Christmas making 2013, part 2

a grown-up doll for my grown-up niece

My Waldorf doll technique is improving, as demonstrated by this doll I made for my niece, complete with a cute little button nose. Dan says all the dolls I make in the future should have cute button noses. I also seem to be getting a bit faster sewing on the hair. All this bodes well for any girls who might invite us to birthday parties in the future. Unless it's a baby's party, in which case I might have to make blocks.

Yes that's a full bag of feed in the background. For ambiance and also because we didn't put it in the basement yet.

These blocks are part of an ongoing investigation of mine titled: What Can I Make from Chicken Feed Bags? So far it's just been bibs, tote bags, and now blocks, but I have some more ideas if I get really creative in the new year. Meanwhile, these blocks were super fun to make, because I got to use the serger on plastic which makes a VERY. LOUD. SOUND. If you have feed bags of your own (or vinyl from another source) here are the instructions: cut 6 equal size squares, serge all the edges, sew it on the regular machine in the shape of a block. Leave one side open, stuff with stuffing, sew up the last side. I know, right? Rocket science.

fun to stack and to topple

Last but not least (especially not least in terms of time spent) were the hand woven dish towels.

better than regular rags

These were supposed to be my crowning glory this Christmas, but I'm not totally in love with the way they turned out. Because I tried to make them as thick as possible, and because I'm limited by the number of heddles on my loom, each dish towel turned out a bit narrower than standard dish towel size. Also the cotton shrunk a bit in the wash, so the length now leaves something to be desired as well. Still Dan assures me they are the loveliest hand woven dish towels he's ever seen, and I have more cotton to string the loom again. Just as soon as I get new years cleaning out of the way.

There is a part of me that is glad Christmas is over for another year. I have a list of things I was putting off until after Christmas, (switch health insurance plan, clean laundry room, sort and wash the baby clothes) and now I can use my free moments to tackle these life-organization projects head-on. Not that I like de-cluttering any better than I like making things, it's just that TOO MUCH making things swings the pendulum in one direction and awakens the cleaning monster within. And now that the beast is fully awakened I cannot imagine crafting one more thing until the house is perfectly livable again, down to a freshly sorted drawer of newborn onesies. Sorted onesies, stacked tupperware, and then maybe we can get to weaving again. It's going to be a busy January.


today's snow

Blizzardy snow all day kept us from going out to lunch with Grandma and Grandpa and cousin Nisia (the draw for Harvey and Zion... I suppose I'd talk to my brother), which was disappointing. But at least the weather gave the boys a chance to use their new Christmas snow shovels, which appeared under the tree this morning, and for Harvey to show off his ability to get all his snow gear on himself. That's important since, come March, he's going to be totally on his own; how else will be able to manage with more kids than parents?! Another sign of snow-related maturity was that, after his friend rubbed a pile of snow into his face, he was able to recover with only a little bit of crying and whining.

Overall, Harvey's cold tolerance is really impressive. This afternoon it was in the single digits with a fierce wind and fine blowing snow and he was more than happy to be outside for over an hour, even after he got snow down his collar and on the inside of his hat's ear flaps. In fact, he spent the last 10-15 minutes of the afternoon's outside time (his second session of the day) sitting on the ground eating snow. I know I've remarked on this before, but I can't help but marvel. He doesn't even seem to be getting much frostbite, the bane (I'm told) of my own snow-eating career at a similar age. Maybe next winter will see him expeditioning in the Alaskan wilderness.

For my part I'm working hard to make sure that I can keep up with him. Despite the blizzard warning hysteria I headed off to the first work day of the new year on the bicycle; with cold temperatures and fine snow I'd rather ride than drive, and the commute today was beautiful. The trip home was kind of slow thanks to three or four inches of snow on the trail, but wonderfully relaxing and pleasant except for comments from walkers. I got two, which is a new development: does that mean that the weather was more extreme than any I've yet cycled in? I can't think so. I think it's just that, when things were even worse, nobody was out walking! I was a little peeved initially, but on reflection I think I'll take "wow... more power to ya, pal" as spoken in the spirit of genuine encouragement and admiration.

We're looking forward to playing in the snow some more when it finally stops falling tomorrow (or Saturday, whatever), and to our rescheduled lunch date too. The regular running of the world is cancelled, so we'll have plenty of time!


more 2013 review

I know I'm late to the year-end review party—I should be posting resolutions and looking to the future!—but Leah left out some important points in her own look back at the year that was. Here are a few more things that we did.

  • Painted the house! I don't know how she forgot that one, especially since it took me just about the whole year.
  • Got bees.
  • Didn't go to barbers (I thought of that one this evening as I was admiring myself in the mirror; Leah gives good haircuts!).
  • Grew wonderful garlic, plenty of tomatoes, and more butternut squash than we can eat in a winter (and lots of other things too).
  • Started a small group.
  • Made lots of new friends, and hung out lots with our old ones.

We also did a lot of swimming in the summer and took a lot of outings generally, and read about a million books, and made lots of things. We left Massachusetts twice, which is once more than our usual average. I got a new job in addition to my old job; I have two now! (though somehow this doesn't result in twice as much money). All in all, it was a wonderful year. In fact, I think the only area we fell short was in blogging: with just 198 entries, this year was the least written about since 2008 and the second most sparse in our almost ten years of writing this stream of self-absorbed commentary. Ah well, it's nice to leave something to improve on for the new year!


an argument in favor of more cold

frost on the window pane

no fancy window pane designs, just lots of ice

It's been cold here. Like, single digits: positive single digits yesterday, and then this morning, when I went out to give the chickens water, negative single digits. And I love it! I've already written at some length about some of my reasons (see this post for example), but there are a few additional ideas that have come to me lately.

One factor that I don't think I've mentioned before is my desperate panicked fear of change. That comes into play because, once winter is upon us, I don't want to give up one bit of our precious snow. And it doesn't even have to be above freezing for it to melt! 25° and sunny sees drips from the roof ind icicles forming—but 15° and below we're safe from anything like that. When it's winter I want the snow to pile up and up and up, a sentiment that I share with Harvey. Luckily we have plows to simulate the experience for us.

Dan, Harvey, and Zion climbing a giant mountain of snow

photo by Mama, who is sensible

With a little bit of time Harvey and I could turn that into a killer snow cave.

The other great thing about the cold is that it keeps the salt from working on the roads. I hate salt on the roads. On the highways maybe, but it could also be that nobody really needs to get anywhere that fast. When I see puddles of water on the road in 20° weather I wonder if all that salt can really be good for local plant and animal life. Of course, I already know it's murder on my car and bicycle; and the ubiquitous gray slush that piles up at the sides of the road (and then, pretty soon, everywhere else) is about the most disgusting stuff I have to deal with all year. No wonder so many Bostonians feel they don't like snow, when it's yucky and gray so much of the time. But not at 4°! This is what the roads looked like yesterday:

the intersection of South Road and Railroad Ave, with snow covering the pavement

no slush to be seen

I wouldn't have taken that corner at 25 miles per hour, but at a regular, calm rate of speed the traction was just fine. People were certainly driving fast enough, anyways! Ah, I wish it could always be like that, after ever storm.

And then there's the skating. New Years Day, after a wonderful brunch with friends, we stopped by Arlington's Spy Pond. With the snow in the forecast I wanted to get a chance to play on the ice before it all got covered, and play we did! (And then on the playground too). Our ice is too infrequently useful: either thin, soft, or absent entirely, or else covered with snow. If it stayed cold all winter the snow would blow off the big ponds and would be easy to sweep from small ones, and then everyone would be happier: who doesn't enjoy an evening on the ice?!

skaters silhouetted by the setting sun on the frozen Spy Pond

calm before the snow

Really, if it weren't for wanting to grow vegetables, I'd like it to be winter year round. Yay winter!


twelfth night

Christmas is over.; we took down the tree this evening. I wasn't sure it was going to make it, given its shaky beginnings, and another near fall Friday evening had us planning to be done with it Saturday. But circumstances did not permit, so we ended up going the official twelve days after all. And despite being a little crooked, it looked great up until the end.

Taking everything off was a little sad; when Zion came in after I had removed the lights he said, "hey! the tree is off! Turn it back on!". We really enjoy Christmas in this house, as you may have noticed. But even endings have their happy benefits: for example, the boys were delighted to get to eat the popcorn garland they made from stale popcorn not quite a month ago (they were kind enough to save some to put out for the birds). More usefully for the rest of us, the room the tree lived in—which is now, as of about a year ago, called the playroom—now seems wonderfully spacious.

Not everything of the tree is gone. We cleaned up many of the fallen needles, but maybe 2,000 or so are still around until our next pass with the vacuum (Harvey and Zion did most of the vacuuming this evening, which was nice). But there's enough lack of tree to get us thinking about the next big festival event. What'll that be, I wonder. A new baby?


mis-spelled missives from the past

Last week I moved every single item in my cold dirty laundry room in order to find a wise men playmobile set my mother-in-law bought the boys for Christmas last year. I had put it in the basement because the boys were fighting over the pieces, while also asking me every ten seconds to adjust or locate all the little tiny crowns / gold pieces. We had all forgotten about the toy until a few weeks ago when Grandma asked after it, found out I'd put it in the basement, and then informed me that children are denied an essential part of childhood if they can't throw tantrums over gold plastic coins 1/16 inch in diameter. So while I sorted through the baby clothes down there I also sorted through the toys to find the wise men. Sure enough, the boys immediately started fighting over the pieces and asking me to open and close the treasure chest over and over and over again.

At least I like being right. The next day the wise men went live at Grandma's house.

Meanwhile, I found something that I thought had been already land-filled, a set of diaries I wrote starting when I was 11 years old and ending my sophomore year in college. I remember wanting to throw these away, but worrying about them being discovered by some future archeological team mining a landfill. But after cleaning out my Grandmother's apartment this week I now have more fear of someone in my immediate family coming across such a journal. My childhood self could easily tarnish the adult reputation I've spent years building.

So throw them away immediately! But.... can I really throw them away without READING them? Oh, it's ever so tempting. Plus, if I start reading them, can I really read them without SHARING them? At least sharing some choices funny bits that I curate through the lens of my adult blogging self?

No, this needs to be some sort of blogging project.

So here it begins, a little new years treat for all of you: diary entries starting 20 year ago.

Book 1: the pink diary with hearts on the cover.

This book starts on 4/15/93, with the end of a middle-school relationship that is too embarrassing to excerpt. More embarrassing, however, is my terrible spelling! "Twice" spelled with an "s," "since" spelled with an initial "c." Along I find a very holistic spelling of a certain swear word:

I want to have anouther party. Every-body thinks it would be a good idea. Except 2 people; my parents. They are Ass-wholes.

Oh God, I am so sorry parents. If I knew how badly I was executing this cussing out I would have never committed it to print.

Also, Dan was happy to hear that I he was the best dancer at my 12th birthday party. But the entry on 5/6/93 reveals that while I was starting to "like" Dan, "he's not the kind of person you would go out with." Apparently that is why our marriage mostly involves sitting around the house. Also in this entry I eat "french tost."

And that's all that's worth sharing of the pink diary. THANK GOD it's going in the trash today. Only 5 books to go!


my adolescent diary continued

Diary #2: a blue brocade cover with silver flowers.

This diary starts the summer before 8th grade and ends the following spring. Its contents are noticeably darker than that of the first diary, which still had youthful enthusiasm mixed in with childish outrage and atrocious spelling. This second diary, however, seems more bored and angst-ridden.

I think a lot about death and sex and getting old and how I shouldn't think about it.

Yes, Leah, that is what you are like: helplessly brooding and self-loathing about it. I would like to say this changes some day, but all I can say is that by the time you hit 30 you won't think about sex so much anymore.

The events I chose to write about in 1994 read like a more sad, more boring Jane Austin novel. I am meticulous about describing the weekly parties I attended: who was there, what we did, and what awful social predicament I got myself into. On one hand the events appear to be normal fun teenage hanging out: baking cookies, listening to music, playing truth or dare. The way I tell it, however, these actual events merely serve as the back-drop for a complicated emotional play. In the world of my diary, heaven and hell hang on the balance of who likes me and whether or not we will make out.

About the details of sexual exploration I am all at once blase, naive, and terrified. I want people to like me, I want to like physical experiences, but I don't quite know what to do when these explorations leave me feeling used or profoundly grossed out. I describe the boy who "kissed like a cwezenart" (good use of phonetic spelling, I might add) and the description might bring up laughter if it didn't also conjure the very real memory of panic. "It was like he was going to eat me alive," I write. Not only were 13-year-old boys bad kissers, but in my mind they were werewolves: sometimes human, sometimes frighteningly out of control.

Of course, for the diary I also tried to play it cool. After a detailed description of the guest list to my birthday party I write:

Hilights of year 13:
The Earth didn't crash into the sun.

And then a diatribe about who likes me at this moment and what I might have to fear from his sexual appetite. Written in the most boring prose possible.

What am I to say about this small artifact of my personal history? Was my adolescence inconsolably terrible? Was I merely "fronting" for the posterity of the written word? Was the diary (like the blog sometimes is) a sounding board to air out unpleasant emotions so I could be happier in my general life?

Who's to say? I don't know if I can really bring myself to care whether my adolescence was pleasant or not. When I think back on this time I can remember plenty of lovely moments. I remember watching Dan walk down the street towards my house and feeling my heart leap in my chest without quite knowing why. I remember an accidental touch of his hand sending electric current through my body all the way down to my shoes. I remember the hair in his face, oh God the hair always in his face, and how he tossed his head to the side to flip it out of the way — my stomach gets queasy even at the memory. But these are feelings that are difficult to describe, perhaps too sacred, and certainly not meant for the lexicon of a 13 year old girl where there is only "like" or "sucks" and "love" is a concept too scary.

And yet over time and tainted by my current perspective, these are the sweet things I remember while everything else fades away. The slights, the confusion, the cuisinart kissers, let these be forever forgotten. This is the reason I wanted to dispose of these diaries in the first place. I want the pleasant firsts to remain in my memory while the difficulty of growing up to be ever hurled on the trash heap of cognition.


winter eating

a slice of quiche on a plate

home-grown home cooking

I didn't grow enough for us to survive on all winter. Sure we have tomatoes left, canned and frozen both, but that's only because Leah hasn't been able to eat them. We did alright with garlic and haven't bought any since the harvest, but we're down to our last clove now. And never mind the rest of the stuff: all long gone. Thank heavens for civilization. I did, though manage to grow us some parsnips, which are wonderful storage crops, and while we're not eating them they're storing wonderfully down in the cellar. Yesterday evening I decided to bring some up and cook them into a quiche.

I didn't come up with the idea myself; I had seen a recipe somewhere, but couldn't find it when I went looking again. So I searched online and came up with this version, put online by the fine folks at a community garden in Dover, New Hampshire. It came out fine: parsnips are wonderful sweet addition to an egg pie. Of course, while the parsnips and the garlic for the quiche were ours, the eggs were from Chip-In, since our hens aren't laying in all this cold and dark. And the corn was from a can, boo.

Besides the parsnips, garlic, and tomatoes—oh, and some pickles too—we also still have lots of butternut squash. Here's a picture of how many we had around the middle of November, after eating a few and giving a few more away.

a bushel basket of butternut squash, with one big one in front

many pounds

Mostly we make soup with em. The night before last I made soup and used up the last big onion we grew (and by "big" I mean "regular-sized"), but that doesn't count because we've bought many many onions in between harvest and now... we just happen to have been all out of the store kind when I went to look for one. I also made one squash pizza, and some plain mashed squash. But with all that bounty sitting there on the counter, we really need to broaden the repertoire! Squash curry, maybe?

This afternoon I asked the boys, "If we had a farm, what would you like to have on it?" Harvey didn't take long at all to answer, "tomatoes!" Zion said, "animals," and when pressed for details offered, "chickens... and horses and cows." Harvey is the one who's on my side here, clearly! As a reward I told him I'd give him even more space to grow in But they both enjoyed posing with the squashes back in November: here's Harvey with the biggest one and Zion with the smallest. They were being very silly and the light was low; this is the best picture out of many.

Harvey and Zion posing holding squashes

the main problem was that Zion wouldn't hold his still; Harvey didn't have much choice!

Oh I know! What about a squash pie—like a pumpkin pie, but with squash? Any other ideas?


Diary #3: the one where the cover says 'day dreams' for some reason

There is a gap in the journals where I apparently don't write my freshman year of High School. The next book picks up mid-way through my sophomore year in 1997. This is the first diary that seems to be written by an adult-sounding Leah whom I recognize to be myself, or at least a more emotional and clothing-shedding version of myself. I flew through the reading because I was so engaged in my own story. My own VERY RACY story.

June 13, 1997
In the darkness I was waiting for him to touch me, and he did. But very slowly and hesitantly. We lay on the bed for almost a half hour, testing how intimate we could become. It started off slowly and it took a really long time for our lips to touch. But when they did, it was amazing —I felt as if a dam were breaking inside and overflowing. We stopped for a moment and I whispered, "I missed you so much." He whispered back, "Me too."

This book tells the slobber-drenched beginning of a relationship that I know from memory ended rather unpleasantly. Mostly ALL I remember about this relationship is its bad ending, in fact. So it was a different thing entirely to read these Harlequin-Romance-inspired excerpts that seemed to come out of someone else's life, some else's joyously sensuous teenage life.

I wonder if that's what enticed me to read these journals in the first place. What entices anyone to sneak a peak at someone else's journal. Every entry is a story in progress. It's all so LIVE. Yeah, of course a novel is a story in progress or even an autobiography, but those have the benefit of authorship or hindsight. A journal writer is flying by the seat of her pants, trying desperately to capture the moment she's living in. She doesn't know that this relationship will be the single most damaging thing in her life, that she'll want more than anything to forget every moment of it, that she will be so thankful later to be saved from it. She only says, look here! this is what I'm living!

She says to her diary, to the high school boy she's making out with, to her unknown future reader, yes to her very own self she says: Look at me. Look at me and love me.

I think both my high-school journaling and my sexual exploits described therein were designed to meet this end. Look at me and love me. The assurance of love was all I ever wanted. It's hard to imagine from my vantage point now, now that I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children who fight over who gets to sit next to me at any given moment. It's hard to imagine I ever needed MORE love and attention. But at one point I did, in 1997, and I don't want to mock it as immature or juvenile. The voice in this journal is my own (if uncensored) and in the absence of love I will do ANYTHING, I will WRITE ANYTHING to feel like I can fleetingly touch it.


I tried to read another diary and I couldn't get past the first page without blogging

There are four more notebooks to go in the re-read my high school diaries series, and I'm sweating a little bit about this project I've taken on. For one thing, I'm afraid reading my past writing might be slowly making me a worser writer. The more I read paragraphs like the following, the more I think this might pass for acceptable syntax:

Aug 14, 1997
Pretty soon I'm going to find myself a full blown adult. But I guess there's nothing I can do about it. I'm MAKING it happen.

Pretty soon I'm going to find myself a full blown adult? Where? Under the bed? If I keep on reading these journals, I'll probably find one on the next page..

Oh! That was a sex joke I made there! See what I said about this project dumbing down my writing?

Because that's the other problem with reading these journals... so much sexiness! It's basically the only side of my life I felt was important enough to chronicle. Making out... making out... seriously, I could go the rest of my life without reading the words "second base" in print. And I don't know whether to feel repulsed or titillated. These days I'm closer to being a parent of a teenager than to being an actual teenager, so I guess the tales of young libido should make me nervous. But I also associate with the person in these journals. Indeed, it's as if all the characters aged with me, and I can picture my adult friends running around after reunion playing spin the bottle for seven minutes in the closet. Pot bellies and all. G-ross!

But even so, reading about sex cannot help but be (um, dare I be honest?) a turn on. Which feels weird at a time in my life when I would prefer not to engage with sexual thoughts. Seriously, if any stray desires crops up in me, I just can't ask Dan for help... having sex at this stage in my pregnancy is a difficulty akin to circus acrobatics.

And yet it's hard to stay away from the project. There are four journals I haven't read yet, and who knows what they may hold? Right now the children are sweetly jumping on their beds, and the next diary beckons to me. (They asked me to tie their legs in restraints because they're being mermaids. This is the reason I'm trying to throw these journals away, so the incriminating evidence is out of the house by the time the boys realize where their kinky streak came from.)

So I have to press on. What will I find in the rest of these journals? Will it be exciting or horrifying? I can only take a tip from my younger self and embrace the unknown:

I feel like I am a clear shelf. I don't know what I'll put on it yet, but it's gonna be important. I can imagine these shelves five years in the future. As I look at them, imaginary objects float in and out of their shadow and grace my life with their presence. Photographs drift in and linger, than drift away as well. I am not afraid.


almost too embarrassing to proceed, and yet...

This continues a series in which I read and offer commentary on all my high school diaries. You can follow this link and scroll down to the bottom to start from the beginning.

Diary #3: toddlers kissing on the cover

This journal begins with me mourning the loss of my relationship with JR, the boy who conjured up all the harlequin sentiments in the previous book. According to my memory we were madly in love with each other, and then I left for an ill-timed 6-week summer trip to Israel. When I returned the boy was not so much in love with me anymore. Instead he was dating this older brunette who I think was on his lifeguard squad. She was much thinner than me, with hair that looked perfect just out of the water and a tiny pointed nose. Plus she could drive. She owned a RAV-4 that looked new and shiny — the perfect thing to drive off road over some poor ugly girl's emotions.

As in future times of crisis, I turned to insomniac crafting.

Aug 20, 1997
I'm still awake and it's 1:30. I haven't been able to sleep. It's raining like anything outside. I just love it when the weather reflects your mood. It's so poetic. I didn't know what to do with myself, so I knitted a little bag. Boy, am I insane.

I also journaled into the wee hours of the night, making my junior year of high school VERY well documented. So much the worse.

I'll give an overview of what happened next to put into context any overly dramatic passages I uncover over the next few days.

As I remember it, the breakup with JR was the catalyst that got me to start starving myself in earnest, and for the next several years my mental space was 90% calorie counts (with the remaining 10% reserved for planning sexual encounters and describing them in ridiculously flowery detail.) Yet even this gives too much credit to causality. What I'm learning from this project is that nothing I remember from my life is actually chronologically accurate. To say my eating disorder rolled in with the shiny RAV-4 would be to deny the days in Israel where I nearly passed out from refusing schnitzel. Even in the midst of budding young love the previous spring, my journal recounts a visit to the doctor for stomach problems which were restriction induced. So maybe I can't say why I do anything ever. I imagine I have motives, but in reality my actions occur in an opaque void of reason and morality.

In this moral voidness Dan and I started dating again. He was 20 and I was 16, so the fact that he was in college provided some logistical difficulties. Also the fact that I was a slut didn't help much. In the journal he comes across as an honorable young man: kind, loving, patient, and forgiving. I loved him madly and cheated on him compulsively. There was a jerky upperclassman who disgusted me in every way and I kept on making out with him in his car for... I don't know... reasons.

Aug 22 1997
I kissed two people today, in completely different ways. I fooled around with L in the hard sweaty way. But I just felt like I was killing time. I didn't even like to kiss him. I don't actually like him that much. I resented him for thinking I do. He's using my body but he's not getting at anything real. I thought I needed just a little bit of closeness, someone holding me tight, to get my mind off needing closeness. What I got was a lot of hard, tiring fooling around to repulse me enough that I could convince myself I didn't want it.

Clearly I was ether over-thinking things, or not thinking at all.

Then in the same entry there is a overwrought description of some kissing that I apparently enjoyed more. It seems that in High School I both hated and enjoyed things by charging them with massive amounts of emotion. (Aside to Dan: this one's about you, babe. Please say I can post it — it's sooooo embarrassingly terrible!)

Then it happened. We acted like children fumbling in the dark. We are fumbling towards each-other. We act like children and amuse ourselves with balls and minute-long games. Then when the lights turn off we grab for each-other and hold on tight. But is is just anouther minute-long game? Will we get bored of it when the moment has passed, and go play something else? Or will this be our last game, and will we lose ourselves forever?

I have to admit, this book is testing my limits for experiencing embarrassment. And there are so so many pages yet to go.


one-liners from 1997

Here are some pull-quotes from my Diary #3. 16 years ago I apparently had an overdeveloped sense of melodrama, but a stunning ignorance of cooking and nutrition.

I'm not going to live the unenlightened life. It may be swell, but it's not for me. It's worse than getting fat of the body because it's getting fat of the soul. Because you get packed in by small talk and tennis and easy-bake ovens until this big bubble of marshmellow fluff closes in around you and crushes you.

Apparently I thought an easy bake oven was something adults used to cook with. My mother hated cooking, so I grew up thinking a birthday cake from a box required a great parental sacrifice of effort. I was also similarly oblivious to the constancy of marshmallow fluff. In real life, as far as I know, the substance has never bubbled.

JR has a pole up his butt. Dan and I decided it is a Venician barge pole.

What a sweetie Dan is, to bring a global perspective into my insular misery. Plus it still seems logical that Venetian should be spelled with a "c."

This weekend I've been thinking a lot about love and marriage. My grandparents got married when they were 17 and 18. My parents married right out of college. I would like to get married young. Except, I just can't think of Dan as someone I would ever marry. We'll see what happens.

What do you know, you dumb little bitch, you think marshmallows cook in a pink plastic box powered by a battery.

Almost all I ate today was a large coffee and I was freaking. I felt all jittery and I couldn't sit still. Note to self: Next time order medium coffee.

Because less food will make your brain function better, obviously.

Things I have to worry about:
Dan (and whether he wants me)
School + grades
... everything else

I'm glad I had my priorities straight back then. Always put those studies first. Let's see, I wonder what I worry about these days?

Things I have to worry about:
Zion waking up before I finish my 30 minutes on the exercise bike
Dan (and whether he wants to eat lentil soup for dinner)
Car / buying a new one before the baby is born
Homeschool curriculum (just kidding, I don't worry a lick about this)
... sleeping

I'm still in love with JR, and he just DOESN'T CARE. It's like, if my skin were a plastic container, I would be filled up to the top with pain.

Writer pro-tip: When you're coming up with a metaphor, try to discern whether the comparison object you're using typically does the thing you're imagining it does. Is it the essence of a plastic container to be filled to the top? Might a glass container, such as a drinking glass, be something humans more frequently overfill? Furthermore, if you are comparing your skin to a water container, pause and wonder whether you're skin is already pretty much a water container. Then maybe choose a different metaphor. Your body is a tupperware so full of pain that the lid can't close, perhaps? For further examples of metaphors not to use, see easy bake oven reference above.

Everything just goes back to sucking. Sucking the dry, powdered milk of discontentment from the bruised purple tit of life.

I see you've taken nothing from my metaphor clinic.


high school problems with clothing: choosing it and taking it off

This continues an ongoing series in which I reread my high school diaries and share the funnies bits. To see the whole series click here.

Diary #4: The cover of this one is all blue, which must be somehow symbolic.

You know what I don't remember from my junior year in high school? Spending a lot of time at the mall. But apparently I spent a LOT of time at the mall. Every other entry is like: "The SATs sucked so I went to the mall." or "M. called me while I was at the mall." What did I DO at the mall all those hours???

Probably try on clothes. Because it was apparently really hard for me to find clothes I liked. I was so absolutely obsessed with criticizing my appearance that it even starts to take up a higher word count than my sexual exploits.

April 30, 1998
I hate myself. I wish I were georgous, and everyone just HAD to like me. I talked to ML today about a project we're doing together, and I'm afraid he doesn't like me. When I got back in my car, I looked in the mirror and remembered that I'm not very pretty.

There is A LOT in this book about wanting to be thinner, starving myself for a while, and then getting the flu. As an adult with a realistic relationship to food, I find these reminiscences a bit trying. Because first of all, if I had just eaten a LITTLE BIT more healthy food I could have still dropped weight while maintaining a quality of life higher than bedridden. And second of all, I just cannot work up that much sympathy for a younger more self-centered version of myself complaining about how fat she was at 119 lbs. I know you were in deep psychological agony Leah, but it's not like you were pregnant. Come off it you skinny little brat.

I am afraid of eating. I am wicked afraid of eating. I have a constant, underlying FEAR of being hungry and having to put food in my mouth and not having control.

This was unfortunate, because if I hadn't been so batshit crazy I might have actually ENJOYED my extensive pre-conversion sexual exploits. Now I can only enjoy READING about them.

In the shower he gets closer to me again. He kisses me. Gaurdedly at first, but then with the passion and intensity that he wants to. I don't protest.

This is from opening to a page AT RANDOM!

In 1998 I started seeing a guy who bears the distinction in my mind of the craziest dude I ever dated. He was incredibly attractive and a little bit psycho, in the calm and controlled way where I never really knew what he might do. He also brought up my level of sexual experience to something more appropriate for how much time I was devoting to writing about it.

M has kept calling me, and nothing is weird. But whenever I glance at the prom pictures all I can see is: penis.

There is more, oh God there is SO MUCH MORE about him in this book, but the descriptions are so chokingly explicit that they might need to be saved for a badly written pornographic novella.

Meanwhile, Dan is forever the gentleman. We had broken up for... reasons. Mostly my drive to be melodramatic and poor decision making induced by malnutrition. But he still kept me on the hook in his gentlemanly fashion.

We were kissing and touching outside of the clothes, but only outside of the clothes because this is Dan.

Even chaste booty is confusing sometimes, though, and it's good to take a break.

The Dan situation has been made easier by the fact that I had my wisdom teeth out last thursday so there would be no possibility of me kissing anyone. It simplifies things.

Thank God for dentistry.


Diary #5 - Senior Year

This is the last book in a series of high school journals I uncovered in the basement. I have to admit, I'm kind of sad to see the series end. I had so much fun rereading these journals. They were so much more, er, action packed than I remember my actual high school life being. I mean, in my memory I recall dating such-and-such boy for 6 months, another for a year, and generally speaking I loved some and fooled around with others. But I never held in my mind a detailed account of EVERY SINGLE sexual experience from my teenage years. Now I have just reread them all, along with several philosophical diatribes and too many daily menus to count. I feel like I just finished reading a mash-up of Sweet Valley High meets 50 Shades of Gray meets French Women Don't Get Fat. But with more angst. The following quote probably sums up the series best:

Oct 2, 1998
I have a marvelous crush on a freshman in my Drama class. Although now that I've made a big show out of flirting with him (and a mighty good show too), it's starting to dilute - you know, lose intensity. Which is kind of sad but good in a way too. Good for practical reasons, but bad because what do teenagers love more than their intensity?

In this last journal I am a senior, I can drive, and I act like a cougar towards unsuspecting underclassmen. But I still pine after one special boy. Here's me in one of my rare moral moments:

Oct 7, 1998
I want to marry Dan. I love Dan. I decided I want my life to be holy. That means real decisions like waiting for marriage to have sex. But only if I'm going to marry Dan. I don't want to save myself for anyone who isn't a virgin.

Oh if only they taught game theory in high school. But when the man you plan on marrying is a senior in college 6 hours away, moral conviction is short lived.

Oct 22, 1998
K finally kissed me today. It was so awkward, it brought me back to the days of 8th grade and not knowing what to do. I had assumed I was done with that. Well, K I guess still isn't over it. He kept brushing my hair out of my face, and then stopping there. Then finally in a lul in the conversation when I wasn't even looking at him, he grabbed the back of my neck and shoved his mouth into my face.

Poor little thing, turns out he had never kissed a girl before. The awkwardness doesn't last for too many pages, though. Apparently I was a really bad influence on him, or a really good influence depending on the way you look at it.

Oct 31, 1998
The first noteworthy thing of the evening is attributed to K. Taking probobly a tip from me, he started with his mouth on my stomach and moved all the way down... [3 paragraphs deleted because this is a family blog]... A great time was had by all.

Yet even as I was corrupting the younger generation my heart was elsewhere:

Nov 25, 1998
I'm leaving tomorrow morning to celebrate Thanksgiving. K was very sad to see me go, and we ate lunch together and then later he came over my house to see me off. Right before he came, I found out that Dan was home, so then I kind of felt guilty about spending the time with K. Then Dan came over after dinner, and I was sooooo happy to see him. At the same time, tonight hanging out with Dan I felt weird because I knew that if K got a picture of what we looked like together he would be upset. I was trying to avoid making actual lip contact with Dan, but as he said after we kissed, "I guess that was unavoidable."

The following year I went to college and Dan went into the working world. I don't have as much primary source material for the next half decade, but we know where that story ended up generally speaking.

wedding kiss

115 lbs, by the way

The book ends in the last year of the last millenium. As much as I've written so far, as much as I've talked and talked and talked about myself, I STILL don't feel like anybody knows me. I still don't feel either heard or understood.

Jan 12, 1999
School is stressfull, and so is my relationship with K. Sometimes I feel as if he doesn't really know me. I feel like I want to have a conversation with him: what was your most painfull memory? Have you ever felt really lonely? How do you want love to be? That sort of thing would fill me somehow. Gosh, I wish I knew more words so I could describe what's going on inside. Writing doesn't do it justice.

I'm sorry Leah. If your writing doesn't sufficiently describe what's going on in your head, then there is NO amount of writing that will do it justice. In the arena of melodramatica navel gazing, you just have TOO MUCH PROSE TO GIVE. You have two choices in life I guess: learn to be less crazy, or become a blogger.


public service announcements

fair warning

The weather has been crazy around here. Now it's super warm, but not too long ago it was super cold, and I expect it'll be back to cold again before too long. I don't mind (though you know I like the cold!) except that the rain and melting followed by freezing left a bit of ice, which last Thursday was covered up by a teeny little bit of snow. Which was treacherous. I fell, as pictured above, right where at least one other person had fallen before me (I saw the marks in the snow and thought someone had been kicking it around; after I made my own set it was all clear!). Since I had to get to work I couldn't stand around and warn everyone else personally, so I did the next best thing.

Of course, my warnings probably didn't last long, since it was still snowing as I continued on my way. When I got to work a coworker commented on the snow in my hair—there in some quantities because I don't wear a cap under my helmet, just ear-warmers. "You should wear a cap!" she told me. "You'll get sick!" When I demurred politely, she repeated herself, and I answered plainly, "no I won't!". I hope it didn't come across as rude, but I was hard pressed not to pull out Leah's "I break that curse in Jesus' name!"

Five days later and sickness hasn't laid me low yet, so it may be that this time I dodged the bullet that is wet hair in 30° temperatures. Or maybe getting an hour of outdoor exercise a day is healthier than not, and exposure to the elements on a mild winter day isn't the end of the world. Either way.

Yes, I'm a little sensitive, because now that I'm on my fourth school year of biking to work consistently I've pretty much heard all the comments that folks can come up with. Of course I try not to take it personally; just like when they see someone with a Saint Bernard, people probably can't help it. And the upside is that it gives me even more sympathy for what Leah has to deal with these days! Yes, we'll survive; but maybe as a society we could work on checking our off-hand comments for annoyingness before we let them go? You do that, and I'll keep marking ice hazards for you—does that sound fair?


want not

Today I was in a fifth-grade classroom and one of the boys in the class had a rip in the seam of his sweatshirt's arm. At the beginning of the day he could put his hand through the hole down by the wrist of the garment, but by pushing his arm through and unpicking stitches with a pencil he pretty much undid the whole arm seam by the end of the day.

I really wanted to tell him to cut it out. I wanted to tell him that he had a perfectly good sweatshirt, and that if he left the hole alone it would be trivial to repair either on a sewing machine or by hand, and that his mother wouldn't want him ruining his clothes. All of which I'm sure are true—but in the case of the last, I don't think his mother will mind enough.

Almanzo Wilder wouldn't have made that hole bigger that's for sure! Part of the reason for that is that his mother would have killed him. Even though the Wilders were fairly well-off (in the story—I make no claims for real history) they were careful not to waste anything, and clothes were a considerable investment of time and effort as well as money. That's not the case now, at least for a fifth-grader in Lexington, so while it might be annoying to his parents to have to replace the sweatshirt—eventually, since I'm sure he has plenty of others—it's not that big of a deal. Some get ripped, some get stained, many get left at school forever to pile up in the lost-and-found. Clothes, like so many other things in our society, are pretty much disposable.

We've talked in church about cultivating a "spirit of abundance," as opposed to a "spirit of scarcity." There's a lot to be said for that way of thinking: it can keep us from hoarding our resources when folks around us are in need, and it can be tremendously liberating in letting us focus on more than just our immediate requirements. But looking at it another way, it's the spirit of abundance that's got us into the mess we're in now, where nationally and globally our resources are being stretched at the same time that we're having to find ways to dispose of ever larger quantities of "waste". When we feel—absolutely correctly, in the short term—that there's always more, there's no reason to be good stewards of what we have.

Me, I hate disposing of things (just ask Leah!). I have a sweatshirt, which is comforting; I want to continue to have it, so as not to have to find another one. Sometimes this way of thinking is too restrictive (and not just because it risks filling the house up with junk!). I collect awesome materials, but then have a hard time using them in projects—that would also be awesome—because I'm afraid I'll think of a better use for them later. That's no good at all: just what the Bible means with that "storing up in barns" verse. But on balance, I think it works out well for me. I don't waste things, and I really don't want very much. I cultivate a spirit of abundance within a spirit of scarcity (which I also have to cultivate: scarcity is hard to do around here these days!). It probably doesn't work for everyone, but it does alright for me.

And Harvey, you better not be making holes in your clothes on purpose!


Let's stop fetishizing our choices

Today I finished some Waldorf dolls I've been working on, I played pretend with my kids, I helped them do a painting project and led Harvey through the construction of a tool box out of cardboard.

I also let them watch Thomas for an hour while I took a nap.

In the evening I made homemade risotto which took an hour of stirring, but in the middle of my cooking Zion asked for mac and cheese, so I made him the noodles from a prepackaged mix. He and Harvey ate mac and cheese while Dan and I ate risotto. We all ate a little bit of broccoli, and the boys ate carrots, and everyone had melon and crackers for dessert. This was a step up from lunch which was clementines served next to popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast.

If I put together a photo blog for today, I would show the Waldorf dolls and the cardboard creation. If Dan were blogging he'd show the risotto. There wouldn't be a picture of my kids running around naked before dinner, shooting each other with imaginary guns. There wouldn't be a picture of me lying comatose on the bed while my kids cycle through every Thomas we've downloaded to the iPad. Why would I take pictures of those things? They don't make me look very good.

Let's stop fetishizing our choices, people. Or rather, let's stop fetishizing the good half of our choices that we want the internet to think represent 100% of our choices.

Because I was thinking of blogging those Waldorf dolls (which I'll do another day) and I feel like it sets the bar unfairly high. I don't want anyone to think that I'm some sort of hippy superwoman who always talks gently to her kids and absolutely ADORES doing crafts with them. Because in reality the cardboard toolbox was a negotiation DOWN from running to Michael's for a new supply of clay to recreate every single character from Shawn the Sheep (including the fence and the house, which I stupidly nodded my assent to while I was on the phone.)

I'm just like you, other parents. I have my values and I have my ideals, but I'm also exhausted and in some moments I am not trying very hard. Remember that when you see the Waldorf doll pictures.


due diligence

I need to come up with a new response to the question "When are you due?"

This is a question I hear from strangers every day. I don't think they mean to be rude. They see a pregnant person, they think pregnancy is awesome and intriguing, and they want to be involved in it some way. They ask the only question that is (for whatever reason) socially acceptable to ask a pregnant woman. Well that and "Do you know what you're having?"

The problem is that it's a shitty question. "When are you due?" reduces me to a toaster oven. It equates my relationship with my gestating child to my relationship with my real-estate tax bill. It invites the follow-up reflection, "When am I due? When am I due to do what? Expel an infant from my vagina? Why is that anybody else's business?"

Plus, when I hold my breath and just answer the damn question, the follow up conversation is never any better.

"Really? You have that long to go? I can't believe it!"


"I never would have guessed because you're so big."


"You must look bigger because you're so short / because you're having a boy / having a girl / because you have to carry your other children and they push down on your belly."

Pregnancy is fundamentally disempowering. Not only are you slowly robbed of your physical ability (Dan: "Where is the deodorant?" Me: "It fell on the floor and I didn't pick it up") but you're also robbed of your physical sovereignty. Doctors, friends and strangers poke at your body either literally or figuratively and offer their unsolicited opinions. I know that fat un-pregnant people have to deal with judgment all the time, but they aren't so much forced to HEAR about it.

And when people tell me the size of my body exceeds their expectations, what am I supposed to reply? What is the polite way to respond? Haha! Yes I'm fat, thank you for your observations?

There are the things that I want to reply that are not so polite. Like, How about you tell ME when was the first day of your last period and I'LL make loud comments about the distribution of mass on your body?

But this is not helpful.

Because the truth is, modern society is already a horrible place where strangers have lost the ability to talk to each other. As a rule we try not to relate to the people we share public spaces with. When we have to run errands or entertain our children at museums, we spend our time in atomized bubbles of increasing disconnection. The people around us are not so much people as obstacles we must not bump into.

And then we are tired when we get home but we wonder why we always feel so lonely.

Wouldn't life be more pleasant if strangers could smile at each other? Could start a conversation about the weather and finish with a real connection to another human being?

And yet we have no cultural precedent for connecting in public. So we speak to each other only when we see something so odd, something that inspires such unbearable curiosity that it overwhelms our desire for isolation. Like someone biking in the winter or a 4-year-old wearing a bow tie or a big fat protruding pregnant belly.

For this reason I don't want to turn away. I don't want to end the conversation, or to say all the rude repliques that pop into my head. I want to look into the eyes of my accuser and find some human connection. I want to take the verbal abuse, the disempowerment, the societally sanctioned stripping away of my personal privacy, and turn it into something different. I don't know what exactly, connection I guess. Disarming connection that transforms us all somehow.

I don't know what that might look like. Maybe the next time someone asks me when I'm due I'll just stare penetrating into their eyes and wait for inspiration to strike.

I was thinking about these things today after a typical conversation with a woman at the museum. She asked me when I was due, then interrupted herself by saying, "Yesterday I bet!" Then after she learned how much LONGER I had to go, she launched into a reminiscence of how skinny she was when she was pregnant. "Yeah, everyone says I'm fat" I said.

"It must be because you're so short!"

By the evening, I was determined to have things go differently next time. We went out to dinner in a crowded place where there were plenty of curious strangers around. When I brushed by a table of old men, one of them hollered at me, "Hey lady, did you swallow a watermelon seed?"

I turned towards the speaker and looked deep into his eyes. I confidently uttered the first thing that came into my head.

"No," I told him, "I had sex with my husband and he impregnated me."

The table of men erupted in laughter. Me and the man who asked the question both turned beet red.

Okay, so maybe this connection thing is a work in progress.


easy snow day

family posing with our smiling carrot-nosed snowman

happy snowfall!

It snowed unexpectedly yesterday, after a week of unseasonably warm temperatures. It started out pretty sleety—the boys actually had a fight about whether it was raining or snowing—but before too long it was definitely snow, and fast-accumulating snow at that. So we set aside our big plans for the day and gave ourselves over to enjoying the return of winter. Market Basket and Joannes could wait!

It was Harvey who motivated us to get outside. Always a fan of the snow, he was itching to play in it as soon as it started to pile up, and naturally he wanted someone to come with him. Grown-ups have more inertia though, so we weren't rushing to go along with his pleas. I suggested if he got his gear on, went out, and looked like he was having fun, we'd want to join him; it worked! I was the first one to bite, and Mama and Zion didn't take much longer (and would have been even faster if Zion hadn't thrown a tantrum about his jacket—he was very disappointed not to have a one-piece snowsuit like Harvey does).

Harvey and I made the snowman—he rolled the balls and I stacked them—and we did the face and arms all together (Rascal was outside too; his contribution was trying to eat the arms). Then Harvey incited us into a snowball fight. I'm not sure who won, but Leah did get me good in a back of the head. Zion always said "Look out!" before he threw anything, which was helpful because it let me get within his 18-inch snowball throwing range in time to get hit dramatically. We didn't stay out a super long time—I've never seen a wetter snow, and we were all soaked pretty quickly—but we sure had fun.

Inside we played some board games and made pizza for supper. We invited our neighbors over to share some; they weren't up to dining out but stopped by a little later to hang out. We talked about neighborhood history while our boys ran around the house with their boys. We cleaned up the board games and the supper but not much else, and went to bed.

We're pretty good at taking Sabbath time around here—sometimes too good! As I was trying to talk Leah into playing another round of All Creatures Big and Small this afternoon (yes, more board games) rather than doing laundry, one of my arguments was an appeal to the Sabbath. "We did that yesterday!" she retorted, quite accurately. But she still played with me! We do manage to get things done, too, but we've got relaxation down. At least, when it's snowy outside. Or rainy. Or beautiful and sunny...


What I'm good at

Dan owns a beautiful book called The Homemade Pantry which he takes off the shelf every time he needs to make marshmallows. Alana Chernila, the book's author, includes a little story with each recipe about how she started replacing some pantry staple with her own homemade version, and what that has meant for her family. My favorite vignette in the book is the one titled "Marshmallows, or what we're good at." In this section Alana describes her family's first camping trip:

I brought home-made marshmallows and graham crackers for our little fire. The marshmallows charred and smooshed, the chocolate melted just right, the graham crackers crunched, and we were all happy....

The next morning, as we started to break down our tent, the sky opened up with the most torrential and driving rain I have ever experienced. I had to face the truth: I had carefully packed my misshapen homemade marshmallows and cinnamon graham crackers, but had neglected to bring a single raincoat.

I was thinking of this story this evening, though I'm not making marshmallows. That's not what I'M good at! Instead, I'm happy to report that the felt-board advent calendar is all freshened up and ready for next year. I repaired the Magi's star and replaced Gabriel's halo. Then after reprinting all the scriptural readings (some got lost over the course of December) I sewed three new pieces to excite the boys imaginations. I made a crown to go on Mary's tummy during her pregnancy, a second owl to sit atop the stable, and a sheep dog to guard the sheep while the shepherds run to find the Christ child.

When I go into labor some time in the next few weeks, there won't be any frozen dinners to bring up from the freezer downstairs. I hate eating frozen food, plus my husband is an excellent cook. I don't have play-date distractions lined up for the boys either; I figure I can parent on the fly with a baby in my lap, and there are always chapter books to read if worse comes to worse. But I DO have a drawer ready packed with knitted baby clothes, including a fresh set of booties which I just completed — 3 to a set is my new moto for booties. I also have two new Waldorf dolls ready for the birthday party we're invited to mid-February, and a set of feed-bag baby blocks wrapped and in the closet just in case there's a baby shower I forget about in the next few months. And now there's the advent calendar zipped up in its bag, all ready to go on December 1st just in case I'm a little tired by then.

Dan vetoed me starting the kids' Easter suits before the baby arrived (how can we guess their sizes 4 months out, and shouldn't you wait until you know whether you need a third suit or a dress?) so I'll have to allocate a few hours to sewing after the baby comes. But it's still nice to know some things are done ahead of time. I'm starting baskets tomorrow for the midwives, and if I can knock out three in one week I figure I can get some new Easter baskets for my kids done too while I'm at it.

As long as we have homemade baskets, I have no worries about the spring.

I don't know if this is how normal nesting mothers act, but whatever. At least I know what I'm good at.


houseplants and optimism

a close-up of the rosemary plant flowering in our kitchen

rosemary flowers

There exists a concept or idea of something called a green thumb, something that some people possess and others do not. This verdant digit is said to allow certain individuals to ensure that the plants under their care survive and even thrive, while those without such a gift inevitable kill their vegetative charges. Sometimes people offer it as an excuse to explain why they don't garden: "I just don't have a green thumb," they sadly explain. Well, I'm here to tell the world that there's no such thing.

As it turns out, plants are much easier to take care of than, say, animals. Their needs are simple: some dirt, and the correct amount of water at the correct time. Sure, you can do all sorts of extra things with fertilizer and appropriately-sized pots, and if you want your plants to grow and spread and produce abundant fruit you might have to read the advanced manual, but for the most part plants are pretty easy to keep alive. Even plants inside the house, where you can't rely on rainfall to water them (or if you can, you have other problems), are pretty easy to keep alive. Anyone looking for proof of that assertion need only consider the fact that I can do it.

Yes, I enjoy gardening, and give the subject of how to grow plants a lot of thought. But those are outside plants and, more importantly, plants that I count on to give me something back in return for the effort I put into them. My indoor plants are another story. To a large extent my care for potted plants through the winter is limited to trying to make sure they can hang on until I can put them out on the porch again to fend for themselves (there's analogy there to be made to my child-rearing theories, but that's a subject for another post...). It takes a full week—or more!—of me walking by a plant and noticing that it could stand to be watered before I actually do something about it. And I've been thinking for, oh, three years or so that the houseplants I have—the ficus and peace lily—really should have bigger pots; maybe this spring I'll get around to it.

my scraggly peace lily, looking unhealthy

scraggly but alive

And yet they survive. Those two aforementioned date back to our time in Arlington, eight-plus years ago, and a few years after that we acquired a lemon geranium from our friend Jo, who was moving overseas. All are still with us, as are our much newer rosemary bush and avocado tree. Which is not to say I haven't had failures: the new rosemary is a replacement for the old one, which passed after serving us for four good years, and I killed a cyclomen we got from church one Easter in short order. But generally plants do alright in our household.

a branch of the geranium touching the ceiling

reaching for the sky(light)

I think, actually, that overwatering kills more houseplants than forgetting to water. I'm pretty sure that's what did in the cyclomen: it was flowering and looked delicate so I wanted to take extra-good care of it, but despite my eager attention and frequent waterings it died inside a month. Certainly, too much water kills plants more quickly than too little, and with less obvious warning signs. As long as you're paying a modicum of attention you can notice a plant wilting, and once you notice you have days to act before the problem gets bad enough to be irreversible. Of course, it's not good for plants to reach the point of wilting—stunts their growth and all, and they may loose a few leaves—but when you're as averse to repotting as I am stunted growth may be a feature, not a bug!

All that is to say, I wish I heard less about green thumbs and not having one. It's an unnecessary excuse, just like tone-deafness for people who don't care to sing. Yes, a few people are tone-deaf, but not many; most just never learned to sing and don't care to do it now. Which is fine, but they should just say they don't like singing and leave it at that, and people who don't want to keep houseplants should just say that they don't want one more thing to have to take care of, or that plants don't belong in the house, or whatever. And if they actually do wish they could grow plants in pots, or sing, the existence of these false excuses is just holding them back. So if you feel like you're tone deaf and lack a green thumb, get a peace lily and sing to it. You'll see that plant care and singing are both a whole lot easier than you may have thought!


cargo cult

The Concrete Gardeners got a cargo bike. I like to think that we can take just a little bit of the credit for encouraging them in that direction, and to celebrate we just had to take a cargo bike ride ourselves. Of course, we're not in the southern hemisphere like some people, so it's winter here; and what's more it's turned cold again in the last couple days. I think it might be another polar vortex. But we didn't let that stop us! Or at least, it didn't stop three of us: Leah was stopped, but that was mainly a function of being eight months pregnant. And also she doesn't like the library as much as we do.

Facing near-unimaginable cold (well, not as cold as this morning or yesterday, but still) we bundled up well. For the boys it was two pairs of pants and sweaters, fleece coats, and down jackets, all topped off with fleecy mufflers. I should have taken pictures, but I didn't want to take my mittens off; it was something like this, only more so. And then I put a big wool blanket over their laps. The whole setup would actually have been sufficient for a far longer ride in far colder temperatures: we were only going less than a mile each way at somewhere around 15°F (though with a windchill of 0°F!). But better safe than sorry! especially with Zion.

It all went beautifully well, and there was nary a complaint—not about being cold, at least. There might have been some murmurs about crowding, and also about being asked to leave places when not quite ready to do so... but we had to! Mama was waiting for us at home.


free at last

Every few years we have a mice infestation, which is to say we have a mice infestation whenever I'm pregnant. This time is no exception. We have started to catch the culprits two at a time, and so far we have liberated nine mice from our basement.

We use two have-a-heart traps that catch the mice alive. We check the traps every morning and transfer the inhabitants to a cozy terrarium with food and water. Usually they run around the cage for some time to the great delight of our children, then they hide in a toilet paper roll until we bring them to their new home in the Carlisle wilderness. Yes, I know that mice will come back from up to a mile away. That's why we drive them all the way over the Concord river to give them a second chance at life. While denying them the possibility of doing it in our laundry room.

When friends see a cage of mice in our kitchen they typically have three responses. In order. You could call it the Three Stages of Infestation Realization.

1) "Awww! Cute! You're raising mice?" (This stage is dominated by curiosity and attraction.)

2) "Oh, you trapped them from your basement?!?" (Here my guest slowly realizes that she is speaking to the kind of person who TRAPS and HANDLES WILD ANIMALS! Plus, is nothing sacred anymore? Not even the design and use mouse traps? This stage is marked by great psychological discomfort.)

3) "That's disgusting! Do you know those things carry diseases?" (In this stage my guest expresses concern about my health and the soundness of the mouse catching project. Information about mice returning to their nests from up to a mile away will also be repeated here. She is also probably wondering whether any food I offer from my kitchen is safe to eat.)

Finally my friends slowly back away from the cage of mice. Never mind that our mice are just as cute as the Petco variety, that there's no such thing as a "domesticated" mouse, or that the animals are no more likely to give us diseases in a cage or in the car or running into a snowy Carlisle meadow than they are from unabatedly pooping in our silverware drawer.

Having live mice in the kitchen turns out to be a divisive issue.

In the other corner for team mice-catcher are the two boy children in my household. There seems to be no end to their excitement at seeing new rodents every morning. Plus the trip to "set the mice free in the woods" is an exciting adventure.

bridge at foss farm

where is this going?

We've had some nice walks in the Carlisle conservation land thanks to the mice. On President's day Dan came with us and we explored a frozen marsh. Yet I'd be lying if I said the project is a win-win for everyone involved. The mice certainly face a reduced life span when they're relocated away from our kitchen. I always tell Harvey and Zion we're "setting the mice free in the woods," as if it's the animals' primary choice. But they were hardly enslaved in our basement. We're stopping short of killing them, yes, but we're bringing them to a much colder, much more dangerous place. It's not like they're jumping out of the cage, seeing the mountains of snow, and shouting "Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty I am free at last!"

So last week when the snow was high and Dan set the pace too fast and Zion sat down on the ground pounding his fists in frustration and screaming "Go Away Snow!" I really felt for all the little creatures. Zion's version of pleasant adventure featured a lot more "uppy" than I was offering that day. My version of freedom for mice featured a lot more displacement than they would have chosen. I don't know why I'm the enlightened despot who get's to decide what's fair and what's free. I'm just the one in charge of keeping poop out of the kitchen drawers.

zion in field in carlisle

When you're little, freedom is a word mama uses for a lot of fricking walking.


stuff i made: hats and sentences

Today I have a guest post on the new blog Composting Faith. I write about making soap. Mostly it's me complaining about how much of pain in the ass it is to make soap. But then I try to turn it around and say something deep and spiritual at the end . So pretty much my normal schtick. Go and read it if you like, and check out better articles while you're there.

That reminds me I have to make soap again before this baby is born. Ugh.

Meanwhile, here's something I made which wasn't a total pain in the ass. In fact, I knit it in under a week, mostly during two trips to the Discovery Museum. I wrote about Harvey's bear hat here. Zion has been asking for a bear hat of his own, so I thought I'd whip one up for him before the baby comes and the winter ends. I had the yarn scraps on hand already, which helped get me over the hump of not wanting three wollen hats per child in an already crowded closet.

Zion is happy to match his big brother

Getting dressed for the outdoors is a big production in my house these days. I thought having multiple hats and pairs of mittens would make life easier. Instead, the raft of choices is near paralyzing for my toddler, a toddler who looks up to his big brother as if he's a combination of Michael Jordan and Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear.

Dressing goes something like this these days:

Me: "Do you want to wear your Christmas hat?"
Zion: "Harvey wear his Christmas hat?"
Me: "Yes, Harvey is wearing his Christmas hat."
Zion: "I wear MY Christmas hat!"
Me: "Great! Here are your snow mittens."
Zion: "Harvey wear his snow mittens?"
Me: "Yes, Harvey is wearing his snow mittens."
Zion: "I wear my snow mittens."
Me: "Okay, just the coat and we're ready go."
Zion: "Harvey wear his red coat?"
Me: "Yes, Harvey is wearing his red coat."
Zion: "I want a red coat!!!"
Me: "Well, your warm coat is blue. It's the same as Harvey's, but his is red and yours is blue."
Me: "I know, but when grandma bought you the coat your favorite color was blue..."
Zion: "I like red AND blue!"
Me: "Okay, so next time you get a coat you can choose, but right now your coat is blue..."

Etc. Etc. until one of us gives up. This is why I have photos of my toddler eating snow in his cotton undershirt like a catalogue model for casual winter attire.

pride over warmth

I don't know when Zion switched from wanting everything blue to wanting everything the same as Harvey. I don't think I should humor the impulse (I'm certainly not buying new winter coats) but I don't know what we'll do come spring when we need to buy new clothes. All in all, I fear the days of easy red/blue sorting may be coming to an end.

Though who knows - he may be just looking for things to fight about. Today he stomped and screamed for 20 minutes because I wouldn't pour water on his socks before putting them on his feet. (Originally he wanted his wet socks back on, so pouring water on his clean pair of socks was actually a concession, one he was greatly surprised I did not accept.)

Despite these normal frustrations that come with parenting a toddler, I am happy to knit hats on demand and I am so very grateful for Zion's love for Harvey. It makes life pleasant having a house with so much love in it. Plus I can't think of a 4-year-old who's more caring or considerate or deserving of admiration.

I want to be like you


history is passing us by!


A couple months ago I was telling someone about our blog and it occurred to me that it's been going for a long time. I did the math and realized we had a significant milestone coming up; if I had a calendar that I ever looked at, I would have marked it with a note to commemorate the day in some way. Alas, I do not and did not, and so totally forgot to mention three days ago that this blog is now ten years old. If you can believe it, it was all the way back on January 26th, 2004, when we started recording the passing details of our life together, and with just a few breaks that year and the next we've kept it up ever since. That's a lot of words. To properly celebrate this anniversary I suggest that you follow that link above to start from the beginning. Then tell me how long it took you to read the whole thing.

Lazy project

Here's a project that's easy to make, if your kids are already pounding at each other with homemade swords about the width of pipe insulation. Make sword holders! I mean.. sword belts? Er... sheaths? What's the proper term for this piece of mediaval kit? LARP nerds help a girl out here...

By the power of Grey Skull!

- Cut a piece of fleece a little bigger than your kids mid-section.
- Sew some velcro on each side to make it close (by machine so it's faster)
- Sew a paper toilet paper roll on one side (by hand otherwise it's impossible)
- Do it again for your other kid
- Don't clean your bedroom before taking pictures. That would spoil the laziness.

on guard!

If your kids only use these for ten minutes, well, that's longer than it takes to make them. Sit back and watch the fighting, or close your eyes and take an ill-deserved nap.

Just don't let them get any ideas into their heads about helmets or shields.


objects in the rearview mirror

We are currently working on selling a car and buying a bigger one. Both cars are used and crappy. The potential difference between their prices is well within the range of our federal tax refund. Which is all to say this should be a low stress transaction. This shouldn't break my ability to cope with normal life.

But Oh God I am so completely stressed out.

The first car I bought was a '91 Toyota Corolla. To say "I bought it" is speaking loosely. The fact is, when I turned 16 my father searched for a used car. He located a good one, went to see it, and negotiated the price. He wrote a check, added the vehicle to his insurance, drove the thing to our house and handed me the keys. My part consisted of turning over $2000 I had saved from my Bat-Mitzvah. I didn't have to write a check because our accounts were linked. This was technically "my money," but it's not like I did anything to earn it. I showed up one day to a party with all my relatives and there was the car money three years in advance.

I learned to drive on that car. I drove it for a year after I got my license. Then I crashed it into the back of a SUV while I was trying to change the song away from "Istanbul not Constantinople." My Dad bought me another used Corolla the following week. No one yelled at me. This is the sort of thing that happens, my parents said. Everyone was glad I hadn't killed myself or my younger brother who I was driving to advanced math class at the time. Really good I didn't kill my brother, actually. He always had a higher earning potential than me.

In college I studied abroad and my parents sold the Corolla to a friend who needed a car for his daughter. My dad called me long distance before I was to return home from France. "I'm thinking of buying a new car for you," he said. "What do you think of a Jetta? All the cool kids are driving Jettas these days."

"Um, okay? Sounds good?"

"You can go online and pick the color."

This is how I obtained the car I am currently selling. A dark green VW Jetta, asking price: not my money anyway. Our new family van will be purchased with the proceeds (a tenth of what my Dad paid for it 12 years ago) plus money my husband earned through his work, or money from an inheritance he got last year, or money we get free from the government for having two cute tax deductions. I can send emails and set up showing times and think about a negotiation strategy, but really I am playing a part I don't deserve in a game that does not need me in it.

I have been called a great many names over the course of my life. People routinely call me fat, for instance. And though this is rude and irritating it does not cut to the core of me, because despite my vile self-mockery on this blog or when I'm naked with my husband, I'm actually secretly happy with my body. But there is one name so terrible that no one has ever called me it. No one has thought to say it because I'm always flitting around cleaning or crafting or making snacks, always working as fast as I can to run away from the label I secretly believe is true. In the dark secret corner of my heart I know that I am USELESS.

Unhelpful. Unnecessary. Not worth my salt. Extraneous to the process, and yet pretending to belong somewhere within it. Selling or buying or owning a car reminds me that this has always been true.

I want to end the blog post here, but perhaps that'd be a bit unfair. It feels EMOTIONALLY true of course, but it cannot literally be so. There are a great many things each of us gets that we don't deserve. The list should probably start with "salvation," but it could also include food stamps or the baby monitor my mom just bought me or the free public wifi network that's available in many parts of the US but not in other countries.

That we have not done something to deserve these gifts merit some reflection, though perhaps not a complete breakdown into self loathing. And that is the rational side of my brain talking. Making itself useful, if you will.