Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Childlike Christmas #4, Plus Quilts

I've not been blogging much this month, mostly because I've been making quilts--and getting ready for Christmas, which as you know, is a huge undertaking, one that often leaves you muttering, "Bah! Humbug!" under your breath as you roll out yet another round of cookie dough.

I never muttered "Bah! Humbug!" when I was a kid.

Christmas was a much dreamier affair for me way back then than it is now. The days between December 1st and the 25th seemed a million years apart. My brothers and I counted them ... a million days until Christmas, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand days before Christmas ...

And every day, it got darker a little earlier. When I was a kid, I didn't know anything about the Winter equinox, so I didn't understand why the sky started darkening around four o'clock. I must have thought the darkness meant the mystery of Christmas was closing in. Christmas does seem the most Christmas-like when the sun goes down and the lights in the windows you pass on your way home burn all the brighter, and the lights in your own window burn brightest of all.

Now my Christmases are filled with lists and errands, and two weeks before Christmas I tell all my friends how much I hate it, and they tell me how much they hate Christmas, too. I calm down once the shopping is done and the out-of-town presents are mailed. But the fact is, I don't really start enjoying the season until right about now. When I was a kid, I enjoyed it all December long.

***

I have been making quilts for Christmas presents, and I wanted to share two of them I've finished (I'll post a picture of the third soon).

This quilt is called "Razzle Dazzle," and it's for my sister-in-law, Jessica, who sent me the fabric last year for Christmas. She didn't send it so that I'd make her a quilt, but these are definitely her colors:


And this is the finished pinwheel quilt, for my editor, Caitlyn:
I finished a third quilt last night, and now I'm not sure what to do with myself!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Childlike Christmas #3: Presents

(Me and my little brother seeing what Santa brought us, circa 1969)

We put up the Christmas tree on Saturday, and immediately Will went to work making presents to put under it. Actually, I think he's been working for a while, drawing things and cutting out pictures. Will is a big believer in homemade presents.

I was, too, when I was his age, mostly because it was fun to put gifts under the tree, especially in the early days of the season, when you wanted that space to fill up quick! I still like making gifts, come to think of it--check this space soon for pictures of the quilts I've been working on and just might have finished in time for Christmas.

I'm actually not a great gift buyer. Mostly what I like to receive is books, and sometimes it's hard for me to imagine that other people like gifts they don't have to read. I still give a lot of books, but I also fill boxes with handknit socks and quilts, and lots of pink stuff for the nieces, since my boys don't much appreciate pink stuff.

In third grade, I took lots and lots of quarters to the post exchange, where there was a vending machine with small plastic NFL football helmets inside clear plastic domes. That's what I got for my brothers that year. I think my brothers liked them.

Every year at Christmastime, I had a 6" tree on my beside table that my mother made by wrapping pink tulle around a Styrofoam cone. I wrapped up small white cardboard jewelry boxes and matchboxes, put them around the little pink tree, and imagined what might be in them.

***

How old was I when my grandparents started sending me money instead of gifts? Second grade? Third? Ten dollars--a huge amount! I never wished they'd sent a gift instead, and yet I still can't bring myself to send my nieces and nephew gift cards, no matter how much I suspect they'd like them.

***

My parents gave us all sorts of presents via Santa Claus, but probably the best present they gave us was the gift of family traditions, many of which I still keep. Today I spent the afternoon making small loaves of bread for the boys' teachers. Will, coming down the stairs as if drawn by the wonderful smell of good things baking in the oven, asked, "Is it time for banana bread already?" I thought it was nice that he knew the scent of banana bread by heart. My mother made banana bread for friends and neighbors every Christmas, and it's what we nibbled on as we opened our Christmas presents on Christmas morning. It is one of the most distinctive smells of Christmas I know, and now Will knows it, too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Childlike Christmas #2: Magic

My younger brother and I used to sit in front of a lit Christmas tree in a darkened room and tell each other stories about Santa Claus and Christmases past. We were transported from our living room to some place larger, grander. When we were really little and talked about what would happen on Christmas Eve--Santa landing on the our roof and bringing presents through our sliding glass door (we didn't have a fireplace)--we would get all shivery and exited. Magic was about to happen in our very own house!

What I loved at Christmastime: how pink the sky got around 4:30 on the shortest days of the year. Driving through other people's neighborhoods to look at the lights. The smell of banana nut bread, my mother's traditional Christmas gift to our neighbors, baking in the oven on the day before Christmas Eve, what my brothers and I called Christmas Eve-eve.

I loved the holiness of Christmas, which is what people are really talking about when they talk about the magic of Christmas. I loved running my fingers over the ceramic figurines of the manger scene my mother set out every year, lightly touching the folds in Mary's violet-blue dress. I loved lighting our Advent wreath on Sundays, each Sunday a new candle adding its glow to the table.

I loved when my father put Christmas tapes on his reel-to-reel player. Did you have a reel-to-reel tape player when you were little? Do you remember the smell when the motor heated up? And the loud click of the buttons as the reels were set into motion? Those were Christmas sounds and smells to me, just as much as the smell of the tree and Christmas cookies baking.

Mostly I loved sitting in front of the tree and dreaming, all the lamps turned off. It's still my favorite part of Christmas, and I think that's why I'm always a little sad after all the presents are opened on Christmas morning. Ah, the possibilities that exist in a wrapped present! That's a wonderful moment, isn't it--the moment you lift the package toward yourself, test its weight in your hands? The moment right before you open it, and everything is possible?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Awakenings

Today at church our preacher was Sister Helen Prejean, best known for her book Dead Man Walking. One of the perks of attending a university chapel is that you get amazing guest preachers, and Sister Helen was quite moving. Part of her sermon touched on awakenings, how grace awakens us to God's purposes and plans. It can start with just a nudge--her work as a counselor to death row inmates started as a casual suggestion she be a pen pal with a prisoner--followed by another nudge, and another.

That is how my faith life has seemed to me--a series of awakenings. A chain of nudges. People showing up in my life unexpectedly. Angels stopping by to be entertained unawares. The other day I prayed to be more obedient, and five minutes later I got a phone call from someone who needed my help. Took me half an hour to make the connection. A year ago, it would have taken all day. Maybe I'm a little more awake this year. Maybe I'll be even more awake next year, and it will only take me five minutes to figure out why the phone rang.

I don't know if we're ever fully awake in this lifetime. I imagine that in the coming kingdom we will be astonished by we did not and could not know during our time in this world. All the angels unawares will be revealed to us. All the things we called coincidence. All the wake-up calls--the ones that we heeded, and the ones that we ignored because we wanted to sleep for five more minutes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 30: A Childlike Christmas

It's nice that my last day of daily blogging coincides with the first day of Pom Pom's A Childlike Christmas Blog Party. Today and every Wednesday in Advent, a whole lot of folks will be blogging on our notions of what makes for a childlike Christmas and how we ourselves can be a little more childlike about the season.

When proposing this idea for a blog-along, Pom Pom asked, "Do you want a childlike Christmas?" Which leads one to ask, what is a childlike Christmas? We're speaking of "childlike" in the most positive way here, as opposed to the way I sometimes think of it, which is to say muleheaded, unreasonable, boorish and irritating.

What are children good at? Well, they're good at believing, for one thing. I believed in Santa Claus so much that I kept on believing him even after my mother told me he didn't exist. I was a champion believer, as most respectable children are.

Children are good at looking at the stars and wondering who else is looking at them at the very same time. They are good at wishing on stars, and they are good at thinking that stars are winking at them personally.

Children are good at thinking that plain, even ugly things are beautiful. They will love the bejeebers out of a stuffed animal that has lost its eyes, its nose, and half of one ear. They will whisper to it, "Hey, gorgeous" while they feed it pretend dog biscuits.

Children are often astonished by very mundane things on a daily basis. Ants, for instance, and shaving cream. They are astonished by sticks, and leaves that are half red and half brown. They are frequently astonished by interesting gravel.

Now, I'm not sure I'm up to being astonished all the time. I don't have the energy that a child has, and I think astonishment calls for a good deal of energy. But I like the idea of spending the Christmas season astonished at least once a day, preferably by something small and rather quotidian.

So that would be a childlike Christmas for me, a Christmas where I take time to look around in wonder and remember to be delighted.

***

Thank you, my dears, for putting up with my on a daily basis this past month. I've had fun, but I think I'm ready for a bit of a rest. Just for a few days, to collect my thoughts. Now, off to read all my fellow Childlike Christmas bloggers!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 29: Game Day

Will has made up his own card game, complete with cards he drew himself. The game very much resembles Stratego, except that unlike Stratego, I understand it. In fact, I believe it was my inability to comprehend the rules of Stratego that forced Will to create a game I'm actually able to play.

Anyway, he made up the game yesterday afternoon, and we've been playing it nonstop ever since.

I love that Will makes up his own games. I love that 78% of the rules for his game make perfect sense, and the 22% of the rules that don't make sense to me don't make sense to anyone else, either, including Will. I love the fact that Will's a self-starter, an imaginative thinker, a creative human being.

And that is why I keep playing the game. It is tempting to burst into flames instead. It's tempting to melt into a puddle of dust. But I don't. I say, "Yes, sure, I'd love to play again." Because I want him to keep making up games and drawing cards and coming up with rules that make sense 78% of the time.

And, okay, it's the only game I can beat anyone in this house at. There's that, too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 28: Inarticulate Fish of the Heart

I've been listening to Van Morrison in the car lately. If you're in the mood to feel spiritual or vaguely enlightened, Van's your man. Not so much the "Brown-Eyed Girl" Van as the "Astral Weeks" Van. In fact, "Astral Weeks" was one of the cds I brought into the delivery room with me when Jack was born. I liked very much the thought of my newborn child coming into the world on the strains of "Cypress Avenue" or "Sweet Thing."

Today I was listening to a somewhat more recently minted Van, and as we pulled into the driveway, Jack leaned forward and asked, "Is he singing 'inarticulate fish of the heart?' Because if he is, I don't get it."

I explained to Jack that no, Van was singing "inarticulate speech of the heart," not "inarticulate fish of the heart." But you know what? I very much like the idea of an inarticulate fish of the heart. I find it filled with all sorts of metaphorical possibilities, not to mention a boatload of charm.

Is there is an inarticulate fish in your heart? What do you suppose he'd say if he could only articulate it? Would he say something about love, how he always knows when your beloved has walked into the room, the way your heart pounds so loud he can't hear a thing?

I checked YouTube for a video of Van Morrison singing "Inarticulate Speech of the Heart;" unfortunately I couldn't find a good version. But if you wanted to hear Van the Man sing that most beautiful song "Cypress Avenue," you sure could. Oh, my goodness, it will do your soul good. Yeah, my tongue gets tied every time I try to speak, Van sings, and the inarticulate fish of my heart nods his head, because he knows exactly what Van means.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 27: Advent Begins

We lit the first candle in the Advent wreath tonight, and I read a brief passage from a book about what the Advent wreath symbolizes.

And then the Man, who is a Southern Baptist down to his toes, said, "You boys should know that there are no Advent wreathes in the Bible."

I was very good and refrained from mentioning that there are no Christmas trees or Santa Clauses in the Bible, either, and that Jesus never had to get up on Sunday morning, put on a nice shirt, and go to church.

The boys will figure all that out soon enough.

I brought up my Advent plan in Sunday school this morning. The class I'm taking is on Food and Faith, and something about asceticism came up. I said I was going to try to eat simply in order to enjoy the Christmas feast later, and someone pointed out that once upon time Advent practices more closely mirrored Lenten practices, and people did indeed fast as a way of preparing for Christ.

We'll see if I stick to it. I often have grand Advent schemes. I have lots of Advent books with daily readings, and I'm pretty good about reading them for the first two weeks. And then the Christmas craziness kicks in, and I'm lucky to get my teeth brushed and remember to pick up the children for school.

Jack asked if he could skip youth group tonight, so he could be there to light the Advent candles before dinner. This could have been a scam, and might well have been a scam, except Jack loves Christmas more than any child on earth (he's almost thirteen, and he still counts down the days, starting November 25th--"Only one month until Christmas!"), and he likes traditions and rules and ceremonies. So we let him skip youth group. After all, there is no youth group in the Bible.

Some folks in our neighborhood already have Christmas decorations up. In the past, pre-December Christmas decorations made me grouchy and grumpy and had me writing letters to the editor, at least in my head. But this year I've decided to let it go. I won't resist. If people want to celebrate Christmas year-round, let them. None of my beeswax.

There are bees in the Bible, by the way. You could look it up.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 26: Almost Advent

Advent begins tomorrow! Look for the light!

I've just posed this question to Tracy over at Beyond My Picket Fence, but I'll bring it up here as well. I know a number of you who read this blog live outside of the U.S., but you have gamely put up with a multitude of Thanksgiving postings from your U.S. blogger friends these past few days. So now it's your turn: What holiday do you celebrate that's particular to your home country that you think we here in America would love every bit as you do?

I know that when my friend Kathryn, originally of Belfast, Northern Ireland, lived next door, we had a bang-up time celebrating Boxing Day with her family (mostly because the celebration included bangers!). Should Americans adopt a rigorous Boxing Day observance?

So as not to leave my American friends out, if there's a foreign holiday you think we should adopt, speak up now. Or maybe your family has its own particular holiday that we all can observe? My family celebrates Travis the dog's birthday on February 2nd of every year, and though mostly it consists of getting Travis special dog food, it's lots of fun. So you might consider celebrating Travis's birthday, too.

I've been thinking about feasts as we approach the Advent season. One of the things I want to do in the days leading up to Christmas is to eat simply in order to truly enjoy the Christmas feast when the time comes. I won't fast--fasting is more of Lenten project--but I do plan on eating lightly as a kind of discipline. A preparation of sorts. I fear that because of my love of food and my tendency to eat in response to any sort of emotional trigger, every day is a feast day for me. So I want to be intentional about my eating as we move toward Christmas. I don't want to start the party too early, before the guest of honor arrives.

I will keep you posted on my progress. More anon!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 25: The Day After

I tried not to do too much today. It was hard, because I have such a long list of things to do. And okay, I did clean one of the upstairs bathrooms--in fact, it's the one we're all using right now, so it was pretty bad. But I also spent time quilting a quilt and walking the dog--oh, and I slept in.

It's hard to take it easy. The fact is, the only time I don't have any chores to do is when we're on vacation--or at least when we're on vacation and staying in a place without a kitchen. If there's a kitchen, then most likely I'm cooking. I don't mind, actually. Fixing dinner is one of the few times during the day when I have time to think.

I didn't go shopping today at all. My friend Danielle and her best pal Susan are Black Friday shoppers, so I get to live vicariously through them. I honor their fortitude and courage. I envy them getting big chunks of Christmas shopping before December 1st. But I can barely make myself shop on the best, least stressful shopping days. The biggest one of the year? I believe I'll stay home and scrape toothpaste out of the sink, thank you very much.

I have five days of daily blogging left. You know, it's sort of been fun, and it will be interesting to see how it affects my blogging when the challenge is over. Mostly I think it's given you some insight to how dull my daily life is. Roast beets! Bathroom cleaning! Whooeee.

Sad to say, my children have been fairly well behaved during the duration, although Jack seems to think that sleeping fully clothed is a fine idea, even when I instruct him in a very direct manner to put on some jams. I don't know if it's laziness, rebellion or that he just forgets. What is it about twelve-year-old boys? Having never been one, I really have no idea.

Okay, time to get Will to bed. He's refusing to go. If he has a really interesting fit, I'll write about it tomorrow. See you then!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 24: Thanksgiving, Done

I'm very sleepy as I write this, and I don't think I'll write much. It's almost 10 p.m. The turkey has been roasted and et, the pumpkin pie has been thoroughly devoured. We watched "A Christmas Story" after dinner, an annual family tradition, and then played "Blurt." Will and I won. Now we are listening to music, and Will and the Man are playing the silliest round of slap hands I've ever witnessed. Jack is looking on, amused, as though he can't believe anyone he shares DNA with would be so goofy.

And tomorrow's Friday. It's like a whole free day to do nothing or everything in. I think I'll take a walk and quilt a quilt. Maybe play some more Blurt. And write here, of course, at length, to make up for this short and sweet post. See you then!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 23: Still Hanging In There!

Earlier today, I thought I felt the early signs of paralysis coming on--the droopy eyelids, the slurred speech--but it turns out that's just me waking up in the morning. Now I really did feel like the botulism was setting in around lunchtime, but it passed. If I'm still alive by 5 a.m. Thursday morning E.S.T., I think we can safely say I successfully canned a jar of spaghetti sauce without killing myself or my loved ones.

I have my list of Thanksgiving prep on the fridge: Turkey breast (our oven is too small for a whole bird--have I mentioned how much I hate my oven?), stuffing, cornbread dressing (I made the cornbread yesterday, and it's sitting on the counter getting stale, and yes, I will proudly own up to the fact that it's Jiffy cornbread, forty-five cents a box), fruit salad (wonderful concoction, my mother's recipe, made with pineapple, maraschino cherries, tiny marshmallows, and whipped cream), LaSeur baby peas, mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly (from the can, ridges in tact), pumpkin pie and apple pie. Jack is in charge of the apple pie; Will and I will bake pumpkin pie in the morning.

We're staying home for Thanksgiving, did I mention that? I'm sorry to miss out on any extended family fun, but I'm glad not to have to travel. I like being home, and this will be our first Thanksgiving at home since Will was born nine years ago.

So what are you thankful for? I'm thankful for my good husband, my fine children, and my silly dog. I'm thankful to live in such a beautiful place. I'm thankful for my church, my health, and my car that starts every morning. And I'm thankful for you. I look forward to the day when we're all gathered together. Won't that be something?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 22: So Far, We're All Still Alive

Tonight, we had spaghetti with sauce I canned last summer. The sauce has been sitting in my pantry since July, daring me to open it. Whatcha so afraid of, it's been whispering when I walk past. Think I've got botulism spores in here? Yes, I tell it. That's exactly what I think.

Well, it takes botulism symptoms eleven to twenty-four hours to manifest. I'll be waiting for my eyelids to droop and the sides of my face to feel tight. Oh, and to drop on the floor dead. That, too. If you never hear from me again, you know what happened.

The good news is the jar was tightly sealed--I had to use a butter knife to pry the lid off--and the sauce wasn't at all discolored or weird. To be on the safe side, I boiled it for ten minutes (reducing it quite a bit in the process), just to kill any bad stuff that might be in it. Then I tasted it and waited to see if I felt funny. And sure enough, my eyes started twitching and I could feel my muscles go slack and simultaneously get rigid. Have I ever mentioned I'm very suggestible? If you tell me the flu is going around, I immediately feel like I've got the flu. If you mention you've been down with Hepatitus A, my liver starts to hurt. It's just how I am.

So far, so good. And speaking of good, the sauce was mighty tasty! I want to grow twice as many tomatoes next summer, and make twice as much sauce. I've still got a lot of frozen tomatoes in my freezer, and some frozen sauce, but I've only got one jar left. If I survive tonight, who knows? Maybe we'll open it tomorrow. Live dangerously, I always say.


(ETA: For a fun post on food memories, go check out what Tracy recalls from her Australian girlhood on Beyond My Picket Fence.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 21: Day 21

It seems I have been blogging now for twenty-one days straight. I'm getting dizzy. As I sit down to write tonight, I don't have any particular subject in mind. As with most days, I'm just hoping something comes to me.

So after posting about sleepovers the other day, and getting so many wonderful responses (to see a nicely expanded response, go over to Betty the Wood Fairy's site and read her post), I thought someone should put together a collection of essays about sleepover memories, the good, the bad and the ugly. That idea reminded me of another idea I had not too long ago for a collection of essays--babysitting memories.

Did you babysit? I started babysitting for our next door neighbors when I was in fifth or sixth grade. What amazes me now is how much responsibility people were willing to give me at a very young age. It wasn't unusual for me in eighth and ninth grade to spend the night or even a weekend babysitting while the parents went out of town. This was when we lived on a small Army post in Germany. I suppose it was a safe place, because I often babysat until midnight, got paid, and then walked home by myself. Yikes!

I wasn't the world's greatest babysitter. Mostly I was in it for the cash and the snacks. I didn't particularly like playing with children, though I was always willing to sit down to draw, color, do puzzles and read aloud (I was the same with my own children, by the way). I snooped around, looked for salacious reading materials, and talked on the phone. Nobody ever got hurt on my watch, but plenty of children got vaguely neglected.

After writing about vegetables yesterday, I came up with another subject for yet another anthology of essays I'd entitle What My Mother Made for Dinner. My mother made creamed chip beef on toast; did yours? In the 1970s she made Hamburger Helper casseroles, which we all loved, especially when they were "pizza" flavored. The funny thing is, she was a good cook. When she cooked for company, watch out! She could make Beef Wellington and cheese puffs to die for. She made a mean French onion soup.

But in general, my mom tended to cook the foods of the day. Lots of casseroles, lots of meatloaf. It wasn't unusual to have hot dogs for dinner. We never had pasta, because no one outside of New York City had pasta, or if they did, it was considered weird.

On Sunday nights we had steak, french fries, and french cut string beans. The french fries were frozen (almost always crinkle cut), but my mom deep-fried them, and they were delicious. Sometimes she deep fried onion rings, too.

Here's the interesting thing: My mother's father was a gourmet cook. This was a man before his time. He lived in Louisville, KY, where he was an architect. He knew about wine, he knew about cheese, and once when he came to visit he made us our first homemade pizza. Before that, the closest thing we got to homemade pizza came out of a little Chef Boyardee box that included a small can of tomato sauce and some sort of dried cheese. My grandfather's pizza was a revelation.

I wonder what meals my boys will look back at and giggle about. I cook mostly from scratch, so there'll be no Hamburger Helper to mock. But I'm sure they'll find something to shake their heads over. "Remember how she made us eat whole wheat pasta?" "Yeah, man, what was she thinking about?"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 20: Roast Beets, Anyone?

My latest culinary deal is roasting vegetables. Until recently, I only roasted potatoes, which I only started doing correctly after my friend Kathryn told me that to get really good roasted potatoes, I needed to boil them first, to soften them up. Now I find the trick is not boiling them too long; otherwise, you get roasted potato crumbs, which are still delicious but trickier to get from your plate to your mouth.

Then a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a recipe for roasted broccoli, and I thought I'd give it a go. Well, my dears, it turns out that roasted broccoli is divine, as is roasted cauliflower and roasted red onion. Roasted vegetables taste so good, I don't see how they can be good for you. In fact, I got so suspicious the other day, I googled "nutritional aspects of roasted vegetables," expecting to learn that roasting vegetables transforms them into the nutritional equivalent of a chocolate sundae. What I found instead is that not only are roasted vegetables as good for you as raw vegetables, sometimes they're even better.

I was at the store the other day and went a little crazy. I bought orange beets and a rutabega and a turnip, all for the roasting. When I got home, I googled "roasted beets recipes" and found one for carmelized beets. Now how good does that sound? I'm going to try it, and I'll let you know how it turns out.

By the way, beets were yet another vegetable we didn't eat growing up (I'm telling you, all we had was frozen peas and carrots, vegetable-wise; they were dark times there in the suburban 1970s). And my first experience with beets was not good. The Man and I attended a dinner party where the guest of honor made a beet salad. The beets were beautiful, but there was some thing about the texture that made me want to spit them out. However, you do not spit out the guest of honor's beets, so I ate as many as I could force down and then tried the old trick of cutting the rest into very small pieces and then hiding the pieces under a roll.

It wasn't until a few years ago, when my friend Amy shared with me a marvelous beet salad she'd made that I realized beets could be my friends. And it wasn't until yesterday, when I saw those pretty orange beets at the grocery store, when it occurred to me that maybe I should take some home with me and roast them.

Have you discovered new ways of cooking old favorites? What veggies did you hate growing up that you love now? Oh, I just remembered! Every once in awhile my mom served canned asparagus, and boy did I hate that. But now? Well, I still don't eat canned asparagus, but baby asparagus in the spring? To die for!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 19: Today's Soup

Sweet Potato-Chorizo Sausage. And man, is it good. It's a pretty simple and straight-forward soup, though you can throw in a little spinach to jazz it up, which I did. My only regret? I forgot that we have spinach growing in the backyard and used some from the store. Arrrgghh!

***

The sleepover ended well, though there was a rough patch around 8:30 this morning, when Ethan thought Will should have let him win at a game they were playing, since it was a game Ethan had never played before. Will disagreed. Ethan insisted. Etc.

Now, personally, I think it would have been nice if Will had let Ethan win a game or two, Will being the host and all. On the other hand, Ethan is almost nine, and that may be a little old to expect other people to let you win the way you might have when you were five.

But it occurred to me that Ethan has a little sister, and it might be the rule in his family that you let the underdog win one game out of three, so he expected that rule to apply here. I don't recall that we ever pushed Jack much to let Will win, though I'm sure we took him aside from time to time and asked him to cut his brother a little slack when things got too uneven.

***

I'm beginning my Thanksgiving preparations. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. All of the feasting but none of the stress of Christmas! Just don't let me forget to make cornbread on Tuesday; it needs to sit out and get stale for two days before I turn it into stuffing.

Okay, well, I just got back from the gym, and I seem to have made the mistake of sitting down, even though I very much need a shower. Okay. Yup, I'm going to get up. Any minute here. Getting up now. Here I go. Just one more minute ...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 18: Sleepover

Will's friend Ethan is spending the night tonight. I picked up both boys after school, and they've been playing nonstop ever since (it's 8 p.m. now), with a brief break for pizza eating.

Having a sleepover guest in the house made me start thinking about how different families have different sleepover styles. We tend to take a hands-off approach when the boys have friends spend the night. Jack and his friends are marathon gamers, so they hole up in Jack's room with their computers and have at it. Will's buddies like to play--board games, sports, rolling around on the floor type frolicking--with an occasional movie or televised sports event thrown in. Either way, the Man and I usually show our faces from time to time, order pizzas, and enforce bedtimes. Otherwise, we leave them alone.

But I remember as a kid attending sleepovers that were really invitations to join someone else's family for awhile. You were asked to help set the table before dinner, you ate whatever the mom was cooking that night, and after dinner you might play a game of Monopoly with the whole clan. You didn't get to spend private time with your friend until bedtime, but somehow that private time was more special than if you'd gone off on your own all evening. You'd earned it.

When I was a young adult in college, I spent several minor breaks and holidays at friends' houses (I went to college in North Carolina, and my parents lived in Texas, much too far away to drive for only a few days), and that's when I was most involved with other people's families. Parents would sit down to have serious conversations with you about your future plans (for some reason, this was much less irritating than when your own parents wanted to have those conversations with you), and after dinner you might go out to a bar or a club with your friends' siblings. For a few short days you felt intimately connected with these families, witnessed their dramas, did their dishes (I had a reputation as a good house guest, in case you were wondering), walked their dogs.

The big deal about sleepovers when I was a kid was how different other people's houses smelled, how foreign other families' habits were. As I got older, the exciting thing about staying at friends' houses was seeing how people who seemed outwardly a lot like me could have very different ways from my own. Other families' habits seemed exotic, thrilling. My father turned on easy listening radio first thing in the morning; what an eye-opener to stay with a family whose father turned on Mozart.

I hope Ethan has a nice time tonight. I hope he doesn't think our house smells too weird. It's nice having him here. That's the flip side, as an adult. You have a kid spend the night, and all the sudden you're looking at your life through his eyes. What does he see? A house where tidiness is not prized, surely, but also, hopefully, a place where people are creative and have hobbies and listen to music and like to laugh. I hope he sees that, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 17: Really, Is It Day 17 Already?

Jack stayed home from school today. He has a bug. My children never get defined illnesses; no flu or pneumonia for them, no ear infections, no Hepatitus. No, they just feel sick and have mild fevers and stomachaches.

Now, considering the possibilities, I can't complain. I'm glad that when they get sick, they usually only get a little bit sick. However, their vague illnesses do make it hard to decide whether or not they should go to school. It doesn't help that their regular temperatures tend to run low (mine, too), so it's almost impossible to tell when someone around here has a fever unless they're really burning up.

Jack's particularly hard to diagnose, as he is always pale and somewhat lethargic. Yesterday morning he came down saying he felt hot and nauseated, and he did indeed seem on the warm side and looked rather ill, though Jack always looks ill in the morning, like he could twelve or thirteen more hours of sleep.

The Man's rule of thumb for whether or not a child claiming illness should go to school is simple. Are you still alive? You are? Well, then, have a great day! Tell your Algebra teacher I say hi! The Man, it could be said, is a stoic. He's never, ever sick, or if he is sick, he refuses to admit it. He landed in the hospital once because he stoically believed what he had was just a little cold, when it fact it was a major sinus infection that made him an ideal candidate for several days of intravenously administered antibiotics.

I, on the other hand, have a reputation, for dramatically taking to my bed at first sniffle. So the Man doesn't consider me a good judge of a child's fitness for schooling. He thinks I'm wimpy mom, ready to send a child back to bed at the first, tiny sneeze. And okay, I sort of am. But I know a hot forehead when I feel one, and Jack's forehead was hot. Or at least sort of hot. No, it was definitely hot.

Really, I might have sent him to school, except for visions of angry moms dancing in my head. It's a week before Thanksgiving, and the last thing anyone wants is a sick kid in the backseat of the minivan as you head out to Grandmother's house. So yes, I let my vaguely sick child stay home. I did it for the mothers and the grandmothers. I did it for Thanksgiving turkeys and cornbread stuffing. I did it for America.

Mothers of Our Fine School, you can thank me later. Preferably with pie.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 16: More Food

The pinwheel quilt, with borders,

A couple of you commented on yesterday's post that you didn't know what collards were, and I realize now I'm not sure how to explain them. They are a green, leafy vegetable related to cabbage and broccoli. When you cook them, they wilt much like spinach, but when raw they're a lot tougher than spinach. They're popular here in the Southern states, in part because they're cheap and you can grow them in the cool months. They have the same effect on children as cooked spinach--lots of "Ewww, gross" and "Who would eat that?"

***

I was thinking this morning that my favorite times of year to cook are early winter and early summer. In early summer, you have lots of tender, young vegetables that make you happy to be alive (not to mention strawberries), and in early winter you get stew.

I love stew. I made a beef stew tonight that started--as all great recipes do (see yesterday's post for cross-reference)--with frying up some bacon.* Around step four, you pour in 12 ounces of amber beer, and the smell is divine. The great thing about stew is that it fills up the whole house with its wonderful aromas and makes you feel that life is worth living.

***

I did something totally out of the ordinary for lunch today. No one in my family but me likes Indian food, so I never make it. But the other day I was going through the humongous pile of recipes I've pulled out of magazines but never actually tried and stumbled across a recipe for chicken thighs in a curried yogurt sauce made in a slow cooker. So this morning, I chopped up onions and garlic, mixed them with some tomato paste, cumin and curry powder, threw in some chicken and cooked it on high for four hours. When the chicken was done, it fell of the bone in that wonderful way chicken does. I stirred half a cup of Greek yogurt into the tomato paste mixture, and wah-lah! Lunch. Wonderful, and no one to complain about the curry smell. Even better, there's enough for at least one more lunch, maybe two.

Well, I better go cook some more bacon; it'll be breakfast before you know it.


*I thought Pom Pom made an astute comment yesterday about bacon, how it makes the house smell marvelous in the morning, but as the smell weakens over time it's much less pleasing. This underlines the importance of cooking bacon at every meal, so that the smell always stays fresh and at its bacon-y best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 15: Basketball & Collard Greens

Will's first basketball practice is tonight. You know how excited he is? He came home and immediately got to work on his homework. Practice is at 7:30, and he wants to be focused and not worrying about some stupid spelling test, thank you very much.

As I write, I have collards cooking on the stove. I didn't grow up eating greens, did you? We mostly had medleys of frozen mixed vegetables, the favorite being peas, tiny cubed carrot bits and corn. Oh, wasn't that a treat! My mom also enjoyed serving up a nice tasty dish of French green beans, with almonds when she was feeling fancy. I don't believe fresh broccoli had been invented in the 1970s.

We're growing collards in our garden. They are beautiful, sturdy plants that should last through our mild winter. To cook them, first you fry up some bacon. That's always the sign of a good recipe, when you start with bacon. Then you saute onions in the bacon grease--another good sign--add some chicken stock and peeled garlic, and then your chopped up collards.

Cook 'em for two hours--as I said, they're sturdy little suckers--and what you end up with is a symphony of flavors. Oh, my goodness, I forgot to mention the ham hock; you'll need to throw one of those in, too. This being the South, you can pick up a package at any grocery store, whether it's a bargain basement sort of joint or a high falutin' gourmet place.

Do the boys eat this delicacy? Of course they don't. But you know what that means? More for me and the Man. We don't mind a bit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 14: Communications

Well, our phone lines are down and now Earthlink is down, so no phone calls or email for me. Actually, I do have my cell phone, and I guess now I'll finally be forced to use it. But no matter what, you can't make me text.

More funny Jack news: He went to the dentist today and has no cavities and his plaque score is down. More disappointment! How are we going to get this boy to floss if he's not getting cavities and his plaque score has dropped by two? (Does your dentist score plaque? This is new to us, as we are going to a new dentist these days--at least the boys are--and I don't know how I feel about it. On the one hand, it gives the boys something to strive for--get a 2 or less and you get a prize--on the other hand, it's one more thing for me to potentially feel badly about, as a poor plaque score surely reflects badly on the mother, don't you think?).

In any event, like Jack's report card, this good dental report has left me at a loss. Where are the grounds to nag? Nowhere that I can see.

Oh, really, it's all good news, isn't it? We had a conference with Jack's adviser, Miz E, last week (a regularly scheduled event at Our Fine Middle School), and she was very funny and kind about Jack. As a student at OFMS, you meet with your advisory group first thing in the morning--it's like home room--and you eat lunch together in your adviser's classroom (no cafeterias at OFMS). Well, oftentimes at lunch, Jack sits off by himself and reads, which comes to no surprise to them who know him well. The rest of the kids pull their desks together and have a good old time. And it turns out, they often cajole Jack into joining them. Miz E says she thinks Jack likes being cajoled. She thinks sometimes he sits off by himself just so the rest of the kids will start cajoling. That just tickles me.

She also said that Jack is always paying attention to people's conversations, and he especially listens to the girls, because of course the boys are all doofuses and have nothing interesting to say. This doesn't surprise me, that Jack is listening. For years, whenever I had a friend over during the day, Jack would park himself close by with a book and pretend to read, but I knew he was eavesdropping on the conversation. He's always paying attention.

So it's all good news, which is good news. I'm glad Jack's classmates make him join in, and I'm glad that five pounds of Halloween candy were not enough to ruin Jack's teeth over the last two weeks. The only thing I'm not glad about is that I need to make an appointment to have my teeth cleaned. Can't tell you how glad I am that my dentist doesn't keep score.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 13: Church

The whole family went to church today. Will wore jeans, Jack wore khakis and his sweat jacket, which has a rip in the arm (he doesn't know how it happened), both of them brought books. I'm embarrassed to tell you that this is the first time in months we've all gone to church together. Lately it's just been me, yelling, "See ya later, ya big bunch of heathens!" on my way out the door.

How did that happen? Summer, I think. The season of slack, lackluster church-going that usually finishes up when school starts, only this year it didn't. Plus, we have an adolescent now, and dragging him out of bed on Sunday morning is such a production that sometimes we just give up (and anyway, he goes to youth group, we tell ourselves, which is gathering of believers who talk and pray together, so that's pretty close to church; may in fact be church).

Will has never been enthusiastic about church (Jack actually was until the Sleep Monster took over his body--okay, "enthusiastic" maybe be painting it on a little thick, but he went without complaining most Sundays). It is a long time for an active kid to sit and look at the back of grown-ups' heads; I get that. Oftentimes on Sundays Will has just a touch of a headache and doesn't think he should go; he doesn't want to spoil it for the rest of us by writhing in the pain through the service. The Man, being a former small boy who wasn't always excited about church himself back in the day, always generously and selflessly offers on these occasions to stay home and keep an eye on Will, just in case the headache turns out to be a developing case of encephalitis or leprosy or some such.

So we got slack, but I've been feeling badly about it, so last week the Man and I decided that this week we were jumping back in, and we did, and I have to say I was very proud of my small brood. Although Will brought a novel with him and a drawing pad, he actually spent most of the service reading his illustrated Bible. And Jack said all the prayers and sang all the songs and actually listened to the sermon (he usually does). The rest of the time he read, of course, but I didn't much care. He participated about seventy percent of the time, and that's not too bad for a sleepy, jaded twelve-year-old.

The Man, of course, looked awfully handsome, and it's always nice to share a pew with a handsome man.

This of course is a wonderful time to get back into the church habit. Advent is around the corner, after all. And I think it's really important for all of us to go as a family, for the boys to see their dad taking all the singing and praying seriously (which he does), good for them to see all these people coming from all over to worship together. As they get older, there may be lapses in their church-going--I say this as someone who skipped church for twenty-some years--but like so many people who went to church as children, they'll be pulled back in.

And fortunately, nothing I've read suggests that Jesus minds it all that much when a twelve-year-old boy shows up to church in a jacket with a ripped sleeve. It's the showing up that matters, as far as I can tell.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 12: Unpost

I have two seconds to write this. It is essentially an unpost, a non-post, a post non grata.

It's Saturday, and I've been shopping and cleaning all day. I went to the farmer's market and bought a whole chicken. It cost four dollars more than a whole chicken would have cost at the grocery store (specifically, what an organic whole chicken would cost). I think I can live with this. I would rather eat a happy chicken who had a happy life not too far from where I would live. I think it's worth four dollars to me. I'm going to ponder it some more.

I've been thinking a lot about meat lately. I like meat, and since I'm trying to keep a fairly low-carb diet, and furthermore since I seem to do better with a little extra protein, it would be hard to pull meat from my diet. But there are ethical concerns about how the animals are raised, and I've been thinking a lot about that over the last few years. As I said, I'm going to continue pondering. I'll let you know what I come up with.

I hope you have a good Saturday night. Saturdays in early winter are nice, when the cool weather still feels fresh and novel. Saturday nights in February and March are often sad. Well, maybe not for you. I hope not for you. I hope all your Saturday nights are alright for fightin'. Get a little action in. Etc. Et al. Goodbye.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 11

It is possible I'm running out of things to say. How about a random list of fascinating Frances facts?

1. I like eating mayonnaise, but I do not like seeing mayonnaise. Blobs of mayonnaise on the kitchen counter are particularly troubling.

2. I felt vaguely ill as I wrote the above sentence.

3. Once, when I was six or seven, my cat birthed a litter of kittens on my lap. I had no idea what was happening at the time, and I have yet to recover.

4. The first love of my life was Bobby Mudd. I was seven. He didn't know I was alive.

5. If I didn't dye my hair, it would be almost entirely gray.

6. When I see women my age (late 40s) who have entirely gray heads of hair, I think they look really cool.

7. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop dying my hair.

8. I am helpless in front of a bag Doritos.

9. It's only been in the last year or so that I've stopped wondering if the people in the pews around me at church think I'm a good singer.

10. This is only because it finally occurred to me that I'm really not that good of a singer.

Okay, that's it for this Friday night! See you tomorrow with more fascinating tidbits!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 10

I spent two hours cleaning Will's room today. It looks beautiful. The only problem with cleaning Will's room is it allows him to find his stuff again--his coin collection, his baseball card collection, his key chain collection. Yes, that's right, his key chain collection. He'd forgotten all about it! But now he remembers it! Because I uncovered it under all that junk.

So he's been a busy little bee all afternoon, exploring all the wonderful things his room holds, now that he can actually see them. He likes to take them off the shelves I've so carefully placed them on and ponder them, mix and match them, draw pictures of them, cut out the pictures and tape them to the wall, leaving little teeny tiny scraps of leftover paper on the floor. And so the cycle begins again.

That's Day 10 in a nutshell: My life on the Sisyphean Merry-Go-Round. Or escalator. What's the correct metaphor here? Whatever it is, I'm dizzy and need a cup of tea. More soon!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 9: Soup

That handsome man on the steps is the one and only Colin Firth AKA Mr. Darcy, who is sitting next to his co-star Emily Blunt. They're making a movie in Raleigh and were filming across the street from the Man's office. Since he knows I'm awfully fond of CF, he played the paparazzi for me and got this shot. Fun!


I made broccoli soup today, and it was good. The recipe called for light cream and nutmeg and swiss cheese. The nutmeg was an especially nice touch. I find myself throwing nutmeg and cinnamon into all kinds of things for a little kick. It's especially nice in the fall.

I'm not from a soup family, are you? My mother took a Chinese cooking class in the 70's and a French cooking class as well, so we occasionally had won ton soup or French onion soup, but my guess is my dad discouraged it. He definitely wasn't a soup guy. When my brothers and I were home on snowy days, my mom made Campbell's Tomato Soup, and when we were sick, we were served Campbell's Chicken and Noodle, or my favorite, Campbell's Chicken and Stars. What's the difference? Who knows, but the stars made me happy.

It wasn't until my roommate in grad school made me homemade chicken soup from scratch that I realized soup was something you could get excited about. That it could be a whole meal by itself. That it didn't have to be super salty, which canned soups almost always are.

Recently the fall weather has made me want to eat more soup; also, the glut of junky food that comes with Halloween and Will's birthday. Last week our house filled up with candy and cake and other junk, and although I tried to stay away as much as possible, I'm only human. So this week I felt an overwhelming desire to eat light. Not fat-free or low cal, but light--food that doesn't take up too much space, food that fills you up but doesn't have any aftershocks, the way that heavy and sugary things do.

So soup it is, and soup it will be. Soup is good, and soup is enough. Do you like soup, too? What's your favorite kind? When do you like to eat it? What's the best month for soup? Could it be November, or is February better?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 8: Just Posting to Post

Hello! I'm not sure what I have to tell you today. It's a beautiful day outside. Travis and I took a long walk this morning, and then I sat down to write for several hours. After lunch, I went to the bookstore to get the new Christopher Paolini book for Jack and picked up a book of vegetarian soup recipes for myself.

Then I lifted weights, walked some more around my neighborhood, and went to pick up Will. Now I'm home, and in a few minutes I'll leave to get Jack. When I get home, I will probably put the borders on my pinwheel quilt and make dinner.

I'm reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Euginedes--so far so good. I loved Middlesex. Reports are that this novel is not as good as Middlesex, but that's okay, because Middlesex was brilliant, and we can't expect novelists to always write brilliant books. It's unfair.

The Marriage Plot
is set in the early 1980s. In an early scene, a young woman and her parents are eating bagels at a cafe when the song "Tainted Love" comes on the radio. I remember that song. It was a very exciting and new kind of song in 1982. I was eighteen and lived for very exciting and new songs.

And that is all I have to tell you. Was it worth tuning in for? Don't answer that! But you could tell me what your favorite song in 1982 was. I'd be interested to know.

Monday, November 7, 2011


This weekend I went to a thrift store and picked up this pot for ten bucks. Then I came home and filled it with sticks. I love sticks. I may end up decorating my whole house with sticks.

It was, overall, a good weekend, though when I was on the treadmill at the gym on Saturday, I started panicking about the fact that our family doesn't do enough together. Lately, Jack lives in his room. Really, I think if we put a port-a-potty and a mini-fridge in there, he'd never come out. And there's no guarantee that family outings will go well, as one child is always miserably low on enthusiasm.

Here's the interesting thing: Whenever I start get worried about family life, or lack thereof, I can almost promise you the Man is also getting worried. We are usually in sync in this area (and many others). And Sunday afternoon, he was on it. He had Jack out in the yard messing around with the radio-operated helicopters, and Will working on a model car. And then Jack made two Key Lime pies to take to school today for his advisory group, which made me happy. Jack is very quiet and reserved, and I'm so glad he's found he can speak through pies. Everyone likes a boy who speaks through pies.

So it's not like we had a great family outing, but the boys were doing things that didn't involve screens, and Jack even spent time outside, which is always a miracle. So I felt better. I wish we were the sort of family that took happy camping trips together, but we don't. I wish my children were best of friends, but they're not. But they make pies and gingerbread (that was Will's baking project yesterday) and fly helicopters and build model cars, and that's good. I can live with that.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 6: Will My Attic Defeat Me?

I fear it will. It's like a wrestling match every time I go in there. There's one corner in particular that keeps me in a painful half-nelson, hissing at me in a menacing tone, "Do you give? Do you give?" This corner of my attic is populated by layer upon layer of toys that have broken or never worked in the first place (an expensive race track that lasted for two laps, for example) and boxes of school ephemera dating back to 2002. If only I had the wherewithal to chuck it all. None of it would be missed. No one even knows what's there.

I find it difficult to throw things away, not because I'm a hoarder, but because I'd rather recycle stuff than trash it. The problem is, I don't want to give away broken toys. Believing that one day a magic toymaker will come to my house and make everything good as new, I leave the broken- down things in my attic, where they breed with each other and make more broken-down things.

I need to throw the broken stuff away, don't I? Please make me. And convince me that a few math sheets and one spelling test saved from each year will suffice. I can take pictures of the art projects and then put the real deal in the recycling bin. Right? That's okay, isn't?

I'm taking a break from the attic for the day, but will get back to it tomorrow afternoon. A little bit at a time, one day at a time. No saying "Uncle." No rolling over and playing dead.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 5: Pinwheel Edition

Here is a picture of the quilt I'm working on right now. I just bought two beautiful pieces of fabric for the borders, which I hope to sew on this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or in the next couple of weeks ...

This is one of three quilts I'm making for Christmas presents (it's for my editor). I've finished the blocks for the second one (finished them last summer, actually; they've been lounging about waiting for me to do something with them ever since), and just ordered fabric for the third. Can I do it? Can I actually have three admittedly smallish quilts done by December 15th, in time to mail them?

Yes. If I completely forgo all housekeeping between now and then, I most certain can--and will--finish them. I may have to quit cooking, too. All in the name of Christmas love. My family will understand.

Okay, I'm off to eat lunch and then get to work on the attic. And then go to the gym. And then work on quilts.

Notice how cleaning the bathrooms does not make an appearance on that list? The bathrooms are on their own this weekend. And every weekend, for that matter.

Really, if you ever come over to my house, stay out of the bathrooms. Really. I mean it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 4: Report Card Report

I'm almost disappointed to tell you that Jack's report card was good. All A's and one B- (French). I feel this report card doesn't adequately reflect his bad attitude and lack of effort. It doesn't reflect all the time he spends reading online gaming forums instead of real literature. It doesn't reflect how miserable he's been making us all fall. Sigh.

You know what I think Jack's report card reflects? The fact that Jack is a quiet and well-behaved child. This is a rare thing in a seventh grade boy, and Jack is getting rewarded for it. Several teachers' comments referred to the fact that Jack never presents a discipline problem in class. They don't care that he's rushing through his homework so he can play World of Warcraft. All they care about is that he's not popping bra straps while they're calling roll.

Anyway, I'm looking for creative ways to punish Jack in spite of his good grades. Let me know if you have any ideas.

***

Weekend! What are you doing? I'm going to be working on some quilts and knitting and maybe, yes, working in the attic. Here's my plan: I'm going to go to Home Depot and buy five brand spanking new boxes, and then I'm going to fill them up with attic junk. There is a charity pick-up scheduled for next week; all I have to do is call the organization and tell them I'm leaving five brand spanking new boxes on the front porch, and they'll come get them.

So you see, I haven't given up my dream of a Pristine Attic. The high temperatures of summer just put it on hold. But I'm back, baby, I'm back, so watch out attic! I'm comin' after ya.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 3

I'm afraid I'm going to forget to blog on the weekends, when I have a different routine. Remind me, will you?

***

Okay, so Day 3 of this blogging juggernaut. Thanks to Tracy for her succinct definition of the word "druthers"--it is essentially a very contract contraction of "would rather," as in "what would you rather have, applesauce or chocolate cake?" (Cake, please).

I've received disappointing news from Angela: It is illegal for her to send me sausages from the UK. Apparently, they comprise a terrorist threat. She did ever so kindly send me pictures of what real sausages--"bangers" I believe is the proper term--look like, and that is helpful. Okay, they sort of look like hot dogs, but that can't be right, can it? My friend Kathryn, who is from Belfast, made me real sausages once, and they were nothing like hot dogs. They were like heaven. They were my druthers.

***

I'm reading a marvelous book called Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating by Norman Wirzba. The chapter I'm now is entitled "Life Through Death: Sacrificial Eating." There's a lot in this chapter about living sacrificially, that is making your life a gift to others. I'm very bad at sacrificial living. I'm self-absorbed and self-centered and like to do what I want to do, not what other people want to do. Motherhood tends to balance these tendencies out somewhat, but nevertheless, most days I come up short.

So I've been looking for ways to live more sacrificially, and yesterday I decided to do this by playing checkers with Will. I didn't want to play checkers. I wanted to work on the quilt I'm making for my editor (pictures soon). But Will was downstairs at loose ends, so I thought I'd give of myself, give of the very inner core of my being, and ask if he was up for a game. Of course he was, as Will is always up for a game of checkers.

I could have told you before I even sat down it would be a terrible game. First of all, that's always the way when I try any sort of abnormal sacrificial giving for my kids. Folding their laundry, cooking their dinners, making their beds--never any problems there. But whenever I think "I'm going to do something nice for my children, something special," it almost always backfires.

And this was true with my checkers game with Will, because Will is coming off a long birthday weekend, in which he went to a big football game and had a sleepover and collected tons of candy on Halloween (which is his official birthday, by the way), and he's cranky and out of sorts. So our game ended in tears (his, not mine) and vows to never play checkers again and stomping off up the stairs (Will, not me).

So much for sacrificial giving via the checkerboard. I will have to find another way to give sacrificially. Maybe make chocolate chip cookies? Because that would be an awfully big sacrifice on my part. Really mammoth sacrifice. One for the ages. Hmmm ...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 2

Ta da! Will's quilt!


For those of you keeping score at home, this is Day 2 of my month-long daily blogging experiment. If you haven't read yesterday's entry, please do so now, especially if you're Angela, who may have no idea that she's supposed to send me sausages at the end of the month.

It's a beautiful autumn day here in lovely North Carolina. Sometimes I'm torn between Spring and Fall: which is my favorite? It occurred to me today that we tend to get longer stretches of loveliness in the fall. Our springs are gorgeous, but they heat up quickly.

Did I mention that I organized Will's classroom Halloween party this year? Yep, I did. Will's teacher is new to Our Fine School and has been a little taken aback by our party atmosphere. We will party at the drop of a dime at Our Fine School, and Halloween is the biggest party of them all. When I asked Mr. B what his druthers were, he begged me to keep the sugar to a minimum, which I thought was an excellent idea, and so we did. One of our activities was donut races, it's true, but that was the big sugar event of the party.

Other than that, we had mummy races, where the kids wrapped each other up in toilet paper--a huge hit, by the way--and pumpkin decorating, and Halloween story writing (my idea, and less of a big hit, but pedagogically speaking, quite sound), and a spider making activity. It was all good fun, and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves.

Here's the trick to having a good classroom Halloween party: Get dads on your party committee. First of all, it's good to have a male presence in the classroom; it keeps kids on their toes. Second of all, the dads totally lack that Martha Stewart impulse which makes some folks use the annual Halloween party as a way to exorcise all their decorating demons. So we had tablecloths and balloons, but that was it for decorations, and it was great. Other classrooms were the Taj Mahals of Halloween. They were glorious, sumptuous, absolutely aflutter with Halloween spirit. But, you know, who has the time? Or the money? And if you're decorating on this level for the third grade Halloween party, what's the Sweet Sixteen going to be like? Outrageous. And silly.

So it was a good party. And later that day, at pick-up, Mr. B pulled me aside and said that the other third grade teachers spent the lunch hour moaning and groaning about how wild their kids had been, how out of control. His was the only classroom where the kids had had a rollicking good time, but didn't self-destruct. So the party was a success, all is well, and Halloween is done until next year. Thank goodness.

Okay, tune in tomorrow to read more scintillating tales! I'll be here--will you?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crazy Idea

Will, taken a couple of weeks ago. He looks like a little boy in this picture with his rosy lips, but yesterday he turned nine. Nine!

I'm thinking about posting every day in November, just to do it. Just to see if I can do it. I've been very sporadic in my blogging this fall, and I haven't meant to be. It's just been that sort of fall so far. But now I'm ready to settle down. I don't have any travels, any school commitments, any anything except a life to live here on the homefront.

I've been going to the gym, so I could write about that. Mostly I work out on the elipticals and lift weights. I find the elipticals more or less boring after fifteen minutes, but I love weight-lifting. I find it very meditative, to breathe through my nose and pretend to be strong. The funny thing is that I have no upper-body strength whatsoever. I sit down at a machine and have to move the weight key to the lowest, lowest weight. Like, one-tenth of a pound or something. It makes me giggle. I'm like the before-picture in the old Charles Atlas ad, except chubby.

Or I could write about how we've decided to stay put in this house for the next ten years, even though we don't love it. We like it a lot, but it's not our dream house. Still, it's close to the boys' schools and we have nice neighbors and the only backyard in a twenty-mile radius that gets at least six hours of full sun a day in the summer. Woodsy around here, is what I'm saying. So I guess we better hunker down and get out the DIY manuals and start saving up for a new oven, as I have the worst oven in the developed world. Tiniest oven ever, and horrible for roasting things in. An Easy-Bake oven would be better.

Jack's report card comes home next week. That should provide fodder for several days' worth of blogging. I think it will be an eye-opener. I predict straight B's at best. But could it be worse? It might be. Stay tuned.

So let's give it a whirl. We'll see if I can do it. If I do, what's my prize? What will you give me if I blog every day for the month of November? Think about this. I think Angela should give me sausages, since her blog has essentially become sausage central. Pom Pom could give me a pixie. Jody could give me a sheep. Really, you all have something to offer. Let's make this blogging thing worthy my while!

Okay, I'm getting silly again. Back tomorrow with pictures of Will's quilt, which I finally finished. Amazing!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Driving and Smiling

Shovel. Photo by the Man, taken on his new iPhone using some sort of funky filter app that makes your pictures look like Polaroid shots.

I can be a pretty snarky driver in the morning. It's hard not to be when dropping off children at Our Fine School, with its signs posted every five feet that announce "This is a Cell Phone-Free Zone! Please hang up your phone so you don't run anyone over, you moron!" (or something to that effect), and all the moms in their SUVs chatting away on their cell phones.

That gets my goat, and I feel I must express the fact that my goat's been gotten. The boys think I'm hilarious, but I suspect I'm not setting a good example. I've written about this before, I think, and I still haven't mastered myself.

So today I tried something new. I plastered a smile on my face and kept it there. It felt really weird. I've read that if you want to cheer yourself up, just smile, and there seems to be some truth to this. I felt oddly cheerful and full of good will. I also felt somewhat medicated in a Stepford Wives sort of way.

Sadly, my happy smiley feeling did not stop me from wanting to plow down the guy in his tiny MG who whipped around me in the drop-off line to get a prime piece of curb territory. No smiles for Mr. Mid-Life Crisis, no sirree bob.

***

I'm fighting off a cold. I've been taking zinc lozenges that are supposed to lessen and shorten my cold symptoms, and they seem to be doing the trick. I expected to wake up this morning feeling horrible, but I actually felt fine, aside from the fact that I couldn't breathe with my mouth closed.

I think that's it for now. I am smiling as I write this. It makes me like you very much.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Report

Who am I? Do you recognize this bird? It's got some of the markings of a thrush, but that red spot is distracting. Help! Photo Credit: The Man


I have joined a gym. In fact, I'm just back from a session where I learned how to use the various weight machines. Given that my arms are little more than limp noodles dangling from my shoulders right now, it's quite remarkable that I'm able to write this entry.

I've joined a gym because I'd like to lose twenty pounds, and though I walk Travis five mornings a week for forty-five minutes, it's not much of a workout. We meander. We ramble. We pause often to mark fire hydrants and mail boxes with our personal scents. Well, at least one of us does.

So off to the gym it is! I have to tell you, there's a secret part of me that dreams of being Super Workout Woman with lots of muscles and incredible endurance. Believe me, that would be total makeover. Of course, when I envision myself as Super Workout Woman, I'm always about 5' 10", lithe and lean. In real life, I'm 5'4" and highwaisted and sort of chesty. I could lose thirty pounds and none of that would change.

Anyway, even if I don't turn into Super Workout Woman, I'm pretty sure I'm going to turn into one of those babes who wears workout clothes wherever she goes, because, honey, they are comfortable as all get out.

The best thing about my gym? It's not really a gym. It's the fitness center in the new Jewish Community Center, which is just a hop and a skip from my house. When I go to work out, it's me and a lot of other middle aged folks with creaky knees. No pounding music. No young bucks. It's the most peaceful gym I've ever been to.

I'll keep you updated on my progress, and will definitely let you know if I get any taller. In the meantime, I hope you have a lovely weekend and that I'll regain the full use of my arms before it's time to fix lunch.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How Do You Slow This Thing Down?

I was looking for a picture to give this post some color. Here's an old one of Jack taken on my MacBook. I'm looking forward to the day when he's in a smiling mood again ...

I love the autumn months, but they always seem to speed by so fast. I've got one thing, and then the next and the next, and they're all wonderful things. They're lunches and walks and coffee with friends. They're working on quilts and books and sketchbooks. They're online classes on design and creativity and in-person classes on food and theology. It's all good, and it's all a bit too much.

***

So do you have your Christmas shopping done yet?

***

I'm giving a speech at a conference on Sunday, so the last few days I've been walking around the living room, talking to the dog. The dog naps through it. Is this a bad sign?

***

Can you tell I'm feeling silly? I just wanted to post a post and say hello. To say life is good, but I wish I could slow it down a little bit.

***

The online class I'm taking is called The Artist's Toolbox. It's through Quilt University and taught by the reknowned art quilter Lyric Kinnaird. It's a process sort of class, and it's good for me to be creative for creativity's sake.

A friend and I were talking recently about journey people v. goal people. My friend is a journey person. She's interested in what happens as she walks down the road and isn't so concerned where the road is leading. I'm a goal person. I like to know where I'm going and what's going to happen when I get there. There are benefits and drawbacks to both ways. And sometimes you can be a journey person and set goals, and sometimes we goal-oriented folks do stuff just for the heck of it. But it's hard for us.

It was hard for me today to sit in a cafe and draw textured wallpaper, but that was my assignment (to draw something textured) and so I did it. Just to do it. No goal, no grade, no finished product other than a piece of paper with a lot of hashmarks signifying texture.

I don't know how I feel about that.

***

Here's what I feel good about: The fall garden! The Man has planted spinach, lettuce, and collards. He's ordered bok choy and garlic. We long for broccoli, but have had icky experiences with green broccoli worms that you're lucky to catch sight of right before you put the broccoli in your mouth. So no broccoli for us.

***

I guess that's it. Just stoppin' in to say hey, as we say down here. Hey. Now you are free to go back and look at colorful Jack. He is a lovely boy, isn't he? He got an A on last week's history test. Yesterday he laughed at one of my jokes. I guess we'll keep him after all.

***

ETA: Pom Pom was surprised to hear that I'm a goal person. It is surprising! It might be easier to think about it like this: I'm a project person, and I tend to finish my projects (even my knitting projects, except for the ones I give up on because there's no use going on). Really, I'm the sort of girl who needs a carrot dangling in front of me. It's the only way I get things done. Also, setting goals gets me energized. I love the process of doing things, and I'm not at all about doing things perfectly, so I'm not Type A. But I do like having a goal to work toward. It's because I spent the first twenty-seven years of my life being absolutely worthless. Now I'm self-correcting!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Odds and Ends

Some of the leaves Will and I found in our travels.
Photo credit: The Man.



What I meant to write: "Her skin was flecked with little pieces of grass."

What I accidentally wrote instead: "Her skin was flecked with little pieces of grace."

***

There were ten million things I was going to accomplish this morning, but here it is almost noon, and mostly I've been fooling around. I've been writing a picture book manuscript for no unearthly reason. I don't write picture books. But this morning I had an idea, so I started playing with it. It reminded me of writing a poem.

I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but I used to write poems. I have a graduate degree in poetry writing. I love poetry and poems, but for some reason, in my mid-twenties, I found it too hard to do anymore. I don't know why. I went to a therapist to talk about it. She said maybe I would write poems again later. Maybe there was something else I needed to be doing at that very moment. She said not to be too hard on myself.

She was a good therapist. Shortly after I finished my sessions with her, I started writing children's books, and that's worked out well for me.

But I miss writing poems. I miss polishing sentences and playing with words that way. So writing a very small story this morning was nice. It reminded me of the kind of fun I used to have writing poetry, minus the cigarettes.

***

Nothing going on this weekend. Nothing going on this weekend! And it's going to be a beautiful sixty-five degrees. I think I'll be taking some walks. And buying new walking shoes for the 5K I'm doing in a few weeks. I'll be sniffing the air a lot, and finishing up the sweater I'm knitting. And making spaghetti pie for Jack's youth group on Sunday. And reminding Jack to make pumpkin pie.

***

And who knows? Maybe I'll get an idea for a poem. It could happen.

What are you going to do?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where Did Last Week Go?

(Last Sunday, Will and I took a walk with the goal of finding ten interesting things. We called this stick we found "Singing Opera Lady." Photo credit: The Man)


It is a strange thing to lose an entire week. Where did it go? Is it hiding under the couch? Did the dog chew it into little pieces?

I have no answers. What I know for sure: I did a school visit. I didn't do much cleaning. I wrote in the mornings. The weather was wet, humid and gloomy, inviting armies of mushrooms to invade my front yard.

What happened to last week? What happened to fall? Where is my cool, crisp air? Why are mushrooms so disgusting?

The funnest thing I did last week was make lists of interesting things I saw throughout the day. This is a good exercise if you feel a need for minor league delight. Given the icky mushrooms in my yard, I needed all the delight I could get. It takes a lot of delight to counteract a mushroom attack.

Some of the things I saw as I made my way through the week that disappeared:

1. A periwinkle blue mailbox.

2. A private street sign that read "Blue Dog Road." (Isn't that a great street name? I wish I lived there.)

3. A little girl on Our Fine School's playground twirling around in a red, sparkly skirt.

4. A license plate that read "FishFndr." Is that Fish Finder? Or Fish Funder? Or maybe Fish Founder?

5. A woman wearing big curlers walking her dog.

6. A crow eating a potato chip.

These are not especially amazing sights, but they cheered me up and made me glad I'd taken the time to look around. Did you know there's a carport in my neighborhood with a chandelier hanging from the ceiling? I've walked past this carport over a hundred times in the last few years, but only noticed the chandelier last week, and only because I was actively looking around, wanting the world to delight me, if only for five minutes.

So that's sort of what happened to last week, that and mushrooms and really bad allergies that made me feel sleepy all the time.

I am going to leave you with the last stanza of one of my favorite poems, "I Am Waiting" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. If you want to read the whole poem, you can go here.

(And don't worry, this week doesn't seem to be going anywhere. I guess it likes it here.)


I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am waiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Thursday, September 15, 2011

All a Boy Wants

This is the quilt I'm making for Will. All that's left to do is the actual quilting. Will picked out the pattern from the book Layer Cake, Jelly Roll and Charm Quilts by Pam and Nicki Lintott. This is the third quilt I've made from this book--it's a marvelous collection!


Tomorrow is "No Nag Friday," my favorite day of the week. On Fridays I don't remind Jack to brush his teeth or floss, I don't boot him into the shower, I don't even tell him to get off the computer when he's been on there way too long. I take Fridays off, and it feels great.

Interestingly enough, he seems happy about it, too.

Jack's favorite thing to tell me right now is, "I just want to do what I want to do." Which of course makes me laugh and laugh. Oh, honey, I think. Oh, little baby sweetie pie. Your days of getting to do what you want to do are so over. You're twelve. You don't even have any good Christmases left. You're going to start getting shirts and wallets for Christmas. You're going to get pajamas.

Oh, where is Santa Claus when you need him?

I just want to do what I want to do
. Well, that's true for all of us, I suppose. And growing up is one long lesson in realizing that you get to do what you want to do after you do your homework and study for your Latin quiz, after you walk the dog and call your grandmother and go to youth group and make polite conversation at the dinner table and floss your teeth. In the ten minutes that are left of your day, you get to do what you want to do. Ain't life grand?

I should be honest here: I had very little self-discipline until I was in my late twenties. For much of my life, all I wanted to do was read, and that's pretty much all I did. I did what I wanted to do, and for the most part my grades reflected that. Sometimes when I worry about Jack, I remember my twelve-year-self and think, "He's not half the idiot you were."

And that's why I don't nag him on Fridays.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Alphabet of Dreams

(I made these kitchen curtains in July. If you click on the picture, you can better see my barnyard animals, which are there so I can pretend I live on a farm. A tiny, tiny farm.)

Today I rearranged our bedroom furniture. Which is to say, I've tipped the first domino. Now that the bed is in a pleasing new spot, we will have no choice but to a) paint the bedroom; b) go back to IKEA and buy the other chest of drawers to match the lovely dresser we bought in August; c) replace the bathroom sink and mirror; d) put in a new bathroom floor; and e)paint the bathroom.

Then we will naturally want our bedroom to be extra neat at all times, so we will f) weed out all the clothes we haven't worn in over a year and sweep all the dust bunnies out of the closet. Peeking into the hallway we will be overcome by the desire to g) organize the linen closet; h) put my office closet to rights; and i) take boxes of boxes of books to the library donation bin.

By this time the weather will have cooled, at which point I will go back into the attic and j) sort through all the games and puzzles and donate 98% of them to Good Will; k) go through all the last day of school bags the boys have brought home over the years, replete with math folders and paper mache moons, bags I've chucked into the attic with the thought that I'd make lovely scrapbooks out of their contents (it will never happen); l) make an honest effort to go through the bins of fabric and table cloths and sheets and honestly assess how much, if any, of it I'll use; and m) burn all the Lego.

Okay, that's only half the alphabet, but you get the idea. I have been bitten by the organize/makeover/make lovely bug. It's a fall thing, I think, even though we haven't had any true fall weather, aside from a few mornings that have been pleasantly cool. I have gotten two books out of the library about organizing and unstuffing and decluttering. One of them is taking a very psychological angle, giving quizzes and asking me about my values. Really what I'm looking for is a stern taskmaster to say, "You haven't worn that skirt in five years, and you've gained twenty pounds since then--out with it!"

I will keep you abreast of my progress. It might not always be pretty, but at the end of it, my life will be totally perfect. I know!--I can't wait, either!

***

Today I picked up a copy of Where Women Create. Have you ever read it? Essentially each issue profiles ten or fifteen women artists and crafters and shows lots of yummy photos of their studios. I normally don't buy this--it's way too expensive--but I thought it might be inspiring, given my current mood, and besides, one of the profiles is of the artist Susan Branch, whose blog I found via Pom Pom. It's quite wonderful and cozy and homey, as is Susan's art, and I enjoyed her profile very much.

I mention this because I know we have several Susan Branch fans in our midst, so if anyone wants to borrow the magazine, please let me know. We can even do a round-robin. It really is a fun magazine to look at, and I'm happy to share. Drop me a comment if you're interested.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Buddha Goes to School

Last week I forgot that I was a Buddhist.

Instead of being an impassioned, detached observer, I lost my head and thought I could control things. All I had to do was post lists of rules, yell a lot, and keep my nagging at a constant and steady rate.

Have you ever lived with a twelve-year-old boy? I know many of you reading this have, and so you have felt my pain. Try getting a twelve-year-old out of bed in the morning, especially one who spent the summer sleeping until noon. Try getting him fed, clothed and into the car by 7:40. Try making him floss his teeth.

Oh, Lord, try making that child floss his teeth.

Well, I tried. I nagged. I lost it. And then I gave up. Here's what I have had to tell myself: I can't make Jack happy. I can't make him organized. I can make him turn off his lights at night, but I can't actually make him fall asleep.

What I can do is make him suffer. Er, I mean make him suffer the consequences of his own actions. If he oversleeps, he gets to school late. If he doesn't do his homework, he'll get bad grades. If he gets bad grades, his computer will be taken away from him until his grades come up.

My problem is that I'm afraid. I'm afraid my very bright twelve-year-old son will end up living in a basement apartment with stained wall-to-wall carpet, surviving on bowls of dry cornflakes. The only light will be from the glow of his computer, where he spends all his waking hours playing World of Warcraft. He never bathes, and his breath is so toxic moths who get too close flutter to their deaths.

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. I really fear this.

Still, what I know for sure is that nagging doesn't really work in the long run, and yelling doesn't do a thing but make everybody upset. I yelled at Jack on Monday, and it ruined the rest of the day for both of us. So no more yelling, no more nagging.

That's why, when Jack was doing his French homework in the car this morning, even though he'd told me last night he'd finished all of his homework, I didn't say a word. Didn't mention that children who want to go to Harvard (which is where Jack says he wants to go) tend to get their homework on time and do the extra credit. I didn't take away his computer time or threaten to throw his iPod out the window.

I just drove calmly on and, loving mother that I am, hoped he wouldn't finish it in time.

Let his French teacher nag him. Me, I'm done with all that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Report No. 6: Back to School

Frankly, we are all worn out.

In a blink of an eye we went from being the laziest people on the face of the planet to being A Family on the Go. Yesterday was Open House at Our Fine Schools, and I managed to get through both sessions without saying anything too outrageously stupid. In fact, I'm proud to report that I only said moderately stupid things all day. It helped that during Our Fine Middle School's open house I hid in the library with my friend the middle school librarian the whole time.

I'd planned to spend this morning writing, and I did write some, but mostly I felt sleepy. I yawned a lot. I kept waiting to be interrupted. It was very quiet.

After lunch I drank a cup of coffee and sat down to a good writing session. I was writing up a storm. I was getting 'er done, son. And then, suddenly, WHAM! A bomb exploded. A helicopter landed on our roof. An army kicked down the backdoor.

Whenever this sort of thing happens to me, my first response is to, well, panic. So that's what I did, but quietly, and with great dignity. Then I walked around for a few minutes trying to figure out why my house was shaking. Finally, I got my act together, grabbed the dog and the phone and headed outside.

The thought crossed my mind that we'd had an earthquake, but this is North Carolina and we don't have earthquakes here. After I'd walked around the yard and ascertained that there was no S.W.A.T. team on my roof, I went back inside and sat around feeling freaked out. What on earth had just happened?

A few minutes later, Sarah called. "Did you just have an earthquake over there?" she asked. As it happened, she'd had an earthquake at her house, too. I felt hugely relieved. All of Durham was having an earthquake--it wasn't just me having my own private earthquake!

Turns out the whole eastern seaboard had had an earthquake. You may have read about it in the paper. If you live in California, you've probably spent most of the day rolling your eyes. Don't get snarky with me, you California people! Let's just see you drive in snow! (Okay, I can't really drive in snow, either, but still; snarky people just peeve me.)

So that was the first day of school. Both of the boys seemed to have had a good day. They both had homework, which is how I like it. Will fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, which is how I like it even more. Neither of them felt the earthquake. Sensitive little fellers.

That's it for me. I guess this is my last summer report. I thought it was funny that nobody commented on my last post that they were ready for fall, too (Tracy was too polite to point that she lives in Australia, where it's no where near close to fall). This morning when I took Travis for his walk, it was cool, almost crisp. I'm readier than ever. Bring it on.

I hope it stays summer (or winter) where you are for as long as you want it to.