Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Good Weekend

Last weekend (and pretty much all last week) I was not at my best, mom-wise (I think it all started with staying up too late Friday night watching 3 Idiots, which could be my new favorite movie, then staying up too late, and drinking too much wine, Saturday night hanging out with a friend, capped off by staying up too late Sunday night to watch the Downton Abbey finale), so I decided to concentrate on making up for it this weekend. 

First order of business: going to bed at a decent hour. 

Third: get the house clean in order.

Fourth: I felt so guilty about dissing the Magic Treehouse, I read all of "Mummies in the Morning" to E and Z (still loving all the comments on how you all have handled reading annoying books to kids; love the idea of books on tape; wish they could read to themselves, but they're still in the "Dick and Jane" stage, which, by the way, are wonderful first readers: very short chapters, lots of repetitive "dolche" words and delightful vintage illustrations; much better than some of those Step into Reading books we have).

Fifth: Craftiness. E, Z and I made some felted geodes, or "rainbow rocks" (directions here). I love playing with wool and hot, soapy water and these were super fun to make.

The best part was "cracking" them open after they dried to see what kind of fun patterns we made.

Here they are posing alongside a real geode M got for Christmas and which we just finally broke open with a hammer. Can you tell which is the real rock?

E added them to our dining table for Sunday night dinner (Which is the Sixth order of business: a big vat of macaroni and cheese I made Saturday night and which lasted two meals and about which not one person complained, even though I put green beans from the freezer in it).

And finally, C kept the boys outside most of Sunday making maple syrup (which is an activity I enjoy not in the least, for a variety of reasons) while I battled through an annotation for my next packet and fiddled with an essay I'm writing for fun (as a mental vacation from fiction).

I did some sewing on a project-in-progress I hope to share with you soon while the boys were in the tub and Z repented of his kicking and screaming over Little House in the Big Woods and asked me to reread chapter 1 (which I had read to E alone) and we made our way through the first several chapters by Sunday night. A good weekend, indeed. Hope that you had a good one as well.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Walking in the Woods on a Snowy Morning

We woke up to a few inches of snow Saturday morning.

It wasn't entirely a surprise, since driving home from the YMCA the night before was a bit like navigating the Millennium Falcon through hyperspace, with nothing visible out the windshield but huge snowflakes flying at us like stars and asteroids.

Snow has been such a rare occurrence this winter, I rushed outside to take pictures while C was cooking pancakes (I am a lucky girl) and, on the spur of the moment, I decided to walk our whole loop trail through the woods, which has been sadly neglected this snowless winter.

It turns out I wasn't the first one to track up the snow; some squirrels had been out and about already,

and a snowshoe hare.

It was one of those magical, mystical snows that frosts everything just enough to make the world look new again.

Even old familiar paths became inviting.

All morning, the blue sky and the clouds jostled each other for position.

And little black-caps worked their way through the treetops (sometimes even singing their springtime "fee-bee" song).

The river, which never froze up at all downstream was starting to break up upstream, too.

The pancakes were on plates by the time I got home,

and this was just the start of a lovely weekend.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Zip Bags

Sometimes I think this creative urge is a disease...it becomes overpowering sometimes (or perhaps it's the procrastination urge that is so powerful?)

After I saw the super cute zip pouch Mary Beth of Salt and Chocolate made, I had to have one (or three) of my own. 

I spent odd moments here and there rifling through my stash, looking for good fabric combinations and then finally set down to make these a couple of weekends ago, when I was supposed to be sequestered in my room writing (it was a break from all that mental labor, really). I have a ton of these short little industrial zippers that I bought for wicked cheap (I think I had six or eight for 50 cents) at a purse maker that went out of business a couple of years ago, so I didn't have to buy anything.

Because I only read over the pattern/tutorial (which is here) without printing it out or writing anything down or referring back to it in any way while I worked on these, they came out in fairly random sizes, with the first one I made being huge and the following ones getting progressively smaller because it turns out that you only need a tiny little ting for pens and pencils, and, also, they seem a lot bigger after they are done (I also somehow got the lining of the yellow one inside out, but we'll just pretend it was meant to be that way, shall we?)

When I was at the library later that week, I looked down at the pile of stuff on the floor next to my chair--my messenger bag, my purse, my laptop cozy, my camera case and one of these pouches--and I realized that I am a ridiculous person. 

I mean, who goes around with all these mismatched patterns and nothing neutral whatsoever? I think I need help.

Anyway, while these bags did not progress my writing at all (nor has writing this post), it felt oh so lovely to experience that satisfying click of finishing something that results in a tangible, pleasing product (with no dreaded bashing by potential critics, even if my bags don't match, are inside-out and not the correct size). 

Thursday, February 23, 2012


This is me these days:

I'll spare you the details, since the library closes in one hour and I just spent thirty minutes goofing around on Pinterest. Besides, I'm sure you have multiple flames of your own burning right now.

(P.S. I just discovered some comments on a previous post that I had overlooked due to an overload of email during a busy time, but they were commiserating about our recent Magic Treehouse adventures. Thank you, sisters; it is so good to know I'm not alone in Morgan La Fey's library hell--it probably doesn't help that we've been reading them out of order, but what bleep? I don't even get it. I tried reading "Little House in the Big Woods last night and Z started kicking and screaming, literally kicking and screaming, I kid you not.)

Monday, February 20, 2012


Agraphia: a disorder marked by the inability to write.

The blank page and I stare each other down, each waiting for the other to blink first.

"The freedom of the modern short story writer from the need to be explicit or obvious was hard-won--it was achieved at the cost of alienating all but the few readers capable of understanding and appreciating the form." Rust Hills, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular

I write round and round in circles. Where is my beginning, middle end? I reach ten pages, only to realize I need to skip the first five. I try to put a flashback within a flashback. That will never work.

"Remember, your story is an uneasy bargain with your reader. Your end of the bargain is to play fair, and keep him interested, his end of the bargain is to keep reading." Shirley Jackson, "Notes for a Young Writer"

Nothing happens in my story, I learn. And when it does happen, it doesn't make sense, to the reader, that is. And then it's not believable. I can't do what I'm trying to do. The only cure is to put it in a shoebox in the barn for 30 years (or, as it were, in a folder on my hard-drive labeled "dead-end stories") and let it marinate. 

What was it Mark Twain said about letting a story go underground while you work on other things, let the dwarves or the earthworms or the subconscious or something work on it for you? (I can't remember where I read that because I am reading about 75 how-to-write books at the same time--all of them contradictory of each other and, quite often, themselves).

I wonder if I'll be able to get any story to do what I want it to do, say what I want it to say. People want action, it turns out, and marital strife. I add both to my new story, the one going round and round. I try to reign it in. Move the flashback-within-the-flashback to another place. I'm trying to tell two stories, one in the past and one in the present, the past explaining the present, parallel but opposite structures: a tree and a river system. A branching and a coming-together. Bifurcation and confluence. It involves a lot of going back in time to show how what happened then influenced what's happening now, why it's important, this convergence. I don't know if it works, if it will keep my reader interested, keep him reading to the end which, while not being too explicit or obvious. It could use, I'm sure, a period of time underground with the worms, but I don't have the time for that right now.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine's Observed and Mexican Chocolate Cake Recipe

Tuesday morning I asked my family, who were all hunched over their breakfast bowls, how they felt about having our family Valentine's celebration on Wednesday instead of Tuesday, since M had a guitar lesson that night. This question was greeted with a long silence, then C finally said, "Family Valentine's celebration?" So, apparently my efforts are neither noticed or appreciated, however I forge on. So Tuesday, while C and M were at guitar, Z and I baked a Mexican chocolate cake (recipe below) and Wednesday I came home early and prepared a feast of tlacoyos stuffed with green chiles and cheese, rice, beans and sweet potatoes and we had a candlelight dinner for five (C and I had our "date" ten days earlier, going out to our favorite restaurant and a movie). 

For his gift, I got C two Cuppows--lids that turn a canning jar into a travel mug (a friend of mine had sent me an email about the Cuppow lids a few weeks earlier, and I knew instantly that they were the way to C's heart). I knitted a cozy for jar insulation (pattern from here--it ended up very huge and I had to wash it a few times to fit the jar) during the last three basketball games and filled the jar with chocolate-covered coffee beans. Even though everyone made fun of me for knitting such a romantic present, C LOVED it and said it was just what he wanted. Really, it was.

(Based on the Easiest Cake Pan from the back of an old King Arthur Flour bag)

Note: you can mix this cake directly in the pan, but I mixed mine in a bowl and poured it into a greased, floured pan because I wanted to be able to take it out to frost it.

In an 8" or 9" baking pan (heart-shaped if possible), stir together:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 T cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
 1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 - 1 t. cayenne pepper

Make three wells in the dry ingredients and add to the first:

6 T vegetable oil

Add to the second: 

1 T apple cider vinegar

Add to the third:

1 t. vanilla 
1/2 t. orange extract or flavor

Pour over the top of the ingredients:

1 cup cold water

Stir till just mixed. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool and frost with Cinnamon Butter Cream Frosting, below.


In the bowl of a mixer, blend together:

1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 t. cinnamon
Add and mix until thoroughly blended and smooth:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1/2 t. orange flavor
1/4 cup milk


This year's Valentine's card. I'm not sure where or when I took these heart-shaped rock pictures (but I'm guessing it must have been in Acadia National Park, because I don't have the rocks now--I'm a stickler for the "take nothing but pictures" rule. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Giving In

I recently had cause to go back through the notes I took during my challenging workshop at residency. One of the questions that someone asked, and I wrote down (without thinking much about it at the time, because the questions and comments were coming in rapid-fire and I was in my "cone of silence") was, "Why does the mom always give in to the baby?"

I was going to use walnut shells to stamp heart shapes on brown paper, but that didn't work out so well, so I made a mid-course correction and E and I created heart animals with construction paper.
I laughed when I re-read that sentence. If I had those sweet, innocent, childless young people before me now I could say, "Because that's what moms do." And it's not giving in; it's called meeting their needs. Babies can't take care of themselves, so someone (often the mom, if she's the one around at the time; though hopefully the dad a good deal of the time does too) else has to do it for them.

I had to pitch in and help with some of these or we'd have them done for St. Patrick's Day. (Like my cute new tablerunner in the background? I bought it at a nearby farm store. It makes me smile).
I thought of that sentence again Friday night, when the boys piled into the car after daycare at about 5:15 p.m. and M said that there was a dance at school that night from six to eight-thirty and couldn't he please go? He didn't know about it before because the sign had been covered up by something else. And since there was no good reason why he shouldn't go, I hurried home and made a quick dinner, and loaded all three boys back in the car an hour or so later (C was working late) to drop him off, and went back out into the cold to pick him up at 8:30.

Z has refused to participate in Valentine-making for as long as he's had a class to make them for (this would be the fourth year). His idea is to cut up paper into smaller and smaller hearts.
We're mothers. It's what we do. And it's not giving in; it's parenting. It's why we spend all Saturday evening and Sunday morning cutting out construction paper hearts and coaxing, encouraging, begging and pleading out charges to turn them into doggies and cats and bunnies and turtles (and why we finish them in our best imitation of childish scrawls after out charges go to bed). It's why we stop at the store on February 13 to buy Cheddar Bunnies for the class party and three boxes of candy conversation hearts, because our child has been asking for two weeks if we couldn't please get him some candy hearts with words on them?

I saved this tray from inside our Advent calendar for just this purpose--pouring beeswax from old candle stubs (happily, one of the stubs was red) into the heart-shaped molds to make little ornaments.
It's why, at five in the morning, we find ourselves in the kitchen making one-and-a-half peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and one-half ham sandwich with mustard and slicing two oranges in quarters, but leaving the third one whole and digging in backpacks for lunch bags that have sat all weekend with half-eaten sandwiches in mismatched containers.

Z cut out the names of his classmates from the Valentine list and C somehow coaxed him to write his name on the back and I taped them to the strings for his Valentines.
It's why we consent to reading out loud yet another Jack and Annie book, when we'd really much rather read Farmer Boy or Anne of Green Gables or anything with more literary merit than improbable time-travel scenarios.

We had a lot left over, and C trimmed all the extra wax off of them with a knife and arranged them in this cute circle. They smell sooo good, but I have no idea what to do with them all--thoughts?

It's why we sit through six-hour baseball tournaments and Christmas concerts that only seem like they're six hours long and quit cooking any dish that combines eggs and cheese and move all of our breakable objects to very high shelves. It's the first thing we discover when we have kids: it's not all about us anymore.

I liked this heart wreath in the Sundance catalog so much that...

Don't get me wrong; I'm not talking about spoiling my kids. I do far more saying no than giving in--no candy after breakfast, no I won't take you to Barnes and Noble to buy more Lego's, no movies on school nights, no torturing your brother, no biting your best friend--perhaps more than I should.

We made our own, cutting free-form hearts from watercolor paintings (always looking for a way to put those watercolors to good use!).
I guess you could call it giving in. But I call it LOVE. Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Mitten Playset

I have this one beautiful mitten that my mom knitted for me a long time ago (the other one fell out of my car on the side of the street while I was Christmas shopping back when I had a car with a driver's side door that wouldn't open, and I had to climb in through the passenger door--this was when E and Z were tiny babies, and it went on for a good six or nine months, before I got a different car and passed my car on to C, who fixed the door handle the very weekend the car became his. But I'm not still bitter about that or anything).

Anyway, back to the mitten. Jan Brett books are a big hit at our house, and The Mitten has been a favorite since M was a baby and our neighbor gave him the board book version. I've thought for some time (probably for the last six years since I lost the other mitten) that it would be fun to make a play set to go along with the book. I thought of it again this winter. We had most of the animals, collected at various times over the years, but we lacked the mouse, the mole and the badger. I considered substituting other animals, but decided, what the hell, why not just buy the real thing and get it out of my system. The boys aren't getting any littler, and will probably not want to sit and listen to storybooks much longer anyway.

As soon as the new critters arrived in the mail, we read the book and the boys took turns putting the animals into the mitten at the right moments. It may be the only time we ever do it, but it was fun and it makes a cute little tableau (and now I won't look at that mitten every winter for the rest of my life and wish that I had done something with it). 

We read about Imbolc (the ancient Celtic first day of spring which falls around February 1) last week and learned that the badger was the animal that people looked to as a harbinger of the coming season, but when the Europeans came to North America, they found badgers in short supply and instead substituted the groundhog (thus Groundhog Day). So now we have a little badger to encourage the arrival of spring.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Good Mail Day

Last Wednesday, I had three big boxes waiting on my porch when I got home. Z got to work opening them while I got to work making dinner.

In one were these frames my dad made for family portraits we had taken recently (I still need to get glass and frame wire and figure out where to hang them--we have a shortage of wall space). There were some other goodies tucked inside--shirts for the boys and I don't remember what-all.

The other two boxes contained some Nikki McClure goodness. Jenna had a giveaway on her Stirrings and Stories blog for How to Cook the Perfect Day, and though I don't comment much on blogs these days, due to time constraints and the fact that I usually read them on my phone which isn't always compatible with blogs, and which also hurts my thumbs if I type too much, I just had to comment (and enter to win) because I had literally just come from the BuyOlympia site where I'd ordered the calendar (after much hemming and hawing regarding whether I needed another calendar, especially one with no room for writing things and which I had nowhere to hang--that limited wall space thing again) and a set of note cards, the cover of which reminds me of my favorite piece of jewelry.

So, not only did I win Jenna's giveaway, but it (the book, plus a fun set of Story Cubes) arrived on the exact same day as the order I had already placed, before leaving my comment, which makes me think the other was walked to my house from Washington (it is true I chose the cheaper "ground" shipping method, but really). I'm excited to try out some of the recipes (especially the picnic--when spring comes!) and play with the story cubes (and I suppose I should put one of those note cards to use right away!).

I love a good mail day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Packet 1

First, I must start by telling you how much I love the word "packet." It sounds like a little brown envelope filled with crinkly paper containing lots of wonderful possibilities. Of course my packet was on a virtual one,

(don't mind the mountain of clean laundry in the background that I'm passive-agressively refusing to fold, while at the same time using it as a foot rest), but it went off to my mentor yesterday. Yippee. 

I'm still working out the kinks in my writing schedule--library every Monday and Thursday night. During which I spend too much time distracted by Etsy and email and Ravelry and such. I may need to find a wi-fi-free zone. I haven't gotten another Sunday all to myself since the first weekend, so I try to work among the chaos of family--yesterday I had to lay down the law and tell them that unless they are bleeding or on fire, they are not to bother me about anything, but look for Papa instead. I may need to find an alternate Sunday location (though preferable not the bakery, so that I don't gain five pounds for every packet). 

And last week, my nine-to-five sleep schedule went all to hell, precipitated by my staying up till 10 to watch Downton Abbey last Sunday and ending ignominiously with my sleeping until 8:30 Saturday morning and then leaping out of be shouting at the twins to get ready for their nine a.m. basketball game. I'm trying to get it back this week, though I've found I can't really think at five in the morning (who can?), so I'll be using that time (on days I don't go to the pool) instead to get to work by seven, so that I can leave by 3:30 so that our evenings can be a little less hectic.

And now, I need to get to work on Packet #2, so I'll leave you with a few photos Z took yesterday when I gave him my camera to get him out of my hair.

Oh, no, oh, yes, we've discovered the Magic Treehouse (do you have any idea how many of these books there are? I object, on principle, to any books series that gets into the double digits--with the exception of Amelia Peabody)

Baby M--so cute.

Stevie Wonder dance party.

Tell me again why I can't concentrate?


Messy room.

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