Monday, December 21, 2009
I'm sitting in my kitchen/office, sniffling from a perpetual stuffy head. My butt is cold after throwing the ball for the dog outside for twenty minutes. I have Pandora playing a random mix of alt/indie rock kinda loud, and a long list of to-dos circling in my head. Violet and our neighbor girl are playing cheerleader upstairs, and a quilt I made! is finishing up in the dryer, ready for a photo shoot before becoming an everyday item on Violet's bed. Sam is getting muddy and learning a random collection of football rules from the neighborhood boys (and one intrepid girl). Will's off at a challenging job which leaves him tired but enthusiastic. Christmas presents are piling up under the tree and, not coincidentally, the guest room is incrementally cleaner. And I am content, although I need to go blow my nose, again.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I've been writing little "I'm grateful for . . " type messages on FaceBook this week, after being challenged to do so. Someone remarked that it gets harder over time; I found it got easier and easier. I have so much to be grateful for. Now that Thanksgiving is over I don't really want t give up this little habit because it is a good reminder to myself, especially when I'm blue, of how wonderful my life truly is. So, today's gratitude is for the women I am closest to in my life:
Stephanie, who teaches me how to be powerful and gentle at the same time.
MaryAnn, who consistently demonstrates the path to joy.
Julie, who proves to me that style and beauty are always within reach.
Anita, who helps me find the laughter in anything.
Mom, who taught me compassion and how to love unconditionally, no matter the risk.
Your examples help me become a better person. Thank you.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
This time of year is sacred to me, and not just because of my birthday. Like many others I appreciate the inward turning of the autumn, bringing our lives inside from the yard, and spending more quiet time together. I know many people are looking forward now to the holidays, especially Christmas, and I, too, enjoy the gaiety of family get-togethers and sharing presents. But Thanksgiving in particular is sacred to me specifically (or, as Sam more appropriately says, pacifically) because it is a secular holiday about only one thing -- gratitude. No giving or getting, no agendas. Simple, sweet gratitude. Counting my blessings, which are so abundant I can't contemplate them without tears of humility.
This year our family lost three wonderful women. I haven't written here in months because I can't put my feelings of loss and diminishment into words. But this week, I have felt them, and others, near, and today I am grateful for the chance I had to meet them. Today I celebrate the wonderful women who made my family with its long branches and strong roots and astonishing intertwining friendships, and I am grateful.
Monday, November 16, 2009
of snow, people! It snowed all weekend, and this morning the air is crisp and chilly and the sun is reflecting so brightly we didn't need to to turn the lights on for breakfast this morning. I'm awfully glad to see the sun - we had a fair bit of morning gloom over the past couple of weeks, which makes the o-dark-hundred dog walk rather dreary. In fact, I couldn't force myself out of bed when the alarm went off at 6:20 this morning, possibly because the smoke detector chirped all night and worked it's way into my dreams and I didn't sleep all that well, but most likely because it was still dark and who wants to get up in the dark? The dog is staring pitifully at me now, hoping I'll take her out so she can smell every last inch of snow and hopefully find a buried squirrel. What is it with dogs and squirrels? Fortunately I did get all my bulbs planted in the last couple of weeks, so if all goes well in the spring I will have tulips and daffodils and irises and the whole front of the house will be a riot of daylily color. Of course, Violet was "helping" with the planting, so it may turn out far different than I imagine. Things involving our children usually do. I promise pictures, regardless.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I'm brewing several posts, not sure what will percolate up first. Until then, here's a simple status update . . .
Sam has just plunged into the world of Harry Potter, and we now are on book 2 (Chamber of Secrets). I've ruled that he's not allowed to watch a movie until he's read/been read the corresponding book. I'm not sure how else to slow him down -- some of the later books have such intense stories that he's not yet ready for. Nonetheless, it's wonderful to see him entranced by a story. He's also enjoying school more than ever before, which is a relief and delight. He'll like it even more next year when Violet doesn't get to spend all day with me while he's with his peers. Sibling rivalry at its most subtle. He's also active in cub scouts (which he enjoys) and karate (which he doesn't like but I insist on).
Violet is deep into a Princess/Barbie (commercialized beyond anything I could have predicted. Did you know there are Barbie movies based on tales like "The Prince and the Pauper'? Holy cows.) phase, and often insists I call her Cinderella for hours at a time. I am surprised by how relieved I am when she joins Sam in a Star Wars jedi battle where she's shooting things and "killing them dead!" I guess it's all about balance, right? When she's not prancing around in nearly inappropriate clothing (do the designers at Disney even THINK about the fact that these expensive little fairy/princess costumes will be worn by four year olds? They don't need to show cleavage or bellies!) she is working hard to learn how to read, and is trying to convince Sam that she's ahead of him in the literacy race. Fine by me.
Will is currently under-employed, which I am not-so-secretly enjoying in that he's spending a lot of time playing with me and the kids and even gets so bored as to load and unload the dishwasher. He has found other ways to fill his time (I don't understand why he doesn't get bored playing playing computer solitaire), my favorite of which was teaching Sam yesterday how to split logs for the wood stove.
As for me, I'm 24 hours from finished with the elementary school Directory (a glorified phone book for school families). It's taken absurd amounts of my time, and more money than I dare admit to Will (but I NEED this $800 software to do the directory!) but I am quite proud of my accomplishment, and have learned a great deal about PhotoShop, InDesign, and Acrobat. I've told Will that it's "valuable skills" and "hard evidence" for when I go back to the real world, but in all honesty, it's just plain fun for me. I shall now turn to other projects like actually cleaning the house (oh glory what a mess it is right now) and perhaps even finishing the quilt I started for Violet two or three years ago. And maybe I'll even write a real essay one of these days. We shall see.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I'ts been so long since I wrote anything that I have been feeling a need to write something momentous and monumental. I don't, however, have time for grandiose screeds, so today I am just going to tell you something.
The smell of chai tea makes me think of band-aids. How weird is that?
Monday, August 17, 2009
We're home. We've even mostly unpacked. I've done loads and loads of laundry, and the house looks remarkably like it did before we left - which means stuff everywhere and no rhyme or reason to anything. The sameness is disorienting -- it's like summer didn't happen. But tomorrow I turn in all of Sam's school registration paperwork, and he starts second grade on Wednesday.
I have many thoughts from this summer, but my impressions are all inchoate. I am hoping that a week at home and some quiet time alone will help me distill my experiences. It's odd to feel so wordless. I keep stopping Will and asking for a hug; he is a touchstone that grounds me when I find myself turning and turning in the kitchen, unable to find a starting point to address the piles that surround me. Tonight he is watching the children while I work on the school directory. Perhaps I will feel more in control after I get that particular project running. We shall see.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
And by that I mean ticks. We've got 'em, and they got both Teddy (the dog) and Will. Teddy was scarier -- she had some issues with her foreleg one day, was fine the next (after some aspirin) and the third day she woke up and pretty much couldn't walk. Will had to carry her down the stairs and we rushed to the vet. Fortunately they have a 10-minute test to check for the disease, and immediately prescribed us an antibiotic. I love modern medicine -- she was running again the very next morning. A few days later I noticed a target-shaped rash on Will's back, and after a couple visits to the doctor (they didn't see the rash the first time and I hounded him until he went back) he, too, is on antibiotics. The good news is, a three (for Will) and four (for Teddy) week course of drugs should completely cure both of them. Whew. Stupid ticks.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Yesterday we celebrated Violet's 4th birthday. Holy Cow! We had a Tinkerbell cupcake-cake, she got several princess-themed presents, and she proudly told Mimi and grandpa all about her new baby doll. I suppose she's meeting all the right milestones, but lately I look at and listen to her and I feel like I'm at the wrong end of a telescope. It's like she's a fully formed person, and I'm seeing a distant echo of her. I barely recognize her - she's taller and more delicate than ever before, and she uses words like preposterous and actually and definitely, even though she still can't even say them correctly. She's also working on her ability to bat her eyes and manipulate people (doesn't work on me so much) and how to drive her brother crazy with just a glance. She is everything I want to see in a young woman, but I can't quite handle it now. I am a very lucky person to have my Violet in my life. Many happy returns, little one!
Monday, July 13, 2009
It's July. That should mean I'm so hot I'm thinking about snow to cool down, watching the kids run through sprinklers and have water fights, hanging laundry on the line and having it crispy dry in minutes. Instead I'm sitting in front of a fire with hot tea, dodging cold gusts and sending rude thoughts north. I blame Canada for the weather. Apparently there's some sort of anomaly in the jet stream that is sending cooler-than-average weather and lots of rain to us in Vermont. I know I shouldn't feel sorry for myself, but when the bedroom is so cold at 8 a.m. in the middle of July that I don't want to get up to pee, something's messed up. Plus I'm paying bills this afternoon which isn't helping my mood. When I'm finished, though, I'm going to take my sleeping bag out to the hammock (mosquitoes be damned!) and read for an hour. Fortunately the kids seem okay with the weather and they are happily coloring the tennis court with the chalk I picked up at an art supply store yesterday.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
is admitting you have a problem.
This is a picture of the various jars of jelly I have found around this house in the past couple of days. I knew about some, and found new caches yesterday. Now, I understand WHY my mother-in-law has so much jelly around: used to be she had two teenaged sons and a very particular husband to please, plus they had only a couple of weeks to accomplish what filled our whole summer, so shopping had to be very efficient. And she is a great bargain hunter. But still, I don't think we'll ever get through all this jelly, no matter how many summers we visit. Not to mention I'm still a little unsure about opening up a jar of 20 year old jam. I'm just sayin'.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I'm astonished. Sam is seven. He's been seven for more than a month now. Seven years since I first met him, welcomed him with a sigh of relief that confounded Will. I look across these years and I can't remember so much of them; I am grateful for the pictures we took that captured who he was because he's so much more now, but I regret not memorizing every last moment, especially the trivial ones not worthy of a camera.
Sam is my salvation. Not on a personal level, but on a grander scale. He is, in every sense of the word, a child of September 11, 2001. He was conceived just before then, my pregnancy was clouded by those events, and that event will always be part of his culture. But my boy, my sweet child, carried me through. When I got scared or anxious about the world I was bringing him into, I promised myself that, in having a child right then, I was not only expressing my hope in the future, I was _making_ a future - one of love and family and goodness.
I remember the joy that filled me as I ran to his day care to see him, and the lightness that filled me when he lay (drooling!) in my arms. Now he challenges me and exasperates me and astonishes me, and I don't think I'm as good a parent as I could be, but I do know that my son is love and joy and heart, and I am grateful for the chance to know him.
I'm homesick. Not a lot, but I'm aching for the familiarity and ease of our home in Colorado. Perhaps it's the weather - we've had only a few whole days without rain, and I don't think any of those happened while we've had guests. We have had lovely visits with a varied bunch of people, and I have very much enjoyed cooking for them (don't I always?!) but I miss the ease of having every spice I need, neatly laid out and alphabetized (it's not OCD, just good planning, really!). I miss having a clothes dryer, even if it's just a short line in the back yard on which things dry to a crisp in hours instead of days. More than anything I miss how easy life at home is. Yes, my house gets dirty, but it's not from spiders who rebuild in fifteen minutes webs that I just swept away. Going to the grocery store is not a major undertaking that takes me away from home for 3+ hours, including nearly an hour of driving. And there are so many things to do that even a week of rain would be a welcome change of pace. Right now I'm feeling a little waterlogged.
I feel so lame for whining - I mean, who gets to go away for a summer anymore? And it is a great opportunity for our family. but we don't get out a lot (Will's focus is, as always, work) and rather than the chance for us to go out and do all sorts of neat things, this is a lot like relocating our regular life to the other side of the country, but more rustic, and with a lot more bugs.
Speaking of which, can anyone recommend a good book for identifying spiders?
Saturday, July 4, 2009
We were expecting our next guests - a family of seven - yesterday, but they won't be coming until Monday. I am surprised by how relieved I am. I love having people here, but we've had two days of hanging out with no projects planned (since we anticipated company) and it's been nice to just sit. Today I did get all the wash done, beds remade, and guest spaces swept, but at a leisurely pace and with a few breaks to cuddle with Will.
Below are a couple pictures from the last few days with our friends the McGourtys (from Denver) and my Aunt Peg and some friends she brought. We all had a great visit - and here's proof!
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
We've been here three weeks today. I can hardly believe how much time has passed. We've been in constant motion - cleaning, repairing, preparing for guests. In the evening I fall into bed and sleep so deeply I am surprised by the morning. The kids have settled in, and despite a couple comments by Sam about how he wished we didn't work so much, they have for the most part figured out how to entertain themselves even without TV or computer time.
I've come to realize how little I helped on our last two visits (understandable, given the kid-situation) but we've accomplished so much more this time around that I'm hoping there will be even less work next visit. The house was in pretty good shape when we arrived -- no leaks, which meant we didn't have to clean up the aftermath (a constant for some twenty or more years before Will fixed the roof in 2007) and the critters hadn't gotten into anything we use regularly. After the initial basic cleaning we extended our reach all the way to the end of the assembly hall, making the loft at the end accessible and the kids have spent hours up there, staircase raised (via pulley and rope) playing pirates. We've also focused on making the guest quarters nicer - a task Will initially dismissed as less important, but he now seems to understand its importance. So, to give you an idea of why I've been absent, I have some before-and-after photos of projects completed in the past three weeks.
1. Nell's room.
This is our primary guest room. It has a low ceiling and only a double bed, but it's cozy.
2. The room above the shop
We have a lot of guests coming this year, in groups of four and five. Because of that we needed a second place to put a family. Many years ago, Will's grandmother's older brother Lou (it's complicated) built a sturdy two-story cinder-block building which he stayed in during the summer. Over time the downstairs, which may or may not have originally been a tool shop, filled with stuff - hardware and tools, life preservers, car parts, boat bits, lanterns, lots and lots of rope, bits of wood too small to use and too big to throw away. It was a mess until '07 when Will organized it and cleared out at least two trucks full of garbage we took to the dump. At the same time the upstairs also had filled with leftover stuff - falling apart dressers, unused mattresses and pillows, an old fold-out couch, sheets of plywood, and, of course, varmints. At one point the chimney fell off due to snow and rot and was eventually put back up, but not before snow and rain had blown in and covered everything and rotted out part of the floor. Needless to say, it was a mess. But it is a good solid room that can hold four beds and had the potential to be a guest room. Here's what we did:
I did the cleaning, Will did the wiring and heavy lifting and making new platforms for the beds. It actually turned out pretty nice, after we took all the mildew-and-mouse covered mattresses to the dump. I still want to get replacement twin beds for the 30" camp beds that are there, but I figure we'll save some money by gradually accumulating bed frames/box springs/mattresses from craig's list.
Will also fixed the foundation of Nell's porch, and we've done lots of landscaping (cutting hedges, trimming trees, mowing/dethatching lawns) replaced rotting ceiling panels in Nell's kitchen, replaced the hot water heater at Nell's, and we went bowling one night. See, it's not ALL work.
And now it's time to go get brekfast ready for 13 people. That part I love. More soon.
Friday, June 19, 2009
I am pleased to say that the trip across country went well. Quite well, actually. I dreaded the idea of it -- four people plus dog in the cab of a pickup truck (pulling a trailer with another vehicle on in) for three days and nights, pushing through the night and resting only briefly one night with my step-grandma. Fortunately my fears were unfounded, for many reasons. Will is good at long-distance driving, and prefers being behind the wheel, so my anxiety about driving with the trailer was unnecessary. In fact I did little driving and the rig handled quite well, so even when I did drive it was without problems. The dog settled in happily, alternately sitting on the floor and on the seat, occasionally resting her head on a child's leg and in turn serving as a pillow for a tired kid. Will was pleased with my selection of audiobooks and we happily listened together while the kids, overjoyed at the very unusual prospect of unlimited movie watching, put their headsets on and fell mesmerized by the DVD player.
That's not to say we didn't have a few minor issues. Before we even got out of Colorado the door on the Land Rover we were hauling popped open and we had to pull over. Will fixed that and we all had potty breaks, the dog cheerfully obeying my request that she stay away from the highway, and I enjoyed a sense of familial purpose and unity that our daily lives rarely afford. I even took a picture of a cactus flower growing beside the highway.
Somewhere in Nebraska we ran out of gas -- the warning light didn't come on and we were about a mile short of an exit. Fortunately we had both a bicycle and a gas can readily available, so Will rode to the nearest gas station and returned not much later. We drove through the night to Chicago (a move I think we're both getting too old for) and were fortunate to have breakfast
with our friends Trish and Scott, then on toward Cleveland, only to run out of gas, again! This time it was too far to bike, so we called the auto club (Better World Club - even better than AAA) and they brought us five gallons of gas. Finally, to Granny Phyllis' house where we were met with hugs, birthday presents for the kids, hot stew, baths, and beds. We all collapsed, tired from two days of car-sleep. When we awoke, Phyllis had made us a breakfast feast, and both children were delighted to play with their gifts. Soon we were on our way to NY, where we were to drop off the Land Rover.
Thank goodness for my "smart" phone, because I was able to update Facebook and, more
importantly, get maps to the Land Rover destination. After unloading and seeing the delighted owner drive his new toy around, we stumbled back into the car, relieved to be almost done with the journey. We arrived at Dingley Dell in the dark, unloaded some bags by flashlight (we'd forgotten to get the electricity turned on), and headed off to a nearby motel to get some rest. Unfortunately, both places on the island have been shuttered, and at midnight I told Will to turn around; we slept in our sleeping bags on the beds we had cleared.
Monday morning we hung blankets to air out and once again hopped in the truck, this time to visit some long-lost Canadian cousins of the Bakers, who had invited us up for a mini-reunion three weeks after a grand affair which we missed. It was great fun to meet everyone and they were lovely hosts, even down to finding us dog-friendly lodging with a friend. After another wonderful shower and sleep in a real bed, we returned to the States to begin the task of opening up The Camp.
I've attempted to start this post several times, but can't seem to find my voice. I think it comes from a low-grade sense of disorientation. We're all unpacked, but I haven't yet found places for everything, and we keep shifting piles of stuff from spot to spot, not quite sure where it should go. Part of that comes from how much stuff already is here - cabinets, drawers, boxes, trunks are all full of bits and pieces, most of which makes little sense to keep as far as I can tell, but this is not my family place and I don't have the same attachments. Will and I cleaned before we started in on projects, and in doing the assembly hall we even opened up the long bench seat and emptied it out. We found wooden shoes, ancient ice skates, a moldy backpack from brother Goff's college days, piles of dirt and mouse droppings, mildewed computer punch cards, cap guns from thirty five years ago, swim fins stiffened by time and weather, and any matter of other stuff. We removed two barrels full of trash, and still had plenty to put back. I also sorted through the four overflowing desk drawers, and after throwing away multitudinous tourist flyers dating back to 1975 (!) and other bits and ends, two drawers were empty. I asked Will about the family's penchant for keeping everything, and he said "it's history!" That's true, but I do wish this history included less vermin poop.
Monday, June 15, 2009
We're here and mostly settled in, striving to get some basic maintenance chores done before guests being arriving. The big news -- we finally have a modem/internet connection! I'll do more of a post tonight (I hope) but wanted to let you know that we haven't completely fallen off the face of the planet.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Found this while going through papers today. Dates back to my time in DC.
I am become
a creature of the city
savvy in sharp corners
and fearful smiles.
Late at night I huddle
of street light
lest I sink
into a puddle of statistics
of rape and battery.
I scurry to the sanctuary
of my locks
Home in the city.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
As I was cleaning out one the bathroom cabinets yesterday afternoon I discovered a collection of hotel freebies I had stuffed in the back and forgotten about. Most went directly into the garbage or recycling, along with an embarrassing amount of expired medicines, empty shampoo bottles (I consolidated all the too-much-to-throw-away-but-I'm-bored-and-ready-for-new-stuff bottles), used q-tips (ick!), and random torn washcloths. One thing, though, caught my attention. You see, we have a skylight in our bedroom. I love it. From my bed I can watch storms pass, admire the stars, glory in the full moon, and wake to the sun. It's the last part that's currently a problem. As summer approaches, even though I have turned off the alarm clock and learned to ignore the excited whimpering of the morning dog, I cannot ignore the sun. It beams down on me, more intense than any other time of day. It creeps into my consciousness, between my lids, and forces me up at 6, then 5:45, then 5:30 in the morning. All of which would be fine if I didn't stay up until 12:30, but I do, and it isn't. So when I found the unused cheapo hotel eyemask in my hands, I decided to try it. I've always scoffed, thinking it looked silly and would be uncomfortable. But if it blocks the morning sun and Will's late night bedside lamp, it may be worth looking silly and feeling a little odd. And when I woke at 7:30 this morning, I rose from my bed a convert. All praise my new favorite thing - the eye mask.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Four days. I have four days to clean the house and pack before leaving for 10 weeks. At this point, I'm spending a lot of time sitting at my computer reading other people's blogs. I need motivation. Plus, now that I _have_ to clean, I am seeing SOOOO much more gradoo (that's a technical term) on everything than I saw before. It's hopeless. Will's at Home Depot; I need to call him and ask him to pick up some grease remover for the tops of the kitchen lights. The good news is, I'm three-and-a-half hours into a book on tape (am listening to Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman) and I don't want to stop. Perhaps that should be my motivation -- I can only listen when cleaning. Aha! I'll tell you more after I tackle the shower. And the kitchen lights. And Violet's closet. And the laundry. And . . .
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Yesterday I wrote a quick post about my home improvement efforts. Today I get to show you how my beloved husband trumps all my efforts.
Our home when we bought it:
And as of ten minutes ago:
Note the new railings (not quite finished -- we have to paint them) and this weeks' work -- the new retaining wall (one week! It took me about the same amount of time to strip the fireplace).
Here's a close-up of the retaining wall (for you, Mom!)
I'll take a little credit in the fall, after I get some plants in and soften the lines a little, plus adding color. But my beloved definitely trumps me on the home improvement. Fortunately, I can cook, so I win indoors.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I think that when I get the blues, I should start a project. There's something about accomplishing a goal (assuming I actually finish it, which is not usually the case) that makes me feel so much better. This month, amid the hullaballoo about going to Vermont, I decided to strip the paint off the bricks around the fireplace.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
After far too many miles in the car, I finally got a tune-up for my bicycle and Sam's and we are once again able to ride to school and back most every day. It's interesting to note how we've changed in one season -- where a few months ago Sam stretched to his tippy toes to touch the ground while sitting on his bike, he now stands confidently flat-footed. I, on the other hand, have lost a lot of conditioning, and am struggling to keep up with my young speed demon. Fortunately I have gears, which help greatly when Sam surges ahead through traffic. Drivers around our school are, for the most part, considerate and aware. Nonetheless, having Sam twenty feet away on a busy street makes me feel helpless -- I can't just reach out and grab him back if he makes a mistake, and the consequences are so dire. Every ride is a study in the loneliness of parenting; my child looks only forward, rejoicing in his freedom and growing abilities while I concentrate on invisibly keeping him safe, glad of his pleasure but painfully aware of the empty space in my arms which used to be enough for him.
Monday, May 18, 2009
We leave for VT in just under three weeks. I finally sat down this weekend and started the lists -- "before we go", "on the way", "things to take". I'm getting anxious, largely because we have plans pretty much every day before we leave, and twice on weekends. I don't know how we're going to get it all in. The funny thing is, the date we chose is completely arbitrary, so I shouldn't be hurried or worried. But this time we're all driving (including the dog), squeezed together for some indeterminate time (Will says three and a half days, I'd rather take six) in the cab of the big gray truck. I don't look forward to the experience. Perhaps it will be fun, but I'm imagining it will be Will's Incredible Journey with Three Whiny People. We'll see. I'm downloading TV shows to my iPod like crazy, and acquiring audio books for Will. I'll make sure to take my camera so we can log (and blog) the trip. I'll try to make it funny. Hope to see you there!
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Making breakfast the other morning I apparently dripped some egg white and set a mug in the unseen mess. During the course of the day it dried, and when I later attempted to clean the kitchen I had to wrench the mug off the counter. As I turned it over to drop it in the dishwasher, my thumb slid across the egg white encrusted bottom, and zowie! The egg white was thin and razor sharp, and sliced me open. After I put a bandage on I went to Will for comfort; he just laughed at me. "Really? An egg white? Who gets cut by an egg white?"
I think I should get an award for the stupidest. injury. ever.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
My son walked the dog with me this morning. He is a joyful person, and while the good cheer did not entirely transfer to me, I certainly forgot the cold that is nesting in my throat. In the past he has had trouble keeping up with us, but today he raced ahead, kicking up clouds of dandelion fluff, finding random sidewalk treasures to share, and tossing his head back so his laughter rose through the trees. In our little private time together we sniffed lilacs and he told me how nice it is to have me all to himself. Of course, he is still a boy, and nothing delighted him more than running ahead of me and then turning around to announce, loudly, that he just farted, burped, or both.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
My husband tells a story about a junk yard which was protected by two big, fierce dogs. When the yard was open, the dogs contented themselves with occasional menacing grimaces, but as soon as the gates were locked they became hell hounds, ready to protect the junk to their utmost. Well, one Monday the yard owner noticed that some of his property was missing (I've always wondered how junk yard owners keep track of their inventory. But that's another thought balloon), despite his vicious guards. This went on for several weeks. Finally the owner decided to visit over the weekend. When he arrived and made some noise, he was astonished to see his pooches trot cheerfully out, ready to greet their visitor. It turns out that the dogs were conditioned to be nice to visitors during business hours, and turn on the mean only after the day was over. The thieves had figured this out, and had happily taken advantage of the situation.
All of this is a round about explanation for why I was up at 6:30 a.m. on a misty moisty Mother's Day Sunday. Thanks, dog! Other than being awakened before the crack of dawn, I had a lovely day with my mom (I love you, Mom!), Dad, kids, and honey. I hope you also had a peaceful, love filled day.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
My children are fond of experiments. At the ages of six and three, however, they are somewhat ignorant of the scientific process. You know -- think up a hypothesis, develop an experiment to test that hypothesis, and use the results of the experiment to determine the validity of the hypothesis. Instead, they mix things and leave them to sit for an indeterminate time. Thus, in various locations around my house, I have: plastic cups with frothy mixtures of toothpaste, shampoo, and toilet paper; spare spice jars with sedimentary layers of cinnamon, parsley, peppercorns, and, maybe, mustard, all in water; and grass, mud, unknown substances scraped off the sidewalk, and caulk, again in a watery base. I love their desire to experiment but I think, perhaps, I need to get each child a lab book and teach them the basics of lab work. Of course, under the current system the kids forget about their experiments after a day or two and I can discreetly throw the entire container away.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I joined Facebook a couple months ago. It's been quite lovely, catching up with people with whom I lost contact as much as twenty years ago, and keeping a near-daily eye on friends I don't call as often as I should. In turn I can apprise the world of my status -- although my stay-at-home life is dull enough that I can't really justify frequent updates. The whole affair is simple and casual; it's an online cocktail party, no real intimacies required.
That is why I'm surprised by how self-conscious I am of each individual action online. People are so quick to count themselves as an online friend, but with none of the responsibilities I associate with friendship. There are even contests to see who can have the most Facebook friends. Fuddy-duddy that I am, I am more selective. People friend me, and I hesitate to include them. What if I'm having a bad day? If they are part of my circle, do I feel comfortable including them in venting my frustration? What is the purpose of including them, if I don't feel any attachment? And yet . . .
Not long after I joined FB (so hip using the initials!) I was friended by the man I dated through college. In counting all my loves, outside of my marriage that one was the most significant. I had occasionally Googled him, wondering where his life had gone after I left (wondering, really, if his life had changed as radically without me as mine had without him), but had gotten only glimpses of people who might be him -- a comment by a guy with a similar name on a photography forum, a listing on LinkedIn. Then suddenly he was there, asking to be my friend. He included no greeting. It was like a wave across a crowded room to someone you kind of know, but with whom you aren't really connected. Impersonal. Cheerful. Almost, well, obligatory. "Hey, remember me? We went to college together." There was no hint of the three years we spent together: sunrises watched and concerts attended, fights over politics and religion, creative late-night cooking, shared intimacies and explorations across several countries.
I accepted his friend request immediately. I eagerly read his now-open profile, admiring his beautiful children (they could have been mine!), unsurprised at his career (I helped him get started), mildy curious about his wife (isn't that the woman he once described to me as a "crazy stalker"?). I then spent the following week dizzy with memories and regrets, relief and confusion. Underlying it all was the question of why he had reached out. I found I was self-conscious - exaggerating each update for effect, not sure what to say in front of such an audience. Finally I asked, got a bland answer, and have pretended to ignore his presence since then. But I still know he's there, and I self-edit because of it.
On the other side, there are marvelous people out there with whom I would love to reconnect, but I hesitate, unsure if they would remember me. How devastating - to have someone I admired so, who figured so strongly in my life, not know who I am. Haven't books been written about this very subject?
So, I lurk. I watch, and wonder, and think about these people I know, and am careful about what I say in this strangely public private forum. I, who am so very bad at politics, am learning.
Monday, April 13, 2009
I hosted an Easter egg hunt for the kids on our block yesterday. When I originally invited the neighbors over, several of us moms were standing in our front yards turning to face the spring sun, twisting like sunflowers to catch the warmth on our faces. I envisioned the kids racing across three or four yards, searching under bushes, in flower beds, and on top of porch railings to find eggs cleverly hidden while their families breakfasted. Instead, the forecast called for chill winds and rain, and we moved the festivities inside.
This, of course, meant I had to clean the house so the adults could stand around guarding their coffee cups while children zipped by in a frenzy intermittently fueled by sugar in various forms. And on Saturday, as I marshalled my cleaning troops, I came to the most unfortunate of realizations: when hiding Easter eggs, one has to clean the spots usually hidden. So, for Easter, I replaced all my dust bunnies with candy-filled eggs. And after having ten kids running madly around the house is, again, a comfortable mess. But at least it's still clean under my couch.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
My little girl wandered into our room at 4:30 this morning to use the bathroom. All went well until she discovered the toilet paper was not in its usual place (the holder broke and Dad has yet to fix it). So at about 4:35, she started crying at me, "Momma, I can't find the toilet PAP-ER!"
Alarmed out of a confusing dream into an even stranger reality, I attempted to address the situation without actually rising. From underneath my pillow I first suggested she look on the windowsill. That was, loudly, declared an unacceptable response.
I suggested she check the floor. That, even more loudly, also was not acceptable.
Still clinging to the absurd notion of bedrest at 4:40 in the morning, I, also rather loudly, suggested she use tissues from the two boxes on the back of the toilet.
Will made some noise about Violet needing to quiet down.
Violet responded to us both by going into full-on, fire-truck quality, emergency wailing.
I did not handle the emergency well.
I dramatically threw the covers back, stormed into the bathroom, flipped on the light (I would have done so with flair, if light switches were only less pedestrian), grabbed the toilet paper from it's perch next to the tissues, and forced it into her hands with a less-than-polite comment. Then I flounced back to bed (turning the boring old lights off on the way) and buried myself under the covers. Violet silently wiped and pulled her jammies back on, then lay on the floor on my side of the bed and quietly cried the kind of intermittent, hurt tears she will someday shed by herself in a locked bathroom.
I asked Will to (gently) put her back in her bed. Then I proceeded to dramatically, angrily, not sleep for another fifteen minutes. Finally I got up, checked on Sam, and crawled into bed with V, who cheerfully turned and gave me a big hug before (triumphantly?) turning over and going back to sleep.
As a result of this early-morning tableau I am tired and cranky, and fairly certain that Violet won. Not just because of that hug in the dark, but because, when I finally dragged myself out of bed this morning and went to the bathroom, I couldn't find the toilet paper.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I love having cut flowers in my home. There is a Navajo saying, "I walk in beauty", and having fresh flowers in my home reminds me that beauty truly is all around me. Usually I buy my own flowers at the grocery store, but I am occasionally graced with a bouquet by my husband. Last week he brought home a wonderful spray of yellow orchids which looked like Victorian dresses blowing on a clothesline.
My favorite bouquet from him, however, had no flowers. I don't remember the occasion, but I treasure the memory of him presenting me with an artful arrangement of vegetables. It sounds odd -- well, it was odd -- but it was lovely. Red onions mixed with tall white leeks, and they were off set by a couple of long-stemmed, purple-edged artichokes. Instead of baby's breath I received a spray of broccoli. It even smelled good in a hearty, savory way. It took me several days before I took the whole thing apart and used its beauty in a whole new way -- supper.
I spend a lot of my time trying to make the people around me happy, but tonight I have been unsuccessful. I should go to bed and get a fresh start tomorrow, but I don't know that I could sleep through the dark noises in my head.
For me, one of the hardest parts of parenting is the knowledge that a failure on my part could have disastrous consequences for my children. That, combined with a near-constant sense that I am doing things wrong, leaves me spinning in circles, trying to both please and discipline, constrain and encourage my children. Sometimes I wonder if as adults they'll use their hindsight to quietly diagnose me with bi-polar disorder.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
but I haven't been to the grocery store in five days, and I don't know how to make dinner with what I have left in the fridge and cupboards. I've been trying (as have we all) to save money, and one way was to use some of the bounty from my cabinets. We've made it a couple of weeks that way, but unfortunately, that now means creating dinner using ingredients like: two limp refrigerator carrots, cheddar cheese sticks, a can of water chestnuts, three unopened jars of curry powder, Cheetos, a can of baked beans, and random segments of deep-frozen lamb that would take hours to defrost.
I need to pitch a new reality TV show to some network. I'd call it "What's for Dinner?" and send a celebrity chef into a randomly chosen home, giving him or her 45 minutes to create a nutritious, balanced, tasty meal with whatever is in the cupboards/freezer/fridge of the house in question, and regardless of the state of the kitchen (What? You have to work around dirty dishes in the sink? There are no sharp knives? Welcome to the REAL world). It'd be particularly fun (challenging) to send gourmet chefs into households in food desert areas (under-priviledged neighborhoods where food is only available from convenience stores or big-box stores) and see what they can do. All recipes would then be published for real families to use.
Ultimately, a second review of the deep freeze turned up some hamburger, which, when combined with the tortilla chip crumbs from the back of the pantry, chopped up cheese sticks, slightly fermented salsa (vegetables -- with a kick!) and some canned (white northern) beans should be able to pass as nachos. Dinner, anyone?
Violet desperately wants to do everything her big brother does, and he currently is focused (rather, is being reluctantly forced by us and his teacher to focus) on reading and writing. She's watched and listened, and the other day presented me with a picture on which she wrote her name and Sam's (his is backwards). I get no credit, but I sure do take pride in my little self-taught child.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Much to my night-owl husband's dismay, I'm a morning person. And not just a morning person -- I like to be up when everyone else is sleeping. There's something about a sleeping house that is remarkably peaceful. Since getting the alarm clock, er, dog, I've expanded to enjoying a sleeping city. This morning, no thanks to the time change, we walked again in the dark. At long last we were accompanied by the scolding of robins and crows who were unaccustomed to our company. I was delighted; robins are the first sign of spring, and their song cheers me like nothing else. In addition, we witnessed garbage trucks trolling the alleys -- a sight that thrills me now that I have children who get excited by heavy machinery -- and groggy bathrobe-clad people taking the recycling bins to the curb. My personal symphony also included the rumble of freight trains announcing in long wails their arrival and departure through the rail yard. Sometimes I am privileged to hear the roar of lions or trumpeting of elephants from the zoo near our home. Today I did not, but as soon as I returned home I was treated to the cacophany of a waking family.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I never imagined what spending my days with a three year old would be like, let alone one who is dangerously observant. I love Violet's company, but every once in a while she does something I hate: she behaves like me. Sam did this too -- "Mommy, if you don't do this, then you will be in time out!" but from him it was cute and obvious. Violet is more subtle. I recently have been hugely frustrated with the molasses-in-January-like response to morning promptings to get up, dressed, fed, and out the door. My (unfortunate) response has been to get much louder (and, dare I say it? meaner) about the whole thing. Lo-and-behold! Violet has recently been expressing her anger by yelling. Her childish temper tantrums have evolved into more grown-up temper tantrums. Her play also mirrors my behavior. She has found a compact mirror and uses it as a telephone while she "works" around the house on her (toy) computer or, even worse, she feels the need to clean the floors and has even put off going somewhere or doing something with me because she needs to finish cleaning. What am I teaching this child?
Complicating matters is my desire that both children see past the very 1950s life we have right now (Dad working, Mom cooking, cleaning, and caring for the family) to understand that all household jobs can be done by everyone in the family regardless of gender. I save basic repairs (tightening loose screws on chairs, minor plumbing, fixing broken toys) for myself to do in front of the kids, and I believe everyone in our family needs to learn the basics of "homemaking". Sam is well on his way with cooking; he makes our scrambled eggs many mornings, both kids are great help with baking projects, and both have chores. Will obliges when I insist that he clear his own plate and occasionally vacuum, do dishes, and help fold laundry. Yet I won't let Violet help clean the toilets. So far I have put her off with explanations of the danger of the chemicals I am using, but really it's the fact that I don't want her to grow up feeling that it's a GIRLS job.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the kids a disservice by staying home with them. They do get healthy meals and have incredible opportunities (especially summers in Vermont and whole weeks at my family cabin) and I get to spend a great deal of time with them. But they don't always appreciate what, and who, they do have. Perhaps I would make better use of my time with them if I had less of it, instead of wandering the internet aimlessly while they make mud pies in the back yard. Plus, I could afford a maid . . .
There's no real way to know if we're on the right path. In the meantime, I do occasionally get a good laugh out of my mini-mirror. This morning as we got dressed, Violet came into my bathroom with a light-blue oval block. She raised her left arm, and sliding the block up and down her armpit, earnestly told me that it was, "What do you call it, Mommy? Deodorant for tree-years old". She doesn't miss a thing. Except the other armpit.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I quit my job two years ago this month. I suppose it's an odd anniversary to celebrate, but, like most anniversaries, it marks a life-changing event. Actuarial tables indicate that marriage, moving, and job changes are the most stressful things in American life, and I can believe it. I also believe that it has taken me this long, and may take a little longer, to undo some of the mind-pretzels I bent at the end of my career. I am finally able to acknowledge how unpleasant I was at the end -- how my bitterness must have affected those around me. And I now allow myself to take pride in how hard I worked, and even believe that it made a difference. I may not have been terribly effective at single-handedly fixing everything I touched, but I learned a tremendous amount -- and not just accounting! That said, I'm not yet ready to return to that world. I'm afraid to try. I'm afraid that I will make the same mistakes, and bumble through, and lose confidence, and nearly break myself again.
All this went through my head this morning as I drove away from a sleeping family in the pre-dawn light. I met my dearest friends downtown for breakfast, and to get there I had to join the worker-bee commute. Few people in this world have such a lovely morning drive. I faced west, the sun behind me outlining eastern clouds in pink and orange and shades of gray that are too beautiful for a name. Before me lay drifts of mountains fading into banks of gentle morning clouds, the tableau rendered in black and white by winter's hand. Standing tall -- behind the leafless branches arching above, but proud before the mountains -- were skyscrapers made of dawn light, sparkling in the rising sun. And above, a sleepy yellow moon drifted downward, relieved of duty by Apollo.
This view was once familiar to me. I never took it for granted, but my morning commute now involves sweat pants and a lone set of stairs. Dog walks have reopened my eyes to the dawn, but I face east, and trade the mountains for the sun.
So today, I cracked open my window and breathed deeply until my nose chilled, and then watched the dance around me of cars and people and bustling hurry-hurry between trains and buses, weaving cyclists and cell phones into the tapestry of a city whose walls rose above me and blocked out the grandeur of both mountains and sunlight. And I missed it, the sense of purpose; the heads-down idea that if you just get there a little faster something will change and you will have made a difference. I missed it for a little while, and then I had breakfast, and came home, and quietly, slowly, without rules or deadlines, crossed a few things off my list before picking Violet up from school. And I decided that my fear, for now, is okay. I don't need to join the dance yet. And when I do, I will remember to look up to the sky and the mountains, even if it means bumbling some of the steps.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
My apologies to those who read real poetry, but sometimes I can't help myself.
tonight the moon shone
her seas were no longer visible.
The street lights,
hung their heads
and stared sullenly down.
In the spaces
between their yellow glares
I was lighted all in silver
and for a few steps
like a fairy
from my childhood dreams.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I sometimes jot down poems on whatever pad of paper is handy, and then lose them in the mix. Here's one I found today.
You sleep with such abandon!
I am amazed by your travels
and rivers of sheets.
I find you twisting and turning
within the canyon walls of your bed frame
sprawled across mountains of friends
who watch over you.
I marvel at your nocturnal journeys
wondering what strange dream countries
this child -- who never leaves my embrace --
Monday, March 9, 2009
What is it about flying a a kite that is so enchanting? The kids and I went to the mountains this weekend to hang out with my folks. We originally had planned to go skiing again, but glorious weather does not make for glorious skiing, so instead we found activities to do near home, one of which was pulling out a kite from the back of the toy cabinet. For once the day had just the right amount of wind, and the kite jumped and pulled immediately into the air, riding the breeze before an advancing snow storm. This kite is simple and easy -- a multi-colored parafoil with twenty-foot streamers in every color behind it. Sam soon had it flying high, looping and dodging with each shifting gust. Everyone in the park stopped and watched: toddlers pointed and practiced saying "kite"; teenagers in angst looked up and smiled; and passersby stopped to ask where they, too, could purchase a kite. I sat on the brown grass singing "Let's Go Fly A Kite" to Violet while Sam raced around, letting out ever more string, glorying in having "the highest kite in the world!" Finally, when it was so high we could barely see it, the wind began slowing, and I could see sheets of snow marching down the valley, bringing winter back. I got the task of reeling our bird back in, with Sam offering encouragements like "We're doing a great job. See, Mom, this doesn't take too long!" When, at last, we were back on earth, we strolled between snow flakes back to the house where hot chocolate waited.
Monday, March 2, 2009
I used to fill my days with noise -- music, talk, windows open to the world. For the past few weeks, though, I've been choosing not to turn on the radio in the car, or while folding laundry in an empty house, or in the morning in the few minutes I have to catch the news before the whirl of children and dog and husband and breakfast and lunches to pack and so many other things begin to twist around me. I am the eye of my family storm.
In seeking to create a quiet space around me, I feel increasingly assaulted by the piped in noise in every public space I come to. I'm sure we've all heard the rants against blaring TVs in airports and at gas stations. But what about restaurants, grocery stores, telephones on hold, and other places? I took the kids to a movie last Saturday at a recently built outdoor shopping complex, and was annoyed by the strategically placed speakers along the street, pumping some generic rhythmic music toward my ankles, as if my feet could be hustled along by the latest pop star. It seems not even the sidewalk is safe anymore. Don't get me wrong -- I love my iPod with an immoral love, and having my personal tunes with me has been a salvation on more than one occasion. But in those circumstances I am in charge of the genre, volume, and company with whom I share said music. And I am amazed, sometimes, how turning a noise source off -- even sweet classical music -- can bring a sense of relief, as if the music has been literally pressing uncomfortably against me.
I understand the marketing behind a fast beat, or the idea that people feel more festive in a musical atmosphere. But there are times when all it does is jangle the nerves and raise the volume. Attending a recent birthday celebration at a restaurant, I asked the staff to lower the music. No one else in my party could hear the drum beat that caught my attention, but, particularly since it was jazz and not rhythmic, it played into the frantic interactions at the table. Once off, everyone slowed down, and throughout the restaurant people quieted and eased back a little in their chairs.
As an armchair anthropologist, I wondered how many of our daily interactions would ease a little if we didn't have the added element of someone else's idea of tunes. My three-year-old daughter understands this -- when she's grumpy, she orders me to turn off the radio. The quiet soothes her, and often I, too, find myself winding down to the sweet sound of nothing.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Not sure why, but I am consumed with nostalgia and "what ifs" right now. A strange convergence of college-era music rolling through iTunes, contacts by numerous past-people on Facebook, and a travel twitch has me meandering through memory gardens this month. Perhaps some of it is the fact that I don't feel anchored in my current life. Nothing around me is what I imagined. I'm not even sure I imagined this far. The other day I was pulling laundry out of the washer and the sound of pebbles, coins, and pen parts falling back into the metal tub reminded me of a social studies experiment from third grade. In it, our teacher placed a metal trash can on a desk, had us close our eyes, and began pouring BBs from another container into the trash can. I don't remember the specific lesson -- something about "this is how many times over the world can be destroyed by the nuclear weapons stockpiled by the United States and Russia" -- but I remember how the noise just kept thundering on and on and on and on. Another vivid memory from that time is a scene from some post-apocalyptic made-for-TV movie in which a child suffering radiation poisoning begins shitting blood into a sink he has to use as a toilet as his mother holds him and tries not to weep. I remember those two things so clearly, but much of the rest of my childhood is cloudy. I do know I wrote awful short stories about life after "the bomb", and dreadful poems about the need for world peace; but I don't think I ever expected to have a future. So here I am in the now, and I don't know what to do. How do I follow a path I can't see? I guess I continue stumbling forward, knowing I will get somewhere. It's just hard, because looking back, I see all those other turns, and I wonder, "what if?"
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I just spent 45 minutes going around the block. Granted, we went three times 'round, but still, it took 45 minutes. V was on her tricycle singing a variety of songs, most of which went something like "bumpy bumpy bumpy bumpy -- Mom! Did you like that song? -- Bumpy bumpy bumpy . . ." I took the dog, who was nearly frantic with impatience at going the speed of a three-year-old. Ironic, considering she, too, likes to stop for no apparent reason and for random intervals of time, and with no concern for who might bump into her. Fortunately for us all it is a perfect spring day, with just a few clouds in the sky, lovely sun, and random strangers to cheerfully greet along the way. Nonetheless, I couldn't quite settle into a walking-with-a-kid groove. I kept thinking how far my world has contracted. I rarely go more than 20 blocks from home; a trip to the grocery store alone is an adventure; strangers' blogs have become my window on the world. It's a far cry from backpacking through Europe alone, using my last Deutsche Marks to buy a cup of tea, an orange, and the International Herald Tribune in a dreary train station in East Berlin and casually avoiding the random stranger who wanted me to come home, cook and bear children for him (I think -- it was all done in drunken early-morning sign language). My walk today made me nostalgic for who I was then. But then V turned around, smiled, and told me that she sang that song just for me. And my world, small as it is, was enough.
Monday, February 23, 2009
I have slid, again, into February doldrums. The weather is surprisingly nice (for February), but going outside still feels like going into climate Purgatory -- neither winter or summer. We're all getting sick of each other's company, and my resolve to protect the kids from the mind-suck of computer games and television is slipping. Plus I'm beginning to get anxious about prepping for our summer in Vermont, which will be fun but requires quite a bit of planning. Speaking of which, I am off to research mosquito netting.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
We have been relishing warm summery days this week, regardless of the specter of global climate change. Tonight, however, the wind is blowing from the north and carrying the scent of rain. A late dog walk gave me time to watch the clouds roll over my city, reflecting the street lights and dimming the sparkle of the last wistful Christmas lights on a few scattered homes. Rain is always welcome in our dry land, but in January the smell is surprising. Winter deadens the senses -- cold air holds no scent, and fresh snow brings a stilled hush to the streets. Rain is a promise of spring and awakening, making me pull the dogs restlessly, as if we are hurrying toward something instead of traveling in long circles out and back home again. By the time the storm arrives the north wind may fix that, chilling and changing the rain to snow, settling us back down into winter; bringing forth scarves and gloves and frosty noses. Until then, I walk just a little longer, hoping for a lilac breeze to sweeten my dreams.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I am at peace. For the first time in years, I feel that my country is mine again, and I no longer have to wait for the next incident of horrific abuse of power to come to light. I didn't know, until this morning, how anxious I was; how distressed our "leadership" made me. Now, again, I can be proud to be an American. I thank all the gods there are.