Monday, December 23, 2013

A Pause in Advent #4: May Nothing You Dismay

Year One

I was still standing
on a northern corner.

Moonlit winter clouds the color of the desperation of wolves.

of Your existence? There is nothing

 --Franz Wright
 Walking  to Martha's Vineyard

I keep trying to write something that will capture what I want to say better than this poem does, but I can't.

Emmanuel: God with us.

That is the most exciting thing I have ever heard.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A (Late) Pause in Advent #3

I have joined Floss and others in a Pause in Advent. Check out Floss's site for a list of other bloggers participating in this annual event.

I'm composing a playlist of Christmas carols that I'm not sick to death of hearing. I love Bing and Perry and Andy Williams and Burl Ives, but I've been listening to them sing "White Christmas" and "Frosty" and "The Christmas Song" for nigh onto fifty years now and can no longer really hear them. I need new versions, new songs.

On my playlist I have the great Odetta's "What Month was Jesus Born In" and "Shout for Joy," and the strange and enchanting Sufjan Stevens' "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I have Big Star singing "Jesus Christ (was born today)." And I have what may be my favorite Christmas carol of all time, Tom Waits' "A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis."

There's actually no mention of Christmas at all in this song. It starts out with the narrator writing to her friend Charlie, telling him that she's pregnant,

"and I stopped taking dope
and I quit drinking whiskey
and my old man plays the trombone
and works out at the track.

and he says that he loves me
even though it's not his baby
and he says that he'll raise him up
like he would his own son

and he gave me a ring
that was worn by his mother
and he takes me out dancin
every saturday nite."

The next few stanzas continue on describing how good the narrator's life is. And then we get to the end of the song:

"Hey Charlie,
for chrissakes
do you want to know
the truth of it?
I don't have a husband
he don't play the trombone

and I need to borrow money
to pay this lawyer
and Charlie, hey
I'll be eligible for parole
come Valentines day. "

It's right around this time--a week away from Christmas--where I start to feel like the narrator of this song. I'm trying to paint a beautiful picture with the Christmas tree, the lights and decorations, the house that smells like Christmas cookies and banana bread. But it's too much. Suddenly I'm cranky and out of sorts, on the verge of getting a cold. Hey, Charlie, you wanna know the truth of it? I'm not all that merry and bright.

And that, my dears, is when Christmas really starts, when I'm ready to tell the truth about my own poverty. I don't have a husband and he don't play the trombone. Most days I'm stuck in a jail of my own making.

Christmas is about many things, but to me, for it to have real meaning, Christmas has to be about hope. O come, o come Emmanuel, pay my bail. Shine a little light in this darkness.

It's no coincidence that the narrator of this song is writing a Christmas card. It's no coincidence that she's a hooker. Jesus served the lowliest of the low. Some say he preferred them. For those of us who have money, nice homes, status, sometimes we forget our poverty. It's only when we hit the wall that we see the light shining from the other side. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Pause in Advent #2: Housekeeping

 I have joined Floss and others in a Pause in Advent. Check out Floss's site for a list of other bloggers participating in this annual event.

Here's something I wrote on this blog a couple of years ago:

Yesterday I was told a story about a young pastor visited at home by an older pastor. The older man told the younger man that every table in his house should be an altar. By this, he didn't mean the young pastor should have a chalice and a silver platter of communion wafers on his bedside table and TV trays. Instead, he was preaching a kind of mindfulness. Pay attention, he was saying. Keep God in mind whatever you do.

When I think about cleaning my house for Christmas as a way of making it picture perfect for a picture-perfect Christmas, I feel cranky and tired. Count me out. I would rather celebrate Christmas among the dust bunnies, thank you very much.

But when I think of Advent as a time of making altars throughout the house, then I feel much more cheerful.

The reason we observe Advent is that we have to prepare our hearts for Christmas. We have to make them big. And by building our little altars, we are reminding ourselves that God is on His way. We say, We are ready to be hopeful. We are ready for peace. We are ready to truly love one another.

We are ready, we say, to greet God when He appears in our doorway. 

With that, I bring you this week's poem, by Mary Oliver.

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice –it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances –but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And I still believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

From Thirst, Beacon Press, 2007

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Pause in Advent

The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. While our contemporary consumer culture begins the process celebrating Christmas right after Thanksgiving--with relentless marketing and an endless soundtrack of carols and songs--liturgical tradition takes a different approach. In liturgical churches you won't hear carols or see a Christmas tree in the sanctuary during Advent--those festivities are reserved for Christmas. Advent, by contrast, is a more solemn season of preparation and anticipation. We set aside these four weeks to prepare ourselves to receive this great mystery into our hearts.

"First Sunday of Advent: History of the Feast," God with Us

I've decided at the very last minute to sign up for Floss's A Pause in Advent. I would like the spiritual discipline of taking time every week to write about my favorite liturgical season of the year.

The above passage from God with Us goes on a little later to say, "Just as we might clean our house in preparation for the arrival of a special guest, so church tradition asks us to take stock of our souls and be at our best when the special day arrives." That's daunting, isn't it--the idea of taking stock of one's soul? How is your soul doing these days?

In general, I have felt that my soul is in need of watering. Of better care and feeding. I was reading an interview with the wonderful (and, sadly, late) poet Jane Kenyon last night and was struck when she said that poets need to be stewards of their gifts. "Protect your time," she writes. "Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours."

Not only is that wonderful advice for poets, I think it is fine advice for someone preparing to receive a great mystery. I will do my best to be quieter this Advent season, to turn off the radio, to turn away from the Internet, to read poetry and take long walks. On winter Sundays, I like to set out on a walk twenty minutes or so before dusk, so that as I'm headed for home the sky is flooded with pink and gold and a blue giving over to darkness.

I will leave you with a poem by Jane Kenyon from her wonderful collection, Let Evening Come (Graywolf Press, 1990).

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Monday, November 25, 2013



It is 1:40 in the afternoon and I need to go to the store. I don't have to go to the store, but if I don't go this afternoon, I'll have to go tomorrow, and tomorrow it's supposed to pour down rain all day, and I don't want to go out in the pouring rain.

So why aren't I on my way to the store? Because Travis is curled up by my side and everything feels awfully cozy and warm. How can I leave?

Anyway, I thought if I'm going to sit here on the couch with my cozy dog, the least I can do is write a blog post and say hello. Hello! I had a good visit with my mom the week before last. She's now done with her final round of chemotherapy and is taking lots of naps. Essentially her course of treatment was to give her almost--but not quite--enough chemo to kill her in order to kill the cancer. For the time being, the cancer seems to have left the building and my mom has not, but she needs a lot of naps and probably will for the next six months. 

So this Thanksgiving giving I am giving thanks for my mother's slow return to health, and her incredible doctors and wonderful nurses. I'm also thankful for all of your prayers. They have done her a world of good.


Thanksgiving! I know a lot of you who read this blog are from faraway lands where you don't spend the fourth Thursday in November feasting on turkey and watching football. Or, nowadays, going shopping. That's the new trend: stores are now open on Thanksgiving. I have a friend whose son works at Best Buy, so on Thanksgiving day, while his entire extended family is gathered around the table eating and drinking and telling stories, he'll be at work.

What's next? Stores open on Christmas? Why, yes, that's already happening now. Walgreens and CVS will be open on Christmas, and so will Starbucks. Ho ho ho!

I think there's something very wrong with our culture. I think it's cynical to keep stores open on days that are supposed to be special. It's like the businesses are whispering, You don't like your family anyway. Isn't it more fun to shop than to spend time with your boring old uncles and birdbrained cousins? That whole gathering the family around the table thing? Everyone knows it's a crock. Besides what's more fun than spending money?

Well, I've had some contentious times with family, it's true. Even families that function pretty well have their moments. But it's good to gather the tribe, catch up, remember, reconnect and reconcile. Even when we stay home just the four of us, Thanksgiving is a special day. The good dishes and silver are pressed into service, the nice tablecloth is laid on the table. We listen to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring and Charlie Haden's Steal Away while we eat and tell funny stories. I try to get Jack and Will to say what they're thankful for, but they're a couple of corn dogs and just roll their eyes at me. That's a Thanksgiving tradition, too.

So on the one side you have good food and good music and corn dog kids, and on the other side you have the corporate greed heads at Target and Wal-Mart and their employees, most of whom would much rather be at home with their own corn dog kids. As the old song goes, which side are you on, boys?


If you observe Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you don't observe Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful fourth Thursday of November. Either way, I hope you spend the day with loved ones, those imperfect, boring, grumpy, cantankerous, lovely people you're thankful to call your own.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The bamboo bee house that Will and the Man constructed this afternoon. Next summer we'll put this up in the backyard, where it will give bees a place to rest. 

Tomorrow I'm going to Kentucky to hang out with my mom for a few days while she goes through her final round of chemo. She's so ready to be done! There's high hope that the cancer is in remission, but even if she needs more chemotherapy, she'll get any further doses in pill form and won't have to be in the hospital.

I'm driving to Kentucky, mostly because I dislike flying, and when you add all the hours it takes to get to the airport, get through airport security, wait for the flight, wait for the connecting flight in Charlotte or Atlanta, then pick up my luggage when I finally reach the Louisville airport, it turns out that it only takes two hours longer to drive. Driving, I can listen to audiobooks, eat yummy snacks that don't include tiny packs of stale pretzles, talk to myself, sing, and look at the beautiful mountains of North Carolina and West Virginia.

In other words, hand me my keys, Myrtle, I'm a-driving to Kentuck'!

Last week was Halloween, and guess which Halloween birthday boy got sick on his big day? Yep, poor old Will woke up Halloween morning with a fever and a sore throat. Back to bed he went, where he stayed for the next two days (okay, he didn't really stay in bed--my children never stay in bed when they're sick--it's more like he spent forty-eight hours wandering around the house looking pale and feverish and asking for popsicles).

Will's Halloween pumpkin on October 30th ...

So no trick-or-treating for poor Will. Fortunately, we have kind neighbors who brought him candy, and I bought an extra bag on Friday at Target, so that not only would Will have a sufficient candy supply, but Jack would get his big brother percentage (Jack now being too old to trick-or-treat). I felt sort of goofy standing in line to buy candy the day after the biggest candy bonanza of the year and had to stop myself from explaining the situation to the cashier, who I'm sure a) didn't give it a second thought; or b) could not have cared less.

Will's pumpkin on November 3rd, on its way out to the compost bin.

 Of course, we all got Will's bug and so I'm a little behind on my Grand Christmas Scheme. However, I'm proud to report that I have purchased gifts for my niece and nephew in Chicago and have come up with several new ideas for things Will and Jack might like. Will continues to mock me for my efforts, but when I'm serene and carefree all through December, he'll see the method to my madness.

Today I ordered a turkey breast for Thanksgiving. Whole Foods sells fresh turkey breasts that they swear come from turkeys who lived happy, uncaged lives on a kosher farm in Pennsylvania. These aren't organic or heirloom turkey breasts, but since I can't afford organic or heirloom turkey breasts, cheerful birds who spent most of their lives strolling around a field making gobble gobble noises will have to do. I'll pick it up the day before Thanksgiving, along with the fabulous Whole Foods gravy, and be a very happy camper myself.

Amanda asked in a recent comment about what Advent books I read (Advent begins on December 1st this year, by the way). My two favorites are Watch for the Light, which contains daily readings from writers such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Kathleen Norris and Philip Yancey, and God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, with writings by Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Eugene Peterson, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris and Luci Shaw. It's probably my favorite of the two, but both have a lot of wonderful things to offer.

And Gretchen asked what kind of cookie dough I made for my Christmas cookies. It's a simple butter cookie recipe-- a half pound of butter, 4 1/2 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Easy-peasy. When the time comes, we'll roll it out, cut out lots of stars and Christmas trees, sprinkle them with colored sugar, and be very merry indeed.

As always, keep my mom in your prayers, if you'd be so kind, and I'd appreciate prayers for traveling mercies. I'll be back Wednesday. See you soon!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pumpkin Love

So, funny story about our pumpkins this year ... We always buy our pumpkins from St. Paul's, the Lutheran church just up the street. Now me being me, we usually buy our pumpkins a day or two before Halloween, and usually the nice folks at the pumpkin stand give us a sweet deal, since at that late date they're just hoping to get rid of what they have left.

This year, for reasons I can't quite recollect, possibly having something to do with Will having his birthday sleepover on the 24th, we got our pumpkins early (for us).  I took Jack and Will over to St. Paul's after school last Tuesday and said they could each pick a pumpkin. The only criteria was they had to choose pumpkins they could carry. Mostly, I was thinking of my own back, but I also thought that would keep our purchase in a reasonable price range.

Little did I know that years of P.E. are finally paying off for Jack. He picked the biggest pumpkin on the lot and carried it to the checkout table as though it were a loaf of Wonder Bread. Will picked up a robust, but much more modest-sized pumpkin, and I pulled out my wallet.

Guess how much Jack's pumpkin cost? Thirty bucks! Thirty buckaroos! It's got to weigh around thirty pounds, maybe more. It's huge, it's beautiful, but who on earth charges thirty dollars for a pumpkin?

Those dang Lutherans!

Of course, I thought briefly about saying "no can do," but I stopped myself. First of all, we've been getting bargain basement prices from these people for years. Second, the money goes to missions, so it's lining Jesus's pockets, not some fly-by-night pumpkin merchant's. Finally, when your teenage son actually exhibits enthusiasm about something and it's safe, legal and not wearing hot pants, you don't kill his buzz.

But, man oh man. Thirty bucks for a pumpkin. What will they think of next?


Speaking of Jack, he stayed after school on Monday to work out at the gym. This is a first. Jack is not athletic, hasn't played a team sport since second grade, and the only physical activity he seems to enjoy is the occasional bike ride. I will say he's always liked using the treadmill and stationary bike at my parents' house. So his wanting to work out isn't entirely unprecedented, but it was definitely unexpected.

And when I picked him up, shock number two: He was sitting at a table full of girls. Girls! What is the world coming to?


Pantry sorted and organized? Check.

Lazy Susan cabinet weeded and vacuumed (yes, vacuumed, but not literally weeded, though if I'd waited much longer, there might in fact have been weeds growing in there)? Check.

Deep freeze relieved of a year's supply (that year being 2011) of frozen fig jam? Check.

Christmas cookie dough made? Check.

I'm on the path to a stress-free Christmas, girls! Yesterday, I ordered holiday stamps for my Christmas cards and did a little online perusing for gifts ideas for my MIL. I will resist buying wrapping paper at Target today, because although I'm trying to get a jump on the holidays, I do still resent stores decorating for Christmas in mid-October.

I won't be decorating until mid-December. No Christmas carols until December 1st, and then only in the car when I drive to the boys to school until the week before Christmas, when we will go hog wild with the Christmas carols.

Nonetheless, my children are mocking me for my early Christmas prep. They think I'm changing my tune. They are wrong. I'm just trying to keep my sanity in tact. That's all.

By the way, if you want to get totally, wildly, perhaps even inappropriately organized for Christmas, this is a good website:  I'm vaguely following their six-week plan.


Halloween quilt!

And Jody, since you asked about the quilting, here is a close-up of one of the blocks. The color is distorted because of the camera flash, and I couldn't figure out how to flip the photo, so this is a sideways view of my little quilted pumpkins:

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Christmas Countdown Begins

Travis says, What do you mean 'Christmas Countdown'? 
It's not even Halloween yet!

Over the years, I've turned into quite the Christmas grinch. I wish Christmas were more like Thanksgiving--lots of good food, happy family time around the fire, peace and quiet, no presents. Instead it's a month's worth of madness. But this year, there's a new Christmas sheriff in town.

That would be me.

Today is October 25th, and it's time to get going. Okay, it was probably time to get going on August 25th, but I really can't bear the idea of spending a third of the year on Christmas. 1/6 of the year is all I can do. From reading Jo's blog, I see I'm not the only one who's already thinking about the holidays (in fact, I imagine I'm at the end of a long line, but planning two months ahead is really pretty impressive, given my usual last-minute ways). (Okay, not last minute, but nowadays starting your holiday planning on December 1st is a bit last minute, given Christmas craziness).

My plan for this weekend: clean out the pantry, the lazy susan cabinet and the deep freeze. None of these is terribly out of control, and if I tackle them now they should stay in good shape through the season. I'll also get a good idea of what I need to stock up on.

I'm also going to make one batch of Christmas cookie dough. My recipe makes a ton, and I'll probably only need two batches total. It freezes well. The trick is to freeze it small batches and not to forget that it's there.

I'm very pleased with myself that last year I started a Christmas notebook, and right after the holidays I made a list of what wrapping supplies we have and what we need. I hope that will save me from making desperate trips to Target for gift bags and then discovering the stash we have in the attic.

So, what are you doing to prepare for the holidays? Or are you just winging it?


Awkward situation: There is a boy in Will's class he was friendly with last year, but has grown weary of this year. We'll call him Max. We had Max over for a sleepover early in the school year, and while he's not awful, he's not Will's cup of tea (or mine, either--when we pulled up the driveway, Max took one look at our house and said, "Ethan was right, your house is small." A bizarre remark, given our house, while not a McMansion, is hardly a shack in the woods. What I soon came to realize is that this kid is uber-competitive, and he was simply throwing down the gauntlet).

As I write, Will's two best friends, Gavin and Win, are upstairs playing with the magnetic dartboard Gavin gave Will for his birthday (which is Halloween, which is why the birthday sleepover was last night)(no school today). The three boys can definitely get competitive with each other, but overall there's a spirit of cooperation and comradery which makes their get-togethers a good time for everyone.

When Max slept over, Will was in tears by the end of the night, exhausted by everything having to be a competition, and Max often winning the competitions by simply claiming, "I won. You lose every time!"

(I should revise my above remarks. Max is awful. But he's awful in a way that makes you think he's really insecure and just trying to find his place in the pack.  Still, he won't be sleeping over at our house again.)

So, earlier this week I got an email from Max's mom, wanting to know if Will was going to play any sports this winter, because she wanted Max to play a sport, but he'd be more enthusiastic about playing on a team with friends. I emailed back and let her know in the vaguest possible way that Will is going to play basketball, and now she wants to sign Max up to be on Will's team.

Will does not want Max on his team. (I haven't told him about the email exchange, but I can assure you that Will does not want Max on his team.) There's not much I can do about it. We actually still have to sign Will up, and it's tempting to write on his form, "Please do not put Will on the same team as Max!"

Here's what I know I won't do that I'd like to do: Email Max's mom and say, Will and Max have had a friendship fail. Please don't try to put them on the same team. Please stop sending me emails about the summer camp Max went to last year in hopes I'll send Will there with Max next year. Please let this go.

But since I don't have the guts to do that, I will keep getting emails from Max's mom, and I will have to find creative ways to say, no, Will doesn't want to come over for a sleepover or a playdate or be on Max's team. Drop it. These guys are in fifth grade; it's time for them to work the friendship thing out for themselves.

I'd much rather think about cleaning out the deep freeze. And that's saying something.

Happy weekend, everyone! Merry Christmas!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Brussels Sprouts! Fall Garden!

We've never grown much besides lettuce, spinach and collards in our fall garden, but this year we're branching out to brassicas--broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. I have no idea how long this stuff takes to grow, but I love having a green garden in October.

The remains of the lima bean vine. It's done producing, but I can't bring myself to tear it down. It's a nice piece of architecture in the middle of the garden.

So here I am, posting a new post only minutes after I posted my last post! And I don't have much to say, but I'm trying to get back in the habit, so here goes.

I'm in the process of planning a summer writing workshop for kids. It would be a week-long morning workshop, and I'm interested in exploring not just the writing process but creativity in general. To that end, I want the workshop to involve a lot of creative play. You might write about a character, but you might also spend time drawing a map of your character's neighborhood, making a diorama of her room, even sewing her a (small) quilt and then explaining what the different fabrics mean to your character.

One of my dreams has been to "build" one of my books not only through words, but also through artifacts. Maps and wardrobes and forks and spoons and buttons. In a story I'm working on now, for instance, there is a weekly newspaper published for the town's African American community. If I built the world of this story, I'd actually write an issue of this paper and print it.

It would be a kind of theatre, I guess, with sets and props and costumes. I could have exhibits in my attic! I'd only charge a dollar to see it!

So I think my writing workshop would really be a world-building workshop. Do you build worlds? Do you have collections, altars, dollhouses?

Oh, before I forget, my Halloween quilt (I'm going to finish quilting it today, I hope):


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Since we last spoke, I've been to New Orleans and Nashville. Both were lovely. In New Orleans I ate beignets, which is required, and spent time at the wonderful Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which I highly recommend.

Detail from a Rev. Howard Finster painting

In Nashville, I ran into people. I ran into my friend Nancy's husband, Rick, and I ran into YA author Sarah Dessen, who lives five miles away from my house and who I only ever seem to see in Nashville,  and I shook hands with a true American hero, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). I also saw Wynonna Judd at the airport. I did not actually run into Wynonna, but simply admired her (and her hair of many colors) from afar.

Now I'm home and settling in for awhile, at least until I go visit my mom in a few weeks. She's doing well. She's finished four rounds of chemo, with two more left to go. Her doctors are very hopeful about her chances for remission.

"The true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of life."
--William Morris, The Aims of Art

I love this time of year. It's a very home-y time of year, if you're lucky enough to spend it at home. I'm back to making quilts, after a months-long pause, and already thinking about Christmas, in hopes of making it less insane this year.

Since it is my sabbath year, I've been pondering the meaning of life quite a bit (I assume this also has to do with the fact that I'm just shy of turning fifty and also that my mother is very ill). Sometimes meaning escapes me. Sometimes religious truths are just too abstract. What does it mean to love God with all my heart? What does it mean to love, period?

I'm not entirely sure, but I think it has something to do with paying attention. We're making that harder and harder, what with all our addictive devices that draw us away from the people at hand. But I think one of the best ways to love another person is to be fully present with them, the way we ask God to be fully present with us.

I've also been thinking a lot about healing--as in the healing of the heart. Every day has its slings and arrows; it's almost impossible not to return home without a least a few scratches. How can we be healers and how can we be healed ourselves? Again, paying attention and being present. By creating spaces that are restorative. By telling funny stories at the dinner table.

Another concept--

(let me take a break here: one of the reasons I haven't been blogging much is because this is how my thinking is going right now--as in, all over the place and searching and not really easy to sum up; but the problem is, if I'm away from the blog too long, I miss your company. I really do. So bear with me, please!)

Soul food. Our souls need feeding on a daily basis! I think as a culture we have forgotten this, if we ever knew it in the first place. When we don't feed our souls, we lose our way. We start telling lies to our children about how the most important thing in life is getting into an ivy league college and having a brilliant career. And then we wonder why they binge drink.  Their souls are empty and they're trying to fill them up in the crappiest way possible--alcohol and porn and hooking up. But of course those things don't feed the soul, they crush it.

Soul food. Walking and talking and art and God and sitting quietly on the porch and, yes, food! Asking someone if you can help. Remembering to take care of yourself by exercising and eat fresh vegetables and listening to the Staple Singers while you're going to pick up the kids from school. 

Anyway, back to it being a home-y time of year. I find a great deal of meaning and purpose at home. If what I'm after is peace, reconciliation, restoration and healing, then I can't think of a better place for all that than at home. To hope for these things, for myself, my family and the world, how better than to start at home? To clean the bathrooms and bake a pie and to ask the Man how his day went and actually sit down and listen to what he says instead of just nodding and wishing I could get on to the next thing.

So that's what I've been pondering and that's what gives my life meaning and I hope you'll find a way today to eat a little soul food and give a little love. The end!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

This is what I started writing on Friday:

I'm sitting here in my gym clothes, eating chocolate. I'm going to the gym just as soon as I write this. Really. I am.

Last night was Parents' Night at Our Fine Upper School. About 85% of the moms were rocking the sleeveless thing. I mean, you would not believe the number of sculpted upper arms on this population. Not me. I have flabby, middle-age upper arms with knobby elbows that always look like they need to be scrubbed (this is also true of my knees: flabby and bony at the same time, plus they're always three shades darker than the surrounding skin.

Anyway, we went to all of Jack's classes and met all of his teachers. 

But that's as far as I got. Still, I think the part about my flabby arms is important to share.
Later today, I'm going to New Orleans. I just found out last week that I'd be going to New Orleans today. I thought I was going October 19th. Quite a shock to my system, as you might imagine. I need at least a month to get mentally and emotionally prepared for these trips. I'm going for a booksellers' convention. I'll be sitting on a panel tomorrow afternoon with other middle grade fiction writers called "Stuck in the Middle." I have no idea what we'll be discussing. Saturday, I come back home.

I don't mind traveling (though I don't particularly like to fly, as I'm prone to motion sickness), but I don't much like traveling alone. It gets lonely. I don't think we're built to be catapulted by ourselves out of our homes and communities into other communities 800 miles away where we don't know anybody and have no ties.

Having said that, I am looking forward to going down to the French Quarter and sitting on a bench that overlooks the great and mighty Mississippi river.

In general, things here are going well. I've been having some bouts of the afternoon blues, but I think this is because I haven't been social enough. I was really enjoying my alone time the first few weeks of school, but I let myself get too alone. Life is hard for an introvert, achieving the right balance. So I'm planning coffee and lunches with friends and doing some volunteer work over at the Folklife Institute. I need some human connection after my writing time in the morning. 

I'm doing my best not to sign up for extra stuff, though temptation looms large. Have I mentioned that I turned 49 this year? 49 is a seventh year, which means it's a sabbath year, and I feel that I should take this year off and get some rest. There's always so much I want to do, but I just have to accept I can't do everything.

I like volunteering over at the Folklife Institute, and there's a month-long seminar on poverty at the new church I've been going to lately that meets on Tuesday nights in October. I think I might attend that. Otherwise, other than school volunteering stuff, I'm going to try to keep my commitments to a minimum.

Parenting, writing, reading, gardening. That should be enough, right? Oh, and quilting and finally getting that attic straightened out once and for all and organizing the closets ...

Do you do too much? What are you thinking about giving up?

Monday, September 2, 2013

We have a mystery on our hands. After three, possibly four years of wearing nothing but polo shirts, Jack has suddenly taken to wearing tee shirts. He had to take tee shirts with him on his class camping trip last week, and since he's returned home, he's worn nothing but. To be honest, he looks adorable, and I'm wondering if some girl on the trip told him he was cute.

But just when I wondered if Jack was morphing into an entirely new creature, today when I dropped him off at Reid's pool party he grabbed his book as he hopped out of the car. "Don't bring a book," I told him. "By bringing a book to a party, you're signaling that you expect to be bored."

"They'll think it's weird if I don't show up with a book," Jack argued. "It's what they expect."

I suppose there's some truth to that.

Happy Labor Day, to those of you who observe the holiday. Labor Day has become one of those holidays that have lost all meaning, as far as I can tell. We don't have a Labor party here, and labor unions are out of favor with a lot of folks. In fact, it occurred to me this morning we should just sack the original meaning of Labor Day and make it a day to honor all women who've been through labor. I think we deserve an official holiday, don't you?

Will is campaigning to get a Bearded Dragon. He's been doing tons of research this weekend and is already referring to them as "Beardies," as in "When I get my Beardie, I'm either going to call him 'Beardie' or 'Spike.'" This lizard campaign was taken up after the snake campaign was thoroughly defeated. The Man can not tolerate the thought of keeping dead mice in the freezer for the snake's dinner. I can't say the thought bothers me terribly in theory, but in practice it might be an entirely different story.

I'm putting in my fall garden. We always plant lettuce, spinach and greens, but this year I'm also planting broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage. I suspect that some percentage of this bounty will go to the local food bank, as I'm the only one in this family in love with winter veggies. But I'm having a lovely time looking out at my crops through the kitchen window.

I'm waiting for the back-to-school routine to truly kick in. The first week was the first week, which is always strange, and last week both boys went on their school trips, so that wasn't like a regular week, and this week we have Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah off, so it's not like a regular week.

You know what the funny thing is? I've spent my entire adulthood waiting for life to settle into a routine, and it never does.

My mother continues to respond well to chemotherapy. Tomorrow she goes in for round three of six. Her blood counts are nothing short of miraculous, and she's still not getting sick, but she's tired. Mostly she's reading and doing a tiny amount of sewing. Her spirits remain high, and folks are still bringing casseroles. Continued prayers are welcomed, and many, many thanks for the ones you've prayed already.

Have you read Susan Branch's A Fine Romance yet? Are you a fan of her blog? I love her. Reading her books and blog is like eating comfort food that has actual nutritional value. In any event, A Fine Romance is a handwritten diary of her trip to England last summer, and it's simply fabulous. Now I'm reading Elizabeth's German Garden, a book Susan read on her trip over to England on the Queen Mary II. It was published in 1898 (and you can download it for free from if you have a Kindle app!), but the feelings expressed are contemporary. Have you ever noticed that about literature, the truly good stuff? It feels like it could have been written yesterday.

I'm also reading A Green Journey by Jon Hassler. It's part of his Staggerford series, the first one I've read (and the only book of his my library has). The series is set in a small, fictional midwestern town, and this story concerns an elderly school teacher who makes a trip to Ireland. The characters seem very real to me--good people, but not perfect, not saccharine. Intelligent, observant. I'm going to buy the first book in the series when I'm done with this one.

That's my news for now. My new book came out, and you can read about it here. What are you reading right now that you would recommend?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fabric is pretty! 

Sometimes there's just so much to write about it's hard to know where to start. Well, I'll start with my mom. She's good. She's responding incredibly well to chemotherapy, and her blood counts are great. There's a lot of guarded optimism about her chances of remission. She, of course, is certain she'll be in remission by January, and in the meantime plans on living her life instead of just waiting around to be 100% well. She has books to read, quilts to quilt, and friends to visit.

Some of the best news is that the chemo isn't making her sick. She's tired, but not nauseated. She's losing her hair, but not throwing up. Right now she's on her second round of chemo, which means she's in the hospital, but she's trying to take walks at least twice a day to keep her strength up.

So thank you for your prayers. And please continuing praying! My mom's name is Jane, and she believes that all the prayers are helping.


Next up: Back to school! School starts next week, and even the boys are admitting they're ready. As always on this last week of summer vacation, we're all being total slackers. I'm turning a blind eye to extra computer time and too much TV. Whatever it takes to get us through the next few days. When school starts, both of my guys are going to be crazy-busy, so they might as well be lazy while they can.

I'm living in that la-la land most moms I know live in this time of year, imagining how the return to order and routine will make my life lovely and simple and neat and tidy. I'll write lots of books and quilt lots of quilts and make lots of cookies and muffins and put in a fall garden and go to the gym at least three times a week, probably more like five, and, oh yes, lose that last fifteen pounds. It's all possible!

History has not proven this out. Oh, those first couple of weeks of school are glorious. Things are neat and tidy, making lunches every night isn't a pain, and the children jump out of bed like little jumping beans before the alarm even goes off. By week three, of course, it all falls apart, but let's not ruin the dream, shall we? Let's pretend a little longer.


I wonder how I'll remember this summer. There have been some lovely moments. Many of them have taken place on my screen porch early mornings, the garden filled with butterflies and hummingbirds. But there's also been the intensity of my mother's illness. You always wonder how you will bear things.

What's hardest to bear right now is my father's anxieties. He's so worried and afraid. He won't be comforted, and to be honest, I don't really know what to do but pray for him.

And there is the working things out with my brothers--how often should we go see my parents? What do they need from us? My older brother, himself a cancer survivor, thinks one of us should go every other week for a few days. I'm not convinced that's what my parents want, but my brother (who is a dear, thoughtful man, but like all of us is bringing some baggage to the table) is not convinced we should leave these decisions in my parents' hands.

This is a discussion we've just started having, but it's made me realize that even the best-intentioned people (and I think that would describe everyone involved here) can be at odds with one another in a way that can result in hurt feelings, tension, even rifts. I'm proceeding with caution. Everyone is tired and emotional.

In spite of the sadness and the tiredness, I'm actually doing okay. I know I'm delusional about the order and tidiness I imagine fall will bring, but I'm still energized by the dream. So onward into September, into cool mornings and high blue skies and a fall garden filled with lettuce and kale. God is good. Let us proceed.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jack's backpack, which he carried from preschool until fifth grade. I tried to toss it in the trash, but the Man was appalled I would even consider such a thing. And you wonder why decluttering my attic is such a problem.

I need to make this quick. I have a haircut appointment in forty-five minutes and I mustn't be late, especially since I cut my own bangs last week and did a remarkably bad job of it. It's become hard to look in the mirror.

It's 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning. The Man has gone to work, and Jack and Will are still asleep. This is the first summer that Will has slept in. As we know, sleeping means growing. It won't be long before I'm the shortest person in this house.

Right now, I'm trying to fight off a cold. I'm supposed to go visit my mom tomorrow, but she has approximately ten white blood cells right now, so I can't go if I'm the least bit sick. Will had a cold last week, and I can feel it coming after me, so I'm drinking lots of tea and taking zinc lozenges every two hours. I feel like I have 1/8th of a cold. I'll probably put off my trip until Thursday, just to be safe.

So, my mom has had one round of chemo and is home from the hospital, though she could go back again if she develops a fever. I'm very sad to report that after some initial good news, we got bad news--my mom has Stage IV Lymphoma, and there are cancer cells in her bone marrow. There is still hope the cancer can be tamed into remission, but it will be a hard fight. Please keep praying!

In the midst of all of this, life, to nobody's surprise, goes on. People get haircuts, boys spend too much time on the computer, dinner gets made. On Saturday, the Man picked up Jack from camp. Good thing Jack called on Friday to ask what time he was getting picked up the next day--we had planned to pick him up Sunday. We can't figure out why, since every bit of documentation says clearly Pick Up Your Child on July 27th and Not a Second Later. We're old; we get confused.

So Jack arrived home an inch taller, relatively clean, nails recently clipped (I dreamed a couple of weeks ago that he never clipped his nails at camp, and when we picked him up they were like Cher's.) It's clear he had a great time, because he actually told us stuff that happened. He actually shared with us. Amazing! And then he went upstairs and we haven't seen him since.

Will is getting over his cold, and I hope to take him to the pool today. It's beautiful outside, sunny and in the low '80s. A good day to swim, and if you're me, lounge in the shade, fight off a cold, hope that everyone gets well soon.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A List for a Post

Will's friend Jackson going off the high dive.

Things I've been thinking about, in no particular order ...

1. Theologian Sam Wells says that if you can't make it happy, make it beautiful. I can't be happy about my mom's cancer, but I can knit her soft, peach-colored socks and send up prayers of gratitude that she doesn't feel sick in spite of the chemo, and that her friends, family and church folks are gathering around her. I can call her on the phone every day and tell her that I love her.

2. My mom could live to be ninety-nine, and I'll still be sad when she dies.

3. I hope my mom lives to be ninety-nine.

4. A question I need to ask myself every day: What feeds me? I've been going to Weight Watchers, and a couple of weeks ago the meeting leader asked us, "How many times have you eaten something and then thought, 'That wasn't worth it'?" For me, the answer is: too many times to count. I've eaten junky stuff just because I wanted the comfort of food, and then realized that junky food doesn't comfort me.

But a sliced homegrown tomato with basil leaves, mozzarella and a splash of balsamic vinegar? That feeds me.

And it's not just about food. I'm trying to get better about not surfing the Internet when I'm bored, and picking up a book instead. I'm always complaining I don't have time to read, but maybe that's because I waste too much time checking Facebook or Pinterest or seeing if any interesting articles have been posted on Slate. And afterwards I feel the same way I feel when I've eaten a stale supermarket doughnut. Undernourished. A little bit ill.

What feeds me is good talk with friends or the Man, walks with Travis, poetry, time in the garden, good books. And homegrown tomatoes, of course.

5. I'm ready for Jack to come home.

6. There's a part of my driveway where the trees on each side form a canopy with their branches. I don't know why this makes me so happy, but it does.

7. I know the Royal Family is mostly make-believe, and we have no idea what these people are really like, but the pictures of Kate and William holding their baby are so lovely, you can't help but feeling like a tender aunt, wishing them all the best as they start their brand new family.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Report

 Watching the Durham Bulls from the Press Box.

Mostly this summer had been good, but it's been weird.

Summer, in my book, is almost always weird.

Right now the weirdness lies in the following things:

1. My mom is undergoing aggressive chemo as of yesterday. She has leukemia. Formerly, she had Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia, but now she's got the acute kind. The good news is, her doctors think that she's got a good chance of beating it. The bad news is, well, she's got cancer. If you're the praying type, please pray for her!

2. Jack has been at camp for two weeks, and will be there for one more. I never know how I'll feel about things until they happen. Before Jack left, I wondered: Would I miss him? Would it be a relief not having him glare at me all the time? Would the house feel emptier without him? The answers: Yes, yes, and yes.

I'm happy to report that he's have a great time at camp. It's an academic camp being held on the campus of Wake Forest University, and Jack's course is Mock Trial. He says the kids are nice, the class (which meets Monday through Saturday, 9-4) is interesting, and the food is good. I'm pretty sure he'd be happy to stay there the rest of the summer, but we need him home, so home he comes next week.

3. One of my best friends, the oft-mentioned-on-this-blog Danielle, is moving. It's throwing me off-balance to think of her gone. Fortunately, she's only going to Charlotte, a two-hour trip, so it's not like we'll never see her again, but still. And to add insult to injury, she's taking one of Jack's best friends, her son Aidan, with her. So it's rocking our world a little bit.

4. I haven't been quilting very much, or blogging very much, if you've noticed, or doing some of the stuff that keeps me grounded. Mostly it's because I've got a lot of writing projects going on right now, including the revision of a novel and the documentary project I've been contributing to, Bull City Summer. Now, I love to write, but the Bull City Summer project is pushing me out of my comfort zone. In a good way, I think, but they keep making me go interview people. It's scary!

5. Just the general weirdness of summer, with its lack of routine, and funky weather (we've had tons of rain--I wish I could send some to my friends out West). Overall, Will's been doing well, but I think if school started next week, he wouldn't complain too much. Overall, I've been doing well, and I would complain if school started next week because I'm enjoying my slow mornings. But I'll be happy about the return of routine when it comes.

The good things: I feel good! No bad gut! I've tried some new recipes that have worked really well. I haven't had a bout of the summer blues (yet). I'm walking a lot. I've been hanging out with my dear friend Amy at the pool and having wonderful, long talks. We don't get to hang out a ton during the rest of the year, so our poolside chats are a real treat for me.

How's your summer been? I think I'll go read your blog and find out!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Back from Vacation!

I bet you didn't even know I was gone! A lot of times I post when we go to the beach, but this year I got very paranoid about letting the world know we weren't at home. Not that I think you, my dear friend, would spread the word to local robbers and bad guys, but sometimes robbers and bad guys read blogs. Okay, probably no robbers or bad guys read this blog, but, well, sometimes we're not entirely rational creatures, now are we?

Plus, I spent a lot of time at the beach napping. Or else rocking on the front porch of our rental house. Here's what my view looked like:

I like a beach house with a front yard. We were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, on Ocracoke Island, and the beach itself, the part of it where you can actually hang out, is about a mile up the road from where we stay. The nice thing about Ocracoke--or one of the many nice things about Ocracoke--is there are lots of trees. There are also hidden family graveyards, and one really good bookstore, called Books to Be Red. We can't figure out why it's not Books to Be Read. Maybe they started out as a distributor of Marxist tracts?

Isn't that a great old tree? All the trees on the island get beat up by the wind, and are quite beautiful and spooky.

So, anyway, we had a nice time. There's always at least one day on vacation where you wonder why you ever had children, because this trip would sure be a lot more enjoyable without them, but for the most part the boys were friendly and fun. We played a lot of Scrabble and ate a lot of pimento cheese (well, not Will--pimento cheese is waaay outside of Will's comfort zone, as are most foods with coloration or flavor).

We came home Sunday to lots and lots of rain. Big floods over in Chapel Hill, The creek she's a-rising, Mama sort of stuff. My garden is looking pretty beat down, and the dang squirrels are eating the green tomatoes. Plus, the mulch around my flowers is starting to smell sort of bad. But the green beans are doing great!

And the rain continues. It's supposed to go away tomorrow, at which time I'm going to hang strips of fabric soaked in peppermint oil on the tomato cages. Will read that keeps squirrels away. From what I know of squirrels, nothing keeps them away besides a shotgun, but maybe we'll get lucky.

There was a statue of St. Francis in the garden of our beach house, so Will and I started making offerings to his little bowl. We found a couple of plastic gems and a snail shell, so we put those in, and on our last day we put one of the plastic red-eye tree frogs we keep in the car (because you never know when they'll come in handy while driving) into the bowl. We hope he'll still be there next year, as we plan to be there next year, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How to Change the World One Clothespin at a Time

My neighbors Amy and Anthony have a New Year's Day Champagne Brunch every year. This year, as the party was winding down and several couples were sitting in the living room chatting, I asked Anthony if it actually made a difference whether or not I hung my laundry out to dry.

Given the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere everyday, could it possibly matter if my little dryer sat still while the family's underwear hung on the line?

Anthony is a professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies at a nearby university. By nature and by profession, he's a thoughtful man, and the subject of climate change is one he's thought a great deal about. What he told me New Year's Day was, yes, the choices we make, no matter how local, how seemingly insubstantial, make a difference.

What if, for instance, other neighbors notice that I hang out my laundry on the line? Maybe one of them will be inspired and string their own line across the backyard. And then somebody sees that line and gets inspired ... Maybe my simple act will multiply exponentially, one clothesline at a time.

I've recently read two books about climate change, Mary Pipher's The Green Boat, and Anthony's book, Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto. Both are good, but I'll be buying multiple copies of Anthony's book to send to friends and family. It is the happiest book about climate change I've ever read. Not that it denies climate change; quite the opposite. But instead of preaching gloom and doom, Anthony asks us to get innovative and imaginative. He goes beyond band-aid prescriptions.

Take recycling. Recycling is better than throwing something directly into the landfill, but it has its limits. Most paper and plastic products can be recycled a couple of times before they're too degraded for further use. But what if the pages of our gardening magazine had seeds embedded in them so we could plant the pages when we were done reading? What if that Starbucks coffee cup was edible?  Anthony suggests we need to start imagining ways not to recycle, but to upcycle.

One of the things I appreciate about this book is that it gets past politics. Anthony thinks the climate is changing, but he admits we can't say for sure that we know why. We can certainly point to a correlation between rising carbon emissions and rising temperatures, but correlation isn't causation. Maybe the sun is getting hotter. Maybe climate change is the combined result of  human activity and naturally occurring phenomena.

He argues that given that we don't know decisively what's causing climate change, we ought to err on the side of reducing carbon emissions. Why not? The less we rely on fossil fuels, the cleaner our air and water will be. The less we drive, the less time we spend in traffic jams and just plain traffic. If we drive less, we live more locally, and that can have its benefits.

It's so easy to despair about climate change, and there's much to despair about. But--and this is a major point of Mary Pipher's book, The Green Boat--humans need hope. We don't make much happen when we're living in despair. Mobilizing the Green Imagination makes me hopeful. It makes me want to get involved in my local community as well as change some of the ways we're living at home. How can we use less plastic? Reduce waste? Grow more of our own food? Connect more with our neighbors?

I can't change the world, but I could think about the place I live--this house, this yard, this city--and imagine how to make things better. Storms will come, and there will be difficult times. We can grieve, but let's not despair! As that old labor activist Joe Hill once said, Don't mourn, organize!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Big Declutter: Day 4.5

Walking through my neighborhood in the early evening ...

Okay, so I sort of forgot to post yesterday. And it's not like I did too much anyway, but I did a little bit, and I should have posted about it, if only to make the point that doing a little bit a day is not doing nothing. It's doing a little bit of something.

All I did was recycle the collection of boxes that have been living in the cabinet under my bathroom sink forever. We don't have a recycling bin upstairs, so I throw empty product boxes into the cabinet and let them fester. (Fortunately, they don't actually fester. They just sit there.) So yesterday I took three minutes to pull them out and break them down and put them in the box I'm gathering the upstairs' recycling in as I declutter. That's it. Just a little bit, but something.

My decluttering project got interrupted this week by two writing assignments. One's here, if you care to look. It's about blueberries in North Carolina. Not too exciting, really, but it was fun to write. Another is about fathers and baseball. It's going to be posted on Father's Day, and I'll post the link when it's up.

Speaking of baseball, Will's team won its championship game on Wednesday night. It's been a good season, especially after his dismal basketball season with his lame basketball coach. His baseball coaches have been awesome. They're tough, but they also praise and they've taught the kids so much.

Here's my favorite coach story from this season. Two games ago, a kid on our team named Sam was at bat, and he got hit by a pitch. It wasn't an intentional hit--the pitcher didn't have the kind of control to hit him intentionally, and anyway, that doesn't really happen at this level of ball.

Anyway, the pitch knocked Sam's tooth out--a permanent tooth, I might add. The ump called time out, and Sam left the field, and somebody found his tooth (thank goodness). Sam departed with his parents to find an emergency dentist. The pitcher stayed on the mound, looking miserable. He really hadn't meant to clobber Sam. He was just trying to get the ball into the catcher's glove. At this level of ball, getting the ball into the catcher's mitt is a really big deal.

The ump called time-in. So one of our coaches, Coach Guy, ran across the field to resume his position as first base coach, but on his way, he stopped at the pitcher's mound and patted the pitcher on the back, like he was saying, "Don't worry about it, son--accidents happen." 

And then our head coach, Coach Stewart, who was coaching third base, walked out to the mound and shook the pitcher's hand. He patted the kid on the shoulder. No hard feelings. Don't let it throw you off your game. You're doing great.

I got a little weepy then. Because it's not every day you see such incredible displays of decency and good sportsmanship. It's not every day someone models that kind of stuff for your kid. I'm happy Will's team had such a great season, but I'm even happier that he had such great coaches.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Big Declutter: Day 3

 I took this picture when we were dyeing Easter eggs. I
 thought I'd start today's post out with something colorful.

Okay, so here's where we are: One box of library books donated. One box of fabric and another one of yarn freecycled. School supplies sorted and stored in my study closet. "Shop the closet" is my new motto when it comes to requests for pens, pencils, highlighters, notebooks, notebook paper, construction paper, pencil sharpeners, pencil boxes, and graph paper.

By the by, if you're in decluttering mode yourself, be sure to check out, which is chock full of good decluttering tips and good humor (or, as it's a UK blog, I suppose I should say "good humour" or better yet, "ye olde goode humour"). I'm also feeling inspired by Jo over at, who has recently been writing about reducing waste by reducing packaging. She's even bringing her own containers to the butcher shop.

What tips do I have to offer at this point so early in the process? I have two so far: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and Don't make yourself crazy by trying to do everything at once.

The hard thing about not doing everything at once is that you have to live with some residual messes. My study is looking better than it was the other day, but there's still piles of this and that scattered about, and there's a recycling box in the hallway, and some empty boxes as well. The attic--the terrible attic!--is looking worse than usual, even though it's actually less full of stuff than it was a week ago.

As for settling for good over perfect ... for me, this actually crosses paths with not doing everything at once. For instance, I have more clothes and linens to take to the Rescue Mission Store. In fact, a lot more. In the past, I would have waited to take a load over until I had everything ready to take over. This week I decided to take what I had at hand. The Rescue Mission Store is five minutes from my house. I could go every day, no problem. I hope in the next couple of days to do a purge of my closet and Jack's, and when I have that stack of stuff ready, I'll take it, and when I have the next stack of stuff after that ready, I'll take it ... and so on and so on.

Today, I'm resting a bit. I did an exercise class on Monday, and another one yesterday, and today I'm not feeling so much sore as depleted. A little floppy. I see a nap in my future this afternoon. And then Will has his baseball game--the big championship game!--at 5:30, which means two hours of feeling very anxious in the 92-degree heat. Will I have strength to declutter at any point between now and bedtime? That remains to be seen. Maybe I'll just count taking the books over to the library and hauling my freecycle boxes to the end of the driveway as my day's work.

Will did better yesterday. It was sunny, he went to the pool with his friend Gavin, he got a good balance of alone time and friend time and exercise time. Last night we read Encyclopedia Brown mysteries and tried to figure them out.

More good news: Jack's report card arrived today, and his grades were all A's and B's, even in French. Two of the B's should have been A's, except Jack got (rightfully) docked for turning in some assignments late. He's very fourteen lately. We're going to have to live with that for at least another year, I fear.

Next project: Freecycling activity books and art supplies. Cleaning out my closet and (gulp) getting rid of fabulous shoes I haven't worn in over three years. Going through bathroom cabinets and finally chucking (or, better, freecycling) bath toys that have seen no action since approximately 2008.

More soon.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Big Declutter: Day Two

This is the quilt I made for Our Fine Lower School's Director. This was our ninth and last year at the Lower School, and we both got a little bit weepy when I gave her the quilt.

So, no decluttering pix today, but I did want to report on my most recent progress. Yesterday I took a big bunch of clothes, blankets and old briefcases/computer bags to the Durham Rescue Mission store. Didn't make it to the library to donate books, because Will was being a pill (which I will discuss in a moment).

This morning I posted two offers to my Freecycle group--the yarn and the fabric scraps. I think I'm just going to do two things at a time, so it won't get confusing arranging pick-ups.

So my other goal for today is to organize our school supplies. Here's what happens every year: the boys get a list of school supplies they just have to have. Some of these supplies actually get used, others sit untouched in their desks/lockers/backpacks for nine months. At the end of the school year, they're brought home and dumped into closets and dark corners. Then, the following August, we get the new lists and go out and buy all new stuff because we can't find the stuff that got dumped in the dark corners.

But no more! I've been seeking out all our school supplies, including notebooks with only a few pages written on, perfectly good if slightly used pencils, many, many boxes of unused markers, and at least five pencil boxes, and thrown them into a box in my study. Today I'm going to organize the supplies and make a place for them in my study closet, which from now on will be considered our school supply store. I am sure to save millions of dollars in school supplies in the coming years.

This is the quilt I made for the administrative assistant at
 Our Fine Lower School.

Okay, so Will. Will, like me, gets funky in the summer. Really, I think he gets depressed. He's out of his routine, he doesn't get as much exercise as he's used to, and he doesn't always see his friends on a regular basis, because of vacations, camps, etc.

I think part of Will's problem is that he's an introvert. From my own experience as an introvert,  I know that getting the right balance between alone time and social time is difficult. You're a little bit resistant to making plans because you can't predict when you're going to feel like socializing and when you're going to feel like hanging out reading or doing a project on your own. But when you don't make plans, you often find yourself sitting at home feeling lonely and at loose ends.

This has been going on for years, and I keep waiting for Will to grow out of it. But last night I had a Big, Huge Revelation: he's not going to (me, either). And Big, Huge Revelation No. 2: This child needs more scheduled activities in his life.

Oh, I just hate that! It means more driving and more places to be. And Will hates it, too. He hates the idea of going to camp, and usually I don't make him. But last night I realized I have to make him. Our Fine School has half-day camps, and I'm going to have to bite the bullet, take a hit for the team, insert your own violent metaphor here, and sign him up. He's going to fuss and fight, but I'll sign him up for sports camps so he can run around and get tired, and then in the afternoon we'll go to the pool. My plan is to sign him up for a camp every other week. It's going to cost me a bundle.

Here's the thing: there's a lot of depression on my side of the family, and I worry that Will has inherited the gene. It's not bipolar, and it's not severe. Both my brothers and I have it, and none of us is medicated (not even self-medicated, though there's a lot of that in my family, too). The older I get, the fewer episodes I have, and this winter I was saved by my S.A.D. lamp.

When you have the kind of depression my family has--mild to moderate episodic depression--the best things to do are exercise, eat lots of protein, and spend time with friends. So I'm off to make Will a strawberry smoothie and schedule the rest of his summer.

More tomorrow!

P.S. The NIA class I took yesterday was great! Pom Pom, you'll be glad to hear that people didn't seem overly-territorial about their spots. Lots of dancing, a little bit of martial arts moves. I kept up as best I could, had loads of fun, and was wiped out for the rest of the day!

Monday, June 10, 2013

And so the summer begins ... And so does the decluttering!

My lovely, organized study closet

It's a rainy Monday morning. We've had a lot of rain lately, and I wish it would stop. The children are starting to grow mushrooms behind their ears.

So on Saturday I got to work on my study closet. Now I'm kicking myself for not taking a "before" picture, because it looks so dramatically different now. My pledge to you: I will take "before" pictures on the rest of my decluttering projects, even if means exposing the shame of my bedroom closet, a virtual den of dust bunnies.

Here is my study, after the purging of said closet:

Click on it if you want to see the true extent of the mess. Sigh.
My plan for this week is to post every day--yes, every day!--to report on my decluttering progress. This of course is to spur me on, to keep me focused, to keep my eye on the prize--and to make you feel better about the relatively uncluttered nature of your own home (or, conversely, to inspire you if you need decluttering inspiration).

Right now, I've got three piles going: 1) Stuff for Freecycle; 2) Stuff for recycle; and 3) stuff for the Durham Rescue Mission. My Freecycle piles are actually boxes, and the boxes I've got going are 1) The Big Box of Yarn I'll Never Use Again (some of it very nice yarn indeed, but it's just taking up space); 2) The Big Box of Fabric Scraps that I Just Don't Have the Energy to Sort and Sewing Notions I Never Use; and 3) The Big Box of Activity Books and Coloring Books that Only Got Used a Little Bit. What I love about Freecycle is you can give away stuff that's been used a little bit.

Next up: Comforters and Linens that We No Longer Use or Care For, and Clothes that Are Nice But Really Don't Fit.

Oh, and there's the box of ten year's worth of Martha Stewart Living November and December issues. I always think I'm going to sit down and leaf through them for ideas, but I never do.


In a little bit I'm going over to the gym to try a NIA class. I really have no idea what NIA is, but here's how it's described:

Neuro-muscular Integrative Action is a holistic, sensory-based movement practice that combines the spirited energy of Jazz, modern dance and improvisational movement with the power and precision of the martial arts, along with the flexibility, balance and sensory awareness of Yoga, Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique. All levels of fitness welcome.

I'm a little concerned about the improvisational movement part, but the rest sounds sort of fun.  I've decided I'm going to do more classes as the gym this summer, for a change of pace. Also, I sometimes get in a summer funk, and exercise is a good way to combat it.


Okay, more tomorrow. I hope I'll be able to report to you that I took clothes and comforters over to the Durham Rescue Mission and donation books to the library. If not, then I'm sure I'll have a fabulous story of why I failed in the attempt.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Almost Done!

 Me and Will listening to the Durham Bulls on the radio, out on 
the screened porch Wednesday night.

 First of all, if you haven't read this, and you have ever in any way been involved with schooling children, I insist you check it out immediately: Not only so true, but one of the most hilarious things I've read in quite some time.

Today is Will's last full day of school. Next week, they will torture us by stretching things out one half-day at a time. Okay, it's only Monday and Tuesday, and then fourth grade graduation is Wednesday. But still, with just a tiny bit of effort, we could have this whole thing wrapped up by Monday night.

So given that today is Will's last full day, and Jack's last full day was yesterday (he started exams today), do you know what significant milestone we just passed? I AM DONE PACKING LUNCHES UNTIL AUGUST 20TH! (yes, I believe that merits all caps.) Maybe if I had children who ate a wide variety of nutritionally sound and interesting food, packing lunches would be a pleasure. But Will eats hardly any typical lunch foods (no peanut butter, no sandwiches of any kind), and Jack sticks to turkey and roast beef sandwiches. No hummus, no yogurt (though both boys eat yogurt at home), no foods that have potential to contaminate other foods with their scent. That leaves us with sandwiches, muffins, carrot sticks, grapes and cookies. Plus the symbolic string cheese I put in Will's lunch every day, which he never eats (though he eats it at home).

So every evening as I pack their bags, I feel like a lunchtime failure. I feel quite positive that Jack and Will's teachers and peers have been judging me harshly. To be free of these feelings for the next eleven weeks? That, my friend, is freedom indeed.

Other things ... I'm on a major decluttering kick. This will be the Summer of the Big Declutter. (Stop laughing! Did you hear me say it was the Summer I Will Finally Get My Attic Under Control? No, you did not.) I've already started, and here's my confession: I'm not recycling half as much as I should. Usually I'm a very committed recycler, but girls, sometimes to make any headway, you've just got to throw stuff away. You know what I'm saying? You chuck it and you don't look back.

So, anyway, do you have any good decluttering tips for me? The Man's idea of a decluttering tip is that I should leave the house for a day while he takes a pile of giant trash bags and fills them with everything he deems unnecessary to our daily lives. When I came home, the house would be completely bare but for the dog, the children, and a jar of peanut butter.

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 49. Because I always round my age up, that means I'm 50. But you know what? I don't look a day over 46.

Anyway, it was a lovely birthday. The Man took me out to lunch, and then he picked up the boys from school, and I lazed about on the porch, drinking sparkling mineral water and reading a Jackie Robinson biography. Will had a baseball game, and had two hits, and pitched two innings for a total 0.0 earned run average (for those of you not familiar with the ins and outs of baseball, that's a might good ERA indeed).

The Man and I put our chairs in the shade, and I drank some more sparkling mineral water (sparkling mineral water is to me the very definition of the word "treat"), and we chatted and watched our guys win 24-3, and cheered for both teams. We always cheer for both teams, but I suppose there will come a day when the players are bigger and meaner, and then we'll only cheer for our team. That will be a sad day indeed.

Then we came home and ate pulled pork barbecue and chocolate cake and I opened my very nice presents.

Okay, that's all I've got for now. Send in those decluttering tips, would you? I need all the help I can get!