Thursday, April 29, 2010

Eating the Elephant

(I'm making scrappy blocks--i.e. blocks out of leftover scraps--fun and frugal!)

I'm back from my last trip. This time I went to Chicago for a convention. Here's the thing about spending too much time in a convention center: you will slowly lose all bearings until you can't remember where you're from, who your people are, or what your purpose in life is. You just wander around, hoping you can find a bathroom that doesn't have a line snaking out the door.

It's good to be home, but now I have no excuses. Home must be dealt with. Attics and closets must be purged, wallpaper must be peeled off, cupboards must be put back to order.

Oh, when, oh when will I be rich enough to hire other people to do these things? But that's the rub: with the exception of peeling the wallpaper, these are jobs you have to do yourself. A stranger doesn't know which books can be safely shipped off to the used book bin at the library. A stranger can't intuit how you like your pots and pans piled up.

A couple of weeks ago I read something that I really liked. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Dealing with my house is going to be like eating an elephant. A really, really big elephant who's in a very bad mood. My plan is to tackle projects in fifteen-minute increments, then break for iced tea and snacks. It's the only way I'll ever get the job done. Wish me luck.


Yesterday the Man and I attended a poetry reading at Our Fine Middle School. Jack's Language Arts class read from the poetry books they've written this spring. The poems were delightful and funny, and a few of them knocked our socks off.

The Man and I couldn't wait to hear Jack's poems, of course. What would this quiet boy tell us about himself through the lines of his verse? Well, we learned that he likes computers and computer games and reading. Oh, wait--we already knew that. But we also learned that he likes the smell of old books, which I always have, too, and that the literary figure he considers himself most like is Sherlock Holmes. We learned that Jack considers his father "funny and kind, but sometimes stern," and that I am "beautiful and pleasant, most of the time."

This, my friends, is what I want on my tombstone: She was beautiful and pleasant, most of the time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I am not an engineer.

I am not even all that bright.

Here's how you know: When I set out to make 25 star-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this morning, it never once occurred to me that there might be more than one way to do it.

My ever-so-brilliant way was to first spread the peanut butter and jelly on the bread. Then I took a star-shaped cookie cutter and pressed it into the bread. The result? Three times out of five, the peanut butter and jelly squirted out of the sandwich, like lava from a little PB&J volcano.

I finally figured out if I chilled the sandwiches before I cut them with the cookie cutter, and if I spread very thin layers of peanut butter and jelly, the volcano action was lessened. Still, the stars came out squished and kind of, well, not so much like stars. More like starfish that had crawled out of the sea onto the roadway and immediately been run over. By a truck.

The good news is, first graders will eat anything (the ones who eat, anyway). They're cute as the dickens, but have a very unrefined aesthetic sense. Had I been the only contributor to the party (in honor of Kevin Henkes, by the way, author of the fabulous Lily's Purple, Plastic Purse and many, many other fine books) of peanut butter and jelly star-shaped sandwiches, I would have never had known that it is in fact possible to make a perfectly civilized looking one.

But no, another mom also made peanut and butter and jelly star-shaped sandwiches, and hers were not at all smushy-looking or unappealing. After examining them a few moments it hit me: She cut the bread first before spreading on the PB&J.

Of course, she's a former Supreme Court law clerk, so she's going to have the jump on the likes of me when it comes to, well, anything. But still. How could I have been so clueless? Of course you cut the bread out first. Of course.

Well, bless the little children for eating my stars anyway. Bless them for sometimes reaching over the other PB&J stars to pick one of my ooey, gooey ones. Bless Will for not caring that his mom is a total goofball.

And bless Kevin Henkes and his wonderful Lily, who wears red cowboy boots, just like me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My House is in a Funk (and It's Not My Fault)

(The finished quilt. Note the wallpaper--not terrible, but not what a girl wants to live with for the rest of her life, either.)

When we moved into this house three years ago, we came believing we would make enormous changes. And at first, we did. Out went the moldering shag carpets in the family room and the downstairs office. Down went the deck, in came a beautiful screened porch. Brown paneling in the family room was transformed by two coats of professionally applied Summer White Paint.

But there were other jobs to be done, jobs we'd get around to just as soon as we had time and/or could afford to pay people to come do them. The mottled gold wallpaper in the dining room and living room--not to our taste, but we could live with it until we got the funds to have it removed. The colonial blue wallpaper in the foyer and stairwell--again, not what we would have chosen, but it would do until the gravy train with big piles of money pulled up in front of the house.

Bathrooms could be sanded and repainted ... when we found the time. The master bedroom--also in need of a paint job, and maybe one day we'd find the time to do it. Maybe one day--when those piles of money arrived--we could add some windows in the living room's south wall so we could get some light into the house.

Three years later ... well, the Man painted the downstairs bathroom and the kitchen, and both look fabulous. He got the boys' bathroom painted right before my parents came to Christmas, thank goodness. I painted the upstairs hallway and Will's room (with the Man's help). But we are a busy, cash-strapped people, and so much of the work has gone undone.

Frankly, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by our house right now. Every time I turn around there's something I want to change--and sometimes I'm frustrated by the things I'll never be able to change. There's not much I can do about the lack of light in the upstairs hallway, for instance, other than dream of windows and paint it Apricot-Mango-Sunshine.

Anyway, one of the things we've been contemplating is whether or not to move in the next year or two. I thought we'd be in this house until the boys were out of college, but now I don't know if I have the energy to do all that needs to be done to get this place up to snuff. I think I underestimated the amount of time we would be giving to raising children and working and taking the boys to Scout meetings and lacrosse practice.

So if you could change one thing about your house, what would it be? Do you love your house? Hate it? I don't hate mine--in fact, there's a lot I really like about it, especially the screened porch--but I'm starting to wonder how much longer I can live with it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Am Being Very Quiet Right Now

I'm back. Went on tour three weeks ago, was home for a week, and then last week I went to upstate New York for four days to do a flurry of school visits. It was all good, although whenever I got on an Express Jet I couldn't help but think of a bus filled with all the locals carrying chickens and baskets of bananas on top of their heads, everyone crammed in together. Except I bet the bus rides through the perilous mountains are a lot more fun and humane than flying.

I thought I would post--and go blog-visiting--in the interstices of my traveling, but my brain just needed to rest. This has been one of the busiest months of my life, and it's been overwhelming. Not horrible--the tour went well, I was put up in very nice hotels and had a driver in every city, I got to order room service every night on somebody else's dime, people were lovely and enthusiastic about the new book--just too much.

So I am being quiet. In spite of--or because of--all the busy-ness and travel, it has been a time for thinking and re-evaluating. The Man and I are pondering all sorts of things right now, looking over decisions we've made in the past few years and wondering if they were the right ones. None has been catastrophic, but is it time to make changes--about church, about our house, about how we're spending/investing our time and money?

It's exciting to re-evaluate and re-examine, especially because we don't have to change anything if we don't want to. But it's also a little scary--are we on the verge of great change? Huge mistakes? Who knows?


Today's picture: Welcome to my design wall and my new quilt, which is not quite done (I need to add two more borders and quilt it; when finished, I'm going to hang it on the wall in the foyer), but I hope to have finished in time for the guild meeting next week.

The design wall is a big piece of flannel tacked to the dining room wall. I was doubtful that a flannel sheet would actually work, though lots of folks online claimed it would. And amazingly enough, it does. As I finished each block, I popped it on the flannel, and when I'd finished all sixteen blocks, I had a field day arranging and re-arranging them until I was satisfied.

I still can't believe I'm making quilts, after so many years of wanting to but believing I couldn't. Let that be a lesson to you! What have you convinced yourself is impossible?