Friday, November 30, 2007

rainy days and. . . fridays?

rainy days and mondays

Somehow it was easier today to go backwards in my flickr photostream several pages to get a picture than to take a current one. We're going to drive into Portland tonight for pizza and groceries, both of which could, theoretically, be procured right here in town, but not our favorite pizza and not our favorite grocery store and it wouldn't be a whole family event. That's the plan. Consider this something of a filler post. Something lacking so much substance. Something a little like my day today. So glad it's the weekend.

(it's not the weather, it's not the weather, sometimes it just is).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

don't call her maid marian

Tonight should have been a night for a hair cut. I had a mind to buzz the whole tired mess off with the clippers, but I think maybe I've grown too old for such stunts. Which, suddenly, in typing that I realize that it's not I who has grown too old, it's my child. She has reached the age of thinking her mama is quite charming and funny at home, but, well, not so much when we're out someplace. And that sobered my frustration and I'll wait until I can carve out a block of time with the scissors. I'm not so sure I'm ready anyway to go super short again, it's been -what?- four years? The rest of the family is lobbying for continued growth, but I've reached about my maximum tolerated length and it's driving me nuts. I'll probably default to my usual swingy bob, but this time I'll cut it again sooner than eight months (as in, yes, I haven't cut my hair since March!).

And, since maybe my diy haircut deserves it's own, special entry, I should at least wait until I'm together enough to take a picture or something. I've been saying for weeks that I'd do it "tonight" but every time I get to "tonight" it doesn't work out. Rather than force the issue, the girl and I skipped out after dinner and ran up to the goodwill (Oh, St. Vincent, I meant all those things I said about you, but Goodwill and I? We've been together a long time and I can't just turn my back on all that. Please understand.) in search of supplies for a crafty gift idea for far away family.

Did we find what we were looking for? Of course not. But we spent some lovely thrift store time together and managed to come away with a couple of books, a shirt for the girl and an old Ravensberger game:

robinhoodgame

Robin Hood! Which, to my girl, was like finding a bucket of money in the street. She was obsessed by the story at age 3 from seeing the classic disney film. And though she still counts that silly animated movie with foxes and bears among her very favorites, she has extended her love for the story to include books and any other reference at all. She was Robin Hood for Halloween when she was four:

My creation

I never imagined that last minute costume, stitched out of an old, holey blanket, would still be seeing daily imaginative use five years later. . . but it does. It's hanging on her bedroom doorknob as I type. Her Robin Hood love is longstanding and it was a good night to go to the Goodwill.

My little guy was all bathed and pajama'd and ready for bed when we got home. Ira Glass and I nursed him down (as in, I listened to This American Life while the boy fell asleep) and then I came out about fifteen minutes later to see the game all set up and the husband and daughter waiting for me. We all adore the boy, so cute we can't so much stand it (and he is, too. so cute. the cutest. a thousand fuzzy kittens cute. but certainly as busy and dangerous and challenging as he is cute. thank goodness for the cute.) and our family is so much better for having that very special person around, but unexpected moments to play new board games while the little one sleeps are so special, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

the overgrown truth

Once upon a time we moved into a house with a yard which was covered completely in bark dust. Bark dust over weed fabric. Oh, I exaggerate. It wasn't completely covered: there was also a huge ancient patch of invasive ivy. We spent two years there pulling and shoveling and messing about and what did we have to show for all that when we left? Jack Squat. So you'd think we would've learned our lesson, no?

overgrown

Welcome to my backyard. Fewer leaves on the grape vines than when this picture was taken a couple of weeks ago. It's been rather wet since, so the ground is soggier. A mash of slimy leaves and moldy grapes and dog crap. But no bark dust. At least there's that.

Had we made "perfect yard" a non-negotiable criterion for house hunting, we might not have ever found a place and (if you didn't have the privilege of following along with that drama), we were desperate. The front lawn, in all my home's previous twenty-five year vacancy, had automatic irrigation, but I can't see much evidence of much other outside maintenance. The grapes grow over and around a long collapsed arbor. The walkways are barely seen for all the debris. It's such a mess.

This past long holiday weekend, my husband meticulously measured our lot and made a scale drawing of our house's orientation and printed out several copies. Now we have a blank page for marking up garden plans and ideas. I have plenty of ideas. I'm the idea queen. Put me on a hill and pay me a quarter and I'll give you an idea. Okay, don't pay me. I'd give you one anyway. I don't lack for ideas.

I just don't know what to do.

We have a lot of challenges with our yard: decades of neglect, the corner location which seems to beg passers-by to walk across it any old time (the nerve!), the odd division of usable space (our house is a one level -with basement- sprawling ranch and the yard is in little pockets all around), my complete ineptitude.

I listen to The Alternative Kitchen Garden which is brilliant and charming (and if I have to be a blunt-headed American to sweepingly color British pronunciation and phrases "charming", so be it) for inspiration. I need to think that turning our overgrown heap of a yard into some place functional and beautiful is possible at all, or how else would I ever be motivated to get started? I listen to this podcast and the host is so sweet and knowledgeable I think, hey, maybe I can do that. But then I look out my window and I'm not so sure.

I must possess some amount of latent gardening-specific enthusiasm. We've just moved around so much that we've never been able to really invest in our own dirt. I've grumbled about not having the chance to have a garden and now that I have the chance again, I'm overwhelmed. I don't want to get so engrossed in some epic Operation Overgrown clean-up job that I don't get to use the yard in a way that offers me some sort of fulfillment and joy. Because shoveling moldy dog crap is not all it's cracked up to be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

life is full of compromise

life is full of compromise

If I could find a memory card, I'd scan in another children's book and call it a Tuesday tradition. Oh, I could carry the laptop all the way down to the basement, where the printer/fax is set up, and upload an image directly, but the last time I carried the laptop down to the basement I fell down the stairs so I'm superstitiously going to avoid a repeat, even though I've made countless trips up and down with wardrobe boxes and other random household ephemera. So I'll write about something else. And try to get a book in tomorrow. Compromise.

A few months ago, my water lovin' boy started screaming in a terrified way each time we'd lift him up to plop him in his nightly (or thereabouts) bath. There hadn't been any scary water situations, so I can't really attribute it to any one thing in particular. Maybe a bad dream? Beats me. For a few weeks afterward, he'd tolerate being doused with a sopping washcloth, but he wouldn't get in the tub. We'd fill up the water, and he'd reach over the edge and play with toys, balancing them on the side, and flicking them into the water, but he wouldn't get in. This lasted a few weeks and then, warily, he allowed us to stand him up in the bathtub. And so now he stands. Someone hovers close, in case of slippage; he has a fine time of it, pouring and splashing and dunking. But still, he stands. I have tried to coerce him into sitting, showing him how warm and comfortable the water can be when more deeply submerged. His refusal is adamant enough that I've dropped the idea. The other night, he looked down at the water lapping around his shins and he dropped to his knees and grinned. Compromise.

From the moment we arrived in Phoenix, in August of 2004, we knew we wanted to get back to Portland. The cities couldn't be any more opposite from one another, in climate, in aesthetic, in inexplicable vibe. Certainly there were happy times and things we loved and appreciated about living there. New friends made. Favorite restaurants. Cheap thrift stores. Swimming pools. The smell of Sweet Acacia. It is a wonderful place to visit, but it never felt like home. This time last year, the husband began his hunt for an Oregon job. It was, as job hunting always is, a daunting proposition and the anticipation was dreadful. Without going into the specifics of what he does to put food on our table, I will say that his specific industry was running rampant in Arizona but barely plodding along in Oregon. If opportunities were more bountiful in our chosen "home state", the face of the state would irrevocably change and who would want that? Not us, indeed. A bit of a catch-22 there. So he took a job in a related but completely unique field. So he took a job a whole flipping hour away from our favorite city in the whole world, but only an hour away from our favorite city in the whole wide world. Compromise.

The children want noodles. The husband suggested stir-fry. I think I'll whip up some veggies in a peanut sauce and throw them over soba. Compromise. (I'd better get on that).

Monday, November 26, 2007

other people's old stuff

And now for something completely different, because I don't write/think/drone on and on about the Captain of the Consumer Debt and Plastic Crap Club all the time (that was an insensitive kris kringle reference, if you're not keeping up, ha!): I went to a new thrift store the other day.

I've been defaulting to the local goodwill for all my secondhand needs. The cheap prices of Arizona goodwills turned my occasional habit into a fast and full blown addiction. All of the goodwills in The Valley of the Sun are half price every other Saturday. Yeah, the whole store is half off. Twice a month. I had to augment those extra discount days with quick stops in-between, but those two Saturdays a month mostly kept me satiated. Every time I go to the thrift store, I make my family sit down for the Big Reveal, wherein I pull each item out of the bag, one by one by one. In Arizona, I'd come home with so much (for so cheap!) that this could be a lengthy activity.

But goodwills are more expensive here. I live too far now from the goodwill outlet ("the bins") in Portland I made a part of my weekly routine years ago. I've still been going to the one in my town, and I've made a few good finds, but I always leave feeling a little disappointed. I spend too much and get too little. I value it as a therapeutic activity all on its own, though. I can sing along to the songs and totally lose myself in the repetitive motion of moving clothes, piece by piece, along the rack or walking so slowly down an overcrowded housewares aisle so as to see everything. Nobody needs me, nothing more is required of me, I exist entirely in the moment of looking for something useful in someone else's discarded junk.

Goodwill is an easy choice because it's open late. I can feed the family dinner and head out, knowing the husband is here for bath and pajama duty. Since we moved here, I've noticed another thrift store, a St. Vincent de Paul, which is closer to my home but never appears to be open. I got there at 3 and they close at 4; barely enough time but I enjoyed it anyway.

It's the sort of store with handwritten price stickers on everything and little signs in shaky old lady handwriting, labeling different categories. The sort of store that gives away a free coffee cup with every purchase. The sort of store so jumbled and busy you just know it's full of treasures. I am itchy to get back there soon.

Owing to the limited time, I skipped grown-up clothes, made a quick pass through little kid clothes (and picked up a handful of long-sleeved shirts for my boy who's still wearing his Arizona wardrobe), children's books (of course!), and housewares. And came home with (among other things, which have already been spirited away or put into use, these few were still sitting out and waiting to have their picture taken or something):

thanks, st. vincent de paul

Sunday, November 25, 2007

st. nick, take two

I readily acknowledge that tradition ties us to the past, and that connection helps us make sense of the present and gives us some consistency as we plod toward the future. It's beneficial to find some common strands from one stage of our life to the next, from one whole generation to another. I get that and I respect it. But traditions, like people, like technology, like fashion, can change a little bit and still look familiar. In the context of a post-war mid-century America, I can just about see the application of an omnipotent elderly elf with a bag of toys in a magic sleigh. It fits with the starry-eyed idealism of that time, but I am confused about the myth in the context of today. Doesn't it seem like our children are savvier than we were, about other cultures and religions and the sad reality of poverty and pain? Does Santa hang around, virtually unchanged since the initial Coco-Cola marketing inundation from the 1930s and onward, as contrast to our increasingly weary world? Just to offer some tether back a time without so much doom? And does that work? Do children buy it? I don't expect or desire to drop the cultural mythos altogether, I still enjoy reading traditional Santa stories aloud to my children at this time of the year, for example, and I see that he has a very valuable place as a marker in our american society's history. But as a relevant, integrated part, I think it would be a little like still living in a world without seatbelts and car seats and where so many meals revolved around a can of cream of mushroom soup. I guess I'm just surprised he hasn't gone the way of a cozy reminder of times past, something to still talk about and share stories about and remember, but not something to laud and believe and perpetuate. These are just the thoughts bouncing around in my head and I wanted to give them a place to live, but this isn't a call to anyone to defend personal traditions or decisions. What works for one family just might not work for another. I wouldn't expect anyone to defend a personal choice to have several children or no children at all, to eat meat or not, to collect headbands from the signature Richard Simmons line. We all do things that are beyond the understanding of others and I appreciate having a place to respectfully ask these questions.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

of st. nick and my town

Yesterday, the girl and I walked to our town's holiday season kick-off parade. We missed most of it but arrived just in time to see Santa ride in on the firetruck. Now, in our house, we talk about the history of St. Nicholas and do something festive on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day), like hang stockings and tuck little surprises down inside, or set up our tree, or put on a pot of cider, just something. But we don't "do" Santa. I totally don't care if other people do, we only know a handful of other Scrooges. Oh, no. We're quite jolly elves ourselves and it's certainly not an anti-santa thing we've got going. It's more like, honestly, I don't see the point. Some folks have shuddered and insinuated that I'm taking all the magic out of Christmas for my kid, to which I always screw up my face and respond, "have you met my kid?" Children are inherently wonderful and full of awe and bring their own magic with them; and my girl is nothing if not magical. I never invited the fat guy to spend the holidays with us and I have never regretted it at all. I think he has plenty of business elsewhere, so I'm sure he doesn't care either. Though, what with the rising cost of fuel and health care, I sometimes wonder, a little, if the North Pole's going to start outsourcing to India and if Christmas night might get pushed up til March or so? Shrug.

hey santa

It was fortunate that our whole-day plumbing fiasco wrapped up just after nightfall, so we didn't miss the lighting of our town's tree. This was an event within walking distance (uh, like pretty much every event), and I had told the girl we would go; we were looking forward to it. We stopped for chai and coffee at the coffee shop up the street and joined a bundled up throng walking slowly up the street to the year 1960.

It was such a blast from the past. Okay, not my past, but the past I've built together from A Christmas Story and various other holiday movies. It was very charming and fine to be out on a cold (but dry!) night in late November with so many other town folk singing Jingle Bells. I was expecting, oh, I don't know what I was expecting. . . A town choir? Some children's group? I was not expecting a guy with a mic keeping the crowd from growing too restless by doling out knock-knock jokes. And then, the moment we were all waiting for (which we, being new to town, we didn't know what we were waiting for): Santa rode in on the firetruck! (that makes twice in one day!) The crowd ushered him in with enthusiastic chanting (san-ta! san-ta! san-ta!) and the husband and I exchanged smirks.

I am very honest about sharing, should the subject arise, that it took me a while to warm up to the idea of living here. We spent six months in a tiny, empty apartment while we house-hunted in places that weren't here. We thought an hour commute would be feasible for the husband if it meant keeping us closer to our known world. This plan fell apart from the beginning, but it took us several months before we admitted it. We decided to entertain the idea of maybe moving to this town and looked at three houses. The first two stunk and the third was just right. And here we are. I feel a little shy about saying that the more I'm here, the more I like it. The house, the town, the changes. It's different. It's not what I expected and certainly not at all what I thought I wanted. I wanted an airy bungalow with a big front porch. I wanted a clawfoot tub and lovely garden. I got a fifties ranch with a front stoop and yard with "potential". I got a soapstone fireplace and unpainted birch woodwork. I got a roomy place for my family to stay put and be still for a while. You can't always get what you want. . .

I knew we needed to have a library and parks, grocery store and coffee we could reach by foot or bike. We have access to all that and more. The less we are dependent on our car, the more successful I feel we are, as a family. I wish I meant that in some for-the-greater-good way (and that's certainly a priority) but, I'm really just referring to our time spent being slower and more observant and deliberate. It does us well.

Today the husband had to take a load of boxes to the recycling center. He was there and back, including a stop in at radio shack for a blown fuse, in less than half an hour. Everything's close by and I am glad for simple errands not taking up the whole day anymore (we shall speak nothing of our semi-monthly trips to the big city for trader joe's and various and sundry other big city things). We have more time together. We spend less on gas. We like living here.

I miss certain aspects of living in a larger metropolis, most assuredly. I think our county's curbside recycling is lacking (glass has to be taken in and what? no plastic tubs, huh?), the kindred spirit pool might be a little less deep (but, hey, it just takes a couple and we're mostly a comfortable, insular little family unit anyway), the vegetarian dining-out options are few (and no Indian restaurant for miles and miles, woe is me). But we are this little town now. We made a point to walk up to the tree lighting event and we stopped at the local shop for coffee and we were part of that crowd and sometimes it just feel good to be a part of something.


taking a picture

Friday, November 23, 2007

i have a cold, it's late, i'm empty

We were out walking around long past dark tonight, all of us stiff and chilled when we got back home. It was a good night to light our first fire in this new house. I threw together greek melts and the husband manned the poker and children sat mesmerized, as children do when watching flames. There's something about watching your children watch fire that makes a person feel all glowy (unless they're putting something extra into emergen-C these days).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

catch more flies with honey

catch more flies with honey

I'm pretty sure that phrase isn't referring to actual flies. It's the sort of thing you tell your child after she bursts into a group and launches directly into one of her save-the-world-with-my-easy-plan speeches using her biggest voice and then wonders why everyone walks away.

I can't recall that I've actually used this line didactically in such a moment with my girl, as anytime I have something blunt and necessary but not terribly pivotal to tell her I'm much more likely to launch into my dreaded Scottish Pirate brogue. My ability to affect accents is limited, so whether or not the intent is vaguely rough and ruddy scottish highlander or dangerous scurvy pirate, it pretty much morphs into the same guttural arrrrs. My daughter might roll her eyes and respond with her best two syllable "mom", but she laughs and listens to whatever I'm saying.

(which always starts out with, "Arr! When I was a boy. . . [insert relevent made-up story] we wouldn't be fussin around sayin there wasn't anything to do. If we wanted somethin to do we'd be goin outside and pushin boulders with our heads, arr!")

The older she gets, the less the the Scottish Pirate falls out of my mouth. So maybe I'll start resorting to trite little phrases soon enough.

But who wants to catch flies anyway? Well, me! And if by "flies" one means "friends", any number of comparisons between "me" and "vinegar" might be made, but let's get one thing straight right now: I'm really talking about flies.

As in, the tenacious infestation of tiny flying scourges in my kitchen. It has come to keeping most of our produce in the fridge, save for bananas (I can't abide with mealy refrigerated bananas). They make aggressive buzzes past my head when I walk by. Drinks not gulped immediately are tossed down the drain, with their soggy little carcasses. It's frustrating.

Yesterday, I had a brilliant thought to pour some honey into a little bowl and place it near the bananas. This morning I found two dead flies. I had high hopes for catching the whole lot of them by nightfall, but it's still just those two. Maybe the word got out.

While washing the last of the many dinner dishes (oh, poor dirty dishes, I'll coax you back to your usual clean self in a jiffy, I will! see, it's still working!) I left a half empty glass of wine on the counter and by the time I got back to it, there were five flailing flies. And I thought I was being so clever with the honey! You know that line Gene Wilder says in Willy Wonka, "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker"? I poured the wine into another bowl and set it near the honey one. I'll let you know what happens. Maybe it's not honey I should be offering to potential pals and kindred spirits (I'm reading Anne of Green Gables to the girl again for the eleventy billionth time) maybe it's booze.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

could be worse

That was the title of one of my favorite Weekly Reader Book Club books from my childhood. A thrifted copy is on the bookshelf right now but walking across the house to find it is entirely too much trouble tonight. Essentially, it's about a grandfather who retorts to everything his grandchildren tell him with, "could be worse." And then he has a terrific and scary adventure involving squid and paper airplanes and marmalade and pajamas or something (so it's been a while since I've actually read it) and when he tells the grandkids all about it at breakfast the next morning, what do you think they say?

I have a hard time flipping on the love switch on the fourteenth of February. I have a hard time flipping on the gratitude switch right now. It's a little, for me, like being asked to warm-up a crowd for the headliner when you were plucked out of the audience and have nothing rehearsed. Or that dream where you show up some place naked. Or a quiz on which you have not read the material. Quick! Tell me how much you love me! Think fast! What are you thankful for? It feels like pressure to me and I'm apt to run the other direction. Which means, I feel disappointed before the day even starts and I think, we've been together so long, don't you know I don't really like chocolate? Which means, I'm up so late so I can pre-cook a bunch of stuff for my sick-with-colds family to eat tomorrow and will anybody even appreciate it anyway?

I'm coming out of what has been a very long seven months. Thanksgiving, in that rockwellian fine china and pressed linen way, has never happened at my house and this year I am not ready to jump in and whip up our little family's slap dash version. So you know what I'm doing? I'm jumping in and whipping up our slap dash version. Because things have been rough. The road is still a little bumpy. But things could be so much worse.

It could be worse, but, in my world, it sure couldn't get too much better than this:

they can be so sweet together

I really do have a lot for which to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

we're eating a lot of garlic

If they say two weeks makes a habit, then I just blew it: unlike the preceding two Tuesdays, there will not be a post about a children's book today. I had a book in mind or, rather, a particular author, but a certain book was in my head to share and I can't find it. I haven't seen it since we moved, so who knows where it ended up. I'll keep looking, for another day.

This day was all about staying home and staying warm; some seasonal sniffley something is lurking around and I'm trying to fiend it off. I feel fine, but the children seem on the brink of falling ill. We've had complaints of sore throats and headaches (from the speaking child) and a general fingers-in-mouth crabbiness (from the still mostly mono-syllable one), though the latter might be more a case of impending two year molars than an unwelcome virus. And the husband, I'm afraid, has a full-blown cold, and felt so rotten he had to leave work mid-day for the retreat of an empty bed.

And instead of having an uneasy conscience pricking him and whispering "Whitewash!" he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to to be the only idle dog among all these busy citizens.. After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.

Well, looky here, I find myself right where I started -at a children's book- without even meaning to, but the quote popped into my head and I don't ever miss an opportunity to blather on about The Wind In The Willows, so I had to type it out. That's an excerpt from the first chapter of what is my favorite favorite favorite book for reading aloud. It's always a little shyly that I ever mention how much I adore this book because, I guess I assume everyone's read it. But I'd never read it myself until I read it for the first time to my daughter five years ago when she was three. So maybe that I don't meet that many other folks who also love it so much is less about folks having previously read and dismissed it and more about it just being vaguely familiar but not personally encountered. Is this the case?

That book plopped right down into the middle of our family and it's just a huge reference point now. We read it all the way through every Spring but thumb through certain passages frequently. It's a book that my daughter, the voracious bookworm, says is so much better to listen to than to read to yourself and I, the enthusiastic reader-alouder, agree. If I can indulge in a smidge of vanity for a moment, I love the way my voice sounds reading this book. Which is not to say that I love the sound of my voice, oh no. I'm certainly one of those people who always winces when hearing my recorded voice played back. It's just such a perfectly written book, so lilting and musical with wonderfully long and descriptive sentences, that I get a little thrill hearing regular old me speak so elegantly. It's in the ranking for my not just my top kid book ever, but maybe my top any-kind of book. It's just that good. I do regret, a little, that I made the Toad's voice so deep and raspy the first time I read it because now nothing else will do and it makes my throat hurt just thinking about it.

Or am I on the brink of something sniffly, too?

Monday, November 19, 2007

the sun came out today

the watery november light

Don't get me wrong, I like sunlight. I like the first feel of sun on bare shoulders each Spring. I like the smell of sundried laundry. I like the shadows cast by the light coming in the windows. But I appreciate these things so much more when we have a little distance, Sunlight and I. We pick up where we left off and don't need to see each other every day.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

listen up.

Not so long ago someone asked about what items I find essential as a mother. I think Breasts hold the top two positions, and beyond that, I couldn't really think of much. Books? I sure rely on reading a whole lot. Feet? Cranky kids, cranky mama? Go take a walk already. This was probably a question posed with regard to newborns and infants, so those things wouldn't even be relevant. My babies have slept with me and I've never had an alternative sleeping place for them, so nothing there. Oh, the sling. I still throw my boy on my hip in the ring sling. When he was thirteen months, I carried him for five days all over Disneyland and it was such a snap being in such a big, busy place with a little baby. As he grew heavier (I say ironically about the boy who started out over ten pounds and was twenty-three by five months!) I relied more and more on the ergo carrier. I sure found it an essential item when we were preparing to move from Arizona; that's the sort of tough job which requires two free hands. It was helpful to strap him on my back and get to work. I would recommend it heartily to anyone considering different baby carriers. But now that he's a proper toddler, those in-arms days getting farther and farther away, I admit that I don't need to use it daily anymore. I'll tell you what I do use, though. And this may surprise you. My ipod. It's the exact tool I need to give my boy the patience he needs and I really don't know what I'd do without it.

Now, it might just be that I'm more mellow, in general, than I was seven years ago when the girl was the age her brother is now. Time has a way of softening scratchy edges. I remember feeling so beaten down and defeated with her endless nursing when she was a toddler. Now, I'm all for extended nursing and somewhat child-led approach to weaning. But sometimes it can feel like too much! She nursed until she was three and a half and, now, looking back I regret not a day of it. It's such a short time in a whole, long life. I've never been in any hurry for my babies to grow up, they seem to do that fast enough all on their own. But I was, and still am, in an awful big hurry for them to fall asleep at naptime, at night. Those are the times when nursing is barely tolerable, when I grit my teeth in irritation because I need to be up doing something else, sweeping floors, folding laundry, watching a movie with my husband. And the less patient I am, the longer the process seems to take and the more resentment builds up and the larger my reactionary guilt grows and it's just no good at all.

Last year my husband gave me an ipod for Christmas. It took me a while to integrate it into my routines. Initially, I uploaded a bunch of our cds onto it. I intended to use it in my car (with a digital receiver) because I do not have a working CD player (who still uses cassette tapes in the car? I do!). But I never got into the hang of carrying it with me and it made quick trips and errands too complicated. And that's when I discovered the world of podcasts. I downloaded a bunch of my favorite npr shows. The ones I love to listen to, but usually miss. And the most obvious time to catch up and listen was when I was nursing the boy to sleep. I could lay there and listen in the dark and not fall asleep. I could lay there and listen in the dark and not get antsy and crabby and impatient. It's pleasant, even, to have nothing else to do but lay there and be quiet and listen to something intriguing.

So am I getting more mellow, or did I just find a better way to give my kid what he needs without losing my mind? I don't know but you can bet I keep my ipod charged. I don't expect him to wean anytime soon. I do know that I am making a habit now out of appreciating the chance to be still and quiet with him. I do hope that if I say it to myself enough, now, that I will, indeed, remember this stage when I'm old and he's grown as a sweet, sweet time.

Are you just itching to know what I listen to? No? I'll tell you anyway. The last few nights I've been going through the archives of Speaking of Faith. I don't usually enjoy programs with a religious or philosophical bent, as they so rarely reflect anything that resembles my own value system. But I haven't heard an episode of this show yet that I haven't found somehow compelling.

I keep several crafty podcasts in my rotation, ostensibly for inspiration (though please don't come looking to see what I've made lately). I'm always glad when there's a new Creative Mom Podcast to download. She's always intentional and thoughtful and, even though I confess to sometimes zonking out when I'm listening, I like following along on her artistic journey. Craftypod's good. It makes 'making things' very accessible and the little music bits make me think, when I'm listening in the dark with my eyes closed, that I'm in a bamboo-covered-wall modern tiki room and any second somebody's going to fix me a cocktail (oh, I don't even drink cocktails, so you know I'm being silly, but I think the music has this very fifties party flair to it and you'll have to hear for yourself and tell me if you agree or not).

Radio Lab is another public radio show that is not on my local affiliate. It's so neat having the option to hear shows that aren't broadcast locally. This show almost always sparks some discussion between me and my husband. I listen and then we both talk. (I guess I could return the favor and get him an ipod, too).

And then, of course, all the old npr stand-bys, like This American Life and Splendid Table and Fresh Air. Who has time to listen to all those? I do! One sleepy boy at a time.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

you know what would make this even better?

my lunch

There's really nothing like eating a lunch of kale (two! whole! bunches! and ten cloves of garlic) with water to make you wish you had a sweet, soft cookie to finish it off. I'd take some sort of molasses and ginger something, warm right from the oven, thanks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

without anchors, i float away

I was talking today about my need to break everything down into manageable portions. Or, at least, that's what I was trying to talk about but I have this endearing quirk (which I say sarcastically, the same way when, my husband sighs as he walks into the kitchen and finds most of the cupboard doors splayed widely open, I tell him, "oh, but you'll miss this when i'm dead", not that i intend to die anytime soon, and not that i'm trying to be disrespectful of the end of life, in general, just that all the goofball things about a person are all rolled into one gloppy mess and even the slightly irritating traits are related to the most beloved ones, and how can you really separate any of it?) where I lose my own train of thought and any potential reader's in terribly long asides. See, I don't even remember what I was getting at. Oh, yes, I jumble up words when I talk. I ramble on and have passionate trysts with every last punctuation mark when I write, but the general idea is usually captured, somewhat. But when I talk it's anybody's guess what I'm trying to say.

The other day I briefly mentioned the concept, as defined by me, of Ritual. All of us need to plug into something. I believe it would be easier to plug into something that already exists, the way certain families have holiday traditions that revolve around history and longstanding expectations and you do what you do because that's what you've always done. Those traditions can be suffocating, but so can clothes and that's why I don't wear turtlenecks. It has to be the right fit for any one person. But when those traditions don't exist at all, when you're responsible for creating them and carrying them onward, it can feel very overwhelming and impossible. It's a heavy load.

As long as I've had a little family of my own, we've always lived far from extended family. So as far as holidays and such are concerned, it has been on me to create a way of doing things. There have been some tough, tough years in the past during which I sure wished we had a grandma across town with cider on the stove and a decorated tree and christmas music playing. But we don't have that. I can't, in my situational entropy, coast along and let the motivation of some bigger-than-me traditions propel us ahead.

Nearly everyone can relate to finding some greater significance and existential validation from big things like holidays and special occasions and indisputable milestones. It's when I boil the concept down to the mundane details of life that it starts to sound a little wacky.

The little things I do move me forward. I'm not a naturally organized person. I lose track of time and tasks and intentions easily. And at seven in the morning, the distance to dinner, to bed, seems endless. So I break it down. Into little manageable portions.

As soon as I wake up in the morning, I fill the kettle and turn on the stove to start my first cup of tea. This is something to which I look forward to before I go to bed at night. I love my first cup of tea. I love the hot mug and the steam and the creeping warmth from mouth to belly. It's a constant and a given and it reminds me that I'm here, in my kitchen, awake and alive and able to start my day. Call me a cornball, but it's true.

As morning gives way to afternoon, I switch, sometime after lunch, to coffee. The husband makes a fresh press each morning and whatever doesn't fit into his travel mug is left behind. I take the extra and put it in a jar in the fridge. I have ready made and waiting cold coffee to pour over ice and mix with chocolate almond milk. Now, this is, admittedly, a hold over from living in the land of endless summer, and I recognize that it's a little weird to be drinking an iced beverage when it's damp and chilly outside. Whereas in the summer I might drink several glasses, these days it's probably just one. It gives me the little boost I need and tosses me ahead into the next time slot.

When five o'clock hits, I probably crack open a beer. Something to sip while I make dinner. Something to say, yes, this moment is important and I'm not going to lose myself in all the things I didn't accomplish today, I'm going to just appreciate right now. Who knew such pithiness could be inspired by a bottle opener?

After dinner, I make more tea. Maybe a couple of cups of green if it's early. Certainly something vaguely soporific the closer it gets to bedtime.

So, that's it. My day in beverages. What a dumb thing to notice, let alone write about. But, frankly, the big stuff is hard for me. I'm not great at creating and maintaining ritual and tradition. It's essential for me to inflate the importance of the little stuff so that I feel plugged into and apart of this big world at all. It makes me who I am. Every Thing becomes important.

I can tell you right now that I'll be floundering next week. We won't have a horn o'plenty with dried flowers and roasted hazelnut centerpiece at our table. Thanksgiving at our house every year is a crapshoot. A few years we've ordered take-out. Before the girl, I know at least once we went to a restaurant. We're vegetarians, so it's definitely not Turkey Day, but I have prepared a better-than-you'd-think Vegan Roast several times (no tofurkeys were harmed in the making of that dish, thanks). But there's no one thing or one set of things we do. We don't have a standing date with anyone. I don't break out my signature pie. Every year is different. But unless some compelling force butts into my schedule, we almost always have homemade pizza on Sundays. I made French Toast for breakfast - it must be Friday. Yup. And all the Sunday Night Pizzas and Friday Morning French Toasts and Five O'clock Cold Ones all added up together weigh a whole heck of a lot more than any one Thanksgiving Turkey. The little stuff matters and makes me who I am. It matters and pads the bones of my children's memories. It matters and keeps me tethered to where I'm at. It matters and helps me feel content.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

twelve years is a long time to know someone well.

We hadn't been sitting very long at the restaurant table last night when my husband said, as our server breezed by, "she reminds me of some actress and it's driving me crazy because I can't remember who."

"Carrie Anne Moss," I said right away, but finding no resemblance myself.

"Carrie who?"

"Trinity. From the Matrix Movies."

"Yes! That's exactly what I was thinking. Wow, so you think so, too, huh?"

"Nope."

"Uh. . ."

"I just know which movies you've seen and it doesn't take me very long to cross-reference female leads and figure out who you must be thinking of."

"Are you serious? You can't really do that."

"No, you're right. I didn't. I just read your mind."

"Oh."

edited to add the 'anne' the morning after because i guess i left it off and if i didn't come back and plug it in, that inconsequential detail would have bugged me all day. not as much as it's bugging me that i seem to have misplaced this sweet little turquoise turtle necklace of mine since we moved, but enough that i had to come here and write this even though i'm slow this morning and way behind the power curve (i don't believe in dirty dishes, but they, my friends, believe in me) and the laptop was not to be opened until this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

how do we do this again?

"date" night

It's not often we go out together, just the two of us, without children. And by not often, I don't mean, every few months or so. I mean every few years. I'm not sure that walking up to the hotel/bar up the street for dinner and a pint even qualifies as a full fledged date. We were gone but two hours. Just enough time to enjoy the crisp fall darkness, eat restaurant food without rummaging through my bag for cranky child diversions, carry on a rambling conversation during which neither of us fell asleep. We saw the whole foggy valley from the rooftop bar, including the yellow-lighted windows of our own little house. We walked around and looked at the artwork on the walls. We got back home in plenty of time to put the children to bed. Such events are so infrequent I can remember every one since the girl was born (coming on nine years ago now). The last time we had an occasion for a childless night, lipstick and silky undergarments and new shoes were involved. This time it was pigtails and corduroys and old clogs and a little bit of not really knowing what to do, from lack of practice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

just between you and me here

Oh, look another post about books. I waited a whole week. That's called self-control!

I'm a little worried that if I talk up these books too much they'll become all the rage and I'll have lousier luck finding them in thrift stores. I've been collecting them since 2000 and I have about 30 now, not a full collection but close. Little softback picture books published by The Medici Society in London, from the late sixties to the early eighties. Most of them are stories of woodland animals. The first title I acquired was a garage sale find and I was taken by the illustrations. My girl was the sort of precocious listener who, at two, wanted to hear anything I would read to her, but especially stories about personified animals. She was never into dolls at all but she's always been all about animals. She loved it so much and we read it so often that I started keeping my eyes out for more. They've come into our lives slowly, one at a time. I confess to having paid several dollars for a couple of them on ebay, but nearly all of them have been of the $.49 goodwill variety. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that I have yet to see them mentioned anywhere else ever. Especially with the big crafty creative movement currently happening, with much attention given to woodland critters with a definite anthropomorphic bent, how can I be the only one who collects these?? How? I admit it's shallow of me to take some sick pleasure in having this thing I like that appears to be my own special thing. I'm like that about a number of things (though, I suspect, everyone is, to some degree). Example: I have a deep concern that disney will release an animated viking mythology flick and suddenly my daughter's name (classic but not much used) will grace happy meal figures. The horror! So blabbing about my secret book collection to the whole world here (or rather, to you, my dear audience of three) seems a wee bit risky. Make no mistake, I don't just look for them because they're cute and uncommon, they're also well written, solid stories - fun to read aloud and guaranteed to introduce obsolete British vocabulary into your child's familiar lexicon. And I'm not really keeping a secret; I do, indeed, talk them up in person and if you've been in my house, I've probably made you look at them with me. I just don't want to see them fetching high dollars on fancy websites or hear about someone else discovering them and getting all the credit. You heard it here first. If you run across one, buy it and keep it if you like it (who isn't charmed by rabbits wearing sweates and drinking tea and playing conkers?) and if you don't, send it to me. They call that a winning situation!

the surprising armchair

the party that grew

midget and the pet shop

just wilberforce

the runaway fairy

goodnight time tales

Monday, November 12, 2007

monday night = soup, stew or chile night

one two three, chili!

This is something of a vestige from Organized Times past. I'd like to pretend that I'm always so on top of things that meals are planned out weeks in advance. The truth is, though, that I've had enough big changes to lose my momentum several times over the last few years and it always takes a lot to get it up and running again. Let's just say that right now. . . we're more at a lethargic trudge. I've got a ways to go before anything of mine is "running". Many nights, dinner time arrives and I'm stumped. What to make? It's easier for me to indulge in a lengthy fantasy of inventing the perfect human kibble, full of omega-3s and balanced protein, than to actually whip up something healthy and delicious. And dinner time is further delayed and I feel crankier still. So on nights when I've bothered to give dinner the forethought it deserves, it's so nice having the decision made long before the hungry child hour of meltdown. This is easier accomplished on Mondays, when I stick, instead of a specific menu plan, to a broad category. Soup, stew or chili. Tonight it was chili. My famous (among quarter dozen) 3-bean quinoa chili. Add cornbread and everybody's happy. Category cooking gives me the esoteric prompt I need to narrow down dinner options without completely axing any adlib creativity. I feel most capable in the kitchen when recipes are used as suggestive guidelines or jumping off points instead of any sort of specific directions. But I don't always have the energy to look at random ingredients and see Dinner. It's a good middle ground for me. We do have other weekly stand-bys that are less about meal planning and more about ritual; I require certain anchors in my day, my week, to keep me forging ahead (at a trudge or a run, depending) and connected (to this whole great world). As an added bonus something that makes memories for my children and helps them mark the passing of time (sunday homemade pizza night, for example, so, however shallow this is, I know that they can say someday, "we always made pizza on sunday nights" ) conveniently gets dinner on the table without me having to think about it. I don't purport that every meal is a ritual worthy of a special memory, just that it helps me when I give something so mundane as eating ("What? You're hungry again," I say to my children, "Didn't I just feed you yesterday?!") the opportunity to be something good for all of us. And it's rarely good when I'm stressed out and cranky. And having a category to work under keeps me from feeling too overwhelmed. It's a simple thing I've gotten out of the habit of doing. Save for all those endless days of triple digit temperatures in Arizona (when my motivation to do anything but chew ice pretty much dripped away out of my pores), I've stuck to the Monday soup thing. It is cheating, a little, because I like soup so much I could make it every meal. Not a lot of things give me that competent homemaker thrill like having a big pot of something good simmering on the stove all evening and then spooning it into bowls for my family. But I'm easy and could eat the same thing over and over for a very long time before tiring of it (this would be a good time to stick in my current sauteed kale obsession), but I'm not so sure having Soup, Stew or Chili November would be such a successful family plan.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

while the banana bread bakes

oven


I could wait until the loaves are finished baking to take the picture. Oh, you've seen pictures of quick breads before but you've never seen a picture of the inside of my oven. It's not original to the kitchen. I groaned when I first saw it, made another mental hatch mark under the Home Renovation column. The space alloted for the original range is 36 inches; this one comes in at a regular 30. The extra space is too narrow to be useful but large enough to catch all sorts of crumbs and kitchen(/kid)-related garbage. My kitchen would love to have a funky fifties jobbie with warming ovens and a lot of chrome but instead what we've got is some early eighties number with a light switch. Actually, an analog door-positioned switch for turning on the oven light is maybe a little charming, and the almost two year old in the house is quite pleased with being able to control it himself. But I was disappointed with the oven when we first moved in. It works like a champ, though, heats up faster than any oven I've ever used before and gets the kettle boiling for tea or the french press more efficiently than I'd like to admit. I guess it'll be sticking around a while. I wonder how long it's been living here. My suspicion is that the sellers may have put it in when they sold it. See, the funny/strange/mysterious thing about my house is that before we bought it - it was vacant for twenty-five years. I've had to put the details together from bits gleaned from erstwhile realtors, information pulled from furtive late night googling sessions and surprising relics we've turned up since we've taken residence. It seems as though an elderly couple commissioned the home built in 1958. They lived out their respective lives here, twenty odd years, and then the heirs kept ownership of the house, though it remained untouched. From what we gather, it was maintained but not used as a dwelling for over twenty years. And then this past Spring, it was donated to the local college, the local college slapped some putty colored paint on the walls, laid new awful cheap vinyl down in the kitchen and baths, and attempted to board up all the pocket doors before we begged them to stop, and then we bought it and moved in. I think the college might have had this oldish range floating around somewhere and plopped it into the house, because the age of it doesn't jive with the rest of the story. It's vaguely spooky to move into what is essentially a fifty year old one owner home. We speak kindly of Mr. Jacob Duerst and appreciate his handiwork, finding his puttering grandpa touches in surprising places. When I open up the bathroom cabinet and get a sudden acrid whiff of something vaguely menthol-y, it seems like I could just about imagine him standing there, tapping his razor on the sink edge to flick off extra burma-shave. Let me preface what I'm about to say by clarifying that I am, in fact, a pathological skeptic. So when I tell you that I feel the presence of those who lived here before me all the time, it's not in some odd creepy haunted house way (I'll save that story for another time, though you probably wouldn't believe me anyway because some things have to be lived before anybody can believe them at all, they're just so outrageous). It's just in this familiar -I don't know- feeling way. They lived here. I see the evidence all around me. They built this house and loved this house and finished out their lives here. And now I get to call it mine. Our house had a quiet energy about it (whoa, that's bordering on woo-woo territory and is going to cost me my big mouth skeptic card pretty soon if I don't watch it) when we first arrived, but it's warming up to us now, feeling comfortable with the noise and ruckus of my loud, little family. I'm not sure what the Duersts would think about the changes we're making. I'm sure they'd prefer my new paint choices over the recent bland putty color. I think they'd approve of our putting in wood floors. I'm certain they'd be sick over the damage my dog did to the top of the basement stairs (I'm pretty sick about it, too). And I just bet Mrs. Duerst would want to know what the heck happened to her oven.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

roll around on a sunny bed

roll around on a sunny bed.

(yes, technically the challenge is to write a blog entry every day this month and, no, i don't think posting a picture really counts, so to skirt along the edge of what will be enough writing so as to not give myself an irrational guilt trip, i'll increase the length of this parenthetical aside just enough to include that while the dish epiphany still stands, someone may have asked me today if i plan to have the same revelation about laundry which, i admit, did result in an epic folding and putting away event and the subsequent cleared off bed and cooperative late morning sunshine initiated all that rolling around you see there. whew.)

Friday, November 09, 2007

mindsong

I think the family story goes a little something like this: a long time ago when my sister was little, four or five or something, she asked our mother if she ever got mindsongs, too. "you know", she explained,"when you keep hearing the same song in your head over and over again."


twisty buns

Today was a housecleaning sort of day and instead of brushing my hair I pulled it up into little "twisty buns" and got to work. We're preparing for our first house guest in this new home. It's taken us longer this time to get settled than ever before and even though we've been living here for a few months now, I still have so much work to do. It's starting to look like we live here, though. I mean, like we live here. Not that some random family plopped down. This space is starting to reflect who we are. Slowly.

Last week we made a splurgey, spontaneous purchase from overstock.com: an under-cabinet docking station for my ipod (last year's surprising christmas gift from my husband to me). And so now it's no trouble to blare whatever music strikes me at any moment, without the mess and clutter of discs and such on the counter. (prior to the under cabinet mounted docking station, we were using an old and clunky boombox. wait, are they even called boomboxes anymore?). So if you'd stopped by my house today, you would have found me mopping the floor and you probably would've heard this song:

mindsong

I might be outing myself as hopelessly unhip; It wasn't until after I'd been singing this song to myself for a few days (it's quick and catchy! I'm surprised you're not singing it, too!) that I learned it was featured on a recent Old Gravy commercial. This is probably yesterday's news. But, really, what's not to like about an easy melody sung by a curvy girl with brown hair and glasses?









Thursday, November 08, 2007

my new old favorite

The thing I love about thrifting, the reason I get itchy to get into a secondhand store if it's been too long (you know, like a week), is that I might find my new favorite fill-in-the-blank. I like things old and soft and full of stories. Sometimes the stories are my own. Years of use and close proximity make an item more dear to me. But this takes time. It takes a whole lot of turns through the washing machine before a new set of sheets are quite as smooth and fine as an old set. So sometimes the stories belong to someone else. I don't have to do the work to make it just right, it just is. Someone else kept it alive long enough for me to find it and appreciate it and I get to pick up the story from there. I might lead a dull enough life to admit that I find that part a fantastic mystery. I have lots of favorite things that became my favorite even before I picked them off a thrift store shelf, pulled them off a clothes rack. I spy the certain glint of color, a particular pattern, something that lets me know that whatever it is needs to live with me. Last week it was my new favorite shirt. Vintage polyester. Fits like I had it tailored especially, in that way old clothes always fit me better (long sleeves are too long for short arms these days). I got that thrilling buzz when I saw the pattern and the buttons and I held it up and knew it would fit just right. And it does.

new old shirt


And I can't touch on the subject of your grandma's polyester button-down without telling you about Rosa's Ropa Usada. It's late, though, and I'm tired and I'll have to settle with dredging up an excerpt from something I wrote years ago about the clothes-by-the-pound place where I went for a spell as an older teenager. I generally don't like to re-read things I've written. This is no exception. But it's been long enough that I can just pretend now that I was fulfilling a secret writing assignment to showcase the mighty Adjective. okay, then. from the archives:

If you've ever been to El Paso, TX (and if not this example will not require an undue amount of imagination. the city basically lives up to its dead end reputation) you will know that downtown, yards from the mighty Rio Grande and hollering distance to Mexico, is not a vibrant, happening place. I have been gone for many years, so perhaps there has since been revitalization or effort into validating the lives of those people and places, but at the time it was dark and dirty and forgotten. Rosa's inhabited the back end of one old warehouse. The building, like a sepia photograph in all its concrete grays and washed out rusty metals, appeared abandoned and lost. The entrance was, had it been a working warehouse, the loading dock. I would park my car near the steep concrete embankment and scramble up the the ledge. The overhead door would be open, for light and air circulation, and on hot days a huge commercial fan would sit there, aiming its powerful blow at the shadows inside. It was dark inside: I cannot say if it's dramatic recollection or if there truly were no lights inside, but I remember everything was dark. A swath of dust-infested sunbeams, filtering in from the sunny texan day outside, would only infiltrate the first several feet of that warehouse. I would walk in and blink, wait for my eyes to adjust to the dim. The sound from the loud fan would reverberate through the room, a cavernous space with concrete floors and impossibly high ceilings, and sometimes I'd also hear indistinct drippings, moist plips and plops that would invariably fall on me later. The entire interior was full of mounds of clothes. Giant piles, taller than me, some heaps balancing up near the top of the room, of old clothes. This was my first 'thrift store' experience. There were no sections, no racks, no standard of usability or cleanliness. Just a literal wasteland of old clothes, ripe for the picking at 25 cents a pound. I went often with my sister, we'd bond over shared guesses about the previous lives certain garments may have led. We'd climb to the top of a mound together, sit right down, and dig through as much as we could in arm's reach, and then crawl over a few feet and dig some more. We'd offer sympathy when one would stick a hand, unknowingly, into something wet or sticky. It was addictive, and since there was no hope of ever digging through all of it, we'd have to set time limits on our visits. I found myself going alone, while she was in school. I discovered an affinity for small men's polyester pullovers, and would keep my eye out for the snug, vintage t-shirts my sister favored. At the end of each hunt, we'd load our finds onto a big commercial scale near the door, watch the needle waiver and then settle on a number, and then fork over the final cost of our scores, usually a few bucks. We'd stuff my hatchback full of the clothes, and would drive home with the windows open, encouraging the bulk of the musky stink to dissipate. Everything was washed in hot, hot water once home. Sometimes there were casualties: polyester dresses that exited the wash, a broken, brittle mess. But, most things were fine, with a few good spins through the washer, and my wardrobe expanded exponentially. Ah, good times. I still thrift shop. I value discovering someone else's discarded thing as my new treasure, love knowing that the things I appreciate can rarely be purchased new. But, the asceptic, almost sterile environment (comparably, you know) of the Goodwills and Value Villages seem much more on par with mall shopping, their carts and fluorescent lights and lines at the check-out counter.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

i don't believe in dirty dishes

sink



This entry smacks of the particular sort of enthusiasm usually relegated to recent religious converts. Consider this something of my housework equivalent of handing out beads in the airport. So don't look too carefully for holes in this epiphany of mine because I can't guarantee how long I'll be wearing the orange robe, okay? It's pretty big news around here right now, though. I admit that this is so recent I don't even have a whole week behind me. It's quite simple, really: the less I believe in dirty dishes, the less I see them around. I cook a lot, I bake plenty, the children and I are home more than not and we eat. Dishes do get dirty. They just don't stay that way anymore. Except for a brief five month spell ten years ago, when I was newly married and not yet anybody's mother, I have always had a dishwasher. My 1958 kitchen is pretty darn near orginal - no dishwasher. We talk about putting one in. When we were still in the buying process, I assumed it would be a necessary, immediate renovation. For the first few weeks we were here, everything kitchen related was a drag - a nagging, joyless drag. I couldn't stay on top of my dirty dishes, I grumbled about my non-working sprayer and my lack of a dishwasher and my stained and pitted enamel sink. The more I grumbled, the less I wanted to step into the kitchen at all. This was becoming a problem. Moving and home repairs and life in general being as they are, I knew that any funds we might have earmarked for a dishwasher had been abdicated by higher priorities and it all seemed so hopeless. Something had to change. And I don't know what it was. The collective voice of a million grandmothers past. The withering spirit of my own secret inner kick ass homemaker. Who knows where it came from, but a switch flipped and I totally get something now I didn't before: A dirty dish is just a clean dish with low self-esteem. I don't have dirty dishes. I have clean dishes that get dirty when we use them but go right back to being clean again. It's like walking down the hallway and noticing a crooked piece of art, no matter how it got crooked, you straighten it out on your way past. It turns out that there's a whole lot of wisdom to the "clean as you go" addage. This is a little mindblowing to me. Oh, sure I've always had to wash up a few dishes by hand. But it was occassional. Even the loading and unloading of previous dishwashers has been a tiresome chore, something to dread and avoid. When I fill up a sink with hot soapy water straight away, it's no trouble to swish a just-used dish through and rinse it and dry it and put it away in less time than I ever spent dealing with dishes before. I fixed my handheld sprayer so it's operational now (if still a a little drippy) and threw out my dish drainer. What? No dish drainer? Not only do dishes get washed faster when the kitchen starts from clean and there's a sinkful of soapy water waiting, but when I set a few dishes on a towel, I put them away immediately, without leaving them to languish in the drainer half a day. And then I take the damp cloth and wipe off the counters and sink. The whole scenario is so effortless and simple, it's like my dishes are washing themselves!! I have still been thinking about adding a dishwasher, because it seems like the right thing, the modern thing, to do. I walked into the kitchen last night to rinse out my bedtime tea teacup and the light over the sink was on and the whole space was bright and shiny and clean and it hit me that maybe I don't want a dishwasher after all. Maybe I don't want to be beholden to a machine's cycles. I went to bed knowing that every dish in the house was clean and put away. In times past, I'd always wake up to a dishwasher full, dishes needing to be rehomed, just one extra step. I'm not sure it's for me. And that's why this compares, however wryly, to some semblence of an apronclad spiritual awakening. It feels personal, special. When my kitchen is clean, it's no trouble to quickly whip up a surprise batch of brownies when the rest of the family heads down to play in the basement. When my kitchen is clean, I like being in it. Fresh paint on the walls, clean dishes in cupboards, something good in the oven. I believe I could get used to this.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

it's magic to me, anyway

It would be effortless for this blog experiment here to quickly become a place to write about children's books. I'm writing here in the first place because I need the new perspective, a reason to write more than just what I ate for breakfast or how grumpy I am about moving too many times in the last several years (seven times!) and how hard that's been and well, you know, so what? Everybody has hard stuff and everybody has beautiful stuff and I'm here to remember that. Books happen to be one of the consistent, important and good things in my life. I have lots of other things I can (and will!) write about, too, but should I find myself stumped for creative inspiration, I can always default to describing old favorites or special book thrift scores or books I love to read aloud. It doesn't concern me even a little that maybe those subjects are less readable than others might be. I'm writing all of this for myself anyway. But yesterday I did mention that we have a whole lot of kid books so I thought today deserved a whole entry about some favorites.

Before my daughter was born, before I knew who she would be and I hadn't yet met myself as a mother, before I really had a clue about anything, so much, I did hope that I'd have a kid who liked books. I'm still not sure if a love of reading is completely instinctual or dependent on being surrounded by books and other people who love books, but I think it sure helps to just have a lot of them hanging around the house and to read a lot. So I started gathering board books. And when she was tiny I started reading to her. A lot. And right from the start, reading just became what we do. I admit to not having the sort of natural patience helpful for tackling the challenge of motherhood, so I've always depended on, in those stressful, hair-pulling moments, gathering up a pile of picture books and just reading, reading, reading. I enjoy reading aloud, I can sink into the book and let my brain coast on auto pilot, the voices and story of the book falling out of my mouth like magic. And now, even though Freya is an insatiable reader, I still read aloud to her often. If her interest in listening has slightly waned, her brother, nearly seven years younger, has picked up the slack. I am very glad for it.

Most of our books have been purchased secondhand. I remember having my chatty toddler on my hip in the sling one bright early summer Saturday morning in northeast Portland. We were at a yard sale, as was our little family's Saturday ritual of that time (such a sweet time, that.) and a very nice woman handed me a copy of The Maggie B by Irene Haas and said I needed that book for my little girl. I think I paid a dime for a story which integrated itself, right from the very first day, into part of our family lore and, certainly, a hulking presence in my daughter's evolving psyche.


maggieb




It's a charming book with beautiful illustrations. At the time I was especially interested in acquiring picture books with strong female protagonists. And if I had a tiny secret hope that my own precocious toddler might grow up to be as sweet and industrious as Margaret Barnstable, I had no idea of knowing how much they'd eventually have in common. I see so much of my little (big) girl in this book's main character, from the capable hands and pleasantness right down to the much younger brother.

nicecompany

And because we loved that book so much, it was a great thrill to find a copy of the out-of-print The Little Moon Theater at Powell's a year or so later. The publishing world makes my head hurt a little. I can't go into any bookstore without finding, in the children's section, so much crap. Yet a book so sweet and perfect is out of print. Hmm.


the little moon theater

Shortly after our return to Oregon this past Spring, I scored a second copy at Powell's. This one, pristine with dust jacket intact, shall live on the shelf for my special satisfaction. I'm always pretty darn chuffed to find rare books (sometime I'll write about the whole series of out of prints I collect), as if it's some special skill of mine and not random luck. When someone asks me what my favorite book is, I usually answer The Little Moon Theater (or The Wind in the Willows or The Grapes of Wrath, depending) because it's just that perfect. Another plucky girl main character. More lovely illustrations. If you can get your hands on a copy, I sure recommend it.

jojo, jip and nicolette

Everything Irene Haas has made is exquisite (Summertime Song probably a decade ago and Bess and Bella much more recently), but those first two are something extra special.

The really special part is the way books become a part of you. The way my daughter already has those warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia about certain books. The way they remind me that I might screw up a lot of stuff, but I must be doing something right.

re-reading this a little later, i must edit now to apologize for having used, without any intended sarcasm, the term 'evolving psyche'. maybe beer + blog not always the best combination. that's my best excuse.


Monday, November 05, 2007

a most reprehensible confession

I have not yet set foot in our local library. This is not to imply that my little family has been without library materials for the last two months since we moved here. I've been able to keep up, more or less, with my account near where we were living for the previous five months. Well, if this is an honest confession, I'll admit that the "keeping up" has been more less than more lately, and my fine situation is a little ridiculous. Who drives forty-five minutes to the library when there is a perfectly acceptable library (or so I've heard) within walking distance? creatures of habit slow to warm up to change. Me. One of the deciding factors for moving to this town (apart from the obvious of being closer to my husband's office and considerably decreasing his daily commute) was its walkability factor. We like to live in neighborhoods where we can access lots by foot or bike. When we moved here, I had plenty of library books checked out, and we moved them right along with us. i thought I could pop in quickly to the old library (which is, oddly, the same library i frequented when we moved to oregon the first time and I was an earnest newlywed with a lot of time and very little money) on trips to the big city (a couple of times a month, I suppose, for requisite trader joe's staples and spontaneous expeditions). This plan proved faulty and I returned everything on our last trip in and vowed to get to my local library as soon as possible. That was saturday and the library was closed yesterday and today so let's see what happens tomorrow. Despite my children's book collection which seems to expand, thanks to my thrift store habit, with rabbit-producing alacrity, I can't so much keep my bookworm daughter in words. She's certainly motivation enough to walk up the street already and check out some books. I'm quite discriminating with regards to kid books and yet, we've reached a point where I'm running out of practical shelf space. And while I have no intention of dwindling down our mighty collection (and I do mean 'our' because children's literature is one of my favorite topics and I could pretty much sum up the bulk of my whole parenting philosophy in one word -read- if I had to) I should probably back down on the book acquisitions and step up on the borrowing. It's nice to read books that can live for a short spell in a basket by the front door.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

hello darkness my old friend

It might have been ill-advised to stay up painting until four in the morning on Fall Back to Standard Time night. This will be my first time change in three years. The twice yearly clock setting fiesta is not something I missed while in Arizona. There's no reason to save daylight in a land with perpetual sunshine. People who have never lived in the phoenix area desert can't really appreciate the intensity of the glare. Lots of folks thrive on that bone bleaching sunlight, but it made me want to crawl in a hole. My friend Laurie once said that if seasonal affective disorder can be treated with lightboxes, reverse seasonal affective calls for your own personal dark drippy basement. That might not be an exact quote but the image has sure stuck with me. (assuming of course that there's such a problematic mood issue attributed to too much sunshine. i'm not sure if this is validated by anyone with credentials or research, but it's validated by me and my control group of one) . I like to imagine that in moving back to Oregon I moved back to my drippy basement. I grumble a little about the hassle of of adjusting to the new time. I could go about my business well enough but I know that tomorrow morning, just like today, two short people will be clamoring for breakfast earlier than I'd prefer. Mornings are never my most successful portion of the day, and certainly not the day after the time change. But this time, this time if I did any grumbling it was to myself and paired with an inexplicable gladness. If the leaf colors and dropping temperatures weren't enough, certainly falling back an hour heralds the deep thick of my favorite season. I am so glad to have a reason for sweaters and warming cold fingers on mugs of hot drinks. It's something I've missed and every signal I'm here again is welcomed.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

proof that i'm prematurely aging myself beyond my years

My near daily Satellite Sisters podcast fix could be reason enough. I can't think why else I'd find it relaxing (nay, enjoyable, even) to listen to a handful of middle-aged sisters talk to each other. It's a little like The View (you know, if The View were all sisters with history and similar opinions and if I'd ever actually seen an episode of The View and was qualified to make this comparison at all, which I'm not) and it's the sort of thing a boring grown-up mom listens to. Wait, this about premature aging. Oh, you mean if I'm decidedly into my thirties now and my oldest baby is nearly nine and I intentionally listen to middle aged women talk about middle aged women things, I guess there's nothing very premature about my aging at all, is there? Okay, then why do I cringe a little every time I sling my current bag over my shoulder? It's one of those nylon healthy-back sling bags and it has plenty of pockets and places to put everything I need and I thrifted it for a dollar, so what's not to like, right? But I just can't quite embrace that I'm the perfect target demographic for such a drab thing. I spent far too long today looking at style and pattern options at the lesportsac website and none of the bags I imagined buying gave me the same fantastic urge I get every time I grab my current tote to run right out and dye my hair. (if this were really about premature aging, I'd insert an interesting little anecdote here about plucking my first gray/white hair at 21 but you'll just have to imagine my dominant gray hair genes and how they've been running wild for well past a decade). I might ruminate on this while I'm painting my kitchen later tonight (I plan to squeeze as much as I can out of that extra hour). . . do I replace my handbag with something kickier and more fun or do I flip a coin between dark natural brown and golden medium brown and see what happens?

Friday, November 02, 2007

if paint choices were a metaphor (no, let's not go there)

The test blotches up on my kitchen wall have been there long enough (a few weeks) that I've gotten used to them well enough and have almost forgotten that I'm supposed to be making a final decision. I've always wanted an orange kitchen. It seems like a color for being warm and cozy. A color for being hungry and eating good things. So why the green? It took us long enough to find the right shade of orange, because as nice as the fellow at Sherwin Williams might be, he can't color match to my brain. I've never had such a hard time picking a paint color before. We've gone through several shades that were just all wrong, too pale, too salmony, too close to the birch woodwork. Last weekend, I gave up on Orange and switched to Green, chose the right shade the first try and loved it straight away. Or maybe I didn't give up entirely, I bought one last desperate test quart in a beguiling Marquis Orange and as soon as I opened the lid, even before any paint was slapped on the wall, I knew it was the right color, the exact deep warm orange I see when I close my eyes. Perfect. But the green. It's nice, too. So we deliberated, the husband and I (which, I must admit looked a little like him watching my mouth to see which one I'm leaning toward right then and then him quickly agreeing) and I finally sent him back to the paint store for a full gallon of the green. It's a shade we can get in the Harmony no v.o.c. line (the orange is too intense for that), it approximates the touch of green in the original formica counters (white counters with boomerangy blobs in pink and blue and green), it's a darn happy color. I was pleased with our decision. And no sooner had he driven away than I changed my mind. I'm like that (which is good times enough with regard to little things like paint, imagine translating such a charming quirk to big ones like houses!). I called his cell phone. He did not answer. He bought the green paint. He came home. The full can sat in the kitchen and I said not a word of my change of heart. And then next morning, last Sunday, the first thing he said to me when he woke up and headed into start coffee was, "I think we chose the wrong color." So. If the man with ambiguous interior design opinions thinks we should go with orange, who am I to say otherwise? I've been talking myself into the green all week, citing financial prudence (we already bought a gallon of it, after all) and expediency. The truth is that the green would probably flow better to the pinkish grayish soapstone fireplace in the other room (the only permanent color fixture in the house, save for any woodwork, the rest of the walls are a bland putty color though they look forward to being something else), but oh! the orange! It's been a bit of a battle between my inner pragmatic majority and my smaller, but louder, frivolous, whimsical side this week but I insist on painting the whole room tomorrow. Which means I must decide for sure tonight. Is this riveting or what?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

a goddess and a monkey

That sounds like it could be the start of a joke, yes? Only I don't so much care for jokes. Witty banter and borderline shocking revelations well-timed to be humorous, yes. But jokes, as could be found compiled in a paperback book with a title including the number "1001" or the word "funny", big fat No. So not a joke, just my two dears walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk of our town, wearing a last minute mama-made costume and a long ago thrifted zip-up suit, respectively. I suppose such a description is expected on the first of November, but I'm something of a halloween equivalent of the grinch and intentionally subjecting myself and my children to hordes of ruckus strangers hyped up on candy (the sort we don't, in this little family, even eat!), is a little unexpected. What I do appreciate is a sense of community, however vague, in the seeing more local folks than I've yet seen in one place here (even if I didn't talk to, and don't know, any of them); it's valuable to participate in something, even if the something is just a larger version of my usual old people watching activity. I do like to people watch. And I appreciate and understand the thrill of being someone else, even if I didn't bother putting together a costume for myself. But, really, when I'm walking behind my children on a bright, crisp, rainless (hey, that's big stuff around these parts at this time of the year!) fall evening, and my little monkey of a son insists on holding his big sister's hand and she reaches back for him and slows her pace to match his, and they are just so dear and sweet and perfect, right then, there's no one else I'd rather be anyhow.