I've bought two chickens from her now. We've bonded. Maybe next spring, I'll give her some wheat.

***

Re: my last post--The consensus seems to be that too much driving wears a girl out. I've always felt that to be true, especially when it's warm outside. I have no idea how to stop all this driving, though, other than doing a better job of consolidating my errands. What I really need is a personal assistant. Or a wife. Either will do.

***

If I don't stop eating Almond Joys, I'm going to explode by Thursday. Well, they're tiny Almond Joys, so maybe I'll make it until Friday. Trick or Treat, indeed!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Why Am I Not Tired?

It's 3:09 on Friday afternoon. The boys didn't have school today, so I got to sleep in until 8. Will and I popped over to Target around 9:30 to pick up a few things (which, Target being Target, turned into about fifteen things), and were home by 10.

I've cleaned the kitchen, made a birthday cake (Will's birthday is Sunday, but we're having the family party tonight), worked on a quilt, made lunch, cleaned the living room, straightened out the attic (which is to say moved a few boxes around to make it look like progress has been made in the ongoing decluttering project--total illusion) and picked up my study. I've composed two lengthy emails, made a business call, and organized the mud room.

In short, it's been a busy, productive day. Usually by this time on a weekday, the boys in school, I'd be ready for a nap, even without all the cleaning and baking. But while I feel vaguely tired, I'm not at all nappy. It's like this on Saturdays, too. I hardly ever feel tired on Saturdays.

Why do you think that is? Does it make a difference to start the day off slowly instead of herding children out the door into the car? Does it make a difference when most of the day is spent at home? Is it running a million errands in the minivan that wears me out? Even on days when I don't have errands, I drive the boys to school in the morning, pick up Will at 2:40, and then run out again to pick up Jack at 3:20, and yep, I feel tired and ready for a nap the minute I get home.

Am I energized by having my family at home, even if I'm ignoring them? I do find it cozy and nice to have the boys and the Man at home when all of us are doing projects and puttering and generally just hanging out. Should I start homeschooling?

While I love feeling tired at the end of a day well spent, I hate it when I run out of steam mid-afternoon. It was that way for me all week. This was a week of school parties and birthday present shopping and meetings and appointments. I spent three hours yesterday in Will's second grade classroom helping kids stuff candy corn and popcorn into rubber gloves--don't ask.

I hate chopped up days, when I'm in and out of the car. I think the pioneers had hard lives, but at least they didn't have to do afternoon pick-up.

So how is it for you? Are there days where you happily go-go-go from morning to night, while other days you barely make it to 4? When do you have the most energy? What saps your strength? Should I move to the woods and refuse to sign up to help with school parties?

Please advise.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Inconsistent Pretzels

(Pretzels? Or dog treats? Who can say, really?)


So I made pretzels today. They are not the world's greatest pretzels; some are almost too hard to bite into, others are more like bread sticks. This inconsistency exists because I have the Absolute Worst Oven in the World. I hate my oven so much. I'd be better off with a wood stove. I'd be better off with a Bic lighter.

Anyway, now that I'm back home--yay! I'm home!--I've been feeling the urge to cook and bake and generally be domestic in a culinary sort of way. On Saturday I braved the farmers' market and bought a stewing chicken, and on Sunday I made chicken soup. It took all day, but it's the best soup I've ever had. I also made cheddar-scallion rolls with--get this--whole wheat flour from the farmers' market. Local flour! I didn't even know they made such a thing.

By the way, I have to say that I'm really enjoying the farmers' market this fall. In the summer, it's just too overwhelming for me. I go a few times to stock up on meat, but otherwise, I mostly stay away. But a month or so ago I went to see my fiddle teacher play with his band and discovered a vastly more chilled out market . That's because all the farmers sell in autumn is kale. Nobody knows what to do with kale, so they go to Whole Foods and buy tomatoes shipped in from California.

But I know what to do with kale, which is to cook it up with white beans and turkey sausage, and then feel virtuous as all get-out for eating kale.

***

I've been thinking about making pretzels for a while. My kids eat them by the ton, for one thing, and it's got to be cheaper to make them. Also, if I make pretzels, who knows--maybe I'll get a reputation as "that pretzel-making mom." As in, "She's so cool, she makes her own pretzels." Wouldn't that be an awesome reputation to have?

But pretzels, I fear, are in the category of baking which bagels also reside. It's the boil/bake thing, and I think to pull it off you have to have a real baker's oven. Or a real oven, period. My homemade bagels have been interesting, and chewy in a pleasant sort of way, but you'd never confuse them with real bagels.

And my pretzels? Well, you're definitely taking a risk with any expensive dental work--crowns, caps, that sort of thing. Still, for the title of "Number One Pretzel Mom," I say they're worth it. Well worth it, my friends.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Brief Return

Just popping in to say hi. I'm back from the mountains, where I actually had access to the Internet was just too dad-gum tired to post. I have no idea how teachers do it. I spent four days doing school presentations and now I need to chill out for the next four months.

I will have to wait until next week to chill out, however. On Thursday, I'm going up to Attleboro, MA, to give a speech and visit some middle school classes about one of my books. I'll be back Friday, and then I only have one more trip for the foreseeable future. Yay!

I wanted to report something I saw today, which has to be really, really high on my list for The Most Idiotic Parenting I've Ever Seen. I was walking across the library parking lot, when I noticed a driver being incredibly careful as she pulled out of her parking spot, tapping lightly on her horn as she drove. At first I couldn't figure out what she was up to, but then I saw the three-year-old on his scooter and understood.

Yes, right there in the middle of the library parking lot was a little kid riding a scooter. His mom was standing at the back of her car, hatchback open, changing her baby's diaper. Scooter Boy went back and forth from the car to the parking space opposite.

I'm trying to remember the last time I've been so dumbfounded. Really? Letting your kid entertain himself by riding his scooter in the parking lot of the public library is somehow a good idea?

What touched me was how careful all the drivers were as they pulled out. They saw the kid, and they pulled out of their parking spots at approximately twenty yards per hour. It was as though collectively everybody in that parking lot was more concerned about that little boy than his mom.

I never know what to do in these situations. Dress down the mom? Go stand by the little boy until she finished diapering the baby? In the end, I did what everybody did--I backed out of my spot very, very slowly, keeping my eye on the little boy the whole time.

I know that every mom in the world has pulled moves that later she can't believe. You leave the three-month-old baby on the bed while you run to get the phone, praying he doesn't suddenly learn to roll over in your absence and fall off the bed (in my case, he did). You don't strap on the belt on the diaper changing pad that's on top of a high changing table (that's when Will learned to roll over--onto the brick fire place). You run a yellow light with the kids in the car and almost get hit. You wake up in the middle of the night completely panicked, the memory of what almost happened making your heart race.

But let the toddler ride his scooter in the parking lot while you change a diaper? That's not a "I'll just be out of the room for five seconds" sort of thing. That's insane.

Oh, I should have said something. Would you have said something? Tell me what.

***

Back next week, and much more regularly, I hope!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's Thursday, Must be Time for Another Post

It's not that it's been a slow week. It's more like my head feels like it's been stuffed with feathers. And cotton. And what is delicately known as, well, you know. Okay, I really hate the word mucus, but that is what my life has been about lately.

And do you really want me to blog about that?

I didn't think so.

I actually started a post earlier this week called "I Find It All Irritating." It was mucus-related, sure. But I also spent quite a few paragraphs talking about my children's homework situation. Which is excessive. And ridiculous. Grounds for homeschooling.

Unfortunately, it's hard to be funny when your head is stuffed and you can't smell or hear or anything. It was a very whiny post. Very unattractive. Though I really am steamed about how much homework my second grade son gets. I understand that Americans are way behind the rest of the world academically, but we're way ahead when it comes to childhood obesity, and that should count for something. Let's just call it a draw and let the second graders play outside after school like it says in the Bible.

One nice thing to report: Will has taken up playing the harmonica. He found the harmonica in the special "Where We Hide the Harmonica from the Children" hiding place in the attic. But you know what? He's a very responsible harmonica player. No wild wheezing, no painfully high screeches. He makes up songs. They are nice songs like, "This Song Sounds Like a Song about a Parade," and "The Tampa Bay Rays Rule!"

And since I can't hear, I think they are very lovely songs, indeed.

I'm going to the mountains next week to drive around and visit schools and talk about the wonders of being a writer, which mostly seem to consist of driving around and visiting schools to talk about the wonders of being a writer. I hope I'm going to be able to access the Internet from my hotel room, one, so I can watch Netflix on my computer, and two, so I can keep up with my blog-o-sphere duties. If you don't hear from me, it's because I'm pretty famous for not being able to do stuff like access the Internet from a hotel room.

But with any luck, and if I remember to take my camera, I will be back next week with photos of the mountains in autumn. Until then, I hope you don't catch my cold. If I were you, I'd go squirt some of that antibiotic Germ-X stuff on your hands right now. And then drink some tea and eat some chocolate. You don't want to take any chances.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just checking in

(Betty's new dress! I mentioned to the Man that I thought Betty needed some new apparel, and he brought this home from a vintage shop near his office. Fourteen bucks--a bargain!)

Sorry to have been so quiet this week. I have been having maladies. The first was just one of those bugs I seem to get three or four times a year, stomach-related, I think, but not icky, just feeling wrung out and needing to nap a lot. Then, last night around 8:18, I got a cold. I've been having fall allergy issues, but right away I knew this was different. I knew it was pernicious. I knew I never should have had children, because this is what happens when you have children: you get colds every six weeks, whether you want them or not.

It hasn't been so bad, though, this being sick. I've felt very frenzied and a little frantic all fall--a little out of balance. Sometimes I think getting sick is my body's way of saying, Sit still. Relax. Drink some tea.

Or else it's my body's way of saying, Clean up. I can't write when I'm under the weather, but sometimes it makes you feel worse to just sit there. So I've been straightening up and dusting and rearranging furniture. And dressing up Betty. My big dream now is to find her a Santa's Elf costume for Christmas, like the ones the girl elves wear in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

After a long, dry season, we finally have rain and cooler temperatures. It's lovely. I'm starting to believe that summer has passed.

Will is enjoying his newly revised room. He and his friend Gavin have built a gigantic castle out of blocks and odds and ends. On the floor. Of course. It is, I must say, a magnificent castle, and Will has asked me to sign legal documents that I won't "accidentally" knock it over while he's at school.

Gavin has been coming home with Will after school on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. It had never occurred to me before this fall to import a child for Will to play with. One day a few weeks ago, I saw Gavin's mom, Sarah, at pick-up with Gavin's two younger brothers, whose afternoon naps had been clearly interrupted in order to come fetch Gav from Our Fine School. Let Gavin come home with us! I emailed her in a fit of genius. You can pick him up here when the little ones wake up from their naps.

Ah, I am brilliant. Will and Gavin have a great time together. They play with Lego and run around the backyard, like children did in childhoods of yore. They totally let me be, but for an occasional snack request. But even better: I get extra credit for helping Sarah out. Ha! I should be washing Sarah's floors and doing her laundry. She's the one doing me the favor by lending me her child three times a week. But no one but me sees it that way. I'm getting the mommy bonus points.

Ah, sometimes life is sweet.

Well, I need to go call my fiddle teacher and cancel my lesson for the third time in a row. Last week it was because Will was sick, this week it's me. I was feeling optimistic when I rescheduled with him Tuesday for later in the week. I didn't see the cold coming. I've been blindsided by germs. But the house looks nice, I've got a good book to read, and that stricken look of a woman running away from an out-of-control bus seems to have faded somewhat. All is well. Pass the Kleenex.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Afterlife

Welcome, dear reader, back to Will's room. I hope you'll notice some changes since your last visit.

Here is the view from Will's doorway. Note, perhaps for the first time, the floor. As in, the visible floor. The uncluttered floor. The floor without detritus, flotsam or jetsam.


I wish I could say the same for the walls, but that is not to be, dear reader.




Ah, another view of the bed. I reversed the comforter to its solid blue side, and then lay the quilt my mother made Will on top of it. Very nice!



And now, for your viewing pleasure, the famous Ikea table that the Man and I went dumpster-diving for. On top, the Lego fixin's for Hogwarts. I don't think I ever wrote about my summer project, in which I collected, sorted and stored all the pieces from the once proud Hogwarts, built circa Christmas 2007, destroyed shortly thereafter. Now Will is reconstructing Hogwarts, so Harry and Friends will soon have their school back ship shape.



I'm afraid Will's closet area will never look tidy, but it's better, and that's all I can ask for. I hope, by the way, you're comparing and contrasting these pictures with the pictures from my last post. I will be very hurt if you're not.

And by the way, in case you were wondering, Will now lives in the attic. It is, I fear, the only way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sensitive Viewers May Want to Cover Their Eyes

I have for you today the "before" pictures of Will's room. They may not be appropriate for everyone. Viewer discretion is advised.



This view (above) is the corner of Will's room known as the "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here" corridor. Please begin shrieking now. (Also: note the closet doors. They are supposed to be white, but we ran out of steam when painting Will's room two years ago. My solution? I think we should take off the doors and forget about painting. Will never closes the doors, anyway, so why bother with them?)



This is Will's bed. Note the various bits and pieces of his wardrobe scattered across it. Mostly these are items I've picked out for him for school the next day that he's rejected in favor of his lacrosse shorts and one of his endless University of North Carolina tee shirts. Also note Will's wall decor. I rue the day we bought him a subscription to Sports Illustrated for Kids. Two minutes after it hits the mailbox, Will has cut out his favorite pictures and pasted them to the wall.

He also, by the way, has glued Lego to the wall. I have to say, it actually looks really cool.



Will's desk. Will's archeological dig of a desk. The fun part is when you get down to the layer of half-eaten candy stuck to the table top. I love that part.

So this weekend, we--meaning I--made big changes. I don't have pictures yet, because there's still a little bit of cleaning to do. But in the meantime, I thought I'd offer a tutorial for how one goes about preparing a room such as this for rearranging.

The first thing you do is go back to bed, pull the blankets over your head, and weep for the life you might be living in Paris as a wine-swilling, clove cigarette-smoking bohemian poet, had you played your cards right.

Next, you drag yourself into your child's room, pick up the clothes on the floor, clean and dirty, and throw them all into the hamper. Then you refold all the unworn school clothes and put them back into their drawer, where they will sit unmolested for the rest of the school year. Next you make the bed and you pile on top of it all the shoe boxes and binders filled with baseball cards. That clears a lot of floor space.

Then you get out the broom and start sweeping.

Yep, that's the only way to clean Will's room. You sweep all the Lego and art supplies and wiffle balls and superbouncy rubber balls and marbles and party favors into two or three piles. Then you pour yourself a good, stiff drink (or at least seriously wish you were the sort of person who could drink a good, stiff drink without falling asleep within ten minutes of imbibing) and start picking stuff out of the piles. You make new piles, one for crayons and markers and pencils, one for Lego, one for random baseball cards, and one for little plastic things you don't know what to do with, and a pile for trash.

This process takes approximately two to three years.

Then you put the art supplies in the art supply bucket, the Lego in the Lego bucket, and seriously consider burning the baseball cards before putting them in a designated shoebox. Finally, you spend five minutes rationalizing about how much you do for the environment by recycling and hanging the laundry on the line before throwing all those little plastic things into the trash.

And then you go back to bed and weep a little more.

I'll post the pictures of the makeover in the next day or so. I need to get back in there and do the last little bits. But I have to say, it's really fabulous, and Will loves his table and his new arrangement. He's hanging out in it all the time, like it's his apartment. Really, if we'd just put a mini-fridge, a computer and a TV up there, he wouldn't need us at all.

And that's why we don't.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Signs and Wonders

For reasons I don't recall, I subscribe via email to Faith and Leadership Newsletter published by Duke Divinity School. Quite frankly, I have all sorts of email newsletter subscriptions--poetry newsletters, food newsletters, quilting newsletters--and often I just end up deleting the emails when they show up in my box. Given that Faith and Leadership is for faith leaders and I myself lack a flock, it's one that often goes unread.

But today I opened it up and clicked on Reflections: Stories of Hope. This week's reflection was a piece by Mark Ralls, a Methodist minister in Dallas, Texas, called "Say it with Flowers." It's a reflection on miracles and signs and wonders, and the story Ralls tells is so lovely and amazing, I wanted to share it with you.

(If you'd like to read the whole reflection, go here.)

Ralph was volunteering in our Dining & Caring Center in the basement of our church, when a woman approached him. In the center, folks can receive everything from a warm meal to a bicycle or a haircut. The woman who stood before him, however, wanted none of these. She was in search of flowers. Earlier that week, her son-in-law had been killed in an accident while working at his job as an auto mechanic. His funeral was scheduled for the following day, but when it came time to purchase flowers for the service, the family was a little short.

Ralph was not sure what to do, but he was determined to do something. “Stay here,” he said to our guest as he ascended the stairs. His first thought was that perhaps the flowers from Sunday’s worship service had been left on the altar. But Ralph never made it to the sanctuary. As soon as he reached the top of the stairs, he saw a woman coming in his direction across the church parking lot. She was carrying a bouquet of white flowers. She walked up to him. Ralph was so taken aback by this, all he could think to say was, “Hey, where did you get those flowers?” “Would you like them?” she replied and, smiling broadly, handed Ralph the bouquet.

Ralph bounded down the stairs and was greeted with disbelief from our guest and the volunteers around her. As you might imagine, news of this wonder-full event spread through our congregation like a kitchen fire. Folks started to drop by my office to ask if I thought the mysterious woman had been an angel.

I decided to ask Ralph, and he seemed nonplussed by the whole thing. “Mark, I was a chemical engineer. I’m not even sure I believe in angels. But I can’t explain away what happened that day. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she was an angel. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to find her sitting in my pew some Sunday morning -- a member I’ve never met. To me, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, God is trying to tell us something.”

Ralph’s wise response expresses the biblical approach to miracles. Whether wonders or signs -- or perhaps a little of both -- it does not matter. Either way, God speaks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Story of My New Table (dedicated to Sara P.)

So I'm walking the dog yesterday morning on our usual route, when suddenly up ahead of me I see a table on the side of the road. When I reach it, I can see that it's in good shape. It's like a school table, about six feet long, maybe three-and-a-half feet wide, and it's in two pieces, table top and frame with legs attached. The hardware is in a baggie taped to the top.

Just last week I'd dogeared a page in the new Ikea catalog with a table just like the one on the street. I wanted it for Will's room--he's a kid who needs a lot of surface space, and my preference is that space be elevated (i.e. not the floor). Okay, so maybe this wouldn't be a fresh, brand-spanking-new Ikea table, but it was free for the taking. So I took it.

Well, it wasn't quite that simple. First I called and left a message on the machine for the Man, who was in the shower. I knew that if I didn't call and leave a message, by the time I got a block or two away, I'd forget completely about the table and only remember hours, maybe days, later. How could that be, you wonder, when such a table was exactly what I wanted? Let's just say my thoughts tend to wander. If I don't write it down or leave a message on the machine, I forget stuff. Lots of stuff. Really important, life-changing ideas. Plot points. My mother's birthday. So I called and left the message.

Now, I personally have no problem whatsoever with taking stuff left out on the street, though I try to be discerning. I took a nice hardback copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes for Jack from the "free sale" pile a few houses down the street last summer, but I passed up the cruddy white bookshelves, because I have enough cheap-o falling apart bookcases in my house, thank you very much. But the fact is, I am not above picking through my neighbor's trash. Not in the least.

The Man is a little more reserved when it comes to neighborhood dumpster diving. But this table intrigued him. Did it look sturdy, he asked when I arrived home. Very sturdy, I assured him. In good shape? Very good shape. Well, the Man said, Let's go take a look at it.

And so we did. We drove in the minivan down to Pinecrest Road, and the Man looked at the table and called it good. Better than that: He called it Ikea. That's right, ladies, it was an Ikea table. The very one I'd dogeared in the catalog, just the circa 2007 model.

So we got put it in the minivan. Of course, about a hundred people drove past while we were loading it, and this didn't bother me, but you could tell that the Man had hoped for a little more privacy. Still, you could tell he was psyched that we'd nabbed a very healthy looking Ikea table for absolutely no money down and no money due.

This weekend, we will be cleaning up Will's room, rearranging it, and putting in his new table, and you know what? Will's room will never be messy again. From then on, it will be lovely and neat and organized. You know why? It's not just an Ikea table, it's a magic table.

I dedicate this story to Sara P., who has posted a junking tutorial over on her blog. I'm so excited, because Sara always finds the most fabulous things when she goes junking, and I don't even know where to start. Well, that's not entirely true. From now on, I'll start on Pinecrest Road. Who knows what my neighbors will be throwing out next.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cornmeal


I wish I had some good "before" pix to show you, so you can grasp the amazing difference a little paint has made. Go to my last post and check out the wallpaper, then imagine it spread across yards and yards of wall. Blah. But Cornmeal walls are lovely and bright. They do look a little naked without art (or curtains), but we can't quite bring ourselves to pound a nail into their sunny sides yet. We're enjoying Cornmeal for Cornmeal's sake.





(Strange shadows on the wall--I really need a lighting guy.)

We aren't actually done painting. We made it to the last wall and a half in the dining room on Monday night. So close, but not quite there. Now ... who knows? We lived three years with our blah wallpaper; we might end up living three years with a three-quarters-done dining room. I wouldn't put it past us.


(Who can spot the unintentional subversive element in this picture? I'm too lazy to take another one; sorry, Travis!)

Except the dining room is no longer the dining room. Or at least it might not be. In an act of genius, or perhaps insanity, I moved the dining room into the living room, behind the couch. Now the dining room is just sitting there, waiting for a purpose. A sewing room/homework room? Who knows? Maybe we'll put the table back. For now it's fun to play.

I will say it's been a bit discombulating to have everything twisted and turned around. Everyone likes the new paint and the cozier set up in the living room, with the couch and chair a bit closer to the TV. But it's strange, nonetheless, to be surprised every time I walk into a room. What's the couch doing over there, I wonder? Who's house is this?

I'm pretty sure it's mine. How strange! How Cornmeal!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Quick History of My Weekend

(The wallpaper that is no more, plus a mask Will made in kindergarten and an arrow Jack made in Scouts. The mask is saying, "This wallpaper is really boring! Boo!!!" )


(Two of the paint colors we ultimately didn't choose, though the Man and I both loved the paint on the left.)


I just got home from errands and have about ten minutes before it's time to pick up the kids from school. After that, it's a getting-to-know you conference with Will's teacher, in which we will try to steer Mrs. L. into believing that Will is a bright, charming, perfectly normal almost-eight-year-old. It will take some doing, and the effort will most likely exhaust me, so I need to write this now.

Saturday morning: Went to Farmer's Market with Will to see my fiddle teacher play in his old-time band. Will immediately made friends with the banjo-picker's sons and ran off into the wilderness. I tried to keep an eye on him, but Jack's fifth grade history teacher happened along, and we started chatting. I kept glancing in the direction of the hill I'd seen Will run up, but I couldn't find him in the mass of kids.

Finally, feeling slightly panicky, I went up the hill to look for him, wondering what sort of mother lets her young son run off with the banjo-picker's children? Everyone knows that can only end in tragedy. They'd probably boarded the Partridge Family's multi-colored bus and were on their way to Berkley to smoke drugs.

Nope. I found them in the basin of the skateboarding park, well-below sea level, throwing their shoes at each other and having the best of times. Will wants to go back next week. He plans on wearing sturdier shoes, though, the better to pellet virtual strangers with.

Saturday and Sunday: The living room/dining room wallpaper stripping/wall painting extravaganza. We tried samples of all sorts of wonderful orangy-yellow paints, all of which we loved, none of which was less than terrifying. This is a Big L of a space we're talking about here. Deep marigold is fabulous, but too much of it will drive you fabulously insane. We loved it; couldn't do it.

Finally, we settled on Cornmeal. Can you imagine? Oh, but it's beautiful, and yes, it is the exact right color. Yesterday morning and afternoon, I painted trim, and the Man primed, and then last night I watched one of my favorite movies, "The Last of the Mohicans" while the Man painted the living room part of the Big L. You probably think I'm lazy, but really, the Man had let me help as much as he could stand. He'd been waiting for three days for me to run out of steam so he could finish the job properly. Out of steam I was, and everybody was perfectly happy.

Okay, it's time to go, and I didn't get to finish writing everything I was going to tell you. Rats! More anon! Maybe even tomorrow, definitely by Thursday. Maybe I'll even have pictures of the finished room.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where Have I Been? I Don't Even Know.

I've been meaning to post for a week now. I have so much to say, so much to ponder. So why haven't I posted?

I have no idea.

Oh, it's been busy, busy over here on Spencer Street. And have we been cranky, cranky? Oh, yes, oh, my, we have. Will in particular has been rode hard and put up wet by his time spent at Our Fine School. I'm sure at school he is his charming, funny self, but at home he is the worst child known to humankind. Ever. Yep, worse than your worst child on your worst child's worst day. Count on it.

Jack is off to Camp Cheerio with the rest of the sixth grade until Friday. Yet another opportunity to miss him. Oh, the sweet sorrow of that. When he's here, I don't miss at him at all. I just want to miss him. I want to miss him a lot. For days and days and days.

Jack is actually not so devastated by his seven hours outside of the home as Will is, but he has no patience whatsoever for his spawn of the devil little brother. And right now? I need Jack to have a teeny tiny bit of patience. I need him to take one for the team. I need him to be a boy not so clearly on the edge of adolescence, not quite so ready with the whip-smart sarcastic remark. And last night at dinner, when he asked poor, little Will if he knew that the word gullible wasn't in the dictionary, I wanted to disown him on the spot.

I mean, I just don't want to go there.

Not that Will has any idea of what the word gullible means.

I don't know if you watched the Emmy's on Sunday, but I was given the award for Best Performance by a Completely Exhausted Woman Trying to Act Like a Nice and Caring Mommy. I'm doing my best, girls. I'm making French toast for breakfast and offering healthy snacks in the afternoon. I'm smiling until my mouth hurts. No children have been physically harmed or--and I'm especially proud of this--emotionally abused during the making of this movie.

But how long can it last? How long can I last? Have I mentioned lately that I'm abstaining from both sugar and wine?

Sigh.

Okay, I need to go. I spent all day peeling wallpaper from the living room and dining room walls, and I'm even more pooped than normal. But you know what? I like peeling wallpaper. It's very quiet and lovely, wallpaper is, and it doesn't throw foam footballs at you and start rolling around the floor like it's the funniest thing in the world that you find being hit repeatedly by a foam football annoying. Wallpaper never throws anything at you, or makes cutting remarks about second graders, or complains about the contents of its lunchbox. It just sits there, very, very quietly while you work.

And that is why I love wallpaper best of all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Day of School, Redux

Thanks for all the nice comments on the lamp! If you want to do one yourself, follow this link to the tutorial I used.

***

Yesterday was the first day of school. I had big plans. I'd planned on hanging out in my empty house and listening to it echo. Planned on streaming Season 2 of thirtysomething through the Wii via Netflix and ironing fabric that's been stuffed in a bag since July. These were not particularly grand plans, I admit, but I was looking forward to them.

Oh, but the first day of school is never as it should be. Late August in North Carolina is rarely crisp and brisk and autumnal. The foliage is still lush and green. No red and orange leaves waft from the trees and lodge themselves in the happy children's hair as they walk the two blocks to school. No walking to school. No blocks. Happy children? Hmmm ... well, actually, I think the boys were happy. Sleep-deprived, but happy.

I got them to school safely, and then my car died. In my driveway, fortunately. And fortunately the Man was still home, and fortunately, it was just the battery, and fortunately there was a nice restaurant to have lunch at after we dropped off the minivan at the dealership.

So it was all good, but nothing like the first day of school I had in mind. So I'm declaring today the official first day of school. I've been to Target and the library, I've walked the dog, and in a minute I'm going to start streaming the second season of thirtysomething through the Wii via Netflix if I can figure out how.

***

As I could have predicted, Jack returned home yesterday energized by his first day, and Will came home drained. And as I could have predicted, Jack slept through his alarm this morning, and Will hopped right up. And as I could have predicted, once Jack got up he was cheerful and ready to go, and after consciousness fully set in Will was grumpy, especially when the Man made him change his clothes and put on underwear. He'll take the underwear off the minute he gets home. My boy, he likes to be free.

I don't know, is there a rule kids have to wear underwear to school?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Open House


(My weekend project: covering this lampshade with fab Kaffe Fassett fabric. Even the members of the Testosterone Club--i.e. everyone in my house except me, the lone female--like it.)

If there were ever a reason to home school, Back-to-School Open House would be it. I've done two today. The first one nearly did me in, and the second one about killed me.

First Open House: Our Fine Middle School. Jack went to his advisory, picked up his schedule, and then we hiked back and forth across campus to find all of his classes. Jack, being Jack, had to go to each class in order, so that we couldn't go to French, then Language Arts, even though they were right next to each other. No, we had to go to French, then Movement (what is Movement? Who knows?), which is twenty miles that way, then come back to Language Arts, twenty miles this way. Will and I finally gave up and told Jack to meet us in the library when he was done.

As we hiked and panted, many cheerful greetings were exchanged with the other families of Our Fine Middle School. Lots of oh yes, oh my, summer was wonderful, but it went by so fast! No one ever mentions those days in July you would have gladly traded your children for a pound of dried beans. No! We are happy happy good good!

(Would I prefer everyone walk around and tell the truth about their lives? Hmmm ... knowing how awful some people's truths are, I'm not sure I actually would. Food for thought.)

Aside from hiking forty miles in 96-degree heat, I enjoyed Our Fine Middle School's open house. We've known a lot of these families for six years now, and I only feel halfway awkward and shy around them. By graduation, I'll be a comfortable as an old hat. Sock. Shoe. Whatever.

Our Fine Lower School's open house is a piece of cake--the kids stay in the same classroom most of the day, so no twenty-mile hikes--except that I'd talked to so many people this morning (happy happy good good!) that I believe I was rather incoherent by this afternoon. I just sort of wandered like a cloud around the second grade pod and waved vaguely in one direction, then another. Will and his buddies all gathered together and started playing a game which involved stomping on each other's feet. Nobody stopped them. All the moms just shrugged, like, whatcha gonna do?

So school starts tomorrow. My children, those perverse creatures, have continued to be sweet and pleasant. They are mocking me, I believe. We can behave this way, they seem to be saying. We just choose not to.

Actually, I think they're just happy to be going back to school. And want to make sure I'll miss them. And I'm sure I will. Won't that be nice?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Slackest Season

At the beginning of the summer, I came down hard on TV watching and video game playing. "If you think that's what you'll be doing all summer, think again," I told my children in June as they reached for the Wii remotes. "You will be romping in the sun, developing interesting new hobbies, and working to end world hunger. You will not be sitting slack-jawed in front of a screen."

And mostly they haven't been. In part, this is because they've lost impressive amounts of screen time this summer simply by making me miserable. There is a hard and fast rule in these parts: Do not make the mom miserable. Don't dish misery out if you can't take a double dose in return. Vengeance is Mom's, sayeth the Lord. Or something like that.

But here we are, in the final week of summer, and I have turned into Slackest Mom Alive. A little TV with your lunch? Why not? A little extra time in front a computer screen? Have at it!

It helps that the boys have been very sweet this week, even to each other. Sometimes I can't believe they haven't figured out that the nicer they are to each other, the slacker I get. Here's some candy, I say. Let's go to Target and buy some baseball cards. All they have to do is love each other. So simple, so impossible.

***

On Wednesday, I went to Charlotte to speak at a meeting of Scholastic Books sales people. Most of my speechifying was spent talking about how much I loved getting the Scholastic Book Club flyer in school and ordering tons of books, and how much time I've spent as an adult trying to track those books down. My parents, sad to say, did not hang on to my impressive collection of paperback titles that included That Darn Cat and Herbie the Love Bug and several biographies of The Fonz.

After my talk, I signed books (mine, that is), and almost everybody I talked to had sad tales of what their parents had thrown out the minute they left home for college. A lot of Mad Magazine collections hit the bins, is what I'm saying.

***

I will spend this weekend cleaning. Honest. I will. Start the new year off with a clean slate and a clean toilet, I always say.

Isn't that what you always say, too?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cancelled Plans

(My latest quilt, which I started before taking my quilt class, which is why it is decidedly off-kilter. But still cute, right?)

Some friends were supposed to come over for lunch today. These are newish friends of mine who are also newish friends of each other, and I was looking forward to hanging out with them. Unfortunately, children were struck by Strep (not my children, fortunately), and we've had to reschedule.

All this was known by late last night, after I'd done some prep work, but not everything. I had a lot of cleaning left this to do this morning that I didn't have to do after all, which in one way was a relief--two hours of cleaning avoided!--but also a disappointment. One of my favorite things about having company is getting to enjoy a clean house (and leftovers) afterward. It's a lot of work, but the pay-off is grand.

I will say I had a very nice menu planned: Chicken salad on croissants, pasta with pesto, fruit salad, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Now I have a lot of croissants crowding up my kitchen counter. If I gain five pounds by the end of the week, you know why.

***

Since lunch was canceled, we ended up going to buy Jack's books at Our Fine Middle School. Yep, you heard right: we have to buy Jack's books. That came as a total shock last year; this year, I was prepared for it. You can get a lot of the books used, but Jack always wants them new, so we struggle and dicker. He gets straight As, and you could make the argument that school books are like his sports equipment. You could also argue that come winter, he might like a winter coat, but we will have spent all our money on school books.

I had my first "foot in my mouth trying to make small talk" moment of the 2010-2011 school year. I ran into a very nice woman I know slightly and often make pleasant chit chat with. She was wearing a very cute skort from Land's End--I knew it was from Land's End because I had ordered one for myself last summer. When I got it, it was a little tight and a little short. I thought maybe I'd lose weight and it would look better, but I didn't lose weight, and there's no guarantee that I will ever lose weight (and I don't need a skort mocking me from my closet if I don't), so I put it in the bag of stuff to be given away.

When I saw Ann, I said, "I had that same skirt, but you look so much cuter in it than I ever did. I ended up giving mine to Good Will. You look great, though."

Ann just laughed and said, "Oh, you're sweet to say that," but as I walked away I wondered, did she think I was saying I thought she'd picked up my old skort at Good Will? Did she think I was some shrewish, passive-aggressive awful person insinuating she is the sort of person who looks great--in my hand-me-downs?

Amy assured me later in the afternoon that I was over-thinking things, but as one of my best friends, it's Amy's job to try to convince me I didn't just make a complete ninny out of myself.

Well, it's that time of year, isn't it? The time of year when I must pledge to quit making small talk beyond, "Great to see you!" and "Love your hair!" I must stop trying to do something I am so perfectly incapable of--and that makes me so miserable afterward. Ann probably didn't take my comment the wrong way, but I still spent an hour worrying about it.

And so, my friends, I am taking the No Small Talk Pledge for the upcoming school year and social season. Anyone care to join me?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

13 Days

(mountain fern, mountain bug)

I have posted tiny little love notes to everyone who commented on my blog-o-versary. If you haven't had a chance to comment, but want to, please do. I will post a tiny little love note to you as well. It's not too late!

5:42 p.m. This is the lowest point in my day. That sounds dramatic. It's not low as in "Time to throw myself off a cliff now" low. Low energy low, is what we're talking about. "Need to eat dinner but the Man doesn't get home until 6:30" low. "I'd take a nap but I might not wake up until midnight" low.

I think I'm feeling particularly tired today because:

1. It is 100 degrees.

2. My children were pills at the pool. Will pestered Jack, and Jack kept storming over to me to complain in his best "My Life is an Opera of Wildly Dramatic Proportions and Now I Will Yell About My Misery in a Manner that will Make You Want to Strangle Me in Front of Ninety-Seven Witnesses" voice. Instant headache.

3. My friend Sarah gave me an Ikea catalog to look at. I immediately started hyperventilating. I have never gotten so excited looking at a catalog in my life. Affordable furniture! Maybe now I can actually have a grown-up bedroom! And Will can have drawers! And it's all so cute and funky! Really, I nearly passed out reading this thing.

4. It is 100 degrees.

I think that's all I have to say. Oh, did I mention there are 13 days left until school starts? I was at the pool today with my friends Amy and Tiffany, who home school, and I thought, "These are the great ones, the women of valor, the warriors of our tribe." Home school moms, I honor you! You are better women than I.

There, I've admitted it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

15 Days/Happy 3rd Blog-o-versary!


(I'm blogging on my porch! No hands!)

I just spent an hour weeding the garden. It's been so hot this summer that I'd sort of given up. When it's too hot to weed at 8 a.m., it's too hot to weed period. Why should the weeds be put out of their misery when the rest of us have to suffer through it? But fall is around the corner, and along with it opportunities for new gardens. So time to shed the old one of all its flotsam and jetsam.

The only problem with spending an hour weeding first thing in the morning is I am now officially too pooped to do anything else for the rest of the day. Maybe when I finish this glass of iced tea, I'll feel differently.

***

Saturday marked three years of blogging for me. I meant to post and make a big hoo-hah about it, but I was consumed by Will's room, the purging of it, the despair of it, the desperation, the hopelessness. We are getting Will some new furniture in hopes that it will turn him around. Repent, Will, repent! And put the dang Lego away before it sends someone to the emergency room.

Anyhoo. Three years. I looked back at some of my very early posts and realized that one of my very first commentors was Heather, over at Pneuma, and another one was Victoria, who at that time was posting at Dear Megan (I think; is that right?), and now is at One Sheep Town. I hadn't realized we went so far back. We were practically kids together.

It's funny, how some people stick with you, and some fall away. I've had the same experience as a blog reader, myself. There are a couple of blogs I followed religiously when I first started out, and then slowly stopped checking in. Sometimes when blogs get very popular, I get less interested in participating, maybe because it seems like there's less chance for a real friendship to bloom. I will say that my friend Ali over at Domesticali has gotten increasingly popular, with posts that garner upwards to 40 comments, but she still feels like a friend. Besides, her photography is so wonderful, I can't give it up.

I want to say thanks to all my dear blog friends, new and old--Tracy, Debbie, Dulce, Ali, GretchenJoanna, Jody, Victoria, Heather, Pom Pom, Sara, Angela, Danielle and Susan, and to my newest blog friends, Magsmcc and Wayside Wanderer. Your friendship makes me happy, and I often think of you when I'm wandering through this wide, green world.

If you're reading this and have never commented, leave me a comment to let me know you're here! I'm glad you are.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Nineteen Days

(I'm going to take a photography class or at least read a book about it one of these days, I promise. Anyway, these are the blocks of the quilt I'm working on and have some hope of finishing before summer ends. Hmmm ...)


Dulce has asked how long our summer vacation is (or, as she put it, being British, our holidays). The short answer is: too long. The precise answer: eleven weeks. Another answer is: all we need of Hell.

When formal education became mandatory in the States, in the late 1800s, we were still an agrarian nation, and a long summer break was necessary because a child's labor was needed on the farm. Nowadays most American children don't labor in the summer. They stew. Or they go to camp. Or watch too much TV and spend hours on the DS. And/Or drive their caregivers to distraction.

It's a stupid system. Some break is needed, of course. Six weeks sounds about right to me, maybe seven, just so everyone is chomping at the bit for school to start again.

Anyway, I'm thinking that if I get rich, I'm going to buy a farm and turn my children into farmers. I've found 13 acres and a falling down farm house up in Hurdle Mills for $125,000. We wouldn't move there, just head up on summer mornings to tend the alfafa or turnip greens or what have you. There's a pond on the property. I thinking about getting my friends to pay me to take their children, too. I'd make a mint.

***

I have finally, finally, FINALLY finished the first draft of a book I've been working on since spring. It is possible that it's insanely bad. I think it's good, but sometimes I'm wrong. It's very easy to be blind to the flaws in your own work (and sometimes easy to be blind to its beauties).

Of course, as soon as I finished I got a tremendous headache, and I still don't feel so hot. This always happens to me when I make big plans that will come into play as soon as I finish something else. My big plans of making quilts and putting my house in order and some paint on the walls and generally making my life wonderful and perfect have gotten me through many months of writing. Now that I'm done I feel blah. I think it's my body's way of telling me to take a holiday. Stew. Play on the DS and drive my caregivers crazy.

I'll give it a shot.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Twenty-One Days

(This picture doesn't have anything to do with the following post, but I like a colorful blog, don't you?)


School starts three weeks from today.

Further proof that God is good.

I have an older friend, in her mid-seventies, who raised three children. She claims that at the beginning of every summer she went to the doctor and updated her Valium prescription. This is how she survived the months from June to September.

If medication stronger than Ibuprofin didn't send me into a deep slumber, a prescription for sedatives would be quite the summertime temptation.

All my conversations with other parents the last month have primarily concerned the wonders of year-round schooling. Even Amy, who homeschools. We all wonder if our friend, Danielle, is privately gloating. Her kids are in year-round school. She's been a free woman (other than the lunch-making, the car-pooling, the dragging unwilling children out of bed thing) since July 18th.

It's not the lack of freedom that concerns me, actually. When my children are being cheerful and lovely, it's a pleasure to have them around. They amuse themselves, read, talk on the phone with friends. They say funny things and ask interesting questions. When I take the dog on a walk, they want to go with me and chat about the wonders of our neighborhood.

The problem is, they've been cranky since July 5th. They've broken out in fist fights in the aisles of Target. They've sulked about being taken on nature hikes ("It's too hot!" "I'm tired!), bickered about who gets to use the Scooby-Doo towel, and generally made life miserable for everyone in a five-mile radius.

Summer vacation is a nice idea in theory, but it doesn't work all that well in practice. Maybe for three weeks. It really goes downhill after July 4th. The kids miss their routine. Even with daily trips to the pool and an expanded chore list, there's not enough for them to do. It is the curse of the non-farming middle class. Where is the meaningful work for kids?

Lately, the Man and I have taken to torturing the kids with back-to-school talk. They make faces, act like they can't stand the thought. But I remember back in the day, how right around the beginning of August, I started looking forward to the first day of school. It was the true beginning of the new year, a chance to start over, an opportunity to invest in that most wonderful of investments--new school supplies. I loved arranging them just-so on the floor of my bedroom.

Was my mother's step a little lighter, too? Her countenance more cheerful? Did she take frequent breaks from washing dishes or making the beds to rub her hands with glee? Being a child, I was too self-centered to notice. But now, a mother myself, I'm pretty sure I know the answer.

Twenty-one days. The only question is, will I survive them?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

10 Good Things About This Summer So Far

(Since I have lots of colorful fabric around for quilting, I've started experimenting with it. For instance, I've always meant to make curtains for this kitchen door, but have gone back and forth about what style and what color. I like this orange, don't you?)

1. When it's been a 100+ degrees for three days in a row, 92 degrees feels quite delightful.

2. I finally found a pesto recipe I can live with. Because Jack is allergic to tree nuts, I can't use pine nuts in my pesto, but I finally found a recipe that simply omits the pine nuts and doubles the Parmesan. Works like a charm!

3. The boys have discovered the joys of sleepovers--at other people's houses!

4. I have renewed my commitment to undieting. It feels so much better not to diet. The only problem is, right now I'm a size 14, which doesn't make me happy. BUT I have developed a new mantra. Try it: In many cultures I would be revered as a goddess. You must stand up very tall and regal when you tell yourself this. Repeat 10-12 times a day. You'll feel great!

(Same orange "curtain," later in the day.)

5. I have given up sugar and alcohol in effort to get back to a size 10 without dieting. I have also started swimming. Right now I can go about twenty yards without drowning. I think that's swell.

6. I'm having fun thinking about changes I'm going to make to my house that don't involve spending thousands of dollars on new furniture.

7. I'm also having fun dreaming of spending thousands of dollars for new furniture.

8. Actually, spending thousands of dollars on gently used furniture is also a pretty cheerful thought.

9. I'm happy that I'm back in my bloggy neighborhood. This spring was not good for blogging or spending my time with my blog-o-sphere friends. But I'm back, baby. I'm thinking about trying to blog every weekday. Possible? Stay tuned.

10. Tomatoes and basil! 'Nuff said!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How Do You Take a Picture of the Rain?



Can you see it? It's the stuff that looks like snow, or else like my camera lense is really dirty. The towel was laid over the railing yesterday to dry. Good luck with that, my friend.

What you can't see--because I didn't take a picture of it--is my garden singing and dancing for joy. She's been a long, hot summer 'round these parts. Now, today, this rain and only eighty degrees. Had I known, I would have planned to spend the day cleaning out my attic, which is worse than ever.

No, that's a lie. I'll never clean out that attic. You know what my big dream is? Having enough money to hire a personal organizer to come put my attic to rights. That seems to fly in the face of the Ye Goode Housewife Rules and Regulations Handbook, but confess: don't you dream of hiring a personal organizer, too?

One thing I did do today was tear up magazines. I'm giving a lot of thought to what needs to happen with my house, aside from a thorough cleaning (I'm leaving that up to the personal organizer, whenever she comes around), and Sara over at Shiny Red Houses has suggested going through magazines and tearing out pictures of whatever catches my eye.

I subscribe to two "shelter" mags--Country Living and House Beautiful. As it turns out, most of the pictures of rooms I tore out came from Country Living, but the pictures I tore out of colors I loved came from House Beautiful.

Here's a strange thing: a lot of the colors I seem to love most are oranges and bright pinks. What's that all about? I'm trying not to edit myself as I rip, and I do keep ripping tropical hues. Won't the boys be excited? Actually, given that Will has an orange room, he may be very excited indeed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekend Recovery


(I started this sock last fall and finished it last night. By the time it took me to get a picture I was halfway satisfied with, I thought my foot was going to catch on fire. July is no time for socks!)


Our very dear friends Tom and Kathryn and their three children came to stay with us this weekend. They used to be our next-door neighbors in our old neighborhood, but then we moved across town and then they moved--all the way to Alabama. It's been two years since we've seen them, so this was a reunion of grand proportions.

I recently read something along the lines of, "Extroverts and introverts both love parties, but while extroverts are energized by them, introverts have to recover from them." My family was case in point yesterday. After two days of fun, we were wiped out. We just sat there. The dog just sat there.

But all agreed our collective exhaustion was worth it. Saturday night was an especially big time. Jamie and Nancy and their two kids, the third set of neighbors from our old street, came over to join the fun. We ate barbecue, and the kids played hide-and-go-seek for around five hours. No Wii requests were made, which warmed the very cockles of my heart. Whatever the cockles of my heart are.

Having a weekend-long house party actually--amazingly--made me want to do it more often. Or at least have friends over more often for dinner. Not only do you get to see people you love, you're also finally forced to do all those housecleaning chores you've been meaning to get around to for ages. Though I didn't mop the floor. My hope was that having a crowded house means nobody can see the floor.

***

Speaking of spiffing up one's house, after I begged her to, Sara over at Shiny Red Houses posted the first part of a tutorial about decorating. She has fabulous style, and I feel I have much to learn from her. Go check it out! And if you have any decorating tips to offer me, feel free. In fact, here's a question: What's the best change you ever made to your house? New paint in the living room? Refinishing your coffee table? Getting rid of five years' worth of magazines piled up in the mud room? Tell me!

***

Slow Learner, Part 89: After roughly forty years of getting stomachaches from drinking milk (which I love), I finally tried lactose-free milk. Guess what? It works! I don't know why I didn't try it before. I think I've been scared it would taste funny. But it tastes just like milk. Who knew?