Mostly working on projects that have made me very happy. Good work. But consuming.
Let me update you. We're having a lovely Christmas. Some Christmases aren't lovely. Some Christmases I never get the spirit, or get it but lose it quickly. This Christmas was the same as others in ways. I felt like it was too much work. I hate presents (except that I love presents). We do too much, spend too much.
But an hour after we'd opened our presents Christmas morning, my whole family was sitting in the living room, the tree twinkling before us, drinking Christmas punch and reading our new books, and it was so peaceful and lovely I wanted to bottle it.
The boys are good. Jack left this morning for the mountains. His friend Charlie invited him and several other classmates up to his family's cabin in western North Carolina for several days. Originally the plan was to ski, but it's so warm there's not even fake snow on the slopes. But this is a crew of kids who love to game, and so I suspect they will spend a lot of their time playing Risk and D&D and enjoying their first foray into what feels like freedom.
This is Jack at the Man's family Christmas party we went to last weekend. He is one tall drink of water, that's for sure.
Will has been sleeping in until 1 or 2 p.m.! He's suddenly taller than me, which I have mixed feelings about. Thank goodness for Travis, or I'd be the shortest one in the room.
Travis and I have taken a lot of walks the last two days. My jeans are feeling tight. Tonight we had turkey soup for dinner. Time to start walking away from all the pies and Chex mix, I'm afraid. I can gain three pounds just looking at sugar, and I believe I have. Sigh. Tomorrow is another day, am I right?
I hope you're having a lovely holiday. Did you get any good books for Christmas?
ETA: My Christmas books include The Lake House by Kate Morton, Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant, Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer, Fairy Tale Girl by Susan Branch, The Givenness of Things by Marilyn Robinson and The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks.
Tomorrow Will turns 13. Earlier today the Man and I recollected the night that Will was born. Around midnight of October 31st, 2002, I thought my dinner was disagreeing with me. Then it struck me I might be going into labor. The Man called the hospital, but the hospital was not impressed with my contractions. And then suddenly my contractions were coming faster and faster. We hopped into the car (okay, I don't think I was hopping mood at that point; I think the Man half-carried me to the car) and sped off to the hospital. I was fairly sure I was going to give birth in the backseat of our Honda Accord, but amazingly I didn't. Made it into a wheelchair, into the delivery room, and a few minutes later, Will was born. I believe I was still begging for an epidural at the time.
When Will was born he looked like a prizefighter. Who'd lost. Jack had been a beautiful baby and was a beautiful toddler and we felt so bad for Will, the ugly duckling. But around the time he turned six-months old, he blossomed into a pretty baby. He's still cute.
He's getting old, though. Tonight he's at the school dance. Last year the sixth graders could go to the spring dance, but Will wanted no part of it. This year, there was no question that he'd go. I dropped him off at a friend's house around 5:00 so they could all get ready together.
He called from the dance just a few minutes ago, wanting to know if he could the spend the night at his friend's house. Now, we're pretty good with the last minute sleepover requests, but usually Will's asking to stay with one of his friends we know well and whose family we know. This friend we don't know. I'm friendly with his mom and like her a lot, but we're not close. And the friend has an older brother I don't know at all. On top of that, I don't know this family's policies on Internet usage, whether or not they have HBO (and let their kids watch it), if they allow phones upstairs (we don't), etc., etc. So my answer was no.
He seemed okay with the decision. I remember asking my parents if I could sleep over at somebody's house and halfway hoping they'd say no. Maybe Will felt the same way about this sleepover. Who knows?
So happy birthday, Will; sorry you'll be waking up on your birthday in your boring old room with your boring old dog (Travis!) scratching at the door. Me, I'm glad you'll be home with us. You'll spend plenty of birthdays out on the town; we've only got you for a little while longer.
So I know you're dying to know how the colonoscopy went, although probably not in detail. Okay, so here's the scoop: much to my amazement, it was a piece of cake. The day before wasn't a whole lot of fun, but I learned something: I can fast. Well, I can fast as long as fasting includes drinking a lot of chicken broth and eating bowls of lemon jell-o. I never knew that about myself.
Here's the thing. If you've ever given birth, without or without drugs, pretty much everything else is easy peasy--root canals, gum surgery, colonoscopies, whatever. This is something I forget and then I'm reminded: I'm a soldier. I've been through the wars.
Anyway, if you're at that age when it's time to get your first colonoscopy (that would be 50), then please do. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer, excluding skin cancers (the first two are lung and prostate, interestingly enough). Getting screened is the best way to prevent it. Colonoscopy bonus? Once you get home, you just nap and snack and watch saved episodes of "The Great British Baking Show" all day. Really, it's like getting a free vacation.
So now it's late and I'm about ready for bed, but I remembered that I wanted to get back into my blogging routine. So here I am to say hello and get a colonoscopy when it's time and I'm reading Patti Smith's new memoir, M Train, and it's really good but to enjoy it you have to be the sort of person who doesn't mind it when writers aren't particularly linear, something I don't mind in nonfiction but can't really handle in fiction.
All right then: see you Friday with more public service announcements!
P.S. Do you watch The Great British Baking Show? So much fun! You can check out episodes on PBS online--http://video.pbs.org/program/great-british-baking-show/
I am 51 years old. For the last year I've put off the procedure doctors encourage you to undergo when you enter your 5th decade . Do you know which one I mean? Starts with "colon" ends with "oscopy"? Ideally I should have gotten one the minute I turned 50, but for some reason I kept putting it off ... who knows why?
Oh, I think we all know why. But Friday, I bite the bullet and get 'er done. I've been dreading it since I made the appointment. No, I've been dreading it since I was 45 and know the dreaded c-oscopy was a mere five years away.
I would like to write about something other than having this procedure, but it's on my mind. I've been snacking all day, storing up fuel for Thursday, the day of the big fast. The day of chicken broth and lemon jell-o. I imagine some people lose weight in the days preceding their colonoscopy; I suspect I'll gain five pounds.
We had such a strange weekend. Will was out of the house almost the entire time. On Friday afternoon, he went to a friend's house, and then on Saturday morning he went to another friend's birthday party and ended up spending the night. Sunday afternoon he went to the movies some other friends.
I'm glad Will has lots of friends, but I'm not sure I'm ready to give him up yet. I've had a couple of dreams recently where he's a baby again, and I think I know why.
The other strange thing that happened this weekend is that the Man and I went to a party where we knew virtually no one and had a great time. I've recently gotten to be friends with a woman in my neighborhood who also goes to our church. She turned 50 last week and had a humongous birthday party on Saturday night. Our plan was to go in, give her a bottle of wine, wait around for 15 minutes and then go get a pizza. We were there for over three hours. My socializing strategy for meeting people was to go up to individuals or couples standing by themselves and say, "Hi, I'm Frances, this is my husband, and we don't know anybody here."
We met a lot of people that way. We made new best friends for life. We also saw some other folks from church, and my dog-walking neighbor Mel, who was wearing long pants. I never see Mel in long pants--he runs marathons and is always dressed for a run when I see him. We ran into Will's youth group leader and learned the origins of her admittedly odd first name.
So, yes, the two introverts enjoyed themselves. We were glad we went. We were glad to go home when it was over. For a few hours, I forgot about my colonoscopy. Life was good. It will be good again.
So you're wondering how it went with Betty. I think it went well, though I was sort of weirdly exhausted by the end of it. Certainly the house--or the rooms that Betty and her three daughters cleaned--were beautiful, shiny and fresh. They cleaned the dust off the ceiling fan and made the boys' bathtub a thing of beauty. I couldn't be more pleased.
I was interested that when they were done cleaning Betty left a religious tract on my counter with a note ("Thank you for letting us clean your house, I hope you're happy with the job we did today ..."). The tract is the sort that most of us are familiar with--Did you know that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you wouldn't burn in Hell? Say the Sinner's Prayer today so that you will be saved. Given that I have a postcard of Mary and baby Jesus on my fridge alongside a poem by Kathleen Norris called "Imperatives" that begins,
Look at the birds
Consider the lilies
Drink ye all of it
Enter by the narrow gate
Do not be anxious
Judge not; do not give dogs what is holy ...
you'd think I might have been given a pass on the whole "we're concerned about the state of your soul" thing, but I guess not. A little disappointing, I have to say.
It's funny having a stranger in your house, especially one that's mucking about in your space for a couple of hours. You start to see what's weird about your stuff, at least if you're me. For instance, for the last three or four years we've had this dangling from our livingroom ceiling,
which is a dried bundle of Salvia clippings from the garden. The Man trimmed back the plants one day and liked how the remnants looked, so naturally he bound them together and hung them from a hook, as one does (the hook was already there--I believe the previous owners of the house hung a lamp from it). I've always loved our Salvia, but looking at it through Betty's eyes, I could understand that she might think us quite insane.
Then there's our fireplace mantle, that runs the length of the wall, upon which we have displayed all sorts of things, including one of the Man's many fine documentary photographs, various children's art projects and some barbecue sauce:
Sometimes I wonder what my children think when they go to other people's houses. Do they think, "Ah, at last, normal decor?" Or do they think the normal stuff is weird? Do they wonder where the display of barbecue sauce is? Where their friends parents display their bundles of sticks?
So I believe the house cleaner experience was a success. When I get rich, I'll have Betty and her daughters (everyone in the family is stunningly gorgeous, by the way--it's like have the cast of "Petticoat Junction" clean your house) come weekly. Will they bring me religious materials to read every time they come? Will the tracts become increasingly scarier? Should I start leaving my Bible out in obvious places? I'm curious to find out what happens next. Stay tuned!
I've wanted to hire a house cleaner for a while now. But they're expensive. And you have to clean up before they come. And they get to judge you for being messy.
I am very, very messy. Organized messy, but messy all the same.
My house cleaner's name is Betty. Betty and her daughters clean for my next door neighbor, Janet. Betty came over three weeks ago at my request and took a look around. I don't think she liked what she saw.
She also seemed incredulous that I only wanted her to clean a few areas--the bathrooms, the kitchen and the living room. Clearly this is a house that could use a good cleaning up in every room.
True enough. But I'm not ready to commit to a whole-house cleaning. There are parts of my house that don't get all that dirty, and I don't mind mess. I just mind sticky kitchen floors and icky boys' bathrooms.
So why don't I clean them myself? Because I am a person who can do very little that the spirit does not move her to do. All my self-discipline goes into keeping a daily writing schedule and cooking. After that, I'm blown about by my whims. Sometimes I'm moved to clean, it's true. Sometimes I'm moved to pull all the junk out of Will's room and paint the walls and put up new curtains. Sometimes I'm moved to watch the entire run of West Wing (again) while I work on a quilt. You just can't tell with me.
After Betty inspected my house and decided that she would deign to clean it, I checked in with Janet. Betty scares me, I told her. She scares me too, Janet said. I don't think she approves of how I keep house, I told Janet. I don't think she approves of anything, said Janet. But she's trustworthy and she does a good job.
Betty is going to come every other Wednesday. Travis and I are going to hide in the Man's study while she's here. I hope she does a good job. I hope she doesn't fire me after the first day.
This is a neat installation from the NC Museum of Art. From far away, the faces seem indistinct, but the closer you get, the more individualized they become.
Today I went grocery shopping. I bought lots of groceries. At the checkout, the cashier, who was actually a store manager, rang up my groceries and I bagged. For some reason, my neighborhood grocery store doesn't have people who automatically bag your groceries, so you have two choices, wait for the cashier to ring up your groceries and then bag them, or else you can bag them while the cashier is ringing things up.
I always bag, because a) that way the hamburger buns never end up squished on the bottom; and b) it makes the process go much, much faster.
So today the cashier rang and I bagged, and we chatted a bit about the weather (it's raining today after weeks of no rain at all). We'd gotten about two-thirds the way through my groceries when the power went out. It came right back on (there must be store generators), but the computer screen on the cash register didn't. Other cash register screens powered up again, but not ours.
I looked at my bagged groceries and said, "This is probably the best bagging job I've ever done, and now we'll have to start over."
(Another cashier walking past said, "It's sort of like winning at Tetris when you get everything packed in just right.")
The cashier and I chatted and joked as we waited hopefully for the cash register to start working again. I offered her a bagel (I had just bought a baker's dozen at Breuggers and the bag was in my grocery cart). She joked that we should go get a cup of coffee as long as we had to wait. I wondered if I should start unpacking my groceries so we could go to another register and start the process over.
She looked at me and shook her head. "Keep your groceries in your bags. We'll just ring up the rest of them on a register that works and that's what you'll pay today."
We decided to ring up the meat again, because I'd bought two pork loins (they were on sale) and three pounds of organic chicken, and that was a lot of meat to be giving away for free. But otherwise, the orange juice and the pretzels and the lettuce and the Wheat Chex and Life Cereal and milk and half and half and the brown basmati rice and all sorts of nice things were mine for the taking, no charge.
One of my favorite expressions is "Good news, bad news, who knows?" It seemed like bad news when the power went out, but it turned out to be good news indeed.
The last time we spoke, I was tired. Then I rested. Then I started coming down with a cold. The good news is it's not a bad cold. In fact, I'm functioning quite nicely. I wrote this morning and went to Will's soccer game this afternoon. I suspect what I wrote is gibberish, and I accidentally kept cussing every time they scored on us at Will's game, but I count being upright and mobile as a victory when I'm sniffly and my ears itch.
Have I mentioned that Will is playing soccer? It's his first year, and he's playing for Our Fine School's 7th grade team. He's the goalie. Most of his friends play, and for the last two years Will has played a lot of recess soccer. He's never been on an actual team before, and he's having a great time. His teammates voted him co-captain along with his friend Ashaank, and although the team is 0-3, they're not bad and getting better.
I will say I wish Will would go out for more unobtrusive positions, like ball boy or an inconsequential defensive linesman. In baseball, he often pitches, and there's nothing harder on a mother than a kid who pitches. Next hardest, though, has got to be a kid who plays goalie. While Will is a good boy for the most part, I fear he's a touch inconsiderate when it comes to my stress levels and overall mental health.
A bunch of Jack's friends came over last night to play Dungeons and Dragons. The Man grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and Jack made pie. I opened up the bags of potato chips. I had a cold.
Here's the great thing about your teenager having friends over for a gaming party. You get the fun of having a party--getting ready, planning the menu, cleaning up (which isn't fun in and of itself, but it's fun the next day, when you have a clean house), and then welcoming people in and hearing happy chatter all around you--but you don't actually have to make small talk with anyone or worry if people are having a good time. They're a bunch of teenagers with unlimited chips, cokes and brownie pie playing games with their fellow teenager friends. Of course they're having a good time.
I suppose I'll go to bed now. I will leave you with a link to a very funny piece on introverts. All my introvert friends love it. Which are you--introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between?
These are blocks from a quilt I'm working on. It's a fairly traditional
quilt, but I love how at this stage it looks kind of funky and modern.
My dears, I am tired.
I am so tired that what I first wrote was I am tried.
It's sort of the same thing, isn't it?
Last night was Parents' Night at Our Fine Upper School. We went to all of Jack's classes, which made me and the Man both mournful over our substandard high school experiences. Also, it made us even more aware of the fact that Jack is a million times smarter than either of us (but not even half as wise, and wisdom is the important thing, isn't it?).
Sometimes I'm very good socially. I get in a groove and am witty. I find my audience. But last night I wasn't on my game. That happens a lot. I did my best to just shut up. When I was in a classroom full of the Upper School's Mover & Shaker moms who always make me feel insecure, I repeated my favorite mantra, Be not afraid, be not afraid. Because insecurity, like stress, is just fear. I kept my thoughts and questions to myself. Let's just get through this, I thought.
But after Jack's AP Calculus teacher (and yes, I have a child taking AP Calculus, and yes, I don't even know what Calculus is) made the year ahead sound like the Bataan Death March and then asked for questions, I could not stop myself from raising my hand and asking, "Is there any pleasure to be had in Calculus? Because you make it sound sort of depressing." (Interestingly, Jack's teacher's eyes lit up at this question and he answered it with a resounding "Yes! There is!" so while everyone else sitting there probably thought I was an idiot, Mr. J seemed happy to have an opportunity to explain why Calculus is beautiful.) So anyway, it's Friday night, and today I wrote and had lunch with the Man and went to the grocery store and cleaned out my freezer and thought, "I need to get ready for the holidays." Cleaning out the freezer reminded me that I always think I'm going to clean out my freezer and lazy susan and pantry before Christmas, but I never do. I have such plans for order and beauty, but they never happen, at least not all at once, and never two weeks before Christmas. Maybe if I'd taken Calculus?
Just thought I'd share this picture of me at my fourth birthday party.
My hair used to be jet black! No more!
Travis and I were on our morning walk when we ran into our neighbor
Lib, whose path we don't often cross. Lib lives on Montgomery Street,
looks to be in her early 80s, and has one of those beautiful, deeply
cultured southern voices that make me think of Episcopal churches and
Chanel No. 5. Though we see her infrequently, she is always friendly.
I'm not convinced she remembers having met us before, but that's okay.
this particular meeting, Lib asked me where I was from originally, and I
gave my standard answer, which is not geographic in nature but gets the
point across, "Army brat."
"You must be from North
Carolina," I said, and she nodded yes. "I'm from Wadesboro, not far
from Charlotte," she told me. "I grew up in the town's funeral home and didn't
leave home until I went to the women's college in Greensboro."
were standing across the street from one another, Travis sniffing
around in the leaves, me hoping he wouldn't find a dead mouse to roll around in.
"I was so homesick when I left home for
college," Lib continued, "but the rule at the college was that you
couldn't leave for the first six weeks. Oh, I just felt awful! So one
day, around the fifth week, I put on my hat and my gloves and I marched
downtown to a funeral parlor and knocked on the door. When a man
answered, I fell into his arms sobbing. He of course thought that
someone had died. 'No!' I wailed. 'I just want to see some caskets!' So
he let me in, and then I felt much better."
Whenever you're tempted to skip your daily stroll around the block, remember, there's a good story around every corner. Get walking!
... to stay awake on this Labor Day (US) in order to write this post. Last night I had a hard time falling asleep and then I woke up at 4 a.m. and finally got up around 5:30 and came downstairs and drank a glass of water and ate a peanut butter cracker. I fell back asleep around 6 a.m. and woke up again at 8:30. So I'm running on fumes here. But I did want to share the picture of the Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar that's hanging out by our front door. Those eyes that make it look like an amphibious goldfish are fake. It took me a long time to figure that out. Here's another picture, just for fun:
Really, the first time I saw it, I sort of freaked out. It was like having a cartoon living on my house.
Anyhoo. Tonight at dinner the Man and I talked about jobs we had when we were young. The Man started work at an ice cream shop when he was 14, and then moved on to working at the Harris Teeter grocery store when he was 16. He worked at Harris Teeter, a North Carolina chain, all through high school and college, and then he got into publishing and then newspaper work.
Me, I did a lot of babysitting. I was not a great babysitter. I was interested in watching TV and eating snacks. I don't think I was ever mean to the kids I babysat for, but I certainly encouraged early bedtimes.
I had summer jobs during college--camp counselor, Dairy Queen worker, summer school tutor. I'm glad I worked at the DQ--it made me see the value of a college education like nothing ever had before. I went back to school a new woman.
My least favorite job over the years: telemarketer. I did that for a few months before admitting it made me miserable and got a job pouring coffee at a nearby diner. Favorite job? Writer, of course. Anne Lamott once said that she was a writer because she was completely unsuited for anything else, and that's how I feel. I know there are lots of people who would dread working by themselves day-in and day-out, but I love it. When I need human contact, I go to a local cafe and write and eavesdrop.
Well, I need to go make lunches for tomorrow and fold the laundry, and then I get to go to bed. But before I go, there was one more thing I wanted to tell you. Yesterday, I went by myself to the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh. Don't tell, but I skipped church. Or I attended church at a different venue, one with lots of paintings. I was looking at the museum's very fine collection of abstract expressionist paintings when boy Will's age complained to his mother, "I don't even get why they call that art."
His mom's response was very politic. "What is art to one person might not be art to another." Which is an okay answer, I guess, and it shut down the complaining, which was probably her goal. But I started thinking about what I would say if Will were there and making that some sort of complaint (which believe me he would have). I think I would have asked him questions. "Why do you think some people enjoy looking at a painting like that?" and "Why is looking at that painting more interesting than looking at a blank wall?"
I liked this deKooning painting very much. I used to want to understand better why I liked things, and sometimes I still do, but the older I get, the easier I find it to live in the unknowing. I'm enamored of Keats' idea of negative capability, which can be defined as "the ability to contemplate the
world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or
fit it into closed and rational systems." Or as Keats himself put it, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries,
doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—
is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - See more at:
is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - See more at:
is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - See more at:
is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - See more at:
I think the reason I went to the art museum yesterday is that my old poet friend Steve posted a list on Facebook called "Some Rules for Teachers," taken from minimalist composer John Cage. My favorite, number four, Do not let the terms with which you understand the world get in the way of understanding it, reminded me that sometimes you need to shake yourself up a bit, take a step away from your usual way of looking at things. So I went to view some art and came home ready to see things anew.
I believe my back to school energy has done up and gone. All my zeal for organizing and setting things to rights--pffft! Disappeared. I hope it comes back. I love being organized and having the laundry folded and put away in drawers. I love a tidy house. And the funny thing is, a lot of times I like to tidy my house. I like getting a hausfrau vibe going. But at times like these, when I peter out around 4 p.m. and never quite revive, a professional tidy-upper would be quite nice.
(I cannot type the words "quit" or "quite" without first typing the word "quilt" and then having to go back and correct the error. I do it every dang time.)
Above: a picture of my daybook. Will gave me a lovely blank notebook for Christmas (remind me to show you the cover sometime), and I decide I would write in it every day. I record the weather, and whether or not I walked Travis, and what we had to eat and what books I read. A close up looks like this:
I did remarkably well up until August. In August I lost the thread. But I'm back in the habit (I hope) and will continue through the end of the year. Will I do it again next year? Possibly. The notebook has a lot of pages.
Tonight the Man and I went to Barnes and Noble to browse. Other than magazines, I rarely find anything when browsing around Barnes and Noble. It's better to go the Nice Price books on Broad Street, which is overrun with old, dusty books, many of them obscure and unexpected. That's the kind of place where the exact right book will jump into your arms like Harpo Marx and insist you take it home.
Just like that.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about habits and trying to form some new ones. I'm trying to figure out how best to get myself to the gym three times a week to lift weights. I came up with a crazy scheme to go Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays right after I dropped off Jack at school. Why crazy? Because I won't do it. I don't want to lift weights first thing in the morning. I won't be able to get out of bed if I have to go to the gym before 9:00. I'll hide under the covers until lunch. So that's out.
Now I think I'll go right before lunch, after I'm done writing for the morning. The gym is fairly empty around lunchtime, so I won't have to glare at anyone who gets in my way. My plan is to write it on my desk calendar. If it's on the calendar, I have to do it, right?
I'm doing a good job sticking to my blogging schedule (which I also have written down on the calendar). My other new habit is sitting down after dinner and reading blogs and making comments. I feel like I'm being a better neighbor and doing a much better job keeping up with my many blogging friends.
Still, I think that's enough new habits for one season, don't you?
Can I confess something? I'm feeling a lot of garden guilt right now. Our garden is a mess. The tomatoes are still coming in like nobody's business, but we haven't weeded or done garden maintenance for ages. I'm not sure why. Last year I kept the garden nice and neat. My theory is that when we got a stretch of 100-degree days at the very beginning of summer, I immediately surrendered. That's it, I thought, I'm not leaving the house again until September. The funny thing is, for the most part the weather's been delightful since July. Dry, but relatively cool (mid-to-upper 80s for many, many weeks). Still, I let the garden go. Maybe once you turn off your garden mind, you can't turn it on again till the following spring.
Another theory is that we planted too much. By "we" I mean "the Man." He gets very excited in the spring and plants three times what we'll eat (with the exception of tomatoes, which I will throw into the freezer whole, if need be). It was impossible to keep up with the green beans, they were coming in so fast and furious, difficult to stay up to date with the cucumbers. At some point I threw in the towel.
I feel awful when I go out to the garden now. It looks terrible. It looks abandoned and weed-ridden. It is a strumpet's garden, the shame of the neighborhood.
Yesterday was David's memorial service. It was secular, but lovely. Knowing he probably didn't have much time left, he planned what he wanted--a celebration, not a service (he wasn't religious), a time for him to be remembered. He wanted people to laugh. He always made people laugh.
Sometime this summer, he sat down and made a video in which he talked about what was important to him--his family and his friends, music, learning, and travel. It was lovely to have him in the room with us. It felt like he wasn't gone yet. The saddest part was when he talked about not being able to see his friends as much as he liked as he got sicker. In the old days he was always going to concerts or out to dinner or for a beer. He kept all his friends from his childhood onward. A lot of them were there yesterday. It was SRO and then some.
Anyway, when he talked about missing his friends on the tape, he started to cry. So we all started to cry. I had teared up a little before that point, but I hadn't cried. But when David cried, I cried, and the Man cried, and everyone cried. We were so used to Dave laughing and being brave and philosophical. But when he cried we knew what of course we already knew on some level--that he had been scared and heartbroken, too, just like the rest of us. It was almost too much to bear.
And then when the service was over we had lunch in the next room and remembered David, the way he wanted us to. We told stories. The Man saw so many of his old friends from college--and girlfriends! I'm pleased to report that I have aged better than all of them. (O vanity, thy name is Frances!)
The Man and I were exhausted when we got home, and I thought I'd take a nap, but I didn't. And I had a hard time sleeping last night. It's hard to sleep with a broken heart. My heart was broken for David's wife Becky and his son Isaac, who is 24 and spoke beautifully at the service. But it's also broken for the Man. He met Dave his very first day of college. The Man was the first person in his family to go to college, and when he got there, he met this smart, friendly, funny Jewish guy from Connecticut the very first day and thought, 'College is going to be great!' And it was.
But the Man is never going to be 18 again, never going to stumble into somebody's dorm room and stay up all night discussing the meaning of life and R.E.M. lyrics with someone he'll stay friends with well beyond graduation He'll never have that history with anyone else. He'll make new friends, I hope, though like a lot of men I know, he doesn't make new friends easily. But he'll never make that kind of friend again.
So I didn't sleep very much last night, thinking about that, and now I'm tired. And I am really, really tired of cancer. Last night I learned that someone I like very much, someone who has been very kind to me and my children over the years, has Stage 4 lung cancer. Not a smoker, not someone you'd think would be at risk. But there you have it. Really, I've had enough of cancer. Enough.
But I will end this on a happy note, because there are always happy notes to end on if you look for them, and I didn't have to look hard for this one at all. My mother's birthday is today. She's 80, and she survived Stage 4 lymphoma. Quite frankly, she kicked its butt. Her best friend came for the weekend, and I think all they did was eat, drink and be merry (and go to church on Sunday, of course). So there are some happy endings to sad stories. I hope there will be more. Peace be with you, my dears.
I'll start with the sad news. I would be surprised if you remember this, but many years ago, I wrote about our friend David, who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and asked for your prayers. He quickly went into remission, but his doctors predicted that if the leukemia came back, which it most likely would, the second time around it would be virtually untreatable. They advised he have a bone marrow transplant, which he did.
In the four years since then, David's health has been spotty. He had some good months, but they always seemed to be followed by bad months. He spent a lot of time in the hospital. He went on disability because he could no longer work. And through it all, he remained his cheerful, witty, generous self.
David died on Tuesday. He was home, in hospice care, surrounded by loved ones. The day before, the Man delivered the quilt pictured above. I'd hurried to make it and hoped against hope that it would get months, if not years. of use. It got a day.
We are heartbroken at the loss of our dear friend. David was one of the Man's best friends. They met their first day of college, back in 1984. They traveled together, drank together, played music together, philosophized together, and mostly laughed together. I met David in 1991; he was one of the first of his friends the Man introduced me to. We hit it off immediately and have been friends ever since.
Here's one thing I know for sure: "why" is not a very useful question at times like these. David was among the best of men. He was beloved wherever he went, because he always saw the best in people, always made you feel special, smart, better than you actually were. We need more Davids, not fewer.
Now, onto happier tales ...
Here's Will on the first day of school. He's so big! He started 7th grade on Tuesday and seems happy with everything so far. This morning when I dropped him off, I saw a group of his friends--Ashaank and Henry, Win, Jackson and Jack--all these boys who are in the process of morphing into men. They're stretching out. Their faces are a little strange. They have acne and hair on their legs and it won't be long until they get little wispy moustaches. I'm not sure I'm ready, although I've been through it once with Jack.
Jack is at an age where his face is settling into place. He looks good. He and his long distance girlfriend are persevering. The Man and I have been good about not saying, "It probably won't last." It probably won't, but why spoil it?
It's been nice have long stretches to myself every day. I've been writing and getting organized, taking advantage of all this back-to-school energy. It won't last, but while it does, I'll work on updating my calendar and putting things into folders and making appointments, etc. etc.
This weekend I hope to get back to my book on architecture. I have two other books on the pile about houses and architecture--A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander and The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. "I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming," Bachelard wrote, "the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”
Alexander wrote, "To work our way towards a shared language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns, which are deep, and capable of generating life."
I love looking for patterns. I think our brains are designed to seek patterns and to find them hugely satisfying.
Will and I have been watching "Love It or List It" on HGTV. Have you ever watched this? People who are unsatisfied their houses get them renovated while at the same time looking for a new house. At the end of each episode, they decide whether they want to stay in their newly renovated home or buy one of the new homes they've been shown (and therefore list their old home). They almost always want to stay in their renovated home, even when they've been shown a house that's superior in every way. This doesn't surprise me, but often the shows end with me and Will moaning and groaning at their decision. It's fun.
It's Friday night. I'm going to sleep in until 7:30 tomorrow! I can't wait. Have a good weekend!
Artsy picture of the quilt I made for my mom's birthday
It's 10:11 on Monday night, and I'm tired and ready to go to bed. But I'm trying to form a new habit--to blog on Mondays and Fridays. Now this has been a particularly busy Monday--tomorrow is the first day of school, so we've been going to back-to-school open houses and putting together binders and buying shin guards for soccer and baking pumpkin muffins and mixing up french toast batter for the morning. So you can see why I haven't had a second till now to write.
I've been reading about habits lately; in particular, I've been reading Gretchen Rubn's Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. I love Gretchen Rubin's books (The Happiness Project, etc.). They are sensible and orderly and offer helpful advice. She's the one who suggested you have one empty shelf in your house. I love that suggestion! I think everyone should follow it.
Anyway, I started reading Better than Before because I want to give up eating goldfish cheese crackers, and I find it so awfully hard to do so. As it turns out, the book is more about adopting good habits than getting rid of bad ones, but it still fills you with a can-do spirit. And there is one bit of good advice about habits that applies to eating and imbibing--one should decide if one is an abstainer or a moderater. I think most of us are both, it just depends. For instance, I have no problem moderating my consumption of alcoholic beverages, but if there is a single potato chip in my house I will track it down and eat it, even if it's dusty and stale (okay, not really--or at least not always). Over the last few years, I've cut down my sugar consumption drastically and as long as the cookies are behind the cupboard door, I don't think twice about them. Pumpkin muffins? I must abstain entirely or grow another dress size.
In terms of developing good habits, sometimes it's better to do something every day, like exercise, than to say you'll do it three times a week. And I've decided that if I'm going to stay current with my blog, I need to come up with a schedule. I'm not convinced I can do every day, so Mondays and Fridays it is. Now I know. Now I can commit.
I would also like to develop the habit of sitting down for fifteen minutes every evening with a glass of tea and commenting on all my favorite blogs. Maybe I need to put that on my calendar. It helps for me to see stuff written down. In neat letters and bright colors. Large print.
Tomorrow Will starts 7th grade and Jack starts 11th. I think they're both excited. I'm excited--I love going back to school. I think I'll get up in the morning and organize my desk and sharpen some pencils.
I'm reading a wonderful book I want to tell you about at some point. It's called The Architecture of Happiness by Alain De Botton. It is a book about buildings and houses (which are of course buildings) and beauty. And desire. And how lovely, tidy room can make us feel as though life were indeed good and worthy of leaning into.
But I'm too tired to write about it now. Maybe Friday. I'll just say that I'm enjoying thinking about houses and what makes a house a good, comfortable place to be. But enough. To bed!
My dream house: please note the white picket fence and turquoise shutters!
Lately I've been having dreams where I find new rooms in my house. I think these are dreams about creativity and possibility more than actual houses. But might they also be dreams about finding unexpected riches in my very real house that seems to me without surprise or enough light?
This summer we've been working on a big decluttering project. I feel like I'm always working on a big decluttering project, but this one has had some real muscle behind it. The Man decluttered his study, and we completely emptied out Will's room to paint it and refurnish it. It's now a whole new room, with a futon couch and orange chevron curtains. Will went through boxes of stuff and threw a lot of it away or sent it to Good Will or the recycling bin.
As a result of the decluttering project, I now have an empty wicker trunk in my front room. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, writes about the importance of having one empty shelf in your house. The wicker trunk is my empty shelf. It feels so good to have a box of empty air where a bunch of papers and old videotapes used to be stored.
The quilt I just finished for my mom--she turns 80 this month!
We are not that far from the end of the summer. The boys start back to school on the 25th. Jack is eager, Will is not. Same old story. I think they've both had good summers. Jack went to an academic camp at Georgia Tech and got himself a (long distance) girlfriend, his first. I'm excited that he gets to be sixteen and in love. And I'm proud of him for not being afraid to fall in love. It's a scary thing, but worth the risk.
Will has been lazy, lazy, lazy. No camps at all. But he has been working on a big multimedia project about college football, which has included keeping a blog. He's done a ton of work on it, and I can't help but wish he'd work this hard for school. But frankly I was the same way. I fed my passions, ignored the rest. It's amazing I ever graduated from any institution of learning, given that I only learned what I wanted to.
One of the best things I've done this summer is go to the Quilt Alliance conference in northern Virginia. Two days of talking about quilts--heaven! The Quilt Alliance has some quilt documentation projects that I hope to contribute to some day. Go here if you want to find out more: http://www.allianceforamericanquilts.org/projects/
The garden is wild and overgrown. The house is decluttered and still messy. I'm dreaming about houses and trying to make mine loveable and liveable. I'm dreaming about fall. What are you dreaming about these days?
Question asked in late May: Would four yellow squash plants be enough? Would I regret not planting more come July?
July's answer: Four yellow squash plants is three plants too many. We will never run out of yellow squash. Not ever. So what to do with all this squash? As far as I can tell there are only three existing yellow squash recipes in the world. Sauteed squash. Squash gratin. Squash in spaghetti sauce. That's it.
Now zucchini recipes are everywhere. Stuff your zucchini! Julienne your zucchini! Make some delicious zucchini bread. And don't forget to roast it, bake it, and/or cover it in breadcrumbs and fry it! Zucchini is fabulous with mozzarella. Yellow squash? Not so much.
Well, let me add a fourth yellow squash recipe, one that I came up with by accident. I caramelized some onions the other night for a dinner of sirloin steak tips, broccoli and--you guessed it--sauted squash. What I discovered is that if you mix up your sauted squash with your caramelized onions, you've got quite a taste treat on your hands.
The rest of the garden is coming along. The blueberry bushes are three years old this summer and finally bearing fruit--one berry at a time. We have twelve bushes, and every day I pick twelve berries. Aren't they supposed to all turn blue at the same time? How am I ever going to make jam?
We have three sections of corn this year. This is the Man's doing. He is going to be the Corn King of the Suburbs. If you would like me to mail you a few ears, just leave your address in the comments section. We will have plenty to share.
A Kingdom of Corn
The summer is coming along. We spent last week on Ocracoke Island, frolicking in the exact same spot where a man was bit by a shark yesterday. We're having a bit of a shark problem in general on the NC coast. The Man has decided that next summer we'll take our vacation at a lakeside resort. In the mountains. He saw Jaws at an impressionable age. We'll never go to the beach again.
I'm trying to do some writing and some quilting. I'm reading Seamus Heaney's selected poems, Opened Ground. A poetry teacher I had once said you should adopt a poet every season. I do this periodically. I've done it with William Carlos Williams and Philip Levine. It's quite a wonderful project. You go deep. Usually I go wide.
That's it for now. Hope to see you again soon! Do let me know if you'd like me to mail you some corn.
P.S. Here's the quilt I'm working on now. It's a Dresden Plate, so what I've been making are the plates, which I will late applique to blocks. I can't decide what the background color should be. My mom says I should consider navy blue. Any thoughts?
If you scroll down to the bottom of my blog list, you'll see the names of the disappeared. These are bloggers who blogged for a time, whose blogs I loved, and who one day stopped blogging. It happens, but sometimes it feels like you've lost a friend. I feel especially this way about Dulce Domum at Bread and Roses. Fortunately, she's left her blog up, though she stopped blogging over two years ago, so I can go back and re-read from time to time. I know several of you who regularly read this blog once read Bread and Roses, too. Does anyone keep in touch with Dulce? Have an email for her? I keep hoping she'll come back. I wonder how she's doing.
I myself have not been a constant presence this year. I think the more invested I am in home and hearth, the more time I spend blogging. This has not been my most domestic year so far, though I'm hoping that will change.
We're finally getting the garden put in. Of course, the can't-live-without tomatoes went in at the proper time, because we don't mess around with tomatoes. But I'm just getting around to the zucchini and butternut squash and the herbs. I bought a few new perennials for the flower garden--phlox and coneflowers--and today I picked up the bedding plants, mostly my beloved marigolds, but a Dianthus plant and some portulaca as well.
What I have been doing that has kept me from gardening? Writing mostly. I finished a draft of a novel and a big grant proposal for the nonprofit I volunteer with. I made the quilt pictured above. The piecing took a weekend; the quilting took forever. I've been reading lots of books about quilt history, which I grow increasingly more interested in.
I'm taking a break from the writing and the grants to try to gain some control over the house. I have plans to spend a lot of time this summer painting. Paint is relatively cheap and covers a lot of ills. I have a long list of big projects I want done, but can't afford this very minute, and probably won't be able to afford for awhile. But I can afford paint, and I can afford to make curtains for the upstairs bathroom. That will have to do for the time being.
I'm reading a couple of books right now that touch on fasting. One is Thoughts Matter by Mary Margaret Funk, a Benedictine nun, and the other is Awakening to Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove, one of the founders of the New Monastics movement. Funk writes that fasting isn't necessarily going without food, but eating in a way that is ordered and mindful. Gluttony, she writes, "is the pattern of of eating indiscriminately with no thought of how this food is feedingi [one's] spiritual life." She writes about the "original order" of things as being "friendly, natural, organic, relational, whole and simple." I like that very much.
Hartgrove lives with his family and others in a impoverished neighborhood about five miles from my house. One day a week, the members of his household fast until dinnertime. Fasting, he writes, "is not a denial of food's goodness, but rather a joining of ourselves with God's longing that there might be food enough for everyone in a world that's been redeemed." Later, he says, "By way of fasting you come face-to-face with the truth that eating points to: you are a dependent creature, and you do well to remember it."
This week I've been trying to be ordered in my eating. This is hard for me in the late afternoon, when I'm tired and bored. I've been eating a piece of fruit and a couple of Wasa Crisps with Laughing Cow cheese spread on them. That's it until dinner. It's hard for me, but I like Funk's idea of food taking its rightful place in the order of things. I like the idea that there is an order of things.
A busy weekend ahead. Will has a baseball game tonight, and tomorrow I've got a haircut and Jack has a dinner party (!). One of his friends is turning sixteen, and she and her family have invited a group of friends to have dinner at an Italian restaurant.
Jack turned sixteen himself recently. We bought him and two of his friends tickets to see some bands in Raleigh, and apparently they had a big time. Now Jack has started playing electric guitar. I don't think he knows it's my electric guitar (I don't play it much) that he's playing. That would drain the cool out of things pretty quick, don't you think?
Then on Sunday, Will is going to a birthday party at a laser tag site about twenty-five minutes away from here. I'm looking forward to the end of birthday parties, at least the kind that involve me spending my afternoons driving back and forth all over town.
I'm going to work in the garden this weekend, do some cleaning in the garage and maybe even wash my car. Good times, ladies, good times!
We don't make a huge, big deal about Mother's Day around here--no Sunday brunch at a fancy restaurant, no profusions of flowers. Usually Mother's Day consists of me taking a day off from chores and the boys being extra sweet. The Man makes dinner, the boys give me some presents, and it's all good.
Yesterday was different, because I had signed up to help with Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) at church. IHN is a program that helps homeless family transition into jobs and housing. These families aren't chronically homeless--typically, the head of the family (almost always a single mother) has been laid off from her job or has recently moved into the area and hasn't been able to find a job. She has skills, she has the will, she's just had some bad luck. IHN helps by offering temporary housing in churches and synagogues with sleeping facilities and providing meals, transportation and job training.
My co-host at last night's dinner was Amie, a woman who attends our IHN partner church and had her 5 year-old daughter Jane with her. Amie, like the women we would be hosting that evening, is a single mom. She has a good job and good support systems in place, but even so, single parenting isn't easy under the best of circumstances, and she felt a strong connection to the moms we ate with last night.
It felt good to take care of moms who don't get a lot of love. Amie, bless her heart, brought each of the three mothers big, sparkly Mother's Day cards and gift bags. We watched the kids, served up ham and mac and cheese and banana pudding, and did the dishes. The moms, who have been traveling together from church to church for several weeks now and have bonded, sat back and relaxed or took naps.
When Amie and I were cleaning up, we talked about how for so many mothers, Mother's Day isn't a happy occasion. This led to a conversation about families in commercials, especially around the holidays. For a single parent, it's painful to watch image after image of traditional families gathering together. But what surprised Amie is when I said I thought those commercials were painful for a lot of people, just not single mothers. Our families, being human, are flawed. We all think we're doing this parenting thing wrong--and then sure enough, there's that perfect TV family proving our point.
Our discussion made me think that maybe what mothers should do on Mother's Day is gather with other mothers and tell our stories. Talk about the good stuff and the bad stuff. No bragging, just truth-telling. We can drink champagne and wear tee shirts that say "Every Day is Mother's Day" and give each other flowers. We can take care of each other, like good mothers do.
It's morning and I should be writing, but the kitchen guys are here, putting shelves in the cabinet. Travis, scary watchdog that he is, is barking. The pneumatic nail driver is driving nails.
Not really a great morning for developing a coherent narrative.
So hello! Last time we spoke, I had a bug, but the bug is gone. Last week was the week where I did all the work I should have done during the week of the bug, but didn't. Plus, I did two school visits. One of the visits included doing a writing workshop with eighth graders. Eighth graders in spring time are not your most enthusiastic group. They're ready to move on, and besides, middle-aged visiting writers look like their parents. They no longer like their parents. Really, I should put in my contract: No eighth graders after February.
I finally got them excited by getting them to think like film directors rather than writers. Everybody, even eighth graders in spring, wants to direct. They wrote some good, funny scenes. We talked about how writers need to look, really look, at what's around them. Then I blessed them and sent them on their way.
Anyhoo, this week has been a little more normal, except for the kitchen guys showing up today and the fact that tomorrow the Man and I are heading over to Eli Whitney, NC, to make a video. It's the 84th Annual Uncle Eli's Quilting party. Here's the story:
It's a very cool event, and we're documenting it for the Folklife organization where I'm a volunteer. Yay, I'm a documentary filmmaker! That would have never happened in March.
It looks like spring is springing. And April is here. Thank goodness! March was a long, long month. It was my least favorite month of 2015. I'm looking for favorite months from here on out, each month better than the last.
So you know how last week I was all over it? I was organizing and eating right and changing my life by not really changing my life?
This week I have a bug. Or maybe it's a combination of bugs. Plus allergies. Or maybe it's just one, cruddy, pernicious bug.
I hate bugs.
But it always seems to happen. I get organized and energized and I'm on a roll, when all of the sudden, splat! I hit a wall.
Oh, well. I've gotten a lot of reading done so far this week, and guilt-free reading (i.e. reading on the couch all afternoon long) is a treat. I finished A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, which I liked very much, and Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy, which was fantastic, though sad. Yesterday I read August Wilson's play The Gem of the Ocean. I'm trying to finish his whole Century Cycle this year. I've already read Joe Turner's Come and Gone and Fences. Next up: The Piano Lesson.
I hope I'm all better by Sunday, because I'm doing a charity walk for hunger. I've wanted to do this walk for a long time, but I hate asking people for money. So this year I came up with this great plan: I emailed all my local friends and asked them to pledge $5 each. My reasoning was, whenever I get asked to pledge for somebody's 5K or fun run or whatever, I never know how much to pledge--what's too much? What's too little? Also, I always think I should pledge $25, but I can't afford to pledge $25 for every charity event in town.
But if someone said, pledge five bucks, I'd be like, you bet! Happy to! So that's what I decided to ask my friends for. And most of the people I emailed emailed back and said, you bet! Happy to! One friend pledged ten dollars, and another friend pledged $50 (!). So my pledges are adding up.
I guess that's it. I hope you're feeling okay and don't have this bug that's going around. Or spring allergies. I ran into my friend Mel this morning; I was walking Travis and he was walking his crazy Boxer Cricket and a neighbor's dog, Abbie. Mel felt terrible. He's in his late sixties, and usually he's healthy as a horse. His goal is to run a marathon in every state, and he's getting close. But today he was dragging. Alleriges. Sinus. The bug. Poor guy.
My basket of yo-yos. One day, when I have around, oh, 500 or so of these suckers made, I'll sew them into a quilt.
Look at me, a twice-a-week blogger! Sometimes I think (speaking of habits, as I was earlier) I should blog every day, because it can be easier to do something daily than to do it sporadically. Who knows; maybe I will.
I appreciated all the comments on my last post (especially all the nice comments about my quilt--thank you!). Heather brought up something I've thought about a lot:
I feel as if I go through most of my days noticing what needs to be
changed and thinking about how to make those changes. Thinking and doing
are two different things, though. Then I start to think, "What's so
wrong with me that I think I need to change anything? Isn't the way I
live the way I'm most comfortable and the essence of who I really am?"
I wonder about that, too. Obviously, there are changes that really should be made--dealing with addictions, changing eating habits that are detrimental to good health, taking up exercise if you're sedentary--but like Heather I sometimes wonder why I can't just be who I am. My habits are formed around my likes, dislikes, tendencies, weirdnesses, passions, etc. What are the odds of me changing my essential personality?
All this to say, it is possible the bathrooms in my house will never be really, thoroughly cleaned more than once a month. I need to face that.
I have made some changes in my life very recently, and I'll be interested to see if they stick. First, I've given up dieting forever. I'm over it. Instead I am embracing the food I love, which is for the most part good old hippie food--grains, fruits and vegetables, hummus, tabouleh, beans and rice. And absurdly dark chocolate (honest--the other day I bought a bar of 99% dark chocolate and I LOVE it). Horrifying, huh? Well, if you've been on the low-carb bandwagon over the last few years, as I have, then yeah, it's pretty scary. My carb count has gone through the roof since I put on that first pot of quinoa. But I'm very happy at every meal and have lost half a pound.
Secondly, I've taken up yoga. I've been to two classes this week, and I loved them. I love all that stretching. I don't feel half as goofy as I thought I would. I've discovered my balance is for the birds, but I hope that will change.
Why make these changes? In some way, to quote Heather, to get to the essence of who I really am. I am an eternally chubby middle-aged woman who loves complex carbohydrates and stretching. I will give up counting calories and obsessing over my weight, and in exchange for that freedom, I will exercise and dance and take a lot of walks.
We'll see how this works out.
Having said all that, where are we on decluttering? I'm still all for it. In her comment, Nancy advised, Continue on with the decluttering because when you are one generation
older than you are presently, it will be a godsend.
That's on my mind, and also the fact that one day we'll move out of this house. It's too big for just me and the Man by ourselves. I'd rather work on getting rid of stuff now than to wait. And Marie Kondo promises that once you do a thorough decluttering, you'll never have to do it again. Or even tidy. Everything will stay in place and be joyful and perfect forever.
Well, that's a hard deal to pass up, now isn't it?
Besides, I agree with Jo's comment: We really don't need all this stuff.
Finished the Mosaic quilt! After three years, it's finally done.
I know, I know--it's been ages. And I don't know why I haven't been posting, other than not feeling motivated. I've been unmotivated about any number of things in 2015. Certainly cleaning my house tops the list. How glad I am that you're not here to investigate the nooks and crannies and corners of my house! Cobwebs! Fingerprints! Little bits of paper, strands of thread, dust and more dust!
And on my nice yellow bedroom rug (see above)? A footprint. Mine, by the size of it, and it won't wash out. What did I step in? Was it the nicely-scented cream I use, imprinted now forever on my floor? I just don't know.
It's funny; I just went over to Gretchen Joanna's blog, and there's a selection of quotes about habits. That's exactly what I've been thinking about lately. When you're fifty, can you break life-long habits? I quit smoking seventeen years ago, and I've always felt like if I could kick nicotine, I could kick anything. Over the past few years, I've more or less kicked sugar (I still eat it, but not four or five times a day, not even daily, and usually only in the form of very dark chocolate). That's another big one.
But can I kick the way I keep house, which is to say, haphazardly? Making piles of stuff instead of getting rid of it? Squinting as I pass through certain rooms so I can't see the messes, big and little? Not replacing what needs to be replaced when it needs replacing?
Well, I'm trying. On the advice of my friend Amy, I bought The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Earlier this afternoon, I went through my drawers and closets and tossed everything that doesn't bring me joy (everything you have should bring you joy, according to Kondo), except perfectly fine underwear and my gym clothes. Then I went into the boys' rooms and put all their tee shirts on their beds and asked them to get rid of any that they don't wear. (All discarded clothing still in good shape will be donated, of course).
Kondo's advice for decluttering is: clothes first, then books, paper and finally miscellany. I was relieved she doesn't want me to start in the attic; my spirit has been broken too many times that way.
BUT even before you start, you need to have an idea of what kind of lifestyle you're aiming for and why. I'm not a lifestyle kind of person, but I know that I would like my home to be clean and comfortable and--I don't know if I can explain the third thing. The word that comes to mind is "light." As in "lightness." As in "nothing weighing me down." I feel weighed down by stuff.
Mostly I feel weighed down by stuff I'm not crazy about. That's why I like Kondo's emphasis on only having things around you that fill you with joy. I have those things, but I have a lot of stuff that's old or worn-out, stuff that worked in our old house, or worked for us when the boys were younger, but now just feels junky and not what I want.
So I'm going to try this Japanese art of decluttering. I'm not done with clothes yet, though I filled two garbage bags this afternoon in under thirty minutes. I still have to do shoes and coats and handbags. I don't have one jacket that I really love. I think I should get rid of all my jackets that I half-love and buy one fabulous jacket that I'll wear for years, don't you?
Can we really change ourselves in middle age? What do you think? What's the biggest change you've made as an adult?
I'm in the process of quilting this mosaic quilt. I should be done in another ten, fifteen years.
It only takes two or three gray days tied together before you start thinking that this is the gloomiest winter we've had in years. But the fact is, a blue sky winter is the exception to the rule in these parts. Last winter was gray, and so was the one before that (or at least that's how I remember it now).
Really, the only way to get through this time of year is by the judicious yet generous sprinkling of treats throughout the day and week. Peppermint tea when you're feeling dull and listless is always uplifting. Buying used, out-of-print books online for two dollars is nice because you get the thrill of buying something without a huge expense, and you get the fun of anticipating mail. I also recommend interlibrary loans for putting a little pep into your step, especially of expensive art books.
I try to have lunch with friends at least once a week and spend an afternoon over at the fun nonprofit where I volunteer. And unless it's pouring down rain, I get outside with Travis once a day. Together, we survey the neighborhood. Lots of things are beautiful in winter, especially red mailboxes. Who looks at a red mailbox in summer? Nobody except the postman. But in winter, a red mailbox is the belle of the ball.
I'm pleased to report that Jack seems to be 30% less cranky these days. He'll be sixteen in a couple of months, and a friend of mine with older children told me that hers came out of their adolescent funks toward the end of their sophomore years in high school (come to think of it, so did I). I'm sure it helps that Jack is swimming three times a week--nothing like a burst of endorphins to boost your mood. But I also think he's just getting older and a little bit happier.
You know what that means, right? Will is a pill. Yep, sweet Will is a thing of the past. Oh, he resurfaces now and again, mostly on weekends, but Will 2.0 pretty much resents and resists any parental interference in his life. Great. I think I'd almost convinced myself that since Jack's was cranky even before puberty set in, we'd get a pass with Will. Illusion shattered. Lord, help get me through the next three and a half years.
Both boys just got their report cards. Jack got straight A's (yay!), and Will got all A's and B's. I asked Will last week if he thought he could get straight A's if he tried, because I certainly thought he could. He said, "Yeah, but the kids I know who get straight A's study for two hours a night, and I don't want to study that hard."
It's hard to argue with that, and I didn't. Will is one of the most well-rounded people I know. He's bright and creative and a good athlete. He has lots of friends and can talk to anyone (though like the rest of this tribe, he's an introvert and gets out of sorts if he has to socialize too much). While I'd love for him to get straight A's one quarter just so he knows that he can, I can't bring myself to insist on it. He's a good kid. If he stays out of trouble, he'll do fine whatever his path ends up being.
The Man and I did have an interesting talk about internally v. externally motivated people, and how Jack is one and Will is the other. If I told Will we'd get him a smart phone if he got all A's, you can bet he'd have a perfect report card next quarter. But when Jack brought home spottier grades in middle school, no amount of bribery could get him to work harder. Once he was in high school though, he decided he wanted to be a straight A student, and he is. The Man and I have absolutely nothing to do with it.
As I write this, I'm looking out over my backyard garden, which is covered in black plastic. Although the winter has been gloomy and rainy, it hasn't been too terribly cold, which means the sturdier grasses and weeds just keep growing. Covering up the ground is a good way to save yourself a lot of work come spring. But while I'm glad I won't have to spend two weeks in March redigging all my garden beds, a black plastic-covered yard doesn't actually make you want to break out in song.
However, thinking about gardens does, and it's almost time to get planning. I'm sticking to tomatoes and basil this year, I think, plus flowers. What else does a girl need?
I accidentally took this picture of myself the other morning. I was trying to take pictures of winter foliage, but must have hit the reverse button on my camera.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. A two-and-a-half hour lunch in which we gossiped, discussed the difficulties of raising one's 80-year-old parents, and agreed that it's always important to carry your needlework with you (needlepoint in her case, knitting in mine) at all times, because you never know when a meeting's going to get boring.
Afterwards, I popped over to see some friends at the nonprofit I volunteer at three or four times a month. The staff consists of two women I adore, one of whom is my age, but single and dating and always has interesting updates on her love life. So, yes, more gossip.
That doesn't sound very introverted, does it--two-hour lunches and popping in on friends after for another hit of talk? Well, of course I was exhausted aftewards--that's the real test of an introvert, isn't it? And I was engaged in what I called Introvert Winter Survival Strategy. When the days look like this:
then it's time to get out and about. I find that one good day of socializing inoculates me against the winter blues for at least two days afterward.
I am in a cooking mood. Now, I cook every day, whether I'm in the mood to or not. But when the prospect of chopping an onion strikes me as fun and a little exciting, that's when I know it's about to get interesting in the kitchen. Conversely, when I can't stand even thinking about mincing a garlic clove, then it's time to make a big pot of hearty soup that will carry us through several days. Or else order a pizza.
But right now I'm in a mood. I always love to cook this time of year, and now that I have a new oven AND a new chef's knife (a very scary 8" Wusthuf that I got for Christmas), why, I'm practically Julia Child.
In fact, I'm reading a book about Julia Child right now, called Provence 1970 by Luke Barr. It's about a moment in time when a group of some of the most exciting American cooks and food writers (Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Richard Olney) gathered together in an informal culinary summit. It's lots of fun.
I'm also reading a book I got Jack for Christmas called Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell, a chef at Chez Panisse. Peternell got the idea for the book after realizing his eldest son was about to head off for college and didn't know how to cook the basics. I really got the book for both Jack and me, since I'm not always sure I know how to cook the basics. The recipes are wonderful, and for the first time in my life I can fry an egg with confidence.
This morning I spent thirty minutes in front of my S.A.D. lamp. That also helps keep the winter blues away. What do you do (those of you experiencing winter--I know some of you are in the throes of summer!) to make this time of year not only bearable, but downright enjoyable?
I'm a writer and a stay-at-home mom who keeps meaning to mop the floors because I think it would make me happy if I did. I love books and music and writing, spend entirely too much time in the dentist's chair (I bet I have more crowns than you do), and used to think I was sort of bohemian, but now I wonder. No tattoos. Minivan. That story.