Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sorry to take a few days off. My mother-in-law had a stroke on Monday and that has made our life topsy-turvy. She is doing okay--she's aware, responsive, herself, and in good humor--but will have to spend time in acute rehab. As is often the case with strokes when it comes to a prognosis, we won't know until we know.

The Man has been in Charlotte with his mother for several days now. As is often the case when parents get ill, there is stress in the family. Everyone has the best intentions at heart, I believe, but this is an emotional and complicated time. So far the Man's cooler head has prevailed in the decision-making process, but the road may be bumpier up the way.

My mom was diagnosed three years ago with a very aggressive form of lymphoma, from which she is now fully recovered (and is considered cancer-free, praise be). The stress level was enormous. My and my brothers ideas about how best to serve her and my father during this difficult time varied and sometimes were at odds. No one was ugly, no one yelled or said mean things, but communications were strained. So I know how it goes. You always think you'll handle things beautifully until you don't.

So we're a little tired here, a little discombobulated. All prayers for Melvene and the rest of us are appreciated. I'll be back, hopefully with happier news. See you soon!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Hello & Welcome to My Life

Opened up the fridge this morning to grab some half and half, and this is what was waiting for me:

That's right. That's a plate with a tiny bit of pizza crust on it. Plastic wrap pushed back, but not removed. Plate not removed. So yes, a nicely chilled all but empty plate greeted me first thing this morning, and it wasn't the least bit embarrassed to be found in such a state of undress. It was enjoying the cool climate.

Please note that the nicely chilled all but empty plate is surrounded by many, fine nutritious snacking options: carrots, honeydew melon soup, a variety of lettuces and slaw. On the shelf beneath it are the remains of a lovely roast chicken. But whomever ate the pizza wasn't interested in healthy snacking. That is not their way.

What is their way, other than grabbing pizza slices but leaving an all but empty plate? Cereal boxes left open and out, little bits of cereal littering the counter around them. Cereal bowls with just a touch of milk in them, left to the side of the sink. Never in the sink, and never, ever rinsed, and never, ever, never, ever rinsed and put in the dishwasher.

Never never never never ever.

I can see there's work to be done here, and this work doesn't involve me rinsing cereal bowls and putting them in the dishwasher.

On a related note, the other day I asked Jack to please empty the dishwasher. His immediate reply was "sure," but after a second he looked at me and asked in a pleasant, curious tone of voice, "Why?"

As in why on earth are you asking me to do this, not why does a machine filled with clean dishes need to be emptied.

For the sake of my children's future spouses, I must start riding herd. And yes, I have the laziest children in the world, and yes they will resist and grump and grouch every time I remind them to do something. But it has to be done.

Because I can't take another morning like this one.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

I went to the farmer's market this morning in search of the perfect peach. The peach I bit into when I got home wasn't perfect, though it was better than the ones I've gotten so far in the grocery store.

We had tons and tons of rain in May, and I wonder if that's going to affect the quality of the peaches this year. A man I talked to when we were in Ocracoke, where they also had a very wet spring, said the island figs this year were the size of baseballs and tasted terrible. Essentially they were big globules of water.

Our figs are finally back. Two years ago I gave the fig trees a severe talking to--which is to say, I pruned them within an inch of their lives--and last year there were lots of leaves but no fruit. This year we have fruit and I couldn't be more thrilled. The figs are still small, so I don't know how they taste yet, but I'm relieved to know I have not robbed our trees of their productive purposes.

Today I'm going to work on a quilt. I may go to the gym, although it's so hot and muggy outside that it will take courage to leave the house. Tonight we're in for a treat: The Great British Bake-Off returns for its new season! I can't wait to see who this year's contestants are. Fingers crossed that they are asked to make something divine with figs!

Last night for dinner I made tortellini with pesto and bruschetta. As far as I'm concerned, tomatoes, basil and garlic are the very essence of summer. They're all I ever wanted.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Fridge at Ocracoke Museum

No post yesterday--I fell asleep early in the evening (I did a workshop yesterday afternoon--always fun and always exhausting for this introvert) and didn't wake up until 6AM this morning. The good news is, this puts me on a morning posting schedule. It's easier for me to do daily things in the morning. By most afternoons, my mind is scattered and unruly and not good for much.

No big plans for this 4th of July weekend. We are a lazy people who refuse to drive on trafficky holidays. If someone wants to go look at fireworks at the ballpark, I'm game, but I'm actually not that big on fireworks, at least not after the first five minutes. We'll cook out hamburgers on Monday and eat banana pudding (banana pudding!), which seems like plenty enough celebration to me.

Have I mentioned the entire family is obsessed with "Hamilton"? Jack got there first, but in April, after I decided to listen to the cast recording and figure out what all the fuss was about, I too became a Hamilton-head. Then the Man, then the Will, and then a few weeks ago we were all sitting down in front of the TV to watch the Tony's, just so we could see our beloved "Hamilton" cast members live and (almost) in person. I've never watched the full broadcast of the Tony's before and it was good! Much better than the Oscars.

Anyway, "Hamilton" is a work of genius and I bless Lin-Manuel Miranda for writing and composing it. If you haven't listened yet, be forewarned: some strong language lies within. Will and I have had some good talks about profanity and the power of language as a result, and how sometime profanity can be extraordinarily effective, but you dilute it of its force if you use it all the time.

One of the things I have to remind myself to do is keep an accurate ledger when it comes to the world. So many bad things happen that sometimes it feels like it's all bad. But good things happen as well--small good things and larger good things, acts of decency, kindness, courage and, yes, artistic genius. We get to put "Hamilton" on the side of the ledger that counts the amazing genius things that are a gift to us all--we get to put it on the side of the good. It counts.

In that vein, I will leave you with this quote from The Fellowship of the Ring:

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hello! I'm in the middle of cooking dinner, but I'm afraid if I don't post now, I'll forget later. I've got book group tonight, and who knows when we'll finish up. Could be 9:00, could be 11:00. Suzanne, the earliest riser among us, always gets sleepy by 8:45. Sometimes I look over and her eyelids are fluttering the way mine used to do in Econ 101 ... Bless her heart, as we say here in the South.

Did I do yoga today? Yes, I did yoga today! Was it the old ladies yoga class? Yes, it was the old ladies yoga class! I was awesome. I kicked yoga butt. It's possible I was overqualified. On Friday, I'm going to try Gentle Yoga, which looks like it's the next step up, and this time yoga will probably kick my butt. But today I was victorious.

The gate pictured above is helping to keep the deer out of one of our neighborhood gardens, the one at the top of the hill. It's a group garden, and usually it's filled with all sorts of interesting things, but this year it's more subdued. Is someone missing? Did one of the gardeners decide to take this summer off?

We have a small garden this summer--tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and raspberries. We knew we'd be busy, and there's nothing more depressing than to look out your window mid-July and seeing a half-acre of weeds. Also: my children are the least adventurous eaters in the west, and the Man and I got tired of eating all those eggplant and summer squash by ourselves last year.

Okay, the bacon is done and I must put the Cobb salad together. That's it for today. Except for this: I found a picture of the boarded-up house I talked about yesterday. I knew I must have taken at least one! Here it is:

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

This clothesline was in the yard of an shuttered-up house on Ocracoke Island. The house (and the clothesline) belonged to a couple who had retired to Ocracoke--she died in 1994 and he in 1997, and they are buried there on a hill at the edge of this property. A utility worker I ran into while I was snooping around said the family still owns the property but doesn't use it.

For some reason, I failed to take a picture of the house, but I did get one of this shed:

 It's all very lush and beautiful and vaguely spooky. There was a screened porch that wasn't boarded up, and I wanted to go press my nose against the screen and see what I could see, but I was too afraid that a face would pop up in front of me and scare me to death, so I didn't.

I like hidden away places. I like secret paths. I like knowing only half the story. When I got home, I looked up the couple and learned a little bit more about them (he worked for the State department and was an assistant dean at Yale Law School, for instance, and neither of them were from North Carolina), but I didn't learn anything real about them. I guess in a way I already knew a few real things--that even though they weren't from Ocracoke, they loved it enough to retire there and be buried there. I don't know if I want to know a whole lot more.


What have we done today? Will worked out with the school baseball team this morning. I don't know why they're working out this summer, except maybe to build team cohesion or something, since they don't play fall ball. Maybe they just wanted to make sure Will got some exercise.

Jack? I don't know what Jack does. He's supposed to get some exercise, but to my knowledge he's had none since we got back from the beach. I will begin my nagging anon.

I wrote a bit and watched it rain and went to Whole Foods and walked Travis and made dinner and did laundry ... Just a regular day in the life. Tomorrow: yoga! Really. I mean it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I'm back from Florida. The weather today--mid-eighties, medium humidity--feels downright arctic compared to the wild, thick heat of Orlando. This morning I picked blueberries and raspberries. That part of our garden has been woefully untended these last few weeks, but now that it's really, truly summer, I plan to be a better caretaker.

Here's a picture of the me being a panelist. I'm the one with the short dark hair. I'm sitting next to an famous author who has entered the world of children's literature. She was lovely, I'm pleased to inform you.

I'm always very nervous when I go to these big events, but everyone this weekend was wonderful and kind. And when I went to do my book-signing yesterday there was actually a line! I'm always sure no one will come, but they do. I adore librarians. They're my favorites.

This morning I woke up to this fabulous comment from Mags:

Ah, talk of the attic. I love your attic. Please go on just talking about the attic. It gives me such hope! I feel those blues right now. Summer starts on Thursday here (despite the fact that we have had our summer weather month in May, as always, and it will just rain on and off now, as always), and I am stressed and sad at the thought of all the interesting things to do that will stay on slips of paper in the interesting things to do jar, and at the knowledge of all the screen time and fights that will not stay in the screen and fights jar. Sigh. There may be reading and music practice, but that will come our of the fights jar too!

Mags, I promise to keep talking about the attic. It makes me feel hopeful too. It's such a dream--that somehow, someday, I'll clean up all my messes and get rid of all the junk in my life. As though that were possible. But it's pretty to think so, and some days it seems almost possible.

And thank you, Miss M, for admitting that you, too, feel the summer blues. It's good to know I'm not alone. I don't know about the UK, but here in the US there's an endless stream of messages about how fun, fun, fun summer is. Summer in my part of the world is beautiful, but it goes on too long. And yes, the screen time and fights refuse to stay in the jar.

I'm very, very tired of screen time.


I'm going to try to write here every day, Monday through Friday. One of the hard things for me about summer is the lack of routine, so I'm looking for ways to give my days more structure beyond writing time. So check in, say hi, and wish me luck!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Still Waiting for Summer to Start

At the Ocracoke Island History Museum. My favorite exhibit is the circa 1930s kitchen.

Okay, it sort of has started, but I'm still in that stage of denial where I believe things will settle into a wonderful, productive summer routine. They never do, but a girl can dream.

Last week we took our annual trip to Ocracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks. For reasons I can't explain (but I swear aren't morbid), I spent a lot of time in graveyards this trip. There are eighty-one burial sites on the island, which seems excessive until you think that people have been living and dying on Ocracoke for close to two hundred years. Most of the graveyards are small, some with only a few stones. Some are neatly tended to, and others have been grown over by vines and weeds.

This family cemetery on Howard Street is typical of the graveyards you'll find in the heart of Ocracoke Village:

Things get a little wilder in the wilder parts of town:

I didn't track down all eighty-one graveyards, but I found quite a few. During my explorations I wondered what it would be like if every subdivision had its own cemetery. Why does that seem like such a strange idea?

A folklorist I know documents tombstones and graveyard art in the South--you can find her work here:  Again, it sounds like a morbid preoccupation, but I find something very moving and tender in these spaces. People are so strange and interesting and idiosyncratic and funny. That's what I like about them.


We've been back almost a week, and I can feel a bout of the summer blues brewing. This is not my favorite season. I've decided to give taking an afternoon siesta a try and see if that helps. And yoga. Although I always say I'm going to give yoga a try and I never do. It's sort of like my ongoing plan to clean out my attic. Such a good idea, such folly!


Tomorrow I'm going to Florida for a big librarian convention. I come back Sunday. And then summer will begin for real. I mean it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Howdy, Stranger!

My latest quilt--I made it for one of Jack's teachers, 
who's about to have a baby

I guess it's me who's the stranger. But let's get past that and onto other things.

I'm reading the best book right now. It's called The Wander Society by Keri Smith. Do you know her? She does all these fun, funky books like Wreck this Journal and How to Be an Explorer in the World, perfect gifts for your creative, artsy niece--or for yourself if you like to take walks and notice interesting things, draw and take notes.

The Wander Society is a bit different, but still delightful. Its conceit is that one day while she was out walking, Smith stumbled upon an old copy of Leaves of Grass. Inside she found notes about a mysterious organization called The Wander Society. Its patron saint was Walt Whitman of course, and its motto was Solivitur ambulando, or It is Solved by Walking.

Now between you and me, I believe Smith made the Wander Society up out of whole cloth, but that's part of the fun. For instance, in the list of famous walkers, she includes a woman named Alice P. Hobbs, a supposed activist and artist who disappeared in 2014, who is rumored to be one of the founders of the Wander Society. If you google Alice P. Hobbs, you will find a website with very little information as well as many references to Keri Smith's book. I suspect Alice P. Hobbs is also a figment of Smith's imagination. 

I love that Smith is using the both her book and the internet to create this interesting fiction, and I love that she has created a society that encourages people to go out and wander. I walk a lot, but would like to wander more.


My List of Things I would Like to Do This Summer

1. Wander more.

2. Study the crows in my neighborhood.

3. Spend more time with art.

4. Get rid of stuff!

5. Write on my blog!!!

6. Write letters.

7. Write in my journal.

8. Close my eyes and wish really hard that all the junk in the attic and garage would go away.

9. Cook more interesting things.

10. Meditate.


Today is Will's last day of school. In fact, he's out of school now and should be at the swimming pool with his friend Ashaank. It was raining this morning, but is now sunny and bright. Maybe that means he got an A on his Spanish exam. Signs and wonders, etc.

Jack's last exam is tomorrow. I suppose I should tell you that he got his driver's license. We are learning to live with this development. 


Do you make summer resolutions? Do you ever keep them?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hello, It's Me

My latest quilt top. I made up the design myself. Did you guess?

Sorry for the long pause. I'd check in more often, but I seem to be writing three different books at the same time. This is funner than it sounds, but just as chaotic as it sounds. I'm at different stages with each book, and they're three very different kinds of books. But they have consumed my time and my head.

Yes, my head has been consumed! It's not a pretty picture.

Right now I'm feeling a little discombobulated. It happens a lot this time of year. It's very centering for me to come back here and touch base with you. This has always been true, for the almost-nine years that I've been blogging. Nine years! Almost!

So, some updates:

In early February I had a party. A friend of mine has started selling non-toxic beauty products through home parties, and she asked if I would throw one. I could not say no, though every fiber of my being begged me to.

But you know what? It was fun. I ended up inviting a bunch of the 7th grade moms that I know (my friend is a 7th grade mom) from Our Fine School, and I think we had fifteen or sixteen people in all. We had such a wonderful time talking and catching up that the sales talk didn't start until almost two hours after the party started.

Having a party made me think that I would like to have more parties, even though I hate having parties. Because I actually love having parties. I just hate the idea of having parties.

You can see why my head has been so easily consumed.

It is Our Fine School's spring break, so Jack and the Man have gone off to visit some colleges. I have a child who's old enough to go college-visiting! Will and I are lazing about the house. Well, I'm writing and Will is lazing. Travis is Travising. We're all very relaxed and eating lots of potato chips.

Will is playing baseball for the Our Fine School's JV team. I fear his coaches want him to pitch. Talk to the moms of any baseball pitchers you know and they will tell you it's a heart-attack sort of life. Very stressful. For the moms, not the pitchers. The pitchers love pitching. They'll risk being the goat for the chance to be the the star.

I don't get pitchers.

This morning when I was out walking Travis, I was thinking that I needed to get a little more spiritual. I'm going to church, doing Sunday school, participating and all that, but that doesn't always mean I'm feeling the spirit.

Then I turned the corner onto my street and lo and behold, there were masses of Jehovah's Witnesses floating toward me. They show up every couple of months and are the nicest crazy people you've ever met. They were coming toward me in pairs, the men in suits and ties, the women in dresses, and one pair would split off and go up this driveway, and another pair would split off and go up that driveway. It was like a ballet of Witnesses. And while I do not intend to convert, there was something lovely about all these nice crazy people floating down my street to tell us that God loves us and that we are doomed.

So that's it for now. You are loved, but I don't think you're doomed. Hang in there! I shall return!

Monday, January 18, 2016

In the Reflecting Pool, the March on Washington, 1963

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

                                                                   --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don't recall holding grudges when I was younger. This seems to be a problem of my middle ages, one I'm trying to rid myself of.

I don't hold many grudges. I'm not sure "grudge" is even the right word, but I don't know another one. The source of my grudges? Not being loved enough. I think it boils down to that.

I have two friends who I've known for a long time--since college and grad school. Both are people I admire and look up to. People I love to talk to. But for some reason these friends no longer respond to my emails. No longer make an effort to keep up. I don't know why.

Now, one of my mottos is "You don't know what you don't know." You don't know when someone is having a hard time in her marriage, or when other family problems have proved overwhelming. People get depressed. Undone by life in general. So I try to keep this in mind when I think about these friends. There could be any number of reasons they've fallen out of touch.

Nonetheless, I have found myself feeling resentful toward my friends, and over time the resentment has hardened. But I don't think it's doing me much good. It feels corrosive to my spirit. It feels like a weight.

The wise and wonderful Anne Lamott has this to say about resentment:

When I first got sober in '86, I first heard someone say that harboring resentment is like drinking rat poison, and waiting for the rat to die. Resenting someone is about not forgiving them--thinking that they have done something to you so damaging or disgusting that the are beyond the pale; so therefore you are choosing to be toxic for the rest of your life, rather than to work and pray For the healing. You are willing to go through life not metabolizing the rat poison, so that this person should know what a morally repellent you believe them to be.

But the most horrible thing is that half the time, they aren't even AWARE of what it is you think they did to you. So it's a complete waste of your precious bile. When I am willing to have clogged bile ducts, because of a person who hardly thinks of me, or has no idea that he behaved like a total asshat, then I'm the crazy one. Good, because this is where my healing will begin. HELP.

I think she's right. So one of my jobs this year is to give up my resentments and grudges. Pray them away and let them go. To forgive and move on.

Step one in this process is to actually feel my feelings about the situation--to let myself fully feel the hurt, whether or not I've got all the facts. I don't think you can heal from a hurt until the wound has been fully exposed to the light. I have a habit of minimizing my hurt feelings. I have a habit of saying "who cares?" or "it doesn't matter."

That's one way hurt feelings fester into resentments and grudges, I'm pretty sure.

So I'm going to go through the painful process of feeling things, and then after that I can (begrudgingly, I'm sure) work on forgiveness. Because

a) forgiveness is required for my own mental health; and

b) it is required of me by the faith that I supposedly practice; and

c) I don't know what I don't know.

Here's the other thing I plan to do: Write back to the friends who write me. Call the friends who call. Be grateful for all the friends I have who continue to love me in spite of my own flawed self.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who Will Clean While I Make the Quilts?

Funky Star

So it's a new year, and as I do every year  I've made my annual list of resolutions for my children. This year I've resolved that they will do more around the house. They've always had to do chores, but the fact is they could pitch in a lot more than they do. Over Christmas, as I was performing open heart surgery   climbing Mt. Everest  cursing the holidays  working my tuchus off to get everything ready, I started to grow ... what is the word for it? Resentful. Yes, that is the word for it. There they were, my wonderful boys, doing absolutely nothing while I did absolutely everything. This must change, I told myself. And so it has.

Sort of.

Jack now does the dinner dishes. Will vacuums every day and puts the water glasses on the table for dinner. Both of them are supposedly making their beds every morning, but that's hit or miss. Will is doing his laundry, but hasn't gotten around to the folding part. Jack has been doing his laundry for years--still doesn't fold.

The thing neither of them seem to be able to do? Put the dang cap back on the toothpaste. Why is this? I'm trying not to focus all of my energy on one tiny thing, but good grief, fellas!

(The New York Public Library has digitized its 
photography collections!)

The hard thing is not nagging. I'm doing my best to simply, gently remind. I send Jack funny texts, mention to Will oh-so-nonchalantly that I'd love to have the living room vacuumed by, say, dinnertime?

Which reminds me, Jack still hasn't done the dinner dishes. Sigh. Time to text.


Can I tell you something? I'm so over making dinner right now. It's not that I mind cooking, I just don't want to have to cook. I'd rather read.


Do I have resolutions? I'm not really a resolution girl, but I would like to pay closer attention as Travis and I take our walks around the neighborhood. I walk Travis almost every morning, and it's always one of two walks. We go to the end of our street and either turn right or left. Travis always chooses, and he always alternates.

I like taking the same two walks. Which are never the same two walks. We've lived in this neighborhood for almost nine years, and I've gotten to know all the yards really well. I've gotten to know the light. And still I see new things every day.

This is my neighbor's garage. The windows are at the back of the garage. You can look through them to the backyard. Usually the garage door is down, so I've never had this view before. (If you click on the picture, you can see their winter garden + sculpture.)

This is the bottom of my street in the late afternoon. There's something about the light here that's very January to me.

I saw this car this morning. Don't know who Aunt Puddin' is. Wish I did. Do you have an Aunt Puddin' in your neighborhood? I think every neighborhood should have one.

What are you resolved to pay attention to this year?