Friday, January 30, 2009

Works In Progress

When I wrote "finish works in progress" on my New Year's Resolution and To-Do List, I was thinking mainly of unfinished craft-type projects (the boxes in the basement containing partially-pieced quilts, a half-knitted scarf, a skirt that will be unlikely to fit, a quilted/embroidered wall-hanging that I've been working on for approximately 10 years), but since then it has come to my attention that there are many areas of my life in which I have things left undone.

The mending bin. I took on another round of mending last weekend, patching three pairs of pants and "darning" a couple of sweaters (which I'm very glad to add back into my wardrobe).

The bookshelf. I have a section of my shelf dedicated to books I've started in the last couple of years, but not finished--Leap, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, A Natural History of the Senses, A People's History of the United States--plus several volumes on my bedside table--Sisters of the Earth, A Midwife's Tale. Monday I determined to not start another new book until I had finished at least one of these, but then I picked up The Year of Magical Thinking at the library Tuesday night and polished it off in 24 hours.

Writing. Several times in the last couple of years I have determined to set myself on a home-school writing course, following the exercises in the books Wild Mind, What If?, and Writing the Natural Way. I have not gotten very far in any of them, but am now forging through Wild Mind and WILL take on the other two next.

Drawing. When I was pregnant with the twins I bought the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook, sensing that I needed something non-baby to focus on. I did the first exercise (pre-instruction self-portrait) on Jan 19, 2005 during a lovely Women's Ski Weekend, which I spent in the cabin (because I was pregnant with twins and could barely walk to the refrigerator without hurting myself, let alone ski ten miles) reading, knitting drawing and writing. I made fairly decent progress, working through about half the book over the next year, but the last drawing I completed (sighting an open door) in January 2006--three years ago! I got stuck on the next one, a corner of a room. I skipped over it and drew my foot and knee Wednesday during our snow day. I can't say I'm exactly talented in the drawing area, but I find it so relaxing and meditative (my monkey mind finally shuts up), even with kids hanging off the foot I was trying to draw.

Swimming. Many long years ago I started teaching myself the Total Immersion method of swimming (my stroke was just not working for me), which involves erasing the muscle memory of your usual stroke and rebuilding it from scratch. Just as I was getting to the whole-stroke swimming point, my early pregnancy with the twins made me too tired and hungry to swim at 5 p.m. on a Friday (even if I ate a giant sandwich on the way to the pool). I tried again when the twins were about 9 months old and my MIL came over to watch them once a week, but I developed a never-ending cold and sinus infection and had to stop swimming again. Now we have a Y membership for three months, C takes the kids to daycare Tuesday mornings, and I go to the pool and swim with a friend at 6:30 a.m. I WILL have rebuilt my stroke by summer (only five years after breaking it down!)

I could go on and on--deferred house maintenance (paint doors, re-paint door and window frames, re-finish numerous surfaces); gardening (i.e. from acre o' weeds to real yard); relationships--but I think this is enough to show that a) I am really good at starting but not finishing things and b) I'm ready to clear out this old baggage so I can start something new!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snow Day

It was supposed to snow between one-and-a-half and two feet yesterday, beginning in the middle of the day. School was pre-emptively cancelled and I decided to stay home too, not wishing to repeat last weekend's nightmare drive. It only ended up snowing about six inches (and then raining/sleeting on top of that), and they could easily have had school (at least half a day) and I could easily have gone to work, but I didn't miss it.

We had a much better day, overall, than last time I posted about a snow day. Maybe we've had so many I'm getting used to them. Maybe E and Z are easier now that they're older. Maybe my expectations are lower. The day was nicer...instead of gray and yucky, it was bright with fluffy white snow gently falling. We colored and painted and lounged in our jammies for a while in the morning. I considered taking on a major baking project and going on a big snow shoe trek around our trail, but let those go in favor of a loaf of bread, which I could monitor from the deck, and shoveling, sledding, playing around the house, while I monitored the bread.

For lunch I got out leftovers--lentil soup, macaroni and cheese (homemade) and spaghetti. E and Z who both refused to eat the mac and cheese the first two times it was served fought over who got to have it this time, and cried when it was gone. Later we did puzzles and played Candyland (is that game sponsored by the high fructose corn syrup council or the American Diabetic Association or what?), in a totally non-competitive manner, which involved letting M continue playing for about 20 rounds after the rest of us got to King Kandy because he had gotten sent back to the peanut right near the end. I remember this game always ending in tears when my younger brothers and sisters played, so I wanted to avoid it with my own kids, but they got it for Christmas. They got some other games (like Goodnight Moon and Max the Cat, a cooperative game) also that we play more often, but I guess it was just a Candyland kind of day.

In the afternoon we watched Pete's Dragon, which is whopping two hours and eight minutes, and we all (i.e. E and Z) emerged tired and cranky, like after a late afternoon nap. I think I need to wean us from the afternoon movie, especially considering how much TV they watch at daycare. For dinner I took the leftover lentil soup (which had already provided two dinners and two lunches), ran it through the blender with some oats (I was out of bread crumbs) and two eggs and baked it in the oven with some potatoes for about an hour. Unbelievably four out of five members of the L-C household ate it (E after crying for 10 minutes about dispensing his own ketchup finally ate all of his loaf and asked for more); M the picky ate it too. Only Z, who hasn't eaten dinner since last Friday when the boys all went out for pizza, refused. I was amazed (but personally not all that trilled with the results--a little mushy; reminiscent of the mushroom barley burgers they used to serve at my college cafeteria--next time will drain out more of the soup liquid.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ox Year

We had a little Chinese New Year celebration last night. I made egg rolls, which received pretty much the same reception as last time…E ate a few bites before he realized either that he didn’t like it or that his brothers weren’t eating it. M tortured me with questions about “what does it taste like.” Z dismantled one in an effort to earn a second helping of pineapple. C came home late so I gobbled several on my own, while the twins ran wildly through the house and M read his latest World War I book. I don’t get these kids—eggrolls were one of my very favorite meals as a kid (along with fondue) which, like the fondue, we only got about once a year and it was always a treat.

After I ate my quota, I got out crayons and paper to try to calm the twins down. Z finally drew a person (Mama) the other day, but it was on the white board on our easel so I couldn’t save it. He holds the pen in a strange way, so I tried to get him to use the crayon rocks, which I love, they’re so cute and smooth and fun colors. E and I made rainbows, and Z kept having me draw Spider Man, which he then cut up into shreds.

I had hoped to make paper lanterns earlier in the day, but we spent the whole day running around (Sears portrait studio, where I hope to never have to venture again, Bagel Mainea, the library and the milk farm) and ran out of time. While I cooked, the boys watched the Curious George video from the library, which always infuriates me because the Man with the Yellow Hat will insist on calling George a monkey. He is an ape, Man, look, no tail. If you’re going to steal a poor helpless wild animal from the jungle, at least get its taxonomy right!

After searching our shelves for Chinese-themed books (did it occur to me to look at the library? No.), we settled down with Daisy Comes Home—very cute, great illustrations, empowered chicken, etc.—and another book about a dragon kite that turned out to take place in Tibet, which is kind of ironic considering the political situation there. In the middle of reading, I remembered a book from my childhood about a duck that I think was called Ping, and made a hasty search of the shelves for it, but it must not have made it into our collection. Then we went to sleep with a few rounds of Puff the Magic Dragon, which doesn't have anything to do with Chinese New Year, other than the dragon being something we 'mericans associate with China (nope, we don't have any music CDs with Chinese music either), but Z has liked me to sing it the last couple of nights. I can almost get through "A dragon lives forever, not so little boys," and "Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave" without choking up now (getting teary just typing it).

So on the one hand, I want my family to learn about other cultures and other parts of the world, but on the other hand my efforts usually end up feeling contrived and half-assed. But what else can we do here in our not very diverse corner of the world?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Remember September

When the digital thermometer dips below zero again this weekend (that just doesn't sound as good as "mercury" but is so much healthier...) it may become necessary to remember that there is life after winter.

I grew these peppers last summer--mostly serranos and jalapenos, but a few lovely poblanos (these have a very long growing season, which is tough here--in fact it's almost time to plant them for next summer--but I love them. The first year I grew them, I got about six peppers, which I made into fantastic chile rellenos with simmered tomatillo-serrano sauce and homemade tortillas. I joked that it was the meal that took seven months to grow, seven hours to cook and seven minutes to consume. Fortunately my kids won't touch rellenos so that leaves more for moi! And this year, I got a few more peppers; I think we had rellenos three times!) and a few garden-variety green peppers are mixed in there.

Salsa anyone?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Art of Comparison

When I was visiting my friend this weekend, her husband mentioned that it was hard to listen to their neighbor’s kid, who is the same age as theirs, talking while their own baby still just babbles. As the wizened old mother of many, I just sat quietly in my corner, thinking how insignificant another child’s unintelligible (to anyone but his doting parents) “bah’s” and “br’s” will seem in a few days or months or years. At the same time I was remembering how when M was a baby, I rushed home from a La Leche League meeting and gave him patty-cake lessons after seeing a baby several weeks his junior already clapping!

It is so hard to not compare our children to other kids. When M was a baby I found myself constantly checking the developmental charts and comparing his motor skills or language with babies at story time at the library, as if I craved constant reassurance that I was doing this right. With the twins I never even glanced in the development books or noticed that much what the babies around us were doing…I’d like to think I had grown wise with my parenting years and realized that every baby develops at his/her own pace, and that for the most part it all evens out in the end, but in reality I was probably just way too busy and sleep-deprived to notice or care.

Because M’s birthday is only a few days after the twins’, I’ve had a constant measure of development in the back of my mind…whatever developmental milestones he crossed, I would compare his brothers too. He learned to sit up at a Christmas party…were the twins sitting by Christmas? He started walking at a fair the first weekend in June…were the twins walking in June? He was talking a blue streak by winter of his second year…what were the twins saying? In most cases their progress was later than his, but I tried to console myself in the knowledge that he got the undivided attention of two adults, while they had to share those adults with two other kids.

Then, of course, I can hardly avoid comparing them to each other. I’ve noticed an interesting developmental pattern with the two of them, that may also apply to other kids, but is less pronounced than if a genetic carbon copy is developing right along side. One of them (often, but not always, Z) will start working on a new skill—be it talking, walking, potty training—and work on it over days, weeks or months, while the other kind of hangs back. Then suddenly the second twin will leap up to or beyond the level the first had reached, while the groundbreaking one will regress a little. I like to think of it as “punctuated equilibrium”—great leaps of development occur, punctuated by periods of stasis, or waiting.

The same has been the case with representational art. Z had for a long time shown more interest in and propensity for drawing and painting. I did not worry when one blogger’s daughter, who is several months younger than the twins, was drawing “real” pictures last winter, because I knew M drew his first pictures—Mars with a sword, Venus with a flower and Mars fighting a monster (we were listening to Holst’s “The Planets” a lot…ahhh, life with an only child!)—in November when he was three-and-a-half. Last summer, Z drew some pictures that looked like ladders: two vertical straight lines with a lot of horizontal lines connecting them. But E was still scribbling.

November passed and neither of them had progressed to drawing. I wasn’t nervous yet, but stepped up the arts & crafts time at home. Just before Christmas, E came home from daycare with a colored worksheet in the corner of which he drew a sun—a circle with little lines coming out of it. Within a week he drew his first picture—Mama—followed shortly after by one of Papa; and now he has his own style and sits down to draw people everytime the paper and crayons or chalk comes out, and has even penned a few letters (don't you love the E's with lots of lines?).

In the meantime, Z had backed off from his ladder-drawing and became more interested in cutting up paper into little shreds. When we paint, he mixes all the colors together, slops it on the paper and folds the paper up. When we draw, he demands that I draw for him and cries and cries that he can’t create what he wants. I can sympathize with the feeling of having a vision but not being able to realize it, yet I wish he would just let go and try, like E does.

A couple of weeks ago one of the preschool teachers handed me some pictures E and Z had colored and said they’re doing very well with arts and crafts, much better than the other kids. I wasn’t too impressed by this, considering their idea of arts and crafts, and I was annoyed that she had to throw that comparison in. It’s hard enough to not worry about their development when compared side-by-side or against M’s precedent; I don’t want to add the other kids into the mix now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Weekend Warrior

Inauguration Day! Yea! Go-Bama. Don't make me wish I voted for Nader.

I was feeling the need to accomplish something this past weekend (“accomplishmentey” Z would call it). Sometimes I think I'm an accomplishment addict (as opposed to a compliment addict) if I go a period of time, especially at this slow time of year, without something to show for my day (housework doesn't count), I can feel myself sinking toward a deep abyss of misery.

Deodorant—Friday was a mostly wheel-spinning day, but I did manage to whip up a batch of Angry Chicken's homemade deodorant cream. I used tea tree and rosemary essential oils instead of the ylang-ylang and orange that she used, just to be like that old Scope commercial when they were like, “how can it work if it doesn't taste mediciney?” And also that's what I happened to have. Mine came out more like a solid than a cream, so application's a bit complicated, but after a two day test I would say that it works very well and has such a nice smooth, non-chalky texture.

Fuzzy Pants—I've been wanting to make E and Z some fleece pants for about a year, but have been stymied by the fact that I hate cutting out patterns. In fact, to be honest, I don't really like sewing all that much period. I love the dreaming, imagining, planning and assembling of materials, and I love the sense of accomplishment (see above), but the in-between stuff—the work—not so much. I'm totally about product, not process (but I'm working on that—my mindfulness resolution), and the more instant the gratification the better.

I decided that rather than wrestle with a fussy tissue pattern and the incomprehensible instructions, I would try making my own pattern from an existing pair of pants, as is espoused by many Internet craftistas. I have been nervous about this technique, because in high school I tried doing the same thing with a pair of Hawaiian shorts, and the results came out less than desirable (and instead of trying again knowing where I had gone wrong the first time and correcting for it, I mourned the waste of fabric and gave up). I also tried doing the same with my favorite skirt last summer, but I was unaware of the concept of “ease” (that is leave some extra fabric so it's easier to ease it over your big butt) and I failed to notice that my skirt had two little tucks in the my finished product while cute was a little, er, snug, and now with my extra eggnog and chocolate truffle pie pounds...let's just say it's a good thing it's waaay too cold for skirts.

Anyhoo...with temps dipping to 24.9 degrees below zero Friday, I decided these boys need more fuzzy pants. I made a pattern from a pair of bright orange fleece pants that are plenty big on the twins, whipped two pairs out in two hours (including the dreaded cutting) and they turned out great (if a bit heavy in ease)! I used this buttery soft fleece that I bought at the Malden Mills factory outlet many, many years ago (even before M was born)...super soft, super cute.

On The Road
After the boys headed out for a birthday party, I drove to Rockland to visit with two dear friends whom I see all too rarely. We had a great time chatting, gossiping, eating lots of cheesy fried food and drinking Margaritas. Things started to go downhill, though, when the dog started barking in the middle of the night because my car was parked on the street during a snowstorm. My friend JM very kindly went out and moved it to a neighbor's house (I didn't know what happened until the next morning when DB said, "Where's your car?" We passed a pleasant morning, eating, reading, watching J's cute baby O, eating more and then going out into the wet heavy snow for a walk. By the time we returned the snow had become wet heavy rain, and I retrieved my car, bid my adieus and headed home. Once in the car, I peeled off my soaking wet coat and jeans, realizing that if I went off the road they'd find me wearing long johns.

I'm not a huge fan of snow driving—I don't rush out in the middle of a snowstorm for fun like my brother-in-law—but I don't freak out about it either. This was hands-down the worst driving conditions I have ever had to drive through. Despite driving on state roads most of the way, clearly nothing had been plowed recently, if at all—I was driving through six to eight inches of snow the whole way. Thank you state budget cuts! Twice I got stuck on hills and had to back down to the bottom to get back up again. I had to get out frequently to de-ice my windshield wipers, once cracking the windshield with the corner of my scraper. Finally I made it home and got irretrievably stuck in my own driveway.

I walked the rest of the way, thinking, “Why in the f-ing f do we f-ing live in this f-ing god-for-f-ing-sake f-ing state.” Fortunately when I got inside everyone was engaged in turning the crank on the pasta machine so I crawled into bed and waited for the tears and/or vomit which had been threatening for the last two hours to come. I had to question my judgment in attempting such a journey, and in not turning back when I realized how truly bad it was out, in addition to question my judgment in living here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Snow Ice Cream

My kids love to eat snow. Whenever we go outside, it's like throwing piglets in a corncrib. It doesn't matter if the snow has been plowed up with driveway dirt and road salt or has been wedged inside the flap of their boot for an hour; to them crystaline water is a delicacy comparable to Crunchitos.

I have in my photo ablum a picture of me at about their same age doing about the same thing...snow is a cullinary classic that spans the generations. However I do remember my mom's cousin admonishing me when I was not much older than the twins, "Don't eat yellow snow." I probably didn't know what he meant, but from then on the delight of fluffy winter flakes melting on my tongue was forever lost. It was probably wise to not eat snow where I grew up, the flakes having made their way to the ground through the thick haze of the Denver Brown Cloud. It would probably be wise to not eat snow where I live now...the air having made its way across the coal-fired midwest. But I'll be damned if I'm the one to take away this one joy from my kids (but I do urge them to avoid the dirtiest of driveway snow...and the snow that collects inside the wheel wells of my car).

Along these same lines, I've wanted to try snow ice cream, ever since listening to the Free to Be You and Me album when I was a kid, where in "Glad to have a friend like you" they open up the window and scoop in the snow and pour in milk and sugar and ate it (OK I should really have looked up the actual lyrics here, but you get the idea)...but have always been afraid to try.

This weekend I looked in the Playgroup Handbook for January, there was a recipe for ice cream snow, and, handily, all day Sunday it dumped several inches of fluffy white stuff, and Monday, modifying the recipe slightly to reflect our modern aversion to consuming raw eggs, E, Z and I whipped up a batch.

Snow Ice Cream How-To
Step 1

Heat 1 cup cream (you could probably use milk, but what's the fun in that?) on med-low heat until little bubbles appear around the edge. Meanwhile beat 1 egg with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Beat a couple of spoonfuls of hot milk into the egg mixture, then dump it all into the pan, heating and stirring for about a minute until the egg has sufficiently cooked. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Put the custard outside to cool.

Step 2

Go play. 

We walked down to the river and took some pictures. And ate some plain snow as an appetizer.

Step 3
Scoop clean, fresh, fluffy snow into a bowl. I would use about half what you see in this picture...we had too much snow and the outside edges didn't have all the vanilla-ey goodness of the middle.

Step 4

Pour custard over the snow and stir.

Step 5
Eat. We moved inside for this process, because we were already cold and the ice cream was cold, but so yummy--it tastes like really good French vanilla, and it loses the crystalline snow texture and turns into real ice cream. Amazing. We saved some for M and C on the front step. It should be eaten soon though; M left his cupful outside while we went to the pool and when we got back it was a solid ice block.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


As I’ve mentioned before, I store most of my sewing and knitting supplies in the basement, on a couple of sets of rough shelves also occupied by extraneous arts/crafts materials, camping equipment, holiday ornaments, books and random bits of god-knows-what. This area has been in need of attention for some time and got considerably worse as I dug things out and flung them back haphazardly as I worked on my myriad craft projects last month. As much as I’d like to have a room of my own where I can sew, write, do yoga, nap, whatever, with three kids and a two-bedroom house that’s kind of out of the question, so I need to make the space I have work. I determined to get it all organized this weekend, so on Sunday, with fluffy now falling peacefully outside, I faced this:

It took me pretty much all day, and because my method of organizing is like Extreme Free Cell, it got considerably worse before it got better. It didn’t help that after I removed everything off of the shelves and onto the floor and on the bottom few stairs, everyone felt they needed to join in on the action—asking for food, for me to play a game, knocking over stacks of this and that, stomping on patterns as I sorted. C even joined in distractedly wandering among the piles while on the phone, inspecting the skis stored in the rafters overhead—can I tell you how long it’s been since he donned a pair of skis? No, I cannot, because it’s been so long I don’t remember. One of my more interesting (or disturbing/depressing finds): a box of herbs, bot home grown and purchased, from the days when C and I fancied ourselves amateur herbalists, at least ten years old. Did you know that after several years in storage the rubber bulbs on medicine droppers melt into shapeless lumps of black tar? Lovely.

I took a break in the afternoon to shovel the deck and sled with the boys for awhile, but snuck back inside to clear a path before starting dinner. After a few more hours Monday morning, I finally swept up and called it done:

I was worried that my “after” picture would look as bad as my “before” picture, but after scrolling back on the camera I saw that me efforts were not wasted. It doesn’t look like this or this or this or this or this or this, but it is much better. I have a lot to get rid of--bins of cloth diapers and bags of tattered shoes. There is still a big section of shelf that needs to be dealt with—a box of old 3 ½ -inch floppy disks (anyone know how to recycle those?), my entire old tape cassette collection (anyone else have a hard time letting go of those?), and several tubes of posters from my high school and college days, including, if I’m not mistaken, an autographed poster of Greg Louganis and one—not autographed unfortunately—of Johnny Depp from his 21 Jump Street days. If I ever do get my own room, those are so totally going on the walls.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Buy Nothing Year Redux

I’m a little taken aback to think that more than a year has gone by since I made my final rounds of Consumer Hill last December on a last-minute shopping “spree” before embarking on a year of buying nothing new. I meant to write a series of posts early on addressing “Why Buy Nothing” but I never got around to it. It all comes down to too much stuff: too much stuff in my house; too much stuff in my brain; too much stuff in the gross big box stores; too much stuff in the landfills and incinerators and oceans. I wanted to opt out of my contribution to too much stuff. I also wanted to see if I could actually do it…I’m masochistic like that.

In the final analysis, buying nothing is No Big Deal. Admittedly, I wasn’t a purist. I had my exceptions—socks, undies, supplies for making things, one book, and—a later addition to the list—health and safety items. I bought some stuff: an occlusal guard; a fire escape ladder; a book; a few pairs of socks; yarn, knitting needles, fabric, elastic, thread, paint, a crochet hook; lots of used books; used clothes and games for the kids. I bought some paper dolls when we came to the 16th kid birthday of the year (not including my own three children’s birthdays). I bought C a scythe for Father’s Day (the blade from Austria, the snath handmade in Maine), with the thought it was better than him going out and getting a DR Brush mower. As it turned out he neither assembled the scythe nor bought a brush mower and we went into winter with waist-high weeds all around our house (except for the small area of “lawn” we mow with a rotary mower). I bought a few Christmas gifts. I went an entire year without one stitch of new clothing, other than two pairs of socks, some sweaters from a clothing swap, two summery skirts I made myself and some long johns and legwarmers that I got for Christmas.

I didn’t miss it, at all—the shopping. I didn’t miss the big box stores—I took M to K-Mart to buy himself PokeMon cards once, went to Michaels for some supplies for Christmas gift-making, went to Barnes and Noble when my parents were visiting—and I have no desire to walk into an Old Navy or Bed Bath and Beyond ever, ever again. I loved walking into shops in the Old Port when I went to Portland with some friends, or wandering through the tourist shops when my family was visiting, and feeling absolutely no pressure to buy anything (normally I feel guilty walking out of a small shop without spending money). I loved returning to the fold of the library and hopping on the online library catalog and ordering it through interlibrary loan every time I heard of a book, rather than ordering it off Amazon.

Looking forward to 2009, though, I decided to not “buy nothing” again this year. For one thing, I see several purchases on the horizon—when we build beds for the boys, we’ll need to buy mattresses and at least one set of bedding; E and Z will start on bikes in the spring and will need helmets; M and one of the twins will need new life jackets next summer. Arguably these items could be considered health and safety (and I shudder to think of all that additional plastic), but I’m interested to see how I’ll react to my new freedom. Will the Buy Nothing Year have changed me fundamentally (not that I was ever a huge shopper or spender before) or will I go crazy now?

I did not rush out, wallet in hand on New Year’s Day, partly because I had dissipated some of that consumerism through relaxing the rules at Christmas and partly because I had drained my bank account as a result of relaxing the rules at Christmas. I have bought a few things this week, though:

*Some of these cool blank books——I got six blank books for our use at home (I was trying to figure out how to encourage M to use them and not be afraid of all that white paper and decided I’d write each boy a book for Valentine’s day) and for emergency birthday party gifts, 25 blank comic books and five blank puzzles.

*Two books of pentatonic music for the lyre I got E and Z for Christmas (reasoning that the two books are a heck of a lot cheaper than the Music Together class we opted out of this semester); since I was paying shipping and handling anyway, I bought two books for Easter (yeah, I know, bad)

*This movie, which a friend has been urging me to watch, but since we’re the last people on earth using dial-up, we haven’t been able to. I promise to share it around after we watch it.

Not too much of splurge is it? Ideally, I will continue to deliberate carefully over each purchasing decision, choose used over new, local and handmade over mass-produced, and organic over toxic. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Women, Little and Fallen

Thanks to this column and this post, I picked up Little Women at the library last week and read it over the weekend. Although I'm annoyed by Beth's mysterious undiagnosed illness and death (although that probably happened all the time back then...she might have been allergic to wheat), I can't forgive Jo for not falling in love with Laurie, and I found the moralizing a touch heavy-handed, I loved it and couldn't put it down. I can't figure out how I missed reading this when I was would have been the exact thing I loved reading in my pre-teen days and I would have tried (unsuccessfully) to make myself over into the image of the good and pious March girls.

Right now I feel like the sisters were in the first pages...unsatisfied with life, wanting to be someone else. I'm not sure if Pilgrim's Progress would be the cure for me though. Now as a mother I guess I should try to emulate Marmee's unfailing patience and wisdom, but I feel a bit more like Meg who, after marrying Mr. Brooke and having twins virtually disappears from the book's pages except for a chapter showing how she was so involved with her children she was at risk of losing her husband, and when she turns to Marmee for advice learns she should allow her husband to give more of a hand in the nursery, let Hannah watch the kiddies while she catches up with her housework and fix herself up a bit so hubby will still find her attractive. Good advice, no doubt, but I'd rather spend a couple of years in Europe like Amy.

I suppose now I should check out Little Men, since that is what I'm surrounded by at home, but having watched part one of Tess of the D'Ubervilles on Masterpiece Sunday night, I felt compelled to check it out. As I drove to the library last night after work I tried to talk myself out of it because: a) It's embarrassing to read something just because you saw it on TV; b) If Masterpiece's dramatization varied significantly from the book, one or both would be ruined for me; and c) When I have a good book going, I neglect all my other duties and the charges under my care (Marmee would never approve). I decided that reading literature was a noble enough pastime to trump my reasons not to get it and checked it out (in a volume that also includes Jude the Obscure in case I want more), promising myself to read ONLY ONE CHAPTER last night.

I immediately found the story compelling (although my interest had already been piqued by the TV version), and I thought Masterpiece has been true to the depictions of characters and the storyline (so far). I find Hardy's descriptions, especially of people, to be incredibly vivid and (reading as a writer) I love how he sets up the story with an offhand remark by the Pastor setting off a chain reaction of events that (I'm just guessing here) will change the course of (and probably ruin) Tess's life.

As for just reading one chapter...I finally closed the book on the first page of Chapter 10 at 11:00 last much for getting up early!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


The ornaments are packed away in boxes and cans, the tree has made the trek back to the woods whence it came, the candy has been eaten, (the cookies were gone a week before Christmas!), the last box of presents arrived yesterday and tiny packages appeared in shoes this morning. The Christmas records have played their last (although knowing C it will be St. Patrick's Day before he returns them to their dusty home in the basement). The village has been ransacked for the last time. We'll read Christmas Trolls, Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve and The Night Before Christmas one last time tonight before putting all of the Christmas books in the closet and replacing them with more generic winter books. For the next few weeks I'll run across tringlers and trappings; Christmas paraphernalia that I failed to notice on the first dozen runs through the house.

We delivered the last present this morning: This calendar, which I unwisely decided to make for E and Z's daycare when I saw this one at a friend's house. (She didn't help by saying, "You could make one.") It started out kind of fun...the planning part (although I didn't do nearly as much planning as I should have). And then after a series of comical setbacks--running out of thread in the middle of "Korner" and finding the replacement thread was not quite the same color; forgetting the "H" in "weather"--I came to the point of making the days and numbers and months, which I printed onto plain white fabric ironed onto freezer paper with our old printer, because I read on the internets (everything on the web must be true, right?) that this would work, and it did, sort of, except that the pages repeatedly jammed in the printer (which C wisely pointed out barely feeds regular paper) and then a drop of water landed on one and the ink smeared, letting me know way too late that I should have used the pre-treated sheets of fabric for printers (but pre-treated with what?).
As I sewed and turned and stuffed and handsewed dozens of the little thingies, I cursed myself over and over for not just buying the premade calendar in the first place. But by this point it was like one of those Army Corps of Engineer projects where when they get the Environmental Impact Statement saying it will be way too damaging, they've already put so much time and energy and money into it it's too late to turn back and they go forward anyway. (Fortunately I put very little money into this project--I had almost all of the needed materials on hand). When I came to the point of making seasons and weather, I cursed again (what does summer look like anyway)? And then when it was done, looking a little crooked and kind of slanty (maybe I should have used a ruler? and learned how to do freehand embroidery first??) I would have been more than a little disappointed if it weren't for the immense sense of relief that it was done (although more than a week after Christmas). C was admiring enough to say it would be wasted on daycare and we should keep it for ourselves (missing the obvious fact that the name of the daycare is emblazoned across the top), and when we dropped it off this morning they were appropriately rapturous about the whole thing, so either I'm too hard on myself or they're just really nice.

And now, in the post-holiday lull, instead of feeling full and content, I'm feeling edgy and anxious...full of ideas of what do NEXT Christmas, what gifts, what food to make, how to make the 12 days more of celebration time to ward off feelings of letdown, will Goodwill still have the vintage holiday table linens I didn't learn about till New Years? Not exactly being mindful (new year's resolution # 8).
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