Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Family Night

(Because it's fun to lay out the pieces of the quilt I'm making
on the floor and watch the dog walk all over them
even after I've told him a million times not to ...

Tomorrow is International Family Night at Our Fine School. It is not a night for international families, but rather a family night with an international theme. The evening starts with dinner and ends in the gym, where a plethora of international delights will be on display. I don't know what said delights will be. I imagine they will involve lots Plaster of Paris and a few dozen informational posters with pictures of the Eiffel Tower drawn on them in purple marker.

International family night is an annual event at Our Fine School, and in the seven years that our family has been sending its youngest members to matriculate, we have yet to attend. It's not that we're not international types, it's more that ... well, we don't have anybody to sit with.

Isn't that sad? We are most poorly socialized people I've ever met. Oh, the boys are fine. It's me and the Man. The idea of walking into a room with our plates of spaghetti and garlic bread and scanning the room for a friendly face ... oh, it's too much. It's just too, too much.


The good news is, Will no longer seems so sad. Although given the gloomy weather we've been having, I can't imagine why not. We're in the middle of a week of rain and cloudy skies. My garden buzz is gone. My chocolate buzz is full-on.


I'm really just checking in. It's a quiet sort of week. I'm revising a novel and doing laundry and working on a quilt that seems to be more or less making itself. I'm writing letters. Is this the stuff of blogging? It would be if I could tell a story about it. But it's raining and the dishes are calling. No stories here. Just chocolate.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

All of the Second Graders Are Sad

(The view from my bedroom window. Aren't those blooms amazing?)

We don't know why the second graders are sad. They have been asked, but they aren't telling.

At first I thought it was just Will, and I was worried. The Big Sadness runs in my family. It hits some members harder than others, and mostly manifests itself first thing in the morning. I have dealt with it all my life, and am happy to report that having a dog has helped enormously. But I worry about my children. Will they get it, too?

For the last week, Will has been quick to anger, a fast-draw on the pout, easily moved to tears, and a little bit on the irrational side. I've asked him if something was wrong at school, but he says no. Did anything happen at recess, at lacrosse practice, when he was over at a friend's? No, no, no.

Do you think it's just that you're tired, I ask, and he says maybe that's it.

So I've been worried. And then I talked to my friend Sarah, and her second grader is sad, too. Not only that, she talked to another mom--same thing. Sad second grader.

Is it the time change? The increased pollen count? No one knows.

(Oh, by the way, I finally finished that quilt I started last summer.)

Now that I know that it's not just Will, but that all the second graders are sad, I feel better. Perplexed, but better. Yet and still, what could it be? What is it about spring and being eight, or very close to eight, that would have you mopey and prone to crying?

(Did I mention that I machine-quilted this quilt? All on
my own? By myself?

There are no answers here. Just questions. Just mysteries.

Oh, and I finished a quilt. Did I mention that?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gardens, etc.

(Overlooking the valley from Monticello's gardens)

It's 10:23; already the morning is getting away from me. I'm sitting on the back porch and listening to the chatter of birds and the racket of machinery down the street--someone is having a tree cut down. The yard is a mess. We're about to build the new beds, so lumber and shovels and hoes and rakes and hoses are everywhere. I'm happy to report that my sugar snaps and green peas are growing like crazy in what I've started calling "The Little Garden." I'm building them trellises to climb on.

There's lots to write about, but it would all come out hodgepodge. I'm in the process of planting seeds in containers--sweet peas and bluebells, for starters--so I can have flowers growing against the garage wall. The dirt next to the garage is no good, so containers it is. I've also started seeds in eggshells; they're in the downstairs bathroom getting their little starts on life. They're heirloom seeds I ordered from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds out in Missouri. Zinnia, 4 O'Clocks and Canterbury Bells.

I've always wanted to grow flowers, but have always been lacking in something or another--land, money, time, direct sun. This year I have enough of what I need to get started. Start small, they say, and I'm trying. I want to plant everything, of course. A packet of seeds cost $2; why not buy the whole catalog?

So there's the garden to write about, and the quilt I'm almost finished with. This morning I scouted out the laundromat near my grocery store for oversized washing machines, which they have and cost $5.50 a load! Ah, the price one pays for beauty. Then I went to the library and picked up more books about gardening. I'm supposed to be working on a revision of a new book, but I just want to read about flowers and watch my peas grow.

I have been working on mastering myself during morning drop-off at Our Fine School. Remember how in Little Women the girls all thought of themselves as pilgrims on the path to Paradise? They had burdens to carry (Jo's, if I recall, was the fact that she was a girl) and things about themselves they needed to master--bad tempers (Jo), vanity (Amy), and the like. I don't think this is the paradigm most people live their lives by anymore. We're too busy trying to lose weight and get into great physical shape. But we're very accepting of our greed and lust and bad tempers. It's funny. I read somewhere that we've turned the seven deadly sins into virtues, and I think it's true.

Anyway, I have a very bad attitude at morning drop-off. I could justify it by saying that everyone but me drives like a total idiot, and that's true enough, but when one is trying to master oneself, self-justification might not be the best route to take.

Sadly, I'm so much like St. Paul, always doing what I would not do, and failing to do what I would. Yesterday, as I took the right turn onto campus, I told myself I would only think loving, kind thoughts about my fellow drivers, and I did such a good job--until I just couldn't stand it anymore and yelled, "Move it, sweetie!" at some hussy in a Ford Explorer. Sigh. She couldn't hear me, but still. My words were not said with love.

Today I tried a breathing exercise. "Breathe in God, breathe out irritation. Breathe in God, breathe out resentment." Etc. That seemed to work fairly well, and I'll try it again tomorrow.

So that's where I am right now. Expect lots more garden talk in the upcoming weeks--and hopefully pictures as well. I was planting some seeds yesterday and thought, "Oh, my goodness, I'm turning into a little old lady." But you know, I don't think that's such a terrible thing to be, do you?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Back from Monticello

(Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden, very early spring)

Ah, it was grand. Chilly, windy, but grand all the same. We toured the house, which was lovely and filled with interesting things, as Thomas Jefferson was a man possessed of an interesting mind, and then we toured the grounds. Not much in the way of flowers this time of year, but the early vegetable gardens were inspiring. On our way out, we stopped at the gift store and bought packets of seeds.

You leave Monticello feeling larger than when you came. Maybe that's what happens when you've spent time in the presence of genius--or, in this case, genius preserved. What I love about Jefferson is that he was a man who invested his considerable intelligence and passion for life in everyday things. He cared about food and he cared about gardens. He thought--and thought and thought--about houses and rooms and windows. He worked on Monticello, which he designed and redesigned, his entire life.

Of course, it's impossible to tour Monticello and not think about the slaves, who were the ones who cooked Jefferson's famous French cuisine (he took one of his slaves with him to Paris--James Hemings, I think--so he could learn the french style of cooking) and built and rebuilt his house and worked in the garden. Maybe that's why the slave quarters were to me the most fascinating part of the house. That's where the real work of the house got done. And everything was done--cloth was woven, buttons were made, butter churned, nails forged--right there. Monticello was a world unto itself.

When we got home, the Man and I spent the weekend expanding our garden plans and ordering blackberry bushes and planting seeds in peat pods. I was almost inspired to organize the attic, but at the last minute decided to take a nap instead.


It is a gloomy Wednesday. We've had a beautiful 2011 so far, lots of clear skies and warm days, but the last week or so the more typical late winter weather has set in--cool temperatures, cloudy skies, rain. We need the rain, so I'm trying not to get too mopey about it. Besides, tomorrow it's supposed to be sunny and 70 degrees. Help is on the way!

In my garden, the sugar snaps, green peas, spinach and lettuce are all popping up, and we've got six or seven varieties of tomatoes under the grow-lamp in the kitchen. It's all very fecund around here. Birds everywhere. Sentinels of spring, I hope!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not so Much a Post, More Like a Letter

Dear Friends,

Goodness me, where am I? It's the boys' spring break, which means it's the first rainy, gloomy week we've had all year. I started it out with a stomach bug, but it wasn't too bad, and I'm better now. It gave me the excuse to spend Sunday watching "Downton Abbey" from beginning to end, a virtual and visual feast for the anglophile that I am.

Oh, my dears! If you haven't watched this, you must! You can download it instantly from Netflix. Wonderful period piece--England, right before World War I, Jane Austen-esque in its premise--landed gentry, a family of daughters, who will inherit everything? Not that horrible distant third cousin? Oh, no!

(But perhaps he's not so horrible after all?)

Watching "Downton Abbey," I was beset with letter lust. A footman walks into breakfast bearing a silver tray piled with mail. "First post, my lady," he says. Which suggests there will be a second post--and who knows, maybe a third. All those letters, folded into their lovely, small envelopes. I was salivating!

I have been reading collections of letters, which I enjoy, especially when you have both sides of the correspondence. I'm almost through with As Always, Julia, the correspondence between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. It's wonderful, and has had me running to my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking again and again. You should taste my scrambled eggs!

I'm also dipping into Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, which contains the correspondence between Katharine White (wife of E.B.) and Elizabeth Lawrence, a well known garden writer and native North Carolinian. It's a perfect book for this time of year and should be read with the latest copy of the White Flower Farm catalog by your side. Oh, I have big dreams of flower beds this year.

We're off to Monticello with the boys this afternoon. I've been studying Thomas Jefferson with Will, in effort to make sure he'll get something out of the trip, and now I'm eager to see the old place myself. I spent some childhood years in Charlottesville, and I'm looking forward to driving out to see my old house. As an Army brat, I don't have a lot of opportunities to go back to my childhood haunts.

So that's it for now. I hope this finds you well and enjoying the first glimmers of spring.

Yours ever,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Invisibility--Some Thoughts

A couple of years ago I was driven around suburban Chicago by a book sales rep in her mid-fifties. She had a funky salt and pepper crew cut and wore cool Wilma Flintstone beads, a crisp white shirt, black trousers, and comfortable flats.

I told her how much I liked her hair, and she told me it was her post-cancer 'doo. Before breast cancer, she'd had long, flowing locks, but once chemo made it all fall out, she'd said to hell with it. The fact is, she told me, once you're fifty, you're invisible. Nobody sees you anymore, and it's liberating. Why bother spending thirty minutes every morning doing your hair? Why ruin your feet with stilettos?

Mind you, she was attractive, her clothes fit well, she looked great. "I dress for my friends," she said. "We dress for each other. It's more fun that way."

As I said in my last post, I, too, have joined the ranks of the invisible, and I don't mind a bit. In fact, I never liked being looked at. Some of this, I'm sure, stems from having a father who was always checking out women in a way that made me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. You can do the Freudian math on that one. And I'm a self-conscious person in general, so the last thing I need is a lot of eyes looking me up and down.

Besides, for a natural born people-watcher, invisibility rocks. It is the state that you aspire to.


Lately I've been putting a lot of product in my hair and making it stick out all over, sort of like Laurie Anderson in the early '80s. When you're invisible you can do this. You make your hair stick out, you put on your cowboy boots, you get in your minivan, and you turn up the music really loud. I probably won't dye my hair red, though some might consider that the logical next step.


I see some women fighting their impending invisibility tooth and nail. There are some moms at Our Fine School, attractive women, in great shape who are over forty and in big-time rebellion. They dress like they're twenty-two, wear skirts like they're eighteen, have long hair and very perky bosoms. They look scared to me. I want to take them aside and say, "It's okay. You needed to develop some hobbies anyway. Let's go get you a library card."

The rewards for being good-looking are so great, but it's like a career as a professional athlete. Sooner or later you've got to buy the car dealership and get on with your life, accept the fact that there are younger kids coming up behind you, and they're fast and really good, and no one's looking at you anymore.


One more thing about that sales rep I met in Chicago--her husband's seventy, a retired cop. He thinks she's a hot, young babe. All you need is one person whose eyes light up when you walk into the room. The rest is gravy.