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


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?


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.