Friday, May 15, 2015

Various and Sundry

The Big Star Quilt

If you scroll down to the bottom of my blog list, you'll see the names of the disappeared. These are bloggers who blogged for a time, whose blogs I loved, and who one day stopped blogging. It happens, but sometimes it feels like you've lost a friend. I feel especially this way about Dulce Domum at Bread and Roses. Fortunately, she's left her blog up, though she stopped blogging over two years ago, so I can go back and re-read from time to time. I know several of you who regularly read this blog once read Bread and Roses, too. Does anyone keep in touch with Dulce? Have an email for her? I keep hoping she'll come back. I wonder how she's doing.


I myself have not been a constant presence this year. I think the more invested I am in home and hearth, the more time I spend blogging. This has not been my most domestic year so far, though I'm hoping that will change.

We're finally getting the garden put in. Of course, the can't-live-without tomatoes went in at the proper time, because we don't mess around with tomatoes. But I'm just getting around to the zucchini and butternut squash and the herbs. I bought a few new perennials for the flower garden--phlox and coneflowers--and today I picked up the bedding plants, mostly my beloved marigolds, but a Dianthus plant and some portulaca as well.

What I have been doing that has kept me from gardening? Writing mostly. I finished a draft of a novel and a big grant proposal for the nonprofit I volunteer with. I made the quilt pictured above. The piecing took a weekend; the quilting took forever. I've been reading lots of books about quilt history, which I grow increasingly more interested in.

I'm taking a break from the writing and the grants to try to gain some control over the house. I have plans to spend a lot of time this summer painting. Paint is relatively cheap and covers a lot of ills. I have a long list of big projects I want done, but can't afford this very minute, and probably won't be able to afford for awhile. But I can afford paint, and I can afford to make curtains for the upstairs bathroom. That will have to do for the time being.


I'm reading a couple of books right now that touch on fasting. One is Thoughts Matter by Mary Margaret Funk, a Benedictine nun, and the other is Awakening to Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove, one of the founders of the New Monastics movement. Funk writes that fasting isn't necessarily going without food, but eating in a way that is ordered and mindful. Gluttony, she writes, "is the pattern of of eating indiscriminately with no thought of how this food is feedingi [one's] spiritual life." She writes about the "original order" of things as being "friendly, natural, organic, relational, whole and simple." I like that very much.

Hartgrove lives with his family and others in a impoverished neighborhood about five miles from my house. One day a week, the members of his household fast until dinnertime. Fasting, he writes, "is not a denial of food's goodness, but rather a joining of ourselves with God's longing that there might be food enough for everyone in a world that's been redeemed." Later, he says, "By way of fasting you come face-to-face with the truth that eating points to: you are a dependent creature, and you do well to remember it."

This week I've been trying to be ordered in my eating. This is hard for me in the late afternoon, when I'm tired and bored. I've been eating a piece of fruit and a couple of Wasa Crisps with Laughing Cow cheese spread on them. That's it until dinner. It's hard for me, but I like Funk's idea of food taking its rightful place in the order of things. I like the idea that there is an order of things.


A busy weekend ahead. Will has a baseball game tonight, and tomorrow I've got a haircut and Jack has a dinner party (!). One of his friends is turning sixteen, and she and her family have invited a group of friends to have dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Jack turned sixteen himself recently. We bought him and two of his friends tickets to see some bands in Raleigh, and apparently they had a big time. Now Jack has started playing electric guitar. I don't think he knows it's my electric guitar (I don't play it much) that he's playing. That would drain the cool out of things pretty quick, don't you think?

Then on Sunday, Will is going to a birthday party at a laser tag site about twenty-five minutes away from here. I'm looking forward to the end of birthday parties, at least the kind that involve me spending my afternoons driving back and forth all over town.

I'm going to work in the garden this weekend, do some cleaning in the garage and maybe even wash my car. Good times, ladies, good times!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy Belated Mother's Day!

We don't make a huge, big deal about Mother's Day around here--no Sunday brunch at a fancy restaurant, no profusions of flowers. Usually Mother's Day consists of me taking a day off from chores and the boys being extra sweet. The Man makes dinner, the boys give me some presents, and it's all good.

Yesterday was different, because I had signed up to help with Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) at church. IHN is a program that helps homeless family transition into jobs and housing. These families aren't chronically homeless--typically, the head of the family (almost always a single mother) has been laid off from her job or has recently moved into the area and hasn't been able to find a job. She has skills, she has the will, she's just had some bad luck. IHN helps by offering temporary housing in churches and synagogues with sleeping facilities and providing meals, transportation and job training.

My co-host at last night's dinner was Amie, a woman who attends our IHN partner church and had her 5 year-old daughter Jane with her. Amie, like the women we would be hosting that evening, is a single mom. She has a good job and good support systems in place, but even so, single parenting isn't easy under the best of circumstances, and she felt a strong connection to the moms we ate with last night.

It felt good to take care of moms who don't get a lot of love. Amie, bless her heart, brought each of the three mothers big, sparkly  Mother's Day cards and gift bags. We watched the kids, served up ham and mac and cheese and banana pudding, and did the dishes. The moms, who have been traveling together from church to church for several weeks now and have bonded, sat back and relaxed or took naps.

When Amie and I were cleaning up, we talked about how for so many mothers, Mother's Day isn't a happy occasion. This led to a conversation about families in commercials, especially around the holidays. For a single parent, it's painful to watch image after image of traditional families gathering together. But what surprised Amie is when I said I thought those commercials were painful for a lot of people, just not single mothers. Our families, being human, are flawed. We all think we're doing this parenting thing wrong--and then sure enough, there's that perfect TV family proving our point.

Our discussion made me think that maybe what mothers should do on Mother's Day is gather with other mothers and tell our stories. Talk about the good stuff and the bad stuff. No bragging, just truth-telling. We can drink champagne and wear tee shirts that say "Every Day is Mother's Day" and give each other flowers. We can take care of each other, like good mothers do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hurrah for April!

It's morning and I should be writing, but the kitchen guys are here, putting shelves in the cabinet. Travis, scary watchdog that he is, is barking. The pneumatic nail driver is driving nails.

Not really a great morning for developing a coherent narrative.

So hello! Last time we spoke, I had a bug, but the bug is gone. Last week was the week where I did all the work I should have done during the week of the bug, but didn't. Plus, I did two school visits. One of the visits included doing a writing workshop with eighth graders. Eighth graders in spring time are not your most enthusiastic group. They're ready to move on, and besides, middle-aged visiting writers look like their parents. They no longer like their parents. Really, I should put in my contract: No eighth graders after February.

I finally got them excited by getting them to think like film directors rather than writers. Everybody, even eighth graders in spring, wants to direct. They wrote some good, funny scenes. We talked about how writers need to look, really look, at what's around them. Then I blessed them and sent them on their way.

Never again.

Anyhoo, this week has been a little more normal, except for the kitchen guys showing up today and the fact that tomorrow the Man and I are heading over to Eli Whitney, NC, to make a video. It's the 84th Annual Uncle Eli's Quilting party. Here's the story:

It's a very cool event, and we're documenting it for the Folklife organization where I'm a volunteer. Yay, I'm a documentary filmmaker! That would have never happened in March.

It looks like spring is springing. And April is here. Thank goodness! March was a long, long month. It was my least favorite month of 2015. I'm looking for favorite months from here on out, each month better than the last.

Okay, kitchen guys gone. Back to work!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Quick Hello

So you know how last week I was all over it? I was organizing and eating right and changing my life by not really changing my life?

This week I have a bug. Or maybe it's a combination of bugs. Plus allergies. Or maybe it's just one, cruddy, pernicious bug.

I hate bugs.

But it always seems to happen. I get organized and energized and I'm on a roll, when all of the sudden, splat! I hit a wall.

Oh, well. I've gotten a lot of reading done so far this week, and guilt-free reading (i.e. reading on the couch all afternoon long) is a treat. I finished A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, which I liked very much, and Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy, which was fantastic, though sad. Yesterday I read August Wilson's play The Gem of the Ocean. I'm trying to finish his whole Century Cycle this year. I've already read Joe Turner's Come and Gone and Fences. Next up: The Piano Lesson.

I hope I'm all better by Sunday, because I'm doing a charity walk for hunger. I've wanted to do this walk for a long time, but I hate asking people for money. So this year I came up with this great plan: I emailed all my local friends and asked them to pledge $5 each. My reasoning was, whenever I get asked to pledge for somebody's 5K or fun run or whatever, I never know how much to pledge--what's too much? What's too little? Also, I always think I should pledge $25, but I can't afford to pledge $25 for every charity event in town.

But if someone said, pledge five bucks, I'd be like, you bet! Happy to! So that's what I decided to ask my friends for. And most of the people I emailed emailed back and said, you bet! Happy to! One friend pledged ten dollars, and another friend pledged $50 (!). So my pledges are adding up.

I guess that's it. I hope you're feeling okay and don't have this bug that's going around. Or spring allergies. I ran into my friend Mel this morning; I was walking Travis and he was walking his crazy Boxer Cricket and a neighbor's dog, Abbie. Mel felt terrible. He's in his late sixties, and usually he's healthy as a horse. His goal is to run a marathon in every state, and he's getting close. But today he was dragging. Alleriges. Sinus. The bug. Poor guy.

So stay away from Mel! And stay well!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Me Again

My basket of yo-yos. One day, when I have around, oh, 500 or so of these suckers made, I'll sew them into a quilt.

Look at me, a twice-a-week blogger! Sometimes I think (speaking of habits, as I was earlier) I  should blog every day, because it can be easier to do something daily than to do it sporadically. Who knows; maybe I will.

I appreciated all the comments on my last post (especially all the nice comments about my quilt--thank you!). Heather brought up something I've thought about a lot:

I feel as if I go through most of my days noticing what needs to be changed and thinking about how to make those changes. Thinking and doing are two different things, though. Then I start to think, "What's so wrong with me that I think I need to change anything? Isn't the way I live the way I'm most comfortable and the essence of who I really am?" 

I wonder about that, too. Obviously, there are changes that really should be made--dealing with addictions, changing eating habits that are detrimental to good health, taking up exercise if you're sedentary--but like Heather I sometimes wonder why I can't just be who I am. My habits are formed around my likes, dislikes, tendencies, weirdnesses, passions, etc. What are the odds of me changing my essential personality?

All this to say, it is possible the bathrooms in my house will never be really, thoroughly cleaned more than once a month. I need to face that.


I have made some changes in my life very recently, and I'll be interested to see if they stick. First, I've given up dieting forever. I'm over it. Instead I am embracing the food I love, which is for the most part good old hippie food--grains, fruits and vegetables, hummus, tabouleh, beans and rice. And absurdly dark chocolate (honest--the other day I bought a bar of 99% dark chocolate and I LOVE it). Horrifying, huh?  Well, if you've been on the low-carb bandwagon over the last few years, as I have, then yeah, it's pretty scary. My carb count has gone through the roof since I put on that first pot of quinoa. But I'm very happy at every meal and have lost half a pound.

Secondly, I've taken up yoga. I've been to two classes this week, and I loved them. I love all that stretching. I don't feel half as goofy as I thought I would. I've discovered my balance is for the birds, but I hope that will change.

Why make these changes? In some way, to quote Heather, to get to the essence of who I really am. I am an eternally chubby middle-aged woman who loves complex carbohydrates and stretching. I will give up counting calories and obsessing over my weight, and in exchange for that freedom, I will exercise and dance and take a lot of walks.

We'll see how this works out.


Having said all that, where are we on decluttering? I'm still all for it. In her comment, Nancy advised, Continue on with the decluttering because when you are one generation older than you are presently, it will be a godsend. 

That's on my mind, and also the fact that one day we'll move out of this house. It's too big for just me and the Man by ourselves. I'd rather work on getting rid of stuff now than to wait. And Marie Kondo promises that once you do a thorough decluttering, you'll never have to do it again. Or even tidy. Everything will stay in place and be joyful and perfect forever.

Well, that's a hard deal to pass up, now isn't it?

Besides, I agree with Jo's comment: We really don't need all this stuff.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Coming Out of Hibernation

Finished the Mosaic quilt! After three years, it's finally done.

I know, I know--it's been ages. And I don't know why I haven't been posting, other than not feeling motivated. I've been unmotivated about any number of things in 2015. Certainly cleaning my house tops the list. How glad I am that you're not here to investigate the nooks and crannies and corners of my house! Cobwebs! Fingerprints! Little bits of paper, strands of thread, dust and more dust!

And on my nice yellow bedroom rug (see above)? A footprint. Mine, by the size of it, and it won't wash out. What did I step in? Was it the nicely-scented cream I use, imprinted now forever on my floor? I just don't know.

It's funny; I just went over to Gretchen Joanna's blog, and there's a selection of quotes about habits. That's exactly what I've been thinking about lately. When you're fifty, can you break life-long habits? I quit smoking seventeen years ago, and I've always felt like if I could kick nicotine, I could kick anything. Over the past few years, I've more or less kicked sugar (I still eat it, but not four or five times a day, not even daily, and usually only in the form of very dark chocolate). That's another big one.

But can I kick the way I keep house, which is to say, haphazardly? Making piles of stuff instead of getting rid of it? Squinting as I pass through certain rooms so I can't see the messes, big and little? Not replacing what needs to be replaced when it needs replacing?

Well, I'm trying. On the advice of my friend Amy, I bought The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Earlier this afternoon, I went through my drawers and closets and tossed everything that doesn't bring me joy (everything you have should bring you joy, according to Kondo), except perfectly fine underwear and my gym clothes. Then I went into the boys' rooms and put all their tee shirts on their beds and asked them to get rid of any that they don't wear. (All discarded clothing still in good shape will be donated, of course).

Kondo's advice for decluttering is: clothes first, then books, paper and finally miscellany. I was relieved she doesn't want me to start in the attic; my spirit has been broken too many times that way.

BUT even before you start, you need to have an idea of what kind of lifestyle you're aiming for and why. I'm not a lifestyle kind of person, but I know that I would like my home to be clean and comfortable and--I don't know if I can explain the third thing. The word that comes to mind is "light." As in "lightness." As in "nothing weighing me down." I feel weighed down by stuff.

Mostly I feel weighed down by stuff I'm not crazy about. That's why I like Kondo's emphasis on only having things around you that fill you with joy. I have those things, but I have a lot of stuff that's old or worn-out, stuff that worked in our old house, or worked for us when the boys were younger, but now just feels junky and not what I want.

So I'm going to try this Japanese art of decluttering. I'm not done with clothes yet, though I filled two garbage bags this afternoon in under thirty minutes. I still have to do shoes and coats and handbags. I don't have one jacket that I really love. I think I should get rid of all my jackets that I half-love and buy one fabulous jacket that I'll wear for years, don't you?

Can we really change ourselves in middle age? What do you think? What's the biggest change you've made as an adult?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Gloomy January

I'm in the process of quilting this mosaic quilt. I should be done in another ten, fifteen years.

It only takes two or three gray days tied together before you start thinking that this is the gloomiest winter we've had in years. But the fact is, a blue sky winter is the exception to the rule in these parts. Last winter was gray, and so was the one before that (or at least that's how I remember it now).

Really, the only way to get through this time of year is by the judicious yet generous sprinkling of treats throughout the day and week. Peppermint tea when you're feeling dull and listless is always uplifting. Buying used, out-of-print books online for two dollars is nice because you get the thrill of buying something without a huge expense, and you get the fun of anticipating mail. I also recommend interlibrary loans for putting a little pep into your step, especially of expensive art books.

I try to have lunch with friends at least once a week and spend an afternoon over at the fun nonprofit where I volunteer. And unless it's pouring down rain, I get outside with Travis once a day. Together, we survey the neighborhood. Lots of things are beautiful in winter, especially red mailboxes. Who looks at a red mailbox in summer? Nobody except the postman. But in winter, a red mailbox is the belle of the ball.


I'm pleased to report that Jack seems to be 30% less cranky these days. He'll be sixteen in a couple of months, and a friend of mine with older children told me that hers came out of their adolescent funks toward the end of their sophomore years in high school (come to think of it, so did I). I'm sure it helps that Jack is swimming three times a week--nothing like a burst of endorphins to boost your mood. But I also think he's just getting older and a little bit happier.

You know what that means, right? Will is a pill. Yep, sweet Will is a thing of the past. Oh, he resurfaces now and again, mostly on weekends, but Will 2.0 pretty much resents and resists any parental interference in his life. Great. I think I'd almost convinced myself that since Jack's was cranky even before puberty set in, we'd get a pass with Will. Illusion shattered. Lord, help get me through the next three and a half years.


Both boys just got their report cards. Jack got straight A's (yay!), and Will got all A's and B's. I asked Will last week if he thought he could get straight A's if he tried, because I certainly thought he could. He said, "Yeah, but the kids I know who get straight A's study for two hours a night, and I don't want to study that hard."

It's hard to argue with that, and I didn't. Will is one of the most well-rounded people I know. He's bright and creative and a good athlete. He has lots of friends and can talk to anyone (though like the rest of this tribe, he's an introvert and gets out of sorts if he has to socialize too much). While I'd love for him to get straight A's one quarter just so he knows that he can, I can't bring myself to insist on it. He's a good kid. If he stays out of trouble, he'll do fine whatever his path ends up being.

The Man and I did have an interesting talk about internally v. externally motivated people, and how Jack is one and Will is the other. If I told Will we'd get him a smart phone if he got all A's, you can bet he'd have a perfect report card next quarter. But when Jack brought home spottier grades in middle school, no amount of bribery could get him to work harder. Once he was in high school though, he decided he wanted to be a straight A student, and he is. The Man and I have absolutely nothing to do with it.


As I write this, I'm looking out over my backyard garden, which is covered in black plastic. Although the winter has been gloomy and rainy, it hasn't been too terribly cold, which means the sturdier grasses and weeds just keep growing. Covering up the ground is a good way to save yourself a lot of work come spring. But while I'm glad I won't have to spend two weeks in March redigging all my garden beds, a black plastic-covered yard doesn't actually make you want to break out in song.

However, thinking about gardens does, and it's almost time to get planning. I'm sticking to tomatoes and basil this year, I think, plus flowers. What else does a girl need?