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!