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!