Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Home All Day!

Rubber duckies! I took this picture on the Hillsborough (NC) Historic Homes tour Sunday. Lots of inspiration to be found, though most of the decor I saw wasn't as affordable as this.

I'm home today! I didn't go out to breakfast or brunch or lunch or coffee. I didn't do a school visit or a doctor's visit, I didn't partake of any volunteer opportunities at Our Fine School. I just stayed home. And I'm here until it's time to pick up Jack at 3:30. Two more hours of Me Time!

I've spent my Me Time working on a proposal I'm helping draft for the North Carolina Folklife Institute, where I've been volunteering since the spring. Here's a secret: Sometimes, when I'm working on my NCFI stuff, I pretend like I have a real job. I write drafts of proposals and grants, and I make phone calls and send emails--it's all so grown-up!

So, yes, I've stayed home today and played grown-up job holder. I guess I should be doing some Christmas shopping, but I'm have such fun enjoying the Christmas season that I hate to ruin it by buying stuff. I've been listening to Christmas carols and reading Little Women and Christmas Gift and going on historic home tours with the youth group moms from church.

Who knew that if you want to feel the Christmas spirit, you have to do it before Christmas gets ruined by errands and present wrapping (which I do not enjoy) and baking cookies (don't mind the baking, do mind the mess and the little sugar sprinkles all over my kitchen) and stressing out about spending too much money. Lesson learned.

We're putting up our tree this weekend, a full week earlier than usual, but now that I'm an early celebrator, I no longer get grinchy about folks putting up their trees the day after Thanksgiving (what's next? Trees right after Halloween? Oh, don't get me started!). Nope, I'm an early Christmas girl. Joy to the world!

***

By the way, tomorrow, December 6th, is my friend Danielle's birthday. It's also the day the 13th amendment, the one that abolished slavery, was signed by Abraham Lincoln. And, finally, it's St. Nicholas Day. So happy December 6th, everyone, and happy birthday to the marvelous Miss Danielle!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Am Celebrating Christmas Right This Very Minute

I finally finished Will's Harry Potter sweater! Yay! The sleeves are way, way too long, but, oh well.

Every year I think I'm going to spend the week before Christmas reading some sort of wonderful, Christmas-y books, and I never do. You know why? Because the week before Christmas, I am far too insane to read. I pull out A Christmas Carol or Ferrol Sam's wonderful Christmas Gift!, and I try to read, but I can't.

Last night my eye fell upon Little Women, one of my favorite books of all time. It's another one of those books I think it might be nice to read around Christmas and then never do. Of course, I've read it so many times I could probably recite it, but that's neither here nor there. So last night I pulled it off the shelf, started reading, and thought "Merry Christmas!"

Oh, my dears, it was a stroke of genius! Why haven't I thought of this before? To have the Christmas I really want, I need to have it the third week of November. I need to get out my Advent books and Philip Yancey's marvelous The Jesus I Never Knew and start reading them NOW.

And every year I think that the week before Christmas I'm going to give out Christmas cookies and dollar bills to the homeless guys who beg at the intersections of Garrett and 15-501, and of course I never do, because I'm far too insane to be charitable the week before Christmas. So I'm doing it next week, before I go insane. I am brilliant.

Travis and the laundry basket and Will's sweater

Have you read Little Women recently? Oh, it's fabulous! Santa Claus gave it to me in 1974 (I know this because, bless my little heart, I wrote my name and "Christmas of 1974" 0n the flyleaf), when I was in fourth grade. I knew little about the Civil War, and a bunch of stuff made no sense to me whatsoever, but I loved it then as I love it now. Reading it makes me want to re-read Geraldine Brooke's book March, which is Mr. March's story as he's off caring for the sick and wounded while his little women are having adventures back home. Good stuff!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We are staying home, because we're all sick. Actually, the boys are better, but the Man and I still feel out of it. We're sad about missing the family gathering, but feeling okay about not having to drive ten hours to Kentucky. More time to lounge about and read and have Christmas in our hearts before it's driven out by the terrible, horrible Holiday Season.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I read the obituary page almost every morning. It's not that I'm maudlin, I just find people's lives interesting. Now, not all obituaries are created equal. There are the "just the facts" obits, and then there are the "He was a titan of industry and won lots of awards and served on lots of boards and committees" obits, lengthy to be sure, but not actually revealing.

This morning I read of the best obituaries I've ever come across, and I wanted to share part of it with you:

Born on a farm in Lincoln, AL, one of nine children, she picked cotton, pulled fodder & stripped sorghum. Being chosen as housekeeper & nanny for an Aunt in town afforded her the ability to leave the country, finish school and meet the love of her life, JB. He was the local iceman and Uncle Richie let the ice melt so "Fan" could see JB more often. They married in '38 and moved to Florida in '41, where JB's entrepreneurial spirit blossomed… she worked beside him in all of his endeavors from a small gas station, an orange grove, installing jalousie windows and finally, becoming one of the first licensed swimming pool builders in Florida. She was proud to have been born during the Great Depression and learned not to waste anything. From an early age she would pull threads from flour sacks and use those to sew little doll clothes. Her husband's success was not wasted on her as she appreciated every different color and type of fabric she was able to buy… She used all that creativity to make a good home and raise her children… one in each of 3 different decades. Sewing formal dresses and skating skirts in the 50's, making waterski long johns and cooking burgers in the 60's and then rows of ruffles which turned into mod bell bottom pants for her last little "surprise". This is the way she showed her love, by making and doing things for others, from clothes she made for the Russell home, the thousands of "bone" shaped pillows and knitted preemie hats during her volunteer days at Florida Hospital, and the countless quilts and crafts and collectibles she shared.

There are so many details here I love. She pulled fodder and stripped sorghum, she pulled threads from flour sacks to sew doll clothes. An aunt "chose" her to work as her housekeeper and nanny in town. There's a novel in that line alone! Maybe Fan was the poor relation, and her aunt deigned to give her work. Maybe she slept in the corner of the kitchen and was up before dawn stoking the woodstove. Did she miss her eight brothers and sisters? Or was she happy to be done with picking cotton?

Bone-shape pillows! Sorghum! Jalousie windows! Formal dresses and skating skirts! This obituary should be used to teach writing everywhere. It's all in the details, people. I read this obit and had a sense of who "Fan" was and how she lived. By the end I felt like I knew her.

Now I'm wondering who wrote this obituary. Was it one of Fan's children? Or was it Fan herself? I'd vote for one of her children, because there's appreciation in every line. Which leads me to wonder ... what will my children remember about me? I hope it's not the mess or the crankiness, but rather banana pudding and trips to the beach, the handknit socks and the quilts and the time I grew wheat in the backyard.

I hope this isn't too morbid. I think a good obituary makes you appreciate a life well-lived, and I was glad that this morning I got to know Fan just a little bit. May she rest in peace.




Read more here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newsobserver/obituary.aspx?n=fran-l-newton&pid=161088738&fhid=4109#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hello!

 Will, the Halloween Birthday Boy!

Have I mentioned I'm a room parent for Will's class this year? It's a nice gig, because everyone's insanely grateful to you for doing it (so they don't have to), and after the beginning of the year it's not all that much work.

My fellow room parent is a truly lovely woman, but I must say I think she picked the wrong year to RP, as not only is she working fulltime, she's also doing coursework in her field. So she's sending out reminder messages with the wrong date, and then sending out corrected reminder messages, only this time with the wrong time. Oops! So then I have to send out a correction to correct the correction.

The thing that gets me is that when I send out the correction to the correction, there's always one parent who emails me, not having actually read the correction to the correction, and tells me that the information I've sent out is incorrect. So then I have to gently correct him (and yes, it's a him, and yes I'm beginning to understand the source of his child's myriad social problems), which usually ends the cycle ... until the next time. And there's always a next time.

Last week, I volunteered at the class Halloween party. I do this every year, because Halloween is Will's birthday (Will is ten! Yikes!). We finished all the planned activities with twenty minutes left in the period, so we sat in a circle and told ghost stories. If you want to have fun, ask a group of kids to tell you ghost stories. They tell the exact same stories you heard and told as a kid! I'd love to find out where they got their stories from. I'd bet older siblings and cousins. I don't remember my parents ever telling me ghost stories, and I've never told any--at least any of the old standbys--to Will or Jack.

Here's a funny thing: Today I was a driver for a class field trip (I know, I know--I'm a saint), and I was telling one of the moms about what a great job her daughter did telling ghost stories at the party last week. "She knows a bunch!" I said, and the mom looked at me wide-eyed, like, really? She said she had no idea her daughter knew any ghost stories and furthermore, Mia was a real scaredy-cat. I thought that was so interesting. Was Mia trying to be brave by telling the stories? Was there something cathartic for her about telling them? Or does she have her mom totally fooled?

So anyway, do you remember the scary stories you and your friends told each other when you were kids? The one that I found deliciously terrifying was about the babysitter who gets a call from someone who's threatening bloody murder when suddenly the police break through on the line and say, "Get out now! The call is coming from inside the house!"

Not a ghost story per se, but boy did it send tingles up and down my spine!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


We went to the Handmade Parade in Hillsborough on Saturday. The paraders wore paper mache masks and puppet heads they'd made in workshops in the months before the big event. There were third graders and long-haired hippie drummers and Girl Scouts and ten-year-old boys who seemed like they'd rather be elsewhere. There were a lot of folks on stilts. Here, let me find a picture for you:

They were cool to look at, though the thought of walking on stilts made my knees hurt.

Will loved the parade (he took all the pictures) and would love making a big paper mache lizard or bird puppet. But actually walk down the street in front of hundreds of people? I don't think so.

The older I get, the more willing I am to be goofy in front of other people. I would march in the parade, especially if I could play the drums. I probably wouldn't dress up funny, though. Are you a costume person? I'm not, not really. Can we divide the world up into people who like to wear costumes and people who don't?

So, no, I wouldn't dress up, but I would walk and sing and play drums and enjoy being around all the wonderful costumes and the people on stilts.

I had lunch today with my neighbor lady friends, Amy and Kathryn. They are both interested in an intentional community that's being built about 15 miles away from here. It's called Hart's Mill, and the point is to make a community that's self-sufficient and sustainable. They want to provide for as much of their energy needs as possible and grow as much of their food as they can.

Amy's interest in this community seemed to stem from a "let's all live in peace and harmony and work together for the common good" stance, while Kathryn espoused a "I want to grow my own food because the stuff you get in the grocery store will kill you" philosophy. 

Because the Man and I are known in our neighborhood for having a super-sized garden, Amy and Kathryn wondered if we had any interest in living in a community like Hart's Mill. The answer to that was a fast and furious no (okay, it was a mumbled "I don't think so," but you get my point). I told them it was because we're such introverts that sometimes community is hard for us. But really it's because we don't actually like other people.

Okay, that's not really true. There are all sorts of people the Man and I like. We like you very much, for instance, and our neighbor lady friends Amy and Kathryn. But we tend to be stubborn and ornery and cussed. We may not be the best people to invite if you're planning an intentional community. We might forget to come to the committee meetings and the communal suppers.

The nice thing about parades and harvest festivals and church and lunching with neighbors is that you get to be in community--and then you get to go home. The part about being able to go home is very important to me. I need a place where I can take off my paper mache mask and step off of my stilts and sit on the couch and be very, very quiet. No meetings, no communal dinners, no drum circles. Just home.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Arts & Crafts

It's hard not to get a little bit craftsy this time of year. There's something about a crisp fall day that makes me want to get out my art supplies and get to work. Last week I messed about with mixed media, for instance, transforming an Altoids tin into ...


Whatever this is.


And I transformed a box into ...


a box with pictures on it.

This past weekend, Will and I decided to decorate the dollhouse for Halloween:

We are in the process of making pumpkins out of Sculpy clay. I'll show you those when we finish.

As someone who makes a living as a creative person, it's very nice to get creative with no end in mind and no deadline at hand. But even nicer is to have a driver's license, a wallet, and several craft stores nearby. Do you remember what it was like to be a kid and have some big idea ... and then no one would take you to the store to get supplies? Or else, you had the supplies, but you couldn't figure out how to make your big idea work?

I was always trying to make houses out of cardboard boxes, but I lacked the architectural and engineering skills I needed to make that happen. I remember trying to use masking tape to tape on the second floor to my house, but the floor just kind of flopped. So frustrating!

One of the reasons I'd like to get my attic organized (I know: ha!) is that I have a dream of turning it into a museum of crazy art projects. Actually, I'd like to build a miniature village with its own railroad running around it. Wouldn't that be fun?

 I just read this article about a place in Hickory, NC, called Hart Square. In the 1967, a doctor named Robert Hart bought 200 acres of land for a family retreat. For reasons known only to him, he started collecting old and abandoned cabins, hauled them onto his land, and restored them, furnished them, and made his own village. It's open to the public once a year.

I want to do that! What I really want to do is buy the Henry River Mill Village (pictured below), which is where "The Hunger Games" was filmed. It's on sale for 1.4 million dollars. I don't happen to have $1.4 million on me, but if I did, that's how I'd spend it. The funny thing is, I'd rather dream of playing house in an old abandoned mill house than actually clean my own. Go figure.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Me & Will at "Take Apart Day" in Science class last spring. Please note that I'm wearing long johns and he's wearing shorts.

Two days ago it was sunny and 85 degrees; today it was rainy and 49. I have mixed feelings about this. While I'm very happy that fall is here, I would prefer it to come in a bit more gradually, with long stretches of sunny days in the mid-sixties.

I don't know why I have these sorts of expectations; the weather so rarely cooperates. And when it is perfect, you start to take it for granted, like, "Oh, of course this is how it is; isn't this how it's supposed to be? Isn't this what we're owed?"

Anyway. The boys had the day off school. This morning Will worked on his jungle diorama, which he's making just for fun, and Jack slept. This afternoon Will went bowling with his friend Gavin and Jack computed. I prepared for my Monday night Bible study. It's called Disciples II, and it's the same group from last year, when we did Disciples I. The problem being with the same group of people is that we all like each other a lot and spend too much time chatting and laughing.

For Disciples II, we're reading Genesis, Exodus, Luke and Acts over a 36-week period. Right now we're in the Abraham cycle. My favorite part of our reading this week was when Sarah overhears God telling Abraham she's going to have a son and laughs. When God asks her if He just heard her laugh, she's all, Oh, no, not me, I wasn't laughing. And God says, Au contraire, I think you were.

It cracked me up.

***

I spent a lot of time this weekend making art. I'll have to take some pictures and post them. Not this it's great art; I'm just happy to be making it. I made a shadowbox a la Joseph Cornell and a lot of trading card-sized collages. I love collages. I also love making stuff just to make it--not to sell it, not to give it away, not for any purpose whatsoever. My niece and I started trading artist cards this summer, and over the weekend I altered an Altoids tin and pasted pictures in it, then typed up several poems I like in very tiny print, cut them out, rolled them up into little scrolls and put them inside. My niece is writing poetry, and I want to encourage her.

One of the poems I included was actually an excerpt from an e.e. cummings poem I loved when I was young, "my father moved through dooms of love." Because you are poetry-loving people, I shall share the excerpt with you:

An excerpt from [my father moved through dooms of love]
By e.e. cummings

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if (so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm


my father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)


I remember reading this as a kid and having no idea what e.e. cummings was talking about but still loving it like crazy.

***

The coffee experiment is going well. I've been drinking it almost every day, and my stomach is fine. I'm still sticking to my plan of starting the morning with tea. Coffee kind of pushes you out the door with a big jolt. Tea is much more civilized. As another one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke says, I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow ...

I'm starting to think about all the things I need to do for Christmas. Are you?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Coffee Break

 Latest quilt-in-progress

Hold onto your hats: I'm drinkin' coffee! Right now, as I write this. My first cup in months.

I might point out that what I'm really drinking is half and half with a little coffee thrown in, but it's a start.

I haven't decided what kind of coffee life I'll have from now on. It may be a ten in the morning kind of thing. It's not so bad waking up slowly, sipping peppermint tea. I like that I don't have to have a cup of coffee to start my day.

But I've missed coffee, and I want it back, if only in small doses every few days. With lots of half and half.

***

Jack didn't win the Student Government Treasurer election. He didn't seem too upset about it; in fact, sometimes I wonder if he runs for office to make a point, that it's all a popularity contest. And the truth is, the boy who won is one of the most popular kids in school. When Jack told me who he was running against I had to stop myself from saying, "And you expect to win?"

A side note: the boy who won has always struck me as a really nice kid, friendly, polite, has super-nice parents, etc. But for all I know, he's actually a rotten, horrible bully. It's just impossible to know these things from the outside. I'd be sad to learn that he's not the kid I think he is, but it's a possibility. I guess I could ask Jack, but Jack's not a great authority--he thinks anyone who doesn't do their homework is a juvenile delinquent.

***

Some of you have asked why I don't blow my own horn about my books on this blog. This may sound strange, but I want to have a place to write that's all my own. I love my family, but they have access to a lot of my writing, which is to say, a lot of my life. Imagine if your parents and in-laws and brothers and sisters could wander into your office and peer over your shoulder to see what you were doing any time they felt like it. Imagine them having access to your boss's evaluations of your job performance. Nervous-making, huh?

If I started writing about my books, a simple Google search would land all sorts of folks here. But I like it when it's just us, me, you, and the seventeen other people who read this blog. I like our neighborhood. I like being able to write about my life without getting phone calls from concerned relatives.

So, that's why. Simple as that.

***

The Man is over at Duke University Medical Center, for a gathering of bone marrow transplant patients and their caregivers. Our friend David, who I've written about here, received a bone marrow transplant a year ago in June, and after a really rough period, is doing great. While he was in the hospital, the Man went over every morning before work and took David on walks. He made David walk even when he didn't want to because he was feeling too tired or depressed to walk.

A few months ago, David told the Man that according to his doctors, without the walks, he probably would have died.

The big deal today: David is going to meet his anonymous bone marrow donor, who's been flown in from California for the occasion. Can you imagine? Oh, the tears are going to flow, I do believe, and I bet the Man sheds one or two himself.

***

It's a rainy Saturday morning. Jack is still sleeping. I'm composing a list of chores for him to do when he wakes up; otherwise, he'll waste the day away on the computer. I'm making a list for Will to do, too, mostly to encourage him to take up a project. If he's working on a project, I might not make him empty all the waste baskets. If he's just loafing about, I've got a long list of tasks. Attic, anyone?

I'm going to do some work in my study. I don't use my study much, for various reasons. During the day when I'm here all alone, I like to be downstairs, near the heart of the house. Our neighborhood is pretty safe, but every once in awhile there are a rash of break-ins. Tucked up in my study, I would never hear someone rattling the doorknob, or see a masked man coming up our driveway. I feel better being downstairs and having an idea of what's going on around me.

I should probably just convert my study into a guest room, but I like the idea of having a room in the house I can play with. Lately, I've been putting poems on the walls. There's a closet with lots of shelves, and I'm thinking of turning one of the shelves into an art exhibit. Don't quite know how that would play out, but it's fun to think about.

So I think I'll spend some time this afternoon up there, going through stuff, dreaming. Maybe reading poetry. I may turn my study into a poetry-reading room, stuffed with art and dreams. I'll take a picture if I do.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, September 17, 2012

My newly organized scrap baskets!

On Friday, I did a radio interview and a reading at a local bookstore for my new book. I'm not sure I've recovered yet. I'd planned to spend Saturday working on the attic--I really did! Honest!--but mostly I napped. Yesterday I worked on a quilt I'm making my sister-in-law for Christmas and made a pot roast. In other words, another quiet weekend. And an attic that's still a big, honkin' mess.

Various things to report ...

  • Jack is running for Student Government treasurer. He would do a good job, but he probably won't win. I believe his campaign platform is "I'm obviously the superior person for the job, and you'd be an idiot not to vote for me." I'm happy that my child does not lack in the self confidence department, but I wish he'd figure out that he'd win more votes if he was actively nice to his peers. 
  • I tried eating bacon recently. It was a bad idea. My gut is tolerating a wider variety of food these days, but pig is not one of them.
  • The administrative assistant at Our Fine Middle School continues to be one of the scariest people on the planet. I needed something from her the other day and barely lived to tell the tale. I thought by having Jack bake her a pie at the end of the school year last year, I'd have it made in the shade. Mrs. T would love our whole family, and when ever I walked into the office, she'd smile and say, "How may I help you, Mrs. D?" Boy, was I wrong. Fortunately, I have learned from my Southern husband that in situations like this, the best defense is to be ridiculously polite. Because you might feel bad after being abused by a difficult secretary, but not as bad as you would if you were snotty about it.
  • I can hear the UPS truck coming down the street. I haven't ordered anything, but I still hope it'll stop in front of my house. I always hope the UPS truck will stop in front of my house.
  • I'm still feeling quiet. I'm writing my prayers down in a notebook, and it feels like writing a very long poem. I like writing prayers--I concentrate better, and am sometimes surprised by what it occurs to me to pray about. 

Sometimes I wonder if I'm feeling quiet right now because there's something inside me waiting to be born. I'll let you know.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

New quilt: Front

My back to school edge seems to be wearing off. The first few weeks I'm always Miss Organized, Miss Got All the Forms Signed, Miss Get out of the Door at 7:35. Now I'm more like Miss Whatever.

That's not entirely true. I still make lunches the night before and I still comb my hair before pick-up if I'm going to walk into the building. But that's about it. I'm done in.

The boys seem to be fine. We've revised Jack's contract once already, amending it to require more family and downstairs time, plus exercise time on weekends. Plus a clause requiring him to be friendlier to his little brother. He's doing two afterschool enrichments, which is good. Most kids these days are overscheduled; mine are pretty much nonscheduled. But Jack could use a little scheduling here and there, a few more hours out of the house. He seems to like it.

This has been a quiet weekend. Yesterday I worked on a quilt and cleaned the house and then went out to a nice dinner with my friends Amy and Danielle. The Man worked on some projects in his study, and the boys took about eight hours to complete one chore apiece (Jack: laundry; Will: trash). I'm trying to get them to do more work around the house. They resist by saying, I'll do it in five minutes and then not doing it in five minutes. They think that eventually I'll get tired of nagging. Sometimes I do. Yesterday I held firm and the jobs finally got done.

It was a little frustrating, nonetheless.

Today: Church, naps, football on TV (not me; the Man and Will), youth group (Jack). All of the boys, Travis included, are on a walk/bike ride as I write. It's a beautiful day, and I should have gone, too, but what I really need to do is work in the garden, which has turned into a jungle. I will. In five minutes.

 New quilt: Back


This feels like a very quiet post, but I'm feeling very quiet right now. I'm working hard on a new book, which always makes me quiet and a little withdrawn. Not withdrawn in a bad way. Maybe I should say focused inward. That's what I am right now. Living all the way in my head.

Fall is on the way. Today was the first day you could tell. Driving home from church, I saw many of my neighbors in their gardens. We've all been waiting for a nice day in the upper 70s, light breeze, and here it is. I think I'll go enjoy it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Potholders! Made 'em myself! Gonna make more!

I'm really too tired to write this, but I'm going to give it a try. It's Monday, an everyday, normal sort of Monday, which is to say a Monday that doesn't involve sleeping in or lounging about with a cup of tea reading a novel like a Monday in mid-July might. No, it's the normal sort of Monday where one gets up at 6:45 a.m. and makes breakfasts and drives boys to school and walks the dog and eats breakfast and sits down on the couch and goes to work making up stories.

Pretty rough, huh? So why am I so beat? Still getting used to the routine, I guess. By next week, I should be leaping around like a happy tree frog at 9:45 p.m.. Just you wait.

It's nice to be back on a regular writing schedule, that's for sure. I'm very deep into making up a fictional town (in Kentucky, where my parents live and my ancestors roamed the mountains a long, long time ago), which is quite satisfying. Have you ever made up a town? You should try it.

What to tell you? Last week I looked out of my bathroom window and saw a squirrel hanging upside down from a dogwood tree. I thought it was dead, and I spent many minutes wondering how it had died. It didn't look traumatized, like maybe the hummingbirds had finally taken revenge on it for sucking all the nectar out of their feeder. It didn't look like it had fallen and broken its neck. No, it looked sort of peaceful. I decided it had died in its sleep of old age.

And then I realized it was chomping away on the little dogwood berries and not dead at all. Stupid squirrel.

I had a glass of wine with my recently widowed neighbor on Saturday night. I was afraid going over there that I might cry, or say something stupid, or that it would just be so, so sad. And it was sad, and a couple of times I almost cried. But we also laughed a lot and talked about all sorts of things other than her husband's dying, but we talked about that, too, and what shape her grief is taking right now (exhaustion, mostly), and how everyday surprises her with some new realization about life without Adam.

This neighbor and I had only just started on the path toward a real friendship a few months before her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and what surprised me most about Saturday night is that we're still on that path. I thought that given everything she's been through, she wouldn't be able to grow a friendship right now, that we'd have to wait a couple years and start over. But nope, there we were, talking and laughing and telling stories on ourselves. It was lovely. And sad. And good.

Will and the Man made an arrow with a real arrow head on Saturday. When I went on my walk on Sunday, Will asked me to look for a feather, and I found one. You don't find a feather every day. Why is that? Do they all get stuck in the trees? Like dead squirrels? Or maybe the squirrels eat them. Stupid squirrels.

Okay, time for bed.





Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And so the summer ends ...


Today was the first day of school. The boys got up at 7:00 and were ready to go by 7:25. We didn't need to leave until 7:40, so there was a lot of standing around and sighing, like Why does our mom make us do stupid stuff like wake up at 7:00? 

Tomorrow there's a chance that they'll be ready by 7:30; by Thursday I'll be yelling at them to hurry up, we're going to be late. It's the same every year.

To that end, we have contracted with Jack about his behavior. Actually, his behavior is quite good. It's his habits that are horrible. So last night I typed out an agreement that basically said, Here's all the fun stuff you get to do IF you keep up your end of the bargain by getting out of bed on time in the morning, doing a good job on your homework after school, and making A's and B's on your report card. Oh, yes, and by actually talking to your parents from time to time.

Jack agreed to the agreement, not a surprise as it a) gives him a lot of independence in exchange for his compliance; and b) not agreeing was not an option.

Yesterday was Open House, and you'll be happy to hear I only said one or two stupid things as I made small talk with the other parents of fourth and eighth graders. I'm learning to ask questions and shut my mouth and to not feel I have to be clever or funny or entertaining. This strategy works well, although I'm so busy trying not to say funny or clever things that I miss half of what's being said by the other person. Oh, well. Hopefully I give off the appearance of really listening.

Now it's 8:00, and we're all exhausted. After I dropped off the boys at school, I met with some fellow moms from Our Fine School for coffee (only I drank tea, as is now my way). Nobody's kids slept last night and everyone was ready to go at 7:25. That's the first day of school for you.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Report

Summer's bounty: A basketful of Romas on their
 way to becoming paste. Photo: The Man.

It occurred to me the other day that summer is the only season I actively review. Has it been a good summer? Did I get done this summer all I had planned (ha!)? I never ask myself if I had a good fall, if I enjoyed the winter, if I accomplished all my springtime goals.

So has it been a good summer? Well, it's a been a good summer for tomatoes. Our freezer is loaded with tomato sauce, tomato soup, and tomato paste. With my stomach ailments, I haven't been able to eat tomatoes this summer, so I have been an admirer of tomatoes. They are such beautiful creatures.

(By the way, I just ate a sliver of cheddar cheese to see if it would give me a stomachache. I should know in the next ten minutes or so. I'm very tired of chicken, brown rice and steamed zucchini, as you might imagine. So I've become a risk-taker. Cheddar cheese! Tortellini! A grape! It's all an adventure.)

All this to say, culinarily-speaking, it hasn't been such a great summer. Writing-wise, not so hot either. Who knew that I needed to be caffeinated in order to create? I've started drinking Lady Gray tea, which has just a smidgen of caffeine, and I seem to be able to tolerate it, so maybe in a couple of weeks I'll move up to the hard stuff. That's right, Earl Gray. Just try to stop me.

Quilt-wise? It's all good. Right now I'm quilting a quilt for a friend. Here's how it looks:

I'm free-motion quilting, which is about as much fun as I can legally have.

I have not done a good job this summer of handing over all the household chores to the boys, as was my plan. I lacked resolve. My tummy hurt. I was too busy worrying about the terminal illness my bad gut surely portended. It's impossible to work up the enthusiasm for showing a boy how to scrub out a toilet when you're convinced you only have a month or two to live.

Many good walks this summer, a bit of weight loss, some nice get-togethers with friends. Too much time in the dentist's chair. The very sad loss of a neighbor who wasn't yet fifty and left behind a wife and two teenaged children.

I don't think I can sum this summer up. Well, there's two weeks left before school starts (and two months more, at least, of warm weather). Maybe I'll see the big picture as I wave goodbye to the boys on the first day. I suspect when I think back to this summer, what I'll remember most of all is sitting in the family room with the Man, knitting and watching the Olympics and "Foyle's War," very cozy indeed. Not so bad at all.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Latest News


Here are some things to tell you: I finished another quilt (see above). It was a year in the making, because I had every intention of hand-quilting it, and I did hand-quilt a little over half. But one day earlier this month I realized I wasn't enjoying the hand-quilting and it was taking forever. So I whipped the quilt over to my sewing machine and finished quilting it in a couple of hours. The pattern is called "Hidden Stars."

Other news: My stomach is finally on the mend. It's still sensitive and my diet is still limited. It seems strange to me that I can't eat string cheese without my stomach hurting, but there you have it. I've lost six pounds, which puts me close to my New Year's Resolution of losing ten pounds. So there are silver linings here.

I'm in a finishing mood. I'm finishing up the Gryffindor sweater I started for Will last summer, and a brown cardigan for myself. Why a brown cardigan, you ask? Well, knitting is all about imagination, I think, and a year or so ago, I imagined myself in a brown cardigan and gardening clogs in the late fall out in the beds picking kale, and so a sweater was born. I'm on the second sleeve, and it's just a tee tiny bit boring, all this brown. But it will be worth it this autumn, when I'm living out my sweater dreams.

Will went to the pool with Gavin today, and Jack went to drama camp, and I had several blissful hours in the house all alone. I don't think that's happened once this summer. I worked on a quilt and watched the last of "The Forsyte Saga" on Netflix. Have you watched it? Loved it. Now I'm going to read the book.

Lots of tomato action. One of the nice things about feeling better is that I have lots more energy and a lot less aversion to kitchen tasks. Last week I processed loads of tomatoes and made lots and lots of tomato sauce. The week before that, the Man processed tomatoes and made tomato-basil sauce, which is delicious. The freezer is started to fill up.  A good feeling.

Speaking of the Man ... he wanted to do something nice for me since I haven't been feeling so hot, so he painted our bedroom this weekend. I'll share a before picture now, and when we get the room put back together I'll show you the after picture.

Here's before:

The Man had just started working when I took this picture. Can you see how the room was industrial park beige? It was that way when we moved in--how did it take us so long to paint it? I guess we were putting all our decorating energy into the downstairs ...

It's nice to have someone willing to paint a room for you when your stomach hurts, don't you think? And today is our anniversary--eighteen years. Hurray!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Latest quilt top--July has been good for my quilty life!

A couple of weeks ago we had a string of very hot days--100+ degrees, a few days where the thermometer hit 105 and 106. Not pleasant, to say the least, but there has been a payoff. Now that we're back in the mid-90s, normal for these parts this time of year, well, it feels downright cool. What a difference ten degrees makes!

Yesterday Will and I spent three hours working on a paint-by-numbers painting, and we are both quite proud of the results. We also began our Harry Potter marathon, watching movies no. 1 and 2. Later, Will got stung by a yellow jacket when he was outside playing basketball. Having been stung a couple of times myself, I felt terrible for him, but I have to say it's nice to have a child who's still young enough to comfort with hugs and kisses.

Yesterday Jack, to nobody's surprise, slept until 2. Given that he appears to be growing an inch a week, I assume that all this sleep is necessary. Sometimes I try to get him to get up earlier, but really I don't have the heart for it. He's so cheerful after thirteen hours of sleep! As pleasant as can be. Does his chores without complaint, socializes with the family, spends long stretches of time reading real books and petting the dog. Do I really want to mess with that?

No. No I don't. School will mess with it soon enough.

Class rosters came out yesterday. Will is back with his best buddies, Gavin and Win. Much rejoicing was heard, the phone rang off the hook, and Will kept fist pumping the air every time he thought of it. Victory! Whether or not any learning will take place with this triumvirate in the same classroom remains to be seen.

Poor Jack. After an amazing 7th grade advisory, his eighth grade group looks a bit rag tag. The girls are wonderful, but the boys? Meh. One of them's a nice kid we've known for ages, though I don't think he and Jack are great friends. The other three boys? Bottom of the barrel. But I told Jack that you never know. Middle school is a time where great changes occur over the course of the summer. He may be surprised that some of the bozos have grown into good guys. It could happen.

My gut is still cranky, and I'm still waiting to hear back about the lab results, which I hope will come in today or tomorrow. It's not so bad, existing on chicken noodle soup, toast and yogurt pretzels. It certainly simplifies things. And it's fun to think about the food I'll eat when I get better again. Tomatoes! Pizza! More pizza! Salad! Fruit! Oh, my goodness. Did I mention pizza?

Okay, well, my lack of coffee is kicking in, and suddenly I feel like a nap. Given that it's only 10:30 in the morning, maybe I'll do the dishes instead. Hope all is well with you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

from the Use Half Campaign on Facebook

 I am decaffeinated. Have you ever been decaffeinated? Maybe you've never caffeinated yourself in the first place. Neither of my brothers drink coffee, and I find that strange. How did they get through their college exams?

I started drinking coffee my freshman year and have been a devoted imbiber ever sense. I don't drink a lot--two mugs a day, plenty of half and half--and can't have any after 5 p.m. or else I'm up all night. I drank coffee through both of my pregnancies, even though it didn't taste quite right. But nothing tasted quite right when I was pregnant.

Last week, when I went to see my doctor about my cranky gut, he said I had to give up coffee for the time being. My stomach is inflamed (we don't know why) and coffee is just turning the heat up higher.

I assumed I'd go through a day or two of feeling sort of sleepy, and then I'd feel fine. Instead, it's like I've been sleepwalking for a week. Today is the first day I've felt myself again, and I'm pretty sure it's because I had a cup of black tea with my toast this morning.

The question is, when my stomach calms down again, will I go back to coffee? I had assumed I would. But now that I've gotten over the worst of it, I wonder. I'm going to monitor myself for the next week and see how I feel. Do I sleep better? Does my morning anxiety drop off? Am I calmer? Smarter? Prettier?

I'll keep you posted.

***

After much consideration, I'm fairly sure I'm going to get braces this fall. My dentist feels like it will improve my overall dental health and help me keep my own teeth for years to come. I think it's a good idea, though I'm not looking forward to everyone calling me "brace face" and "metal mouth" for the next 18+ months.

The funny thing is, I think I'll miss my old mouth. I have an overbite, a crooked tooth, and a big gap in between two bottom teeth. Nobody notices the gap until I point it out, but it bugs me. Still, it's mine, and it's a part of my smile, just like the overbite and the crooked tooth. I've had this mouth forever. Will I still be me when my overbite is gone and my teeth are straight and gap-free?

Or will I be Julia Roberts? I might be Julia Roberts. And I really don't want to deal with the paparazzi. Would you?

***

I'm still waiting for the summer to fall into a routine. So far it hasn't. Maybe it won't. Maybe the lack of routine will be the summer routine. I always imagine my summers will be one way, and they're almost always another. You'd think I'd learn.


Monday, July 2, 2012

And Now Summer *Really* Begins

We're back from our lovely vacation, and I have spent most of the morning and the early part of the afternoon getting the house put back together. I scrubbed and scrubbed before we left, knowing from experience how nice it is to return to a clean house and how depressing to return to a dirty one.

For all my scrubbing, as soon as we brought in the luggage and towels and boxes of books, the house lost its clean and tidy vibe. It will probably take days, even years, to return it to its former glory. And given the heat and the humidity around here, well, girls, I don't know if I'm up for the full job. I may watch "From Larkrise to Candleford" DVDs and knit instead.

***

One job I'll need to be up for soon: processing tomatoes. The vines are loaded down with them, and I predict we'll start seeing ripe, red globes by the end of the week. I plan on canning gallons of spaghetti sauce until I can't stand it anymore and just start freezing tomatoes whole. I made a lot of very fine sauce from frozen tomatoes this winter. All you do is thaw them in bowl, then throw them in a pan with some sauteed onions and garlic, break the tomatoes up with the edge of your spatula, and then let the sauce cook down until it's thick enough to do something with. Easy as pie.

I need to take some pictures of the garden to show you. It's gone wild, as it does every year we get enough rain. Lots of green beans and lima beans and little melons and HUGE zucchini (you really have to stay on top of the zucchini or else they turn into cavemen clubs overnight) and yellow squash and crowder peas. It's a bit much, really, but fun.

***

Have you read any books by the English writer Miss Read? She wrote tons of them, mostly about two villages, Fairacre and Thrush Green. Her first book was published in 1955, and she continued to publish until the 1990s. She died earlier this year at the age of 98.

I have just begun my odyssey with Miss Read (real name: Dora Jessie Saint). I checked out Emily Davis from the library, and am enjoying it very much. It's a fairly straightforward, unadorned sort of book, but it satisfies my anglophile soul. So far there have been several mentions of knitting. Need I say more?

Here's a description of Miss Read's oeuvre from Wikipedia, in case you think you might be interested:

From 1955 to 1996 Saint wrote a series of novels centred on two fictional villages, Fairacre and Thrush Green. The first Fairacre novel appeared in 1955, the last in 1996. The first Thrush Green novel appeared in 1959. The principal character in the Fairacre books, Miss Read, is an unmarried schoolteacher in a small village school, an acerbic and yet compassionate observer of village life. Saint's novels are wry regional social comedies, laced with gentle humour and subtle social commentary. Saint was also a keen observer of nature and the changing seasons.

***

No matter how much I enjoy our time at the beach, by the end of the week I'm ready to come back to my little world and my little dog and my messy kitchen with its tiny oven and the window over the sink where I can watch my garden grow a little wilder every day.

It's nice to be home.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vacation News


Bottle Tree, Ocracoke Island, NC

We're on vacation and doing our best to ignore the children. Jack is happily ignored, loaded down as he is with books, a bike and his computer. Will needs to be ignored in order to straighten him out. He's a moody cuss, our Will. Every year I think, 'This will be the year when Will finally chills on vacation,' and every year I'm wrong. Transitions of any kind discombobulate him a bit, and his moods fly up and down, up and down.

For years the Man and I have catered to Will, trying to make him happy, but this year we've given up. Our best attempts never work anyway, so why try? Will will cheer up when he's ready, and if you ignore him, he tends to cheer up more quickly. It's only taken us nine and a half years to figure this out.

***

We've been spending this week on Ocracoke Island, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's a beautiful, strange place, a fishing village that playacts as a tourist town during the summer months. It takes seven hours to get here from our house, two and a half of those hours on a ferry to the island. The beach is a National Seashore and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Fortunately, since it's such a haul to get here, the beach is never all that crowded. North Carolina is littered with beaches you can get to in a couple of hours from the center of the state. Why travel so far for a little surf and sand?

I like it here because it's a real place. People live and work here. This morning I visited a graveyard beside somebody's house. This place is full of 'em. Some of the graves date back to the mid-1800s; some are from this century.

We're staying in a house built in 1925. It has virtually no closets, but it has a huge front porch with rocking chairs and a front yard with cedar trees and butterfly bushes. It's my favorite beach house ever. Will thinks next year we should get a house on stilts because he prefers his beach houses on stilts. I didn't bother telling him that this is the house we'll be renting until the end of time. I just ignored him.

***

Bikes rule the road here. I went bike-riding this morning, but I have to confess: I'm a bike-riding weenie. I'm the only bike rider on the road who wears a helmet (other than my children) and the sound of a car behind me makes me tense up, even though there's an unwritten law that bikes have the right-away in all cases. Cars will patiently cruise behind you until they can safely pass. It's a biker's paradise, but mostly I'd rather walk. You can think better walking, in my opinion. Though this morning I took a long ride and thought of my friend Danielle, who didn't have many toys growing up, but she had a bike, and that bike was it for her. Her best thing. And when I'm riding down a street without any traffic, the wind blowing over my helmet, I do feel sort of free and easy. But nervous, always nervous.

Think of Danielle and be brave, I tell myself. And I try, I really do.

***

Okay, then--back to the books and the pimento cheese crackers and Coke. See you next week!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Post No. 2

Pickled Pigs' Feet, Y'all. Photo by Me, taken outside Gaffney, SC, 6-17-12.


Family is hard. That was my big take-away from this past weekend. We went down to Atlanta to visit my brother and his family and had a lovely time. They are lovely people. And still it was hard. It's hard to fit one family into another family's life. Assumptions are made in error. Expectations are misbegotten. Children who are trying to behave themselves get tired and act out because that's the only way they know how to say, Enough!

What saves us? Moments of generosity. The sudden understanding that what someone needs is a few minutes alone or a cold Coke or forgiveness. Humility. Baseball.

We left on Sunday feeling connected to my brother's family, feeling happy for our time together. And it occurred to me that being with family, like everything else worth doing, takes practice. We haven't been to Atlanta in a long time--usually we see the Atlanta folks at my parents' house in Kentucky--and as a result we made mistakes. Rookie errors.

We failed to take into account, for instance, the fact that no one in my brother's house really cooks. So a lot of time and energy went into planning on where to eat and what time we were going to eat and how we were going to get there (one car? two cars?). This doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you have kids, it is a big deal. You can't just whip up a quick meal to fill the stomach of a cranky child. The child gets crankier, tensions increase, the hosts bicker about the best place to go and how long it takes to get served ...

You get the idea.

So next time we'll know this, and we'll keep in mind that my sister-in-law gets frequent migraines, and my brother's probably going to work Saturday mornings, guests or not, because his job his demanding and that's just how it goes. Next time we'll keep this in mind and make our own plans for the morning. We're okay with that. We just didn't know.


Now we're getting ready for a trip to the beach. Right now I'm focusing on the ways it won't be perfect so that I can be pleasantly surprised, the way I was pleasantly surprised when Jack got stuck in the direct sun at brunch on Sunday and didn't complain or trade seats with the Man, who was sitting in the shade and offered to switch.

***

On our way back from Atlanta we stopped outside of Gaffney, SC, and bought peaches at this spot:



This is my favorite kind of place in the world. We bought a watermelon, too, and it had seeds. Lots of spitting going on around here, folks. Lots of spitting.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Post No. 1

A picture of the compost bowl before it went out to the bin. The Man took the picture, of course.

Well, hey there. So much to tell you, but how to begin? School is out. The 7th grade pool party went off without a hitch. First of all, my fellow room parent, Ellen, made the middle school front the cash for the party, so we didn't have to come up with ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS out of our own pockets.

Second of all, the rain that hung over the party for the first thirty minutes got blown away, the sun came out, and the pizza arrived on time. The parents who volunteered were a great group. Jack appeared to enjoy himself and actually interacted with his peers. A friend left chocolate and wine by my minivan as a "Congratulations on surviving this ordeal" gift, then texted me frantically to tell me what she'd done, afraid I might not see her care package and run it over. Clearly she did not understand that I would never run over chocolate. Never. I have a sixth sense about these sort of things.

Wednesday night, I went over to my neighbor Amy's house. Amy is the vegetarian I wrote about a while back, the one who got served a hamburger instead of the veggie burger she ordered, took a bite, and ended her meatless streak of thirty years. When I told Amy recently that I wish I liked tofu, she invited me and the Man over for a tofu cooking lesson. Anthony, Amy's husband, actually did all the cooking, and he didn't measure anything, not even the rice. I was shocked and amazed. The meal was all delicious, and I am now a tofu convert. We ate spicy, Asian tofu, and simple cornmeal-encrusted tofu, and tofu braised in tahini, and it was all delicious. It turns out if you know what you're doing, tofu doesn't have to taste like pencil erasers. I had no idea.

Other news ... I went to the orthodontist today to get more information about braces. I still can't decide. The Man is concerned that I will be in constant discomfort and take it out on the family. Ah, he knows me too well.  What everyone tells me is that I will be in pain the first week or so, and then things will be fine. I sort of want to get them, but I think anyone who has seen pictures of her mouth, lips pulled back with plastic spatulas, would want every orthodontal and dental procedure available. My teeth are terribly yellow and stained and there's a space and they're kind of crooked ... But unless I'm looking at pictures of my mouth with my lips pulled back with plastic spatulas, I don't care all that much. I really don't know what to do.

Our garden is insane. The tomato plants are eight feet tall. It's a jungle out there!

Tomorrow: root canal. The funny thing is? Root canals aren't really that bad. Dentistry in general these days isn't all that bad. You know what's bad? My teeth. My teeth are awful. The only thing worse would be not having them, which at this point is a distinct possibility.

Blogs to watch out for: I am quite taken with All the Blue Day, and I think you should be, too. Another fabulous blogger from the land down under. Please go say hey!


Monday, June 4, 2012

So Summer Begins ...

 Beans! Maters! Squash! Cukes! Summer Garden!

Two more days of school. Two half-days, to be precise, and then the bell rings, and it's eleven weeks of summer fun.

I am terrified.

Will has already displayed a bit of his patented summer behavior. On Saturday he lolled about the house groaning, "I'm too tired to do anything," and "I'm bored," and "Can I have some extra computer time?" I came up with a list of sparkling ideas for fun and frolic, but no. My ideas were boring. Life is boring. Can I watch TV?

Jack slept until 3. I assumed he was up. The Man assumed he was up. He wasn't up. Of course, he wasn't whining about how bored he was, either, which is the plus side of having a child who would happily sleep eighteen hours a day. Sure, he's a tree sloth, but he's a quiet, uncomplaining sort of tree sloth.

My summer plans? Surviving. That's the number one plan.

Number two? Following my new-found commandments for happiness. I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, which I recommend for mental housekeeping. I'm working on my list of personal commandments, and right now they include the following:

1. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full.
2. First things first.
3. Accept the reality of the situation.

The reality of my situation is that my children are not always splendid. I don't understand this, because the Man and I are splendid 99% of the time. Do the math: doesn't that mean our children should be splendid 198% of the time?

Some good things: Yesterday, I canned eight pints of blueberry jam, using the blueberries picked last summer that were buried at the bottom of my deep freeze. I cleaned out the deep freeze after the Man and I walked through the garden Friday night and realized that in a matter of weeks, we are going to be drowning in a sea of tomatoes. Time to make room in the freezer for this year's crops.

When I cleaned out the deep freeze I found a cup of snow from three winters ago. I didn't know what to do with it, so I put it back in the freezer. Seems a shame to throw it away. I could throw it at the children instead.

Do you have any personal commandments? Other than no throwing snowballs at the children in the house? Share!

P.S. A couple of you who shall not be named (Tracy, Debbie) read my last post and brought up ... my attic. Sigh. Yes. It's still there, it's still a mess, I still haven't hired a bright, energetic organizer to come make it bearable. But look at my hall closet! It's beautiful!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer Housekeeping Report #1


It's not actually summer yet, but it's beginning to feel that way. A string of days in the mid-80s, the garden out back actually starting to look like something. Absolute panic on my part when I think about keeping children entertained for the next eleven weeks.

So I have that summer feeling, which is akin to a New Year's feeling, which is to say, that feeling that makes you want to get everything in tip top shape and organized and clean and breezy. You want to shed all heaviness--heavy food, heavy blankets, heavy blanketings of dust on the furniture.

To that end, I've been cleaning out closets. First, I tackled the upstairs linen closet, forcing myself to stuff a huge bag full of sheets and towels we never use (but I've kept on hand "just in case"), the lovely Winnie-the-Pooh pillowcase my mom made for Jack, which he seems to have no use for anymore, go figure, and yes, even quilts. Bad quilts. Quilts that serve no purpose in my life, as they are, well, ugly.

After the linen closet, the downstairs hall closet. Forced myself to chuck shoes that I once loved but will never wear again, even though in their day they were quite fabulous. I love shoes, but there's no point in getting nostalgic over them. Life's too short. Also abandoned Will's tennis shoes from first grade, his cleats from second grade, his basketball shoes from last season that had to be replaced three weeks in due to a sudden growth spurt ...

And yesterday I did something I've been meaning to do for ages and ages. If you're like me, you rip recipes out of magazines even if there's only the remotest chance you might make them some day. Maybe you've been reading a lot about quinoa lately, and Cooking Light has five pages of quinoa recipes. Rip, rip, rip. You've never been able to pass up a recipe for cold sesame noodles, and here's one in Wednesday's cooking section of the paper. Rip. And so on, until you have several cookbook's worth of recipes--that you never, ever make. Never. Why is that?

I don't know. It probably has something to do with the fact that my children protest just about anything that doesn't involve a slab or red meat or macaroni and cheese. So I dream, but my dreams come to nothing.

Yesterday, I sat down with several binders and a pile of page protectors, and I put together three cookbooks. Well, first I got real and threw 85% of my recipe collection into the recycling bin. I have recipes that are eighteen years old that I've never once attempted. Actually, I held onto a few of those, just because they from my early married life, and it's fun to see what kind of cooking I aspired to back then.

The remaining recipes I put in one of the three binders: Summer Cooking, Fall and Winter Cooking, and Everyday Cooking. The everyday recipes are the old standbys--the Cheesy Chicken Chowder, the cold tuna pasta Salad, the spaghetti pie--my greatest hits, so to speak, the recipes I hardly need recipes for anymore, but can never find when I go looking for them.

It was a big job, but I sat out on the screened porch and listened to the Snap Judgement podcast, and I got 'er done.

So all this to say, mostly what I've been doing the last few days is walking around and looking in closets, and in the laundry room (really my laundry closet; it's a miniscule space),  where my out-of-control recipe collection lived. Everything looks spiffy and organized. Next up, the shelves over the washer and dryer, which are filled to the ceiling with things we no longer use. Hello--fingerpaints, anyone?

***

Bread and Roses was one of my favorite housewiferly blogs for a long time running, but it's been on a sabbatical for close to two years. Now Dulce's back and posting on a fairly regularly basis. Go visit her and say hey!



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Picture Day

I don't think I've ever posted a picture of one of my children on this blog, but I like this picture so much, and I've written so much about Jack lately, that I thought I'd go ahead. Here's me and Jack earlier this week after an award ceremony:

Isn't he cute? This picture made me realize I don't have many pictures of me and the boys. Lots of pictures of the boys together, but I think this is the first one of just me and Jack since Jack was three.

You know what I like about this picture? I like that I like it. I think it's a nice picture of Jack, naturally, but I think it's a nice picture of me, too. Which is good progress. Because while I would like to lose twenty pounds (with the specific goal of losing ten pounds this year), and I can look at this picture and see that, yes, it's true, I really could use to lose weight, it's not something I'm making up, I don't cringe with embarrassment.

Not too long ago I would have, but I'm trying to reform. I think I've spent a lot of my life being hard on myself when I should have been gentle and vice versa. I have not been kind to myself about my looks. Well, if you've struggled with your weight all your life as I have, you know the story. But as I approach fifty, I'm trying to talk to myself in a nicer tone of voice. I take myself out for walks and to the gym, not to lose weight, but to stay healthy. I eat less sugar because I feel so much better when I do.

I've lost about six pounds this year without dieting, mostly by cutting back on sugar and being mindful about my eating. Some days I still overeat because I'm tired or stressed out, but I'm getting better about paying attention to what my body says about what I feed it.

But enough about me! Take a look at Jack. He's so tall now! And he had a good time at the dance, though he only stayed about an hour and a half. He claims to have actually danced. He wanted to take a book with him, but I wouldn't let him. When I dropped him off at school Friday evening, his advisory group was gathering to go out to dinner, and the girls were all dressed up. I said, "Jack, the nicest thing you could do right now is be present for those girls. This means a lot to them, and it would be nice to show them that you care by talking to them instead of reading." And he put his book down on the seat and got out of the car.

Oh, there's hope for him yet!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Report

So we thought Jack had killed his laptop. He spilled water on it Tuesday night--only a tiny bit, he insisted--and the screen scrambled, and it seemed like the gig was up.

Jack was upset. Very upset. Like he'd just had his heart broken for the first time. Like his house had burned down. His life as he knew it was over.

I myself had mixed feelings.

On the one hand, like most mothers, I can't bear for my children to suffer. Their heartbreaks are my heartbreaks. Their tears are my tears.

On the other hand, I really hate that laptop.

Jack's laptop has turned me into the computer police, and I'm so tired of it. A year ago, when Jack used my computer or the Man's, we had strict computer rules. Did they get broken? All the time, but we still had a modicum of control.

But when you give a boy a laptop, it's harder to stay on top of the situation. You make rules, and the rules get stretched. And stretched some more. Just a little bit at a time, until they get stretched out of shape and you can't quite remember what the rules were in the first place.

So last night, after Jack's laptop had had forty-eight hours to dry out, and Jack and the Man were ready to reboot, I didn't know how to feel. For Jack's sake, I wanted the computer to come back to life. But part of me wished it dead, dead, forever dead.

Well, it's alive. Jack scurried up the stairs with it, happy as a little clam. And I'm happy for him. But I'm back where I started, weary and tired, wishing computers had never been invented. Or that at least we'd never gotten Jack his own laptop. Pandora's Box--now how do we get the snakes back inside?

***

In other Jack news, he's going to his first dance tonight. One of my prayers for Jack this year has been that he would find a group of friends at school, and he has. The kids in his advisory are a great group, and when I go to pick Jack up in the afternoon, he's always hanging out with a bunch of them, talking and joking around. This is the boy that last year at pick-up was always sitting on the low wall outside the school, nose in a book, never making eye contact with anyone. Now he's out there cracking jokes and being velly, velly witty.

So one of the girls in his advisory decided they should all go the the school dance together, and Teresa, their advisor (and Jack's French teacher, bless her heart) offered to take them to Outback Steakhouse for dinner beforehand. So it's a date! A big night for all. And a great social step forward for Jack. He claims he's only going to stay at the dance for a little while, but who knows? Maybe he'll find a glass slipper in the stairwell. Maybe he'll turn out to be someone's Prince Charming.

***

Weekend plans: writing, gardening, biking, quilting, cleaning. Maybe cleaning. Probably not cleaning. How about you?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

There are so many interesting things to tell you, but I just don't have the time. For one thing, I'm busy being a seventh grade room parent. This would be an easy-peasy job but for one tiny error I made at the beginning of the year: I agreed to help "coordinate" the end of the year seventh grade pool party.

Mistake. Big, bad mistake. It sounded like an easy job at the time. According to the PTA president, all the pool party "coordinators" had to do was check in with all the seventh grade advisories to make sure everyone was on top of the pool party situation. Bring sunscreen, don't forget your towel, that sort of thing. No biggie. My fellow room parent, Ellen, and I happily volunteered.

What the PTA president didn't tell us about "coordinating" the seventh grade pool party: That we will be in charge of finding a pool, ordering 30 pizzas, hauling in 280 bottles of water and keeping them cool, and we will be paying for everything up front. We'll be reimbursed later, of course, but you know how much this party costs? A thousand buckaroos. That's right: Ellen and I will have to shell out a ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS to get this party started.

I protest. Fortunately, so does Ellen, and she's going to talk to the PTA prez about how she might consider joining the rest of us back here in Reality City, where people often don't have ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS to spare.

Here's the thing about having a kid at a school like Our Fine Middle School, which is, as we like to say, an independent school: You will find yourself among people who don't give it a second thought when the president of the PTA says "By the by, you'll be reimbursed for your expenses of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS." Not only are some of these folks nonplussed, they're talking about spending three hundred non-reimbursible dollars of their own money on beach ball party favors.

The seventh graders will not be receiving party favors. Not only can I not afford it, the fact is seventh graders don't deserve party favors. Everybody knows that.

So, anyway, my time right now is being spent having anxiety attacks about planning the pool party. I wish I had time to tell you about the lovely Mother's Day I had, which included a marvelous bike ride on Durham's famous Tobacco Trail. This is the first time we've gone bike-riding as a family. Will has only just gotten comfortable enough on his bike for an outing like this, but now that he is, I foresee a lot of family bike rides in the future. After we took our ride, we got frozen yogurt, and Jack only said four sarcastic things. Bliss!

Less blissful: On top of "coordinating" the 7th grade pool party, I'm also having to consider the pros and cons of getting braces, because that's what my new dentist wants me to do. I don't have to get braces, but he thinks I should. I don't know. I'm torn. But I'll have time to think about it next week, during my root canal. Yep, there's that, too. The good news is, I'm such an old pro, the thought of having a root canal doesn't even faze me. The fact is, I've gone through drug-free child birth (not on purpose, it just worked out that way), and next to that, a root canal, especially one involving heaps of Novacain, is a walk in the park.

The bad news? Guess how much it costs?  ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. I'll be reimbursed through my dental insurance, but still, I'll have to pay it up front. The Man is seriously wishing he'd checked my dental records before he proposed. I don't blame him.

So, yes, what fun we're having! I hope you're having fun, too! Only maybe in a different, funner way!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Quiet, Please

  



This morning, instead of reading the newspaper and listening to the radio the way I usually do, I ate my eggs while reading Gladys Taber's The Book of Stillmeadow. And when I took my walk, instead of making to-do lists and planning out the day's errands, I did my best to pay attention to the birds and the flowers and the trees, to actually notice them instead of wandering past them lost in my own mental chatter. 

My mind has been too noisy lately. My state had its primary this week, and smack dab in the middle of it was a controversial amendment that caused a lot of hateful talk on both sides. We've also got a famous politician on trial right now, and every morning the paper carries all the sordid, ugly and awful details. Really, it's just too much. 

So I'm trying to be very quiet. It has occurred to me recently that I am welcome to disconnect. If I don't listen to the news or read the paper or check online, I might be uninformed, but my head's a better place to be. And why do I need to be informed that people hate each other? That powerful, narcissistic people believe themselves above the law? That no one is all that interested in peace?
 
Taking my walk this morning, I was reminded of a Wendell Berry poem called "How to Be a Poet," in which he writes, "There are no unsacred places;/there are only sacred places/and desecrated places."  Looking at the trees and the flowers, listening to the birds, feeling the cool air against my face, I knew I was in a sacred place, that the whole world is infused with God except where we've fouled it with our waste and our hate and our ugliness.

A quiet mind. A mind that can read for long stretches of time without being distracted, that can follow a thought through to its conclusion, that can pay attention to what's right in front of it. My mind's not there yet, but I'm working on it. I am practicing being as quiet as I can.



How to Be a Poet
by Wendell Berry

 
Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   

ii   

Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   

iii   

Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.


Source: Poetry (January 2001).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Honeysuckle Days


I'm sitting here on my couch, silly dog by my side, with the window open so I can smell the honeysuckle. The honeysuckle vines, which run rampant through our neighborhood, are the great gift of May. All you have to do is open a window or walk outside, and the whole world smells sweet.


Sometimes when my children are driving me nuts, I remind myself of the things I like most about them: They are great appreciators of Christmas traditions. They love the beach. They think it's a marvelous treat that I let them have a can of soda (Coke for Will, Dr. Pepper for Jack) on Fridays, and would never dream of asking for one on any other day. They both love the dog, even when they hate everyone else. And they both love honeysuckle. They're excited when they see the first vines in our front yard. They grab handfuls of blossoms and nip off the ends to squeeze out tiny drops of nectar.

I think this bodes well for them. They are the sort of people who find delight in the small pleasures the world has to offer. This is good.

The pictures in this post are from the various gardens in my neighborhood. They're last week's pictures, which makes them completely out of date. Every day I walk Travis down Spencer Street and up Woodburn, down Marion and up Sevier, and every day something new has appeared. I'm starting to think it's magic. I'm starting to think that every night little people bound out of the woods with spades and plots of plants and get to work. It's nuts.

Yesterday I had lunch with my neighbors Amy and Katherine. They are lovely people, and I'm so glad we're getting to be friends, but I already have a significant Amy and a significant Kathryn in my life. Adding two more to the list will only serve to confuse things. I'm wondering if I can get the new Amy and the new Katherine to adopt nicknames. Fifi and Babs. Coco and Roz.

A weird thing happened at lunch. Amy, after much discussion with the waitress, ordered a veggie burger. Amy has been a vegetarian for thirty years. So when she took a bite of her much discussed veggie burger and realized it was a hamburger, suffice to say she was upset. Nonplussed. Freaked out.

A lot of people I know, especially a lot of the committed vegetarians I know, would have had a fit. But Amy took a deep breath, then said, "I need to go walk outside for a minute," before leaving the table. While she was gone, the waitress came over and asked if everything was okay, and almost cried when Katherine and I explained to her what had happened. When Amy returned, the waitress come back to the table and apologized, and then the manager came to the table and apologized.

Through it all, Amy was extraordinarily gracious. She accepted their apologies, agreed that it was a mistake and that mistakes happen. She was lovely.  Her compassion for animals clearly extends to human beings.

And after all that, we still had a good lunch. The waitress brought Amy a real veggie burger (and didn't charge her), we all ate Katherine's french fries, and we gossiped about the gardens in our neighborhood. Katherine told of her cat's strange and somewhat sinister history, and Amy promised to teach me how to cook with tofu. After we paid, I grabbed the receipt for my taxes, because I knew I'd have something to write about.

And I did.