Monday, September 28, 2015

On Wednesday, the house cleaner is coming.

I'm sort of nervous about it.

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.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Report

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. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

The quilt on Friday:

The quilt on Monday:
Doesn't even look like the same quilt, does it?

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?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Report

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?

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Social Ramble Ain't Restful and Other Thoughts & Observations

A Note from my visit to the art museum last week:

In the same way I am increasingly drawn to music that is as much noise as music (Tom Waits, Wilco), I find myself more and more drawn to abstract art or art that I don't quite understand but feel.

From Some Rules for Teachers, by Anne Boyer, after John Cage:

demonstrate uncertainty

do not let the terms with which you understand the world get in the way of understanding it

give up any desire to be the smartest person in the room

every student is a genius

conduct yourself in such a way that your students can eventually forget that you exist


 How to Keep Young by Satchel Paige:

1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.

2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify  it with cool thoughts.

3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful.

5. Avoid running at all times.

6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

From Jack Kerouac's 30 Beliefs About Writing:

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy

4. Be in love with yr life

17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

19. Accept loss forever

20. Believe in the holy contour of life

29. You’re a Genius all the time

My favorite MLK, Jr., quote:

"The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community."

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Friday Story

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.

On 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."

We 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!

Monday, September 7, 2015

I am laboring ...

... 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—
that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - See more at:
that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - See more at:
that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - See more at:
that 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.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday Report

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.

The first frost cannot come soon enough.