Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Whole Lotta Reverbing

Reverb10 has been prompting us to reflect on the past year. Here are some quick responses to prompts in the last week.

December 21 – Future Self (Author: Jenny Blake)

Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Your daughter's childhood is going by so fast. Enjoy it all! Don't worry too much about your career path. You'll have time to work on that later. Just make sure you are ready to jump on that horse when the opportunity arises. Your life is right in front of you right now, so enjoy the heck out of it!

Also, get your finance in order! It doesn't have to be perfect, just legible.

Bonus note to my past self:
Don't wait to do things with people you admire and like. Sometimes people get taken away from you by sheer random circumstances, so appreciate everyone in your life right now.

December 22 – Travel (Author: Tara Hunt)

How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

I traveled to the coast to enjoy the New Year with friends. I traveled several times for calling gigs. I traveled several times (including once solo with my daughter) to see various family and cousins. It was fun. Next year, we are taking a 12 hour trip to see one cousin I haven't seen in nearly a decade.

I'd like to do more short vacation travels to both the coast and the mountains. I'd like to get back to calling more in the region.

December 23 – New Name (Author: Becca Wilcott)

Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

When I was in high school, I accidentally reversed my first and middle names on the reference cards our teacher asked us to fill out. For the first couple weeks, my teacher called me by my middle name. It was a very odd, yet liberating experience. I could be this new person! I could be anyone! I already use my grandmother's name as a handle around the internet.

But I don't think I'd change my name. I own it pretty well.

December 24 – Everything’s OK (Author: Kate Inglis)

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

When my daughter actually put herself to sleep, and it was early enough so that my husband and I could sit on the couch together in the evening. That had been an impossibility before. We looked at each other and said "Wowww, isn't this nice?" then collapsed in giggles. We realized that we were going to get our relationship back despite the demands of parenting. We still have that awareness of our intimate companionship.

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself (Author: Tracey Clark)

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

Oct2010 Saturday morning_0638

My husband took this of me and my daughter in our front yard.

I like that it shows me in one of my favorite new skirts with leggings because I have hope that I can find my fashion sense after decades in jeans and chinos.

I also like that it shows me in my everyday life as a mother. I'm loving and attentive. I like to share my appreciation of the world with my daughter.

December 26 – Soul Food (Author: Elise Marie Collins)

What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

A roasted vegetable stew. Fall root veggies roasted with garlic, rosemary and salt, then stewed and mashed. It spoke of a hearty harvest and of feeding my family with food both delicious and nutritious.

December 27 – Ordinary Joy (Author: Brené Brown)

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

When my daughter decided she'd rather sit in the booster seat for meals, we really enjoyed sitting at the table as a family.

December 28 – Achieve (Author: Tara Sophia Mohr)

What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down.

Clearing space in the house.

I already cleared significant space in the living room for Christmas. We all felt the lightness and joy that comes from having clear space to play in. It made me want to get rid of or pack away even more of my possessions and/or clutter. I imagine I'll feel even happier and more energetic with less stuff weighing us down.

Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

10 things to do/thoughts to think to have more clear space:

1. Pack away things we are not using much.
2. Sweep the floor frequently.
3. Donate some books.
4. Shred some paper.
5. Clear clutter piles off all chairs.
6. Put some bigger unused baby gear up for sale on Craigslist.
7. Take tools from renovation back into the basement.
8. Throw out old receipts and utility statements that are past usefulness (that's virtually all of them!).
9. Pack up old baby clothes and get them out of the house!
10. Don't buy anything new in January (except house renovations).

Bonus 11: Notice how happy and energetic clear space makes me feel.

Okay, that's it for now! Happy Christmas week!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

5 Minutes of What I'd Want to Remember from 2010

Another reflective prompt from reverb10.

December 15 – 5 Minutes
Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

Okay, timer started. I'd like to remember:

My daughter going strawberry picking for the first time and devouring a huge berry fresh from the plant.

Going camping with the three of us at a dance weekend. Hanging out with the community. The baby learned to give high fives. DH and I get to dance together for the first time in two years! A romanic, heartfelt waltz.

Calling to some of my favorite dance communities. Calling a dance I wrote at some friends' wedding, and they really liked it!

The baby when she first learned to walk - running back and forth between us, so excited and proud of herself.

Seeing a friend after more than 15 years on different continents! Warm and comfortable conversation.

Visiting another college friend and her family - hanging out, talking, noshing on dessert, and playing with toys.

The little girl getting taller and taller, and her delight at climbing and sliding and dancing and bouncing and talkingtalkingtalking. All the funny things she says. The way she comes running into our arms for a hug. She requests "sing barefeet" or "ead Orax." "Where 'Cuzi go? I go find 'Cuzi." " Ah heah Daddy peeling carrots!" "Ah make a big noise!"

Conversations with my husband in the middle of the night about our daughter and about life. We're tired, but it's so nice. Giggling at silly things.

Cooking projects - yummy! Making corn chowder and lasagna and peppermint bark. Crazy!

Tracking my Dad's progress as he ran the NYC marathon, and calling him moments after he crossed the finish line.

Hanging out with my cousins. Comfortable conversations about our parents and our children and our house projects.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dazzled With Decorations

The tree glimmers in the dim room. I am up late drinking tea and nursing a head cold, but the sight of the tree lifts me past my discomfort.

This must be the best tree I've ever decorated in my life. Shiny colored balls of every size and hue dot the branches, concentrated in the top half, while other ornaments dangle or nestle throughout. Strings of lights wind around from the top of the high central spike down the slender shape, flashing out or peeking from behind ornaments ranging from straw stars tied with red thread and hand-pressed paper angels, to glue-and-glitter sweet gum balls from twenty years ago and my baby's hand print made just last year. And the gold foil and glitter wrapped star I made years ago presides over it all. Yes, this is the best one. Because my daughter is here to see it.

We went tree shopping earlier this week, in the middle of a bitter cold of course, because most of our tree shopping incites strange weather - last year, it was sleet-snowing on us - and after it was erected properly and the lower branches soaped (to deter cats from taking ill-advised bites out of it), we let it drink and rest.

A day later followed the wrapping of the lights. I wait to see my daughter's reaction. Kissme ites! My daughter says. Mommy made it! Yes, Mommy put the lights up. More drinks for the tree, more resting.

Today during nap time, I strung antique bulbs along the mantle and started unloading ornaments onto the upper half of the tree. First, some of my favorite glass bulbs, then certain special ornaments I want featured prominently, then the red bulbs, and the gold ones, and the old-fashioned molded glass from India, and oh yes, the set of blues and greens I picked up from the thrift shop, and oh yes! the new box of miniature reds. I leave a few of them within reach. It's not too early to learn how to treat a glass bulb gently, and if a couple of them break, oh well, they are not the special ones.

I save several boxes for my daughter to help with. I'm waiting for her to wake up and exclaim over the tree, and she does. Decor-Ay-shuns! she calls them. And I show her how to open the loop of string and place it over a branch, preferably one that does not droop, and how to hook a piece of wire onto a likely spot. She doesn't have much patience for the particulars, but she exclaims over the snowflakes, the stars, the birds, and other cunning designs of color and shape. She handles the fake cardinals with wires sticking out of their feet, the be-glittered sweet gum balls (practically antiques), the striped elfs from my husband's childhood. She rings a finger on the painted steel bell ornament from my grandfather's farm. She pokes into the bag of ornament hooks.

Bah-ohs, she keeps saying as she fondles yet another globe. Oh! Anah-oh bah-oh! I keep waiting for the balls to spring back from her hand and hurl themselves to the hearth, but they stay stuck fast to their branches.

The birds, the stars, the snowmen, all familiar characters. Angels and soldiers are a new one. She's convinced the little mouse in walnut shell is a cat. She runs away with one angel chime figure, clutching it her chest while she climbs into the recliner. We give the tree another drink. Ahter for uh tree!she says.

The rest of the evening, she's drawn back to the tree again and again to hold and inspect ornaments within reach. The colors, the shapes, the lights. It's utterly fantastic and normal, both, just like in all the books we've ever read. Iss nice, she declares. And we haven't even gotten to the icicles yet. I'm telling you; best tree ever.

Friday, December 10, 2010

So Beautifully Different - Whoo!

Reverb10 has a cool series of writing prompts to prompt reflection at the end of the year. I'm behind - this one is from two days ago.

December 8 – Beautifully Different
Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. (Karen Walrond)

This is an especially interesting exercise to me, because even though I've felt different since I was a child, I've never been able to really figure out HOW I am different, or WHY.

When I was younger, I think it was mostly because I noticed many things, and I reacted in unusual ways, and other people often treated me as if I were different (and reacted well or badly according to some mysterious algorithm). Yet I could never figure out why that was, or what, exactly, it was, much less what I was supposed to do to "fix" it to be more like other people.

In my adult life, I've come to know a variety of people who appreciate my differences and quirks. Sometimes I will get comments about my "great energy," but I'm still a little mystified.

And now as I try to think about what makes me different (and beautiful), I keep feeling that I am somehow letting my ego run away with me. Look at me! How wonderful I am! Har.

1. I have a way of taking people into an inclusive circle, especially when I am speaking publically. My husband calls this speaking as if I were "addressing each person personally." Not that this manifests in all areas of my life, but I do have the knack, and I have a hard time leaving someone out, so it often comes out in my tone.

2. Making quirky, wryly humorous remarks. Some people might say that was an aggravating flaw, but you can't deny that it sticks out. In a public role, it tends to entertain people.

3. I am easily moved. I typically get all choked up when someone graduates, sings, or crosses a finish line against all odds. Certain music brings me to weeping. I suppose I am still sensitive to the beauty in the world, including the beauty of beating out odds and throwing oneself against a noble task.

4. I am self-deprecating as all get-out. Another item that could be placed in the annoying category. Sorry, sorry.

5. I see beauty in mundane things. This is one of the reasons that I couldn't give up photography even when painting wasn't working for me; I need to capture what I am seeing. I cherish nearly everything. One of the biggest compliments that I ever got was from one of my students after she saw my Flickr site - "It's as if you appreciate ... everything!" Yes, it's true.

6. I have a glowing smile, apparently. I have a hard time judging this for myself, but I do feel a heady joy at times. I do light up. Sometimes I like to go by Joy! It's how I prefer to live life when I am not bitching and complaining.

7. I have a subtle and literate sense of humor. Can you tell? I am always delighted when I meet someone of a similar bent. Okay, okay, sometimes it is very punny too.

8. I was raised to exercise my artistic creativity and out of mainstream culture. When I say mainstream, I'm talking about middle class America values. My parents didn't want us to live with a tv in the house. They thought we should be free to exercise our creativity without resorting to pre-defined parameters. So no coloring books, just lots of blank paper. No tv, but lots of books and stories. Lot of outdoor playing in the yard and dead-end street. I guess it gave me an appreciation for thinking out of the lines.

9. I don't like tv as a daily part of my consciousness. I enjoy pop culture in moderation, and I like a good story, but I can't stand the tv culture of sound bite journalism and fast flashy cuts. Too much of it makes me feel a little ill. I'd rather be out walking, or dancing, or reading, or writingpaintingthinkingcookingcreating. I've seen maybe a third of an episode of the series Friends and none of any reality show, and I so don't care. Yes, I am odd.

10. I'm enthusiastic. I know it's considered uncool to show any enthusiasm about anything, but I really don't care. If I like something or find it worthy of interest, I'll point it out, rave about it, savor it. Life is good. Enthusiasm rocks! Whoo!

'Tis The Season

'Tis the season for relentless ads and desperately enticing sales. 'Tis the season for tinny schlocky music drifting or blaring out of any sound system. 'Tis the season for expectations of gifts and I-Deserve-This and I've-Been-Very-Good.

'Tis the season for extra calories and red-and green-wrapped or candy-striped goodies of dubious merit. 'Tis the season of lights and candles. 'Tis the season of shopping among the over-heated press of other shoppers.

'Tis the season for want and guilt and desperation and exasperation. 'Tis the season for bills and budgets and spending over one's means. 'Tis the season for fearing to disappoint.

'Tis the season of hand-made decorations and piping children's voices. 'Tis the season for snuggling and and hot chocolate or tea. 'Tis the season for singing the old tunes, the old lyrics, the ancient pagan celebration married to an old story.

'Tis the season for rhymes and stories, verses and readings. 'Tis the season for making cookies with children, of smearing the frosting and spilling the sprinkles.

'Tis the season for raising a toast and getting tipsy on mulled wine or eggnog with rum. 'Tis the season for friends and parties, plays and concerts, pageants and silent meditations.

'Tis the season for ethereal choruses and arrangements of strings and horns. 'Tis the season for Gramma-Got-Run-Over-By-A-Reindeer.

'Tis the season for remembering our losses, remembering those in need. 'Tis the season for wrapping paper and icicles. 'Tis the season for oh-g-d-isn't-it-here/over-yet?

'Tis the season for imperfect manifestations of the heart's yearnings and the light's wanings. Hang in there; Solstice is only eleven days away.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The ShooShot

Yesterday the little girl and I went in to get her flu shot as scheduled.

I tried to prep her early so that it wouldn't be an unpleasant surprise - if I wait too long, there's not time to give an unhurried explanation, and she always does better with an explanation.

So I told her in the car that we were going to the doctor's office, and that she would have a quick flu shot, just like Mommy and Daddy had. Remember Mommy and Daddy got a shot in the arm? And she was going to get a quick shot in the leg.

She started to whine as we pulled into the parking lot. Her new vantage point gives her opportunity to recognize locations, so she clearly recognized the place.

Ah ohn't ahnt it, she kept telling me as we were getting out of the car.
Yes, I know you don't want it, but the flu shot will keep you from getting sick this Winter, honey. Mommy got a flu shot, Daddy got a flu shot. and so on, as I herded her toward to front door.

Once inside, she was distracted by the kids chairs and the books found scattered around the lobby. Eh-phant! Diff-ent chair. A delivery man wheeled a packet of medical supplies in on a moving cart, and the little girl jumped up and exclaimed over the rolling wheels. Hey there, pretty girl! he laughed.

Then the nurse called us back, and fortunately, she was one of the persuasive ones who seemed to actually enjoy talking to children. Ohh, aren't you a big girl, walking back here all by yourself. The little girl did indeed walk all the way back under her own power, then again started to whimper as we entered the room with the big clinical table.

Ohn't ahnt it. Go aht door, she told me, as she edged toward to corridor. I suppressed a giggle at the cuteness. You need your flu shot, Sweetie, I told her. It'll be quick. I'll bet the nurse even has a pretty bandaid for you.

She doesn't need to undress; you can just pull down her pants so I can get to her leg, the nurse told me. Okay, but could we sit in that chair?

I thought it'd be less traumatic if I could hold her in my lap.
And you have a bandaid? Yes? I asked, trying to distract the little girl. Sure enough, there was a bright pink bandaid. Make sure you hold her hands was the last thing the nurse told me.

The nurse swabbed, she stabbed, she was done! It was over by the time the little girl started to cry out, and the nurse slapped the bandaid on so fast that it was only later that I noticed it wasn't even over the puncture. But it was an effective distraction. The girl stopped fussing immediately. She was very good! The nurse remarked while I all but polished my fingernails on my shirt.

The checkout nurse is always exceedingly kind. She can pick out a sticker, hon, she told me. Wow! The first time she'd get a sticker!

I fished out two likely candidates and held them up for perusal. You get a sticker, Sweetie! Do you want the pink one or the purple one? The purple one with Daisy Duck. And do you want it on your shirt or your hand? Her hand. Nice sticker, was the verdict.

You were soo brave, Sweetie. The nurse cleaned your leg, and then she gave you a flu shot - ow! - and then it was all done! Oo, and then you got a bandaid... And now you have a sticker. Oh, cool!

And the whole rest of the day, I was treated to her version of the narrative.

Ah go shooshot. You did what? Oh, you got a flu shot!
Ah wen' doctors. Ah got shooshot. Ah got sticker. Ah put hit ahn ma shert now. Ah got shooshot. Awriight! Yes, you sure did, Sweetie!

I love this job.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Ca No Wri Mo

Oh, hi! Wasn't I supposed to post something here tonight?

Alas, I'm feeling rather white-rabbit-ish about my time today.

I'm late, I'm late... And there's much to do before we leave and before I sleep.

Being poised halfway between panic and denial, I think I'll take a bath and catch up on sleep instead of fritter more time online. (Yeah, right!) No, no, really!

I'll write more after I've survived the panic of leaving.

Look! Kitties!

cat feet SQ

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And Then There Were Countertops

Oo, did you notice the new countertops?
What? Did you not notice?

You might have seen this:
Autumn Potage

They take pretty pictures indeed.

They are a vast improvement on what was there before. Let me refresh the memory.

At first, there was this:

kitchen sink counter oldnWB

Actually, there was much less than this.

See that strange grey board around the sink? That's the old countertop. With metal edging that you don't see around much any more. That slab was the only countertop in the entire kitchen for most of the years we've lived in this house. Yeah. I know. It's antique. Probably older than me.

At some point, we ripped out the old cabinets, of which there were very few.

kitchen sink in progress_0696

And put in new shiny ones.

kitchen cab install_0773

Okay, it took a while to rip out and install.
All that ugly stuff on the walls was from amazingly bad plastic tile that had not only been glued on but painted afterward. Yikes.

And afterwards, we were amazed.
Wow! We have storage space! And countertops!

kitchen cab install_0796

But of course, we hadn't arranged for countertops at the same time, so for nearly a year after we installed new cabinets, there was this:

kitchen inside corner-WB Oct2010

This is pieces of white board from the hardware store cut to size for temporary countertops. It wasn't bad - it was easy to clean (it was after all whiteboard), but it wasn't even fastened down. It was just an easy stop-gap measure.

And finally, there was this:

kitchen inside corner WAL

We still have the mangey walls (and the hole where the electrician moved a light switch), but that will be upgraded eventually.

The color, I lurv it. The price was right.
The installation, however, left much to be desired...

So the floor is kinda crooked, so the appliances and cabinets are crooked, so the countertops are... hmmm. How shall we say? Crooked.

And because I was measuring, they assumed some things, like I needed extra space here and there, but not over there where we really needed it. And the new dishwasher Oh! Did I mention we have a wonderful new dishwasher? sticks out a bit more and so the counter length is either too short or too long depending on which way you shove it, and of course it's shoved back so that I don't even have a freakin proper overhang on one side - gah! *ahem* And then on top of that, they affixed it with some kind of industrial strength adhesive that gave me headaches for days as it outgassed.

Oy. I'm kinda wishing I had been that picky customer, but this is just screwy.

But some of the strangeness of it is that this is an old house, and nothing is really square, much less level. So anytime one adds some new improvements to the place, you have to fit the new "semi-perfect" items with the existing structure, which is decidedly NOT. Having new countertops just draws your attention to the floor wonkiness.

But oh, well. We have new countertops!

They are otherwise attractive. They don't look boring. They look pricier than they are, which is a nice touch but not essential. (They are fancy Wils0nart laminate.) They have great texture and color. You can't even see any dirt or ants. On the other hand, you can't see the dirt or ants! Oops! hehe.

The best part is that they successfully bridge the gap between the new off white cabinets and the old dark wood paneling and let the door knobs be the dark punctuation, which is all just what I was aiming for. In other words, they look great! Nice enough for every day. Just don't look too closely, and we'll all be happier.

grapefruit new counter

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I am on the fence about the whole daycare/pre-school thing. We found a pre-school that has a mom's morning out, with a once a week morning for kids younger than two. Oo! We said. And forgot about it. Saw it again at my church this fall. Oo! I said! Emailed about a visit to tour the program. It was fun. And there's a progressive series of pre-school programs as the children age up. Oo! I said. And promptly lost the application.

My misgivings are many, no fault of the program, really.

Will this child get up early enough for the 9:30 am start time? Sometimes she sleeps until 10.
If we get in, do we really want her to spend more and more time there? Do we have the option of fewer days, no we do not.
There are many other things going on that same morning. Storytime at the library. Tumbling at the sportsplex. Time with Mommy.
And what about the cost? It's not so pricey as programs go, but what would she get out of it that is worth that price? Who are we doing this for - her or me?
And on and on.

So I haven't sent in the application.

But, but, it's a great play-based program! It would be good for her to have more group interactions away from Mommy! And it would be fun! And give me more time to myself, maybe.

I'm realizing that I am jealous of my time with my daughter. I am lucky enough to be able to stay home with her. I'm finding I don't want to give her up.

For maybe one morning this year I could give her up, maybe, but there's that progression of time and money, and where do we stop? Maybe that's an artificial barrier, but I fear, somehow, that she will be inextricably drawn away from me, and next thing you know, she's gone five mornings a week, then off to kindy. I want my baby time! I want all of her childhood. It's too soon. Isn't this where someone is supposed to remark how growing up is harder on the parents than on the child?

Face it, missy. You do not want to give up any time with her. It's true. So until I convince myself otherwise, I am relishing every bit of baby-and-childhood I can get.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I couldn't go to sleep last night, but still somehow never got around to writing anything.

I had been busy all day catching up with lots of big and little jobs. Everything from mixing up yet another batch of cookie dough to cleaning out a box for craft supplies, to airing out the tent. To watering the plants, to cleaning out the cars, to putting away the little girls books and toys that pile up in drifts, to giving the cat his injection, to confirming plans with my cousins. To clipping coupons, to wiping noses, to washing/drying/folding/putting away yet another load of laundry, to feeding myself a late night snack of toast and tea while reading on my latest library book so that I could settle down enough to sleep.

I get like this sometimes: full of vigor and focused purpose. It's the lists, probably, and eating well, all those vitamins in the green leafy things, and the threat of my time cut short - getting ready for a trip while waiting for the contractor to show up - can you say a leetle tense? Maybe not so much tense as motivated!

Items still on my lists:

Clear kitchen counter for contractor (load dishwasher, wash plastic lids, finish making that batch of cookies)

Work on my next program (coming up this weekend, lots to arrange and think about)

Call bank (they've reset my password without telling me and how can I transfer money to pay the contractor without knowing my current balance?)

Write bills (this is easy enough when I do it as I go along)

Email the yardwork guys (I have high hopes, but it may wait until after Thanksgiving)

Cut felt for the Advent calendar (I am behind, but I need a bit of space to work)

Mail chocolate to my friend in the middle of a stressful move (It's in the package, needs stamps)

Cut back the lantana (This monstrosity takes over my front garden bed every Summer, but it's pretty and the butterflies and occasional hummingbird likes it. But then it stinks and gets all hard-thorny if I wait too long)

Call/email the maternal support program at the local health center. (I have boxes and boxes of clothes to pass on to them)

Finish photobook (I have a good deal, but I have to finish it before the end of the week! Yeek!)

Send my sister her birthday card/present

Write check for the cat sitters

Deliver key to the cat sitters

Return library books before we leave town!

Deliver the old-time music CD to a caller friend (good prep for her next gig)

Start packing

Follow up on the energy retrofit (We are on to the second round of forms and applications - yay for tax credits!)

Wash the kitchen floor (it always needs it)


Wait! wait! There's more! Wait! Come back!
Oh, never mind. You get the idea. :)

With a toddler around, everything takes longer. No wonder I have a hard time going to sleep - even after she's down, I want to cram in as much as I can! The lists help me keep everything on track.

But really, I need my sleep. As much as I am motivated about tackling things left undone, I need to toddle off to bed. At least I wrote a little tonight.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Potage Melange of Autumn

On Saturdays, I like to cook. The day stretches out leisurely before me, with hours to spend. I neaten a table, put away stranded items, put in another load of laundry, polish the door, put away socks, papers, and junk mail, and think of food.

Some weeks we go to the local Farmer's Market, with rows of stalls all selling something of specialty. Baked goods - bread, tarts, pies - and flowers, fused glass jewelry, beautifully polished bowls of locally salvaged wood, seeds and produce - fifteen small farmers organic or not, selling seasonal food bursting with the colors and health as the season intended. It's too late for tomatoes, but there's grain fed beef, braising greens, bok choy, and white turnips with greens intact. Turnips!

It's fall, and the root vegetables are calling me. I contemplate a hearty plate of roasted roots. Or perhaps sauteed? Or a stew? Perhaps roasted, and then stewed, then chunked into a mosaic. Yes.

I pick potatoes and carrots, of course, and then a bunch of turnips, of course, and a few parsnips because they are supposed to be yummy in this sort of combination of course. Onions and garlic and plenty of salt and pepper. Roasted with olive oil, then sauteed in butter, and melted into softness, mashed or spun into flecks, a whole family of flavors in every bite.

potage to blend

On a cold but sunny autumn day, this potage sticks to the ribs, mortar against the windy bite. It's fall. So let's fall to it.

Autumn Potage

Friday, November 12, 2010

Welcome Generosity

It was a windy day, the sun flashing brilliantly from behind intermittent clouds that raced across the sky. Up on the Gap, day trippers roamed over the short-cropped grass, heaving themselves step over step up the slope, between scrubby shrubbery that clung to the steep hillside.

Massies Gap Slope_0624

And ponies! There were ponies up on the ridge. The appreciated the occasional carrot or apple.

Our packs, a familiar heft, rode on bruised hips. After several days on the trail, they fit into the hollows and over the bones as if molded to us. We had made it down the rock pile of a trail from the higher peak, treacherous for the unaware foot or ankle.

Grayson View South_0640

Easing our way down over the gap, we took the familiar gravel fork towards the parking lot, down down to the fence line, and through the gate. The gate swung closed behind us. No ponies allowed near the road.

The green lawn spread out before us, the picnic area dotted with fantastically twisted branches mottled white and gray. We found a likely pause and eased off the packs. We swigged water and looked about us. People scattered across the park at various states of leisure or strolling progress. We hadn't planned to come out at this spot, as pretty as it was, but it was convenient, the closest outlet within a couple days hike for an emergency stop.


Who should we ask? Someone who looked friendly. Someone with a larger car. One couple nodded to us as they passed us on the way to their SUV still breathing hard from their hike. We'd passed them further up the trail. Them, I thought. I paused, letting them settle in. They took some time stowing their gear. I approached, looking as winsome and non threatening as possible.

"Excuse me, ma'am. I was wondering if you all could possibly give us a ride into Damascus. We've been on the trail all week, and our stove just broke! We need to get into town so we can get another stove at the outfitters. I was wondering if you all could you possibly help us out? We just need a ride."

The woman closed her face, unwilling to say yes or no. "Don!" She called to her husband. "What do you think? This lady says she needs a ride."

"Me and my husband, both." My husband nodded and tried to look non-threatening.

"Where are you all going?" The man squinted at me.

"Damascus," I told him. "Me and my husband" (here I nodded in DH's direction) "started from there last week. We had the bad luck of our camp stove breaking, so we need to get to the outfitters to have it fixed, but we're stuck out here without a ride. Would you happen to be heading in that direction?" I was giving him an easy out.

The man looked at us for a moment. "I think we could go that way." He eyed our packs. "Those should fit in back."

"Oh, thank you so much! We really appreciate it! I thought we'd be stuck here forever." I am miss light and easy. No pressure, no other requests. DH nods and says, "Thanks a lot." "No problem," the man says, but the woman looks as if she regrets giving her husband the final say.

We stowed the packs in silence.

"Where are you folks from? You don't sound like you are from hereabouts."
"Oh, we're from ____, North Carolina."
"North Carolina, huh?"
"Yup. We enjoy coming up here every year. Some years we just hike and camp. This year, we were more ambitious and are hiking a loop around the area."

I was still trying to be friendly. No, we are not weird people. We're just like you. Too late; we already look alien. Boots! Packs! Slightly stinky layers. And what sane person carried twenty five to forty pounds all over tarnation for the fun of it?

The drive takes a good thirty minutes on the twisty roads, the same distance it's taken us more than three days to cover on the trail. It's strange to be moving so quickly over the ground. It's a unsettled jarring of time and place. Why did we just cover all that ground on foot?

We chat about the metal roofs we see on houses, the state of the weather this Summer, our jobs. I am still trying to convince them that we are ordinary folks. But backpacking along a trail is already too strange.

"Do you all need to stop for any supplies?"
"No, we're pretty well set. We just need to get our stove fixed."
"You have everything you need in those packs, huh?"
"Yup, pretty much."

The woman picks up a Wendy's cup from the cup holder. She shakes the ice in the cup and slurps loudly. She shakes the ice again even more vigorously as if scolding us. I almost snort at her disapproving expression. Ma'am, you can keep your ice. We are not your social inferiors. Except somehow we are. Having to ask for help makes us inferior to the people who are always within easy reach of their cars.

They let us out half a block away from the outdoor outfitters store. "Do you need any help with that?" This time barely sincere. "No thanks, I've got it!" We swing the weight of the packs out easily. Once more, the packs are slung over our backs, this time for just a short jaunt up the street. We don't have any small bills to offer the couple in thanks, so I settle for a little philosophizing. "We really appreciate the ride. Thank you. It was a big help. I'll pass along the favor to someone else next time I get a chance." The woman's face is twisted into something almost a sneer. Ahh, screw it, lady. We nod at them and head straight for the store, relieved to be on the ground again.

At the outfitters, they tell us that a new part would take a week to come in, but that, amazingly, the camp stove is still under some kind of "forever" manufacturers warranty. They suggest that they give us another one just like it from their stock, and they'll return ours and get reimbursed. For the second time in one day, we are grateful of a stranger's generosity, but this time, it feels welcoming.

We are punchy with tiredness - it is now late afternoon. We devour a large pizza for dinner and head back over to our favorite backpackers haven. They'll shuttle us back to the gap later. But for now, we crash. The rooms are small cinderblock rooms with thin carpet, but they seem like luxury to us. A hot shower and we fall into bed, to return to the trail the next day.

Massies Gap Looking NW_0629

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Cold Night in Hooverville

It's Veteran's Day here in the US, November eleventh.

I don't know that I have anything profound to add. I've never served. I do know a few veterans, some with combat experience. My cousins, two uncles, a friend or several, one of my mother-in-law's grandsons, and men I see on the streets in desperate condition. Most of them don't talk about it much.

From a distance, I wonder about how the armed services seem to take great satisfaction in running the expensive high tech gear while maintaining their forces and their families on a shoestring. I don't know - maybe that is considered good budget management. And then after the people doing the fighting come home, they have senators voting against their benefits. Why?!? That just boggles my mind.

Okay, now I have to rant a little.

If we have young people serving some of the best years of their life for our country - going where they are told, doing what they are told, living an impossibly stressful life, surviving or not surviving or somewhat surviving (which may be worse) - then how can we not pony up their benefits and promised education?

Apparently, this denial of benefits is not new, though. Who was it - Hoover? who denied promised pay to a host of veterans, then when they and their families camped out in protest, in desperation, had them slashed down by calvary and burned out of their camp? Tell me I didn't just imagine that one. Maybe I read it in a book. ...No, sadly, the Bonus March was real. Hoover had a different opinion about how it went down and why, natcherly.

Currently, we have a young person (or old person) putting their life and sanity on the line for years, and then we as a country are miserly in compensating them? It speaks of a disrespect for the job they are asked to do. What does that make us? Ungrateful users. Never mind all the slogans. Even I, as a sorta peacenik, think we need to do better.

Where is the care and respect for treating their dire wounds of body and soul? Some veterans are near-literally kicked to the curb to beg for assistance. I see some of them on street corners every day. Who is going to salute them instead of pointedly looking the other way? I am too chicken-sh!t to talk to them, but it doesn't keep me from grinding my teeth when I hear about another benefit voted down or mental health services pulled, or the definitions of covered benefits changed. No, no, that's not Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, noooo; that person was already a little screwed up. Oh! Or maybe they are bi-polar! No PTSD here! Sure. Anything to avoid treating them. Excuse me, but What the h3ll?

Yes, veterans deserve a thank you, but it'd be even more appropriate if we would give them better services in appreciation for their service.
< /rant >

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pushing Buttons

The little girl loves any button she can get her hands on. Buttons that make noise, trill, chime, scream, play music. The action that creates another action. So she's developed a vocabulary for expressing her fondness for pushing buttons.

But'ons! Ah push it. Ah push but'on. Play 'sica. (That's music, she's talking about.) 'Sica on!

She loves it. She's also become fond of finding new buttons to push. Keyboards, the telephone, the cell phone... Mommy even has a few buttons.

"Can I have a hug?" I ask, and she comes shrieking into my arms. "Haig!" she proclaims. "Kiss!"

Then I made the mistake of playfully telling her that "Mommy is sad" when she didn't want to give me a hug. Oh boy, oh boy. Dumb Mommy. Another button to push. She knows she can say "no" and get a reaction. So now I don't get as many hugs because when I ask, she often gets that wild look on her face that says "I know what I can do to make Mommy crazy - Mwahahaha!" Now I have to fake caring whether she gives me a hug or not.

Come to think of it, her expression at these times is similar to the face I grew up seeing my mother make: You better do this OR ELSE. The little girl never sees my mother make that face. She could only have gotten it from me.

I already messed up on the screaming thing. I hate it when she screams, not least of all because, at close range, she can make my ears go numb for several seconds at a time, just before the pain kicks in. Then for a while, she tried threatening me with screaming when didn't like something. I'd tell her, we have to go [do something] and she'd look at me meaningfully and say, "Ah scream!" I couldn't decide whether to laugh or hold my head. I can't help but laugh. Honey, you are trying to threaten me? I can take you out. But unfortunately, I can't really best her. I can only do my Mommy best to not give away too much of my reactions.

I've had some practice with swearing. Every so often, she picks up something I've said. I have gotten much better at ignoring the word I do not want to hear. She really doesn't need any more of that sort of buttons to push.

Let this be a lesson to me. If she finds a button, she will push it. Quick! Hide all the buttons!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Little Jump On The Season

I am feeling some pressure to get ahead on Christmas preparations because --

- What's that you say? It's barely Thanksgiving and it's too early for Christmas? -

True, true, but once we clear the end of November, all things Christmas will start bearing down on me, and I will suddenly find myself with no time to do some of the special things I wanted to do, and wailing and bitching, *ahem* I mean stressing out about it.

I do have time to do those special things, but only if I work ahead. If I tackle the big projects as a series of mini projects, then all is calm. (Or as calm as you can get in the midst of everything going on.) If I wait until early-mid December to start, woe is me.

This year, when I realized that our contractor was going to eat up an entire week with projects all over the house, I concluded that it was time to put in some serious prep work. And, if I got in significant work before we travel for Thanksgiving, I'll have a jump on the whole season. Or at least keep close to "up."

I might as well go ahead and mix up and refrigerate a few batches of cookie dough, eh?
OP-Sugar Crystals in Butter
Sugar Crystals in Butter - sparkly!

Therefor, a sampling of my list accomplished so far:

Mixed a batch of white roll cookies. These lemon-vanilla cookies are rolled and cut into Christmassy shapes to be decorated later. I have hopes that the little girl will experience some of the sugar-frosting-splashing and sprinkle-spilling fun. It'll be enough of a time-consuming job to roll, cut, and bake them, so I'm glad I got the mixing and chilling out of the way.

Sugar Icing All Colors

Mixed a batch of ginger roll cookies. This is my favorite gingerbread cookie of the crisp variety. I'm hoping, in the name of toddler participation, that the little girl will be able to help place currents and cinnamon candies.

OP-Pool of Molasses

Gingerbread Reds

Bought craft supplies to make fun gifty things that the little girl can help me with. Shhh, I'll tell you about it later.

Stockpiled bars of white and dark chocolate for another fun gifty recipe.

Designed a felt advent calendar wall hanging. I was originally planning to recreate the wall hanging that one of my aunts made for me and my sisters, but the original has gone awol (damaged and thrown out, my mother reports unsentimentally). Then once I started searching online for ideas, I found lots of cool plans. I ended up reworking my original idea to incorporate the best of other versions. Right now, it's all on a sheet of paper with sketches and notes. I'll post some picture later, I promise.

Accumulated felt and other supplies for that advent calender wall-hanging. I still have lots of do to get this ready before Thanksgiving!

Made a rough budget for gift giving. Hopefully it's between realistic and draconian. We almost always overspend, so having a rough guideline helps us keep the spending from reaching the scary zone.

Stockpiled butter. I make lots and lots of cookies, and some of them are heavy on the butter (see below: pizelles). Whenever butter was on sale this Summer and Fall, I got a few more pounds and stashed them in the fridge and freezer, where they'll keep for ages.

Stockpiled chocolates and truffles on sale. My whole family loves my habit of stuffing their stockings with these wee goodies. Since I usually give at least 3-6 per person, truffles tend to run me about thirty dollars a year. I mean, seasonally. Plus oh, several *cough* more for quality control testing. Two out of three people in the household agree that we need to double check the truffles for freshness. Anyway, I have been shopping the sales, and stashing bags in places that we hopefully will forget exist until immediately before Christmas.

Found used play kitchen and play food/utensils for the little girl. We got this this Summer after weeks of shopping and craigslist scanning. We've been saving it until the little girl is old enough to appreciate it, which we figured would be about Christmas.

Other things on the list yet to be done:

Cook up a crock pot of mince fruit filling for pies. To make this happen, I need to cut up a bunch of apples, etc, thrown together with raisins and currants, molasses and spices, and let "simmer" overnight. Then I'm going to freeze two pies worth. Then, when I am at my inlaws for T-day cooking, I can bake two pies - one for my inlaw's dinner (even though most of my inlaws don't care for this pie), and one for my cousin's T-day dinner the day *after*. So after I cook the filling, I need to *freeze* the filling so it can travel without spoilage. Anyway, that's my plan. I just got fresh currants.

Mix up some Pfeffernüße, my favorite childhood German cookie. Like the previous several cookies, this needs to be refrigerated, but at least I am not making the teeny tiny version my grandmother specialized in - that would take me months to achieve.

Dusted Pfeffernuesse

Bake pizelles, my favorite Italian wafer-cookie. I invested in a pizelle press a few years back. What fun! I'm hoping to make several flavours. Anise-flavored, always. Last year I also made a vanilla version, an hazelnut-almond version, and an orange-lemon version. Some for gifts, and some (okay, lots!) for us. Yummy. Oh, did I mention each batch takes a couple sticks of butter and a solid hour of uninterrupted work? (See: stock-piling butter, also: working ahead).

Baby Pizzelle Press

Start measuring/cutting/sewing the Advent calendar wall hanging. Any day now.

Wipe down play kitchen and replace batteries. Did you know that play kitchens these days often come with a sensor that plays "cooking" and boiling/sputtering noises whenever a toy pot is put over a burner? Me neither! Yes, it's electronic, but it's cool!

Wrap already acquired presents. I could start on some of the books and what-not.

Decluttering the kitchen and living room. My goal is to clear out piles so we'll have space to appreciate the tree and other decorations. I might even box up some of the toys in the house for the season, just to get them out of the way during other hoopla.

Move my mailing boxes into one location. I've been saving boxes of a certain midsize, oh, about the size of a cookie tin, say.

Start drafting my annual end-of-year letter. Yes, I am one of those people who write Christmas letters. Frankly, I enjoy getting them from my cousins and other relatives. So I try to make mine informative and entertaining.

Get more sleep. I've been recuperating from a series of bizarre illnesses (hellooo, walking pneumonia! Can I introduce you to pleurisy?), probably because I have let myself get chronically tired and run down. Enough of this; I'm going to sleep. :)

And may all of your preparations be good ones.

Stacks O Pizelles

Monday, November 8, 2010

Imagine a Runner

I have been distracted all day, waiting for news, and engrossed in attempting to track my father's progress along his marathon.

The NYCM servers were completely overwhelmed most of the day by people attempting to track their favorite runners. I did not ever get to see my father on the map of the route, which would have been very cool. (I did see the Chilean miner who was running the race, but who had to stop because of knee injuries.)

Fortunately, I paid a little money to have updates sent to my mobile phone.

Bless the Internet! Every time my father passed another 5K, they'd send me a little automatic text message saying what time he'd passed that point, the time elapsed, his pace time, and the estimated finish.

It seemed to take forever to get the first one. His start time was late, late morning, so I kept waiting (and worrying a little while waiting) to see the first 5K notice. Where was he?! Did something happen? Did he not start?

It was a slow 5K. Curses on that uphill bridge! But after that, I'd hear the little buzz every hour or so, and find another update.

The early pace times seemed really slow... but after about 10K, he picked up speed, and kept cruising along steadily in the last two-thirds of the race.

When I got the 40K alert, we got even more excited, knowing that he was scant miles to the finish. We waited, and rechecked the cell until - Bzzt! There it was!

A clean finish, slower than hoped but excellent all the same.

"How old is he?" My friends ask me.
"What was his pace?" "What time did he finish?"

I'm always hesitant to answer those questions directly, because the answers seem misleading. It's easy to look at those numbers and say, "That's slooow!" (And "I run a lot faster/slower than that," if one is a runner, or whatever one says when one is trying to judge if something is "good" or not.)

But the raw numbers do not share the whole story.

Imagine a man who once broke his hip and had it put back together with two pins and a bolt. Imagine that man pushing himself in the hallway after surgery (as one is supposed to), walking laps. His determination got him going sooner and kept him improving faster than other men might have - that's what his nurses said.

And he got back out on the street, and he continued running.

Imagine a man who went in for strange pains and was told that he had to have an emergency bypass, yes today, four of them. And all subsequent complications and further wrenches thrown in by the inevitable aging process.

He may be slower, yes, and he is still running.

Imagine a man who clears brush along public berms so there is more room for runners and cyclists, who is known by scores of people along his busy training route.

Maybe you do have a little hurricane coming through, but he is still running!*
* true story

Imagine a man who has always looked for the best way to maximize his potential, who has tried to undertake things with so much precise and lavish detail that sometimes the trees get in the way of the forest. (Okay, okay, the trees are really cool!)

He plans, and trains, strategizes and analyses, and because of that, he is still running.

Imagine a man who values relationships and sharing experiences over material gifts, who seems to value conversation over status symbols, who sees the value in even small things.

Running with a crowd of fellow-athletes, while running your own race in the privacy of your own head. He is still running.

Imagine a man who values the kind gesture, the symbolic gifts of appreciation and poetry, the symbolic acknowledgements that you ran the race.

You can imagine his collection of racing medals, T-shirts and stories. And you wonder why he is still running!

Imagine a man who never throws a scrap of anything away until all use has been wrung from it.

Man, oh, man. He is still running.

Imagine all that, and then you might get closer to the truth about my father and why he's still running marathons.

How did he do? Well, he finished!
Yay! I'm relieved, but no surprise there, really.

Perhaps better to ask: How is he doing?
And one answer might be: He's testing himself against the wretched weather and the long uphills and his own limitations. He's enjoying the faces and the stories. He's choosing to live the maximum experience over and over and over again.

And therefor, he is still running!

I love you lots, Dad!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

26.2 x31

The predawn awakening, the anticipation, the piles of gear.
The last-minute potty run, the numbered bibs, the staggered start.
Over the mat, the mass of the pack, finding the familiar rhythms.
The first long hill, over the bridge, first second and third wind.
Streets of spectators, tables of G@torade, cups slurped then tossed.
The air in your face, the sweat, the shoes.
The focus, the training, the determination, the lonely decisions.
The sparse street after the front runners have passed, the slow but steady run-walk, the mile markers creeping into view.
Cheers and clapping, strangers urging you on, steady goes it.
The camaraderie, the conversations, the sight of the finish line.
The photos, the medals, the handshakes and nods.

My father is running the New York City Marathon today. Within the last ten years, he's had a quadruple bypass and a hip replacement. He's still running. Today is his 31st marathon.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dressing For Gig Decision Tree

The caller always sets the tone for the dance. I need to be dressed to both command attention, and appear as if I am ready to step out on the floor myself. A little dressy, a little festive, a little colorful. Eye-catching, but not scandalous (mileage varies depending on the venue).

Which skirt? Short dark with teal swirls, long white with peachy roses, or colorful, 3-tiered? Three-tiered, short, colorful, and fluffy.
The peachy roses is cute, but shows my legs, and I'm not sure this crowd would survive seeing my hairy legs. The dark one is a little too somber - I need to project a sense of fun.

Black leggings, fitted or more pant-like? Fitted.
It's supposed to be cold enough that I won't need to shed them. The fitted give a better line with the skirt.

Thin performance socks, wear now or change onto later? Now.
Don't want to show my feet to the organizers. I can bring heavier socks for afterwards.

Wear sneakers or clogs to travel to the dance? Undecided.
The clogs slip off and on easily and facilitate changing before and during the dance. On the other hand, if for some reason my car breaks down and I have to walk, it'd be ideal to have a warmer, sturdier shoe.

Which top? Bright sea green or darker teal? Hmmm. Undecided.
The brighter color is more festive, but the darker color makes the colors in the skirt "pop" more. For now, I'll wear the lighter and bring the darker.

Wear a different shirt for when I'm cooking? No.
It'll be an additional hassle to change clothes again before I leave. If the shirt does look too mussed, I can wear the darker one.

Wear black fleece half zip top? Yes indeed.
Always suitable and practical for gigs or dancing.

Wear earrings? Duh.

Dangly blue and purple ones or the gold wires with green beads? Dangly.
See: embody sense of fun. Also: sparkly color.

Wear dress while traveling or leggings alone? Neither.
Skirt would probably get a little crushed while in the car for nearly two hours, and the leggings alone might strike them as scandalous. Besides, I'm cold.

Alternative solution? Wear jeans over the leggings while traveling.
Extra warmth!

Wear hair up or down? Down for now, up for later.
It's not too hot or humid, so wearing it down would let it dry in a fluffier state. I'll put it up later before I get started depending on the temperature.

Anything else? Don't forget your coatglovesdanceshoescardsprogramhottea!
That's why I have a dance bag and a packing list.

Friday, November 5, 2010

One Year Past Inertia

A few months ago, I was regaling some friends with a few of our perpetually undone house projects, such as the kitchen light that fell down several years ago. "And that was when I was talking to so-n-so on the phone, and you know, he's been dead for how many years?"

My friend Brian (who makes a living fixing up and renting houses) said, "Whoa, that is a long time. And you haven't gotten it fixed yet? No, no, no, Missy. If you haven't gotten to a project within one year, then you hire someone else to do it for you!"

Ah. I'll have to tell my dear husband that. He'll be so happy to hear it.

We like house projects. We plan, we plot, we train, we buy samples and supplies. Sometimes we are even reasonably good at doing them.

However, even when we are NOT much good at them, or are having a hard time bringing them to completion (see: new boxes of ceiling fans stacked under the dining room table since this Summer, see: unfinished tile job from eons ago), we have a hard time letting them go. We say to ourselves, well, I should be able to whip that right up. No problem. We can save money by doing it ourselves! Ha. Haha. Oh, hahahahahaHAHAHa! *ahem*

The truth is that house projects often fall under the heading of Idealism + Perfectionism = Inertia. Although to be fair, the ceiling fans will require some rewiring in a crazily-accessed attic. It's not like we are dealing with a new house here.

Anyway, we rarely allow ourselves to let someone else do these jobs, because we have a mythical belief in our ability to do it, and do it alone. We come from do-it-yourselfer ancestors! we say. They put up ceiling fans in the roof of their cave in less than an hour! And we'd rather leave it undone for years and years rather than admit that no, it would be better if someone else did it.

So we are changing that.

Rather than putting the new kitchen cabinets in all by ourselves, we were thrilled to have my mom gift us with a couple days of expert carpenter work. Rather than putting up the new ceiling fans - oh, sometime before the little girl goes to kindergarten, we are hiring a handyman contractor to knock out that task. And a few more. Many, many more, oh yes!

You can imagine the glee and trepidation this inspires.

I love working up the specs and the process. I love the completed project. I get skittish around the mess that it will entail. A little noise, I can deal with. The outgassing/fumes/dust/disrupted space puts me on edge.

So yes, it will be hellaciously dusty in here for the rest of the day/week/year (mmm, plaster!); at least the dreaded plaster work will be fixed! And anyhow, the new ceiling fans should help air out the kitchen after the grouting fumes take over. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway.

Now I am casting my mind over the whole property, wondering who else I might get to come tackle this mess that we'll never get to. Hmm, yard workers. Hmm, carpenters. Hmm, painters and finishers. Hmm, arborists! And let's fill in that hole, excuse me, holes that the electricians left while we are at it. Oh, and stain the window sills. Can I get a bathroom fan, too?

So. Equal parts glee and trepidation. And a banishing of perfectionism, as this old house demands.

Our new handyman is keen on "mudding" the whole living room to even out the plaster. And fixing that corner where a previous renovation never got detailed. And perhaps ripping out the bedroom ceiling. Wait, what??! He has a keen eye for finishing details, and I like that. It's an adjustment for him, too, though.

"What the hell is wrong with this?" Our handyman glares at the space above the kitchen sink. The countertops (mostly level) tilt a different way than the window sill (also mostly level, but the other way). The floors tilt, throwing off the neat line of cabinets. Cracks shyly snake down our plaster walls. The wiring patterns are whacked out (we've known this for years).

"Well, it's an old house," I explain. "Nothing is really square or level, so every time you "fix" something, you notice how nothing matches up."

"And no," I tell my husband," we are not ripping out the bedroom ceiling. NOT a priority." If we started trying to make everything perfect, we'd never finish. But if we get someone else to do it with a generous modicum of competency, it will at least get finished.

Yes, this house is crazy and neglected. Yes, we are slow-moving perfectionists. It's maddening. It's saddening. It's depressing. It's an exercise in letting go of perfection. It's now someone else's job!


Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Monkey Goes For A Walk

So the little girl had a great Halloween out and about.

She doesn't have a concept of candy yet, although she's learned that chocolate is "Mommy's snack."

She might have a concept of dressing up; she does love wearing her bunny ears from the festival or the monkey suit I bought for her for the occasion.

Oct2010 monkey costume

She really does NOT understand what we are doing shambling through the dusk and dark, knocking on doors and dodging other pint-sized fairies and superheroes.

She does not understand the concept of presently yourself in a picture of cuteness and performing the ritual words to receive a piece of miniaturized candy in return, but she's getting there.

We've posed for the obligatory costume pictures, and the little girl is eager to move on and won't sit down. She pats the pumpkins, sniffs the mums. "Smell flower" she informs us.

As we start off through the neighborhood streets, we stop to admire a little boy's bee costume. "What does a bee say?" we ask her. She stares. "What does a bee say?" The little boy stares. "Oh, and you are a monkey," the boy's mother responds. "What does a monkey say?" my husband prompts. The little girl scrunches up her face in a grin and makes a little half-hearted grunting.

Candy and thank yous exchanged, we leave, the kiddos still awkwardly wondering if their super smart parents have suddenly lost their minds.

We follow clusters of children that detach themselves from their front doors to gather in little flocks of costumes, flying up the street.

We amble along in the near dusk, pointing out decorations and displays rather than approaching every lit door.

We pass friends we know from church just setting out with their passel of youngsters, and chat in passing. My friend wears cat whiskers and ears. "Our candy is on our front porch," she calls. "Go get yourself some KitKat bars!"

Further down the street, we hail our handyman contractor pulling his little boy in a wagon. We greet his wife and mother-in-law with smiles and handshakes, but all of our attention is on the kids anyway. His son sees the monkey costume and sings us a verse of monkeys jumping on the bed. We wave good bye - "I might be over next week after all," Paul calls, - and continue down the middle of the street following a small pack of young girls leggily dressed in either red or white dresses. I can't figure out who they are supposed to be. Dusk is falling fast into night.

A looming tower of pink and orange glowing inflated pumpkins sway in the slight breeze, and a moving spider the size of a Mini catches our eyes. It sparkles with dark glitter. Then the sounds of live old-time music beckons us across the boulevard and into the lawn party of a neighborhood church. We are surrounded on all sides by anticipatory teens, wee Elmos and princesses, and adults shepherding their charges among the garish lights. A tall Zorro with a cape ambles by. A mummy stands listening to the music, while his wife comes over with hot cider.

The cops lets another crowd across the street. It's a happening scene of every age and ethnicity swirling by. The little girl only has eyes for the band, who bathed in pink floodlights, singing in vigorous harmony, a spectacle among spectacles.

After a while, we retreated to quieter and darker streets, interspersed with lights casting strange shadows and flickering colors, beckoning us to new doorways.

On the "toddler-friendly" route, we find a friendly Italian greyhound, a little boy dressed to match his puppy, a family who recognizes us from the park, and a lavish display of spiders, real small-animal skulls, and taxidermied rodents against dramatic drapery. One woman fastens a glow stick around the little girl's wrist.

At another house, the little girl actually knocks on the door herself. The woman who answers crouches down to engage her in gentle conversation while Miss Monkey carefully looks over the bowl of candy. The little girl picks up one colorful package, inspects it, then puts it back. We laugh. I snag a sparkly zebra sticker. At another house, they press small Snickers bars on both of us parents. "To keep up your stamina," they say. We are surprised to find we need it. Some steps are steep, some sections of sidewalk are dark and confusing.

Oct2010 walk to porch

Wandering about, we see a long house with colorful lights and a yard full of halloween figures. "Oo, look!" we tell her. "Look at those pumpkins, those lights!" We stop again, and the little girl takes my husband's hand (yet again), and this time, confidently marches herself right up to the front porch where, it looks like, half the family and assorted friends and neighbors wait in a tableaux. Two teen girls, waiting for us, say "Awwww" in the sweet way that only teen girls can. "It's a monkey. What a cute monkey. She even has a banana. You want some candy, honey?" "Can you say Thank You?" we prompt, and the little girl mumbles something that makes the crowd oo again. On the way back to the sidewalk, she breaks away to investigate a smiling Dracula "I love to count my candy - a! a! a!" and we have to tackle her.

We think we've broken the shyness barrier. A porch full of strangers in strange light, and she didn't even blink, much less cower. Yes, let's walk up to another doorway, knock, and see what interesting "toys" they might have!

Oct2010 david porch

By this time, we've zigzagged into the far reaches of the neighborhood over cracked pavement and a street under construction, trying to find a friend's house. Headlights cut through the night, revealing other rug-rats of various ages. We finally stumble over a section of roots to cross back over the boulevard to a smoother piece of pavement. Crowds are gathering around a family's Harry Potter display. People are quiet but festive, ambling with purpose.

We are becoming foot-sore, asking ourselves why, for goodness sake, we insisted on trekking all the way over to David's house. We take a quiet, easy route home. "No hills," my husband insists.

We hear music floating down the street to meet us. When we finally draw abreast of the source of music and stare up to the high porch where a woman sways, playing mazurkas and gypsy fiddle tunes, my husband says "Okay. One more." We are drawn up and up the steep steps, the little girl determined to go to the music. A young daughter smiles and fans out the packages of Skittles as if they were a gypsy's cards. The little girl reaches for the generous bowl instead. I can see she's thinking "nice! red!" We murmur our thanks, and the woman breaks into a little Mussorgsky. The Night on Bald Mountain is floats out in fragments into the quiet as another family of children arrive.

The streets home are even darker, quieter. It's a school night, after all. Cars pass, and I'm very glad that I finally attached reflective markings to the stroller. The little girl asks for cracker, and raisins, and her water bottle. The handful of candy and glow sticks we've gathered lie tossed into the bottom of the stroller.

We visit one last house on our street, our neighbors. Their daughter is getting through the last post-excitement meltdown before bed, but she quiets and comes to the door to see us, already in her pajamas. "Yes, we had a good time going around, didn't we? But now, it's late," her mother says, turning surprised eyes on us. "We are heading home right now," I assure her. "Pumpkin!" The little girl declares. "Ahhnge pumpkin." It's not too late for most people, but late for parents on toddler time. We throw together some tomato-basil soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and roll our little monkey straight into her pajmas. We give candy to one last set of pre-teen latinos in sparkly faery finery (half a handful each since there is so much left), and turn out the lights.

After my husband leaves, I hide the rest of the mini Milky Way darks so they won't be staring him in the face when he wakes up in the morning. The candy was not the point. The little monkey went for a Halloween walk, and it was good.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Piece of Work in Progress

"Hey, speak up!"
socially awkward
"Needs to participate more in class."
"Too quiet."
painfully shy

That was me.

"Excuse me. Where did you get those great leggings?"
"I just had to say, I like what the color of those earrings so with your eyes."
"I couldn't help overhearing..."
"That car was just tearing along without looking- are you okay?"
"Nice to see you!"
"Hi, are you all here for the newcomers' workshop?"
"Well, when I was a kid..."
"I was hearing that it was taking up to an hour."
"I was just tell someone that..."
"Are you new to the area?"
"Oo, that's a great tie/skirt/pair of earrings."
"Welcome to the dance! I'm so glad to see you all here tonight."

This is me now.

Yes, whereas I used to barely be able to speak to a stranger without feeling like I was on fire, now I chirp right up on a regular basis. Sometimes I rattle on at length. Sometimes I strike up conversations with perfect strangers. At the cheese counter. In the checkout line. In the line to vote. Leaving a shop. I can accost someone at will.

Is this a talent or a failing? I get mixed reviews.

My husband admires how I can strike a conversation and find a connection with almost everyone (if they cooperate).

Many new dancers find me friendly and encouraging.

One parent's group at the park thought I had a lot of gall to break into their conversation.

And the woman standing next to me in line to vote might have found me friendly, talkative, political, intrusive, entertaining, wearisome. Maybe all in succession.

"Oh great. Now she won't shut up."

I know - I'm a piece of work.

But it's a work in progress.

Some days I find myself with an ungodly amount of confidence and cheer. Other days, I feel overwhelmed entering a shop and don't want to talk to anyone. Some days I revel in being on stage leading a whole crowd. Other days, I'm convinced that everyone hates me.

I'll take the confidence where I find it, thank you. Such an exhilarating feeling. How can I turn that down after so many years of being relatively mute?

"Wow! You look great in that color!"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

And So It Begins

Another November, another round of NaBloPoMo.
This year, I think I'll tell stories.

Have I told you about my kitchen/friends/child/happy/sad/
irate/musings/inspirations/relationships/deep dark secrets/
favorite comics recently? No? This month, I will. I have thirty
days to fill. (I can do it, I can do it.)

Whether you are new to this blog, or a regular visitor, welcome!
I'm scrounging up some teacups and baking some
orange-cranberry bread. Tea's on! Please, have a muffin.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Things I Am Loving This Month

This month has seen periods of great activity and periods of reasonable sloth. Here are some of my favorite things and moments so far:

Gifts of the self. Hanging out with my Dad.

A lovely Rosalind in a lovely play. It was just As I Like It. All the leads were good looking, all the dialogue was sparkling and freshly appreciated, the underlying themes were love love sex and love, the staging was magical, and it ended with a joyful dance!

New countertops that look awesome and inspire order.

Cooking enterprises, how I love thee. So delicious and satisfying.

Cleaning up after those same cooking enterprises.

The little girl teaching herself how to drink lemonade out of a real cup without spilling (much) or choking (much).

Hanging out at a neighborhood festival on a sunny and convivial afternoon. Taking pictures of the tug of war, popcicle eating, running into friends and neighbors, and sprawling on the grass.

The slow but steady shrinkage of my waistline. My pants are sagging; that's a good thing, right?

Snuggle times with my husband.

Finding excellent books that inspire and absorb me. Historical first people fiction, organizational processes and more.

Quickie quilt projects while I am trying to decide what to do next on the big project.

Local farm cheddar. So smooth and delicious.

Having the little girl run full tilt into my arms yelling "haahg!" Then presenting lips. "Kiss!"

"Southern Milk Chocolate" flavoured ice cream. Why Southern? I don't know, but it sure is delicious.

Tracking prices and deals to both stock up and streamline my buying.

New swirly flirty dance skirts from the thrift store.

All the phrases that my daughter has picked up from me. Teego.(Here ya go.) How 'bout dat! Cool cool! Gracious! Oh gosh! Oh my! Damn it!

These bright orange title headers.

Owl stamps and book-gifts arriving in the mail.

Friends who don't mind indulging in puns and silliness.

Taking opportunities to mentor other people and give back great energy.

Sleeping under the goose-feather duvet in cool weather.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Replete with Friends

Well, in my last post I left out a little fact that I still do have a number of friends around. It's not like I am deserted in the world.

I have a few college friends who I still get together with. Like the friend who I called up and said, "Hey, I have some fresh key lime pie. Can we come over and share for a while?" And the little girl got to hang out with their little boy, and we took pictures of each other and talked about our lives. For a scant couple of delightful hours.

Or the college friend who lives on the other side of world, perfectly situated to chat with me in the middle of my night while he's at work (and who does). For maybe three minutes at a time, true, but it's good.

I'm thinking of another college friend who writes me email letters every so often. I love correspondence, I do!

I have some old friends from junior high school, one in particular who I'm reconnecting with. I enjoy the mutual wit, commentary, and commiseration. Plus, we are both interested in knowing each other as we are in the present.

I have a good accidental friend who is also a dance caller, and we'll call each other up to chat about event ideas, or dances, or life. He's incredibly generous and engaging. Come to think of it, I have a number of caller buds with whom I can both revel in caller-geekery and share honestly about my life.

I have a former neighbor who is still a friend, and whenever we catch some time together, we gab about art, design, our husbands, our houses, our health, our lives. it's amazing to me that she can say some blunt things that from anyone else would feel like stabbing pain, but from her, it doesn't bother me at all because it's coming from a place of caring and candor.

I have a couple of friends who are married to each other, who I can't really remember where I met, but nevertheless we share lots of commonalities and generosities. And our kids like each other.

I have quite a few friends via Flickr, some of whom I have met, some not, with whom I share conversation, images, and the details of life. It always amazes me how I can feel the love through the internets.

I have a few friends on FB (as opposed to friend contacts of whom there are many), who share many of my language-culture-science-literary interests. Even a few contacts I don't know that well can engage in interesting and/or witty conversation. It's like discovering new sides to a person, and it feeds my brain and intellect in a way I don't get from reading A Kiss For Little Bear yet again.

I have a number of acquaintances from both dancing and church who are this close to being true friends. And even more who are always happy to see me when we cross paths, and that counts for a lot as I am not always around all the time.

I know a young dancing couple who I would love to get to know better. When they invite us to go for pizza or a birthday party, I am so there! A couple of women would like to know me better, and I make time when I can.

It's not so hard, is it?

I see people being mutually open, friendly, caring, generous, authentic, willing to accept other people where they are at, and interested in knowing more.

So what if some friends are fading back or creating toxic situations? There are more beautiful faces coming into focus. Any of you who are reading, I think you know who you are. Mwah!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Another Parental Episode Waiting to Happen

Where have all the friends gone?

You hear about how children will change your life. True. They also change your body, outlook, sleep patterns and attention span. Nobody tells you that your friends will - in a seismic shift - disappear. It's as if a crack opened in the ground, swallowed scores of people, and then snapped shut, leaving me to wonder what the hell happened.

Or maybe I am the one that has been swallowed alive. Swallowed by Parenthood. And I'm floating alone in this place saying, "where is everyone?" And even when I do run across a friend, the script goes, "Hi! I have three minutes to make a meaningful connection."

On top of that, I'm apparently annoying and impossible to relate to. I so love that state of being, but again, I've got about three minutes to worry about it before the next parenting episode begins.

I'm sad about my usual friends, but I'm also distracted, trying to keep up with my everyday life which has been steadily getting That Much Harder while I wasn't looking.

It's not that I'm not connected to other moms, it's just that they are not my usual set of friends. I do have a lot of people I kinda know in a friendly way. That's good, right? And I'm meeting a few new people, and they seem nice as we are exploring avenues of mutual sympathies and conversation. It just feels odd to find myself trying to get to know a new set of people who may or may not really be my new good friends, when I know perfectly well that my old friends are out there living their exciting lives. Going to concerts, staying out late, having long meaningful conversations with other people. I, on the other hand, am restricted to a few moments a day for socializing, or up to an hour of fragmented lunch time conversation. My husband and I take turns going out dancing. I've missed dancing and socializing, so I really love this, but it's still so odd to be there without him. Why yes, we are still married, we're just... parents.

My husband says I'm just in a different place in my life now. Well, nobody told me it was going to eat my old friends!

I wonder if my usual friends are not used to taking advantage of whatever moments we have. Many of my parent friends are used to working quick conversations or projects into any little space in the action. My non-parent friends are perhaps too leisurely to mesh with my sped-up life these days. By the time they are feeling like enjoying an activity, I'm all like, "Oops, that's all the time we have for that today! Gotta go for lunch and nap." Even on social arenas like FB, my frequent interactions are with friends who are at a distance, as if we've learned to not take communication for granted. If you want to keep in touch, ya gotta seize the moment.

The up side is that I am finding other people to relate to. I do have people out there who are happy to see me. But getting people to talk to me in the few moments I have... it's not been easy. Even when I am not in a hurry, my brain is scanning for trouble.

Well, some new and old things I've been doing recently:

Taking turns going dancing.
Plodding along on quilt projects. That's a seam or two per week.
Reading books (at night).
Walking to the park farther into the neighborhood so I get more exercise.
Making an effort to chat with some of the other parents I see.
Going to church services again, listening to music and sermons, seeing folks.
Attending a friend's bi-monthly play group where the little girl is comfortable with the other parents and kids.
Cooking more meals with local food.
Writing more (short) letters.
Trying to have more real conversations when I do see people I know. "Hi! I have three min- errr, seconds!"
Writing blog posts between parental episodes. "Hi! Time for bed!"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mid-Summer's Ode to Breastfeeding

Baby, you gave me curves, I got 'em.
Baby, I've got curves, top 'n' bottom.
Baby, those curves are just hors d'oeuvres
for all I've got to give.
So cozy up tight and give a squeeze.
You've got to eat to live.


I thought the little girl was starting to wean herself. One day she nursed only once for a mere eight minutes, a minuscule amount compared to the 500+ minutes per day she was chugging at the peak of her nursing. Then she realized she was going to have to ask for it was indeed going to go away forever. Now she asks to "nuss" when she wants to snuggle with Mommy, and reminds me to "sing" while I'm at it.

Our nursing time is down to less than thirty minutes a day. I find my curves gradually shrinking nearly to my old proportions. Except now everything is a bit saggier and bulgier. No, no, no. I prefer to think of them all as curves! I've still got 'em. Thanks, little girl!