Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hadn't Meant to Be Gone So Long

It's been a crazy sort of week, lots of meetings and conferences, a day spent participating in some new-fangled distance learning, where I sat in a studio ten minutes from my house and talked to students all over North Carolina, and another day where I drove to a school across town to stand in the middle of a library and talk some more.


I took Will to the doctor Thursday morning for his cough, which he's had for over at month. At first, it appeared to be the by-product of a cold he had in mid-January, but then it picked up speed a couple of weeks ago and made clear it wasn't going anywhere. Turns out it's bronchitus and maybe a mild sinus infection. And then, Thursday afternoon, he lay down on the couch, saying he didn't feel well, and sure enough, he had a fever of 101. The fever broke last night, and this morning he seems much better, though he's still coughing.

Will is the only one in the family who gets hit with these sudden high fevers (and I suspect his temperature was higher than 101--he's not very good at keeping the thermometer under his tongue), and they really scare me. I slept in his room most of the night on Thursday, just to make sure he was still breathing.


The only good thing about Will being sick is that I don't have to go to Jack's basketball game this morning. It's the end-of-the-season tournament, and Jack's team is seeded last. They're not a bad team, but it's the 9-10 year-old league, and most of the guys on Jack's team are nine and little. They keep playing against big teams, and teams that have been together for two years (which seems so unfair to me, but coaches are allowed to cherry pick their players in this league). Jack is their big guy, and he's never played before. He's getting better with every game, and I'm really pleased with how hard he's trying, but it's not like he's been playing since he was six and has all those years of experience to bring to the team.

Anyway, last Saturday they lost in the last seconds, after being ahead almost the entire game. It was heartbreaking. As we were leaving the stands, I felt such acute pain, and I realized after a moment what I was feeling was grief.

The funny thing is, I don't think Jack cares all that much about winning. He likes to play, he likes being on a team, but he's not that caught up in whether they win or lose. He's a funny kid that way. Will would care. Will would be one of the kids crying after last week's game. Jack seemed unaffected. In some ways, I'm glad, because it makes it easier to take the team's losses. But if he cared more, he'd probably be a stronger player. There you have it.


The next few weeks are going to be broken up and all over the place. I've got conferences and competitions (Battle of the Books--I'm the assistant coach for Our Fine Midde School's team), and then we're off to D.C. for a few days over Spring Break. After that, I'm being sent on a book tour--my new book comes out Tuesday. So far it has gotten two starred reviews and one very unenthusiastic review from Publisher's Weekly. PW is always unenthusiastic about my books, whereas Kirkus always loves them. Go figure. Anyway, I don't usually get sent on tour, and I don't particularly want to, but I'm trying to be a good sport and a happy camper and all that.


We are having a long, hard winter here. Not hard compared to what they're having up north, but hard for us southerners. Mean, bitter winds, wet, snowy dark days. It's hard to believe spring is coming. Maybe it's not coming this year. It's starting to feel that way.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to May 3, when all my travels and workshops and this-es and thats for the spring will be done. I hope I'll survive until then. I've got big plans for the late spring and summer--quilts to make and barbecues to host and mornings to drink coffee and not do too much of anything. This is the dream that keeps me going.

edit: later: The Man and Jack are back from the game. Jack's team won! In the final seconds! Jack scored! Wish I'd seen him score, but am happy I avoided the heart attack I would have had by witnessing a last second win. Go team!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ashes, Ashes

"In Christian tradition, one of the most solemn days of the church year is Ash Wednesday, when believers enter a season of preparation for Easter by confronting their own mortality. That this season lasts forty days is no mistake. Those who follow Jesus are meant to follow him into the wilderness, where they too may be tested.

"For me, at least, the peak of the service comes when the priest invites the congregation forward to the altar rail to receive ashes on our foreheads. Those of us who have done it before know that we are being invited to our own funerals."

--Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. At noon, I'll go over to St. Philip's and get a cross of ash drawn across my forehead. Then I'm going to lunch with a friend. It's always strange to wear your faith on your skin, especially in public. Usually I forget by mid-afternoon and then am mildly shocked when I look in the mirror.

All the great religions demand the death of the self. For someone as self-centered as I am, this is nothing less than irritating. I don't want to give my self up. I think I know where I am and who I am, and even though I'm aware that I'm broken, at least I know where the broken places are. I know how to hide them with artfully knotted scarves and long sleeves worn even when it's hot outside.

To shed my skin and go into the wilderness, to go without my armor--my list of degrees and awards, books read and books published; all those things that say I am here, I am someone, I am reasonably successful and you can't take that away from me--well, that's something I avoid like the plague.

But during Lent, we're asked to hand over our armor at the door. We're asked to make ourselves vulnerable. To give up at least one of the habits that keeps us moderately numb so that even if we know where our broken places are, we don't have to feel them.

The ashes on our forehead? A public proclamation that no matter how successful we look, we're dismal, dust-bound creatures. Our salvation? A God who loves and heals us.

I'll be honest with you: I've been going through a spiritual dry spell lately. I go through them periodically, and so far I've always emerged on the other side, faith in tact, in fact usually stronger and deeper. But no matter how bone dry my faith gets (and sometimes I fear it will turn to dust), no matter how much I doubt some days that anything like God exists, I always have a tender spot for Jesus, because he was friend to the widow and the tax collector and the prostitute--to all the people who couldn't hold up their badges of success and say, "I'm okay, I'm someone important, I'm someone you must respect." He loved the people no one else loved. He healed them and forgave them.

Some days, when I can't find my armor anywhere, and I feel all my broken places and remember the words that broke me, the loss or lack of love, the broken trust, all my own terrible trespasses against others, I realize how small I am, how much I am in need of healing and forgiveness. I remember that the way of Jesus is not the way of success and respectability (as we see in the Gospels again and again), but the way of love and vulnerability.

Even when I don't believe, I still find myself believing that. And tomorrow the ashes will remind me and anyone else who cares to gaze upon my dismal, forgiven self.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Time to Write, But Here's Another Bad Quilt Picture

I'm super-busy working on a revision, so I don't have much time to write this week. But I did want to post a picture of what I've been working on when I'm not writing. These are 15" blocks from a book called Facts and Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts and Slavery by Barbara Brackman. I decided last weekend to try making one block from the book, just to see if I could follow directions. I made the Charm block, which is the one on the lower lefthand corner. It didn't take any time at all, so I decided to try the block right above it. And after that ...

Well, you get the picture. So this weekend I hope to add sashing and a border and a back. I may even try to quilt it on my machine. Fun!

Okay, back to the mines. More soon, I hope.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Report

(An admittedly not-great picture of the quilt top I finally finished--I should have moved the chair and the lamp, I know, and if I weren't so lazy, I'd go take another picture, this time without the chair and the lamp, but I'm pretty dang lazy. Anyway, I'm glad to finally have this done, and hope it doesn't take me a year to actually finish it. Fingers crossed!)

Yesterday the first graders at Our Fine School gave a lovely music performance entitled "Welcome to Our Garden," in which they performed such lovely ditties as "Oats and Beans and Barley Grow" and "Dirt Made My Lunch." There was some modern dance thrown in, just because everyone loves to see seven-years running around in gossamer butterfly wings and surreptitiously trying to kick each others shins.

Parents were instructed to send their children to school in bright, solid-color shirts and pants--NOT jeans. And, dear reader, I did just that. I didn't forget. I didn't mess up and send Will in a brightly-colored striped shirt. I didn't send him to school in Levi's. I did as instructed. I am a Good Mother.

But a good person? Not so much. Because I spent the first five minutes of the performance checking out all the other kids on stage to see whose mom was not a Good Mom and sent her beloved to school in jeans and a Mario Kart tee shirt. I wanted to see who hadn't read the multiple memos sent home in homework folders, which slacker moms had ignored the e-mails and RSS feeds. Who, I wondered, had messed up big time?

Because for once it wasn't me.

As it turns out, all the first grade moms at Our Fine School are Good Moms. Everyone was in non-denim pants or skirts; no one wore stripes. What a disappointment!

So after I'd ascertained that no one was wearing jeans, I indulged in one of my favorite spectator sports: figuring out who the queen bees were and who they weren't. If anyone thinks that the whole Mean Girl thing doesn't start until middle school, they are mis-remembering elementary school. Forty years later, I can tell you who my first grade mean girl was: Janet. She borrowed my pencil, then claimed it was hers even though it had my brother's name inscribed on it in little gold letters. She suggested in a wordless sort of way that if I made a big deal about it, I'd be sleeping with the fishes.

Janet was pretty, but in the early elementary years, not all the queen bees are. In fact, there are some beautiful children who are very much on the outside of the in-crowd. Maybe they smell funny or pick their noses or just give off a weird vibe. They'll get their revenge later, but in first grade, they're out of luck.

I picked out two queen bees yesterday. One of them was pretty, in a sharp-featured, tiny sort of way. She had dark gold, long wavy hair, and she looked really, really mad. That's how you pick out the first grade queen bees. They're ticked off about something, and it's probably the fact that other people exist.

The other queen bee was plain, but she also looked ticked off. The girls around her simpered. They clearly didn't want to get on her bad side. Heck, I was sitting safely in the audience, and I didn't want to get on her bad side.

I spent the rest of the show gazing at my sweet Will and thinking about how cute and funny he is and how I did such a good job of combing his hair before we left for school, so why was there a piece sticking straight out in back?


The boys didn't have school on Monday or Tuesday. Now it's Friday, with the weekend in my sights. Usually I'm very excited about the weekend. I get to sleep in til 7:30! I'll only drive to fun places, like the library and the yarn store! But I don't feel like I've earned this weekend. I just slept in a couple of days ago. I've hardly suffered at all.

Well, we're going to a Superbowl party on Sunday. There'll be plenty of suffering then.

If you any ideas for an appetizer I could bring, let me know.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snow Days

(Will took a very artsy picture of the icicles hanging from outside his window, but I can't find it. This snowman will have to suffice.)

I'm living in a shut down town. It snowed Friday and Saturday, it snowed lots and lots, and here in the sunny South, we are ill-equipped to handle such bounty. Schools are still closed, though the main roads are now clear, according to the Man, who drove to work this morning without incident.

I personally haven't left the house since Saturday. I spent four years in graduate school in western Massachusetts, and have already met my snow quota for this lifetime.

By the way, it's 11:28 a.m., and I'm still in my jammies. I've cleaned the kitchen and the mudroom and generally made myself useful, but now I'm in the habit of staying in the ol' pjs until noon. It feels decadent and slothful. I'm almost over it. Tomorrow normal life will resume, and I will get dressed at 6:55 a.m. and become a useful member of society again.

Other than token cleaning and cooking, I have been knitting and quilting--without guilt. Mother Nature cleared my calendar for me. What can a girl do but pick up the old needles and make herself a sweater? Nuthin.' This here is prime knitting weather.

So far the boys haven't killed each other. They spent a good portion of Saturday outside sledding, spent Sunday warming back up, and were outside once again yesterday. Today it's raining, and I expect some testiness and irritableness by the afternoon. Good. They'll be ready to hit the road tomorrow and get back into their routine.

I'm ready for the snow to be gone and to get back to work myself. I'm ready to take the dog out for a good, long walk. Too bad he ate his collar. Yeah, he did. Don't ask me why. Snow craziness, I guess.

Bring on the thaw!