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?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Introvert in Winter

I accidentally took this picture of myself the other morning. I was trying to take pictures of winter foliage, but must have hit the reverse button on my camera.


Yesterday I had lunch with a friend. A two-and-a-half hour lunch in which we gossiped, discussed the difficulties of raising one's 80-year-old parents, and agreed that it's always important to carry your needlework with you (needlepoint in her case, knitting in mine) at all times, because you never know when a meeting's going to get boring.

Afterwards, I popped over to see some friends at the nonprofit I volunteer at three or four times a month. The staff consists of two women I adore, one of whom is my age, but single and dating and always has interesting updates on her love life. So, yes, more gossip.

That doesn't sound very introverted, does it--two-hour lunches and popping in on friends after for another hit of talk? Well, of course I was exhausted aftewards--that's the real test of an introvert, isn't it? And I was engaged in what I called Introvert Winter Survival Strategy. When the days look like this:

then it's time to get out and about. I find that one good day of socializing inoculates me against the winter blues for at least two days afterward.

***

I am in a cooking mood. Now, I cook every day, whether I'm in the mood to or not. But when the prospect of chopping an onion strikes me as fun and a little exciting, that's when I know it's about to get interesting in the kitchen. Conversely, when I can't stand even thinking about mincing a garlic clove, then it's time to make a big pot of hearty soup that will carry us through several days. Or else order a pizza.

But right now I'm in a mood. I always love to cook this time of year, and now that I have a new oven AND a new chef's knife (a very scary 8" Wusthuf that I got for Christmas), why, I'm practically Julia Child.

In fact, I'm reading a book about Julia Child right now, called Provence 1970 by Luke Barr. It's about a moment in time when a group of some of the most exciting American cooks and food writers (Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Richard Olney) gathered together in an informal culinary summit. It's lots of fun.

I'm also reading a book I got Jack for Christmas called Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell, a chef at Chez Panisse. Peternell got the idea for the book after realizing his eldest son was about to head off for college and didn't know how to cook the basics. I really got the book for both Jack and me, since I'm not always sure I know how to cook the basics. The recipes are wonderful, and for the first time in my life I can fry an egg with confidence.

This morning I spent thirty minutes in front of my S.A.D. lamp. That also helps keep the winter blues away. What do you do (those of you experiencing winter--I know some of you are in the throes of summer!) to make this time of year not only bearable, but downright enjoyable?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year! Happy New Oven!

So I got a new oven the week before Christmas, which was perhaps the closest thing to a Christmas miracle I've ever experienced.

My old oven--my old, cruddy, much-hated oven--started giving up the ghost in mid-December. The oven itself still worked, but its computerized control panel was slowly losing its way. Instead of turning a dial to set the temperature, you hit numbers on the panel, and one by one the numbers had stopped working, until I was down to 3, 4, 7 and 0.

You can do a lot with a 3, 4, 7 and 0. You can set your oven temperature to 347, which is practically 350, or 374, or 400 or 430. That covers a lot of territory. But every day the threat loomed larger--what if we lost the 3? All would be lost. And Christmas was coming! What if we lost the 3 on Christmas Eve? No Christmas pudding! No Christmas roast beast!

Why not just get a new panel put in? Because the panel for this particular model is no longer made. At some point, somebody at GE realized what a horrible little oven it was and stopped making replacement parts. Can't blame them, really.

Okay, so why not run down to Home Depot and buy a new oven? 1) The old oven was a 27" oven. If I was going to get a new oven, it wasn't going to be a tiny 27" job, and 2) to put in a new, reasonably sized oven, we would need to reconfigure the oven space. Which would mean a carpenter and an electrician and a gas man. Which would mean finding a contractor. Two weeks before Christmas.

Enter the Wood Nymph. Yep, that's his name, and carpentry and contracting is his game. He came over, looked around, said "We can make this happen, and we can make it happen before Christmas." He quoted an entirely reasonable price. He recommended we buy our oven at a local dealer that he liked instead of a big box store. When the local dealer told us he couldn't get the oven we liked to us before December 22nd, the Wood Nymph laughed, made a phone call, and our oven was delivered on the 18th.

Not only that, but the WN's crews--the carpenters, the electricians, the gas guys--all showed up when they said they would. The oven was delivered on time, and the installation crew arrived about fifteen minutes later.

As I said, pretty close to a Christmas miracle.

And what joy to have a new oven! It is a 30" oven, which seems huge to me. I roasted a whole turkey for the first time in seven years, and it was delicious. I baked cookies on standard size cookie sheets. I baked multiple items on multiple racks. I put rolls in the warming drawer and they stayed warm.

It wasn't convenient, of course, to put in a new oven the week before Christmas, or to have work crews in the kitchen the week before that, but doing things this way was almost like ripping off a band-aid--better to be quick and decisive about it. Who knows how long it would have taken us to decide what to do if we'd had a choice about it.

***

New Year's resolutions? Stand up straighter and stretch more (though not always at the same time).

Will gave me a lovely notebook for Christmas, and I'm going to try to use it as a daybook, where I record what we ate for dinner, and maybe one or two things about the day (worked on a quilt, walked the dog, etc.). I did this once many years ago, keeping up the practice for a couple of months. It was neat to have a record of the small things that don't merit a journal entry and are easily forgotten. We'll see how I do this year.

Here are the things I want to focus on this year: dailiness and showing up. Sometimes when I think about the time that may or may not be left to me--let's say thirty years, bar accident or illness--I get a panicky feeling. That's hardly any time at all! But if I take it one day at a time, paying attention to the day at hand, why, it's practically an eternity.

***

The quote the Wood Nymph gave us included new countertops and backsplashes, a project we'll get started on in the next couple of weeks. What's you advice on the best sort of (reasonably priced) countertop? We're having a hard time deciding, and I'd love some input!