Monday, January 30, 2012


I think I'm finally over the bug. It got progressively worse Friday and Saturday, then yesterday it started to fade. The good news is that I got a ton of reading done, which is always nice. I finished The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morten, which I enjoyed very much, and read a moving memoir about parenting a special needs child, The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown.

I also spent time with The Wind and the Willows, which has been visiting me on its tour around the States. As far as I can tell, it's a book of poetry masquerading as a novel. Strangely, I think the playfulness of the language is one of the reasons Jack and I didn't love it as a read-aloud. There's all sorts of lovely bits that, reading by yourself, you go over several times just for the pleasure of it. But I remember reading it aloud at bedtime, how slow it all felt, and I remember that sensation from childhood as well--not enough was happening. As an adult, I'm fine with the slowness--better to savor the language, my dear--but as a child it made me feel impatient, and I recall Jack being impatient as well.

Old Jack. He's in the throes of it again, cranky, grumpy, no fun to be around, holing up in his room for hours. He got a report card a couple of weeks ago that wasn't too impressive. It wasn't the grades so much, but his effort scores, four out of six of which had fallen in the six week period. He got a C+ in Science, in spite of getting an A- on the exam, because he'd missed two assignments. Turns out it's hard to recover from two zeros in the grade book.

So we've put him on probation. He has six weeks to bring up his grades to all A's and B's and bring up his effort scores to all 1's. If he doesn't, all sorts of dire things happen to his computer.


Travis and I are back in walking mode after a short break due to illness. We are enjoying spring-like weather this winter, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's nice as can be to take a walk in late January wearing only a jacket over a warm-up jacket and a hat. On the other hand, it's unnatural to have birds singing and crocuses blooming this early. It feels out of whack. It is out of whack.

Because I spent much of last week either tending the ill (both Jack and the Man got Will's bug after I caught it) and being ill myself, this week is going to be the Great Vacation that I was supposed to have last week. In a few minutes I'm going to comb my hair and trot off for a cup of coffee at Fosters, journal in hand. Wednesday, I'm having lunch at an art museum, and Thursday I'm off fabric-shopping with my friend Sarah in the morning, then taking a walk with another friend in the afternoon. By Friday, I'll be socially exhausted and ready to get back to work.


I read a piece in yesterday's New York Times Magazine about how our computers and smart phones act as a kind of second brain for us, storing information and memories. The author told a few horror stories about people losing their hard drives and as a result losing years of work, photographs, music, etc. In a sense, losing their memories. She herself lost all the photographs she'd taken of her child since birth when her hard drive crashed.

I love my computer. I find it a very handy machine. But I don't think very many people think critically about our reliance on our computers. We've just accepted the technology. Those of us with preteen children accept that they will live most of their lives totally plugged-in and shrug it off--what are you gonna do?

But what does spending 24/7--or close to it--on a computer do to our brains? How does it affect our ability to connect in real life. How does it affect our ability to think? Is gaming or surfing the Web addictive? I think it can be.

And what happens if the power goes out? As oil supplies diminish and we need to power down, how will we live? When the storms of global warming hit and the electricity is out for weeks, how will we get along? Those of us past the age of forty will do just fine, I reckon. But how about our kids? How will they live if they're forced to live unplugged?

Better, is what I think, once they get used to the idea. More alive in the world. But I know a lot of people who would disagree with me.


Okay, enough. Off for coffee, then some volunteering at Jack's school, and then errands and chores, errands and chores. So it goes. How does it go for you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Will brought home a bug, and now I have it. Nothing terrible--fever and general lack of zippity doo-dah. I can function, but I probably shouldn't use any sharp tools or drive heavy machinery. I feel a bit fuzzy, is all.

Mind you, I'm not complaining. I sent my editor a draft of a new book earlier today, and I have nothing--nothing!--on my calendar for weeks. Well, there's my book club meeting tomorrow, and I'll hate to miss it, but the girls will understand. Folks who pay you to come speak to them are less understanding about these sort of things, but I don't have any speaking engagements until March, so I can have all the bugs I want until then.

Really, the reason I'm not complaining is sometimes a girl just needs an excuse to sit on her couch and read. When I was younger, before husband and kids, I needed no excuse to read at all. I read whenever I wanted to, which was pretty much all of the time. But now I have to be at the beach or with a temperature over 99 to read during the day with impunity. So I've got a bug--yay!

I have lost three pounds since I wrote about my goals two weeks ago. I've been going to the gym three times a week and keeping my carbs to under 50 grams a day. I'm eating a lot of roasted broccoli. Also: deviled eggs. Yes, my diet is Frances's Roasted Broccoli and Deviled Egg Diet. I should write a book, shouldn't I?

The last two days have been sunny and fairly warm, and so I myself have been sunny (and with this fever, fairly warm). Tomorrow it's going to cloud over again, and therefore I probably will, too. I am a very simple girl, ruled by the weather and the cycles of the moon. I actually don't know about the moon part of that, but it sounded poetic.

Okay, I'm getting rambly; time to go read some more. I hope you're feeling sunny, not gloomy, and are living a life where you don't have to make excuses to sprawl across your couch with a good book. Cheers!


P.S. My latest book made this list today: Hurray! It's a very nice list to be on, indeed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hello, I'm Back

Where have I been? Floating around, mostly, though I did take a trip down to Atlanta to give a speech. It was a quick trip--I left on Thursday, came back on Friday--but any kind of travel, especially travel that includes flying, makes me anxious for a couple of days beforehand, and so I just sort of wander around the house and worry about everything. I'm a terrible homebody, and though I know many fellow moms who would swoon at the thought of their own hotel room, even for just one night, I get very lonely when I'm out on the road by myself.

But I'm home, and I've finished a draft of a novel, so I actually have a little time to do this and that before starting on another project.

The weather has been gloomy. Some winters January is a bright and cheerful, even chirpy, sort of month, but this year it's been overcast and gray. Today I went out to have coffee and write in my journal, just because I knew if I stayed home I'd feel blue. I like being around other people and eavesdropping on their conversations.

Yesterday I went to church by myself. I ended up sitting next to a woman wearing jeans and these great cowboy boots with flowers painted on them. I was wearing my cowboy boots, too, as I usually do. I am a graduate of Killeen High School in the great state of Texas, which means cowboy boots count as formal wear if I want them to.

Anyway, I liked this woman immediately, as she smiled a friendly smile as I slipped into the pew a few minutes late and later greeted me with a cheerful "hello!" when we passed the peace. She left right after communion, which is easy to do when you sit in the back, because you take communion by the back door (I go to church in a huge Gothic cathedral, and there are always lots of folks, which is why some of us go to the rear for our bread and wine). She took communion, tucked her bulletin in her back pocket and was gone.

We only exchanged two words--she said "hello!" and I said "peace!" but I really liked her, and I was sad to see her leave. It was like we'd spent an hour being friends in a quiet, comfortable way, admiring one another's cowboy boots and wishing each other well.

That's all I have to say right now. I hope to have more to say soon.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Report

The beginning of a new quilt

I've been trying to have a good think all year, but without much luck so far. It's been too busy, too much picking up and dropping off, too much cooking and cleaning and writing. Every day I tell myself this is the day I'm going to sit down with my journal and figure everything out. Where is my life right now? Where is it going? What do I hope for? What do I want to happen next? I'll be fifty in two years. What do I want fifty to look like?

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I don't make New Year's resolutions, and Deborah commented that she didn't either, though she did make goals. I like that idea. One thing I did get written down this week is a list of goals for 2012, which includes ...

1. Finishing the three sweaters in my knitting basket. One is only lacking a sleeve and a half (oh, but sleeves are so boring!), one is two-thirds done, and the last I just cast on two weeks ago. Two of the sweaters are for me, one is for Will. I feel quite the dilettante for not following through and finishing up. But I shall, I shall!

2. Establishing an herb garden. I fooled around with flowers last summer and enjoyed them, although my garden was pretty messy-looking by the end of August, probably because Will was my co-pilot and wanted to plant a lot of stuff that didn't necessary go together.

A lot of herbs have very pretty flowers, and even better, they smell great and they often make food taste great. Many of them are perennials, which is good for a lazy gardener like me. Useful and low-maintenance: that's my kind of plant.

3. Remodeling the master bath. We've got a new sink picked out. The Man has re-grouted the tub. Now all we need to do is call the electrician and the plumber and figure out what to do about the floor ...

4. Painting the master bedroom. No brainer. Just need to pick a color and put it on the calendar. I'm voting for periwinkle blue, my favorite color. The Man's not sure. He likes periwinkle blue, but what if it comes out purple? I can live with purple; the Man? Not so much.

5. Straightening up the attic once and for all. Yes, I can hear you laughing. But this is the year, ladies. This is the year.

6. Losing 10 pounds. I need to lose twenty, and any doctor worth his salt would tell you I really need to lose twenty-five. But ten sounds so manageable. I lost ten pounds last year (and didn't gain it back, thank you very much). Ten pounds a year is less than a pound a month. I should be able to pull that off. And who knows, maybe I'll lose ten more. But let's start small. Small is good.

Those are my goals, and modest and humble goals they are, other than the attic, which is pure fantasy. Ah, well, we should all reach for the stars every once in awhile.


Weekend plans: Will has a sleepover tonight, and a basketball game tomorrow. The house needs cleaning. Jack and Travis need grooming. I have lots of required reading--for my Bible study, for the middle school book club that I help out with, and for Pom Pom and Mags. The Wind and the Willow boys have arrived, and they're hoping I'll show them a good time this weekend. First, I must read their story. I've tried before. I tried as a child and I tried when Jack was five. Third time's the charm, so I'm told. More on that anon.

So, what are you doing this weekend? And those of you who lost weight in 2011--and I know at least two of you who did--what's your big secret? I'd love to know!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We had a nice weekend, all and all. First, the Man and I went to Classic Treasures, where I purchased the above--well, what it is? Dresser? Chest of drawers? Bureau? I'm not sure, but I like it very much. It has serpentine drawers. I didn't know that's what those curvy-type drawers are called, but now I do.

I used my parents' Christmas check to buy my serpentine ... er ... piece. My parents always send a nice check every year, but usually I use it to pay bills. But this year they were fairly insistent that I not use it to pay bills, but to buy myself something nice. Well, I've been wanting a nice ... er ... item for the front hallway, and when I saw those serpentine drawers, I knew they were exactly what I was looking for.

Really, they were. The day before I'd been in Crate & Barrel, and I saw a nice--chest? Would you call it a chest? No, I don't think it's a chest. I saw a nice piece, and it had serpentine drawers (though I didn't know that's what it had; I just thought they were curvy drawers, silly me), and I liked it very much, but didn't like the price tag at all. Pricey there at the Crate & Barrel!

But it gave me an idea of what to look for, and for that, I'm thankful to pricey Crate & Barrel. Because when I walked into Classic Treasures, I knew what I was looking for, and there it was. Oh, we looked at all sorts of bureaus/chests/dressers before we came across the above-pictured item, and many of them were lovely, but as soon as I saw the above-pictured item, I knew that was it.

And it was.


The Man's birthday was quite nice. We started it off by attending a birthday party for Millard Filmore, who as you may or may not know was the 13th president of the United States and our last Whig. Our neighbors, Amy and Anthony, typically have a New Year's Day Waffle and Champagne brunch, but they were out of town on New Year's Day, so this year they had a birthday party for Millard Filmore, which I'm pleased to report also involved waffles and champagne.

We've just gotten to be friends with Amy and Anthony this year. They live way down on the corner and have chickens and a great big garden. We've been friendly for years, waving and chatting for a few minutes, but it hasn't really been until this year that our friendliness gelled into friendship. This year, Will and I started chicken-sitting for Amy and Anthony, and chickens will often cement a friendship I've found, haven't you? (I'm making that up, but I like the way it sounds.)

Now, if you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that everyone in this family besides Jack is an extreme introvert, and Jack doesn't like to get up before noon if he doesn't have to and this party started at 11 a.m., so we were all a little wary about going, as much as we like Amy and Anthony and their chickens. We feared the small talk. We feared the awkward silences our bon mots often engender. We feared we'd meet the folks on the neighborhood listserv who really drive us crazy with their constant emailing about whether or not you should kill a copperhead in your yard (the answer to that question, if you're curious, is yes, though some of our neighbors think that it hurts the copperheads' feelings and therefore should be avoided).

But you know what? It was great fun, and everyone but Will had a good time (no one was playing football or throwing food, so it wasn't Will's kind of party). I finally met my neighbor who has all the glorious sculpture in his yard, and Clifton got to talk to Anthony about gardening, and Jack did very well on the Millard Filmore Quiz, though sadly did not have the highest score so did not win the big prize, a box of chocolate truffles.

We left feeling happy and uplifted (except for Will, although he did find the communal box of chocolate truffles toward the end of the party, so it wasn't a total bust for him). We have nice neighbors! We know more about Millard Filmore than we thought we did! Champagne in the morning is fun!


That's it for now, I believe. It's 50 degrees and beautiful here, but tomorrow it's supposed to rain. I went to the gym yesterday. Does that cover it? Yes, I believe that about covers it. Cheers!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Report

New quilt in progress.

Just back from a chilly walk with Travis. It's 36 degrees outside, not so bad, really. Especially since I was wearing my brand new J.C. Penney fake rabbit fur ear muffs! Which is to say I look even more insane than I usually do.

My typical walking gear: An old LL Bean knit cap with a hole chewed right at the top, courtesy of puppy Travis. My dad's old black cashmere coat that needs a trip to the tailor's, as the lining has become unhemmed. Three scarves. Black leather gloves with pink and purple fingerless knit gloves over them. Jeans, tennis shoes, sunglasses. And now fake rabbit fur ear muffs over the holey knit cap.

It's a wonder my children haven't disowned me.


I've been thinking about the difference between fast social media and slow social media. Fast: Facebook, Twitter. Slow: Blogs. I think I'm too slow for the fast social media. I have friends who love FB, friends who Twitter all the time. I'm not against them. But my brain's pace is glacial. I need too much time to ponder. I'm not good with 140 characters--I need more! More, I say!

When I start paying attention to Facebook and Twitter, I turn into the rat tapping the lever for another pellet. I can't stay away. I have to know who said what and when! And if I've left my own pellet? Then I must know: Who likes me? Who tweeted back?

I'm not built for this sort of stuff. It doesn't bring out my better angels. It brings out the part of me that's compulsive, addictive and attention-seeking. There are some people who can have potato chips in the house, and some people who can't. Come look in my pantry: not a chip to be found.


My dream: To plant my front yard in lavender. Wouldn't that be nice?


Disc 2 of "Cranford" arrives today! Season 2 of Downton Abbey starts Sunday! The Man's birthday is tomorrow! So it will be a weekend of English countrysides and cake. Some quilting, some knitting. Grocery shopping. Cooking and baking. Reading? I just picked up The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. More English countryside! I read Morton's The House at Riverton in December and thoroughly enjoyed it. She writes highly entertaining historical fiction, filled with well-developed characters and crisp, clear sentences. The pages practically turn themselves.

So, yes, a bit of reading as well. What about you? What does your weekend hold?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sweet Peas, etc.

(Bento Box quilt, made for my mother-in-law, Christmas 2011)

I feel sort of bad about writing in my last post that I didn't much like Christmas, and I want to make clear that I had a very nice Christmas indeed. My favorite part of Christmas is December 26th, when we live on leftovers, Chex mix, and Christmas punch. We play games, and I spend a lot of time reading. This year I cast on a new sweater on December 26th with Christmas yarn from my MIL, and have been knitting on it a little bit each day. I hope I finish it before next Christmas.

So it's not that I had a rotten Christmas, just that the season in general is exhausting, and the meaning of it tends to get lost in all the errands and chores.

Okay, then, that's enough on that topic. Just wanted to say.


It's very cold outside--25 degrees at 8:37 a.m.--and our heat isn't working. We've been having trouble with it for a week. It must have gone out near dawn, as it's 67 degrees inside the house, which is just a touch chilly. Our furnace is only a year old, so it's a bit distressing that it's gone out, but I have a space heater in the room where I'm writing, and a fluffy dog snoring by my side. All to say, could be worse, but I really do hope the repairmen can figure out what's wrong. I won't be so sanguine if the heat is still off tonight!


We've had a warm fall and early winter up until now, which means our garden has stayed fairly productive--we've had lettuce, spinach, collards and bok choi since late fall. Looking out this morning, I'd say everything but the collards has called it quits. We'll plant more lettuce and spinach in February. The Man planted sugar snap seeds yesterday, so we'll have those to look forward to later in the spring.

Yesterday I ordered sweet pea seeds from Bakers Heirloom seeds. I planted sweet peas last year, but I planted too late, and by the time they started to bloom the weather turned hot. Sweet peas like cooler climes than North Carolina, but I hope that if I start them inside in January, I can at least have a month or so of sweet pea goodness outside in May.


A year or so ago, I picked up Lark's Rise to Candleford: A Trilogy by Flora Thompson, about village life in the English countryside circa 1880, but I put it down after a few pages. I was afraid of what it might do to me. I was afraid it might make me nostalgic for a past I never had and that would never come again. I feared becoming dissatisfied with my own life, with its combustible engines and iPods.

But I picked it up again the other day (I found a nice, hardback copy on the Friends of the Library sale shelf for four dollars) and decide to give it another try. I've been thinking a lot lately about trying to slow down and simplify. I've been thinking about trying to spend a little more time with my neighbors. I love the Internet neighborhoods that I roam through, but sometimes I think the Internet takes us away from our real, live neighbors, who might not be as easy to get along with as our blogging cohorts, but are still worthy of our attention.

It's a beautiful book, and I don't think it sentimentalizes village life at all. You get a feel for how hard people worked, how worn out their bodies got from lives spent in physical labor, how circumscribed their lives could be. I wonder if I'd be happy living in a small village, where books and art were scarce and where everybody knew almost everything there was to know about me. I wonder how much time I'd spend thinking about how happy I was.

When I read books like Lark Rise to Candleford, I wonder if I lived in that place, during that time, if I'd actually appreciate it, or if it's only from a remove we can appreciate something fully.

By the way, I'm watching the BBC series "Cranford" right now, and it's marvelous. It's another story about 19th century English village life, and the characters are funny and fabulous. Worth a look!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Travis, recovering from the holidays.

Okay, I'm back.

So, every year Christmas kicks my butter, and I've decided to come up with a plan for next year. Actually, I just got some help from Debbie, who left this comment on my last post:

No wonder you haven't had time for blogging! I've finally learned the secret to a relatively stress-free Christmas; buy presents all year long, don't send any cards, keep decorating to a minimum, don't put the tree up too early, and have everyone that's coming to Christmas dinner bring several dishes. This makes Christmas a piece of fruitcake or at least a plum pudding!

Great advice! I'm thinking about running out tomorrow and buying wrapping paper, ribbon, and boxes and storing them for next Christmas. And this year, I'm definitely going to buy presents in May and take a break (maybe) from homemade gifts (unless they're made super-early). And make Christmas cookies early and freeze them.

These are things I think of every year, but for some reason, when I have a fleeting thought in October that I ought to start on Christmas, I tell myself it's really not that much work. I also resent the idea that Christmas preparations should take half the year.

Can I be honest? I really don't care for Christmas much. It's just such hard work, and it doesn't let up for weeks. I never feel the deep spiritual feelings I think I ought to be feeling; I just feel cranky. I would love to celebrate it as a religious holiday, with minimal decorations, food and gifts (though I do like gifts, don't get me wrong). As things go now, I give up a month of every year to making sure Christmas is everything it's supposed to be.

But we're not stopping Christmas here; the Grinch will not be slipping and sliding down the mountain to steal our roast beast. So I will start buying gifts in February and make address labels for the boxes I'll mail in December. Maybe it'll help. Fingers crossed.


My best gift this Christmas? It was the Christmas miracle of Jack's presence. He came out of his room and ate snacks and listened to Christmas carols and was in general cheerful and good company. This went on for days. He was nice to Will. He chatted. He made conversation with our neighbors when we went over for a Christmas Eve visit.

Jack's very sad that Christmas is over. He observes Christmas better than anybody I know. He loves it. He's already counting the days until next Christmas. 358. Time to get to work!


My New Year's Resolution: Stand up straight. It's the same one I make every year. One year I'm really going to do it. I'm going to have excellent posture. Maybe it will be this year. Maybe 2015. Who knows. I'll just keep resolving until I get 'er done.

What's you're resolution? Have you ever made a resolution you kept? Do tell!